A Confessional Alternative to the PCA's Strategic Plan From the NW Georgia Presbytery (Updated)

UPDATE 27 MAY 2010

David W. Hall, pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA), Powder Springs, GA offers some “Answers to Questions” about the overture.

The overture is now online (PDF).


On April 30, 2010 the Rev Dr Jon Payne published, on the Heidelblog, an outline of an alternative to the proposed PCA Strategic Plan. Since that post the NW Georgia Presbytery has taken up this matter. What follows is their “Alternative Plan for PCA Renewal” with a preface by the Rev Dr Payne.


NWGP’s “Alternative Plan for PCA Renewal”
with a brief Preface by Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne, minister of Grace Presbyterian Church, Douglasville, Georgia.

Dear Friends of the PCA,

On Saturday, May 22, 2010 the Northwest Georgia Presbytery voted to send an “Alternative Plan For PCA Renewal” overture to this year’s PCA General Assembly in Nashville, Tennessee. The “Alternative Plan” is not an attempt to cause further division in the PCA. On the contrary, the overture is simply meant to unite and renew our denomination in the theology and practice of Westminster Presbyterianism.

A majority of the members of the Northwest Georgia Presbytery believe that if our PCA churches and presbyteries return to the rich theology and practice of Reformed Confessionalism, as reflected in the seventeen point summary below, we will know and experience the spiritual renewal and reformation that we all eagerly desire. We believe that many PCA elders will identify more with this “Alternative Plan” and be pleased to have before them a positive, biblically-based alternative to the elaborate “PCA Strategic Plan” of the Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC).

Recently, while reading D. A. Carson’s excellent little book entitled The Cross And Christian Ministry, it was hard not to think of our own denomination and the proposed “PCA Strategic Plan” when coming across the following section:

Western Evangelicalism tends to run through cycles of fads. At the moment, books are pouring off the presses telling us how to plan for success, how “vision” clearly consists in clearly articulated “ministry goals,” how the knowledge of detailed profiles of our communities constitutes the key to successful outreach. I am not for a moment suggesting that there is nothing to be learned from such studies. But after a while one may perhaps be excused for marveling how many churches were planted by Paul and Whitefield and Wesley and Stanway and Judson without enjoying these advantages. Of course all of us need to understand the people to whom we minister, and all of us can benefit from small doses of such literature. But massive doses sooner or later dilute the gospel. Ever so subtly, we start to think that success more critically depends on thoughtful sociological analysis than on the gospel; Barna becomes more important than the Bible. We depend on plans, programs, vision statements – but somewhere along the way we have succumbed to the temptation to displace the foolishness of the cross with the wisdom of strategic planning. Again, I insist, my position is not a thinly veiled plea for obscurantism, for seat-of-the-pants ministry that plans nothing. Rather, I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry. (Carson, The Cross And Christian Ministry, 25-26; emphasis mine)

Dear friends, the remedy to our denominational maladies is not the implementation of what some see as a fairly complex, mildly therapeutic, sociologically savvy strategic vision. Rather, what the PCA needs – in fact, what every NAPARC denomination always needs – is a clear, uncompromising call to biblical and confessional renewal, renewal that is on God’s terms, not man’s. It really is that simple. Indeed, God intended it to be. This way, when the elect are converted, sanctified (renewed) and comforted by the primary means of 1) faithful preaching, 2) biblical administration of the sacraments, and 3) steadfast prayer, then God gets all the glory. “Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (I Corinthians 1:31; see also WSC Q. 88).

Many believe that the current problems in the PCA have less to do with cultural irrelevancy and insensitivity, and more to do with a lack of confidence in the sufficient, efficacious means that God Himself has promised to bless for the health and extension of His kingdom. Perhaps we – the PCA – should examine ourselves, and ask ourselves some searching, even convicting questions – questions that may help us to recognize our current problems: 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 (“direction and development”)? Why the downturn in sessions boldly calling men to lead their families and Christ’s Church (i.e. public worship, family worship)? The main goal or plan of the PCA for the next forty years should be a courageous, God-centered, joyfully reverent return to Reformed Faith and practice, as set forth in the Westminster Standards and her sister confessions (e.g. The Three Forms of Unity). This is a call to renewal that we should all be able to get behind.

