A Quiet Crisis In The PCA?

Many elders of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) agree that there is a crisis of one kind or another in the denomination. Ironically, one of these crises has to do with elders themselves. More specifically it concerns the participation of elders (especially ruling elders) in the courts of the church. It also involves the failure of churches and sessions to fund and encourage (or even require) this participation. Read more»

Brad Isbell, “The Responsibility of Ruling Elders to Attend the Courts of the Church,” The Aquila Report, September 24, 2020.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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5 comments

  1. Does not Paul in 1 Timothy delineate THREE types of elder, rather than two? First, the ordinary type of elder (ruling, of course), then the elder that rules well, and then the elder that labours in the Word and Doctrine (i.e., teaching)? Should a church have to forego the services of an elder because his career or other commitments mean that, for the time being at least, he cannot rule well?

  2. Not being all that familiar with the process by which lay members of a congregation (session?) in the PCA are selected, I have a few questions:

    – Are members of a local church nominated by the congregants, placed on a ballot, and ratified by the congregation via a vote to assume one of these offices?

    – If the answer to the above is “yes” how does the local congregation go about examining the nominees to determine whether or not he is qualified to hold such and office? Does it involve just the local pastor and existing elders or does the next level have to get involved (“consistory”, “presbytery”, not sure which)?

    – What does a local congregation do if most of the older, more committed elders have moved on and it becomes difficult to find someone who is either properly qualified or even willing to assume the office?

    – We seem to be living in times of dwindling interest by members of local congregations to become involved in church affairs. This is not only true of Christian protestants, but also in the secular public realm – service clubs such as Kiwanis, Lions, etc. have suffered declining participation over the past couple of decades (or more). How does a local congregation operate if it can find no one to step and be willing to assume a weighty position such as a ruling elder?

    • George, in the PCA a period of time is established for nominations of ruling elders by the congregation (including by members of session, i.e., teaching and ruling elders). The nominees are given training and then examined for qualification. Those judged qualified according to biblical standards as described in the Book of Church Order are presented by session to the congregation for a vote.

      Regarding the challenges of finding qualified and willing men to serve, it is important not to fill the offices by those not qualified. It is better to have need than to hinder the work of the church by adding elders who lack the biblical qualifications, i.e., doctrinal, temperament, character, etc. Better to be patient and wait prayerfully for godly men called to serve. It is important for the session to prepare young men of the church to serve in the future so that when needs arise on session, godly men will be available. Additionally, the congregation should keep the elders in their prayers; it is a difficult and challenging calling. Praying for God’s provision of men to fill elder position should done earnestly and persistently.

  3. To address what Brad Isbell sees as a problem in the PCA, it first has to be recognized as a problem. In the past several years there have been any number of overtures to the General Assembly which would have made it easier for ruling elders to attend or be heard. These have included reducing or eliminating registration fees for ruling elders and remote participation and remote voting. If the teaching elders who enjoy a 3:1 to 5:1 numerical superiority at the GA perceived lack of elder participation to be a problem they would vote to facilitate their participation. But every one of these measures has been voted down. So the votes tell the real story about where TEs stand on this subject. And why would anyone believe that the lack of participation by REs is a problem. It is precisely because it is recognized that a predominantly TE centered PCA is driving the denomination over the liberal theological cliff. The laity and their REs will ultimately get their vote but it will be with their feet. Churches are even now leaving the PCA which indicates that the polling places are open and votes are already being cast.

    • Bob,

      Thanks for that insight. I see REs as the the “reality-based” counterweight to TEs. They labor outside the word and hopefully know better what normal people experience in the common kingdom. Their voice at GA is essential. Of course, if REs started attending more often, those from richer urban “woke” congregations would be more likely to attend so we may be no better off than when we started.

      Whenever I’ve given my layman’s view of the PCA to a PCA TE, I’ve gotten gaslighting in response. REs simply tell me they’re not going to attend GA to deal with it and don’t seem interested.

      Exit can’t be our only solution. These battles are winnable. Johannes Vos and others were able to turn the RCPNA around. Denominations have been turned back to the Word. But if good men won’t fight, good men can’t win. I think it might be too late for the PCA. Most conservatives are choosing Exit. To be honest, it might be better if national denominations were a thing of the past. Off the top of my head, the benefits of regional denominations like the ARP are as follows. Regional meetings can be attended by all REs and TEs. You are much more likely to interact with someone from your region in the meatspace eliminating these awful social media networks like the NP. The USA might not hold together as a unified country in the coming decades, making travel harder. Different regions of the country have very different needs and demographics.

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