Patience Needed In The PCA

There are grave theological and practical deviations from our Standards disturbing the purity and peace of this faith communion. For quite some time, the PCA has been troubled by those who not merely disagree with our Church constitution (the Book of Church Order and the Westminster Standards), but who also choose not to abide by the doctrine and requirements we have vowed together to uphold in the PCA Constitution.

… The PCA Constitution is clear on who may serve as a deacon: The “office of deacon” is an “ordinary and perpetual” office in the Church (BCO 9-1). Men shall be chosen to serve in that office (BCO 9-3). Deacons are among those who have been “inducted by the ordination of a court” (BCO 17-1).

Yet a number of congregations in the PCA seem unclear about this.

Some congregations list women as “Deacons” on their website, which is clearly at variance with our Book of Church Order (BCO), which limits the subjects of ordination to men only. Some congregations perhaps try to get around this by not ordaining any of those whom they call “deacons.”

… The PCA must sort this out. We can’t continue to have people impersonating church officers in the PCA. These impersonators lack the gift of ordination.

… Despite some diversity of interpretation, until recently there was widespread agreement in the PCA that preaching as part of a public worship service was something only men were permitted to do.

For example, one PCA congregation described an address by a famous Episcopal clergywoman as a “bible study,” despite the fact that her presentation immediately preceded the Lord’s Supper and was the exposition of Scripture for that Lord’s Day worship service. This was not just any mainline minister, but one of the first women to be ordained by The Episcopal Church.

… Despite the clarity of the PCA Constitution on this matter, until weeks ago there were videos online of a prominent PCA congregation in Saint Louis in which what appear to be infants or very young children receive bread and wine during the Lord’s Supper. The videos have since been removed and the camera angle tightened on subsequent livestreams.

Paedocommunion is not the only disruptive sacramental practice tolerated in the PCA. Despite the clarity of our Lord’s commands, the teaching of Scripture, and the Book of Church Order, there are still congregations who commune not with the bread and wine of our Lord’s appointment…

Instead of abide by the Scripture and submit to the Standards that summarize them, some PCA elders instruct communicants to observe the innovative and novel practice of intinction in which the two elements of bread and wine are combined in one mushy, soggy mess and consumed at the same time.

…Those of us who are concerned by the blatant disregard of our Constitutional Standards have cause to grieve, but we must not despair. We must continue to patiently and faithfully minister for the glory of Christ in the PCA as we exult in the wondrous redemption our King has made of His bride. Read More»

Ryan Biese | “A Plea for Patience in the PCA (1)” | March 3, 2023


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12 comments

  1. when I went to my first Sunday service in the PCA, I greeted the pastor (whom I had met before) and we chatted a bit about the reformed faith. In our brief discussion he made the statement;
    “well, I’m not that reformed.” I took it in stride, but now see the full meaning of his words. He’s a nice guy and all, but after several other casual meetings I realized that he was serious.
    When pressed about Revoice/Greg Johnson/O23-37 and 15, concupiscience/ the WCF and the BCO, I came face to face with reality.
    Since then things have gone sadly downhill. I’m meeting soon with the pastor of a small OPC church on Cape Cod in the hopes of finding a place of sanctuary from the effects of Mr. Fosdick/Frame/Keller et. al.

  2. Which happens more often with years of patience: A. The denomination gradually returns to orthodoxy or B. The opponents of orthodoxy use the delay of decisive action to their advantage and eventual victory?

    • In this instance I believe, solely by historic evidence, a section of a denomination will return to orthodoxy (and orthopraxy) only. Will the PCA fracture?…again? If it’s for it’s good, then lets hope so. I don’t say this with glee, just a sure notion that the Lord will pursue purity in His church, no matter what the cost to a denomination.

