Trueman: Ruling Elders Triumph Over PCA Progressives

In the last few days, I have spoken to a number of GA commissioners. They seem to agree that at the GA, “the little guys stood up” (to quote one commissioner verbatim). Ruling elders—commissioners who are not professional clergy and who live in the real world—turned out in force. Small churches scrimped and saved to send their pastors. The big urban churches, even with the social media savvy and the careful organization of the National Partnership (that most un-Presbyterian of things—a lobby group that operates outside the courts of the church), were beaten by the votes of culturally anonymous and culturally inconsequential congregations. And, to quote said commissioner again, the PCA voted to uphold the Christian sexual morality of the last two millennia, rather than that of merely the last two decades. The world will not thank them for it. But those of us in smaller sister denominations do.

The PCA progressives and those seminaries that train potential PCA ministers will face challenges in the next twelve months. For the progressives, their own rhetoric of listening and inclusion now poses a problem for their strategy. Their church has spoken. As ministers, they have taken vows to maintain the peace and unity of the church. That does not mean they should simply submit their consciences to the church at this point, for the changes to the Book of Church Order are still in process. But having had their approach so roundly defeated by the GA, are they prepared to listen as humbly to their fellow presbyters as they have apparently been willing to listen to culturally dominant voices in society at large? Or will they simply blame the result on the bigoted, troglodyte ignorance of the majority?

Initial responses on Twitter suggest that the latter might well be the case. For example, one prominent opponent of the GA’s decision has declared on Twitter that it is the result of Southern pietistic moralists. Such a response gives little hope that the progressives will engage in any significant self-criticism at this point. That is unfortunate and, if it persists, would imply that the progressive language of love, unity, and dialogue amounts in practice to nothing more than sententious sanctimony designed to serve a broader political purpose. Love, unity, and dialogue are meaningless when applied only to those of whom one already approves. And if the progressives spend their energy engaging in Twitter polemics, hashtag diplomacy, and online civil war, they will appear not simply as bad-faith churchmen, but also as foolish, having learned nothing from their recent defeat. Read more»

Carl R. Trueman | “At The PCA General Assembly, The Little Guys Stood Up” | First Things | July 8, 2021


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  1. I was born in Seattle, and I live now in central Oregon in the high desert. Though I spent two decades in Atlanta, no one would think of me as Southern. I loathe pietism and mystic subjectivity. I love classic theology. And my husband (born in Kokomo) and I stand with the “little guys” and their congregations. We thank them for contending for the truth.

  2. Prof. Trueman writes ” this kind of disconnect is a problem within conservative Protestant denominations in general”. In my limited observation it is also a problem within denominations that are not conservative, like the Methodists in England, particularly in a congregation that has a significant representation from Africa; one difference being that the laity doesn’t have the power to discipline their clergy.

  3. Despite describing himself as an”outsider”, Prof. Trueman has nailed his analysis. Especially salient is his analysis of the theological seminary as being at the root of problems in the PCA. The PCA has only one affiliated seminary which it supports financially, namely Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS) in St. Louis. Prof. Trueman believes the seminary should declare its positions on the issues because of its crucial influence in educating future candidates for ordination, many of whom will be examined by PCA presbyteries. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to declare themselves. At the previous PCA GA in 2019, there was an overture which sought to have the PCA separate itself from CTS and cease financial support of same. I expect CTS to continue in stealth mode like the National Partnership rather than put their financial lifeline in jeopardy.

    • Many of the CTS profs are members of the Missouri Presbytery. When it came to investigating and disciplining Jeff Meyers they simply refused to uphold the Westminster Standards. I’ve spent at least 100 hours studying the documents from the investigation and “trial” and there is no way he should not have been found guilty. The MOP and CTS are closely aligned and both are in dire need of investigation.

  4. I pray we confessionally-oriented people would not allow ourselves to be proud, but would do a bit of soul-searching. Are we so hungry for the approval of the secular “intelligentsia” that we will open the door just a crack to the practice of sexual immorality (as opposed to repentant sinners struggling against it); or so eager for alliance with the Vatican and Faner that we ensconce FV (who often impress me as Roman or Fanariot wannbes)? We seem to be perpetually children tossed about on every wind of doctrine when the society in which we are called to be salt and light might need us to be true to our confessional heritage.

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