Archive for June, 2011

Resolution of Thanks

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

The series of reflections on this year’s General Assembly did not pan out as I had hoped, so I’m going to conclude with posting this year’s resolution of thanks. This resolution, presented each year by Mel Duncan, a ruling elder from Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC highlights some features of the area where the GA was held as well as expressing thanks and hope for the Church.

Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod here at the 39th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.

For here we stand on the edge of the new world hoping for a world to come in this commonwealth cradle of American civilization, the Old Dominion, mother of Presidents. Here we sing the ancient psalms of exile from French Huguenots fleeing to Virginia and the spirituals of enslaved African peoples singing new songs of freedom.  We recall that we are near where a Native American named Pocahontas was baptized into the Christian faith.

We rejoice that in 1683 the Irish Presbytery of Laggan sent Francis Makemie across the ocean, founding four small mission works near where we are meeting and later a presbytery in Philadelphia to begin our long story of American Presbyterianism.

We remember Old Hanover Presbytery of Virginia and praise God for the hundreds of churches, scores of presbyteries, colleges and seminaries to which she helped over the centuries.

We remember today a long line of godly Virginians; Rev John Chavis and Baptist worthy Lottie Moon. More recently we remember Dr. Nelson Bell and the Honorable Kay James who have served faithfully the risen Christ.

We commend the fine work of Assembly Moderator Ruling Elder Dan Carrell, a Virginian, and our faithful Stated Clerk, Dr Roy Taylor and his efficient staff for their outstanding leadership of the church’s courts.  We give thanks for the constant labors of our PCA Agencies and Committees on behalf of a grateful family of churches. We give praise for our host committee and the many people of James River Presbytery who have cared for our every need, skillfully commissioning new songs of worship and working so diligently to bring our church together.

We go on our way rejoicing with the fruitfulness of so many witnesses, His holy name be praised. We also grieve because our own idols keep us from pursuing our Great Commission. We thank you for sending to this General Assembly the fine preaching of Harry Reeder, Tim Keller and Mike Campbell, who reminded us of our church’s worship, mission, and unity. What a marvelous engine we have under the hood indeed! We depart with the fervent prayer that God the Holy Spirit would put in a double portion of the spirit of Samuel Davies, the Apostle to Virginia, and of the fervent evangelist William E. Hill – men who for the sake of Christ’s Church counted all things but loss.

Commissioners of the 39th General Assembly, here we stand, here we sing, here we rejoice, here we remember, here we give praise and thanksgiving. Here in Virginia Beach we proclaim “Christ for the World.”

TE Henry Lewis Smith (Chairman) Presbytery of Southeast Alabama

RE Melton L. Duncan (Secretary) Presbytery of Calvary

A Successful Assembly?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Today begins a series of posts from guest bloggers on their post-General Assembly reflections. Today’s blog is by my friend, Stan Gale. Stan serves as a pastor in the Philadelphia Metro West Presbytery.

Stanley D. Gale (M.Div., Westminster Theological Seminary; D.Min. Covenant Theological Seminary) has served as a pastor for 25 years.  He and his wife, Linda, live in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  He is the author of several books, including The Prayer of Jehoshaphat: Seeing Beyond Life’s StormsWhat is Spiritual Warfare? (Basics of the Faith Series) and most recently, Making Sanity Out of Vanity: Christian Realism in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He can be reached at sdgale@CHOPministry.net.

What makes a “successful” General Assembly?  I guess it depends on whom you ask.  James River Presbytery, who hosted this year’s GA in Virginia Beach, might answer “an assembly that runs without problems.”  Tim Schirm, manager of the PCA Bookstore, might be happy with good sales and less inventory to cart back to Atlanta.  Sponsors of the various overtures would likely delight in an affirmative answer.  Exhibitors might well revel in contacts made and seed sown to further the cause of their respective ministries or offerings.

For me, success can be described in three F’s.

The first F is faithfulness.  My church paid for my travel and time.  I was present as a commissioner.  My job in service to Christ was to be engaged in the business of the Assembly—digesting reports, processing debate and voting intelligently.

That meant long hours and a worn out body.  We finished up about 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, having to reconvene after the worship service to deal with backed up business.  I am not one accustomed to late nights.  That plus an aggregate weariness from the travel and meeting demands meant fatigue.  That late night was greeted with an early Friday start. But that’s just part of the cost of diligence in my role as a commissioner.

The second F is fulfilling.  Sometimes at GA I am able to enjoy the area attractions. Not this year.  Holding the Assembly at Virginia Beach was a big tease, promising fun in the sun but at arm’s length because of the weight of responsibilities.  The extent of my tourist activity was noticing the statue of Neptune at 31st Street as I drove by on my way home.  However, refreshment was to be found in other ways.

