The General Assembly is the highest court of the Presbyterian Church in America, and it takes place every year for the governing of the Church, the promotion of the Gospel, and our mutual edification. This year’s General Assembly met in Memphis, Tennessee on June 1214.
Unlike some other Reformed denominations, the PCA does not have representatives from the presbytery or classis attend the General Assembly. Every minister (teaching elder) may attend as well as two ruling elders per congregation or more if the congregation is larger than 350 communicant members.
The first part of the work of the Assembly took place on Monday and Tuesday when the committees of commissioners met to review the work of the permanent committees and make recommendations to be taken to the floor of the General Assembly. Our committees include Covenant Theological Seminary, Christian Education and Publications, Reformed University Ministers, Mission to North America, and others.
On Tuesday night, the work of the General Assembly began with a worship service. The moderator of the previous year’s General Assembly (this year it was Dr. Dominic Aquila, president of New Geneva seminary in Colorado Springs, CO) always gives that first sermon. After the worship service a moderator was elected and the docket was adopted. E.J. Nusbaum, a ruling elder, from Village Seven PCA in Colorado Springs was elected moderator.
On Wednesday, the most extended discussion of the Assembly took place when the ad interim committee on the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and the Federal Vision (FV) gave its report and recommendations. The 34th General Assembly had formed this committee to determine whether the viewpoints of the NPP and FV were in accord with or hostile to the Westminster Standards and to produce a statement regarding these issues.
The committee issued a report explaining the views of the NPP and FV and comparing them to the Westminster Standards. Their conclusion was that the NPP and FV are hostile to the system particularly in the areas of covenant and election; justification and union with Christ; and perseverance, apostasy, and assurance. Their conclusions, as chairman TE Paul Fowler noted, were very similar to the conclusions of the OPC and the RCUS and the faculties of Westminster East and West and Mid-America Reformed Seminary.
The committee recommended that several actions be taken. First, they recommended that the General Assembly commend the report for study. Second, they called on presbyters who were out of accord with the system to make their views known and for presbyteries and sessions to keep in mind their duty to preserve the peace and purity of the Church and to exercise pastoral care over those subject to their authority. The committee’s recommendations passed by a margin of over ninety per cent.
Some may wonder about the standing of such a committee report. As RE John White, a member of the committee, pointed out, the Book of Church Order clearly explains their status. It says, “Actions…such as deliverances, resolutions, overtures, and judicial decisions are to be given due and serious consideration by the Church and its lower courts when deliberating matters related to such action” (BCO 14-7). Thus, it is to be taken seriously and given due weight but does not add to the Confession.
After the report on the NPP and FV, the General Assembly went rather quickly. Business was completed around 3:00 the next day. One of the reasons for this is the change in the rules that only allows three options in the consideration of any question from a committee. The motion may be approved, rejected, or referred back to the committee.
In addition to the Assembly business, there are always many other activities going on at the time of the General Assembly. Every evening there is a worship service. This year, Dr. R.C. Sproul and Dr. Bryan Chapel preached in our worship services. There are also many opportunities to hear what is going on in various seminaries and committees over free luncheons and dinners. Finally, there is the exhibit hall where various booksellers, seminaries from around the world, and other ministries set up display tables. It is an exciting opportunity to see the work of God in the Reformed Church throughout the world.
I would encourage you to pray for the PCA and that the Reformed witness on our continent would increase in faithfulness, in numbers, and in grace. Please pray that we would be faithful to the motto set forth by our founders that we would be “faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the great commission of Jesus Christ.”
J. Wesley White is the Pastor of the New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Spearfish, South Dakota.