Wednesday, June 25, 2014

More Thoughts on a Delegated PCA General Assembly

My previous post suggested four men (two TEs and two REs) from each presbytery as delegates to the Assembly. Responses have wondered about other ways of determining the number of delegates; for example, determining the number of delegates by the size of the presbytery or suggesting a much larger number of delegates. Also some suggested that one of the problems with preceding proposals for a delegated assembly was that men simply enjoy having the time to meet with other elders that they haven’t seen in a year.

While I recognize that some would like a larger attendance, even at a delegated assembly, four from each presbytery struck me as the right amount. It is a small enough number to enable the GA to function as a committee of the whole (in other words, no more “Committees of Commissioners”) and is sufficiently representative. In dealing with the “more representatives for larger presbyteries” question, it seems to me that the four per presbytery also avoids the problem of larger presbyteries having too much sway. In addition, the delegates from each presbytery would be instructed that they are going as representatives of the entire presbytery, thus perhaps giving greater representation to small churches.

In addition to the above, I would suggest that GA meet biennially. There is, as far as I can tell, no good reason for annual meetings. The reports and budgets of the denominational committees and agencies can be done on a biennial basis, as can review of presbytery records. In fact, having to submit records only every two years instead of every year may help some of our delinquent presbyteries come into accord with requirements.

As for the fellowship aspect of GA: if you take a look at the docket of GA, there is currently precious little time for fellowship, especially as each year the assembly seems to press harder and harder to get done before Thursday evening. As a result, fellowship takes place late, after the evening services, or it takes men away from the assembly itself, resulting in one-fourth to one-third of the commissioners commonly being absent from counted votes. My suggestion is that in the years between assemblies there be a “conference of presbyters.” It would be set up something like an academic conference. It would begin Monday evening with a plenary session presentation by someone picked by the GA on some topic relevant to pastoral work. Then, Tuesday through Thursday there would be smaller sessions, much like those currently done in the early mornings at GA. I would suggest two session periods each morning and one session period in the afternoon. There could be several alternatives at each of these periods, perhaps dealing with a general theme, but not required to. With only three session periods during the day, and with the evenings entirely free, there would be plenty of time for fellowship. Perhaps a final plenary session could close things out on Friday morning. REs would certainly be encouraged to attend, but since this is not a meeting of a court of the church, the presence or absence of REs would not be a problem. TEs could use this as a week of study leave, since the various presentations would be applicable to their pastoral labors.

This is admittedly a big-picture proposal. The devil is in the details, and perhaps these suggestions would not work. But unless we begin talking about alternative ways to doing GA, it is not going to improve.

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.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Sabbath

Many who identify themselves as evangelicals in our day are opposed to the idea of the Christian having a weekly Sabbath. The Sabbath, in this view, is an Old Testament institution, part of the Law of Moses and not reiterated in the New Testament for the church. There is an extensive literature available dealing with the issue, and I have no possibility of adding anything new to the discussion. I do, however, want to deal briefly with one passage and make some application of it.

Hebrews 4:10-11 says, “for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” By the non-Sabbatarian, these verses are taken to be saying the following: when we believed in Christ, we rested from our works. Therefore, we have already entered that rest of which the Old Testament Sabbath was a figure. Since we have already entered that rest, there is no more need for the Sabbath.

In some sense, it is true that when we believed in Christ, we entered that rest. However, the passage is not speaking about our present enjoyment of that rest. It is speaking about our future enjoyment. Hence, the “there yet remains a Sabbath rest” of verse 9, as well as the “let us strive” of verse 11. My sense of this is that while we, by trusting in Christ, have entered into rest, we have not entered into that final rest which is in view here. We have, as it were, left Egypt, but we have not yet entered Canaan.

The Sabbath in the Old Testament had a three-fold consideration with regard to time. First, it made the believer look back to be reminded that he was God’s creature (Gen 2:1-3; Ex 20:11). The past fact was that God created. The present fact (for that Old Testament believer) was that God was his creator. The future fact was that God would be the creator of the new heavens and the new earth. Second, the Sabbath made the believer look back to be reminded that God was his redeemer (Deut 5:15). The past fact was that God redeemed a people. The present fact was that God was his personal redeemer. The future fact was that God would usher him into a redeemed new heavens and new earth. Third, the Sabbath was a sign that they were his people and he was their God (Ex 31:12-17). God had chosen a people going back to Abraham (in fact going all the way back to Adam, though the “I will be your God, and you will be my people” language goes back only to Abraham). They had been his people in the past. They were his people in the present, ad they would continue to be his people into the future.

We, as New Testament believers, have the same identity. We are God’s creatures. We are God’s redeemed people. God has given us a sign that these things are so. We still have the same need—to be reminded that these things are so. Yes, we have entered rest, but we have not fully entered it. Do you not find that your heart is often restless, worried, anxious? If so, you have not fully entered into that rest. This is right, because our redemption is not yet complete. We are being sanctified. We will be glorified. But that work is not yet complete.

Some say that there is no distinct holy time for the New Testament believer because all time is now holy. But we all know that when everything is special, nothing is special. We still need that weekly time; time that is not ours to do with as we please, but time for God. He has given it to us in the weekly Sabbath. Will we not take advantage of it, preparing ourselves for that full rest that we long for?

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Active Spirituality, Brian G. Hedges

Hedges is the Lead Pastor of Fulkerson Baptist Church in Niles, MI, where he has been since 2003. He blogs at

This book is a practical book dealing with the issue that sanctification, or growth in grace, is something that requires active obedience by the Christian. It is not a how-to book, which is to its author’s credit. Sanctification is something that looks different in every Christian, and proceeds individually, though the Spirit uses the same means with each person. It is written as a series of thirty-one letters to a young Christian making those first toddling steps in grace. Each letter is only 3-4 pages, so the book would make helpful devotional reading over the course of a month.

Hedges doesn’t say anything new here, but what he says is clear and helpful. The book is strengthened by the fact that Hedges has relied on some very reliable guides in charting his course. There are few better guides on this issue that John Bunyan, John Owen, and J. C. Ryle. In addition, Hedges makes judicious use of C. S. Lewis who, regardless of his theological shortcomings, was an astute student of human (and Christian) nature. The notes at the end of the book direct the interested reader to the works of the authors that Hedges has relied on. As a Presbyterian, I could wish Hedges had said more about the role of the church and sacraments. But the book is a solid piece of practical theology that will repay repeated readings.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Book Review: Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship

The subtitle of this book is Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship. It could also be subtitled: Modern Baptists Discover Psalmody. Though not all the authors are Baptists, the majority are, and the book had its origins in a conference that was to be held at Union University, but was prevented by a tornado that tore through the campus not long before the conference was to be held. The work is divided into two parts: Biblical and Historical Foundations, and Practice. A look at the book on will give the table of contents. Overall, I was quite pleased with the book, though, as with any such collection, the essays vary, not so much in quality, but as in how they affected me. I found C. John Collins' essay thin and unconvincing. The most helpful is Leland Ryken's essay "Reclaiming the Psalms for Private Worship." The essays by Craig Blaising and Douglas Bond I found quite moving. The essay by James Grant on introducing psalm-singing to a congregation was full of helpful advice. The essay by Richard Wells on the Psalms and pastoral prayer is challenging, especially in this day of short or non-existent pulpit prayer. The bibliographical essay (Appendix 3) is very good, though Garrett missed William Binnie's very fine work A Pathway into the Psalter. All in all a useful guide for bringing the Book of Psalms more fully into the life of the church and the Christian.