The Polity of the PCA


This is now an edited version reflecting some recent conversations I have had, and, I believe, has a more accurate picture of the situation.

I am continuing to talk to people about the Leithart case (sometimes it seems like that is the only thing I am doing!). I am gaining a somewhat clearer picture of the situation, and if this post is seen as something of a mild corrective to the previous post, so be it. I still believe that the SJC decision is the wrong one, and I am still convinced that there was a way to reverse the PNWP decision.

What I want to address here is the polity of the PCA. When he of blessed memory, Jack Williamson, helped to write the BCO, fresh in his mind and in the minds of those with him were the ecclesiastical abuses of the PCUSA. So, Williamson and Co. set out to write a BCO that would prevent ecclesiastical abuse. This worked fairly well as long as the denomination was unified around the truth. However, what it wound up doing was creating some ambiguities, which, over time, have been interpreted by the SJC in certain directions. Certain terms are being interpreted extremely narrowly, like “constitutional.” The SJC now seems to be interpreting this term to mean “procedural,” as if doctrinal matters are not covered under the consideration of the constitution.

Furthermore, what we have in our denomination is centralized power located in the wrong place. It is located in the committees and agencies, rather than in the highest court. As a result of this, the presbyteries are pretty much autonomous. There is now really no way of disciplining rogue presbyteries as long as they follow the “procedure.” This is not Presbyterian polity. This is a hybrid of congregationalism and presbyterianism. It is presbyterian with regard to sessions and presbyteries, but congregationalist with regard to the relationship between presbyteries and general assembly. Only we like to call it “grass roots” Presbyterianism. At this point, looking back on it with hindsight, that is a bit like saying “congregationalist presbyterian.”

Is there any way of fixing this? I tend to doubt it. Attempts have been made, and have failed. Our fathers did not foresee the problems that would arise from this form of government. It seems that grass-roots Presbyterianism is a failure at polity. The ambiguity of our polity is to blame (at least partially) for this disaster. As I said before, I still think there was a way to correct the PNWP, even with our ambiguous polity. However, our ambiguous polity sure didn’t help. There are still sections, some of which have been brought up in the comments, that clearly allow the SJC to reverse the lower court’s decision.

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