By the time this report is printed in the pages of the STANDARD BEARER many of the readers will have no doubt heard something of the grand and gala assembly of the NAPaRC (North American Presbyteri an and Reformed Council) denominations which took place on the campus of Calvin College during the third week of June. Among those denominations was, of course, the Presbyterian Church in America, the second largest of the NAPaRC group in membership, but the one having the greatest number of commissioners in its Assembly—something over 500—which was, nonetheless, several fewer than are ordinarily present when the PCA Assembly meets closer to the demographic center of its constituency which would mean meeting somewhere in the Southeastern United States rather than in Grand Rapids where there is not even a single PCA congregation. The last time so many Southerners went North, as ,a group, was probably in July of 1863, when General Lee’s Army invaded Pennsylvania. That excursion wound up with the confusion of Gettysburg. This latest invasion ended with the confusion of Grand Rapids, or what one commissioner referred to as the Presbyterian “Circus” in America. If that seems a rather undignified way of describing a court of the Church, it is nevertheless, one which, at times, seemed appropriate. The Assembly was more than ordinarily plagued this year with parliamentary wrangles, so that we often spent more time talking about how we were going to debate something than we did in actual debate. There was also a recurring, problem of applause sometimes breaking out on the floor—an indecorous business to say the least. To sum up the problems of the Assembly, it would probably be best to say that we had come too far to do too much in too little time.
As far as this observer was concerned, the gloom set in early with the election of Dr. G. Aiken Taylor to the post of Moderator. Dr. Taylor is the editor of the PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL who has, in recent years, guided that periodical to a position which stands, more and more, over against the pure Reformed truth, and on the side of such aberrations of the truth as the charismatic movement. If his election is any indication of the feeling of the Assembly for the positions Dr. Taylor has taken, then it must be said that the PCA is in even worse shape than the most pessimistic among us had thought. Of course, Dr. Taylor was also a moving force behind the business of meeting in Grand Rapids. It will be interesting to see how Dr. Taylor conducts himself in the office of Moderator between meetings of the Assembly. The retiring Moderator, Mr. John Clark, a ruling elder from Macon, GA, was very careful not to abuse his office in any way. Dr. Taylor, on the other hand, during the Assembly, conducted business in a most arrogant manner, attempting to intimidate certain commissioners, while allowing others to speak almost at will, and trying to push through votes on questions while commissioners were trying to get the floor to speak. One hopes that this is not an indication that Dr. Taylor intends to be an. “activist” Moderator after the fashion of some that we have seen in other churches in recent years, who assume to themselves the prerogative of speaking for the whole church.
Among the major items of business handled by the Assembly was a report on the matter of abortion. After considerable debate, a statement was adopted which condemned as a “clear” violation of the sixth commandment “the intentional killing of an unborn child between conception and birth, for any reason at any time.” This represented the sentiments of a majority of the Assembly, but there was also a significant minority who did not see the matter as being quite so “clear.” Some evidently felt that there should have been some allowance for abortion in extreme circumstances where the life of the mother is in immediate danger. Their arguments were based on the concept of self-defense. It should be pointed out that probably no one in the PCA Assembly believes that abortion should be carried on as it is presently in the United States. But there was enough opposition to the absolutist statement which was adopted, to make it a bit hollow-sounding. The whole controversy points up the problems of bringing up such matters “out of the blue,” so to speak. There was no case of discipline involving abortion before the Assembly. This was strictly the product of those in the Assembly who feel the need to speak out on social issues. The adopted. report also included a provision for informing the governing authorities of the PCA position on abortion; something else which this observer regards as highly objectionable.
