Friday, June 20, 2014
It Is (Past) Time for a Delegated Assembly
As of 2012, the PCA had eighty (80) presbyteries, 1,474 churches, and 303 missions (church plants). Those numbers have not changed significantly in the last two years. This year, there were 867 Teaching Elders (TEs) and 256 Ruling Elders (REs) registered for General Assembly (GA). Those statistics also have not changed significantly in the last several years. In fact, if there is any movement at all, the trend seems to be to a lower number of attendees each successive year.
Every TE may attend GA. In addition, “Each congregation is entitled to two ruling elder representatives for the first 350 communing members or fraction thereof, and one additional ruling elder for each additional 500 communing members or fraction thereof.” (BCO 14-2). That being the case, attendance at GA could theoretically be in the range of 7,000-7,200 people. Yet the real attendance is about one-sixth of that number. In fact, the total number of commissioners is about two-thirds of the total number of the denomination’s churches and mission works. So it is obvious that not every church is being represented at GA. But a closer look at the numbers makes it even worse. Some of our larger churches are diligent about sending their full contingent of TEs and REs. They are to be commended for that. However, that results in the fact that these large churches regularly have more commissioners present at GA than some presbyteries do. Many (certainly dozens, if not hundreds) of the denomination’s small churches are not represented at GA at all, because the cost of GA is more than the church budget can bear.
The unofficial motto of the PCA is “we’re a grassroots denomination.” That may at one time have been true. But we need to stop lying to ourselves. The PCA is run by the denomination’s program committees and the large and influential churches and presbyteries. The only hope for a real grassroots PCA is the move to a delegated assembly. That would mean that each of the eighty presbyteries would elect delegates to attend GA. Every part of the church would receive equal representation. It would completely change the character of the GA, and would quite possibly change the character of the church itself.
Making that change would not be easy. It would probably take 3-5 years to implement. For one things, there would have to be significant changes to the BCO and RAO (Rules of Assembly Operation). Further, there would be any number of practical considerations. Here are some suggestions to begin with. Each presbytery would send four delegates (two TEs and two REs). Expenses for attendance would be paid by the presbytery. GA would be held at colleges, universities, or other relatively small sites that could host the four hundred or so people who would be attending. Meeting in such venues would considerably reduce costs. Location of GA could be rotated, perhaps something like this: first year, somewhere in the Northeast; second year, Southeast; third year, Midwest; fourth year, Southwest; fifth year, Northwest. That way, the more expensive travel costs are spread around each year. I have more ideas, and I’d be happy to talk with people who would be interested in seeing this come about.