Who Is Packing The Church Courts?

The terms, tropes, and tactics of secular politics certainly influence ecclesial politics, so it’s no surprise to hear one of the Presbyterian Church in America’s most prominent and influential pastors sounding very much like a pundit on a cable news show: Conspiracy! The Russians! The vote was rigged! Now, no doubt you’re wondering which seersucker-attired “TR” confessionalist (smelling vaguely of cigar smoke and bourbon) sputtered such scurrilous and wild charges—allegations of shenanigans in the courts of the church, suggestions of suspect voting results. But these quite-confident, repeated charges do not come from the PCA right, but from the denomination’s winsome center-left.

Scott Sauls was Tim Keller’s right-hand man for a time at the large and unquestionably influential Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. About the time Nashville, TN was exploding in growth and becoming a global city in its own right, Sauls took a senior pastor post in a large suburban church there. He had heretofore seemed generally uninterested in PCA politics. The landmark 2021 PCA General Assembly and its aftermath appear to have changed that.

The controversial overtures 23 and 37—which might have restricted certain “same-sex attracted” or gay Christian officers from serving—have failed to reach the required supermajority of presbytery approval. These overtures (proposals to change the PCA constitution) passed by large margins at the 2021 assembly. A clear majority of presbyteries have approved one or both since, but not enough to advance them to the final step of ratification. This disparity between General Assembly voting and the 88 presbyteries prompted Sauls to allege court-packing on Twitter… Read more»

Brad Isbell | “The PCA Doctrine Of Election, 2022 Style” | Feb 16, 2022

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6 comments

  1. So where do confessionals go from here? Adopting statements like the Nashville Statement had no effect. Approving committee studies like the the Report on Human Sexuality had no effect. Amending the BCO would have no effect because there is at least one presbytery which would ignore it like it has already ignored the Westminster Standards in the case of TE Johnson and the teaching of Federal Vision. Bringing cases before the Standing Judicial Commission has no effect because they are loath to rule on theological grounds if at least some measure of process has been observed. Fully one third of the presbyteries in the PCA can’t agree that SSA candidates for ministry are unqualified. If someone has a solution as to how those who will not fully subscribe to the Westminster Standards can be brought into orthodoxy, I’d like to hear it. At this point it seems to me that denominational fracture is inevitable. It may be small groups of confessional churches leaving at a time or a larger schism but I can’t see how this false fellowship can or should be sustained.

    • Hi Cheryl: Those actions took place three years before the formation of the National Partnership. Recently the Standing Judicial Commission upheld Missouri Presbytery’s handling of the TE Greg Johnson case. If at least one third of the presbyteries don’t think there is a problem admitting SSA ministerial candidates, the chances of removing an entire presbytery are essentially nil.

  2. If there were a lot of “conservative” TEs and REs in St. Louis, it is because we were genuinely surprised and shocked by Greg Johnson’s speech on the floor in Dallas in 2019. We really didn’t realize just what was going on; and so we made a special effort to attend the general assembly in St. Louis and vote our convictions. I think the St. Louis assembly was the largest one in PCA history, and this is really the reason why. I did attend both Dallas and St. Louis assemblies as a RE, and this seems to me to be the case.

  3. Bob:
    You stated: “Fully one third of the presbyteries in the PCA can’t agree that SSA candidates for ministry are unqualified” … and “at least one third of the presbyteries don’t think there is a problem admitting SSA ministerial candidates.”

    I get why you make those two statements. Let me offer these observations to sharpen the picture. The presbyteries were voting on two overtures, the wording of which was to be included in the PCA’s Book of Church Order. For what it’s worth, not all of the “at least one third” who voted against the overtures think there is no problem admitting (celibate) SSA ministerial candidates. Some who voted against the overtures did so because they think the overtures, as worded, would be ineffective. Others have argued that the PCA BCO, as it is currently written, already contains all that is necessary and sufficient to deny church office to (celibate) SSA ministerial candidates. Arguably, then, the issues boil down to this: whether I favor or oppose the overtures (I, for one, favor them), I know that it matters not one wit what we endorse unless we have the will to enforce what we endorse. Our PCA history with Federal Vision proponents put our “will to enforce” on display: after we declared that we opposed FV doctrine, some advocates left, others are still in office.

  4. rfwhite: You have nailed it. Since the adoption of Good Faith Subscription, each presbytery picks and chooses what is essential to endorse or “subscribe to”. So what good would it do to amend the BCO if its provisions can be ignored with impunity? Likewise with the view that the BCO is already sufficient. Our problem is that we are trying to maintain fellowship under a tent that has gotten too big. The differences between the progressive and confessional factions are antithetical. There is no room for compromise on these issues. The progressives will never compromise. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a temporary stop-gap compromise by confessionals allowing Side B TEs in order to prevent a denominational schism.
    It would just be codifying what already exists. But sooner rather than later it won’t be enough for the progressives. I believe personally that it is time for the confessionals to “come out from among them”.

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