News Bulletin #30-02 June 18, 2002

Skip Ryan Elected Moderator of 30th General Assembly

Birmingham, Alabama (June 18, 2002)-The Rev. Dr. Joseph Ryan, Senior Pastor of Park Cities Presbyterian Church, Dallas, Texas, was elected Moderator of the 30th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. Ryan, known as "Skip," was elected by about a two-to-one margin over the Rev. Dr. Anees Zaka of Philadelphia Presbytery.

A graduate of Harvard College and Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Ryan was ordained to plant Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. His present congregation in Dallas is the third largest in the denomination, with 5309 members reported in the 2001 denominational Yearbook.

Nominating Dr. Ryan was Dr. Ligon Duncan, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi. In his nominating speech, Dr. Duncan noted Skip's wide-ranging service, which includes an international radio ministry and being a consultant for the U. S. State Department regarding South Africa.

In remarks immediately after his election, Skip Ryan spoke of the meaning of "communion" as being "common union." He applied that truth with regard to the present Assembly: "We call ourselves fathers and brothers, because we're part of a common family." That should be reflected in "the way we talk to one another, the way we love one another."

Nominating Dr. Zaka was Dr. Peter Lillback, Senior Pastor of Proclamation Presbyterian Church, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and an adjunct professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. Dr. Lillback argued that there was no better person than Dr. Zaka to demonstrate to a watching world that the PCA was committed to welcoming people of all races into the church. A native of Egypt, Dr. Zaka has been involved in ministry to Muslims.

Dr. Lillback noted that this was the 30th anniversary of the founding of the PCA in Birmingham, as well as the 40th anniversary of "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," penned by Martin Luther King, Jr., which attacked black Muslim extremism. Dr. Lillback stated that Dr. Zaka's election would send a strong signal, especially after the terrorist attacks of last September 11th, that the PCA was able to rise above extremism, racism, and hatred.

In an interview after the evening recess, Moderator Ryan said: "I do desire that the way we speak to one another reflect the fact that we belong to one another." In his view, the General Assembly is "also the gathering of the family as well as the gathering of the court of the church." Therefore, the language of family ("fathers and brothers") "is not happenstance."

Retiring Moderator Says "It's All About Jesus"

Birmingham, Alabama (June 18, 2002)-At the opening communion service of the 30th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) this evening, retiring Moderator Steve Fox exhorted the worshippers not to think of themselves, but to consider that "It's all about Jesus." He reminded those gathered of his remarks last year when he became Moderator, viz., that "it's not about me, it's not about you, it's all about Jesus."

This year, the Alabama printer declared: "It's not my way, or your way, or the highway. It's about His way, or it's no way."

Basing his sermon upon Jeremiah 1:4-19, Mr. Fox stated that the ancient prophet utilized a double-edged sword, bringing both a word of judgment and a word of hope. Josiah was a good king of Judea, but the people were not obeying the Lord. The ruling elder rhetorically asked, "If we're to be honest, how many times have we not heeded God's call?" The key is that our faith would not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

The Moderator applied the message by saying, first, that the PCA must be a church of the Word, living it and proclaiming it. Secondly, spiritual forces are at work in this world, even as people who were in bondage and captivity "needed to hear a word from the Lord." Third, "we're facing problems that can only be resolved by God Himself. We're to proclaim it and teach it. Unless the world sees Jesus Christ in what we do, we'll not see any progress in the kingdom." That is true at this Assembly, the highest court of the denomination.

Towards the end of his message, Steve Fox stated that the events of September 11th had served as reminders of "our vulnerability."

He gave application by asking, "Will we as a denomination make a difference in our world? Will we put aside our repetitive discussions and our egos?"

After the election of a new Moderator, Mr. Fox received a plaque from Administrative Committee Chairman Bingy Moore, in appreciation of his work the previous year.

General Assembly Votes to Allow Distribution of Independent News Outside the Meeting Hall

Birmingham, Alabama (June 18, 2002)-Upon motion by Dr. Morton H. Smith, Moderator of the 28th General Assembly, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) this evening voted to allow the distribution of independent news outside the Assembly meeting hall. The measure passed on a close vote, 592-520.

The matter had been raised when personnel from the Stated Clerk's office and the Administrative Committee (AC) forbad representatives of Presbyterian International News Service from distributing news bulletins outside the building where the Assembly is meeting. At a meeting of the AC earlier today, the Committee voted to allow the distribution of information in areas other than the exhibit hall prior to the setting up of the booths-a moot point, since the booths were in place by this morning.

