This past month I was given the extraordinary honor and privilege to serve the Presbyterian Church in America as Moderator of our General Assembly in Nashville, June 29-July 2. Needless to say, the task was daunting as well as challenging. Our General Assembly, besides usual business, tackled a highly debated initiative which had been making its way through the committees of the denomination called the PCA Strategic Plan. The purpose of the plan is to address issues of proper funding for our Administrative Committee as well as to give vision for the future as the church fulfills its Biblical mission from God’s Word, specifically the Great Commission. As Moderator, it was my responsibility to guide the (at times intense and often tedious) process of debate as well as commission requests, competence and parliamentary procedures of motions and amendments. My lack of confidence was probably evident on numerous occasions but was greatly ameliorated by the able assistance of the Stated Clerk of the PCA, Dr. Roy Taylor and the appointed parliamentarians, Ruling Elders John White and Sam Duncan as well as a complement of assistant clerks. Their experience, abilities and servant hearts allowed me to not only do what I was called to do but they enabled me to do it much more effectively than I would have ever been able to do alone, which is further evidence to me of the wisdom of our Lord with the marvelous blessing of diversity in callings and gifts throughout the body of Christ.
I have determined, since my responsibility as moderator continues through the entire year, not to comment upon the merits or demerits of the PCA Strategic Plan in order to remain in an appropriate position if needed for future occasions that might necessitate the role of the moderator.
What I would like to do is comment on the conduct of the GA in general and a few observations in particular. As moderator, not only was I positioned for such observations, but of necessity was also continually engaged and therefore became impressionable to a number of dynamics.
1. Mission and Vision – First of all was the obvious desire of those in the General Assembly of the PCA to fulfill our original vision which is bound up with the simple yet, I believe, profound and timeless statement that the PCA be “True to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.” As we were considering this Strategic Plan there seemed to be a heart desire by those in the Assembly to maintain our faithfulness to this historic three-fold vision of the PCA. In the midst of debate and discussion I sensed that no matter where one stood on the issues the constant refrain and prevalent passion was to remain anchored to the simple yet crucial mission and vision of being “true to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.”
2. Truth – Even more specifically, there were stated concerns that in the name of relevance, to reach the culture, there was not enough attention being given to those things which give permanence to the effectiveness of the church transcending the contemporary issues of the culture. And there were some who were concerned that in the name of permanence we as a church were not thoughtfully responding to the ever changing dynamics of the contemporary culture therefore, losing relevance and influence. Yet, what remained clear was the desire of the vast majority of those engaged in debate to be anchored as well as both informed and conformed to the Word of God. In other words, the General Assembly desired to be faithful and fruitful as an overarching banner defining the discussion. Some were concerned that in the name of faithfulness there was not necessary thought to effectiveness. Some thought that in the pursuit of effectiveness there was a possible erosion of principled faithfulness.
3. Love – Another observation is that in the midst of the debate which was marked by passion and precision the ever present attitudes and actions of respect and civility along with the judgment of charity continually surfaced throughout the Assembly. To me, from where I stood as Moderator, it was heartening to see brothers who desire to be faithful to God’s Word through the mission of the church and even though they, at times, intensely disagreed over strategy I honestly observed the prevalence of respect through proper questions and comments, civility in response and attempting to understand the other person’s position.
4. Advice – When I was informed a few weeks prior to the assembly that I was going to be nominated it struck me as odd. The reason is because even though I have had the privilege to preach to the General Assembly on a number of occasions, have regularly led seminars and have never missed a General Assembly since my ordination in 1982, I have never spoken on the floor of General Assembly in debate. There are a number of reasons that I haven’t but initially it is because I am convinced of the marvelous proverbial wisdom that “even a fool is thought to be wise if he keeps silent.” My father taught me years ago that it is impossible to learn while you are talking and believe me I continue to have much to learn. I also realize that unless you are extremely wise and gifted the more you talk the less effective you usually are so you can see the numerous reasons that it was a choice of wisdom for me not to speak on the floor of General Assembly. There is a time for silence, and yes silence can be golden, but it can also be yellow. I would not recommend silence because of cowardice or self preservation. But I do have some advice. There is more than one of us who is guilty of dominating the microphone and making our opinions known more than necessary. The General Assembly of the PCA may seem like a Session meeting but in reality it is not. It may feel like a committee meeting but in reality it is not. If there is something that needs to be said, say it. The General Assembly is always in need of knowing all that it needs to know. But the General Assembly is not in need of knowing all that you know or all that you think you know or even all that you think the General Assembly should know that you know. And by the way, if silent, we may be amazed at how much we don’t know, and that someone else will say what we thought needed to be said and perhaps they will say it better than we could have said it. The result is to find out how much we might yet be able to know and learn.
5. Pray – Orthodoxy (believing the right thing) and orthopraxy (doing the right thing) is glorious but it is dead when done in the flesh and without the Holy Spirit. So, my desire is that through intercessory prayer we might seek the Lord’s presence and power, through the Holy Spirit, as a denomination. May God grant us a hatred of relying on the flesh and an unstoppable desire to be filled with His Spirit. When we look to ourselves, may it be with full knowledge of the weakness and trembling and when we look to the Lord, may it be with confidence and desire. Without Him we can “do nothing” but “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
It is my conviction that the PCA has been and is basically on target but we are at a crucial point. We are approaching our 40th year. It is clear from Scripture and church history that arriving at such an age of any Christian church or movement has arrived at a turning point. The 40 – 80 year time-frame seems to be a crucial moment for institutions and movements. Either they maintain their roots and extend their branches to bear more fruit or they begin the process of uprooting their roots in the name of bearing more fruit and begin to lose fruitfulness having abandoned faithfulness. Many of our seminaries, churches and institutions as well as our denomination are at such a crucial moment in the 40 – 80 year season. The issue for us is God’s sovereign grace granting us direction to deal with this season by the God given blessing of Godly, faithful and wise leaders who in turn give effective leadership.
God has granted the PCA influence beyond its numbers and notoriety. Now, what will we do until Christ comes? What do I think? Well, this is more than an abstract consideration as I have the enormous blessing of pastoring Briarwood Presbyterian Church as we celebrate our 50th year. My desire is that God would allow us to celebrate and learn intentionally from our past, to consecrate and live effectively in the present and passionately look with anticipation to the future. Perhaps, the most crucial element in such generational transition is God-centered, grace saturated, Bible immersed, spirit filled leadership which knows the blessing of timely timelessness and the joy of God-anchored permanence producing world shaking relevance.
Desiring to think in Biblical Perspective,