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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, July 22, 2010

The Aftermath of the PCA’s 38th General Assembly (III)

The Church & Politics; Politics & the Church

I had a very liberal professor of ethics when I studied at the Free University of Amsterdam whose name was Harry Kuitert. Most of what he wrote and said was way left of center. He did, however, write one book that bore a fascinating title. Translated it was called Everything is Political, but Politics Isn’t Everything (Alles is politiek maar politiek is niet alles).[1]

There were many speakers from the floor of the General Assembly in Nashville this year who commented that the 2010 Strategic Plan read more like a piece of sociology than it did a biblical plan for moving forward in a conservative Presbyterian affiliation. In the case of “brothers dealing with brothers,” this problem would have been very easy to remedy of course. It seems to me that the request for more explicit biblical backing in the Strategic Plan was not unreasonable, especially in light of the fact that it was demonstrated that exceedingly scant scriptural reference was contained in the 2003 draft of the Strategic Plan. As I said, this was easy to remedy among brothers in the Lord. What came across—at least to me—was a somewhat heavy-handed, top-down response which, to my way of thinking was both unnecessary as well as uncalled for.

Read the Plan!

For those of us who read the plan (apparently, not all did, but rather were prepared simply to “trust the leadership” and vote as the leadership urged them), having some scriptural backing at key points would most definitely have enhanced both the plan itself and the process of discussion. One can only wonder why there was such resistance to going back to the “drawing board.” Without being ridiculous about simply adding Scripture or being overwrought, the plan could have been greatly enhanced by indicating that the intent and purpose of the plan was to point the PCA in a biblical direction moving forward.

Having been delegated by a local Session and failing to read the Strategic Plan is both unconscionable and irresponsible. In order to facilitate the delegate’s understanding of the plan, PCA headquarters even published a yellow highlighted version on the PCA’s web site. It really doesn’t get much easier or more accommodating than that! Knowing that this was going to be a major item on the agenda, some delegates failed (miserably) to do their requisite homework. I trust they will never allow something like this to happen again.

Let me be clear about what I mean when I refer to scriptural references: I am not referring to some “over the top” proof-texting mentality, nor do I think the other delegates who requested more biblical backing were requiring that either. In other words, we were not expecting a spate of Scripture quotes at the end of every sentence of the plan. On the other hand, it would have been helpful, for example, to explain Theme #3. “In God’s Global Mission. A summary of the proposed means is to provide internal means and will to make the PCA a significant contributor to God’s Global Mission (including learning from the global church, as well as unifying ourselves to minister to and with the global church).” (Emphasis added.)

Since I spoke to this particular “Theme” on the floor of GA, allow me a moment to recap what I said. First, some scriptural reference as to precisely how the PCA was going to provide means and will, internal or otherwise, to make the PCA a significant contributor to God’s Global Mission would have gone a long way. Are we simply going to accomplish that by fiat? By declaration? What are the means that are going to be used? Who is going to decide what those means are and are not? Hasn’t the PCA been striving arduously and manfully to be a significant contributor to missions in the past? How is this going to be different? What have we missed in the past that has caused us to be so derelict and delinquent in our duties as far as missions is concerned? Furthermore, as I stated at GA, who will determine precisely what the address of “the global church” is? Is there, de facto, such an address? If there is, why haven’t we been knocking on the door of the global church before? Who will determine what the PCA incorporates from the global church? Who will judge the judges who will decide what we keep and what we jettison from the global church? I’m just askin’, because it seems to me that these are very important questions than demand answers if we are to move forward together. Lord willing, I’ll come back to this in subsequent installments.