In conclusion, the CMC asserts that the PCA must provide “safe places” for discussing “new ideas” in order to “advance” our denomination’s faithfulness to “biblical belief, ministry and mission” (Strategic Plan, 17). This writer couldn’t agree more. However, what we must recognize is that there have been “safe places” provided for rigorous theological debate and denominational discussion since 1973. These “safe places” are called church courts, constituted of men whom God Himself has set apart for ordained leadership in His Church. Therefore, may this simple alternative overture to the CMC’s “Strategic Plan” be received as another voice at the PCA table, encouraging honest discussion on the best means to denominational renewal.


The following is the NWGP’s “Alternative Plan for PCA Renewal” overture. The 17 points for renewal are not meant to be a “strategy” or “vision” per se, but simply to turn our attention back to Reformed orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Some will identify several of these points below as growing weaknesses in the PCA and American Evangelicalism in general. The Scriptural and confessional references underscore that this call for renewal is unequivocally biblical and confessional.


Overture from Northwest Georgia Presbytery
“An Alternative Plan for PCA Renewal”

Whereas, the “PCA Strategic Plan” is a well-intentioned effort by the Cooperative Ministries Committee to address some of the perceived downward trends in the Presbyterian Church in America; and

Whereas, these apparent problems include a decline in membership, disunity and non-cooperation, and a lack of vision for twenty-first century missions; and

Whereas, the framers of this “Strategic Plan” have worked diligently to set forth a proposal that they believe will make the PCA a stronger, healthier denomination; and

Whereas, many will join with us in believing that the “PCA Strategic Plan” is misguided in its program for spiritual renewal, and view the downward trends in our denomination as having less to do with the various factors described in the “Strategic Plan,” and more a consequence of our unwillingness, as elders, to give ourselves wholeheartedly to what God, in His Word, has promised to bless for the health and extension of His kingdom; and

Whereas, the “PCA Strategic Plan,” among other things, seeks to cultivate spiritual renewal in the PCA by promoting “safe places” for theological discussion, “more seats at the table” of denominational development for women, young people, and minorities, and a closer working relationship with the “Global Church” in the area of missions; and

Whereas, while some may view these strategic proposals as leading the PCA towards a stronger future, many others will be uncomfortable with this strategy, believing that lasting spiritual renewal can come only through the outwardly foolish and weak means to which God has attached His saving promises; and

Whereas, the various committees already have the ability to sponsor “safe” discussions (these have been occurring for years in General Assembly and presbytery forums and seminars), and the nominating process has an adequate method of recommending seats at various tables; thus, short of specific BCO amendments, any merited aspects of these targets may already be pursued; and

Whereas, presbyteries, sessions, and other regional conferences—instead of by a top-down committee process—are the prime places for healthy discussion and for the generation of methods to improve our corporate life, and frequently do so with less vested interests; and

Whereas, some believe this “Strategic Plan” will create even further division in the PCA; and

Whereas, the greatest and most urgent need of the Presbyterian Church in America is not a complex strategy, but a clarion call to renew our avowed commitment to the Biblical, Reformed, Confessional, and Presbyterian Faith – a system of doctrine which has, for centuries, cultivated God-glorifying unity, humility, worship, spiritual/numerical growth, mission, service, sacrifice, giving, and cooperation all over the world; and

Whereas, our present need as a denomination is to rekindle our commitment to foundational Reformed doctrine and practice, reflected, in part, in the seventeen points listed below; and

Whereas, it is our conviction that a faithful implementation of these biblical doctrines and practices into the life and ministry of our presbyteries and churches will yield an abundance of spiritual fruit; and

Whereas, renewal on God’s terms cannot – and will not – fail;

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. And let us trust that in the coming years God will enable us, by His Spirit, to faithfully employ the spiritual means that He Himself has already provided us.

17 Points for PCA Renewal

A renewed commitment to the centrality of the God-ordained, efficacious means of exegetical, Christ-centered, application-filled, expository preaching (Is. 55:10-11; Ez. 37:1-10; Jn. 21:15-17 Mk. 1:38; Acts 2:42; 20:26-27; I Cor. 1:22-25; 2 Tim. 4:2-4; WLC 67, 154-5).

