Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Actions of the Thrity-Third General Assembly

Year of the Ruling Elder & 50th Anniversary of Covenant College
§ The 33rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America met June 13-17 at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, an attractive and accommodating venue. The theme of the Assembly, “The Year of the Ruling Elder,” was fitting for the PCA, which was begun in 1973, to a large degree, through the efforts of faithful Ruling Elders. In the first years of the PCA, Ruling Elders (RE) outnumbered Teaching Elders (TE, ministers) at the annual General Assembly. Soon, however, Teaching Elders outnumbered Ruling Elders in ratios from 2-1 to 3-1. Final registration this year indicated 1,049 Teaching Elders (66%) and 531 Ruling Elders (34%) present for a total of 1,580 commissioners, representing 841 churches and 63 Presbyteries. The ratio last year was 72% TEs to 28% REs.
§ The format of the Assembly was arranged with “The Year of the Ruling Elder” in mind. Over sixty seminars held on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday and Thursday mornings covered a broad range of subjects designed to be of interest to Ruling Elders, not just to Teaching Elders. Preachers for the three evening services were Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, III, retiring Moderator, Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson, Professor of Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary-Dallas, and Dr. John S. Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dr. Duncan spoke on “Why God Invented Elders” based on Titus 1:5-9. Dr. Ferguson using Romans 8:31-39, focused on “The Heart of the Gospel” especially in verse 32. Dr. Piper spoke on “Obedience, Orthodoxy, and Joy: Leadership for a Greater Consensus.” Over 4,000 people attended the services each night,
§ Covenant College celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary during the week. Dr. Niel Nielson, president of the college, coordinated the Assembly seminars and a festive dinner was held at the college for the commissioners on Wednesday night.
§ Jane Patete, PCA Women’s Coordinator (CE&P) and Sandy Hartley, Commissioners Families Sub-Committee (TN Valley Presbytery, Local Arrangements Committee) along with a host of volunteers organized activities and events for women, youth, and children to make the assembly family friendly. Over 450 women attended the Women’s events. Programs and activities for children and youth were well appreciated.
RE Howard Q. Davis Elected Moderator of 33rd PCA General Assembly
Traditionally Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders are elected as Moderators of the Assembly in alternating years. The 33rd General Assembly elected RE Howard Q. Davis, Jr. as Moderator. Mr. Davis, a ruling elder in the First Presbyterian Church in Indianola, Mississippi, and a native of Indianola, graduated from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) with both his undergraduate and law degrees. He served in the army for three years, attaining the rank of Captain and served a stint in Vietnam where he was awarded the Bronze Star. A third generation lawyer in Indianola, Mr. Davis began his legal practice after completing his military service. From 1988 to1994, he was a circuit court judge with the Fourth Circuit Court District of Mississippi. He also served in a number of other judgeships, including being appointed as a Special Circuit Judge by the Mississippi Supreme Court. He has served as moderator of Covenant Presbytery several times. On the General Assembly level, he has served on the Mission to North America Committee, the Administrative Committee, and the Board of Directors of the PCA. Mr. Davis and his wife Fran, who have been married for 36 years, have three grown children and four grandchildren. One son, Howard Q. Davis III, is the pastor of Grace PCA in Shreveport, LA.
Growth of the PCA
For the statistical year of 2004 the PCA had a reported total membership of 330,182, a net increase of 9,782 over the previous year. The PCA ended 2004 with 1,553 churches, a net decrease of 22 churches. Though our church planting activities continued apace in areas of population stability or growth, several Presbyteries dissolved a number of struggling churches in areas of population decline. There were 10,978 professions of faith in PCA churches in 2004, an increase of 479. Total reported local church disbursements were $546,317,651, an increase of $15,815,849. The General Assembly approved overtures from Pacific Northwest Presbytery, Northern Illinois Presbytery, and Philadelphia Presbyteries to form a total of five new Presbyteries (Western Canada, Wisconsin, Chicago Metro, Eastern Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia Metro West Presbyteries). With the formation of the new Presbyteries, the total number of PCA Presbyteries will reach seventy-three.
