A Great Alternative

I have just learned that there will be an alternative motion to the Strategic Plan proposed at the GA. It comes from the Northwest Georgia Presbytery, and is largely the work of Rev. Jon Payne. Read the full proposal here. I couldn’t agree more with Jon Payne’s analysis, or with his solution to the issues. This blog salutes Rev. Payne for upholding confessional truth, and directing us back to Jesus, our true center.

At Tim’s request, I am now including a small “blurb” about the Strategic Plan, and also Jon Payne’s alternative.

The Strategic Plan is an attempt by the Administrative Committee to address some of the difficulties currently facing the PCA. The narrative plan is available here. One would get a fairly decent sense of where the Plan is headed by reading all the highlighted material. The Plan consists of an analysis of some of the problems facing the PCA, along with some proposed solutions. The solutions include some controversial ideas. The ones most controversial have been making a mandatory support of the AC committee across the board for all PCA churches. This support would take the place of GA registration fees. Secondly, there is a suggestion that we withdraw from NAPARC, for the reason that it is draining our ministry resources. Other controversial language in the Plan includes “provide more seats at the table,” for minorities, young leaders, and women. Also controversial is its characterization of the various groups within the PCA, as to whether they might be simplistic or not.

I’ll just shoot from the hip a bit here. I was actually against the mandatory support of the AC committee until I read Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan’s defense of it. He convinced me that it was a good idea. And then when I read more carefully that it takes the place of the GA fee, I was even more in favor of it. The AC is essential to the PCA, in that it funds the SJC, and does innumerable other vitally important services for our denomination. It does need to be supported. I will cheerfully admit that there are other things that could be done, perhaps, to reduce the financial load of the AC. Personally, I think our GA is way too big. I am in favor of a delegated assembly. If we didn’t have to pay half a million dollars just to rent a convention center for GA every year, but could have it in churches, that would significantly reduce the burden of GA every year. Very few churches can seat 1500 people (3000 for the services). But many churches can seat 500.

Withdrawing from NAPARC would be a serious mistake in my opinion. I don’t see it as any kind of a needless drain on resources. Aren’t we supposed to be about Reformed Catholicity? Why would we want to deny that kind of catholicity by withdrawing from our like-minded brothers and sisters in NAPARC? Seeing that the other NAPARC denominations are more confessional than the PCA is (on average), the only reason I could think of for withdrawing from NAPARC is if we want to head in a different theological direction from NAPARC. This also would be a mistake, I believe.

This is by no means an adequate summary of all that is in the Strategic Plan. I have only touched on the more controversial issues present. Rev. Jon Payne seeks to draw us back to a means of grace frame of mind. Of course, I don’t see Rev. Payne’s contribution as contradicting everything in the Strategic Plan. Rev. Payne, for instance, does not address the AC support issue. But what I see Rev. Payne doing is to remind us that God has a plan for us, and it is simple, and is based on the means of grace.

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33 Comments

  1. May 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    This will go before Overtures Committee.
    The other ‘plan’ (the original) will go first before Administration Committee of Commissioners then the floor of GA.

  2. Tim Prussic said,

    May 24, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Pastor Lane, for those of us who cannot make the time to catch up on this, would you please write a small blurb so we can be up to date?

  3. May 24, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    I’m wrong.

    Due the date of this submission it will go to the Stated Clerk who will refer it to the Administrative Committee of Commissioners, since it relates to the Strategic Plan.

    Fun fun!

  4. greenbaggins said,

    May 24, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Tim, I have made an attempt in the post above to expand a bit, as per your request.

  5. May 24, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    So the alternative to the hip new relevant plan is a return to the Westminster Standards and use Biblical Strategies instead of man made ones….That is a new idea! I love it! Thank you Pastor Lane for your information and passion for the health of the Church and the Sheep. We grately appreciate it! Even being a Reformed Baptist, I am very blessed by the work you do and i do pray for the Health of the Presbyterian Church!

  6. jared said,

    May 24, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    It would be nice to see some more financial support for our educational institutions as well.