So the first general objection to the Strategic Plan is an egregious lack of scriptural support for a plan that expects and requires a great deal from the PCA moving forward. If this is to be a strategic plan of an ecclesiastical organization, which it is, then one could, and should, expect scriptural bases for what is being said and planned. In other words, as we all well know, there is a lot at stake in this plan. It has far-reaching implications and applications to and for the PCA. If the Administration Committee had been willing to recommit the plan for closer scrutiny, it would have gone a long way with the “large minority.” Besides, this plan verges on being one of the biggest “top down” movements since I’ve been in the PCA (1995). Besides, one has to wonder, “What’s the rush? Why this and why this now?” The unwillingness to take the plan back and tweak it raises suspicions. Those suspicions might be unwarranted, but a very large minority of the delegates were not pleased. Therefore, don’t continue to push forward. Go back, improve it, and bring it back next time.

Are We Missing Something?

After all, the country is in the midst of a rather large economic downturn and reliable economists, even within the Obama administration, are cautiously predicting that following the current economic path could have disastrous, indeed cataclysmic, effects on the U.S. dollar. Again, some are already writing about the “taxation” proposal included in the Strategic Plan, and, like it or not, the proposed plan includes a tax.

But there is another important point that the Administration Committee seems to be missing or ignoring, or both. What is that? I have in my possession—therefore I believe other PCA Sessions should have it as well—a document entitled “A Funding Plan Model for the PCA Administrative Committee/Office of the Stated Clerk.” The first step of explanation reads as follows: “Why do we need a new plan for funding the Administrative Committee?” That is a very good and honest question and most certainly one that deserves not only an answer, but also the input of a number of PCA congregations.

The second paragraph of this step-by-step explanation states, “In the PCA, only 45% of our churches currently give to the Administrative Committee and only about 16% give the full Partnership Share. After 36 years of trying to make the current funding system work reasonably, the PCA Administrative Committee has never made full budget.” (p. 1.) Those are major problems, so let’s carefully take them in turn. Less that half of all PCA churches give anything to the AC. That is a major concern. It begs the question: Why is that? Obviously, there could be a number of reasons for this phenomenon. The first one that comes to mind is that many PCA churches are relatively small and simply believe that they cannot afford to pay the full Partnership Share. Like many households, these smaller congregations of Christ have to make choices and, at times, these are hard choices.

Second, it could very well be that some churches are quite capable of paying but have paid so little attention to detail that they are not even aware that such a Partnership Share exists. If the remainder of Presbyteries are anything like the one I’m in, the interest level for such topics is practically nil. In fact, after over twenty years, a number of congregations in my Presbytery still don’t know where the checks go for the Presbytery fund and for the Presbytery Stated Clerk. Even if you take the time to explain that to every Presbytery, there are those who arrive late and others who leave early, and often these are the same people.

Third, there are churches that could pay but do not, not because they cannot afford it, but simply because they don’t want to pay or because they don’t feel all that “connected” in and to the PCA. For these congregations, “connectionalism” means little or nothing. This is a very serious problem and after 36 years, I would have expected the AC to have “blown the whistle” on those churches who were not willing to pony up anything (much) for the AC or the other PCA committees for that matter. Thus, my suggestion to the AC is that, for the sake of discussion at the Presbytery level, a list is published of established churches that are delinquent in paying their Partnership Share. This could be a very revealing undertaking. Until such a list is published and there is greater disclosure, the PCA is not served well. If we have this longstanding problem, we need to know where the problem areas are so that we can begin to deal with them more effectively at both the Presbytery and local congregational levels. Not to make this disclosure is simply to put more pressure on congregations that are at least paying something. When church planters attend the Assessment Center, how much time and attention is given to Partnership Shares in the course of time the planters and their wives are at the Center? I’m just askin’.

Given the gravity and magnitude of this dire situation (16%), I would have thought that more time would be devoted to remedying this untenable situation and encouraging the other 84% to make some concerted, measurable efforts to get on board, to get with the program. It does seem rather odd that those who are already paying are going to receive a heavier burden or be penalized for having been faithful in giving their Partnership Share. This seems like a good way to lose a great deal of support rather than garnering more. Moreover, as I’ve mentioned before, some Sessions might have very good cause for withholding part of the Partnership Share. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it’s worthwhile to mention it again: My Session has intentionally withheld a portion of our Partnership Share from a particular PCA committee precisely because that committee has repeatedly ignored us. We have sent emails and we get no reply. I expect that from Loretta Sanchez’s office, but not from a PCA committee. Therefore, the Session decided to give the AC double. Yet because of the “16% Rule” we still get letters from the AC near year’s end to send more.

