21 June 2002

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is underway in Birmingham, Alabama this week. And the news from it so far seems good, at least to my ears.

The Assembly decided to add "and unity" to the ordination vows for ministers who swear to maintain the "purity and peace and unity" of the Church. This brings the vows for ministers in line with those for ruling elders. It also commits ministers to ecumenism, which is close to my heart.

The Assembly has also clarified the meaning of "Confessional Subscription" by officers within the denomination, re-affirming the traditional Presbyterian position of "good faith" subscription that steers a path between "strict" subscription on one hand (which allows for no exceptions) and "loose" or "broad" subscription on the other hand (which allows for any and all personal differences with the confessional standards so long as one can, in good conscience, affirm them loosely). The Assembly has put it in the hands of each Presbytery to allow for candidates for office to take exception to a particular statement of our Confessional Standards so long as that "declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion."

The PCA is a denomination that takes Scripture as it's ultimate authority with our Standards subordinate to Scripture and with the admission that all human Confessions can and often do err (or are otherwise inadequate) in their interpretation of Scripture, thus making exceptions to the Standards a necessity. Moreover, we are denomination in which decisions are made by persons deciding together in counsel, under the authority of Scripture and with the guidance of our Standards--not simply by the strict application of those Standards in every detail. I am happy with the Assembly's decision here.

The Assembly also approved and adopted a declaration confessing the racism and racial sins of our forebears and our continued struggles with those sins. The declaration also asked for forgiveness from our African-American brothers and sisters and commits the denomination to actively pursuing racial reconciliation. This declaration is particularly important, I think, since a significant portion of the denomination finds its roots in a Southern Presbyterianism that looks back to figures such as J.H. Thornwell and R.L. Dabney who both defended the American institution of slavery on biblical grounds. Whatever merit their other theological writings may have, the denomination needed to distance itself from aspects of its past. As a member of the PCA who has his roots in the norther Reformed Presbyterian Church (a portion of which joined the PCA in 1981), this was a particularly important matter to me since the Reformed Presbyterians were among the first denominations to make slave-owning an excommunicable offence and to embrace the cause of emancipation.

More details and further news can be found at PCA news.