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2017 General Assembly report

June 28 2017
June 28 2017

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Thank you, again, for supporting the denomination of our church. Just as an individual at church on Sunday morning is encouraged to become a member of the church body (learn how), so too is Faith Presbyterian Church a member of a larger church body, the Pacific Northwest Presbytery. And, of course, each of the 85 presbyteries of the PCA belong to the larger church body, the annual meeting of the denomination.

We love the congregational diversity within the PCA in terms of vision, mission, worship style, demographic, etc. We also love the stability of the PCA in terms of submission to the inerrant and infallible Word of God, accountability according to Matthew 18, and the connection with historic Protestantism captured in the Five Solas (more here).

Our church sent me as the pastor of Faith, along with two elders, Bill March and Jeff Banker. We attended together not only the business meetings of General Assembly, but also various seminars taught by professors and church leaders. We returned tired, but very stimulated for the vision of our church.

Below is an attempt to summarize my general impressions of the General Assembly. A fuller and better summary is available from the Stated Clerk of our denomination, L. Ron Taylor. Dr. Taylor is a godly man who used to pastor and former professor of Reformed Theological Seminary. There is also a Flickr feed if you'd like to see photos. The entire event is also available on video.

  • First, let me confess that Greensboro, North Carolina, is a beautiful city. Most of our denomination’s churches are in the South, but I have spent most of my life west of the Mississippi. North Carolina is a green, lush, beautiful state.
  • According to reported statistics (of course, only 60% of our churches submit their statistics to the General Assembly), the denomination grew in 2016.
    • 1,545 particularized churches (an increase of 11)
    • 347 mission churches (an increase of 20)
    • Membership of 374,161 (an increase of 3,829)
    • Recorded Sunday school attendance is down, from 95,000 (minus 2,719)
    • Professions of faith of 9,729 (increase of 50)
    • Giving was up in all categories (total of $829m).
  • At this General Assembly there were some 1,300 teaching elders (that is, pastors), but only 300 ruling elders. It is gratifying that our church sent two ruling elders, but disappointing that other churches did not. To be sure, one difficulty is that an elder must use nearly an entire week of vacation in order to attend General Assembly. Next year, the denomination will put into place a shortened format so that it is easier for elders to make the time.
  • Reformed University Fellowship continues to grow, adding nine university campuses in 2016. RUF is on 145 campus in the US and is active in nearly ten foreign universities.
  • The General Assembly recommended churches to designate a Sunday during the coming year in which the mission and ministry of our denominational college, Covenant College, is highlighted. We have done this in the past and will do so again in October or November. Also, Mission the World (MTW) has requested that churches devote the month of November to pray for global missions, with November 5th as a Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church Worldwide.
  • The elders of our church have a dual responsibility: serve as the session (i.e. board of elders) for Faith, and serve as the Temporary System of Government (TSG) for Redeemer Kenai. The General Assembly decided that all TSGs now must submit separate minutes to presbytery. Our faithful clerk, Bill March, now must keep separate minutes for Faith and for Redeemer.
  • On a sad note, the General Assembly received a grave letter from the Free Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. Our denomination has roots in Scotland so it is not surprising that many PCA pastors love ministers and scholars trained in Scotland (like Sinclair Ferguson, Eric Alexander, Geoff Thomas, Derek Thomas, and T. Desmond Alexander). The Free Church of Scotland wrote the PCA regarding the suicide of Rev. Dr. Iain D. Campbell on Jan. 28, 2017, immediately following the discover of a moral misconduct (read his obituary by Donald Macleod).
  • The Racial Reconciliation and Ethnic Diversity study committee continues into year two of their two-year study. Members of the committee proposed the creation of the PCA Unity Fund to help raise up future generations of African-American and other ethnic minority elders.
  • The study committee on The Role of Women in the PCA, which was appointed last year, presented their completed report (see it here). The members of the committee also submitted nine recommendations to the General Assembly, each of which were adopted, though some were amended. The committee’s recommendations are generally summarized in their desire to make clear that, “from the founding of the PCA, there has been a variety of views and practices regarding the ways in which women may serve the Lord and the church within scriptural and constitutional parameters, without ordination.” After a careful study of Scripture, the committee’s desire is for the PCA to “develop, recognize, and utilize the gifts, skills, knowledge, and wisdom of godly women in the local, regional and national church” and to ensure that “qualified women to serve on appropriate committees and agencies within the church.” Both the committee and the General Assembly affirmed that the PCA believes Scripture does not allow for the ordination of women for the office of elder or for the office of deacon.
  • In PCA terminology, an “overture” is a request from a presbytery to General Assembly to recommend a change to one of the constitutional documents (like the Book of Church Order). This year there were 25 such overtures. Most of them had to do with adding presbyteries (there were more than 50 new churches planted in 2016). Many of them have to do with details regarding the operation of assembly processes. That said, here are overtures I watched carefully. Keep in mind that most of the overtures are voted on by a smaller committee first, before the entire General Assembly discusses them; here you can find a handy summary.
    • In Overture 7, the long-range planning aspect of the Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) was revoked. The CMC is a body that includes the six most recent moderators, the chairmen of the General Assembly Committees and Agencies, and the coordinators and presidents of the General Assembly Committee and Agencies. All strategic planning of this organization was forbidden.
    • Overture 2 would have given constitutional authority a portion of our Book of Church Order, chapter 59, regarding marriage. Here is the entire BCO. This overture would have made chapter 59 binding on all churches, forther solidifying our biblical view on marriage. General Assembly decided to delay a vote on this overture until 2018.
    • Overture 25 was unique in that it was submitted by one church in particular; the presbytery of the church would not affirm the overture. The overture stipulated that churches only support “wholly Christian education” for covenant children, with a hope that this would discourage parents from placing their children in public schools. This overture did not pass.

Next year, General Assembly will take place June 12-15 in Atlanta, GA. In 2019 we’ll meet in Dallas, and in 2020 we’ll meet in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

 

 



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