Monday, April 26, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan: Post 3

B. How Has the PCA’s Mission Developed So Far?

The development of missional purpose begins with identifying the values we hold most dear. When our values guide the plans we make for addressing challenges to Kingdom progress, then we believe we are acting consistently with our mission and have zeal for these purposes. Our values are well identified in the “motto” of the PCA: Faithful to Scripture, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission.

The phrases of this motto also provide insight into the missional development of the PCA. It is fair to say that commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture was the driving force of our founding and that the churches who initially came into the PCA immediately united in this value. Determining what it meant to be true to the Reformed faith was not as unifying, and created significant debates among us for the next 30 years. These debates both clouded understanding of our mission and inhibited cooperative participation in it. While progress has been made in defining how we will hold each other accountable for being true to the Reformed faith, relational tensions wax and wane around this issue. Thus, the next stage of PCA development likely relates to the last phrase of our motto. How we do mission together, and whether we can do mission together, is the key to our future. If we are able to unite in missional purpose, we have much to contribute to the future of the Kingdom; if we cannot, then our future is likely incessant, inward-focused pettiness.

PCA Missional Development

Faithful to Scripture First 30 seconds

True to Reformed Faith Last 30 years

Obedient to Great Commission Next era How will we do mission?

What is our present mission/calling?

Determining how we do mission together will likely surface past relational and perspectival tensions, but failing to define our mission guarantees our demise. Thus, developing plans for doing mission together simultaneously puts us in a position of great peril and opportunity. The peril of renewed dissension is obvious, but pursuit of the opportunity is essential. Only if we can unite around missional plans that employ our differing gifts in sacrifice and service to Kingdom priorities – only then does our church point toward a future that will inspire her people’s zeal and justify her God’s blessing.

Summary: The PCA is agreed on the inerrancy of Scripture, but is has seen considerable dissension over what it means to be Reformed, or “true to the Reformed faith.” In defining our mission for the years ahead, we need to do so in such a way that avoids the dissension of the past, and unites us in service to the kingdom.

Comment: All right. I confess. I’m a pedant. The use of “suface” as a transitive verb (“together will likely surface past relational and perspectival tensions”) made me crazy. However, the primary problem with this section is the same as the previous section. It is simplistic. For one thing, while it is likely that the PCA was agreed on inerrancy when it was founded (it is, after all, written into our officers vows), that seems to be less clearly the case now. Or, at the very least, the definition of inerrancy is undergoing change. Just witness the response to the removal of Peter Enns from the faculty at Westminster Seminary. Many of the blog posts and comments were written by men in the PCA. As a result, it is fair to say that among some men in the PCA, inerrancy may not mean what it did in 1973, and there may be a diminishing commitment to the doctrine.

Second, it is true that there has been dissension over what it means to be Reformed. That is a good thing, not a bad one, as the paragraph implies. The better we know who we are, the better we will be able to define our mission. It was the defining of Luther and his followers in opposition to the Catholicism of his day that enabled them to forge ahead with their own mission. It was the distinguishing of Reformed from Lutheran that allowed both groups to focus better on their own missions. In each case, there was significantly hotter debate than the PCA has seen in its almost forty years. Third, at this point it is fair to ask the question, what does it mean to be confessional? The PC(USA) claims to be confessional. But for that denomination, it means that they have a Book of Confessions that thells them where they were in the past, but has little or no influence on current thinking or practice in the denomination. According to the PCA officer vows, being confessional means that we “receive and adopt” the Westminster Standards “as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scripture.” That means that the Standards are a starting place for debate. If we conclude that in some place or other the Standards do not reflect the teaching of Scripture, then the Standards need to be changed, rather than ignored. It is likely the case that much of the dissension in the PCA over the last couple of decades has come as a result of some in the PCA being confessional more in the former, PC(USA) sense, and some being confessional in the latter sense.

Third, the missional disunity of the PCA has been characteristic of the denomination since the birth of the denomination. It is to the shame of the denomination that we have been presbyterian only with regard to organizational structure, and congregational in almost all our attempts at fulfilling the Great Commission, and that this problem has never been adequately addressed by the denomination.

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