  7. greenbaggins said,

    May 24, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    I’m not so sure about that one, Jared. I don’t see any of the educational institutions about to close for lack of funding. They get plenty of private contributions, and the tuition added with the private funding is plenty to keep all three major seminaries afloat. Covenant College is charging quite a bit more per credit hour than they even 10 years ago. I doubt they are suffering much, either.

  8. David Gilleran said,

    May 24, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    The required funding is simply a tax placed upon TE and churches. I saw this as a young man in the PCUS with the per head tax levied by a presbytery on each church. Each church had to pay a sum on each church member to support the presbytery. This is one of the reasons the PCA was formed. That our giving to the local church, presbytery and General Assembly would be done freely and not out of compulsion.

    It might be better if each TE and Session address the reasons why there is not liberality in giving in our local churches.

  9. Paige Britton said,

    May 24, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Hey, does anybody know what is the “table” at which minorities, young leaders, and women don’t have enough chairs?

  10. Paige Britton said,

    May 24, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    Q#2: Does everybody in the PCA already agree on the same definition of “biblical masculinity and femininity,” so that if the GA adopts a statement that includes this phrase, we all know what we are talking about? (This one seemed to me to have the least universal comprehensibility out of the whole list.)

  11. Scott said,

    May 24, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    From the Overture…

    “Therefore, the Northwest Georgia Presbytery overtures the 38th General Assembly to call all its congregations and presbyteries to this simple, straightforward, unambiguously biblical call for renewal as an alternative to the complex and potentially divisive “PCA Strategic Plan,” except for the funding proposal already presented by the Administrative Committee, which this overture wishes neither to condemn nor support.”

    The Overture specifically states it is not addressing the denominational agency funding aspects of the Strategic Plan, nor does the Alternate Plan itself.

    Upon first reading of the Overture, which makes a substantive case for the Alternative Plan, it does appear to be making a case for decentralizing central denomination infrastructure, and encouraging involvement of people more from the presbytery and session level up toward the denominational level, rather than the reverse. This is also a natural consequence of decentralization.

    The very real funding challenges addressed in the Strategic Plan do need to be addressed, but in terms of decentralization, technology and innovation- and upon the basis of doctrinal unity that is the focus of the Alternative Plan.

    The reality is that the funding mechanisms are going to be a tough sell, particularly in the present economic downturn. It seems many churches are drastically reducing their giving to denominational agencies as a consequence of the present downturn.

    The Strategic Plan lacks a focus on unity, based on peace and purity, and on practical ways for denominational infrastructure to do more with less, by means of reorganizing for efficiency in the face of lean times ahead.

    A Plan based on such a focus would be timely, and well received.

  12. Martin said,

    May 24, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    This is a nice overture and I hope it receives broad support as a replacement for the AC proposal.

    As for funding, I would change it in this way: strip everything from the current Strategic Plan proposal, including any language “requiring” payment. Then take the 1/3 of 1% fee structure table and make that the new registraton fee for commissioners to GA. IOW, if you want to attend GA, you pay according to that table.

    End of story. A nice recommitment to basic principles. And a change in funding that should produce more revenue.

  13. Lee Johnson said,

    May 24, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    While I like a lot of the language in the new replacement overture, it seems to me to be an overture to keep doing what you are doing. It is more of a “stick your head in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong” approach. The overture from Northwest Georgia would basically allow each individual presbyteries to come up with their own understanding of such things as “wedding our missiology to our Reformed ecclesiology” and a “commitment to worship on God’s terms”. Those two just as a few examples are widely different from one PCA church to the next, as the linked article notes in the opening. The Strategic Plan does try to address the difference by centralizing power and creating “safe places”. I am not saying I like the Strategic Plan, but it does address the problem.

    Let me quote from Dr. Payne’s preface:

    Why the upturn in topical, loosely textual, media/story driven sermons? Why the downturn in exegetical, Christ-centered, lectio-continua Bible preaching? Why the upturn in focus upon missional broadness, social programs and eco-gospel ministry? Why the downturn in substantial prayer in public worship? Why the absence of congregational prayer meetings? Why the upturn in focus upon women possessing greater roles in worship and denominational leadership . . .