  3. Biese has restricted comments to paid subscribers, so I’ll leave this here.
    There are two obvious problems with Biese’s plea.
    First, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of recognition that the people calling for action now have already shown a lot of patience. The issues he identifies as being problems are problems indeed. But they didn’t crop up in 2023, or even 2018. At least some of those who agree with him about these problems have been trying to do something about them for years now. At some point, a “plea for patience” starts to sound a lot like that sign over the bar: “Free beer tomorrow!” The time for taking decisive action is somehow always just around the corner. When does “patience” become “cowardice”?
    Second, Biese’s plan of action–described in his following post–is just woefully naive. “We need to patiently and firmly hold men accountable to the PCA Constitution we all vowed to receive and adopt.” The reason people are “despairing” of church courts isn’t primarily because they are slow. It’s because on top of being slow, they have proven singularly incapable of actually holding anyone accountable. “We need to promote a culture in the PCA of rigorous – yet pastorally tender – ordination and licensure examinations in which men are not simply asked to affirm or reject scripted propositions.” The men asking the questions were themselves “simply asked to affirm or reject scripted propositions” and have been doing the same for others for years now. All of his proposals have been tried before. None of them have worked. And we’d be bringing our new complaints/charges to exactly the same courts–in many cases populated by precisely the same men–who failed to do the right thing last time around.
    I’m open to the possibility that this might still somehow be worth doing. But unless Biese, and others asking for “patience,” recognize and acknowledge that what they’re proposing has already been tried, without success, it’s really hard to take such pleas seriously.

    • Hi Ryan, thanks for the feedback.
      I disagree with your assessment (no surprise there, I suppose). One of the things people don’t realize is how the PCA has become more confessionally faithful and constitutionally robust with each generation.
      I believe we are on the precipice of a tipping point in the PCA as a result of demographic shifts. The first generation of PCA ministers were mostly educated by the Liberal seminaries of the PCUS or places like Dallas Theo Seminary or Moody Bible Inst; in those early days, men with firm confessional understanding and commitments were few and far between. The early leaders of the PCA desired to be a continuing confessional church as they adopted the Westminster Standards.
      We are now seeing the fruit of the seeds planted in the 1960s and 1970s coming to fruitfulness in the PCA. The men trained initially at RTS moved the PCA to be more confessional in the 1970s-1990s. And now the men they trained are training others. Look at where the ministers from the PCA are coming / being educated.
      I remember my time in a very conservative presbytery; there was a divide between the older generation who were educated by that first generation at RTS and my generation. The younger generation was far more conservative or confessionally minded than the older generation. We benefited from the battles won by that older generation and were able to embrace a more robust vision of confessional fidelity than our fathers.
      I am very optimistic about the PCA if we can hold the line and be patient while at the same time holding people accountable to their vows and our standards.
      But we must remember we’re sheep ourselves and dealing with sheep; we can’t move the sheep too quickly.

  4. The “innovative and novel practice of intinction” has been recorded (and periodically condemned) since A.D. 340.

    I am not going to defend intinction, which remains unpopular in the Reformed church, but here’s a partial list of far more “innovative and novel practices” that are either widespread or virtually universal in Reformed churches, including PCA and most of NAPARC:

    – Substitution of Welch’s pasteurized aseptic grape juice for wine (invented 1869; spread among Reformed churches decades later); or even a watered-down grape-based beverage with added flavors and sweeteners
    – Substitution of various cakes or biscuits for simple bread (no idea when/why)
    – Distribution of the elements to the pews or seats rather than communicants sitting at the Lord’s table while celebrating the Lord’s Supper; a table if present at all is reduced to a symbolic altar for holding the elements and useless for any actual sitting (crept in by degrees in the early 20th century)
    – Distribution of juice in individual pre-poured shot glasses rather than wine in a common cup (1918 Spanish flu)
    – Distribution of pre-formed individual wafers, bread lumps, or biscuits rather than bread broken from a common consecrated loaf (probably came along with the shot glasses and the pew administration)
    – Worst of all, self-administration of individually-procured elements remotely consecrated via videoconference (2020 COVID-19 pandemic)

    Some of these are more or less widespread or important than others, but all are far more “innovative and novel” than intinction; does the author have any comment?