General Assembly offers far more than a business meeting for the work of the church.  It provides an opportunity for replenishment.  The worship, the fellowship, reconnecting with people I only see once a year, the change of pace from regular pastoral responsibilities, the wealth of resources from the exhibitors, the seminars covering a wide range of topics—all contribute to sending me back to my local church with renewed enthusiasm for Christ and his church.

I confess that I did go with an agenda of my own, which I shamelessly promote here.  I suppose the appropriate F here would be fruitfulness.  For me, GA is an opportunity to promote ministries and tools I have developed for the work of the church, what might be called networking.  A book I had just written was released at GA.  In fact, I saw it in the PCA bookstore before I had seen it myself and had to buy a copy.  (The PCA bookstore is offering my book, Making Sanity Out of Vanity, at the GA 50% discount while supplies last.)

I held a seminar on “Reformed Evangelism,” in part to let the larger church know of a resource for evangelism I had developed for resourcing/equipping Christ’s disciples in their witness for the gospel of the kingdom.  (The bookstore also carries my booklet, How Can I Know Eternal Life?) Two articles of interest I referenced in my seminar are “Goldilocks and the Gospel,” a description of the booklet  and “A ‘Reformed’ Presentation of the Gospel,” currently posted on the byFaithonline website.

Was the Assembly a success for me?  Unequivocally yes.  In this case, three solid F’s means passing with flying colors.  Each one represents an answer to prayer in which God allowed me to faithfully serve him, to find renewed fulfillment for his service and the encouragement of fruitfulness as evidenced by contacts made and strong interest expressed in my ministry efforts.


Update from Scotland

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

In an earlier post about the Church of Scotland’s new position to ordain practicing homosexuals, I mentioned one of the faithful pastors in that denomination, Dominic Smart. It now appears that the Rev Mr Smart is leading his congregation out of the Church of Scotland. Bravo for a stand well-taken.

Let’s be in prayer for this brother and his congregation.

Back from General Assembly

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

The busyness of the week’s schedule and some on-going computer problems kept me from blogging as I would have liked while at the Assembly. Here’s an overview with links to catch you up on some of the news.

Mr. Dan Carrell, a ruling elder from James River Presbytery, served as this year’s Moderator. Mr. Carrell did an excellent job.

Something as seemingly mundane as the review of presbytery minutes led to an interesting debate on theology. I’m thankful to God that the PCA still takes a stand against preaching, teaching, and practicing paedocommunion.

Over the next year the Interchurch Relations Committee will examine the PCA’s membership in the National Associate of Evangelicals and consider whether the denomination should maintain its membership. I’ll perhaps blog more about this later in the year.

Another fascinating issues was the discussion of Insider Movements in foreign missions. The GA soundly rejected any hint of compromising the doctrines of the faith or any practice in missions that leads to syncretism.

For more articles on the General Assembly, check out byFaith online.

Beginning on Monday I’ll post several several articles from guest bloggers on their post-GA reflections.

I pray that the Lord blesses you richly on his day. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exod. 20:8).

Decisions of the Overtures Committee

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

There are two articles available about yesterday’s decisions of the Overtures Committee.

The first deals with setting term limits for Coordinators with in the PCA. The second concerns the Church’s position on marriage. While failing to elevate BCO 59 on the solemnization of marriage to the stance of constitutional authority, the PCA takes a clear stand on biblical marriage. Praise the Lord!

Having sat through the debate on both of these issues, I’m thankful that neither of them were taken lightly.

More GOs at GA

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Well, there are more “goings on” (GOs, not to be construed in the negative sense, just stuff happening) at the General Assembly. While the GA officially begins this evening with a worship service and the election of a new moderator, the first part of the day was occupied with more preliminary work on the Overtures Committee.

One of the main issues under discussion at this year’s Assembly is how to fund the Administrative Committee. Participation in the church and her life is voluntary and no giving should be done under compulsion (Acts 5:4; 2 Cor. 9:7). But what do you do when there is not enough voluntary giving to support a particular ministry of the church? This is the issue with which the PCA is struggling at the present time.

It seems to me that funding is fraught with the problem of fallen human nature. On the one hand, some fear that any imposed scheme of giving is not only against the nature of giving in the church but may end up corrupting those in positions of authority who receive the funds. On the other hand, if left to themselves, many people will not voluntary give. Fallen human nature can work in both ways: corrupted by money and power or lazy and indolent with unconcern.