    Those questions are not answered in the seventeen points. Each position would be able to find a home in the language used. To me as an outsider that is the problem. Those questions need to be answered. These points don’t answer them.

  14. Paige Britton said,

    May 25, 2010 at 5:26 am

    FWIW, I am not being obnoxious with my questions there (#8 & 9). I’m recognizing that the respective writers are using euphemisms, and I have not been around the PCA long enough to decode either one. Give me a clue, somebody?

  15. May 25, 2010 at 7:32 am

    Paige,

    I am not sure what Table they are talking about either, unless it means the GA level committees. But I thought most of them already had ex officio advisers attending their meetings representing women, minorities, etc. As for a biblical view of masculinity, etc., my answer would be no, we are not all agreed….

    How about this for a funding plan: take 5% of all the money raised by the other committees and give it to the Admin Committee. I think that would be fair; workable and get rid of this “requirement” language.

    Chris

  16. Dave Sarafolean said,

    May 25, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Which table? It is the same table proposed to last year’s General Assembly where at least two women were to sit and help craft a pastoral letter to the denomination on the role of women in the church. As we all know, that failed by a slim margin.

    Going forward, if the Strategic Plan is passed, I would expect similar proclamations on a variety of issues. What’s unclear is whether they would be sent to the presbyteries for ratification or simply be advisory. But even if advisory, such documents could further ‘Balkanize’ the PCA if individual presbyteries adopt them while others reject them.

  17. Phil Derksen said,

    May 25, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Paige,

    There have been some interesting/helpful comments made regarding the language concerning “biblical masculinity and femininity” in the overture, here:

    http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/a-confessional-alternative-to-the-pcas-strategic-plan-from-the-nw-georgia-presbytery/

  18. Paige Britton said,

    May 25, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks, Chris, Dave, & Phil.

    I appreciated the heidelblog discussion there. This line of the proposal (re. “biblical masculinity & femininity”) does not seem to match the rest of the concerns for an ecclesiology that is based on the Westminster Standards (or even the BCO).

    FWIW, I’d gently suggest, to anyone who wants to support the alternative proposal, that you might craft a replacement line that narrows the focus onto “a biblical view of ordained offices.” (Though the related issue of women teaching mixed groups in SS would not be addressed in that thought.)

  19. Tim Prussic said,

    May 25, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks, Pastor. That’s very helpful. Since you’re in such a suggestible frame of mind, do send money!

    Seriously, though, I appreciate the extra effort and help.

  20. Jon D. Payne said,

    May 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    The NWGP overture is certainly not meant to encourage PCA churches to “stick their heads in the sand” and pretend nothing is wrong. Rather, it is meant, in part, to help folks recognize that both the diagnosis and the remedy of the “PCA Strategic Plan” are misguided. Many, including myself, believe that most of our denominational problems stem from a lack of confidence in the ordinary means of grace, and an unwillingness to apply our Reformed theology to our practice (eg worship, shepherding, missions, etc.). If this does not compute, please take some time to read a couple of books that helped me significantly:

    1. Recovering the Reformed Confession by R. Scott Clark
    2. The Lost Soul of American Protestantism by DG Hart
    3. A Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterian History by DG Hart

    These books, among other things, will help to explain why churches who profess the Reformed Faith often look so radically different … and pinpoint some of our main problems.

    The NWGP overture was not crafted to be an “explain all” document. That would make it too long. And there should be lots of “explaining” going on for PCA teaching and ruling elders in seminary and elder training courses about what it means to be a Reformed elder leading a Reformed and Confessional congregation.
    The overture was written and submitted by the NWGP to be a simple reminder of what will truly bring spiritual renewal across the PCA. If the CoC is uncomfortable with some of the language, they will have the opportunity to discuss it – and even change it – in the Country Music Capital in June.

    Blessings,

    JDP

  21. Lee Johnson said,

    May 25, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Dr. Payne,

    I appreciate your response. I see your point about a lack of confidence in the means of grace. And I agree with most of your seventeen points, but I am unsure that all of the churches will come to the same understanding. And I guess that is my big concern, that some of this diversity in the PCA is not a lack of confidence in the means of grace, but fundamental disagreements about important doctrines.

