Some Parting Thoughts on the 38th General Assembly

I just returned from the PCA’s 38th General Assembly this afternoon. Fortunately, it was in Nashville this year, so travel costs and time were low. It was a great week, though it always leaves me with regret – I wish I had had more time with certain individuals, I wish I had gotten to hear this or that seminar, I wish I could have more time in general at GA, etc. I love the fellowship of GA, the worship, the debating, staying in a hotel with everyone else, the meals out with old friends, meeting new people, learning more about the BCO/RAO/Robert’s Rules, seeing how God is at work in other folks’ ministries and our church as a whole, watching men who disagree vehemently speak to one another with great tact and patience (not that the latter always happens, but the Lord was gracious this year).

Here are a couple of random thoughts on what we accomplished this week. If you weren’t there, the following may not make that much sense to you, and I apologize ahead of time.

1. I thought the overture we approved concerning deaconesses was largely pointless, though it did seem to reveal that the mind of the assembly is nowhere near the ordination of women to the office of deacon. The words we added are certainly implied in the rest of the BCO, and in 9-7 itself, but I guess that sometimes you have to make explicit what is implicit, and I’m all for that if it will make clearer our denomination’s position on the fact that we believe there are two offices in the church, both of which may only be held by men. The status quo was left intact by this overture; that is, churches who have groups of women called deaconesses can keep them (as long as they aren’t ordained, obviously, but no church that I am aware of is ordaining women to the office of deacon, even if they might want to do so). I expected the status quo to be retained; I am thankful that we spoke clearly regarding women’s ordination, but I fear that it will just a matter of a generation or two before the majority wants to ordain deaconesses. Tim Keller reputedly averred that was his position currently, though he doesn’t do it because he submits to the PCA’s polity – but his followers will probably be more willing to press for change in this regard.

2. I thought the issue that didn’t get addressed directly, but needs to be, is the issue of ordination itself. That is, there are churches who don’t ordain their men, because they want to ordain their women as well, and if they can’t ordain both, they won’t ordain either, by golly. But as the Committee on Constitutional Business advised, “No individual or court has the authority to allow a practice prohibited by the BCO or neglect a practice required by the BCO.” And as the Review of Presbytery Records Committee reports, “This practice [of not ordaining men as deacons] denies qualified men their constitutional and biblical right to be considered for this office.” This practice is to me the most egregious error out there; I would be much more willing to allow the ordination of women to the office of deacon than to agree that there is no longer an office of deacons. We believe in two perpetual offices in the Lord’s church, based on biblical evidence (Phil. 1:1; Acts 6; I Tim. 3). The PCA needs to address this issue, and it seems like the way it is going to be addressed is by judicial cases.

3. The strategic plan was on the whole passed, though I voted against most of it. The reason I did so was multi-fold. I thought much of it was either redundant or irrelevant – that is, we voted to approve things that are either already being done, or didn’t need our approval to do, or could be done even if we voted against them. I was disappointed by the use of the words “Safe Places” and “More Seats at the Table” in the original motion (these were changed to “Civil Conversation” and “Increased Involvement” – who could be against these?). These first terms used were viewed as loaded, and even if they were not they were infelicitous. Words matter (as preachers above all else should know!), and it was unfortunate that the vagueness of these terms, along with the negative connotations they gave rise to (“forums to spout heresy with impunity” and “a lowering of elder authority, bringing in women officers, etc.”, respectively – I’m not saying this is actually what the strategic plan meant, but it clearly was what it was interpreted to mean), led many, including myself, to vote against it. Ligon Duncan stated at his conversation with Tim Keller that vagueness leads to suspicion, and that was certainly the case with the strategic plan.

