Presbyterian International News Service
News Bulletin 29-1 June 20, 2001
Steve Fox Elected Moderator
Ruling Elder Calls for Assembly to Come Together and Glorify the Lord Jesus
Dallas, Texas (June 19, 2001)—Ruling Elder Steve Fox was elected Moderator of the 29th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. The Alabama churchman was chosen by the commissioners by a vote of 492-401 over Howard “Q” Davis.
As he assumed the chair, Mr. Fox stated that he was “humbled by your selecting me as Moderator.” Saying that he was “a printer by trade,” he noted that many errors occur in the printing business. However, “we don’t dwell on what errors were made or who made them.” Rather, the emphasis is to “get the ox out of the ditch and get the job done on time.” He candidly admitted, “I will make a lot of errors.” But the important thing regarding “this Assembly and our Church” is that “it’s about Jesus. It’s not about you and it’s not about me.” Rather, the question is “how can we together, as one, glorify the Lord Jesus.”
Nominating the successful candidate was the Moderator of the First PCA General Assembly, the Honorable Jack Williamson. The Greenville, Alabama, lawyer noted that his nominee had attended every PCA Assembly since the initial one in 1973, except for one. He called attention to the fact that he had served two full terms on the denominational Christian Education and Publication Committee and two full terms on the Mission to the World Committee, as well as on the Board of Great Commission Publications. His business, Walker Publishing Company of Montgomery, Alabama, has been used to print many of the denominational publications. Among his civic responsibilities have been serving as President of the Lions Club in the state capital, and President of the Blue-Gray Football Classic.
Nominating Mr. Davis was the Rev. John Stodghill. The pastor of the Philadelphus Presbyterian Church, Waynesboro, Mississippi, noted that he had known “Q” for forty years. Mr. Stodghill stated that his candidate had attended every PCA Assembly except for three. Besides being a lawyer, the Indianola, Mississippi, ruling elder is a sitting judge in Mississippi’s Fourth Circuit.
In an interview, the new Moderator was asked if he agreed with his predecessor regarding the state of the denomination. Mr. Fox responded, “I’m more on the positive side. The world’s in trouble. . . . But I think our church is healthy. I think God’s hand is on it. This is a crucial hour. But every hour’s a crucial hour. . . . I wouldn’t disagree with him, but it’s not a banner I would wave.”
Morton H. Smith States that PCA is Still Seriously Divided
Dallas, Texas (June 19, 2001)—Retiring Moderator Dr. Morton H. Smith, in his communion sermon, called for the Presbyterian Church in America to seek revival. But he also warned, as he did upon assuming the Moderator’s chair last year, that the denomination remains “seriously divided on what we mean by our ordination vows”; adding, “History would suggest that unless we come to agreement on these matters, we will face division.”
Using passages from II Chronicles 6 and 7 as a take-off point, the Dean at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary went to Philippians 3:1-16 in order to preach Jesus and the necessity of knowing Him and the power of His resurrection. Dr. Smith decried the politicization of the subscription issue in the denomination, which has led to one “side” or another seeking to impose its will through political power. He admitted that “there is a general distrust of each other regarding the type of church we are trying to build”; and proclaimed that “the only remedy for this is for there to be a spiritual awakening.”
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Dr. Smith confessed his own failures in the nascent days of the PCA, when he “did not press the matter of subscription.” The PCA’s original Stated Clerk said: “I was naïve to believe that our confession would be that of the Southern Presbyterian Church” in her best days. “I failed to press the matter . . . assuming that all conservative Presbyterians of the 20th century would agree with conservative Presbyterians of the 19th century.” He underscored his remorse regarding his failure, by saying, “I repent of that.”
The Moderator made an evangelical appeal for his listeners experientially to know Jesus Christ. “It’s not just knowing about Him, or knowing facts about Him.” Rather, it is an “intimate kind of knowledge.” Quoting theologian Leon Morris, “Eternal life is simply knowledge of God,” Dr. Smith pointedly asked: “Are you increasing today in the knowledge of Christ?” He later stated: “Brethren, if you do not see in your life evidence of sanctification, then you need to see if Jesus is really your Savior. . . . Our lives [as Christians] should be markedly changed.”
The patriarch offered pastoral advice to the pastors in the Assembly. He urged them to catechize their young people, as he alluded to the beauty of the Catechism’s answers and questions. He also urged the church’s ministers not to hesitate “to give the invitation to come to Jesus. . . . I would urge you to invite people often to come to Jesus.” In his view, “I think we all need to go back to these simple doctrines of the gospel.”
After Dr. Smith turned the gavel over to his successor, the Assembly expressed its appreciation by giving him a standing ovation. Ruling Elder Bingy Moore also presented to him the customary plaque from the Administrative Committee.
the Nature of Theological Subscription
Dallas, Texas (June 19, 2001)—A pre-Assembly seminar, featuring four well-respected churchmen from throughout the Presbyterian Church in America, explored the nature of theological subscription to the denomination’s confessional standards. Moderated by Dr. Will Barker, retired seminary professor and former General Assembly moderator, the panel consisted of Dr. Joseph Pipa, Dr. Bryan Chapell, Dr. Tim Keller, and the Rev. David Coffin.
Dr. Pipa made the first presentation. The President of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary argued for full subscription to the church’s standards.
President Chapell of Covenant Theological Seminary argued for “good-faith” subscription, in which the church courts would determine what views are acceptable.
Dr. Keller, Senior Pastor of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, stated: “My difference with my full-subscription brethren may be tiny. There are hundreds of doctrines in the Westminster Standards. . . . I’m arguing against full-subscription because I don’t think it will solve our problems.”
Mr. Coffin, Pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church, Fairfax, Virginia, contended that everyone is a strict subscriptionist, in that everyone has a set of doctrines on which he will not compromise.
Each panelist had fifteen minutes in which to make his presentation. That hour was followed by thirty minutes of rebuttal, and then an hour of receiving comments from various commissioners. A half-hour break was followed by forty-five minutes of questions and answers.
Tapes of the presentations, and the gentlemen’s full written materials, are available (www.tnpc.org/ga).
Heard at the General Assembly . . .
“I’ve been trying to be recognized at General Assembly for 12 years—I finally figured out it’s by going to microphone #1. . . . I have a new definition of the Christian life—it’s a combination of amnesia and déjà vu: ‘I know I’ve forgotten this before.’”—Dr. D. Clair Davis.
“I’m Associate Pastor under Roland Barnes, so anything he says, I agree with.”—Chris Hutchinson.
“Mr. Moderator, I didn’t understand myself to be making a motion.”—David Coffin.
“Try to leave no hanging chads.”—Morton H. Smith regarding the ballots for Moderator. After announcing the results of the election, Moderator Smith said, “and four of them we couldn’t figure out—Florida style!”