    • Hi Nathan, Thanks for taking the time to read the article and offer feedback!
      The reason I single out intinction is because its practice is not only proscribed by the PCA BCO instructions for observance of the Lord’s Supper, but also the practice has proselytizing defenders.
      Our BCO (and Westminster Standards along with the corresponding Scriptures) is (are) explicitly clear in requiring two elements to be consumed in two distinction actions. Those who argue in favor of intinction choose to disregard the BCO.
      While deviating, for example, from wine to serve juice is also a violation of the BCO and the implications of the scripture, I’ve not found the proponents of Welch’s to be so eager to defend, justify, and persuade to their cause in recent years. Serving of juice instead of the wine according to Christ’s appointment seems to be done out of ignorance or simple adherence to (recent, novel) tradition. By contrast, the impulse to defend and propagate the practice of intinction is much more common. And it is far more dangerous to our purity and peace because of the clarity of the BCO, Westminster, and the Scriptures on this point.
      Thanks again for the question!

    • Hi Nathan,

      I’m not speaking for Ryan but some replies anyway:

      1) I think we all know the antiquity of intinction but what is in question is its use among the Reformed and particularly its use in the PCA. In my view it is a very serious corruption of the administration of the sacrament. Here are some resources on this:

      1. Waters Contra Intinction: We Must Observe The Sacraments In The Way Christ Instituted Them
      2. Keister, Lane B. “Intinction: An Historical, Exegetical, and Systemic-Theological Examination,” Mid-America Theological Journal 29 (2018): 149–172.
      3. Owen Gives Us Theological Reasons To Object To Intinction
      4. Herman Witsius Contra Intinction
      5. Intinction Has Led To Removal Of The Cup From The Laity
      6. <Prima Facie Evidence Against Intinction/li>

      2) I agree with you entirely re the use of grape juice. It is a novelty and problematic. I think a pragmatic exception can be made for those who struggle with substance abuse.

      3) I agree with you re the substitution of cakes etc for bread.

      4) The distribution of the elements to the pews is, as far as I know, an 19th century invention.

      5) The loss of the common cup is as you say. The AIDS crisis finally killed it.

      6) I agree re the use of pre-packaged elements and self- administration during online services.

      None of 2–5, however, is as serious a corruption of the Holy Supper as intinction. In the case of the use of grape juice, at least the church is attempting give the cup, in some form, to the people. Ditto for individual cups etc. As a matter of hygiene, I’ve administered and received communion both ways. I’ve read arguments re the mixture of wine and silver as a sort of preventative for the spread of disease but I’ve yet to see a physician recommend that as a prophylactic. I’ve not received the common cup since the UK c. 1995, where invariably the person in front of me had a hacking cough. It was unnerving. We stopped using it in our (RCUS) congregation c. 1987-88 during the AIDS crisis. After Covid, it’s hard to see us going back to it. I do think we’ve lost something symbolically. If we can tear off, individual pieces of bread for communion, why can’t we pour out individual cups?

      The only one of these that possibly rises to the level of intinction as a corruption is the use of grape juice. There’s no question that our Lord instituted Holy Communion using wine. As I say, the main argument for it is pragmatic. Having ministered to and grown up with substance abusers I know that especially those who are newly sober can be gravely challenged even by communion wine. The smell of it can be a grave challenge. That’s why I’ve argued for the inclusion of some non-alcoholic cups in the tray.

    • Thank you both for taking the time to reply. Your perspectives differ from mine, as a not-very-online Northeastern layperson with a history of church wandering before I found my way back to confessional Presbyterianism. I’ve only once encountered intinction in a “Reformed” church, which was PC(USA) and definitely had no doctrine behind it—they also provided the shot-glasses, all grape juice.

