Last week the Presbyterian Church in America held its 40th General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky. There were 1,075 pastors and elders present to conduct business and edify one another in this annual meeting of one of Christ’s churches. For the position of moderator the Assembly elected Rev. Mike Ross, whose leadership was characterized by efficiency and good-natured amiability. The Assembly faced a full docket with 44 overtures, one of the largest clusters of overtures received in a decade.
Various fraternal delegates brought greetings from their denominations, such as James Faris (Reformed Presbyterian Church North America), James Kim (Korean American Presbyterian Church), Charles Jackson (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), Gyu Chul Hwang (Presbyterian Church of Korea Hap Dong) and Ludgero Morais (Presbyterian Church of Brazil). The PCKHP consists of roughly 3 million members and the Brazilian church boasts over 1 million members. The chairman of the Committee on Interchurch Relations noted that “we are small fry” compared to these august denominations!
The commissioners were offered a full slate of seminars in mid-week. Many of us took advantage of listening to various presentations dealing with all sorts of issues, including one by Dr. Gregg Davidson, professor of Geology at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Davidson affirmed his commitment to the authority and commitment of Scripture, then provided scientific evidence for an ancient earth that included tree rings, varves and radioactive dating. It was well done and very fascinating.
Another seminar enlisted the memories of two of our founding fathers, Rev. Frank Barker and Rev. Jim Baird. Both of these men were intimately involved in the inauguration of the PCA. Their personal recollections of what led to the formation of the PCA and some of the early circumstances were enlightening and enjoyable. God has blessed the PCA with tremendous growth and vitality over the years.
In the Assembly there was some discussion about whether or not we as a denomination should continue our participation in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Some of the NAE’s recent actions and positions suggest a shift from its original evangelical focus to more political involvement. The Assembly decided to remain in the NAE but to closely monitor its activity in the future. It is possible that the PCA will withdraw from its membership should its activity continue to expose a liberal bent.
We heard reports from all the permanent committees and rejoiced with one accord over God’s gracious generosity in blessing these efforts.
The Committee on Review of Presbytery Records discovered a discrepancy in the minutes of Pacific Northwest Presbytery. At one of their meetings they granted an exception having to do with paedocommunion that was hostile to the system and struck at the vitals of religion. A man seeking ordination said he believed Scripture nowhere prohibits young children from coming to the Lord’s Table. In his thinking the only thing preventing baptized children from coming to the table is the inability of taking solid food. This is contrary to the express teaching of Larger Catechism 177, which says the Supper is to be administered “only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.” The man’s view is unbiblical and inconsistent with the principles of our Standards. The Assembly required the presbytery to reexamine this matter and respond to the next General Assembly.
Finally, the business concluded with a spirited discussion about the practice of Intinction. This is the practice of dipping the bread into the cup by participants in the Lord’s Supper. An overture was sent to the General Assembly by Savannah River Presbytery calling for an amendment to BCO 58-5 that added the following words, Intinction, because it conflates Jesus’ two sacramental actions, is not an appropriate method for observing the Lord’s Supper. The vote in committee was 49-37-2, and the significant minority presented a compelling report that ultimately prevailed. The language of their BCO amendment is as follows: 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 terminology was approved by the Assembly and sent to the presbyteries for their approval. If this amendment receives the advice and consent of two-thirds of the presbyteries, then the 41st General Assembly will decide by a majority vote whether or not it will permanently amend our Book of Church Order. Generally speaking those who voted can be classified into three groups. Some believe Intinction is biblical and in accord with our constitution. Others believe our constitution is clear enough in forbidding this practice and in need of no amendment. Still others believe such an amendment would clarify the requirements of our constitution and help eliminate confusion among the churches. It will be interesting to see what happens to the amendment among the presbyteries.
Over all it was a very good Assembly. The inspirational services each night were well attended and replete with opportunities for spiritual nourishment. At all times the brethren behaved with honor and decorum. The business of the church was carried out with decency and order. At strategic points throughout the week we enjoyed respites of laughter and encouraging testimonies. In retrospect, I think the Presbyterian polity once again proved its worth. This should come as no surprise to anyone since it is the biblical model of church government. I appreciate the way in which the PCA handles its work. I have no reason to believe our commitment to Scripture has weakened. Certainly our devotion to Christ is evident. Men who vigorously debated certain issues confirmed their willingness to submit themselves to their brethren in the Lord. It was a very good experience. May our God bless the PCA.