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Reflections on the 51st General Assembly of the PCA

While the events of the 51st General Assembly (GA) of the PCA are still relatively fresh in my mind, I thought I would take this reflection as an opportunity to provide a bit of information and commentary on our denomination’s annual meeting. On the whole, GA was an encouragement to me. In the first place, it was an encouragement because Jared Smith joined me as a Ruling Elder commissioner. Our denomination is founded on the parity of elders, so it is always encouraging to me when our church is able to send a Ruling Elder to participate in GA. Secondly, it was an encouragement because I was able to see many dear friends who live many miles away but are still important to me and to this church. I spent some time catching up with the former pastor of this church, Donny Friederichsen, as well as with a few missionaries who are supported by our church. Thirdly, I was encouraged by the overall participation at GA. The number of registered commissioners for this year’s GA made it the third largest assembly in our denomination’s history. As I see it, such participation reinforces the important foundational principle that elders should care about the events of the church beyond their local congregations. I pray that participation will continue to increase over the years.

With respect to the business of GA, two reports took up much of the time, and so I will spend the remainder of this reflection discussing them. First, the report from the Committee on the Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) generated no small amount of discussion. According to the rules of our assembly, the RPR report can be amended at GA. The recommendations from other committees can only be approved, rejected, or referred back to the committee for further consideration. However, when there are more than 2,000 commissioners at the assembly, proposed amendments to the RPR report can quickly become an unwieldly and exhausting experience. This is all the more true because the PCA, while occupying a rather narrow slice of the broader church, still contains a broad sweep of views on a variety of matters and also of ways of doing things. From my perspective, the time spent amending the RPR report raised larger questions about the relationship between the General Assembly and the Presbyteries that compose the GA. Because the review of Presbytery records will never capture everything, I find the heat of the debate over the matters that are captured to be exhausting. I am in full support of mutual accountability (I’m even on the RPR committee!), but debates related to the RPR report on the floor of GA often times generate too much heat and not enough light.

Second, the report from the Overtures Committee took up much time, as it always does. Presbyteries may submit overtures to the GA to consider. Those overtures can touch on a variety of topics and request a variety of actions. The Overtures Committee previews the overtures collected over the course of the prior year and then makes recommendations on how the assembly should answer them. Space limits me from discussing all 33 overtures, or even a substantial portion of the total. Instead, I want to highlight one general thought. As I listened to debates over various issues, it was clear to me that many men hold passionate views about what is important to them. All of the issues debated were tertiary issues at best, meaning that they were not central to the gospel or fundamental to the Reformed articulation of the faith. I wondered sometimes if there would have been more wisdom in restricting debate, given the manifold opportunities for sin and foolishness when man opens his mouth.

More positively, I am thankful that the assembly functioned well under the able leadership of this year’s moderator. I am also generally positive about the health of the PCA, as many of the committees of the denomination reported favorably on their work over the prior year. I was also very much encouraged by the two worship services that Jared and I were able to attend during the week. God is certainly working through the faithful servants of the PCA, and I pray that we continue to be faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.

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