A renewed commitment to the centrality of the God-ordained, efficacious means of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Gen. 17:9-11; Ex. 12; Mt. 26:26-29; 28:19; I Cor. 10:16-17; 11:17-34; Col. 2:11-15; I Pet. 3:21; Rev. 19:6-9; WLC 154; 161-177).

A renewed commitment to the centrality of the God-ordained means of private, family and corporate prayer (Ps. 63; Mt. 6:5-15; Mk. 1:35; Acts 6:4; Eph. 1:15-23; Phil. 1:9-11; I Thess. 5:17; I Tim. 2:1; WLC 154; 178-196).

A renewed commitment to – and delight in – the Lord’s Day (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; Is. 58:13-14; Mk. 2:23-28; Jn. 20:1;19; Acts 20:7; Rev. 1:10; WCF 21).

A renewed commitment to worship on God’s terms, according to Scripture (Ex. 20:4-6; Lev. 10:1-3; Deut. 12:32; Jn. 4:23-24; Acts 2:42; Col. 2:18-23; Heb. 10:24-25; 12:28-29; WCF 21.1).

A renewed commitment to private, family, and public worship (Ps. 63; Mt. 6:6, 16-18; Neh. 1:4-11; Dan. 9:3-4; Deut. 6:4-6; Eph. 6:1-4; Ps. 100:4; Acts 2:42; Heb. 10: 24-25; WCF 21.5-6).

A renewed commitment to wed our missiology to Reformed ecclesiology (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 14:19-23; 15:1-41; 20:17, 28; I Cor. 11:17-34; The Pastoral Epistles; Titus 1:5; WCF 25; 30-31).

A renewed commitment to loving, Word and Spirit-dependent, prayerful and courageous evangelism (Mt. 5:13-16; 28:18-20; Acts 4:1-13; I Peter 3:15-16; WLC 154-7).

A renewed commitment to biblical church discipline (Mt. 18:15-20; I Cor. 5:1-13; 11:27-29; II Thess. 3:6, 14-15; I Tim. 5:20; WLC 45; WCF 30).

A renewed commitment to biblical diaconal ministry (Acts 6:1-7; Phil. 1:1; I Tim. 3:8-13).

A renewed commitment to catechize our covenant children in our homes and churches (Deut. 6:4-6; Prov. 22:6; Mk. 10:13-16; Eph. 4:12-13; 6:1-4; WSC).

A renewed commitment to biblical masculinity and femininity (Gen. 2:18-25; Deut. 31:6-7; Prov. 31:10-31; I Cor. 16:13; I Peter 3:1-7; Eph. 5:22-33; I Tim. 2:11-15; WLC 17).

A renewed commitment to entrust the leadership of the Church into the hands of the ordained leadership (Jn. 21:15-17; I Tim. 5:17; Heb.13:17; I Pet. 5:1-3; WLC 45).

A renewed commitment to the Reformed Confession which we have avowed, before God and men, to promote and defend as our system of doctrine (I Tim. 6:12; Heb. 4:14; 10:23; Jude 3; Westminster Standards).

A renewed commitment to the mortification of sin and worldliness (Rom. 6:11-14; 8:13; 12:1-2; I Cor. 6:12; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:20-24; I John 2:15-17; Gal. 6:14; WLC 76-7).

A renewed commitment to the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works of the law (Gen. 15:6; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:21-26; 4:1-5; 5:1; Gal. 2:15-16; 3:10-14; Phil. 3:1-11; WCF 11).

A renewed commitment to rest, by faith, in Christ alone for salvation, without minimizing Gospel obedience (i.e. the third use of the law) / (Rom. 1:5; 6:1-2; 8:5-8; II Cor. 7:1; Col. 1:28; Eph. 4:1; 5:1-21; Phil. 3:12; I Thess. 5:23; Heb. 12:14; I John 5:3; WCF 19.5-7).

Furthermore, rather than having the Cooperative Ministries Committee propose additional structural changes, let us adopt this plan for renewal (reflected in the seventeen points above) asking our presbyteries and sessions, who are the best originators of denominational change, to study, discuss and implement it. Accordingly, this overture asks our appropriate elected leaders to represent and publicize this to our churches in writing or in counsel as the action of the 38th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. By taking this action, we, as elders, intend to send a clear and simple message to our churches, presbyteries, General Assembly, and the world, that the PCA will seek spiritual renewal on God’s terms, trusting solely in His sovereign wisdom and grace.

