General Assembly Reflections

I want to share a few words about the General Assembly meeting that I attended last week with elder John Drum. After all, King’s Cross is not an independent church. Independency is a form of church government in which individual congregations govern themselves apart from any outside authoritative body. Most Baptist and nondenominational Bible and Community churches are like this. Another form of church government is episcopacy in which bishops have authority over multiple congregations (like Roman Catholicism and the United Methodist Church). 

King’s Cross is a Presbyterian congregation. We belong to a denomination founded in 1973 called the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Here is a simple summary of the values of the PCA: faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission. To learn more about the PCA, take a look at Marshall St. John’s short article, A Brief History (though he doesn’t mention a hero of mine, Francis Schaeffer, who admired the PCA).

I did not personally grow up in the church, and the first church I became a member of was an independent church (it did not belong to a denomination). I did not experience denominationalism until my 30s. The adjustment was not effortless. If you’d like to learn more, ask me. You can also ask any King’s Cross elder, none of whom grew up in a church denomination.   

Have you had not-so-positive experiences with church denominations? Consider reading David Strain’s article at the Gospel Coalition, I’m Thankful to Be Turning 50 with the PCA, along with the article by Jason Helopoulos, I Love the (Imperfect) PCA at 50

 

Staying up-to-date

If you want to be aware of news within and about the PCA, a good way to do this is to follow byFaith Magazine. (You’ll begin seeing copies at our upcoming Sunday morning Resource Table.) To learn about the denomination you can also listen to the Gifts and Graces podcast, listen to chapel talks at Covenant College, or peruse the blog, Orthodoxy + Orthopraxy at Covenant Theological Seminary. 

While not a PCA entity, The World and Everything In It podcast involves a lot of PCA people. 

 

General Assembly Reflections

General Assembly (GA) is the annual business meeting of the PCA. This year it took place in Richmond, Virginia. Last year, the 50th anniversary of the PCA, it took place in Memphis. Next year it will take place in Chattanooga. 

Below are just my own reflections. Each year, General Assembly information is published here. Megan Fowler of byFaith Magazine always publishes a very helpful Summary of GA.

1. First of all: Thank You, King’s Cross. I owe our church family a big thanks for making it possible for me to attend General Assembly. It is important for me to participate in our denomination not merely to represent King’s Cross and our church vision, but to experience ministry by serving alongside King’s Cross elders and elders from churches in our presbytery. It is also important for me to engage the global cause for Christ that is faithful to Scripture, true to the Reformed faith, and faithful to the great commission. Additionally, I have friends and ministry partners across the nation, many of whom I don’t get to see apart from General Assembly. 

You went without me for a week, and you funded my attendance. Thank you very much.

2. Bryan Chapell, the stated clerk of the PCA, began his report with these words: “In their new book, The Great Dechurching, Jim Davis and Michael Graham write, ‘More people have left the church in the last 25 years than all the new people who became Christians from the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and Billy Graham crusades combined.’ Pew Foundation researchers now estimate Christians will only comprise about a third of the U.S. population by 2070. If we only consider the math, then the question is not whether Christianity will decline in our nation but how fast and to what degree.” Even still, Chapell quotes Eastern Illinois professor of political science, Ryan Burge, who says that among all American denominations, “only the PCA has kept growing,” even (fractionally) “exceeding the growth rate of the general population.”

For those who like data: For 2023, the PCA was composed of 1,645 churches, 289 church plants, and 5,285 ordained pastors. Total church membership for 2023 was 393,528. Of those, 4,641 represent new professions of faith. See the link below for full statistics.

3. In the past decade, a panel discussion would precede General Assembly business. The topics have been pretty varied over the years: PCA history (2014), cultivating mission in the church (2023), ethnic outreach (2015), civility (2019), pioneering black ministries (2023), Korean-American church planting (2022), racial reconciliation (2018), sexual brokenness (2016). Panels are regularly composed of a variety of Christian thinkers. This year, the discussion was about supporting church leadership in a polarized political year. David French, Christian attorney, former Army reservist, author, and New York Times columnist, was invited to participate and, days later, the panel discussion was canceled with very few details. 

4. At GA, each sub-organization, or agency of the denomination (listed here) delivers annual reports and asks for approval for new initiatives. What stood out to me is that the presidents of Covenant College (report here) and Covenant Theological Seminary (report here) delivered very positive reports. Student enrollment for both institutions has increased, and Covenant Seminary presented a thorough and exciting new Strategic Plan. 

5. The denomination voted to distribute a Letter Regarding Gender Reassignment for Minors to various politicians in order to register our biblical and theological position on the matter.

6. Last year there were a few proposed changes to the Book of Church Order, the operational manual for PCA churches. These changes were voted on by each presbytery and were made official at this year’s meeting. 

For instance, a short chapter on church officers (BCO 7.3) now adds that “unordained people shall not be referred to as, or given the titles of, the ordained offices of pastor/elder, or deacon.” This is a challenge for many Korean churches in the PCA because they often use the title, deacon, to refer to a variety of functions in the church. 

And in two chapters about the elder and the deacon (BCO 8.2 and 9.3) now adds that every elder and deacon “should conform to the biblical requirement of chastity and sexual purity in his descriptions of himself, and in his convictions, character, and conduct.”

7. For the past two years, considerable effort has been made to revise how to conduct church trials. Focus has been on how confessions of guilt are submitted and who is permitted to testify in church courts. 

8. Finally, the PCA asked two denominational agencies, Mission to the World (MTW) and CDM, to draft and present a report on the book, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. This book has proven to be very controversial (see the Christianity Today article).

 

Resources

PCA website

Administrative Committee website

2014 Pew Religious Landscape Study focusing on the PCA

Five-Year statistics (through 2023)

More PCA stats than any reasonable human should ever need

The substack of Ryan Burge, Graphs about Religion

 

Reports that present our biblical and theological position on controversial subjects

Note that we will make copies of these reports available at the forthcoming Sunday morning Resource Table.

Human Sexuality (2021)

Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault (2022)

Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation (2018)

Pastoral Letter on Racism and the Gospel (2016)

Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church (2017)

Protection of Children (2014)

Divorce and Remarriage (1992)

Abortion (1978)

Report of the Creation Study Committee (2000)

Picture of John F. Jones

John F. Jones

King's Cross Senior Pastor

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