      Elsewhere I’ve mostly seen this at Episcopal/Anglican churches, where dipping was done by germophobes looking for a way to avoid putting their lips on a common cup and ingest someone else’s backwash. Conversely, the handful of anti-dippers might offer theological window-dressing to their obvious revulsion to that filthy practice contaminating their common cup with grubby fingers, sleeves and dropped debris. I’ve never witnessed pressure for intinction in the wild, just differing hygienic sensibilities.

      On the other hand, Welch’s has been the mainstay of Reformed churches across the spectrum for a hundred years. I’ve only encountered a split tray once, at an OPC church in New Hampshire, but then split tray does seem very OPC and I’ve not been to a lot of OPC churches. Good luck finding wine in most Reformed churches.

      That juice instead of wine is simply ignorance I find to swallow. I think it’s more an overriding concern for teetotalism verging on an IFBaptist-level corruption of scripture that has wedged Thomas Bramwell Welch very deep into our churches. There’s an RPCNA elder over at ‘wineintheLordssupper dot net’, the Rev. Yelton, who has been running a one-man campaign in Synod to get regularity on that subject and gotten nowhere. Many American Protestants just have a deep-seated revulsion to the idea of “serving alcohol” in church or drinking wine as a teetotaler, never mind the Bible or pre-Welch history.

      For my part I’m trying to keep my peace and give a little nudge where I can. I chimed in here as it seemed to me that intinction of broken bread in a common wine cup, while still wrong, is closer to our standards than a status quo of pre-portioned shots of soft drink distributed to the pews chased by a pastry. Recently at my church an elder found we were fresh out of reduced-sugar grape drink before service and ran to the grocer to buy more. Sadly, the ‘necessity’ of an elder buying grape drink on the Lord’s day caused less embarrassment and scandal to the peace of our very conservative church (none) than if he had asked me to run home to fetch a bottle of wine. I hardly blame him.

      Interesting that it was AIDS that killed the common cup in Dr. Clark’s church. In churches with a strong (perhaps idolatrous) uniform theological attachment to the common cup, a billion-odd Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox (common spoon), that has not been the case. Neither AIDS—which isn’t transmissible through common cup after all—nor coronavirus—which isn’t primarily transmissible through fomites or surfaces either—has stopped the common cup/spoon.

      Again thanks for the gracious responses. I was doing my best to suppress my inward RC Sproul thundering “BECAUSE JESUS NEVER CONSECRATED PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY OR COCA COLA!”

      • Nathan,

        I think you’re downplaying the dangers inherently in the practice of intinction, which I’ve documented, which practically deprives the laity of the cup and, at least in the PCA circles in which I’ve seen it practiced, is done for purely pragmatic reasons (it’s quick). The loss of the cup was a major issue in the Reformation. I doubt that the loss of wine in communion, for some, though lamentable, or the loss of the common cup, is on the same order.

    • I’ve just not seen it, unless I misunderstand you. In the several churches I’ve been where intinction was an option there was always also the option of eating the bread and then either sipping from chalice or taking a single-serving cup. May well be regional differences or recent trends, but I’ve been to a LOT of different churches and haven’t had to choose “intinct or no cup” at any church, much less a Presbyterian church.

      Whereas Pilgrim OPC’s split tray was the only Presbyterian church I’ve ever visited that offered real wine as an option in 40 years as a baptized and confirmed Presbyterian and “pastor/missionary kid.” No common cup offered either, all poured prior to the words of institution.

  5. Ryan: You wrote: “One of the things people don’t realize is how the PCA has become more confessionally faithful and constitutionally robust with each generation.” I’m sorry but we must be members of two different PCAs. Are churches leaving the PCA because it is becoming more confessionally faithful and constitutionally robust? I don’t think so. Is part of becoming more confessionally faithful adopting “good faith subscription” to our standards? Men trained at RTS may once have had a major influence on the PCA but that has long since been replaced by the liberal CTS as the agenda setter. In my opinion the PCA glass isn’t half full. The glass is broken and I’m bleeding from a cut from it.

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