David Hall: Whither The PCA At 40: Anyone For A Janus Birthday In December?

This week a young denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, (PCA) will celebrate its 40th birthday. Reaching 40 years, without more schism than already witnessed, is a nice achievement for an American evangelical denomination as it reaches its generational benchmark.

Here’s an obvious question: Will this church be looking backwards or forwards as it has birthday celebrations? Or should it even celebrate at such a young age? Will the PCA last to have other celebrations? Or as Scott Clark asked this summer, ‘Why is the PCA distinctive?’

Janus was the mythological figure who looked both ways. At whatever level of ecclesiastical partying, if any, that posture is likely the most warranted.

To be sure, some will seize this opportunity to re-vision the denomination away from its founding values in order to be molded more to the wishes of third generation members. I’m pretty sure that we’ll hear some of the following from the primarily forward-looking wing: “The PCA was formed to be missional; she was conceived to be outward-focused . . . The PCA was a break with tradition, favoring ‘new wineskins,’ .  .  . The PCA was designed to be Gospel-centered, Grace-centered, a truly dangerous and courageous sinner-loving ecosystem.” These attempts to redefine the PCA’s original vision and intent will fail for lack of historical evidence and credibility.

And for those who wish only to look in the rear view mirror, we will hear that the PCA was formed to hold the line. These advocates will claim that the Confession must be held with vigor and that “the only Law-Giver in Zion” was hardly soft on sin or compromise. This warrior-child wing will prioritize the ways of the past, even if the sins of the fathers go unnoticed.

But how many celebrations will look both backwards and forwards? And isn’t that what worthwhile commemorations (call them birthday parties) will do.

Janus would probably advise us to preserve the best of the founding generation and couple that with a forward-looking sentiment. So, why not organize commemorations around THE founding document and extend the values of that document prospectively? To do so promises both renewal and progress if we can benefit from a short review of a key document: “A Message to All Churches of Jesus Christ Throughout the World.”

It is no accident that the PCA’s formative meeting was on December 7, 1973, the anniversary of the founding of the Southern Presbyterian denomination (Presbyterian Church in the United States – PCUS) in 1861. This letter is as clear a herald as we have of the basic values of the birth of the PCA, often summarized as “True to the Scriptures, the Reformed Faith, and the Great Commission.” Any birthday party that ignores these pillars or that isolates only one or two of those values will insult the past and impoverish the future. A commemoration that refreshes its sturdy heritage, deepening it as is progresses, will be helpful.

The three prime values of the PCA, both formally  and informally from the most-frequent motto, emphasized Inerrancy, the Westminster standards, and Evangelism. Along the way, descendants could learn something from irenic language. These parents sensed the need for candor in declaring to onlookers why, after much prayer, study, and effort, they were forming a new denomination. Read more»

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!

One comment

  1. I’ve dubbed our mutual friend David Hall the PCA’s “Happy Warrior.” As with everything David writes, this post is sensible, wise, winsome., and theologically sound. At the PCA General Assembly last June, David calmed my spirits with some godly advice when I was in a blue funk over the power grabs and shenanigans of the “powers that be.” (You’d think that, as a certified senior citizen, I’d have learned to chill out a little more about this stuff. Lots of room for further sanctification here.) I say “Amen!” to David’s thoughts. We can only hope.

Comments are closed.