PRESBYTERIAN INTERNATIONAL NEWS SERVICE
NEWS BULLETIN 31-2 JUNE 11, 2003
Joel Belz Elected Moderator of 31st Assembly
Charlotte, North Carolina (June 10, 2003)—Ruling Elder Joel Belz of Asheville, North Carolina, was elected Moderator of the 31st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). He was unopposed for the position, and was elected by acclamation.
A member of Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church in Asheville, Mr. Belz is best-known for his having founded World, the leading Christian news magazine. Prior to that, he was on staff for a number of years with the Presbyterian Journal, which was the predecessor publication of World.
The Presbyterian Journal was one of four organizations which called in 1971 for the formation of a Continuing Presbyterian Church, a movement which led to the founding of the PCA two years later. Over the years, several men associated with the Journal have been elected Moderator of the PCA Assembly, including board members Jack Williamson (1973), Jim Baird (1984), and Morton H. Smith (2000), and a couple of editors: G. Aiken Taylor (1978) and Will Barker (1994).
Nominating Mr. Belz was Dr. Robert Rayburn, pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, Washington. Dr. Rayburn noted the long heritage of involvement in Christian education which has characterized the Belz family, starting with the patriarch sixty years ago. Cono Christian School in Walker, Iowa, was begun by Joel’s father, Max Belz, as a result of his vision for a Christ-centered education.
Dr. Rayburn lauded the nominee’s work on the board of Covenant College, as well as on the Session of his church and in Western Carolina Presbytery. The Tacoma pastor also made note of the significant influence which World magazine has had.
Upon accepting the moderatorship, Mr. Belz alluded to his work as a journalist as he offered three “accurate” quotes to aid the Assembly in its business. The first was from the Apostle Paul with regard to putting away all malice and wrath and above all things to put on love. Secondly, he referred to the ordination vows which every commissioner had taken, to study the peace and the purity of the church. He stated that that was “not simply an ecclesiastical shibboleth.” We need to speak the truth in love to each other; he added that “mercy and truth have kissed each other,” a theme he sees throughout Scripture.
The third quote was from his late father. Joel Belz stated that his “first acquaintance with Presbyterianism came when I was seven years old and my dad hauled me off to the General Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church.” He said that he was fascinated with the functioning of the church court, including parliamentary procedure; and reminisced on his days with the Presbyterian Journal when “lo and behold, I got to go to six or eight or ten General Assemblies or Synods every single summer—you might think, What kind of punishment is that?” He then recounted that his father described the church as a gnarled old log, a snarled piece of wood, and that his father said that “God designed the church that way. He made us so that we agree in different directions. It’s kind of hard to split that kind of wood.”
To the amusement of the Assembly, Mr. Belz held up a huge gavel which he had had a friend fashion for him—a gavel which illustrated the gnarled nature of the church. The Moderator said, “Let’s ask Him [God] to use these gnarled knots for the good of the church and not its destruction and I pray that that will be the case.”
In an interview after the evening recess, Mr. Belz responded to a question about the state of the denomination by saying, “I have fears, but my optimism is greater than my fears.”
Adoption of the Docket Not a Routine Matter
Assembly Sets Aside Business for Two Hours of Prayer
Court Also Schedules Early Discussion on Filioque Controversy
Charlotte, North Carolina (June 10, 2003)—The adoption of the docket for the 31st General Assembly proved to be a more lively matter than is usual for this type of meeting. But wrestling with the issue of priorities in what many regard as a full agenda led to significant amendments to the proposed docket.
Leading off the debate was a motion by the Rev. Dr. Morton H. Smith, Moderator of the 28th General Assembly and original Stated Clerk of the PCA. Dr. Smith moved that the entire morning on Wednesday be given over to a time of prayer and fasting, with commissioners to gather either individually or corporately, with the time of devotion to conclude with the scheduled worship service at 11:15 AM. Dr. Smith’s motion specified that all exhibits be closed during this time, and that no committees meet either. The veteran churchman said, “I look at this Assembly as perhaps the most significant since those early Assemblies” of the PCA. “We need to have the Lord’s guidance in this matter [i.e., subscription].”
The Rev. Larry Hoop of Iowa Presbytery spoke against the motion. While conceding that “it’s awfully hard to speak against prayer,” he also said that “we have many other items of business and a very short time to do it.”
Dr. D. Clair Davis spoke in favor of Dr. Smith’s motion. “This is perceived as a very, very important matter,” one which called for “all the prayer we can muster. . . . I think we’re better off supporting this change on the agenda,” he said, even if it means having to go a couple of extra hours in the evenings.
The Rev. George Robertson offered a substitute motion, which simply called for two hours of prayer from 8:00 to 10:00 AM. The St. Louis pastor said that setting aside two hours for prayer, rather than the entire morning, was “in view of the rationale offered by the previous speaker.”
The substitute for the amendment carried, and then the amendment was adopted by an overwhelming margin.
The other major matter for discussion surrounded the request from the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records (CRPR) that the matter of the exception to the minutes of Southern Florida Presbytery be scheduled as the first item of business for Wednesday at 10:00 AM. The controversy has to do with the denial by an ordinand of the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son.
Presenting the motion to schedule the early consideration of the controversy was CRPR Chairman Ted Trefsgar, who urged that the matter was of such significance that his Committee believed that it had to be handled early in the meeting, when most of the commissioners would be present.
Opposing the motion was the Rev. Mike Khandjian, who stated that since the Assembly had set aside two hours of prayer particularly with respect to the subscription issue (Item 2 of the BCO amendments), “then to push off that discussion would be wrong.”
CRPR member Dwight Dolby of Southwest Florida Presbytery spoke in favor of the motion: “It became clear to the Committee that this item provides the context” for the subscription issue, and that it “will shed important light to that ‘Good Faith’ subscription vote.”
The Rev. Joseph Wheat of Rocky Mountain Presbytery said, “I think the things we have before us are hugely significant for the PCA,” and urged that the Assembly should “move forward with this docket.”
The Rev. Jeff Hutchinson of Western Carolina Presbytery, another CRPR member, said, “We on the Committee represent a wide variety of views” regarding subscription, and that “without dissent” the Committee believed that the Assembly as a whole needed to deal with whether the exception “struck at the heart of the fundamentals” of the system of doctrine. Alluding to the work of the Committee, the Asheville pastor quipped, “We report, you decide.”
The Rev. Dr. Peter Lillback moved a substitute motion, that the CRPR partial report be acted on immediately following the BCO amendment discussion. “Let’s deal with the general, because that’s what moved us to prayer and fasting. If we deal with the particular, it may cloud the general.”
Opposing that substitute was Dr. Neill Payne, a ruling elder from Black Mountain, North Carolina, who stated that he would like to see how the subscription matter operates in actuality “and not in generality” and “how this will probably play itself out.”
The Rev. Joe Novenson spoke in favor of the substitute. “Within our Session, to deal with personality [first] is fraught with difficulty.”
The Assembly approved the substitute, and then the motion as amended.
HEARD ON THE FLOOR: “Shuttle buses—as Billy Graham would say, ‘Your buses will wait.’”—Stated Clerk Roy Taylor.
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