Value of Human Life Study Committee Appointed
Ohio Valley Presbytery overtured the General Assembly to erect an ad interim committee to study the issue of the value of human life. The 16th General Assembly in 1988 adopted the “Report of Heroic Measures Committee.” Since that time technological advances and changing medical ethics have called for decisions unforeseen in 1988. The Assembly adopted the overture of Ohio Valley. The Moderator will appoint a committee of seven to study the issue and report to the 35th Assembly in 2007. The committee is to be funded by designated gifts to the Administrative Committee/Office of the Stated Clerk.
Christian Education and Public Education
A minister of Westminster Presbytery, TE Steven Warhurst, along with several other ministers and ruling elders presented a personal resolution (that was not adopted by Westminster Presbytery) calling on the General Assembly to encourage “all her officers and members to remove their children from the public schools and see to it that they receive a thoroughly Christian education, for the glory of God and the good of Christ’s Church.” Some who favored the resolution argued that public schools do not teach children to think biblically about all of life and, that the parents’ vows taken at the baptism of their children (BCO 56-5) require them to remove their children from public schools. Some who opposed the resolution argued that PCA members (on the bases of principle and financial considerations) utilize various means of educating their children (via church-based Christian schools, parent-led Christian schools, home schooling, secular private schools, and public schools) and that teaching children to think biblically about all of life is essentially the responsibility of the family and the church. The Assembly did not adopt the resolution.
Other Overtures
The Assembly took the following actions on other overtures:
§ Answered in the negative Overture 1 from Iowa Presbytery to define the term “papists” in Westminster Confession of Faith XXIV.3 by adding a footnote.
§ Answered in the negative Overture 3 from Central Carolina Presbytery to revise BCO 19-12 to change interns’ filing frequent progress reports.
§ Answered in the negative Overture 7 from Chesapeake Presbytery to amend BCO 21-5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and footnotes to revise the role of assistant pastors.
§ Answered in the negative Overture 9 from Presbytery of the Ascension to amend BCO 21-4 to specify a procedure of teaching and preaching allowable doctrinal differences. On the same issue, procedures for Presbyteries determining what are allowable doctrinal differences were proposed by the Review of Presbytery Records Committee (proposed revision to the “Rules of Assembly Operations” 14-3 e. 5) and consideration was postponed until the Wednesday morning session of the 2006 General Assembly.
§ Answered in the affirmative Overture 10 from Ascension Presbytery to amend BCO 24-1 to require an examination in Bible content for the ordination of Ruling Elders and Deacons.
§ Answered in the negative Overture 11 from Illiana Presbytery to establish a PCA Adoption Assistance Fund.
§ Answered in the negative without prejudice to its content Overture 14 from Mississippi Valley Presbytery (MVP) to distribute to all Presbyteries the MVP “Report on the New Perspectives on Paul, the Theology of N. T. Wright, the Theology of Norman Shepherd, and the Theology of the so-called ‘Federal Vision’ in the PCA.”
§ Answered in the affirmative a personal resolution from TE Peter Lillback of Philadelphia Presbytery that the 2006 General Assembly commemorate the 300th anniversary of the first Presbytery meeting in America (Philadelphia, 1706), if at all possible and that individual Presbyteries do the same where possible and appropriate.
Amendments to the Book of Church Order
§ BCO 26-2 requires an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Presbyteries as part of the amendment process. Two BCO proposed amendments were sent down by the 32nd General Assembly to Presbyteries for their vote: 1) to Amend BCO 24-3 Regarding Election of Ruling Elders and Deacons, substituting parenthetical reference to BCO 24-3 instead of BCO 24-2; and 2) to Amend BCO 24-9 to remove a specific age requirement for emeritus Ruling Elders and Deacons. Both items received the required majority vote of two-thirds of the Presbyteries and, the 33rd General Assembly approved both BCO amendments.
§ Three BCO amendments were given initial approval by Assembly-2005 and will be sent to Presbyteries for a vote: 1) to amend BCO 15-4 to broaden the work of the Standing Judicial Commission, 2) to amend BCO 40-5 to simplify the language of that section, and 3) to amend BCO 24-1 to require an examination in Bible content for the ordination of Ruling Elders and Deacons. The affirmative vote of forty-nine of the seventy-three Presbyteries will be needed for the 2006 Assembly to take final action.
