Thursday, April 22, 2010

Strategic Plan/Identity for the PCA?

The Cooperative Ministries Committee has unanimously approved its "Strategic Plan" for understanding, evaluating and responding to the slowed numerical growth of the PCA (even the apparent frightening reality that there was even numerical shrinking),
This Strategic Plan seeks to address these realities by helping the PCA identify its challenges, address them with strategies that are consistent with our biblical values, and build denominational support for implementing these strategies. The overall goal is to enable the church to work together to steward its blessings and resources to advance the cause of Christ according to the principles and priorities of his Word.
If one does not wish to read all the analysis and evaluation and get right to the "strategies," a helpful overview can be read here.  You can find an article in byFaith Magazine here.  You can also find a series of videos presenting the CMC's plan here.

At the heart of the issue here, is the question over identity, or in the words of the committee "a proposed plan for the future of the PCA."  There is much that could be said about this plan and there are many points that could be addressed.  But, given that this proposal concerns identity, I would like to address a couple of big-picture issues rather than specific details.  So, in my mind, a foundational question that must be answered is, "Is the identity that is assumed in these strategies and will be further entrenched by these strategies biblical/confessional?".

First, the plan further centralizes power for making decisions in the PCA's ministry.  Centralization of power, even in the church, is never a good thing, but especially within a Presbyterian denomination.  Presbyterian is not a top-down ecclessiology, but rather a representative ecclessiology where men ordained to exercise the keys of the kingdom exercise them on behalf of Christ for the church.  Presbyterianism spreads the authority equally, where as, centralization takes it away from some and puts it in the hands of fewer men.  And this is particularly dangerous given what the Bible says about who is participating in governing the church.  Presbyterianism is a representation consisting of sinners saved by grace who still sin.  This fact of the ongoing presence of sin and struggle with it further under-girds why centralization is wrong headed.  Presbyters already have a impossible calling as is--is it very wise to make that calling even more precarious?  Do we want to temp men to abuse power?  No matter how godly leadership is, it is still a leadership consisting of sinners who can be easily tempted to abuse authority.  If you think this concern is unfounded, then you may want to read more history, yes, even church history. Centralization will put the church in harm's way by creating an environment for authoritarianism, where the will of the few powerful and elite will be forced on the many.  And the few powerful and elite always seem to be those with more money.  Is this the direction we want to take things?  To put the smaller and the weak in a position to be furthered looked over and ignored?  Centralization, then, is contra Presbyterian.

Secondly, the plan calls for the PCA to withdraw from NAPARC, the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council.  Theme #3, specific means #4 states:
Means (Specific) #4: Partner with national and international ministries with whom we can most effectively participate in God’s Global Mission by: (a) seek union or appropriate levels of cooperation with Reformed movements making Gospel progress and in harmony with our ethos and goals; (b) withdraw from organizations with whom we share doctrinal history, but not ministry priorities, currently draining our ministry energies (e.g. NAPARC); (c) find new ways to give away our knowledge and resources to bodies of believers being spiritually blessed, [emphasis mine].
NAPARC is a group of churches that represent different denominations with whom the PCA has fraternal relations for the purpose of assisting one another for building the church of Jesus Christ rather than just focusing on individual denominations.  This group represents those with whom the PCA shares the same doctrinal heritage and represents the truest of fellowship and ecumenicism.  These are the guys who are standing with us.  These are the guys with whom we can participate in clear conscience in church planting and missions because we know they believe what we believe.  The reason stated for withdrawal is that even though they do share this doctrinal history, they don't share the PCA's ministry priorities.  Because of this, the strategy says that NAPARC is draining the PCA's resources, so to be more effective in planting reformed churches and doing world-wide reformed missions, the plan says we need to stop participating with the other reformed bodies who are striving do the same.  What priorities aren't the same?  In essence, by withdrawing, it would appear that we are limiting ourselves in ministry. 