    Your preface had beautiful questions in it. Why are so many PCA pastors going so far a field from traditional, biblical Reformed understandings on things such as preaching, biblical church government, and perhaps even the gospel itself. Is it always the case that they simply do not think that the means of grace will put people in the pew, or are they being taught that topical media driven sermons are the way Reformed ministry is done, and that deaconesses are compatiable with the WCF? The first way is an innocent lack of faith that is dealt with by the 17 points. The second is an institutional problem stemming from a fundamentally different view of the Reformed faith. It is not dealt with in the points. While I believe there are those who simply don’t trust the means of grace, I think many will fall into the second category of a differing view of the Reformed faith.

    Respectfully,
    Lee

  22. jared said,

    May 25, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Lane (Re. #7),

    That’s precisely the problem.

  23. Jon D. Payne said,

    May 25, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks, Lee.

    One last thought …

    If the “differing view of the Reformed Faith” that you mention is a clear departure from a faithful, historic expression of Reformed and Confessional Presbyterianism, then this is all the more reason to submit this overture and make clear that what we really need is reformation and renewal that is in accord with all that is expressed in the overture. The ‘lack of understanding’ concerning the nature and application of Reformed Confessionalism in our ranks should not cause us to simply throw our hands in the air and leave the discussion.

    Of course, the overture is far from comprehensive. Even so, it gives many in the PCA an alternative plan for renewal that they can better identify with. Hopefully all parties will engage in a warm and charitable debate in Nashville.

    JDP

  24. Dave Sarafolean said,

    May 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

    Here is more about ‘seats at the table’.

    http://bradley.chattablogs.com/archives/2010/05/freeing-the-pca.html

  25. Paige Britton said,

    May 26, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Wow. Well. It’s hard to know where to start with that article. Is it even possible to critique it if one is obviously coming from a place of White privilege? Maybe about as possible as the PCA allowing minorities “seats at the table” — meaning, apparently, NOT just token “seats,” but the Chair.

    I wish we didn’t all view each other with such suspicion, and could just talk about it all as brethren.

  26. Martin said,

    May 26, 2010 at 11:41 am

    That analysis is hard to swallow from my point of view, given that my little church plant of 20-25 people is already multi-racial, and the PCA church that I was a part of for 13 years was also multi-racial. And both are confessional. And neither has made any overtly “missional” attempts to be multi-racial. It’s about the Word and ordinary means of grace. Praise God He uses it to bring all His people to Himself, wherever and whoever they are!!

  27. David said,

    May 26, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Without prejudice as to its substance, this will never pass because we don’t pass motions to “renew commitments.” If we did, we would be flooded with overtures every year to recommit ourselves to things to which we are already committed.

  28. Phil Derksen said,

    May 26, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    David #27,

    If your prediction that this overture will fail is accurate, and that for the reason you suggest, then I think it’s a pretty clear indicator of the sad state of affairs within the church. Renewing one’s commitment to God’s truth and plan is a very biblical thing to do (e.g. Joshua 24:1-28).

    By virtue of the overtures very existence, i’ts also quite obvious that many church leaders would disagree with the assessment that the things it addresses are things to which the church is already committed (at least adequately).

    As for the possibility of being flooded with such overtures in the future, I would simply say, so what?

  29. David said,

    May 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Phil, I sympathize with your comment but sadly the motion is poorly worded when it comes to parliamentary procedure. It is in essence what is called a motion to reaffirm. The PCA gets one of these per year on average from some presbytery. Every year, we vote against them because it is consider a waste of the assembly’s time to come together and endlessly re-affirm things. I wish this motion would have been worded differently.

    As one parliamentarian on the web states, “Motions to ‘reaffirm’ a position previously taken by adopting a motion or resolution are not in order. Such a motion serves no useful purpose because the original motion is still in effect; …and if such a motion to reaffirm failed, if would create an ambiguous situation”

    BTW, a vote against this motion is not in and of itself a statement about its substance. People can have a vast array of reasons for choosing to vote against a motion.

