NEWS BULLETIN #27-1 JUNE 14-15, 1999

PCA Assembly Set to Convene Tuesday Night

Major Issues: Women's Role, Identity Statement

Louisville, Kentucky (June 14, 1999)-For the first time in its twenty-six year history, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) will be meeting in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. More than a thousand commissioners are expected to take part in the four day meeting, which will start Tuesday evening with a communion service, followed by the election of a new Moderator. By custom, the PCA alternates between electing teaching elders (or ministers) and ruling elders as the presiding officer. If that habit prevails this year, a ruling elder will be chosen.

Before relinquishing the gavel, retiring Moderator Kennedy Smartt, one of the founding ministers of the relatively young denomination, will preach at the opening worship service. Previously employed by two denominational committees-Mission to North America and Mission to the World, and formerly the pastor of West End Presbyterian Church, Hopewell, Va., Dr. Smartt is presently the Assistant Pastor at Chestnut Mountain (Ga.) Presbyterian Church. In an interview last week, he indicated that his message will be on Joshua 1:1-9, a passage which calls upon the Israelites to be strong and courageous as they are about to cross into the promised land and roll away the reproach of Egypt.

The Role of Women in Church and Society

The role of women in church and society will be raised in a variety of ways at the Twenty-Seventh PCA General Assembly. The denomination has historically been traditionalist in its views; one of the reasons why she was formed in 1973 out of the Southern Presbyterian Church was over the issue of female ordination. Furthermore, the 1997 PCA Assembly severed fraternal relations with the Christian Reformed Church after that denomination did not repent of its decision to ordain women to ruling and teaching office.

Recently, it has come to light that women have been preaching in at least one PCA congregation. Western Carolina Presbytery has overtured the Assembly, asking it to advise the presbyteries and sessions that such activity is inappropriate. The North Carolina court has also approached Tennessee Valley Presbytery, asking it to look into the report that Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, prominent PCA church in Knoxville, Tenn., has had women preachers.

Adoption of the overture would not compel any judicial action against churches or ministers which did not heed the advice. Nevertheless, the Assembly's action will signal the mind of the church on this matter.

A special Assembly committee which has been studying the question of women in combat is slated to present its report. Among the implications which the Committee draws are that women "can serve as helpers in a just war" and are therefore "not prohibited from serving in the military in various ways"; however, women "should not be put into those places where their roles as combatants will intentionally expose them to direct engagement with enemy lethal force and potential gender specific war atrocities, except in extraordinary cases." Furthermore, the Committee believes that women's "vulnerability to sexual abuse and impregnation by allied and hostile military personnel must be a critical factor planned for in deployment and engagement with enemy forces" and that there should be "adequate privacy from the opposite gender to enable Christian soldiers from being exposed to licentious conduct and inappropriate temptations."

An overture from a retired Navy chaplain also addresses the question of women's roles. The Rev. Mr. Timothy Rott is asking the Assembly to change the wording in the Directory for Worship to make clear that only men may read Scripture in public worship. The practice of women reading the Word in a church service has been much more widespread than that of women preaching. However, the 1997 Assembly took exception to the minutes of Southern Florida Presbytery for having a woman read the Bible and another one lead in prayer in a church organizational service. Last year, the Assembly in effect reaffirmed that decision, when it gave the Presbytery specific Scriptural and Constitutional rationale for it. The court referred to I Corinthians 14:34 ("Let your women keep silence in the church"); I Timothy 2:11-15 (". . . I do not suffer [allow] a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over a man . . . ."); and Larger Catechism 155-159 (where both the reading and the preaching of the Word are dealt with, and it is stated that not everyone may read the Word publicly). [Please see CORRECTION at bottom of page.-Ed.]

Statement of Identity

In January of this year, a group of twenty-nine churchmen, including two coordinators of Assembly committees, distributed a booklet, A Statement of Identity for the Presbyterian Church in America. This document is designed to create a "consensus" of beliefs within the denomination, as to which doctrines of her standards are of crucial significance, and on which doctrines there may be toleration of different views.

This recent effort is the second attempt to have the denomination as a whole consider such a statement. In 1994, the original Statement of Identity was circulated, and a meeting was held at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tenn. After that meeting, very little was heard about the document, and many had assumed that the movement to have the document widely accepted was moribund.

Westminster Presbytery has overtured the Assembly, asking it to affirm "that the standard of the PCA is the inerrant Word of God and the constitution of the Church (the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order). The overture also asks the Assembly to declare that the denomination "decries attempts to create extra-constitutional 'statements of identity' or other 'unofficial' standards for the Church."

Among the concerns which have been raised throughout the denomination concerning the document is that it has the appearance of being an "official" statement, since it is identified as a statement "for the Presbyterian Church in America." The question of entities not immediately under the jurisdiction of the General Assembly seeming to speak for or on behalf of the denomination has been a sensitive one over the past several years. In the 1980s, the denominational initials, "PCA," were registered as a service mark on behalf of (but without the knowledge of) the denominational corporation. However, following opposition from the PCA's liberal counterpart, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the application to register the name "Presbyterian Church in America" as a service mark was withdrawn. The result is that anyone may, from a legal perspective, freely use the name of the denomination, but not its initials (in an ecclesiastical context).

MNA CofC Witnesses Spirited Discussion

Louisville, Kentucky (June 15, 1999)-The Mission to North America (MNA) Committee of Commissioners witnessed some spirited discussion this afternoon. After approving the minutes of the Permanent MNA Committee, the Committee of Commissioners asked for MNA personnel to come back and answer questions regarding documents that are referenced in those minutes. Several of the questions revolved around independent agencies that are employed by MNA for church planter assessments. According to the Rev. Mr. Allen Thompson, one of these agencies, the International Church Planting Assessment Center, was chartered in 1990, to assist Mission to the World (MTW). Mr. Thompson stated that Jim Bland (current MNA Coordinator), Paul Kooistra (MTW Coordinator), and Terry Gyger (a former MNA Coordinator) are among those involved with this organization.

Chairing the MNA Committee of Commissioners is the Rev. Mr. Rod Whited. The pastor from North Florida Presbytery is a "co-opted member" of the MNA Committee, who has participated in the meetings of the Permanent Committee and has remained in the room when the Permanent Committee has gone into executive session.

CORRECTION: In the June 1999 issue of Presbyterian & Reformed News, it was reported that the Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church was overturing the Assembly with respect to amending BCO 50-2; in point of fact, the church's pastor, the Rev. Timothy Rott, is presenting the overture. We regret the error.

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