An Alternative Proposal Toward a New PCA Strategic Plan

Posted by Wes White

The Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne is pastor of Grace PCA in the Atlanta metro and author of John Owen on the Lord’s Supper and In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship. He is also deeply committed to the Reformation2Germany project. . He offered a a stimulating comment on yesterday’s post on the proposed strategic plan and he has offered an explanation of his comment. I re-post it here for those who don’t read the comments.

Dr. Payne’s Post:

My thoughts on a positive, strategic plan for the PCA:
Friends, the “PCA Strategic Vision” is, in large part, a strategy to reverse the downward trend of the denomination in terms of numerical growth, unity, financial support and cooperation. The framers of the vision, I believe, have the best intentions of making the PCA a stronger, healthier denomination. This effort should be commended. However, after reading the document, one cannot help but wonder if the remedy for the downward trend in the PCA is off target. Perhaps our downward trend and disunity is less due to cultural irrelevancy, missional narrowness, ethnic insensitivity and safe places for women and young people, and more a consequence of our unwillingness to give ourselves wholeheartedly to what God has promised to bless in the lives of His elect.

From my perspective, our greatest need as a denomination is to renew our commitments to the 17 points listed above, commitments which Reformed and Confessional Presbyterians have held for centuries precisely because they believed that they were biblical and would effectually cultivate growth, unity, mission, sacrificial giving and cooperation. I understand that some will say, “Yes, I agree with the 17 points, but we need to do more than this to bring renewal to the PCA.” Do we? If these 17 points (not an exhaustive list, but a start) were fleshed out and made available to every presbytery/session in the PCA to implement into their philosophy of ministry, would we not enjoy the kinds of renewal that we all earnestly desire? What we need more than anything in the PCA is a warm, winsome, consistent, serious, joyful, positive expression of Reformed and confessional Presbyterianism that unashamedly and courageously applies the theology of our Confession to the way we worship, preach, teach, write, shepherd, discipline, serve, evangelize and plant-churches (Domestic and International).
From our experience at GPC, applying the Reformed Confession in this manner cultivates unity, inspires evangelism and mission, stimulates prayer and Bible reading, fosters sacrificial giving, encourages biblical piety and warmly welcomes women, minorities and youth to worship God according to Scripture and employ their God-given gifts in service of their neighbor. This vision, I believe, would unify our beloved denomination in what God Himself has clearly promised to bless.

1. A renewed commitment to exegetical, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Holy Spirit-filled, lectio-continua preaching.

2. A renewed commitment to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for the spiritual nourishment, health and comfort of the elect.

3. A renewed commitment to private, family and corporate prayer.

4. A renewed commitment to – and delight in – the Lord’s Day.

5. A renewed commitment to worship God according to Scripture.

6. A renewed commitment to sing the Psalms in private, family, and public worship.

7. A renewed commitment to wed our missiology to our Reformed ecclesiology.

8. A renewed commitment to Spirit-dependent, prayerful, loving, courageous evangelism.

9. A renewed commitment to biblical church discipline.

10. A renewed commitment to family worship.

11. A renewed commitment to biblical hospitality.

12. A renewed commitment to catechize our covenant children.

13. A renewed commitment to biblical masculinity and femininity.

14. A renewed commitment to shepherd the flock of God.

15. A renewed commitment to promote and defend the Reformed Confession.

16.A renewed commitment to the mortification of sin and worldliness.

17. A renewed commitment to rest by faith in Christ ALONE for salvation, without minimizing Gospel obedience.

You can read Dr. Payne’s book on Reformed worship by ordering it here.

Posted by Wes White

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24 Comments

  1. Phil Derksen said,

    April 30, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    This is (or should be) enough to make even a confessional Presbyterian shout, “glory, hallelujah, amen!”

  2. Peter Green said,

    April 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Ironically, this list reads like a list of FV affirmations.

  3. Steven Carr said,

    April 30, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Peter Green, if it read like a list of FV affirmations it wouldn’t sound quite as orthodox. It would try to sound orthodox, but a little less so.

  4. James Vandenberg said,

    April 30, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    All of Payne’s suggestions are already part of the PCA’s constitution. The issue is whether or not they will be enforced.

  5. John McWilliams said,

    April 30, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    What is meant by Gospel obedience?

  6. April 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Sounds like a confusion of law and gospel to me!

  7. Martin said,

    May 1, 2010 at 12:16 am

    Thank you Dr. Payne – this is good stuff!

    FWIW I have a couple more posts of my own, following up on the initial critique: http://tinyurl.com/26m4pw5 (part 2) and http://tinyurl.com/2ecbgtc (part 3)

  8. Reed Here said,

    May 1, 2010 at 9:19 am

    John: excellent! I’m kind of smacking myself in the head wondering why this didn’t sink in already. Duh!

  9. Kenneth Kang-Hui said,

    May 1, 2010 at 9:29 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Payne’s sentiments. It seems, however, that the PCA is once again torn between those who want to cling to its confessional roots as the “Continuing Presbyterian Church” and those whose inclinations are towards a broader American Evangelicalism.

