Assembly Rejects View That Confession Teaches Six Calendar Days

Tampa, Florida (June 21, 2000)-The 28th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) this evening voted to reject the view that the Westminster Standards teach that creation was in six calendar days. The decisive vote on a substitute lost by a margin estimated at 3-2.

The Assembly instead adopted a measure which allows for a diversity of interpretation with regard to creation. Upon motion by the Rev. Frank Barker, the court amended a motion to say that "since historically in Reformed theology there has been a diversity of views of the creation days among highly respected theologians, and, since the PCA has from its inception allowed a diversity, that the Assembly affirm that such diversity as covered in this report is acceptable as long as the full historicity of the creation account is accepted."

The original motion from the Creation Study Committee had been considered as an omnibus, and had three parts: (1) that the entire report "be distributed to all sessions and presbyteries of the PCA and made available for others who wish to study it"; (2) that "the Assembly declare its sense that in order to permit careful and prayerful contemplation of this matter, no further action of any kind with respect to this report be taken by the General Assembly for a period of at least two years"; (3) that the committee be dismissed with thanks. Because the motion came as an omnibus, and because no amendment was possible, the Assembly witnessed the motion being under attack from extremes on opposite ends of the spectrum. Dr. Barker wanted to put an end to the matter, by having the Assembly declare its acceptance of the diversity of opinion. On the other hand, Ruling Elder Daniel Jarstfer argued against the motion because he did not want what he called false and even heretical teachings. The Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary student cautioned lest the church cause little ones to stumble, and urged that the church should not be maintaining a view which in essence says that children have been deceived in their straightforward acceptance of creation in six literal days.

After the defeat of the Committee's motion, the Rev. David Coffin moved that the first and third recommendations from the Committee be adopted. Shortly thereafter, Frank Barker moved his amendment, thus setting the stage for the substitute motion for the whole.

That substitute motion was put forth by the Rev. David Hall, a retiring member of the Standing Judicial Commission. Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Mr. Hall has been in the forefront of urging that the authors of the Westminster Standards meant six normal and consecutive days by the employment of the term, "in the space of six days." He moved the following: "With charity toward all our members and with fidelity to the original authors of our confessional standards, our understanding is that, until evidence to the contrary is found, the Westminster divines intended the confessional phrase 'in the space of six days' to specify that the six days of creation were days of normal duration with evening and morning. Accordingly, for the peace of the church, any future candidates who differ with this original meaning should request an exception to this sense of the Confession until documentation that the Westminster divines held other views is firmly established. We also urge courts of original jurisdiction to make these future determinations with care, charity, honesty, and impartiality."

After the votes, two long lines formed as commissioners recorded their negative votes on the approved measure. Commissioners indicated their intention to file their positive votes on the lost substitute. Recording his negative vote on Dr. Barker's amendment was Mr. Coffin.

The action came toward the evening recess, after long parliamentary wranglings in the late afternoon and into the evening. On more than one occasion, even after cloture on a motion, points of information and points of order prolonged the time spent on the matter. At one point, approximately 45 minutes was spent on trying to decide the propriety and effect of a procedural motion from the Creation Study Committee. The Assembly finally decided that the Committee's recommendation, in effect, suspended some of the provisions of Roberts Rules of Order; the procedure was adopted by a requisite two-thirds super-majority. The approved procedure called for one hour of presentation of the report by the Committee, followed by an hour of open debate, discussion, and questions.

Assembly Approves New Women's Policy

Tampa, Florida (June 21, 2000)-The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) today approved a new policy with regard to women speaking. While affirming that women should not preach in public worship under the auspices of the Mission to North America (MNA) Committee, the court also stated that there is a difference between "the preaching of the Word in worship and the subject matter of seminars," and that at the heart of that difference is "the issue of authority." The Assembly interpreted the I Timothy 2 prohibition on women teaching or having authority over men as applying to formal worship and "not that of the more informal seminar which is generally more subjective, informal and based on personal experience than is the preaching of the Word in worship." The new policy says that in most cases, "teaching and ruling elders present the content in the seminar context. However, from time to time, GA/MNA may ask that godly men and women give presentations even though they are not elders, but who in God's providence may have insights and experience which may prove helpful and instructive to those who lead in ministry."

The new policy supercedes that enacted by the 1997 General Assembly, which stated that women were not to conduct seminars except where the intended audience was other women. Today, the Rev. Roland Barnes, a member of the MNA Committee, moved a substitute motion which would have mandated that the MNA Committee "will not employ women as keynote speakers or expositors of the Bible in seminars except when those seminars have women as the primary audience (I Timothy 2:11-12; Titus 2:2-3/BCO 12)." Mr. Barnes' proposal also would have allowed MNA from time to time to "invite godly women, who in God's providence may have insights and experience which may prove helpful to those who lead in ministry, to give informational presentations to audiences comprised of men or women, in a seminar or similar context."

In Other Action . . .

In other action, the 28th PCA Assembly . . .

*Approved the formation of a new permanent program committee. The Committee on Reformed University Ministries will begin functioning this year; and will gain final status pending amendments to the Book of Church Order.

*Approved the acquisition of new office buildings in the Atlanta area.

*Approved the dissolution of Northeast Presbytery and the establishment of three new presbyteries in its place: Southern New England, Northern New England, and New York State.

*Approved the communication of concerns to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with regard to its reception of a PCA minister who has been indefinitely suspended, and authorized the Stated Clerk to "likewise address other Reformed bodies who apparently disregard our discipline when requested by a PCA presbytery."

*Upon motion from the floor, instructed the Interchurch Relations Committee to "move the expulsion of the CRC [Christian Reformed Church] from NAPARC if the CRC does not rescind its position on the ordination of women."

*Received several personal resolutions. Ruling Elder Robert Miller wants the Stated Clerk to "be directed to request an audience with those government officials who have not responded to the Assembly's previous communication on the abortion issue in order to convey personally the Assembly's grave concerns." Mr. Miller also introduced a resolution with regard to women in combat. The Rev. Jerry C. Mead addressed concern over "A Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women," which has been recommended by a United Nations committee; according to the resolution, "This convention proposes the legalization of prostitution, as well as the recognition of homosexual practice as normal, marriage of same sex couples, and other pro-abortion legislation." The Rev. Charles Wilson stated in his resolution that "there are many unsettling issues in the PCA such as the Creation issue, the role of women in the Church, and the requested division of Westminster Presbytery on theological grounds"; and it asked for a committee to study the diversity of opinion in the PCA and to propose a method "as to how the present differences may be laid to rest." The Rev. Jeff Black wants to know what happened to the half a million dollars raised for the support of Franco Maggiotto in Italy. And the Rev. John Owen Butler desires a regular reporting in the denominational statistics concerning catechizing.