Saturday, July 14, 2012

2012 PCA GA Insider Movement and Bible Translation

One of the most important things that this GA did was to approve the partial report of the Ad Interim Committee on Insider Movements, and to continue the work of the committee for another year. The partial report can be read here: and I strongly urge all PCA elders, at least, to read it. If you are unfamiliar with "insider movements" World magazine has a helpful article here: with a follow-up article here:

The matter at issue is not only Bible translation, but evangelism to Muslims. I'm sure that PCA churches want to see the gospel preached to Muslims, not only here in the US, but around the world. However, they want to see it done properly. It is questionable whether insider movements preach the gospel properly, hence the committee, hence the report.

Many Christians fail to recognize that Muslims believe a great deal about Jesus, and it is very easy to end up with a Muslim who is still a Muslim, with a thin veneer of Christianity.

Friday, July 06, 2012

2012 PCA GA (5) Intinction and Paedocommunion

Two other issues addressed at this year's GA are intinction and paedocommunion. The first is a liturgical oddity in which  the Lord's Supper is taken by dipping the bread in the wine (or grape juice), thus taking both elements together. It is apparently practiced in a number of churches in the denomination.Overture 30 from Savannah River Presbytery proposed amending BCO 58-5 with the addition of the words, "Intinction, because it conflates Jesus' two sacramental actions, is not an appropriate method for observing the Lord's Supper." The Overtures Committee proposed that this amendment be rejected. A minority report from the Overtures Committee proposed an amended form of Savannah River Presbytery's overture, replacing the addition given above with the statement, "As Christ has instituted the Lord's Supper in two sacramental actions, the communicants are to eat the bread and drink the cup in separate actions." This proposal passed by a vote of 348-334. The next step for this change to be introduced into the BCO is for it to be approved by two-thirds of the presbyteries. Given the apparently widespread character of the practice, achieving passage in two-thirds of the presbyteries seems unlikely. I will be posting more on intinction in later posts.

Paedocommunion is the idea that very young children, perhaps even infants (the age varies with regard to the advocates of the position), ought to be given the Lord's Supper. This issue came to the GA from the RPR Committee, which brought reports (including minority reports concerning three presbyteries). Since the responses of the RPR did not appear to be consistent with one another, the whole thing was sent back to the RPR, to bring a new, self-consistent report next year. The issue is that some presbyteries allow men to hold this as an exception, but not allowing them to teach it. Other presbyteries have allowed it as an acception that men are allowed to teach, but they may not practice it, because it is contrary to the theology of the sacrament as that is expressed in the Westminster Standards. The question arising is whether a man ought to be allowed to teach that which is contrary to the standards he professes to be guided by.

These issues are not going away, and while they may not be as deleterious to the health of the church as the teaching of theistic evolution, they are nonetheless deleterious to the unity of the church. It would be good for all PCA members to make these things a matter of serious prayer in the year ahead.

Monday, July 02, 2012

2012 PCA GA (4) In Thesi Statements, Theistic Evolution, and Historical Adam

This year's GA received two overtures requesting the GA to make an in thesi statement opposing theistic evolution and affirming the distinct creation of Adam directly by God. One was Overture 10 from Rocky Mountain Presbytery, the other was Overture 29 From Savannah River Presbytery. Opposing these was Overture 26 from Potomac Presbytery that stated that our confessional documents are already clear on these issue, hence a statement affirming them from the GA was unnecessary. Overture 26 was passed, and the other two overtures were answered with reference to the approval of Overture 26.

That sounds simple, but some of the language may be unclear to most readers. First, regarding in thesi statements. What are they, and what do they accomplish? In Presbyterian government, a ruling body, such as the GA (but this would also include sessions and presbyteries) makes formal statements in two ways: first, by  the judgment of the court in a judicial case; second, by issuing a statement that deals with some issue in the abstract, but does not deal with a particular case. These latter statements are known as in thesi statements. For a full discussion of them, I would refer the reader to the article by C. N. Willborn in the first (2005) issue of The Confessional Presbyterian.

Judgments made in judicial cases are considered binding on lower courts, and serve as precedent for future cases. In thesi statements are generally considered non-binding, but serve to provide "pious advice" from the higher court to lower courts (again, a fuller understanding of the issues may be found in Willborn's article). All three of the overtures acknowledged that the PCA (and its predecessor denominations) had made in thesi statements on these and related topics in the past. Hence, it would certainly not have been out of accord with PCA practice to issue another in thesi statement.

I went into this debate fully resolved to vote against Overture 26, and hence in favor of Overtures 10 and 29. However, as the debate progressed, it became clear to me that while in thesi statements had been made in the past, particularly in the PCUS (the immediate parent denomination of the PCA), they had had little effect on the progress of the teaching in that denomination of theistic evolution and of the denial of Adam as a historic person directly created by God. In other words, it appeared to me that those who held opinions contrary to the confessional standards of the church simply ignored those standards and taught as they would. Meanwhile, those who held to the confessional standards seem to have been comforted by the fact that the denomination had repeatedly made in thesi statements on these issues, and assumed, at some level, that the problem was taken care of. Thus, men teaching contrary to the standards were not charged and the loosening of doctrinal commitments continued in that denomination. The fact that in 2012 overtures came up asking for an in thesi statement against theistic evolution, and affirming the direct creation by God of the historic person Adam indicated to me that previous statement have in fact had little effect in slowing the spread of this kind of teaching in the PCA. Hence, the only recourse is judicial, in which the judgment of the church courts then become binding on the lower courts, and serve as precedent in similar cases. As a result, I voted with the majority, to affirm Overture 26 and to deny Overtures 10 and 29.

For a different view on this issue, I would highly recommend the podcast conversation with Richard D. Phillips at