Unless, by withdrawing from those with whom we share a doctrinal heritage, we join in with groups with whom we don't.  Is there a move here to be aligned with non-reformed groups to accomplish reformed evangelism, church-planting and foreign missions for the sake of having greater "influence and growth."  What will we be growing?  There is already a serious issue in the PCA with the use of non-reformed worship practices and non-reformed church growth strategies.  Will we now just go ahead and join in the work of the  groups whose methods have already been adopted?  According to Theme #3, the answer is yes.  The strategy would prefer the PCA learn from and work with the non-Reformed and the Reformed not part of NAPARC.  Which is interesting, given that there are no conservative churches in North America that are not part of NAPARC.  So who are these Reformed groups?  Who is it that makes up the "global church"?

O.k., so this has already gone much longer than originally intended, so I will stop for now.  But these two issues are very important.  The strategy calls for the PCA as a Presbyterian and Reformed church to pursue evangelism, church planting and missions in a non-Presbyterian fashion that centralizes power and to do so by no longer participating with other conservative Presbyterian and Reformed churches.  So, the strategy seems to suggest that the PCA needs to develop a less Reformed, maybe even, non-Reformed identity in order to do Reformed ministry.

Now, please don't come away from this thinking that the whole thing is bad and awful and the plague.  But, on the big picture, I am very concerned.  For critiques that deal with more specific details, you can read here and here.

The next step is for the "Strategic Plan" to be brought to the floor at GA.  It will be interesting to see what the PCA decides to say about herself by her vote.


  1. I may not be the brightest candle on the shelf but I prefer, God's Providential plan, to man's strategic plan.

    Dr. Chappel asked, "How do we come together and be a part of what God is doing in the world?" My answer to that question is, "be faithful to the truth of Holy Scripture, in the power of the Holy Spirit, with the gifts that God has given you."

    In response to the concept that the PCA is considered too narrow by some, I would say, "Two plus too is so narrow, but two plus two is always four.

    Paddy (Cook)


  2. I notice that you believe that this will centralize power. What evidence do you have in mind for this? Thanks, Wes

  3. Hello Wes, sorry it's taken so long for me to respond. Here are a few things off the top of my head:

    (1) More monies and the decision on how those monies are used will be in the hands of a few. And it is a few who have demonstrated an unwillingness to be accountable with those funds in the past. We are told over and again, "just trust us."

    (2)It appears clear to me from Chapell's video presentation that smaller congregations who aren't able to give much, and more self-consciously confessional congregations who feel conscious bound not to contribute are thought of as flies in the ointment who only want "to control" the denomination. If this increased giving becomes the means of getting to vote at GA and there are congregations that either can't or won't give, then that will necessarily exclude many from voting. And this is a serious issue given that "The Administrative Committee shall annually report to the General Assembly all churches that are delinquent two or more years in the submission of Annual Registration Fees in order that the General Assembly may take appropriate actions." Is this going to become a disciplinary issue? What about the annual fees owed by TE's? If a TE does not pay it will he risk being reported? Seems to me that this is a very heavy-handed approach to get people on board with this committee's agenda.

    It is ironic to me that they want to open things up to more non-voters while making it more difficult for men who have a legitimate right to vote (who disagree) to exercise that vote. We don't need to make things more difficult for participation--doing so will further centralize an already shrinking circle. When we leave things up to committees, we are giving away our power.

    (3) The Strategic Plan is completely vague and contains very little detail. We are told that if we pass the plan, then those details will be determined by a few, not by the GA. Given that the Strategic Plan is a new proposed identity for the denomination, are we to leave the details up to a few? I'm not comfortable with that, especially given the inherent and explicit transformational bent of the SP.

    (4) By withdrawing from NAPARC, the PCA will no longer be accountable to other Reformed churches. This lack of accountability will result in the denominational leadership and larger congregations having more authority in doing things that could not have been done prior due to that pesky Commodity agreement.

    Sorry about the rambling, but I'm swamped!!

  4. Just to be clear on #2 above, at the heart of these matters is the right of a committee to bind the conscience of a church or pastor to support what it is doing, when its activities include things that are not mandated biblically.

    Also, to be clear on #3 above, the SP and things like By Faith clearly portray a progressive bias. Requiring this financial support will result in further funding a perspective and activities that are not agreeable to everyone, further excluding many from not only the discussion, but from the table itself.