My quick summary of the PCA’s 38th General Assembly can be read in this post. My recap of the Overtures Committee may be found here. Although I wasn’t involved in the Administration Committee, their report, or the strategic plan itself, I did speak a number of times during the debate on the floor of the Assembly.
Let me say up front that I have good friends on all sides of this issue. I posted nothing on the plan before General Assembly because I knew that key recommendations would change, and I hadn’t heard sufficiently from all sides in yet. The final pieces fell into place when I listened to Dr. Bryan Chapell’s and Dr. Roy Taylor’s talk on Tuesday afternoon/evening and then later had a chance to read the actual recommendations.
On the good side, I think that a lot of effort went into this stage of the plan. It builds on the ongoing work of the last ten years, so doesn’t stand on its own. The early years document the planners’ intent to start from a firm Scriptural and Confessional base. Although many complained about the Cooperative Ministry Committee, the General Assembly in 2006 voted to create that committee when we modified the RAO (page 74 of the 34th GA’s minutes) and we all vote for its members.
Some zeroed their criticism on the Admin Committee itself, but I believe that many don’t understand its structure. The committee is like all PCA committees. Its membership consist of TEs and REs nominated by the presbyteries and elected by the General Assembly. They aren’t “staff” working in Atlanta, they are our friends and neighbors. I have several friends on the committee and can attest that they take their obligations and responsibilities seriously.
On the other side, I think that this year’s step in the plan could have done a better job of including its lineage in its publication, reminding commissioners of where we are in the cycle and how we got here. Citations from past GA minutes may have been helpful. Although no one likes duplication, many of the commissioners this year had little memory of what was done ten years ago.
Even with that in mind, I do believe that there was a fair amount of popular sociology in this year’s proposals. Having spent 30 years in the National Sociological Laboratory, also known as the U.S. military, as well having read pretty widely, I know pretty much all the latest buzz words and phrases. I saw some represented prominently in this year’s plan.
So, the lack of included background, including explicit Scriptural and Confessional basis, combined with misunderstandings by some of the Admin Committee’s structure and the sociological-sounding language pretty much guaranteed conflict with church officers seeking an explicit Scriptural and Confessional foundation for the plan. The net result was about seven hours of parliamentary maneuvering, motions, voting and counting votes.
First, I strongly supported the new funding plan for administration of the PCA. No organization can long survive without a strong administrative backbone. Dr. Roy Taylor and our staff work incredibly hard to serve the PCA to God’s glory. They took painful measures this year to cut around $400,000 from the PCA’s administrative budget, including an across-the-board 5% salary cut. A good alternative would have been to eliminate the print version of ByFaith Magazine which I understand is heavily subsidized.
I have little patience for the about 50% of PCA churches which provide no support for the administration of the PCA. If a church affiliates with the PCA, it should pay its way. I don’t know of any organization or association which doesn’t require its membership to pay something to support the organization/association and use its name. God set up a model system with the Levites in the Old Testament. Even Jesus paid his temple tax. Should the PCA churches do less? I don’t think so. The plan provides leeway for true hardship cases, but they should be very rare indeed. I strongly recommend that the presbyteries approve the required BCO changes coming from this year’s GA.
There were other parts of the plan, especially the unsupported “s-curve” and some of the means, with which I wasn’t thrilled. I spoke against several means on the floor and thought that we defeated one of the worst, but somehow a clear card show defeat for the motion turned into a lopsided count for it. I won’t even speculate how that might have happened. But I also spoke in favor of other means in the plan. I didn’t have major heartburn with any of the overall themes. In the end, I believe that the entire plan was approved by the Assembly.
That opens the question of what effect that will have on the PCA? My perhaps surprising answer is that aside from the financial support for the administrative staff, none. Nothing. Let me explain. The themes, goals, and means were just words, nothing more. They bind no presbytery or session. They didn’t change the Confession, BCO or RAO, so they could not do so.
That’s not to say that folks won’t try to implement some of these things. However, before that can happen, budgets must be approved for studies, ministries, etc. Only the GA can do that. That means that only you PCA commissioners can approve such actions. So regardless of the seven hours already spent debating and voting, everyone still has the opportunity to prune the undesirable means as they come to the table for possible implementation.
Lastly, I feel that I must comment on the objection filed. An objection was filed on a recommit motion that failed. The objector felt that the Assembly was misled when a strategic plan proponent said that the Scriptural basis was in the 2000 and 2006 presentations, and that possibly swayed the vote against recommitting the plan back to the Admin Committee. I firmly believe that this friction arose from a misunderstanding. I believe that the objector expected to find explicit Scripture or Confessional citations or “proof texts” for the plan elements, while the proponents simply meant that the early reports cited Scripture and the Confession as the foundation for the plan and everything that the PCA does but didn’t provide a lot of “proof texts”. I remain saddened by this situation.
So what did we get in the end? Verification that the PCA remains a diverse denomination united by our love for Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, and our Confessional Standards. Reinforcement that sincere, godly men can see the world differently in good faith yet still love each other as brothers in Christ. But most important, that what binds us in the PCA together in Christ and his gospel is far greater and more important than even strongly-held disagreements on the data or means in a strategic plan.
Doubt me on this? Over in the PC(USA)’s GA this week in Minneapolis, they will debate homosexual “ministers” (again), homosexual “marriage” (again), and they just elected a woman as moderator (again). They stopped believing in the inerrancy of Scripture or taking the confessions seriously a long time ago and already condone homosexual union “blessing ceremonies”. Compared to that landscape, we in the PCA live in paradise. Rejoice, fathers and brothers! Relish and celebrate the PCA and our faithfulness to Scripture and the Confession.