    The disagreements between these two factions seem to only grow with each passing year and with each GA, rather it is disagreements over the application of the Regulative Principle of Worship or strict vs. loose confessional subscription. I suspect that the disagreements between these two sides will only intensify this year with the planned discussions over the Strategic Plan and the overtures being brought forth regarding the role of women in mercy/diaconal ministries in the church.

    I pray that both sides will be able to turn down the heat of disagreement and be able to genuinely listen to one another while working to come to agreement about how to faithfully obey the Scriptures.

  10. Rob said,

    May 1, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Kenneth,

    I agree, but would add a bit more. I appreciate John’s convictions. On the other hand, the PCA–even from its inception–has never been a confessional denomination in the sense that the RPCNA, the URC, or the RCUS are. We have always welcomed evangelicals, so long as their views and practices were generally consistent with the theology of the Reformed confessions. That certainly goes a long way toward explaining why we have about 300,000 members and the RPCNA has about 7,000.

    I understand the zeal of those who believe that we would be a stronger church if we were to reconstitute ourselves along the lines of the RPCNA, so that we could more justifiably claim to be a continuing Presbyterian church. But that train left the station in 1973 (if not in 1758).

    I do think that the situation may be a bit more complicated, though. The PCA’s recent geographical growth has stretched the 1973 compromise a bit. In the early years, most of the evangelicals in the PCA were probably more Baptist in their orientation. But as the denomination has grown in the Northeast, Midwest, and West, it has absorbed a lot of evangelicals whose orientation is bit more Methodist (e.g., along the lines of Lloyd-Jones, the Welsh Methodists, etc.). I think it’s fair to say that Methodist-leaning Calvinism and Baptist-leaning Calvinism are different, and present different challenges to Presbyterian confessionalism.

    At this point, major parts of the PCA could probably be characterized as having aligned themselves with this Methodist-leaning strain. I would say that Covenant Seminary and Redeemer Presbyterian NYC (including the litany of Redeemer-like church plants) would fall into this category. But why are these institutions offensive to confessionalists, and Coral Ridge Presbyterian is not?

    In that sense, I don’t see confessionalism as the real driving issue. After all, the older confessionalists in the PCA have long embraced guys like John Piper and John MacArthur, who fall well beyond the pale of Presbyterian confessionalism. See, e.g., T4G. And the PCA has long welcomed Baptist-leaning evangelicals into the denomination, so long as they could baptize infants with a clear conscience (e.g., D. James Kennedy).

    That’s why I suggest that confessionalism is not the issue. Instead, the debate relates to sociology and church polity. The Methodist-leaning types in the PCA have influence well in excess of their numbers. And they have achieved that influence by marginalizing denominational structures (e.g., GA) that they believed would disservice them. Thus, guys like Chapell and Keller have risen to power without having to kiss the rings of the PCA’s older guard. And that seems to bother those who believe that ring-kissing is the appropriate path to power.

    That’s why the FV controversy is a windfall for the Chapell/Keller crowd. Even if Leithart eventually leaves the PCA, he (and the PNW Presbytery) have succeeded in making the SJC (and, by implication, the GA) look incompetent.

  11. pilgrim said,

    May 2, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Those of us in the PCA up in Canada are probably more broad in our backgrounds than Rob says in his comments about the US.
    There are Methodists and reformed Baptists in Canada, but the PCA here is a mix of those of us who are unashamedly Reformed and those who would be happy in almost any broadly evangelical church–and everything in between.

  12. Marshall said,

    May 2, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I think the “great divide” in the PCA is slightly different that what has already been suggested.

    I believe it is largely a case of “old-fashioned” vs “new-fangled.” It is the “new fangled” that drives us crazy. Why must we be missional, and relational, and incarnational, and sociological, and transformational etc. etc. etc. Why must we sign with drums and guitars and stand up for 30 minutes, watching a big overhead screen? Why can’t we dress up a little? Why must we become like the world around us? Why can’t we just use a hymn book, and listen to a good expository sermon, and just keep on keeping on?

    What drives the lust for change? I’m painting with a broad brush, but I believe the “let’s get new” folks are really looking to have numbers, and to seem “cool.” It’s an Arminian, market-driven stragegy.

  13. David Petersen said,

    May 2, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I would agree with Rob’s assessment that the PCA has never been a confessional like other denominations; I regard the 1973 split as an evangelical revolt. Arguably, the PCA is more confessional today then it was at its inception. Also, I believe the term “continuing” (in PCA context) refers to continuing the late 19th century Southern Presbyterianism. This is one area that has vastly changed; the Southern nature of the denomination has greatly diminished.
    Furthermore, the distinction between Baptist and Methodist influences on the PCA is fascinating and warrants further examination.
    One other point- some confessionalists that I know have no love for Coral Ridge’s religion/politics platform (at least the one the church had with Kennedy).

  14. Tim Vaughan said,

    May 2, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    History is valuable and interesting! Thanks!!!

