Update from General Assembly

As I logged into my blog to write this update, I realized my last post was from back in April.  My apologies! I know I have had several new subscribers to the blog and no new content.  All I can say is I hope to do better, but life has been a whirlwind as of late.

The 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America is officially concluded, and early at that, so as I have an entire day in the airport waiting for my flight home, I thought I’d give you an update on the events of GA.  In a nutshell I’ll say this: This General Assembly is why I joined the PCA!  The worship was God-centered, the preaching Biblical, informative, Spirit-filled, and convicting, the deliberation passionate yet collegial, and the results were encouraging.  My first two experiences at General Assembly left me frustrated and dismayed, but this year there seemed to be a different attitude among the commissioners, and I believe God was glorified in the work of His church.

The greatest concern of this Assembly was the very low turn out of Ruling Elders.  In a congregation that was established with the understanding of a plurality of elders, a shared authority of Ruling and Teaching Elders, there is not a staggering disparity in the Assembly.  There were 1,400 commissioners this year, but only 300 were Ruling Elders.  We need to pray and work for a way to include more Ruling Elder in the Assembly in coming years.

The biggest and most profound outcome of the Assembly is the decision to give a portion of the Directory of Worship’s instruction on Marriage full constitutional status.  In case you are unfamiliar with the government of the PCA, our Book of Church Order includes a Directory of Worship, that is given as an “approved guide” but without the force of law (except for the chapters on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).  Leading up to the Assembly, there were several overtures to give the chapter on marriage full constitutional authority. Their reasoning was, among other items, 1) in a culture that is currently redefining marriage, the church needs a clear, constitutional definition of marriage, and 2) giving constitutional status to the chapter on marriage would provide clarity and protection for our military chaplains.

As is our procedure with all overtures, these overtures were sent to the Overtures Committee who for review and recommendations to the Assembly.  Surprisingly, the committee recommended that the Assembly answer in the negative, essentially denying the changes.  Now please understand, this would not have meant that the PCA was changing it’s position on marriage, only that the chapter on marriage would not be given full constitutional authority.  Again, there were a variety of reasons why they recommended answering in the negative, most having to do with the finer details in procedures and records of marriage in the chapter, none having to do with the actual definition of marriage.

When the Committee presented their report and recommendation to the Assembly, there was also a minority report, that sought to refine the original overtures. What came out on the floor, then, was the reality that there was a third way.  The Assembly recommitted the overture to the committee, who then met and came back with the following recommended overture:

“Marriage is only to be between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24, 25; Matt 19:4-6; 1 Cor 7:2), in accordance with the Word of God. Therefore ministers in the Presbyterian Church in America who solemnize marriages shall only solemnize marriages between one man and one woman.”

This paragraph was approved by the Assembly and given full constitutional status.  The vote was an overwhelming 764-12.  The next step will be for all of the Presbyteries to vote on this overture, and if it passes a supermajority of Presbyteries, it will be voted upon again at the next Assembly.  This is really good news!

In other business, there were several overtures that sought to give organizations in the PCA, such as RidgeHaven, Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary and others, the ability to open a minority of seats on their boards of directors to unordained men and women.  Currently, those boards are comprised of Teaching and Ruling Elders or Deacons of the Church, and are seen as extensions of the Church in ministry.  These overtures were an avenue to allowing women to serve in official capacities on the Boards.  While it was made clear that there are many ways that women give advice and counsel to these boards, the church maintains that these ministries are extensions of the Church, and as such, under the leadership of ordained officers of the Church.  The committee recommended the overtures be answer in the negative, and the Assembly agreed.

The other major discussion on the floor of the Assembly had to do with the review of Presbytery records, particularly one Presbytery that had examined a minister, heard his differences with the Westminster Standards, ruled that his differences did not “strike to the heart of the religion,” but then ruled that, while he could hold his views, he was not allowed to teach them.  While I cannot say that I understand the full ramifications of the action or discussion, I did find it concerning that the Assembly would seek to make a judicial ruling on an action of a Presbytery without any process. In the end, the Committee of Review received their minutes with an exception on this matter, which requires the Presbytery to give a response explaining their decision.