In light of this, the way forward to solve this issue of funding is, at its heart, spiritual. First, we should view our brothers in the church with charity. The GA or the AC is not the IRS or the US Government, so we should not characterize them as such. We are all trying to achieve the extension of the gospel for the growth of God’s kingdom. We need to approach this process with an attitude of trust, and we should continue in that attitude until there is a proven reason not to trust.

Second, we need a personal revival of spiritual concern among elders and churches throughout the PCA that opens our mouths in the proclamation of Christ and opens our wallets in giving to the work of the church. I realize that we are all committed to those issues already, but the church needs revival to keep us focused, intentional, and spiritual in our pursuits. Okay, that’s my two-cents worth (isn’t that enough?).

This afternoon is filled with seminars on various topics of theology and church work, as well as book buying and good conversation.

This is my first General Assembly, and I am thankful to the Lord for allowing me to be a minister in the PCA.

GA Prelim

Monday, June 6th, 2011

The 39th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America begins this week in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This year’s theme is Christ for the World.

Today and tomorrow many of the Committees of Commissioners meet to discuss various items of business and issues of theology that will come before the General Assembly this week.

I’m serving on the Committee of Commissioners for Overtures for Ohio Presbytery. The Overtures Committee “consider[s] and make recommendation upon all overtures proposing constitutional amendment and all other overtures referred by the Stated Clerk.” We deliberated for about four and a half hours today and will reconvene tomorrow morning.

As the day grows to a close, I’d like to share a few preliminary observations. First, the work of the church is work. It’s tempting to drift through life, do your daily chores, and hope that things in the church-at-large will flow smoothly. Watching over the health, efficiency, and fruitfulness of God’s people, however, takes deliberate effort and deliberative effort.

Second, God has given to his church a plurality of elders for the deliberative process, and the government of the church is an expression of the goodness and wisdom of God. I would hate to be left on my own to understand and reach conclusions about the issues that face the PCA. As my brothers debate issues, I learn how many sides there are to an issue. Few things are as simple as they seem at first.

Third, the elders of the PCA are committed to the glory of God and the spread of the gospel. Their desire is to see that the doctrine and procedure of the church reflects those same commitments.

As a side note, TE Fred Greco (a former ruling elder at the church I now pastor) chairs this year’s Overtures Committee. I sat looking at him with bleary eyes and was absolutely amazed at how many pieces of information, how many amendments and amendments to amendments he could juggle in his mind at one time. Kudos, Fred, for doing such an excellent job.

The opening worship service of the Assembly begins on Tuesday evening at 7:30. You can watch it live online. “Join” us as we praise our God and hear from His Word!

Reformed Evangelism

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

I grew up in a church context that placed a great deal of emphasis on soul winning. I’m glad for that because it left an indelible impression on me of the importance of the never-dying souls of men and women and the urgency and necessity of repentance and faith. There was no doubt in my mind that the most important thing I could do was get the gospel to people and get people to Jesus.

Even after I became Reformed in my theology, I could never be persuaded by the hyper-Calvinistic argument that if God has chosen who will be saved, he doesn’t need our help to get them saved. The desire for missions and evangelism should throb deep in the heart of every Christian, and the free offer of the gospel should be proclaimed to everyone who has ears to hear.

My friend, Stan Gale, is a Calvinist, a pastor, and an evangelist. He fishes for souls, and I praise God for him. At this year’s PCA General Assembly, Stan will be leading a seminar on Reformed Evangelism. A recent byFaith article outlines several main points that are at the heart of the issue.

Stan begins by writing, “Jesus is the only way to God, but there are many ways to explain this. What, uniquely, does a ‘Reformed’ presentation of the gospel include?

God works according to His good pleasure. He can—and does—use stammering testimonies about Jesus; He also uses the well-crafted messages of trained pulpiteers. This, however, does not mean we can be careless about what we say, or how we say it. As appointed ambassadors for Christ, we must seek to honor God and be true to His Word. That is what it means to be Reformed—it is being consistent with the whole counsel of God. A Reformed understanding of the gospel deals not with packaging, but with systemic concerns related to the glory of God.”

I hope you will take time to read the rest of his article. If you’re attending the General Assembly in Virginia Beach, Stan will be presenting his seminar on Tuesday, June 7, from 2:00—3:00 p.m.

Stan has also written an excellent evangelism booklet entitled How Can I Know Eternal Life? It’s a great resource to share the good news. I encourage you to get several copies and give them to friends, family members, and co-workers. Using this booklet will help you to make the gospel clear to those you love, and the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16)!