[This is an opinion piece about an internal discussion in the PCA. If you are not in the PCA, you are welcome to skip it as it contains matters of an internal debate, which will in no way diminish my appreciation for the PCA and its work]
A few weeks ago, the CMC released the PCA strategic plan. This plan looks into the future and attempts to make changes to plan for the future and how the PCA will see its own role in the future in American Christian mission and religious life. I wanted to take some time to read the plan and reflect on it. I do this not as a voting member of Presbytery, but merely as a person under care of a Presbytery looking toward ordination in the PCA. Thus, my thoughts are tempered and are only suggestive to those who might be voting members.
The plan, spearheaded by President Bryan Chapell of Covenant Seminary, has a few general themes, some BCO change recommendations and some suggestions on changing the affiliations of the denomination. As I comment, I would also like to say I have benefited greatly from Chapell’s work especially on preaching and respect him as a minister in good standing. I would like to briefly comment on the proposed themes and changes.
1. Require contribution to the PCA Administrative Committee for participation in GA.
Many prominent PCA ministers, including Lig Duncan, have supported this part of the plan as a step in the right direction towards a more Presbyterian church government. After all, even the Southern Baptist Convention, a looser confederation than the Presbyterian form of government, requires contribution to vote at their convention. Over half of the churches in the PCA contribute nothing to the PCA and have voting rights.
Generally, I would agree that this perhaps is the historical structure of a Presbyterian governed church. That half of the churches contribute nothing is embarrassing. The requested amount is less than 1% of a church's budget, hardly a bank breaker.
However, we must recognize where the PCA comes from. The PCUSA had a strong denominational structure that still hamstrings some individual churches in regards to property ownership. PCA churches are, and should be, weary of a strong denominational government, not due to the current ethos of the denomination, but the possible future status of the denomination. If a church becomes concerned with the use of its resources in the future, if they protest by withholding contribution that would deny that church a vote at GA. Such a move empowers the denomination over the local church. Although more churches should contribute, and be petitioned to contribute, none should be required to.
That leads to a second objection. Might I quote a Baptist who may have a point where he is more Reformed that the PCA strategic plan: "The local church is the focal point of God's plan for displaying his glory to the nations." This is the motto of 9 Marks, Mark Dever's organization for reforming churches according to Scripture. This perhaps should be the dominant philosophy of the PCA in the future. This leads to our next theme:
2. Redirecting the mission focus of the PCA away from NAPARC
NAPARC is the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council. This Council consists of confessional Reformed and Presbyterian Churches like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the United Reformed Church. This organization is dedicated to confessional expression of the Reformed tradition and presenting a unified front on in this endeavor of advancing confessional Reformed churches in
Page 26 of the Strategic plan recommends withdraw from this organization. The reasoning is given in Bryan Chapell's video that this organization consists of "micro-denominations" that have fewer members than the PCA but have equal vote. This organization is said to be draining our time and energy since it "shares our doctrinal identity, but not our ministry focus." This statement is never clarified, however, from the rest of the plan this seems to mean a new focus to work with organizations, outside of our confessional identity, that do not share our doctrinal distinctives but give the PCA more "influence," presumably as a Reformed voice among non-Reformed Christians in missions organizations.
This proposal, I believe, is the most telling of the vision of the strategic plan. The plan introduces various "means" towards achieving the goal of a larger "influence" in American Christianity. This is misguided on a number of fronts, but this is chief:
If we do not share the ministry focus of NAPARC, then we are do not truly share their doctrinal identity.
Confessional Reformed doctrine believes the means of achieving the mission of God in the world are the means God has ordained. These are not parachurch organization, though they may have some role, but the "ordinary means" as outlined in the Westminster Larger Catechism Questions 154-160. These means are the Word, read and preached, the sacraments and prayer. In other words, the means of accomplishing the mission of God is the church performing its ordinances given to it by God, by which He has promised to bring fruit. When the Word is preached, that is the means by which people are converted (Romans 10:14-17, 1 Cor 1:21). Baptism and the Lord's Supper are visible words, proclaiming that gospel alongside the Word (Ephesians ; 1 Cor ) and prayer is the means of advancing the kingdom (Mathew 6:9-13, See Matthew 6:10 NET). A focus away from the local church towards the denomination, denominational programs and parachurch organizations due to a leveling off of church membership displays an approach driven by numbers and a desire to manipulate those numbers by means other than the ones we are commanded to be faithful to perform. (Tim 4:13)
What has attracted me to the PCA is the churchly spirituality of the Reformed faith as expressed in the PCA. I believe the PCA is well positioned to offer a biblical churchly spirituality to a culture that is greatly lacking true spirituality instead chasing fleeting experience, psychological comfort and charismatic mirages. I would like to see the PCA continue to do so rather than become more generically evangelical.
Alternatively, the PCA as a denomination certainly could establish structures and programs that would help advance the mission of the church, but these must be with a focus to the local church, not programs or parachurch associations.
Here are a few alternative suggestions:
1. Establish an internship fund of the PCA.
The OPC has a general fund to pay those seeking ordination in the OPC to work within a local church for up to a year. This allows a future minister to focus on learning the craft of ministering from a local minister, whose church may not be large enough to support that intern alone. This also allows the ministerial candidate to focus on the craft of ministry solely for the year of preparation rather than also maintain a full time job, thereby shortchanging his internship experience.
2. Fully fund RUF ministers and Missionaries through the PCA.
Either we consider RUF minister to actually be ministers or we do not. Currently, most RUF ministers are only half-supported by the church and half-supported by individuals. A minister is one who is supported by the church, as Paul tells us, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer deserves his wages." " (1 Tim 5:17-18) Only half supporting missionaries in MTW and MTNA and RUF ministers, if we truly consider them ministers, reduces them to half a minister and, though popular in American mission structure, a skirting of Scripture's command for the church to support their ministers.
Most church planters also are forced to raise support from individuals rather than the church. The same applies to these evangelist ministers. Either they are an elder/minister or not. If they are, the church ought to fund them, if not, then do not call them ministers.
If the PCA would take steps towards advancing the gospel and the kingdom to an even greater degree than they thankful have done, in the manner of supporting the local church, the first measure for more funding would meet with a greater welcome by me. However, the lack of faith the strategic plan seems to have for the ordinary means and the local church forces me to recommend to any that are attending GA this year to vote to defeat the strategic plan in regards to changing the BCO to require church funding of the denomination, and to vote against withdraw from NAPARC.
The focus must be brought back to a biblical focus on the local church, the means of grace, and the proclamation of the gospel purely and simply. This is the hope of the world and the future of God's universal invisible church. May the visible church in the PCA align itself as closely and faithfully to the command of God as possible.