The question of the number of offices in the Church—a matter which has been before the PCA since the Second Assembly, which met in 1974, and which will also be before the Seventh Assembly—came nearer to resolution this time than ever before. The Assembly at least went so far as to adopt the view which holds that there are two ordinary and perpetual offices in the Church—elder and deacon—with a distinction in function in the office of elder so that there are those elders who both rule and teach and those whose principal function is to rule only. At bottom, this is the view which has been historically held by the Presbyterian Church in the South. It involves no major change from the present situation. As we say, the matter is still not completely resolved. It will be before the next Assembly, too. But the overwhelming sentiment in the Church seems to favour this modified two-office view and it is unlikely that the next Assembly, in (hopefully) completing action on this question, will make any substantial changes. With this action of the Assembly, this observer was much pleased.
Amidst much debate, the Assembly voted to enter into an arrangement with Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, TN, which will increase PCA representation on Covenant’s board as there is corresponding increase in support of the college from the PCA. There was some rather strong opposition to the Assembly getting formally involved in sponsorship of a college, but this opposition, which has prevailed in past years, was finally overcome, whether for better or for worse.
A report was adopted which basically concluded that union among brethren is biblically mandated, to the point, even, of organic union. As far as implementation of this was concerned, however, the Assembly moved very cautiously (thankfully), agreeing only to talk about the possibility of merger with the Orthodox Presbyterians and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, understanding, in all of this, that these talks in no way imply commitment to ultimate merger. Even this cautious move was opposed by some, though, (including this writer) for a variety of reasons, ranging all the way from fear of merger in general to fear of merger with one, or the other, or both of the above mentioned groups.
The reports of the committees on Mission to the World and Mission to the United States were relatively non-controversial this year, in spite of extreme financial difficulties experienced over the past year by the latter. Since a review of the MTW Missions Manual comes next year, that report should generate some excitement.
In other action, the Assembly:
—Declared dispensationalism incompatible with Reformed Theology and directed the Christian Education committee to prepare and make available a study of modern dispensationalism in the light of our standards.
—Directed the C.E. committee to define “theonomy” and make recommendations concerning this matter. This is a hot issue in certain quarters of the Church owing to the influence of R.J. Rushdooney and other of his post-millennial disciples, especially at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Ms.
—Decided to set up a chaplains commission in cooperation with the OPC and RPCES in order to get PCA chaplains out of the present arrangement with the National Association of Evangelicals.
—Adopted a resolution condemning Communism, thereby making the PCA every bit as distinctive as the John Birch Society, the Ku Klux Klan, the United States Congress, the Republican Party, and any of several hundred other political organizations who don’t like Communists and Communism either.
—Adopted, in the face of information that the PCA has not fully subscribed any budget in any year of its existence, a budget of over $4 million—just a bit larger than last year.
—Defeated the perennial attempt to allow men to immediately succeed themselves on permanent committees of the Assembly.
—Agreed to meet closer to home next year—Charlotte, N.C.
—Divided Carolina Presbytery into two, Eastern Carolina and Central Carolina, and incorporated into the boundaries of Pacific Presbytery the states of Arizona, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and all of California not presently included.
One of the purposes of meeting in Grand Rapids, and concurrently with the Synods of the other NAPaRC churches was in order to promote interdenominational fellowship. In the opinion of this writer, it was a farce, We didn’t have time to be worrying about ecumenical relations; there was too much other business needing our attention. Yet, on Monday night, the first day of our Assembly, when we could have been tending to business, we were listening to Dr. Joel Nederhood exhort us to social activism, (if his speech becomes the program of the PCA, then this writer will not any more be in the PCA) and, on Wednesday night, when we should have been tending to business, we were out on the lawn attending an ice cream social.
Lest any think that our trip to Grand Rapids was a total failure, however, let it be known that this writer did, at least, enjoy the fellowship he had with some of the Protestant. Reformed folks, including a visit with Prof. Hanko and his family and Sunday worship in the morning at First Church and in the evening at Southeast. We also enjoyed seeing those brethren of our own and other denominations whom we get to see only infrequently. And, we enjoyed visiting with some other personal friends in the Grand Rapids area. So, on that positive note, let this report be ended.