Arguing for his motion, the denomination's original Stated Clerk noted that the heritage of the Southern Presbyterian Church, from which the PCA came, was to allow for open distribution of a wide variety of publications at General Assembly-from the left-wing Presbyterian Outlook to the conservative Presbyterian Journal. Dr. Smith also stated that given the sensitive nature of many of the debates that would be occurring at this Assembly, it was important not to give any impression of any type of censorship.

Arguing against the motion was the Rev. Andy Silman of Grace Presbytery, who said that Presbyterian & Reformed News had a booth at this year's Assembly from which it could distribute its material, and no one was censoring the news.

No one else sought a microphone, so the Moderator put the question. After a show of yellow cards, he ruled that the motion had lost. But cries of "division!, division!" prompted a counted vote, which revealed that the motion had carried by a margin of 53.2% to 46.8%.

Funds Being Raised for Christy Cook

Funds are being raised for a 43 year old PCA woman, who is suffering from Lupus and kidney disease. Christy Cook has been diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease, and needs a kidney transplant. Without the transplant, she will be permanently on dialysis. The projected cost of the transplant (without complications) and post-transplant medications, including anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life, will likely exceed $100,000.

Donations are being channeled through the National Foundation for Transplants (800-489-3863), and should be designated for the Christy Cook Fund. Canisters at the PCA General Assembly are available in order for commissioners to give contributions for this cause; and a table in the Bookstore will be selling items to help raise funds, also.

Christy is the daughter of Ross and Pat Cook, Atlanta. Mr. Cook formerly served in the denominational Stated Clerk's office as Business Administrator.

High Enrollment for General Assembly

Birmingham, Alabama (June 18, 2002)-At the opening session of the 30th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, it was reported that there were 453 ruling elders and 1028 teaching elders currently enrolled, for a total of 1481. Of the total reported, 69.4% were ministers, and 30.6% were elders.

PPLN Announces New Steering Committee

Four Women Named to Group of 29

The Presbyterian Pastoral Leadership Network (PPLN) has announced a new Steering Committee, to replace the original 17-man group. Among the new members of the Steering Committee are four women.

Miss Paige Benton, Sara Belz Drexler, Judy Honeycutt, and Mary Beth McGreevy join four ruling elders on the Committee. The original group was comprised only of men who are ministers.

Also joining the Committee are four ruling elders, and five ministers. One of the original ministers, the Rev. Dr. Harry Reeder, was named to a new Advisory Committee, which is comprised of fifteen ministers and seven ruling elders.

The announcement, which was posted in an email from the President's Office at Covenant Theological Seminary on June 3rd, stated that "these lay and ministerial leaders . . . represent a broad cross-section of PCA churches (e.g., Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern, rural, suburban, urban, Korean, African-American, Anglo, inter-racial, large, medium, small, traditional, contemporary, historic and new) and members (e.g., single, married, poor, middle-class, affluent, men, women, young, aged, teaching elders and ruling elders)."

Administrative Committee

The Administrative Committee (AC) of the Presbyterian Church in America met at the Altadena Country Club for a luncheon meeting.

Retiring members of the AC were recognized.

Frank Brock announced that he is putting together a Steering Committee comprised of two teaching elders and five ruling elders to help stimulate more Assembly attendance by ruling elders. He stated that ideally the Assembly should be comprised of three-quarter ruling elders and one-quarter teaching elders, but the goal for the 2005 Assembly is 50-50. At last year's Assembly, the ratio was 70-30, heavily weighted in favor of teaching elders. Tennessee Valley Presbytery gave him permission to take this matter to the Assembly. What is being suggested is to add a day to the Assembly, which would be taken up with perhaps fifty seminars on a variety of subjects. Model church building and model presbytery meetings are among the seminars suggested. Questions regarding rooms, logistics, and costs were raised and preliminarily addressed. The entire proposal was referred to the October stated meeting of AC.

Chairman Bingy Moore presented the question of distributing information outside the meeting hall. Without dissent, AC approved a policy that materials could be distributed outside the meeting hall before the exhibit booths are set up.

AC approved five more exhibitors for next year's Assembly.

Zondervan was removed as an exhibitor because of its promotion of The New International Version Bible.

AC approved the re-publication of the Westminster Standards to include additional proof texts and revised punctuation.

AC approved budgets for Overtures 19 ($10,000) and 33 ($5,000). A smaller budget was proposed for Overture 33, which deals with the TNIV, because of much work that has already been done.

Regarding Overture 7, which deals with the right of individual members of the corporation to inspect the records, the previous Grounds were amended.

The service mark violation by the PCA Pastoral Leadership group was announced as having been amicably settled, when PCAPL agreed to change its name. The group is now known as Presbyterian Pastoral Leadership Network (PPLN).