Humbly and Respectfully Submitted by:

The Northwest Georgia Presbytery
May 22, 2010

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  1. Wow, nice. Who knew there was an entire presbytery in the PCA that was Reformed?! Amazing. They should join a denomination that cares.

    The only point I found odd is the one about “biblical masculinity and femininity”. Is there some sort of sexual-identity crises among members of the PCA? What is “biblical” masculinity and femininity supposed to be anyway? This does not seem to be a Confessionally Reformed ortho-anything focused point. What gives?

  2. “Whereas, renewal on God’s terms cannot – and will not – fail;”

    I couldn’t agree more. However, “cannot fail” is not the same thing as “growth in numbers” (and money). I’m concerned that the point of the PCA Strategic Plan is to have a similar growth and impact as the broader evangelical community.

    If that is the case, then the NWGP’s Alternative Plan will simply fall short of the mission.

  3. Baus, I’m no insider, but I’m thinking it has to do with an ongoing debate in the PCA over female deacons and womens role in ministry. The “biblical masculinity” language is a common catchphrase these days stemming from the project by Grudem/Piper/Mohler, etc. Ligon Duncan is also very involved in the whole issue. Not sure how Reformed it is in general, but an issue raised has to be dealt with, and it is apparently quite the hot button with the PCA these days…

    • Carter, you mean men in PCA congregations aren’t “spiritually leading” their wives and children, and wives are “taking over” that task, and this is viewed as a crises of “gender roles”?

      Good grief.

  4. Baus, that seems to be a part of it. I think the big issue is really women in ordained ministries. Given that the PCA is largely an evangelical group, it sort of makes sense that they would drift in that direction naturally. But it certainly extends into a fear that men will simply withdraw from their leadership role and thus the church will “feminize.” Amongst the conservative evangelicals, I’d say this is a bigger deal than almost anything else these days.

    • Hm. And they think the question of women in church office has something to do with masculinity and femininity? Quite odd.

      • Yeah, proper gender roles and all that. Plus men don’t go to church because it’s limp-wristed. Personally I’ve always thought sin was the issue, but what do I know? I’m not a culture warrior 😛

        • Cater, you know, maybe there’s something to it (men not going to church). I myself am committed to Confessional Reformed faith & practice (including a robustly Reformed ecclesiology and regulative worship) for “religious” reasons.

          At the same, I am aesthetically and socially repulsed by Evangelicalism and its worship & piety. I suppose I do find their faith and practice quite “limp-wristed” (and manipulative in a naggy-wife-mixed-with-used-car-salesman way). So, maybe one of the “practical” benefits of being Reformed is that it naturally appeals to unconfused manly sensibilities (without the phony machismo of Evangelical “promise-keeper” type of jock-ish “masculinity”).

          • Baus, it does have an element of truth to it. Evangelical churches are typically seen as boring, preachy, and irrelevant; and the piety, based as it is on fluttery feelings and emotional heights, is even worse. Frankly, I often find I have better things to do then put myself through that either. The only thing that seems to appeal to men at my previous church was it’s implicit political position. Oy.

            What’s worse is the typical evangelical response, which is to either make Jesus something he is not, or to emphasize, as you call it, “jock-ish” masculinity.

            Incidentally, while I would hesitate to say that I am confessionally Reformed now, it’s exactly these kinds of emphases and reactions that are driving me to it. I don’t mean that in a negative way, of course.

  5. An excellent proposal and resounding call for the Church. Thanks for bringing it to a larger audience, Dr. Clark.

    As noted: this is a call for all the NAPARC Churches. God grant that this plan prevails over the original one.

  6. Baus and Carter raise an interesting point. It does seem that “biblical manhood and womanhood” is more of a cultural warrior phrase than an ecclesiastical one. From my experience in the egalitarian CRC the mistake seemed to be to cast the problem in cultural terms instead of ecclesiastical terms. In the end it became a fight between those who think men should know the world is flat and those who think women should know their place (“sit down and shut up”). Confessionalists don’t really have a seat at that evangelical table.

    If the proposal means to address the problems of “every member ministry” or general egalitarianism maybe strike “A renewed commitment to biblical masculinity and femininity” and leave it with “A renewed commitment to entrust the leadership of the Church into the hands of the ordained leadership.”

