PRESBYTERIAN INTERNATIONAL NEWS SERVICE
NEWS BULLETIN 31-3 JUNE 12, 2003
Charlotte, North Carolina (June 11, 2003)—The 31st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) this morning gave final approval to a Book of Church Order (BCO) amendment which endorses “Good Faith” subscription. The standing vote was 816-545, or about 60% to 40%.
The debate, though intense at times, was characterized by respect on the part of the participants.
Leading off the debate was a speech against the proposal by the Rev. Skip Dusenbury of Potomac Presbytery. He argued that the amendment “had defects in it itself,” including the fact that the placement of the amendment in Chapter 21 (rather than in the Preliminary Principles) is unwise, that it doesn’t define the term “exceptions,” and that it “enshrines a straw man.” Secondly, he cited the “danger of impatience”: “When we become impatient, we often make mistakes. We can do better.” Thirdly, he appealed to the “duty of charity” with respect to love and the preservation of unity among the brothers. “I would urge us not to press this. . . . All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient.”
The Rev. Warren Gardner of North Georgia Presbytery sought the microphone to issue a Constitutional challenge to the amendment, in that it seeks to modify Confessional Standards without the requisite votes in BCO 26-3. However, Moderator Joel Belz ruled that the 3/4 vote specified there refers to the modification of the Confession itself, rather than subsidiary documents.
Dr. Frank Barker of Evangel Presbytery spoke in favor of the amendment. “From the beginning, this denomination was never intended to be a strict subscriptionist denomination.” He stated that the current proposal was designed to “put into words” what had always been the intention, and that this amendment was “to solve controversy.”
Ruling Elder Pat Shields of Potomac Presbytery, reflecting upon the number of times which his presbytery had had to vote on the matter, said, “In a few moments, I will have the sixth opportunity to vote on Item 2. I agree with the sentiments expressed in Item 2.” However, he urged the defeat of the measure, because “no matter how intended, it will dilute” the Confessional Standards. “I understand the fatigue of brothers who have wrestled with this [issue] for ten, twenty, or even thirty years.” However, “we will have opportunity to have a study committee.”
Dr. Will Barker argued in favor of the proposal for four reasons: 1. it is the best way to safeguard orthodoxy, to have a candidate declare his difference; 2. it guarantees a candidate’s knowledge of the Standards; 3. it guarantees honest subscription; 4. it really guarantees the priority of Scripture.
In opposing the amendment, the Rev. Wallace Tinsley of Fellowship Presbytery stated: “I agree with Frank Barker’s statement that we need to solve these problems. . . . I also agree with three and a half of Will Barker’s statements as well.” However, “the Confession of Faith and Catechisms are our tool to bind us to the Bible.” He continued: “I have struggled to understand the term ‘Good Faith’”; and he suggested the following “functional definition”: “it’s an assertion of good intentions necessarily joined with an admission of failure.” Given that definition, he would urge different nomenclature.
Dr. Kennedy Smartt of North Georgia Presbytery began his speech by saying, “I’m going to keep on loving you no matter which way you vote.” He recounted the poll he had done several years ago of the Organizing Committee of 40 for the Continuing Presbyterian Church (which led to the formation of the PCA), and noted that three of the respondents wanted the new denomination to adhere to total abstinence, while only one wanted it to stand for strict subscription.
The Rev. Andrew Webb, an organizing pastor in Fayetteville, North Carolina, appealed to history and the warning which Robert Toombs, Jefferson Davis’ Secretary of State, issued concerning the decision to fire on Fort Sumter: “It is unnecessary, it puts us in the wrong, it is fatal.” Mr. Webb said: “At the time, of course, his warning went unheeded, but I wonder how many men a little over four years later, viewing the destruction of Atlanta and Richmond, the death of over 600,000 Americans, wished it had been [heeded]?
“That’s the problem though, isn’t it? You rush to the decision in the heat of the moment, and once you fire the shot, you can never take it back.
“Brothers, we are about to make a decision we have arrived at as quickly as we possibly could, without the erection of a study committee or even the benefit of perfecting language. [con’t.]
“Once we have made it, I fear we will never be able to take it back.
