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.


Lee said...

Thoughts/questions on the practicalities:
1) What about the House vs. the Senate model? That is, what about a system where presbyteries with more churches/members get more delegates?
2) If it's the Senate model as you propose, then I'd agree with a relatively small number like the 4 you suggest
3) Are there limits on how big/small a presbytery can be? I couldn't find it in a quick look at the BCO.
4) If there are no limits on presbytery size, then should there be?
5) What about the GA committees? I suppose only designated delegates would serve?

JOB said...

Assuming that representation by smaller churches is a desideratum, how would you ensure that men from small churches are selected by their presbyteries (and how would you define a small church?)

I don't have an opinion on the subject, but I'm curious about how your plan would work.

D.J. Cimino said...

I'm all for anything that will change the direction of the PCA. However, being a somewhat cynical individual, I don't see this happening. How could a lay member help influence things?BTW, some of our larger churches could host too. Cedar Springs EPC in Knoxville (remember them?) is hosting their GA this year.

Chris said...

I am one who would have loved to have gone to GA, but could not because we did what the PCA tells us to do -- planted a church, thus losing about a 1/3 of our budget in the process. So I am bit biased in this.

I like the celebratory/seminar/fellowship aspect of GA. So I completely agree we need delegated Assemblies, but would like to see the number from each presbytery larger, so it gets closer to that 1,000 number. Proportional would seem to make sense, but still making sure that less wealthy presbyteries/churches are represented at a fairer pace.

That would seem to follow the Biblical model of Acts 15 as well as I Corinthians 11 and James 2 (!).