  7. I’m just a layman in the PCA (and a fairly new one at that), in the Savannah River Presbytery. How can I best support this without coming across as though I know better than the elders? Would it be disrespectful to recommend it to the elders, since I’m under their authority?

  8. Thank you all, more than I can express, for this Overture.

    This year, I’m on the Committee of Commissioners for Overtures at the PCA General Assembly. This Committee begins its work on Monday, June 28. Many believe that the CoC for Overtures is where the most substantive work occurs at each GA. Recommendations from this Committee cannot be amended on the floor of the Assembly, but can only be adopted, rejected, or referred back to the Committee. (I’m fully aware of all the controversies surrounding this rule. As of now, however, that’s what we have to death with.)

    Assuming that this Overture ends up with the Overtures Committee rather than the Administration Committee, I look forward to some lively discussions. There will no doubt where I stand, I assure you.

  9. Nate,

    If they are true shepherds of the flock, your Session should be glad to receive your thoughts. Write a respectful letter to your Session commending this Overture for their thoughtful consideration, and briefly state why you think it’s a good approach.

    • Thanks for your advice Mr. Aderholdt. I will take this to my session. I don’t foresee much opposition from our session, but it is a large church with many possibilities for different opinions. I pray that all our churches would commit to the Biblical and confessional reformed faith.

  10. Excuse the horrible typo in my first post. The GA rule on Overtures is, of course, what we have to “deal” with, not “death” with. Hmmm, that’s quite a slip, Freudian or otherwise. Now, what was I really thinking . . .

  11. Mr. Aderholdt,

    Where can I find a list of all members of the CoC for Overtures at the GA this year? Thanks in advance…

  12. @Frank & RSC – Thanks for your response to Nate above. Nate’s question was a good one, and your responses were helpful for me as well. I am also a relative newbie to the PCA, having attended just one church for the past 3+ years with my family.

    I was raised PCUSA, but came to the PCA out of a church plant that came from a fellowship that left the EPC, then went Seeker, then planted the Emergent startup. When they began denying the atonement and hell, we packed our bags and wound up in the PCA congregation we’re in now.

    I just have one further question. Is there a website for the NWGP where the overture is posted and possibly downloaded & printed out? Not to knock the Heidelblog, but it might be easier just to present the overture to individual sessions in our own churches as a standalone item, rather than couched in the context of the blogosphere. No matter how much I enjoy the Heidelblog, the blog aspect can tend to brand whatever you’re putting before them as ephemeral or insubstantial.

    Giving them another presbytery’s resource link or listing them directly as a source can lend credence as the repository of the thoughts of another officially recognized body in the denomination.

    Maybe I’m rambling a bit here, but I hope you get where I’m coming from on this point.


  13. Dear Bill,

    The Stated Clerk’s office has the overture. I’m sure they will be posting it soon on the PCA website (under General Assembly Overtures). If you are in a rush to get it, don’ t hesitate to contact them and request it first thing in the morning.



  14. Thanks, Dr. Payne. No rush here, but…there is a Session meeting for my church Thursday night. So, I might see if I can get them to post it so I can either link to it or d/l copies and print to provide them.

    Best Regards and thanks for the info – wtb

  15. Dr. Payne,

    IN RE: Frank’s comment above, can you tell me if the NWGP intends to post it on their site? If not, I have prepared an email to the AC via the GA website. If you know how to directly contact the Stated Clerk (or if anyone else does), please let me know.


  16. @Frank,

    RE: the overture being posted at the GA site –

    Yep, I emailed Dr. Taylor & to his credit, he responded within the hour with a copy attached, however, noting somewhat pointedly, that the overture appeared on “tabloid” and blog sites before it was able to be processed and posted at the GA site.

    It sorta reminded me a bit of the drunk/depressed Albert Brooks character in “Broadcast News” when he’s sitting on his couch at home whispering news copy into the earpiece of the polished but vacuous William Hurt character. “I say it here; it comes out there.”

    Did someone post it on the Weekly World News or the Sun before it appeared here?

    • New blaring headline at the “Heidelbloid”: Two-headed space alien adopts Reformed Faith, insists on Sunday evening service!

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