My Photo
Location: United States

I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The PCA’s New Strategic Plan (III)

Creating a Perspective for Planning (III)

With this installment, we move forward with our examination of the “PCA Strategic Plan.” Section B (How Has the PCA’s Mission Developed So Far?) is ostensibly a mere analysis of how the PCA has fared over the last 30 years, although one can detect an agenda nestled among the descriptive words of this section. We are reminded that “The development of missional purpose begins with identifying the values we hold most dear.” (p. 3.) It is asserted that “Our values are well identified in the ‘motto’ of the PCA: Faithful to Scripture, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission.” (Ibid.)

The notion is put forward that “the inerrancy of Scripture was the driving force of our founding and that the churches who initially came into the PCA immediately united in this value.” (Ibid.) This is truly a very good start. The report goes on to say, however, that “Determining what it meant to be true to the Reformed faith was not as unifying, and created significant debates among us for the next 30 years.” (Ibid.) This statement is disconcerting in a number of ways, even though it might very well be historically accurate.

First, how difficult is it to read historical analyses of the Reformation and what Reformed theology taught down through the ages? Bard Thompson’s book Liturgies of the Western Church was available in 1962, long before the PCA came into existence. Surely, someone among the PCA founders must have read and digested that work and could have been a guide to point the way to what it meant to be Reformed and to have a Reformed liturgy. By 1980, Hughes Oliphant Old’s Introduction to Reformed Worship was released so that if the PCA were floundering, a reading of this monograph would have pointed the PCA in the proper direction.

Apart from those works, Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Vol. 8 would have proven to be indispensable for providing information to what the Reformation was all about among the Reformed. And, of course, there was always that little work by John Calvin called The Institutes of the Christian Religion that would have given the PCA a great deal of insight into what it meant to be true to the Reformed faith.

Second, one really does have to ask if the PCA could have been so clueless and rudderless at its inception. It is somewhat understandable that when congregations left the UPUSA (now the PCUSA) and the PCUS, many of them had not been taught for eons what it meant to be Presbyterian. I became a Christian in a liberal PCUS church in Knoxville, TN and never heard of the Westminster Standards until I went to seminary. It is conceivable that the man and woman in the pew were in the same boat with me. That glaring, egregious lack of teaching and understanding is understandable at some level, but that does not include the leadership. Granted many of the Presbyterian seminaries were clearly deficient in their curricula, but the astute and enterprising pastor would have been keen to introduce and teach the Westminster Standards, wouldn’t he? Apparently not.

Third, it seems plausible then that some who were in the PCA at the outset were less “P” than they were “CA.”

Fourth, while it is understandable that there were some debates back and forth about some of the finer points of what it meant to be Reformed, it is rather incomprehensible that knowing and understanding what it meant historically and currently to be Reformed “created significant debates.” Most of us are aware of the discussions and debates over, say, infra- and supralapsarianism, over double predestination, and some of the finer logistics of administering the Lord’s Supper,[1] but that does not seem to be the type of thing to which the Strategic Plan is referring.

Fifth, one really has to wonder if this Strategic Plan is going to be the “cure-all” for three decades of confusion about what it means to be Reformed. The report admits that the debates surrounding what it means to be Reformed “both clouded understanding of our mission and inhibited cooperative participation in it. While progress has been made in defining how we will hold each other accountable for being true to the Reformed faith, relational tensions wax and wane around this issue.” (Ibid.)

This is, at very best, exceedingly vague language. It is so vague one has to wonder if one has to be an “insider” or to have been in the PCA from day one before one can get a handle on what the report is attempting to say. It could very well be the case that even the “insiders” might be a little confused at this point. If the report is alluding to what was decided regarding the Federal Vision, to this point there does not seem to be a lot of “holding each other accountable” for being true to the Reformed faith.

Moreover, if the report is referring to some of the consummately “loopy” church plants that have been undertaken in the name of the PCA, the acceptance of full-on emergent church liturgies, and some established PCA congregations flying in the face of the Book of Church Order by having unordained, commissioned male and female deacons, then, yes, we can begin to understand. And if the report is pointing us to the autonomous manner in which MNA has planted churches in my particular Presbytery, parachuting “Assessment Center Approved” church planters in between established churches without any warning or communication, then matters do get clearer. Since the report traffics in such generalities, one is left to guess at what actually is meant.

The next sentence in the report causes one to scratch one’s head: “Thus, the next stage of PCA development likely relates to the last phrase of the motto. How do we mission together, and whether we can do mission together, is the key to our future.” (Ibid.) Apparently, the author or authors of the report see the motto of the PCA as a kind of tiered system rather than viewing the components as inner-related. Herman Bavinck taught me a long time ago that being faithful to Scripture meant that you were true to the Reformed faith and obedient to the Great Commission. Am I missing something here?

If we are faithful to the Word of God, should we not derive how we “do mission” from that source and formulate our principles from our “commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture as the driving force”? If we are convinced “Presbos,” our doctrine of missions should be derived from Scripture, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission, which, as I recall, says something about missions, doesn’t it? I believe this is true, which is why I was more than just a little flummoxed when the author(s) (Clearly this document is historical in the sense that it was written by Anonymous VI. His or her parents must be very proud, whoever they are) asserts that if the PCA cannot unite in missional purpose (what does this mean and what will unity look like? Total conformity? Identity in all parts?), “then our future is likely incessant, inward-focused pettiness.” (Ibid.) Wow! Nobody wants to be such a bigot do they?

Actually, I’m a little peeved at the tendentious choice of words in the last quote. If Presbos want to sit down and have a scriptural, Reformed, and obedient view of missions, why must the discussions terminate in pettiness? It sounds as if everyone does not get onboard with this Strategic Plan’s every word that we’ll all turn into ecclesiastical navel-gazers. Somewhat sarcastically in a simple graph we’re informed that the PCA’s faithfulness to Scripture occurred in the first 30 seconds and being true to the Reformed faith was the next 30 years—although I thought the report had said that the PCA wasn’t clear on what this meant—and the next part moving forward is “How will we do mission?” or “What is our present mission/calling?”

My initial response to these questions is this: You mean we don’t know now? Do we have a clue? Return to page 1 for a moment. We are told there that our annual growth rate had been roughly 5-8% in the early stages and in recent years has dropped to around 2-3%. If the PCA were so confused about who it was then, how do we account for the initial growth rate? Was it dumb predestination/luck? I would also like to know if the recent decline is due to the fact that the PCA has been striving ardently to become a “big tent” church affiliation. Is it possible—just possible—that some of the decline is due to the fact that those looking for a Reformed church have become disgusted at what passes for Reformed worship and liturgy in some churches that call themselves PCA? I’m just askin’.

[1] W.F. Dankbaar, Communiegebruiken in de eeuw der Reformatie, (Groningen, Holland: Het Instituut voor Liturgiewetenschap, 19872).



Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was EXACTLY my thoughts when I read it. With so much focus on affecting culture, perhaps THAT emphasis is the problem?

It's like doubling down when you're already losing!

1:37 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home