Strategic Planning
The Assembly heard the report of the Strategic Planning Committee, that for five years has operated as a sub-committee of the Administrative Committee. The committee reported that it divided itself into various task forces to expedite its work: Survey (Opinions and Perceptions in the PCA), Statistics (statistical analysis of the PCA), Ruling Elder Engagement, Reaching the Rising Generation, Inter-Agency Collaboration and Funding, General Assembly Structure and Procedures, and External Benchmarking (how other denominations gauge progress). The SPC recommended two BCO changes, which will be sent to Presbyteries for a vote, 1) to amend BCO 15-4 to broaden the work of the Standing Judicial Commission, 2) to amend BCO 40-5 to simplify the language of that section. The SPC was constituted an ad interim committee to report its final recommendations directly to the Assembly in 2006. Among its recommendations will be: 1) the expansion of the Bills and Overtures Committee to include two representatives from each Presbytery to increase deliberation and debate on vital issues and 2) the formation of a Cooperative Ministries Committee to improve inter-Agency collaborative ministry and funding. The Assembly will hold discussions in Presbyteries in the coming year prior to a vote on the SPC recommendations in 2006. See the Website, www.pcaac.org/strategicplan.htm, for details.
General Assembly Ministries Annual Reports
§ The Administrative Committee and Office of the Stated Clerk (AC/SC) reported that byFaith magazine began publication in January. The Strategic Planning Committee has neared completion of its work and will present its final report in 2006. The AC/SC worked with the Local Arrangements Committee of TN Valley Presbytery to make “The Year of the Ruling Elder” a successful assembly in 2005. In 2006 North Georgia Presbytery will host the assembly in Atlanta. In 2007 Covenant Presbytery will host the Assembly in Memphis.
§ Committee on Christian Education and Publications (CE&P) provides Christian Education resources, teacher training, youth leader training, and Women in the Church (WIC) training regionally. CE&P provides national and regional conferences on children’s ministry, mercy ministry (in cooperation with MNA), Christian schools, racial reconciliation, and women’s ministry, as well as Equip conferences.
§ Covenant College (CC) reported that enrollment for 2003-2004 in all programs was 1,260 students, the highest in the history of the college. Students come from 46 states and 26 countries. In 2005 CC celebrated its 50th anniversary. A five-year $31 million capital campaign has been launched for building construction, building renovation, endowment, and expansion of library services.
§ Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS) reported that the end of 2004 had placed all M.Div graduates. The seminary had the 16th consecutive year of increased enrollment. The Center for Ministry Leadership was inaugurated in cooperation with Westminster and Reformed theological Seminaries devoted to the mission of “Sustaining Pastoral Excellence,” through several initiatives such as the Pastor’s Summit, The Intersect Forum, and a Pastor in Residence program. In continuing pastoral education CTS offers a number of courses and conferences and vital issues such as evangelism, missions, Reformed worship, preaching, and community ministry, as well as a D.Min. Program.
§ Mission to North America (MNA) has as its first priority the recruiting and development of church planters. MNA credentials assessment centers of several PCA networks of churches, and conducts MNA-led church planter assessment centers as well. MNA cooperates with Global Church Advancement, Inc. (Dr. Steve Childers) to provide three, one-week, intensive seminars for Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced training for Church Planters. MNA cooperates with the Embers to Flame ministry of Briarwood PCA (Dr. Harry Reeder) as a fourth unit of training. MNA cooperates with American University of Biblical Studies (Atlanta) to provide ministerial training through the MNA Leadership and Ministry Preparation Program (LAMP) led by TE Brian Kelso to prepare men, in keeping with the PCA Uniform Theological Curriculum Guidelines, to serve in the PCA ministry in all segments of society in North America. MNA staff member, TE Tim McKeown is leading the English as a Second Language Ministry (ESL). Two ESL Convocations have been held thus far.
§ Mission to the World (MTW) reported 569 long-term missionaries (an increase of 11), 176 two-year missionaries, 293 missionary interns, 7,500 two-week mission trip participants, and 381 national church-planting partners. Sixty-three percent of MTW missionaries are involved in church planting. Fifty-four churches were planted abroad. MTW worked with RUM to develop campus ministry at the University of Mexico, in Mexico City, the world’s largest university. The Street Child Ministry is being conducted in six major international cities. Asia Tsunami Relief has been distributed in Sri Lanka and India. Over $1.6 million has been received for that effort. The AIDS Coordinator for World Relief is MTW missionary, Debbie Dortzbach. Partnerships of local churches, MTW missionaries, and national partners are working in East Asia, Scotland, West Africa, and the Middle East to plant churches, do evangelism, mercy ministry and theological education. Total contributions to MTW for 2004 were about $43.1 million.