4. The part of the strategic plan that was most frustrating to me was the idea that we need more of the younger generation at the table, involved more than they are (I voted against that part of the strategic plan). A couple of thoughts… Are we really being shut out, and if so, is that really a bad thing, something to be appalled at? Consider: 1) If someone younger wants to get involved, you can do it at the presbytery level very easily. There are always spots on committees to be filled, you can speak at presbytery as much as you want, etc. I’m on the Leadership Developing Committee, the Facilitating Committee, and I’m the Recording Clerk. I have a friend my age who is about to become the Stated Clerk of his presbytery, and several of my friends have already served as the Moderators of their Presbytery. These latter are perhaps more rare, but they are certainly not unheard of. Involvement on the GA level is just as relatively easy. Committees of Commissioners are open every year at GA. I am on the nominating committee of GA because I told my stated clerk that I wanted to be involved more and he told me that was the committee to be on. If folks want to have a presence on the Assembly level, we already have a process – it’s called the Nominating Committee. Now perhaps some presbyteries don’t like to nominate young men to permanent committee, but this year no one was nominated to the Ridgehaven permanent committee from any of the 78 presbyteries. I don’t blame them, but any young guy who wanted to be involved in some way on the GA level could have asked to be nominated. It is true that the main way to get nominated to a GA committee is to be around for awhile, to be present and involved in small ways. And that brings me to some further thoughts in this area.
2) Why does the younger generation (my own) expect to have a large level of involvement on the GA level? Did the men who are in their 60s now have a large level of involvement when they were in their 30s and 40s? Or did they wait their turn, watch, listen, be patient, and now that they are in their 60s they are leading? Did the 60-somethings of their 30-something days fret about them not being that involved? I doubt it! We are young, we are inexperienced, we lack wisdom, maturity, age, respect. We need to wait our turn. Do I really think that I could get elected to the SJC right now? Or any permanent committee for that matter? The notion that we have to put in our time, pay our dues, earn the right to be a vital part of the organization, has disappeared. Was Harry Reeder elected moderator at age 35? No – only Thornwell gets that, and then I guess Ligon Duncan is the next youngest I know of. It just bugs me that young guys think they deserve a place a the table by virtue of their age. I’m much more for the “Don’t talk for 7 years after seminary” view. My own opinion is that we’re losing our respect for age and wisdom; we live in a culture of youth idolatry. It seems hard for a 50+ guy to get a pulpit these days; everyone wants an RUF guy, or some young cool preacher. And yet when you’re 50+ you’re just hitting your wisdom stride. Where are the mentors, the older men who are taking charge and telling us younger guys to sit down, shut up, and wait our turn? I know that the leaders of the PCA are concerned that we are losing our youth, that we are stagnating, that we have a smaller number of candidates now that 5 years ago, that we’re too old and gray and white (the latter is certainly true, but I would like to see stats on the former), that we aren’t attractive to rising leaders in the broader church. But I would contend that we don’t need to denigrate age and maturity just to be appealing to youth. We should appeal to youth by respecting old age, by demonstrating the biblical model of honoring our fathers and of older men teaching younger men, by teaching young men to be still and silent and patient. Their time will come. And for some it already has, because the cream rises to the top. Greg Thompson preached at GA last year because he is an extremely gifted and intelligent young man; look at all the young men who teach seminars at GA, or who pastor large churches. Look at the influence Kevin Twit has in the worship of the church because of God’s gifts and providence. God sovereignly ordains some to be more involved than others, for all sorts of reasons. We younger men need to learn patience, not be affirmed in our sense of being shut out.

SDG,
Ezra

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10 responses to this post.

  1. “infelicitous”

    Reply

  2. Posted by Katy Brink on July 5, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks for all these thoughts. I feel like I know some of what went on. I do hope you enjoyed yourself. You are wiser than you know for a “young guy.” πŸ™‚ The denomination is now and will be in the future glad to have you. Congrats on your new niece, by the way.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Steve and Susan Sperry on July 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Why not do a study or survey of other denominations, presbyteries,congregations,etc., that already have adopted the ordination of women as deacons, elders and pastors? Then evaluate the results as to effectivelness in “glorifying God by gathering and growing His Saints”? . . . Seems like proposed changes should be for the purpose of “improvement”. Why would such a change be an improvement?