“Once we pass this, our presbyteries will be empowered to grant exceptions to any doctrine we confess is taught in Scripture by a simple 51% vote.
“Once those exceptions are granted, precedent is set, and that doctrine will never again be an impediment to the ordination of any man. . . .
“Gradually, but inevitably, our standards will be eroded.
“This will not happen overnight, there will be no immediate catastrophe, in fact the initial action will probably be hailed as a triumph. But while I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, if we do make this decision, I foresee a day when presbyters—watching as men who believe things they thought unthinkable are ordained—will wish they could come back here to this moment in time and change what happened.
“Brothers, this amendment ‘is unnecessary, it puts us in the wrong, it is fatal.’”
Dr. Bryan Chapell of Illiana Presbytery contended that the amendment honors the PCA’s commitment to the Bible as “the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” President Chapell said that the source of tension over the amendment “is good men differing over what will best preserve” the church. “We all want to fend off liberalism,” he proclaimed.
Dr. Joseph Pipa of Calvary Presbytery urged the commissioners to vote down Item 2. He stated that the “question as it has been framed . . . has manifested tremendous misunderstanding of this issue.” As for taking ordination vows in “good faith,” Dr. Pipa said that the Confession of Faith addresses the matter of oath-bearing. He also stated: “This amendment takes it a step further” than simply allowing exceptions, in that “the presbytery may decide if it is an exception.” Like previous speakers, he counseled the appointment of a study committee “to help a divided church” come to consensus on the matter.
The Rev. Mike Khandjian of Southern Florida Presbytery noted: “For twenty-five years, we have debated . . . strict subscription versus ‘Good Faith’ subscription.” He claimed, “Something important happened last year—80 to 90% voted to send this to the presbyteries.” Furthermore, more than 2/3 of the presbyteries had voted to approve: “We’re not talking hanging chads here. We made a defining decision as a denomination. We did something pretty cool. We out loud said as a denomination this is who we really are.” Responding to a previous speaker who warned against making mistakes as a result of hasty decisions, Pastor Khandjian said, “We just make mistakes—that’s part of life. . . . I’d rather make the forging ahead kind of mistakes,” rather than holding back.
Dr. David Coffin of Potomac Presbytery “offer[ed] all honor to those who are proponents.” However, he said that “part of the problem is that [the discussion] has remained in the stratosphere,” between competing slogans of strict subscription and Good Faith subscription, rather than dealing with the actual language. He called attention to the fact that the term “fundamentals” arose during the Fundamentalist controversy, and that “a presbytery could construe it as the barest of evangelical Christianity.” On the other hand, a presbytery could interpret it quite strictly as referring to all the doctrines of the Confessional Standards. This radical difference could lead to the “balkanization of our denomination.” He noted that Potomac Presbytery had produced a unanimously-adopted paper on creation (even though there are different views in the presbytery); but on this issue, “the vote was 28 to 29.”
Tom Leopard of Evangel Presbytery appealed to his fellow ruling elders, as he urged the Assembly to vote in favor of the amendment. “We’re never going to arrive at perfect agreement,” he averred.
The Rev. Jonathan Inman of Western Carolina Presbytery urged defeat of the proposal. “There are times we have to be very cautious,” adding that the controversy which had obviously been generated “is sufficient warrant for voting down this amendment.” In his view, what was called for was a proposal that was “less controversial, less divisive, and hopefully will be more helpful” to the church.
The Rev. Ron Steel of Chesapeake Presbytery had the last word in the debate. He argued in favor of the amendment as addressing some of the issues regarding “how much freedom” and “how much constraint regarding doctrine” there should be.
Several times during the debate, the Assembly had extended time for ten minutes. After Mr. Steel’s speech, a motion to extend time for seven minutes—i.e., until the orders of the day—failed.
A request from Dr. Pipa for a secret ballot was also voted down. At long last, the motion was put, and the momentous vote was cast. After the vote, a number of commissioners recorded their negative votes on the action just taken.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Presbyterian International News Service is hosting a special event Thursday evening upon recess, at the Hilton Inn, Walker Room. There will be a special presentation on one or more matters of interest to the Reformed church. Free book and free refreshments. Y’all come!
