Posted by: reformedmusings | July 5, 2010

PCA 38th General Assembly – The Marathon Strategic Plan Debate

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.

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Responses

  1. You are saying that we need to pass the funding BCO changes at the presbytery level. Do you really agree with it? I just cannot see how anyone can.

    It is ‘requiring’ us to give money. And in that, no matter what the CCB says, it is contrary to BCO 25-8,10,11. It is contrary to what our fathers stood for as they came out of the PCUS. We are falling into the same mistakes as we have had in the past. And what is most appauling is the thought that if a church doesn’t pay one year they will have ‘back taxes’. Will this end in church discipline if a church or minister does not pay? Is this not a breaking of liberty of conscience?

    • Andrew,

      Yes, I’m encouraging the presbyteries to approve the funding plan. I understand and appreciate your concerns. I came out of the PCUSA after the Reimagining God conference, and I felt horribly betrayed. However, the new funding plan for our administrative support is nothing like the despotic PCUSA system. I believe that the funding plan makes sense and is Biblical.

      I started to put together a reply based on Scripture, but it was getting too long. I’ll try to put up a new post tomorrow night that I hope will advance the dialog.

      Bob

      • Just a little poke. Since you say you came out of the PCUSA, and the PCA funding plan is nothing like the despotic PCUSA system, I guess I would encourage you to think a little more on how the PCUSA system got so as you put it despotic. It didn’t happen overnight. I just hope you can be open to the idea that the rabbit hole is a lot deeper than you currently perceive. You’re a good guy, but you might want to dig even deeper in how much impact your time in the PCUSA influenced your thinking and point-of-view with respect to BCO kinds of issues.

        WRT to the funding I think you might want to think more about what Peter said to Ananias in Acts 5:4. It seems now, the PCA is demanding it.

        The casting of a vote in an assembly is part of the calling of an elder, whether he be teaching or ruling. The PCA now de facto has denied their elders the exercise of their office without a payment. First a registration fee. Then a fee to vote, then all previously unpaid fees must be paid before voting. What’s next? Before you know it, you’ll be looking at a system as despotic as the PCUSA.

        • I hardly know what to say. You know almost nothing about me and even less of my spiritual journey as led by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the proposed PCA admin funding scheme is nothing like the PCUSA, nor is a PCUSA scheme even possible unless 2/3 of the PCA presbyteries lose their minds. Alarmist hype edifies no one, nor does it glorify God.

          I should be able to get around to writing my post on the funding plan this weekend. Then you can critique my analysis.

          • WOW, back, I didn’t mean any offence. I’m sorry.

            I only know about you based on what you wrote. You mentioned being the PCUSA, and yes I don’t know you or your spiritual journey, but I do, I really do know the PCUSA quite well. I know how they got they way they are. There are many aspects of the PCUSA’s perversion of Presbyterianism that deceptive enough that most people wouldn’t question as being legitimate. That’s all I meant by how deep the rabbit hole goes, and what impact your your time the PCUSA might have had on you with respect to BCO issues. I know quite a number of good people that have come from bad Presbyterian denominations (like the PCUSA – NOT the PCA) and for most it is a very long process to replace their assumptions regarding BCO issues with historical biblical Presbyterian BCO principles. So I guess that doesn’t apply to you, again I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any offence.

            Fair enough, you call me alarmist, but from my POV, I’m just recommending perhaps the PCA might nip this in the bud. If laying out the progression of PCA charges for GA, and asking “What’s next?” is hype, I guess I’m left wondering how one goes about discussing it at all? I only used the term despotic because you did in reference to the PCUSA. My point was the PCUSA didn’t start out as despotic, but you say they are now. Did they get there in one step? Just because the PCA (and the funding plan as proposed) is not despotic now does that mean it can’t happen to them? FWIW, when I wrote “Before you know it…” I meant that as “ultimately with subtlety”, not “imminently.” It’s not like the PCA will be apostate because of it. (That I would agree would be alarmist.)

            The question, if you’re interested, I would like to have answered is how does the funding plan conform to biblical Presbyterian principals, that no one is to be deprived of the functions of their office (voting) without due process? Denying a TE or RE a vote is partially suspending them from the privileges of office. –or answer why that is not the case. Why doesn’t the biblical and historical process that Presbyterians have followed in the past whereby a man would be charged and tried in his court of original jurisdiction for a violation of the 5th commandment (not being in subject to the church) and the 9th commandment (violating his ordination vows in the 5th commandment violation above). Where is his right to appeal? Is the idea of the AC negotiating the back fees really qualify as right to appeal?

            Finally, it really was not my intention to rub you the wrong way — so just delete it all, and I’ll go away.

            Peace.

            • Peace. But, I didn’t call you an alarmist. I referred to one of your comments as alarmist hype. There is a difference.

              I am hoping to write the post that you and others desire to hear this weekend, Lord willing. Nothing wrong with discussion and disagreement, but I’d like to keep the discussion on an even keel.

              Did you attend the Duncan-Keller presentation at GA?

  2. Bob, This is an excellent summary. Thanks. Dave

  3. Thanks for your summary, and also for all your helpful participation on the floor of GA.

    I wonder, though, about Recommendation 17.c, that directs our agencies to put the Strategic Plan in motion. No doubt some of that activity will need to be aprpoved by GA, but it sure seems a lot of agency activity happens without any formal approval by GA, or at best only a high level approval of a general budget figure that is then used for details we don’t know much about until after the fact.

    How much active involvement do the permanent committees have?

    Thanks again (and thanks for your years of service to our country)!

    Martin

    • Hi Martin,

      Thanks for your note. I am looking at 17c, and it directs and authorizes folks to proceed with implementation to accomplish the goals (as amended). However, without GA-approved funding in specific committees (MNA, MTW, CTS, etc.), they’d be hard-pressed to do much. Whatever the permanent committees dream up, their respective committee of commissioners must approve next GA. Any proposed BCO or RAO changes must be ratified by the Assembly as well. They can “proceed” in planning, but unless it’s already in the budget, such plans go nowhere.

      I might add that the permanent committees must tread carefully. If they alienate their contributors across the PCA, churches will take their dollars elsewhere. Time will tell how prudent the individual committees will be. Remember that they are made up of line TEs and REs from across the PCA, probably some in your presbytery. If you feel strongly about something either way, I encourage you to seek out your committee members and let them know.

      Bob


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