It seems to me that this situation can be easily remedied and it is largely a budgetary matter. If my family budget has been operating in the red for thirty-six years I would be one very embarrassed head of my household. It would be totally justifiable for the elders to come and visit me and ask me why I had not asked for help or why I had not made lifestyle adjustments to protect my family against this circumstance. In short, I should have been mature enough to understand that something was dreadfully wrong and that I needed to make adjustments to rectify the situation. That’s the way households operate—at least the stable ones. Can a family have a few bad years and run up some credit card debt if they hit a “rough patch.” Sure. But thirty-six years just doesn’t seem right, does it? It seems all the more wrong and wrongheaded when item II in the Funding Plan Model discusses ways it would require Churches, Teaching Elders, and Presbyteries to give.

Would anyone at the AC be in favor of implementing this same type of plan at the Presbytery and congregational levels? I’m interested, because when I was Treasurer of my Presbytery hardly any congregation—except four—would have had any vote at all at the Presbytery level. Should “no pay, no play” be applied to voting for candidates on the floor of Presbytery? Or whether a church planter’s airfare to the Assessment Center” should be covered by Presbytery funds? How about if non-paying TEs can vote on BCO amendments sent by the AC? Should Sessions get a list from the church treasurer prior to a congregational meeting in order to ascertain who can vote and who cannot? Or, should the elders and deacons provide pastoral oversight so that those who are somewhat financially strapped can learn to be good biblical stewards with all that the Lord has entrusted into their care? The answer is obvious.

My financial advisor said to me one day that money is a very emotional issue. He was right. It tends to get less emotional when you’re spending someone else’s money. There were some pleas from the floor of GA for our PCA committees further to curb spending. This is not to say that they haven’t made efforts in that direction. They have; we all have, haven’t we? Sessions have pared back congregational budgets in attempts to save in this economic downturn. I would imagine that every congregation has had to do this to one degree or another. Rather than upping the ante in the “Pay or you don’t play” Strategic Plan, one might reasonably expect some efforts or discussion concerning how the PCA might attract more of those congregations not in attendance to attend. In addition, we might want to put our heads together to contemplate why so few PCA congregations pay any amount to headquarters vis-à-vis the “askings.” Which congregations are they and what is being done to get them prayerfully to (re)consider their unwillingness or inability to give?

Moreover, is there any provision in the Strategic Plan for those who have faithfully contributed in the past? Are they cut any slack? If not, why not? If so, what will that look like? Economically, this plan is a “flat liner” that has no provision for those who have contributed their fair share. In point of fact, there has hardly been a thank you expressed. What I gathered from the floor is that one member basically told us that the plan was fair, so be quiet and pay up. That’s crassly put, but honestly, that’s how it came across to me. The responses were rather heavy-handed, along the lines of “if you don’t pay up, it’s going to accumulate and maybe we’ll negotiate some sort of agreement with you.” Question: Where does the Administration Committee or any committee for that matter, derive the power and authority to withhold a properly ordained TE or RE from voting? Would someone please show me that in the BCO? I am willing to be corrected, but if I cannot be shown “chapter and verse,” I will not comply. If solid evidence for such a procedure is not available, then this is an egregious power grab and apologies to faithful pastors and other elders are in order.

[1] H.M. Kuitert, Alles is politiek maar politiek is niet alles, (Baarn: Ten Have, 19854).



Blogger Infinity8Ball said...

That was exactly what bothered me most about that proposal from the AC. The "pay to play" idea was really bothersome to me. One could ask, is there even Biblical warrant for that? Did the Jerusalem church not get a say when they needed funding support from Gentile churches?

8:00 AM  

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