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The Presbyterian Church in America: Issues That Need Addressing

 

I would think that this distinction would merit a close investigation.  I had not realized until you pointed it out that the word elder does not even appear in the WCF, let alone 2 classes of them.  While our Reformation nailed Catholicism on its chief errors, I increasingly believe that we have rested on our laurels ever since.  Since your revelations about the PCA's direction I have been wondering how to grasp its developing deviations.  While there is nothing new under the sun, our wiley opponent Satan can disguise old ones so well.  Thus far, my list of PCA concerns include:


* "church planting" technology, after the psychological-business model
* an explicit disregard for God's explicit laws, chiefly because it interferes with the above model
* a failure to discipline, often substituting psychological counseling for true discipline
* formulaic answers to questions rather than a willingness to go to Scripture directly. 
* spiritualizing everything to the exclusion of development of holy praxis
* churches organized around individuals rather than families; inappropriate view of women in the church.
* aping the culture in organizing around age, gender, educational, interest and cultural divides.  Youth pastors, e.g.
* a fixation with the milk of the gospel to the exclusion of the meat of it
* verbal hand-wringing about the imbalance of ruling and teaching elders while actually despising strong ruling elder input.
* a morbid fear of conflict to the point that differences are hushed up rather than openly debated
* a rising centrist approach to church governance, aping thus our culture
* inordinate willingness to allow churches to become financially indebted, the business model again.

Much overlap above, of course.

I believe our confessional standards teach that the presbyterian form of government is the church government taught in Scripture.  While I think it is the most excellent form of government, and that it is consistent with Scripture, I think it requires several assumptions to make it the form.  The distinction between ruling and teaching elders, for example, is very reasonable but hinges on some assumptions.  The apostles "appointed" elders in several churches.  The word translated "appointed," I am told, can mean appointed or elected.  The congregational election of elders hinges on choosing the word elected instead of appointed.  Then, there is the whole hermeneutical issue that holds that the N.T. practice is not merely history but is binding on us in its example.  Closer to home for you is the practice we have of rotating elders.  You do NOT see that in Scripture.  Hence, for your church to refuse to allow you to serve without actively disciplining you is a gross error.

Odd that you should ask pros and cons of the PCA; our pastor having been over these this morning. 

1. The church is reformed, mostly.

2. The doctrine is clear, historic.

3. The polity is at least consistent with Scripture and is excellent, even if it is not the system of government taught in the Scripture.  (Contrary to the WCF I don't think that the definite article is absolutely warranted.)

4. The worship is still mostly God-honoring rather than merely culture-aping.

5. The clergy is required to be examined on doctrine, unlike pentecostals and some Baptists, who are installed in office on a numerical performance basis.

 

These foregoing are mine.  The cons are our pastors, as best I can recall.

 

1. We are a young denomination.

2. We aspire to being "at the table" among larger, older denominations perhaps more than we do to faithfulness.  There is a sense of having to prove ourselves as having been in the right to leave.

 

My critiques, not our pastor's:

3. We follow a business model, which in turn is heavily infected with the psychological model. 

4. We are narrowly escaping a top-down governance and likely will ultimately cave in.

5. We are effectively contrary to theonomy, even theonomy "light."

6. Our homiletics is very narrow, albeit doctrinally accurate so far as it goes.

7. We are going off-base on the role of women in society and in the church.

8. Our seminary and college (in company with all other historically reformed ones) are not effectively under denominational control.  You'd have to be at General Assembly to see how this is managed.

9. The ranks of our ruling elders are substantially filled with the comfortably ignorant.

10. The ranks of our teaching elders are substantially filled with those whose homiletics fails to touch daily life, accurate in the abstract but vapid in the concrete.  See #6.

11. We are deficient on both positive and negative church discipline, although relative to other denominations we are not deficient.  However, God does not grade on the curve in this or other matters.

 

I believe our confessional standards teach that the presbyterian form of government is the church government taught in Scripture.  While I think it is the most excellent form of government, and that it is consistent with Scripture, I think it requires several assumptions to make it the form.  The distinction between ruling and teaching elders, for example, is very reasonable but hinges on some assumptions.  The apostles "appointed" elders in several churches.  The word translated "appointed," I am told, can mean appointed or elected.  The congregational election of elders hinges on choosing the word elected instead of appointed.  Then, there is the whole hermeneutical issue that holds that the N.T. practice is not merely history but is binding on us in its example.  Closer to home for you is the practice we have of rotating elders.  You do NOT see that in Scripture.  Hence, for your church to refuse to allow you to serve without actively disciplining you is a gross error.


The whole matter of N.T. ecclesiology hinges on the hermeneutical principle that the governance of the church is taught by the example of what the early church did before the Scriptural canon was closed.  There are no directives at all in the N.T., and the governance of the priestly system in the O.T. was done away with, largely if not entirely.  So what they did in N.T. times becomes what we ought to do.  An "is" becomes an "ought."  The argument for using this hermeneutic goes something like this, I think:  Since God gave us only these N.T. examples, it must be that He wanted us to use them.  There being no directives, the N.T. practice becomes the directive.  While this all makes sense to me, and I love the bottom-up, plural, male, federatd, constitutionally-limited government we have, it seems to me to be something less than a robust argument.  Many things are recorded in the Bible.  We have to assume that we can discern which of them are positive examples, which are negative examples, and which are binding examples.  Some are falling-over easy, such as the negative example of David with Bathsheba.  Others are not.  Our pastor, as I think I wrote to you, recently used King Saul's behavior with his son Jonathan as an example of the divine right of kings, though he did not use that terminology.  He owned that terminology and his error in it when I spoke with him about it.  It also gives pause to see how the majority of the church throughout its history seem NOT to have adopted the presbyterial government we have, let alone to the degree of precision we have.  (By precision I mean such things as that our pastors are not members of the local congregation but of presbytery only.  Where do you find that in Scripture?)

 

While this is not a big issue with me, and I love our system and think it to be the best, to swear allegiance that it is the system taught in Scripture is a stretch.

One of the more potent features by which a church would interact with the denomination would be in the selection of pastors….  It can be difficult to find someone who is right doctrinally and also possessed of preaching and pastoral skills.  Notice, I did not say "winsome."  I am convinced that in our area a church would thrive on preaching which took as text the whole corpus of Scripture, rather than the foundational doctrines only (e.g., the "Romans road to salvation


If there were access to an organizing pastor it would be good to know what his position is on "sheep stealing."  As you know, I am all for it, outside of picketing in front of apostate churches. In some cases, even that could be considered. 

I have increasing concerns over the adequacy of the Westminster standards 362 years after they were penned.  I am concerned that the Reformation became frozen not long after they were written.  We are not semper reformanda. For example, what is/are the proper form(s) of civil government, or is there no biblical directive?  What are the limits, if any, on organ transplantation?  How closely to the Confessional standards must ordinary members profess?
What, exactly, are the "vitals of the faith" to which presbyteries may not allow one to take a scruple?  This is like asking for a confession within the Confession, yet without it we are in the same position as one who asks for a list of the infallible ex cathedra pronouncements of the Pope.  There isn't any.  What, if anything, is not in the vocational calling of women?  May they serve in the military in combat capacity?


Of course, a constitution is not a detailed set of directives but I have more difficulty deriving answers to questions of this sort from the Confession than I do from Scripture.  Is that backwards?




 

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