The Church at Work: A Summary of PCA’s 2021 General Assembly

July 8, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

One of the foundational values of the PCA is connectionalism. Because of our beliefs in the depravity of man and the diversity within the body of Christ, we value the connections we have with the brothers on the regional (Presbytery) and national (GA) levels. We are better together. Cooperatively we can accomplish more together through agencies like Mission to the World and Mission to North America. For the sake of accountability, we sharpen one another as we hold to our confessional standards. 

This year’s General Assembly was highly anticipated since the gathering was postponed last year due to the pandemic. Many have been waiting for the Assembly’s response on several “hot topics.” The main avenue for topics to be addressed is through an overture. An overture is a request from a Presbytery or church in the PCA for a ruling from the Assembly. There were 48 overtures to the GA this year, many addressing similar matters. Let me highlight four topics. 

1. Human Sexuality. The key issue here is how do we remain faithful to Scripture and our Confession, while also engaging a culture that largely rejects a biblical view of sexuality. GA approved three measures which address this issue. First, GA approved the study committee’s report on sexuality. This study committee was formed two years ago to provide a biblically faithful statement on sexuality and identity. I commend the report to you. Second, GA approved an amendment to our Book of Church Order that clarifies the qualification for ordained office related to this area. The statement is “Officers in the PCA must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, ‘gay Christian,’ ‘same sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.” The third action of GA was another amendment to the BCO that applies this qualification to the examination process for officers. Amendments to the BCO are not effective until they are approved by 2/3 of the Presbyteries and by GA the following year.

2. The Manual for Mission to the World. An amendment to the MTW manual was approved which clarifies the authority overseeing church plants. True to our Presbyterian form of government, the new language says that ordained elders shall have the authority over church planting efforts on the field. Apparently, many missionaries have requested for this clarification. 

3. A Presbytery’s Right to Restrict Teaching. The PCA is a “good-faith subscription” denomination. This means that, while every ordained officer must “receive and adopt” the Westminster standards as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture, he may make known areas where he disagrees with the standards. His Session or Presbytery must rule, then, whether these differences strike at the vitals of our doctrine. If they rule that they do not strike at the vitals, he can be ordained. Some Presbyteries, while approving a minister’s differences, have also then forbidden that minister to teach his difference. The question was posed to GA of whether a Presbytery has the right to restrict the teaching of a difference which they have approved. GA voted in favor of the Presbyteries’ rights. An example of this from our Presbytery is the restriction against serving communion by intinction (where you dip the bread in the chalice and partake in the bread and cup in one action). Oak Hills use to serve communion in this manner, but when our Presbytery restricted this, we submitted and changed our communion service. 

4. Responding to Asian Racism. The PCA has 9 Korean-speaking Presbyteries. One of these Presbyteries requested GA to respond to the rise of Asian hate and racism over this last year. GA overwhelmingly approved a statement which condemns racism in all of its forms, commends again the committee report on racial reconciliation from 2018, and expresses grief for our Asian brothers and sisters. It was also acknowledged that such a statement is only a small step in the ongoing struggle against the sin of racism. 

This is just a small snapshot of the proceedings of GA. Our denominational magazine, ByFaith, provides a full recap of what happened. I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend and enjoy fellowship with many of our brothers from the Heartland Presbytery. Let’s continue to pray for the peace and purity of Christ’ church.


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