Overall, it was a very encouraging week in Atlanta.  New friendships were formed, and old ones renewed.  I was particularly moved by the worship service on Thursday evening and the preaching of Joe Novenson, I’ll be ordering a copy for those who are interested in checking out and listening to it. I thank you for your prayers, especially those of my congregation who have graciously provided me the opportunity to attend and be a part of such a great experience in the Church.

Pray for a safe flight home!

Grace and Peace

A Successful Church

My congregation has begun an ongoing discussion about our Vision and Mission as a Church, and how we can better minister the gospel of Jesus Christ in our community.  In preparation for another meeting tonight, I came across some notes from a message I heard by Kent Hughes, pastor and author of many books, one of which is particularly relevant called, “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome.”  I found his book to be incredibly encouraging, as was his lecture.
As we prepare to come together tonight for our conversation on how our Church can continue to move toward our vision and mission, I thought I would share the notes from Hughes’ message.  This message was geared more for Pastors, but much of what is said applies to the church as a whole.  I took the notes in outline form, so you may have to fill in some gaps.

How do you evaluate success from a biblical point of view?

  1. There is no calling to success, but a call to faithfulness. In 1 Cor 4:2 we are taught that  stewards are to be faithful.
    1. How does that work?  Look to Moses.  Numbers 20, Moses is told to speak to the rock, but Moses got angry and struck the rock.  He failed, he disregarded Gods command.  He failed to execute God’s word, so he could not enter the promised land.
    2. You can be hugely successful in ministry, and be an abysmal failure.  You can give the people exactly what they need, and be a failure.  It is possible to be a great success as a pastor and be a failure in God’s eyes because you are not faithful to God’s word.
    3. Success is found in knowing God’s Word and doing God’s Word.
    4. We cannot be influenced by that which we do not know.
    5. Success is faithfulness which manifests itself in hard working obedience to God.  There is no success apart from faithfulness.
  2. There can be no success apart from serving with a foot-washing heart
    1. If this is true of the greater (Christ), how much more for the lesser (his disciples).
  3. There is no success apart from loving God.
    1. We must love the Lord with all our heart.  This is from Christ, nothing is of greater importance.  This must be the north-star, the point of reproach and correction.
    2. It is possible to pastor a large church and not love God.
    3. It is possible to preach Christ exalting sermons and not love God.
    4. Love God above all things regardless of what is to come.  “Do you love me?”
  4. Hebrew 11:6 clearly teaches us that without faith you cannot please God.
    1. Believe that God exists.
    2. Believe that God rewards his people because he is equitable to his people.  There is no success apart from the smile of God
  5. You cannot be successful without dependent prayer
    1. You can do more than pray after you pray, but you cannot do more than pray if you haven’t prayed.
    2. Jesus could not carry on his ministry apart from dependent prayer.
  6. No unholy life can be considered a success
    1. God calls his people to be holy.
    2. Sexual purity is essential – When lust takes control, God loses all reality, satan does not fill us with hatefulness of god but forgetfulness.  When a man falls into sexual sin, he doesn’t fall very far, because that’s where he’s been in his soul.
  7. Attitude that cannot be successful
    1. Negativism – Having a positive attitude.  Attitude is more important that circumstances.  We have choices regarding our attitude.
    2. Jealousy – Strive to elevate others.
At our first discussion meeting, the Elders and Deacons composed their own list of what a successful church looks like, and it is very similar to what Hughes says.  They noted,

A Successful Church is one that is committed:

  • To raise spiritual champions
  • To be a people who love the Lord and loves and welcomes one another
  • To be a people who are faithful to the Word of God
  • To be a people of wisdom – applying the knowledge of Scripture to all of life.
  • To be a people who are immersed in the community, active in transforming the community, and speaking the Gospel to the community.

I am blessed to be called to serve a congregation that is committed to God’s Word, and to proclaiming the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Because of this commitment, I look forward to where these conversations will lead, and pray that God will give His Church success!

Grace and Peace!