Quo Vadis?

In this new series of posts, I will look at where the PCA has been in the past, and then seek to show where we are headed in the future. I will be taking as my baseline the volume of Position Papers edited by Paul Gilchrist. The volume covers the years 1973-1998.

The first entry is in some ways the most important. It is “A Message to All Churches of Jesus Christ Throughout the World From the General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church.” For those who don’t know, the PCA was originally called the National Presbyterian Church, but quickly changed its name to the Presbyterian Church in America.

The first main point the letter makes is that separation had become necessary. This is not something they rejoiced over, but rather mourned (“with great sorrow and mourning,” p. 7).

Secondly, it says that the basis for the authority of the Church is nothing other than the Bible. A standard statement of the Bible’s inerrancy follows. The view of the Bible they had was fundamental to all the other issues (see p. 8).

Then the letter states something very important about change. Change comes gradually, and it should not be permitted: “Views and practices that undermine and supplant the system of doctrine or polity of a confessional Church ought never to be tolerated” (p. 8). Notice the accent on confessionalism. It is highlighted even more clearly on the following page: “We are committed without reservation to the Reformed Faith as set forth in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms” (p. 9), and then again on p. 10 (quoting the earlier “Address to All Churches”): “We are not ashamed to confess that we are intensely Presbyterian.”

Since the changes came to the PCUS, and those changes were not disciplined, the letter states this: “When a denomination will not exercise discipline and its courts have become heterodox or disposed to tolerate error, the minority finds itself in the anomalous position of being submissive to a tolerant and erring majority. In order to proclaim the truth and to practice the discipline which they believe obedience to Christ requires, it then becomes necessary for them to separate. This is the exercise of discipline in reverse. It is how we view our separation” (p. 8).

The last major point the letter makes is that the church must be faithful to the Great Commission if it can expect the Lord Jesus Christ to be present with her.

Some reflections on this letter are in order. The first thing that struck me was the very strong emphasis on confessional Presbyterianism. Indeed, it was because the PCUS was NOT being confessional that the PCA (then NPC) emphasized it so much. This contrasts sharply with some recent attempts to downplay the confessional moorings of our forefathers.

Secondly, the entire paragraph quoted from page 8 on discipline and tolerating error creeped me out a bit, since it feels like confessional Presbyterians in the PCA are in a very similar position. I wonder if the surviving fathers of our denomination could ever imagine that the same thing that happened then is happening now. I heard from someone a while back that even at the founding, someone had predicted that we would get about 40 good years, and lo and behold, a prophet!



  1. greenbaggins said,

    February 12, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Hmm, that’s interesting. This is the 1776th post on this blog. I wonder…

  2. David Gilleran said,

    February 12, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    Just for historical accuracy, the PCA was formed by churches withdrawing from the PCUS aka the Southern Presbyterian Church. The PCUSA was formed with the reunion of the PCUS and UPCUSA aka the Northern Presbyterian Church in 1983.

  3. February 13, 2015 at 10:30 am

    I remember Joey Pipa telling years ago that the problem with the PCA at it’s inception was that many of the folks at the beginning knew what they didn’t want (the liberalism of the PCUSA), but they lacked a solid vision for what they did want. In other words, there was a significant percentage of the churches joining the PCA who did not have a firm grip on what it meant to be historically Reformed.

  4. roberty bob said,

    February 13, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Liberalism aside, of the two [PCUSA or PCA], where will one most likely find the liturgy of worship along historically Reformed lines?

    In my experience — having attended three or four services in both denominations while out of town on business — I have found that the PCUSA is traditional while the PCA strives to be contemporary and innovative.

    I sometimes wonder which church has a firm grip on its heritage, and which one is making things up as it goes along.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    February 13, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    RB, sadly that is true, a consequence of having no firm foundation for similarity in worship. The PCA should have adopted a directory for worship, so that worship, while not needing to be absolutely uniform everywhere, could have been similar enough to be recognizable as one denomination.

  6. roberty bob said,

    February 14, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Yes, GB, it has happened in my denomination, too. Our Psalter Hymnal has been abandoned, and the great hymns that have stood the test of time are seldom sung. I warn of the consequences — raising up a new generation without any [or with precious few] roots that tap into our faith heritage.

  7. February 16, 2015 at 12:13 am

    […] the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  8. williamhsmith said,

    February 16, 2015 at 6:30 am

    Here’s some reflection on The Address:


  9. tominaz said,

    February 16, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    I think #3 Andrew hit on a basic point.
    I came into the PCA through J&R in 1982. My early observations that many in the former PCUS part of the PCA were Presbyterians by convenience continues to hold validity I believe. By that I meant the PCA was, politically conservative, theologically conservative and racially conservative – a convenient place to withdraw from all sorts of liberalism.
    I found some, like myself, who were Presbyterian by conviction – with high views of the Westminster Standards and Worship.
    If anything, the “convenience boys” continue to grow in number. and influence.

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