    On greater involvement of younger folks in the presbyteries and the GA . . . Another way to say what you say might be . . . “You don’t DESERVE a position just because your there (young or old). It’s what you’ve done that merits the station”.

    Reply

  4. It’s my understanding (i could be wrong) that some churches are not ordaining woman as deacons but they are serving in the “office” of deacon. They vote with the diaconate and fulfill all requirements the office demands. If this is true, are they(these particular elders) not rebeling against PCA polity? Is this not something the General Assembly should address? If the heresy were F.V. or the new perspective on Paul, I believe GA would (and rightly so) exercise discipline. I knowI know…..as the famed LA motorist said “can’t we all just get along?’

    Reply

    • Posted by Larry Walker on July 6, 2010 at 3:52 pm

      I don’t think that female deacons merits the term “heresy”. I think the case that is made for it is a pretty compelling one that should at least change our view of women in the local church. As far as I can tell, the BCO allowed for women deacons originally, why don’t we just leave it alone and have a bigger tent on a non-essential issue such as this?

      Reply

      • Posted by BradleyT on July 7, 2010 at 6:48 am

        If these churches faithfully preached through Titus do you think this would even be an issue?

      • MR. LARRY, Please share your compelling argument. Seriously, I have changed my mind on a miriad of beliefs and would not be opposed to your argument if it is biblical. Personaly my view of women is very highso i hope that would never change. There exists several “big tent” institutions at present. The EPC is an excellent church that shares your beliefs. Furthermore, when is it ok to compromise one’s beliefs just to have the big tent: prosperity gospel, trinitarian theology,….? I look forward to your response.

        Humbly,
        Chris

      • Posted by calebcangelosi on July 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

        It’s not accurate to say that the BCO allowed for women deacons orginally. Check out this link to see that the offices of elder and deacon were open only to men from the beginning of the PCA in 1973. Caleb

  5. Posted by Larry Walker on July 9, 2010 at 10:44 am

    First off, I thought the “Real Farmer” was someone else, so that’s why I was being a little pushier than I even believe. I thought you were Brad! πŸ™‚ But, I don’t think it is heresy, and I don’t think it is comparable to the prosperity gospel or the problems with the trinity. I think we should consider that the BCO originally used vague language on these issues. I had someone recently ask me: “If the Founding Father’s had’ve known that there was going to be such controversy over the second amendment, do you think they would have written it more clearly?” And my first instinct is to say yes. But, honestly, we should really ask them. Tim Keller claims to have been around when the BCO was written, and he says that it was deliberately big tent. I love the PCA, and I think that we need to follow the BCO and the Westminster, not because they are equal with scripture, but because they are what the elders have sworn to do. If they violate them, then deal with it. If the language is vague, it’s vague for a reason.

    It would be a pretty long post to explain why I think that woman deacons are not a terrible idea. I would recommend listening to Keller/Duncan last year. Keller makes some good points I think.

    I am not proofreading this, so there may be many mistakes, but I am watching a 2 year old right now. By the way, I will never leave the PCA. πŸ™‚

    Reply

  6. Mr. Larry,
    No worries about being “pushy”. First of all, the Second Ammendment is abundantly clear. Many liberals who despise freedom devise schemes to inform the masses that our Bill of Rights is somehow “vague”. To be sure, our standard for polity is Scripture. What did that Lutheran guy face death over? Oh yea, sola scriptura! The bible is abundantly clear on the subject; men and women have differant roles in creation. One is not superior to the other, just differant. Since the Fall these roles have been under stress. But if we are debating the BCO only, we can look at it. BCO 7-2 declares: “In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only.” Doesn’t seem vague to me.

    Look forward to your response,

    C Bird

    Reply

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