Pre-Assembly Worship Features Costumed Actors with Face Paint and Rock Music

Birmingham, Alabama (June 16, 2002)-The pre-General Assembly Sunday evening worship service at host church Briarwood Presbyterian featured costumed actors with face paint and rock music. The male and female actors appeared in a skit that lasted about fifteen minutes, and was part of a closing exercise associated with Vacation Bible School. Among the characters portrayed were a skunk, an armadillo, and a lady drill sergeant.

During the first part of the worship service, hundreds of children who had participated in VBS marched into the sanctuary and took up places at the front. A woman led that part of the worship, as she boasted of the accomplishments of the children over the previous week, including their having raised more than $5,000 for an orphanage in Nicaragua. She along with two boys also helped lead the children in singing a song, to the tune of Village People's hit song "YMCA"; while singing, "Why Not Today?", the boys demonstrated the words with actions a la the "YMCA" song.

There were other occasions of rock-type music. At the start of the service, two men and three women led the congregation in singing a Christian song or two to music with a heavy beat.

Several times, the congregation erupted in applause-for example, in appreciation of the accomplishments of the children, and after the skit. After the VBS presentation, a large percentage of the congregation exited, as did the children, prior to the ministry of the Word.

Toward the close of the service, the Rev. Dr. Harry Reeder, senior pastor at Briarwood, preached from II Timothy 2, on the importance of being Christian soldiers. The minister stated that "in a culture of entertainment and having fun," it is important to "realize the sobriety" of the fight in which we find ourselves today.

Eleven years ago, when Briarwood Presbyterian last hosted the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly, the pre-Assembly Sunday evening worship included liturgical ballet. The guest preacher that evening declared that anyone who was not "moved" by that display was not sensitive to the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Reeder was one of the original members of the Steering Committee of the Presbyterian Pastoral Leadership Network (PPLN), a new organization whose presence is being felt at this year's PCA General Assembly. He remains a member of the group's Advisory Committee. The PPLN's Mission Statement indicates that the organization is fostering the appreciation of "different forms of worship within the Reformed tradition and true to our regulative principle."

Churchmen Express Concern About GA

On the eve of the 30th Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly, churchmen from across the denomination have expressed concern about the General Assembly and certain trends in the denomination.

One of these churchmen is the Rev. Arnie Frank, a retired minister who served in three denominations, including the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES). Mr. Frank, who left the United Presbyterian Church (UPCUSA) in 1981 in order to become organizing pastor of South Hills Reformed Presbyterian Church, Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, stated that the PPLN group "makes me nervous. It seems as though the leverage that this group will have is a leverage that will be determined more by statistics than necessarily solid theology. It seems to be strangely similar to what I saw at work in the UPCUSA, particularly the general aura in terms of the politicization." He added "that we wouldn't know the full story if not for P&R News."

Another veteran minister from an RPCES background who is not happy about current trends in the PCA is the Rev. Dr. James A. Wiest. A native of Philadelphia, Pastor Wiest was a church planter as well as a pastor.

Commenting from his retirement home in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Dr. Wiest opined, "it appears that we are taking the same left turn the PCUS took when I was part of it (1961-69). I was in my first pastorate in Harmony Presbytery, South Carolina. Harmony was very conservative and concerned over the liberal agenda among the leadership. One of our ruling elders was doing some financial checking on the giving of the agencies. The official magazine stated that the church gave only a few thousands to the NCC [National Council of Churches] (under 10k, as I remember), but as he dug deeper, he found that funds were shuffled across comparable agencies directly without going through normal accounting. He finally tallied $406,000 a year was ferried unofficially across, amounting to several million in today's market.

"The magazine lied to cover up.

"It appears that the present overtures to our GA are designed to place the power in the heads of our agencies and stifle the grass roots influencing major decisions and direction of the PCA.  The fact that PCA Foundation refuses to reveal their giving casts a shadow on the integrity of their work.  All honest Christian organizations belong to ECFA to insure the monies are distributed ethically. No one is interested in who gives or what, but where it goes.  The Foundation is member #675 (1998 directory) of ECFA whose standard #5 states: Every member organization shall provide a copy of its current audited financial statements upon written request. So what's their problem?

"Another concern is subscription. I believe Morton Smith's letter covered it wonderfully well. Maybe I'm a little 'hard-pants', but if you don't want to subscribe to the true Reformed confession, as the PPLN wants not to do, then go sell cars or go on a Bill Clinton lecture circuit and make your living, i.e., find another denomination that suits your 'eisegesis' (what you want to believe and do)."

He added: "Our best counsel comes from Proverbs 22:28: 'Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.'"

Another churchman who expressed concern about the state of the church is the Rev. Dr. Ben Wilkinson. In a statement issued to the press, Dr. Wilkinson decried the approach advocated by PPLN, as well as expressing concern about other groups in the church. [See News Bulletin 30-01.-Ed.]