    But at the end of the day, you either submit to your vows or you don’t. If the vows include the statement that all Deacons must be ordained, and the ordination must include the laying on of hands, and the vows also include that by the decree of God SOME men and angles are decreed elect, then you can’t ordain women deacons and you can’t spread the teaching that the elect are all those baptised.

    It’s not rocket science. It’s dumb or tricky people acting dumb and/or tricky.

    We don’t have a tenth of the problems in the OPC. Because we take the constitution more seriously. If some in the PCA think we’re unsophisticated, whatever. They’re the ones with the big soul searching problems. Which came about since, well, they didn’t take their vows seriously.

  15. Wayne Sparkman said,

    May 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    As pastors and churches were leaving the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern), those departing gathered under the provisional name of The Continuing Presbyterian Church. The term “continuing” was meant to imply a continuation of the believing or faithful Church, not a mere continuation of Southern Presbyterian Church. The idea of the faithful remnant stretches back into Scripture, but in the modern era this concept of the “continuing” Church has been used a number of times, most recently with the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).

    Another point about the PCA is that from its formation there was a rejection of the PCUS model of being a geographically sectional church. In evidence, look at the name originally taken by the PCA: “The National Presbyterian Church.”

  16. May 4, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    [...] White is no friend to the pastors of the CREC and has a fanciful imagination, has written a very nice post detailing some comments from Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne, pastor of a PCA Church.  In that post Rev. Payne [...]

  17. Uri Brito said,

    May 4, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    As a CREC minister, this list is incredibly encouraging. May God bless the efforts of the PCA.

  18. May 13, 2010 at 9:44 am

    [...] Alternative Proposal Toward a New PCA Strategic Plan [...]

  19. Robert Berman said,

    May 19, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Dr. Payne has some great ideas. We are a forgetful people who can always benefit from being reminded of our calling from God. In additon, it’s also always appropriate to evaluate the quality of our organization, and to be open to new ideas on how to structure it. The two impulses need not and should not be put in opposition to each other.

  20. Zack said,

    May 27, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Marshall, I understand the longing to be “traditional”. The problem is that today’s traditions were yesterday’s modernizations. The first person to wear a what we would call a current suit and tie to church was probably ridiculed. Many of the old hymns of the faith were also likely ostracized in their time. Even Calvin’s modernization of the Psalter was looked at as caving to the whims of popular culture. I’m not saying we need to embrace everything new without consideration, but I’m saying that “new” isn’t always synonymous with “errant” or “non-Reformed”.

  21. Marshall said,

    May 28, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Good points, Zach! What I really mean to say is: Let’s not jump on ever fad that comes along, in the process abandoning a lot that is really good.

    I also believe we see in the church what we also see in the culture at large. There is a crescendo of growth and development to a high plane, then there is a decline into that which is not so good, and even bad. For example, in the world of music: Music developed over centuries, and hit a high point in the Classic/Romantic period. From there it declined into music that is on a lower level, and getting worse, it seems. In the Church at large Christianity progressed to a very high level in the Reformation and following centuries. Christians knew how to do Church, and it was being done well. Since then we have seen a decline. It is often true that the older way is actually the better way, from our 21st century perspective, IMO.

  22. Zack said,

    May 31, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Marshall,

    Thank you for sharing your presuppositions openly. I like that. I don’t necessarily agree, but I am thankful for your honesty. Now, we are getting somewhere. I think we must agree to disagree on the de-evolution of music, theology, etc. I think we can agree that our church doesn’t need to pander to culture. However I’m Schaefferian. I believe the culture can be redeemed by the Church and that we must actively engage it. I must say that I really think Schaeffer did excellent work in “The Church at the End of the 20th Century” in his discussions of form and freedom in regard to the Church.

    I used to be of the mindset that modern Christian worship music was hokey and cut-rate. I’ve heard some songs coming out now that are “hymns” in their own right. They have strong, orthodox theology and strong music. The 80’s and 90’s praise choruses are no longer the norm for which I’m thankful. But that really is a matter of personal preference on my part, I guess. I also felt that they didn’t contain much that was of theological substance.

    Anyway. Is this Marshall St. John from TVP? If so, this is Zack Carden, formerly of TVP now of NWGP. Good to hear your comments, brother.

  23. Marshall said,

    May 31, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Hi Zack,
    Yep, I figured that was you! Yes, I suppose we must agree to dis-agree about a lot of things. Some of this is no doubt due to myself being an old codger (I was born an old condger). I really don’t feel good about this idea which I hear/read all over the place: “I believe the culture can be redeemed by the Church and that we must actively engage it.”
    I believe that Jesus died to redeem the Church. But I can’t find in the Bible where the Church is supposed to engage the culture (what does that mean?) and redeem the culture? I know we should preach the Word of God, and live a life of love to our neighbors. I believe as a larger and larger percentage of the world’s population believe in Christ that the culture will change for the better. (I’m a bit of post-mil.) Is that what this “redeeming the culture” is about?

  24. February 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    [...] of Reformed Worship, and who is deeply committed to the Reformation2Germany project, has offered an alternative proposal for the PCA that reflects my own thoughts and commitments and those of the congregation I serve.  He [...]


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