GA Cites Presbytery Regarding Doctrine of the Trinity
Charlotte, North Carolina (June 11, 2003)—The 31st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) today voted to reject the response of Southern Florida Presbytery to an exception to its minutes taken last year with regard to the doctrine of the Trinity. The issue revolves around a candidate’s rejection of the historic affirmations of the Holy Spirit’s eternal procession from the Father and the Son.
Presenting the recommendation to find Southern Florida’s response inadequate was the Chairman of the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records (CRPR), the Rev. Ted Trefsgar of New Jersey Presbytery. The CRPR recommended a pastoral-type letter to be sent to Southern Florida.
Leading off the debate from the floor was a ruling elder from Pacific Northwest Presbytery who serves on the CRPR. He noted that he was the last one on the Committee to be persuaded of the necessity of the recommendation. However, two reasons convinced him: 1. the position which the man in question espouses is not even the Greek Orthodox position; 2. the Presbytery doesn’t even think it’s an exception.
Ruling Elder Tom Bingham of Iowa Presbytery asked the Moderator whether the motion from CRPR was in order, given the action just taken to approve “Good Faith” subscription. The chair ruled that it was.
Dr. D. Clair Davis, who had at last year’s Assembly strongly supported taking exception to Southern Florida’s minutes in order to find out what the candidate was advocating, this year spoke against the CRPR’s recommendation. “In my judgment, the burden of proof is on the presbytery records committee, . . . not on the Presbytery.” He also suggested that a full-fledged evaluation of this doctrine should involve the Mission to the World Committee, which is working in countries with a heavy Eastern Orthodox influence. He stated: “I’m very surprised, frankly, that this matter has been pinpointed” by CRPR.
The Rev. Jeff Hutchinson of Western Carolina Presbytery, a member of CRPR, stated that the “tone of this letter [proposed by CRPR] shows that we regard Southern Florida brothers as brothers.” However, “if we do not guard this doctrine, we will be breaking fellowship with our brothers around the world.” He stated: “Clearly, the doctrine strikes at the fundamentals in many ways.” In his view, this view “would eviscerate our Confession of Faith. This man would have to take exception to whole portions of our Confession of Faith,” including with how the gospel came to believers in the Old Testament era.
The motion to reject Southern Florida’s response carried overwhelmingly.
Assembly Clarifies Committees’ Role Regarding Presbytery Overtures
Charlotte, North Carolina (June 11, 2003)—The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly today clarified what power committees of commissioners have to amend presbytery overtures.
After an extensive debate, the Assembly voted that such committees may propose “amendments intended to further the stated intent of the originating body.” However, the Assembly rejected the normal parliamentary standard that any amendments must be “germane,” since that term can encompass amendments which are “hostile” to the intention of the presbytery which has sent in the overture.
PCA Votes to Favor Church Union
Charlotte, North Carolina (June 11, 2003)—With no debate, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the unanimous recommendation of its Interchurch Relations Committee of Commissioners to adopt an overture from Philadelphia Presbytery which expresses that the PCA is “desirous of entering into conversations with [NAPARC denominations] with a view toward Church union.” The overture also directs the Permanent Interchurch Relations Committee “to initiate conversations with equivalent NAPARC Churches’ committees with a view toward Church union.”
HEARD ON THE FLOOR
“The first question they ask is, ‘Where’s Nebraska?’, the second question is, ‘Why would anyone go to Nebraska?’, and the third question is, ‘Whatever happened to the Nebraska football team?’ I don’t know the answer to the third question, I shouldn’t have to answer the first question, but I’d like to tell you the answer to the second question.”—Bart Moseman, RUF campus minister at the University of Nebraska.
“It’s the home of Krispy Kream donuts and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and a friend told me when I moved there, ‘Kevin, it’d be good not to be addicted to either one.”—Kevin Teasley re Winston-Salem.
“And Mr. Dunahoo, I have a chocolate chip cookie for you—you came in at exactly 15 minutes, and I thank you for that.”—Joel Belz, commending the CE/P Coordinator for keeping to the allotted time.