More so than in recent years, the General Assembly meeting of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is attracting a significant amount of media attention. Much of it is focused on the controversial practice of women preaching in a prominent PCA pulpit.
The media's interest comes with the background of the Southern Baptist Convention having re-affirmed last week in Orlando that women should not be pastors. The big question is whether the largest evangelical Presbyterian denomination in the country will resolve that women should not preach.
The first story in the secular media about the women preaching controversy in the PCA appeared on the front page of the Greenville (S. C.) News in February. The banner article, written by Cara Bonnett, was headlined, "Presbyterians clash over whether women should preach." Sparking the intra-church debate was the appearance of a woman staffer at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee, to fill the pulpit on two Sunday evenings in August 1998, and the subsequent defense of the practice by the Rev. John Wood, Senior Pastor of the congregation. Miss Bonnett quoted Jim Lockett, Clerk of Session at Cedar Springs Church, as saying: "Some denominations look at what's going on in our denomination and chuckle. . . . We are not trying to make other churches see and interpret scripture like we do. We're trying to do what the Lord's leading us to do, where we can be most effective in reaching our community."
Christian Renewal, a magazine with roots in the Dutch Reformed community, has also publicized the women's controversy within the PCA. More recently, the Canadian-based publication has focused on what appears to be a theological divide. In the April 24, 2000, issue, PCA ruling elder John P. Elliott interviewed the Rev. Steve Wilkins, pastor of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church, Monroe, Louisiana. The well-known Southern apologist and historian stated that his Session has become convinced "that the denomination is unreformable. There seems to be no concern to interact on the biblical issues by those who oppose the more traditional, reformed positions. We have been working to bring about reform for 23 years and things have only gotten worse." Presenting a contrasting view in the same issue was the Rev. Kennedy Smartt, Moderator of the 26th General Assembly in 1998. In response to the question, "Do you see a split coming?", Dr. Smartt said: "We may well lose congregations pastored by men with theonomic views. Maybe 25 to 30 churches. You have to believe exactly as they do or you are wrong."
The May 8, 2000, issue of Christian Renewal continued the same theme by means of Dr. Elliott's interview with the Rev. Frank Barker, the founder and until recently the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Barker admitted that when he and others formed the PCA, "we were so opposed to liberalism, that we did not see the differences among ourselves. Yes. The tensions have grown. I agree that a minority wants the denomination to be narrowly Reformed. They-the Reformed faction-look for issues to push their view of strict subscription." "How will these tensions be resolved?", Dr. Elliott queried. "I don't know. Maybe they won't be resolved," Dr. Barker responded. "Does that mean a split is inevitable?" "That may be. But I don't know if it is inevitable."
Michelle Bearden, Religion Reporter for the Tampa Tribune, is planning an article for the local daily which focuses on the conservative nature of the denomination and its commitment to Biblical inerrancy, as well as the women's preaching issue. She is also covering the Assembly on behalf of NBC Newschannel, and will be feeding a story to about 200 NBC affiliates nationwide.
Slated to appear tomorrow is an article in the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times-Free Press on the question of women in ministry. According to the author, Clint Cooper, the story will touch upon the action by the Southern Baptists, and will also have a PCA component. He indicated that quotes from Dr. Frank Brock, President of the PCA's Covenant College, with regard to the Cedar Springs situation will be featured.
Salem Radio Network, with 780 stations in every state and Puerto Rico, was to highlight the women's controversy, in coverage starting this morning.
Other media outlets expressing an interest in news about this year's PCA General Assembly include: the Associated Press; Religion News Service; USA Radio Network; Christianity Today; Presbyterian Layman; the Liberty Journal (Lynchburg, Va.); and the Mobile (Ala.) Register.
Two denominational committees of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) will sponsor a "mercy" conference. Scheduled for March 2-3, 2001, in Atlanta, the conference "is a call to PCA churches to live out the requirements of biblical faith and thus to pass on the richness of the Reformed tradition to the next generation. It is designed to: cast a vision for mercy ministry; teach congregations that mercy is a characteristic of a covenant community; equip congregations to minister mercifully to the strangers and aliens, the oppressed and needy; develop an integrated approach to ministry so that mercy permeates the entire church and becomes a way of life."
Entitled "The Call of the Gospel: Sharing Christ . . . Showing Mercy," the conference is jointly sponsored by the Christian Education and Publications Committee and the Mission to North America Committee. Three main speakers will be featured: the Rev. Tim Keller; Mrs. Kay James; and the Rev. Randy Nabors. The targeted audience includes pastors, elders, deacons, ministry staff, WIC representatives, and other key leaders.
According to the WIC Resource Letter (Spring Quarter 2000), the 2001 conference is the natural outgrowth of the 1999 WIC Conference, "Daughters of the Covenant, What Does the Lord Require?", which also focused on mercy ministry. The newsletter states: "The true covenant community is compassionate, but compassion is not gender-specific. When the call to compassion was issued to daughters of the covenant, it was never intended to stop there. The prayer was that women would be equipped to support and help the whole church to be a community of compassion. By God's grace we are now being given an unprecedented opportunity for it to be so." The publication continues: "We stand in the tradition of covenant-keeping forefathers and foremothers who shared Christ and showed mercy. We must pass that legacy on to the rising generation.
"Daughters of the covenant, rejoice with us that God has given us this opportunity to encourage our entire denomination to turn up the volume on this critical issue."
The Presidents of the presbytery WIC organizations
(PRESWIC's) are encouraged to contact their Presbytery's Christian
Education and Mission to North America chairmen "and plan
together how to promote this in [the] presbytery." Pastor's
wives are to "[b]e sure your husband knows about this conference
and plans to attend." Local WIC presidents are urged to
"[t]alk with your pastor, or elder representative, about
how you can help plan for this conference. For example, make
copies of the flyers and get this information before the church
via bulletins, bulletin boards, newsletters, and personal delivery
to elders and deacons."
Noted PCA pastor, author, theologian, and church statesman James Montgomery Boice passed away in his sleep on June 15, 2000. He was 61.
For 32 years, Dr. Boice pastored Tenth Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia, and was since 1969 the radio voice of The Bible Study Hour. He was also instrumental in the founding of such endeavors as the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology; the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy; and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.
Ordained in the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., James Boice was a staunch advocate of the Reformed perspective within that liberal denomination. In 1981, he led his congregation into the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, which denomination merged with the PCA the next year.
Dr. Boice's death came eight weeks after his having
been diagnosed with liver cancer. He is survived by his wife
and three daughters.
PINS Extends a Cordial Invitation! We would like to extend a cordial invitation to our friends and our critics to join us for a time of refreshments (cash bar) and chatting this evening, Tuesday, at the Marriott Waterside, meeting room #1, starting at 10:00 PM. This is your opportunity for you to air your gripes, or to give us a word of encouragement. Y'all come!