  30. Phil Derksen said,

    May 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    David,

    Thanks for your reply. Since you seem to have considerable knowledge about the technicalities that are involved in these kinds of situations, and since you say that you agree with the substantive intent (just not the wording) of the overture, why not offer your assistance to the originating party in terms of helping them improve its possible shortcomings – and thus improve its chances of still being effective?

    I think It would be a real shame to see something that is both biblically and substantively right falter and fail due to the fact that those who were capable of helping it succeed simply didn’t do so.

    Just some thoughts…

  31. David Hall said,

    May 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Friends,

    In response to David’s suggestion that a ‘motion to reaffirm’ is not in order, he is exactly correct if the motion is to reaffirm some previous action of a deliberative body. But he errs in application to our overture.

    A careful reading of the overture from Northwest Georgia Presbytery reveals that it is not something that a previous assembly has adopted that is being called for. What our overture calls for is for the 17-points to be sent down and studied by the lower courts. Moreover, this is an alternative to what another Committee is proposing. Furthermore, our overtures do not fall under David’s putative interpretation in that they also call for this view, if adopted by the 38th Assembly, to be disseminated by our leaders as the view of this year’s assembly–something that is certainly not being done. And, finally, our overture calls for future proposals to structure to arise from the presbyteries rather than from the Cooperative Ministries Committee.

    In short, the overtures from NWGP are definitely in order as they call for new action and for different substance as compared to any previous assembly action. If one thinks otherwise, perhaps he could point us to the Minutes of the General Assembly where our call or substance or request for dissemination supposedly occurred.

    Hope this helps.

  32. Scott said,

    May 26, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    With charity towards all,

    I suspect both the Strategic Plan and the Overture will not be adopted because neither is quite sufficient in substance and form.

    That’s not a criticism of intent, it’s only an observation, and could be wrong as to end result in this one particular court, General Assembly this year.

    The Strategic Plan brings up a very real need for funding a denomination function, but its proposal is not likely to receive popular support for several reasons- the present economic downturn, the idea of forcing support, a “head tax” on teaching elders but not ruling elders.

    That Plan also focuses on disunity in a vague way, with no measurable way of assessing remedy.

    This year, the backdrop of discussion will be drastic reductions in income to all denominational agencies, certainly including administrative committee, but not limited to it. Many particular churches are struggling to meet their own congregation priorities, and have greatly reduced contributions to denominational agencies.

    A call for several new mandatory taxes and fees, paying in order to vote, etc. is not likely to be well received.

    The Overture, while addressing some basics of reformed theology that do now (and always) need to be taught, prioritized, and renewed, does not address the real strategic funding challenges that do need to be part of a “strategic” plan. Not “condemn[ing] nor support[ing]” any aspect of that need, as the Overture says, is not sufficient.

    While the Alternative Plan could certainly be adopted as a resolution on its own, procedurally it’s not quite ripe to be adopted as an alternative to a strategic plan that addresses a major substantive area it does not.

    The Alternate would also need some practical steps to help particular churches, presbyteries, general assembly, and denominational agencies adopt its aspirational goals.

    What would be helpful is to use this as an opportunity to enhance a future strategic report- one that practically addresses unity based on peace and purity, the only real basis ever for God’s People, our connectional polity, and strategic funding for denominational infrastructure.

    I think that kind of strategic report needs to be constituted broadly, and emphasize efficiency through restructuring denominational infrastructure and technology, as well as a better funding mechanism for vital denominational work.

  33. Robert Berman said,

    June 1, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Re @26, “A call for several new mandatory taxes and fees, paying in order to vote, etc. is not likely to be well received.”

    You may be right; it’s partly in how it’s presented. As Lane noted, there’s already “paying in order to vote” at GA, and always has been. The proposed new system contemplates shifting that payment back to the churches (both directly as well as through fees paid by the TEs and Presbyteries, which would also ultimately come from the churches) such that all churches would become mandatory participants in the AC work but also be eligible to send reps to GA for no additional registration cost.


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