§ PCA Foundation (PCAF) reported total assets in 2004 of $34.3 million, a new milestone. $4,303,000 was disbursed for Kingdom work. Almost $2 million was channeled to PCA local churches. $689,000 was channeled to General Assembly ministries.
§ PCA Retirement & Benefits (PCA-RBI) reported that the PCA Health Plan was terminated due to the adverse selection situation of participants and inadequate claims-to-premiums ratios. A last-ditch effort to save the plan was ineffectual. Participation in the Retirement Plan increased 7.5%. Total assets under management grew to $241. 5 million, a 16.1% increase. The Christmas Ministerial Relief Offering totaled of $427,000.
§ Ridge Haven Conference Center (RH) reported prayer goals of 1,200 summer campers, 180 conversions, 8,500 guests served annually, Partnership Shares participation of 35% of PCA churches, $75,000 for Dining Hall renovations and septic field expansion. Ministry Director, Lt. Col. Mack Griffith, has been deployed as an army chaplain. A Ministry Assistant Director will cover his duties for 12-24 months.
§ Reformed University Ministries (RUM) began ministry on eleven new campuses since the last assembly. Ministry is expected on 98 campuses by the end of 2005. New campus ministries include, Birmingham Southern/University of Alabama-Birmingham, Coastal Carolina U., Duke University, Northwestern University, University of Alberta, Edmonton, University of Northern Colorado, and the Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City (the world’s largest university). The project in Mexico is the first joint ministry with MTW. Students from over forty countries are involved in Reformed University Fellowship International in the USA. Local campus ministries (Reformed University Fellowships) are led by ordained PCA ministers. Students are instructed in Evangelism, Missions, Growth in Grace, Fellowship and Service, and a Biblical World-and-Life View, while setting forth an appreciative view of the Visible Church and the ordinary means of grace (preaching of the Bible, participation in the sacraments, and engagement in prayer).
byFaith Magazine
The Editor RE Dick Doster, reported on the progress of byFaith. The 30th General Assembly (2002) authorized the Administrative Committee/Office of the Stated Clerk to proceed with plans to publish a news magazine to report on the ministries of PCA churches, PCA members, Presbyteries and PCA Committees and Agencies, as well as to deal with matters of interest to the members and friends of the PCA. Most of the ten General Assembly Committees and Agencies have periodic publications regarding their respective ministries. The new magazine, byFaith, is intended to cover the entire PCA. Start-up funds were sought before bi-monthly publication was begun in January, 2005. Initial response from readers, advertisers, and supporters has been overwhelmingly positive. A subscription effort is underway to increase circulation. Individual annual subscriptions are $19.95 Sessions may take advantage of an every-family subscription plan for $14, if all families in a local church are enrolled. See Website, http://www.byfaithonline.com/, for details.
Special Days, Offerings and Events Recommended for PCA Churches
§ The month of October 2005, a Month of Prayer for global missions.§ October 16, 2005, Covenant College Sunday. Prayer for CC.§ The 2006 WIC Offering for MTW Street Children Ministry.§ A special offering for MTW Compassion Ministry to be taken in 2006, date set by Sessions.§ November 13, 2005, A Day of Prayer and Fasting for the Persecuted Church worldwide.§ November 2005, Thanksgiving Offering for MNA Urban and Mercy Ministries.§ December 2005, Offering for Ministerial Relief (PCA-RBI).§ February 12, 2006, Ridge Haven Sunday, Day of Prayer for RH Conference Center.§ May 7-13, 2006, Week of Prayer coordinated by CE&P.
The 34th General Assembly will convene June 20-23, 2006, in Atlanta, Georgia.
A Word of Thanks and Request
The Administrative Committee/Office of the Stated Clerk provides the administrative services and legal structure for the PCA to minister cooperatively as a denomination. All churches, presbyteries, and denominational ministries benefit from the ministry of the AC/SC. Therefore, we request that all PCA churches consider supporting the AC/SC through the per capita giving of Partnership Shares or proportional giving (for example, one-half of one percent of local church offerings). We appreciate your support for this needful ministry.
L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk PCA