Some Thoughts on the PCA’s 47th General Assembly

Many at my own church have asked me what was notable about our recent meeting (called “General Assembly”). I figured I’d share my quick thoughts with more than just those who asked, in case others are interested. I’m on vacation this week so I’ll keep these brief.

Texas is hot.

I feel like our denomination has one rule: we must meet in the most humid climates imaginable. It was hot outside. And freezing inside. Why do we willfully do this when there are better climates available?

Like San Diego, for example.

Just saying.

The Nashville Statement discussion and decision was completely unnecessary.

This year, the Assembly accepted the recommendation to answer Overture 4, “Declare the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood’s ‘Nashville Statement’ on Biblical Sexuality as a Biblically Faithful Declaration,” in the affirmative. The vote was 803-541.

I was one of the 541 who voiced a “no” to this. Why?

We already have stated our views on marriage and sexuality in both our confessional and constitutional documents (WCF 24.1-6; BCO 59-3). To affirm a document written by a parachurch council still doesn’t make sense to me, especially if we have the means to create our own church document. (Btw, one TE said on the floor that the Westminster Assembly was a parachurch organization, and it got some laughter. But that’s not true. It was a council of divines tasked with restructuring the church, not with stating a biblical position on ethics. The Nashville Statement is a parachurch Christian statement, and as such it’s categorically different from the Westminster Standards in both nature and substance. Okay, done with my nerd rant. That really bothered me.)

Thankfully, we will be creating our own statement in the years to come since this GA has elected to “Establish [a] Study Committee on Sexuality.” That’s a very good thing and I trust we will produce something of great biblical fidelity and compassionate beauty.

So my position on this is that we didn’t need to say it all over again with affirmations and denials. We have our views clearly stated in the Westminster Standards and Book of Church Order. To restate them by declaring something like the Nashville Statement as “biblically true” only proves to ourselves that we’re awesome. It doesn’t persuade others that we’re awesome. And what I’ve found lacking in the Nashville Statement isn’t truth, it’s beauty. Where is the compelling language that clearly leads others—especially outsiders—into the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel? Where is the pastoral language that might lead someone who is struggling with their sexuality toward the biblical position? We simply don’t find it in the Nashville Statement. So I grieve our declaration of this statement for that reason. We can and must do better.

We have a study committee on sexual assault and domestic abuse!!!

The 47th General Assembly will form an "Ad Interim Committee to Address Matters Related to Domestic Abuse, Domestic Oppression, and Sexual Assault.” I am very excited about this. Our church co-hosted the Valued Conference this past March of 2019, so it goes without saying that I’d be a big fan of this one. We need to be as proactive and preventive as we can and this takes a necessary step forward in the right direction, BEFORE any sort of crisis emerges within our denomination.

I’m thankful that we saw the need and are responding sooner rather than later. We can never be too careful and have much work to do on responding better to sexual abuse. There are far too many survivors who need us. I hope this study committee will prove useful for the PCA and for the church catholic.

Did I say Texas is hot?

Seriously, how do people live in that?

 

 

Every year is pretty much the same.

We build up the hype, get all hot and bothered over the next General Assembly meeting—thinking that the sky is falling. Two years ago it was racial reconciliation, this year it was Revoice. Blogs sound the alarm the month leading up to our annual meeting. And then we meet to find out everything is pretty okay, and we don’t hate each other as much as we thought we did.

Of course, tensions remain. There was applauding on “both sides” of the aisle during the great debates this assembly, and I’m sure that tension will be there next year just as it was last year. But our denomination isn’t sliding into liberal oblivion, you can bet your britches on that. The Presbyterian Church in America is a confessionally Reformed denomination. That much hasn’t changed.

What We Got Wrong About Accountability

Have you ever been part of an accountability group or had an accountability partner before? Well, the whole thing is a flop. It doesn’t work.

What really happens after someone asks to be held accountable is that as soon as anything serious is brought up, the person flees from all accountability and responsibility. Everyone wants to be accountable until it goes against what we want when we want it. It’s similar to that pesky personal trainer when you’re trying to lose weight. You’re about to eat an Oreo cookie (okay, maybe a whole box of Oreos), and that late-night text message arrives: Don’t even think about it.

Our reaction is to ignore the advice and indulge in what we want because it’s going to make us feel really good.

Accountability groups and accountability partners always seem to turn out the same way. Good, heartfelt attempts are made by both parties, but eventually, it turns into a guilt-tripping situation on the one hand or a performance-driven thing on the other.

What we get wrong in our attempts at holding others accountable, and our attempts to be held accountable is the power of the gospel. Accountability groups will always and only be guilt-driven unless the gospel is what creates, forms, shapes, and sustains the “accountability” that is happening between two or more people.

In much of Christianity today, the thing missing from accountability situations is the doctrine of absolution. The free, undeserved, unearned pronouncement of the forgiveness of sins in Christ is rarely a big part of the accountability models we see today.

Instead, we’re beaten down and overburdened by the trick question “How many times did you beat your wife” in all of its different forms. For the dating relationship, it sounds like “Did you have sex?” To the single guy or girl, it’s “Have you looked at dirty images lately?” For the married couple, it’s, “Have you lusted after anyone who wasn’t your spouse?” For the dudes trying to hold one another accountable in college, it’s a combination of all of the above (minus the spouse part).

In every situation, though, it’s focused on our cumulative failures and is hardly—if ever—offering a pronouncement of good news. Instead, it’s a perpetual situation of bad news. The holier partner in the contract is left policing the behavior and immorality of the weaker sister or brother.

Without the gospel of grace, it’s a pretty nasty thing. What we need now, and always, is the ability to readily confess our sins to one another in mutual accountability and to offer one another the most profound words this side of heaven:

God forgives you in Christ. And he loves you.

Have you ever heard those words out loud from an accountability buddy or group before? I haven’t. And I’ve been in them for decades, from junior high through college, in men’s groups, and even now as a minister of the gospel. Those gracious, loving, compassionate words of God’s condescension (not condemnation!) toward us don’t seem to exist in the Everyday Christian Vocabulary Book. But they should.

In the Bible, James urges all of us to do this regularly, though. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed (James 5:13a).

The only news that can free any sinner from the heavy burden of God’s holy law is news that someone else (Jesus) has done what we could not do. Because of that life-giving, law-slaying news, we can now hear commands like flee sexual immorality not as guilt-driven incentives to earn God’s favor, but as the loving, freeing, pardoning words of an Already-Well-Pleased Father who has done everything to free us from sin for someone (God) and something (redemption in the church & mission to the world) so much better, grander, and lovelier.

What is the Purpose of Sex?

What is the Purpose of Sex?

For many people today, having sex is no different from shaking hands with someone else or giving a hug. It’s a common, human relation that just so happens to feel good too.

Sharing Good and Bad Stories About Church

Sharing Good and Bad Stories About Church

I hear many positive experiences of church. Sometimes I wish this net of stories could be cast wider though. Beyond hearing entrance stories, I wish I could hear every exit story too.