Forty Years Earlier . . . The 1984 (12th) GA: Unity Frays

The PCA General Assembly convened again in a large convention ballroom at Baton Rouge’s Bellemont Hotel for its next Assembly. Meeting in the deep South and the furthest west to date, the 12th GA would continue hashing out areas of mission and expansion. The one-time assimilation of the RPCES denomination (along with several large exiting PCUS churches) had been finalized. After this Assembly, most of the PCA’s growth would depend on church planting instead of transfer growth. 

The PCA was settling into a 2-3% annual growth rate, [1] now with 38 presbyteries, as it elected James Baird, Pastor of First Presbyterian in Jackson as its Moderator. The attendance ratio continued to feature two ministers for every ruling elder.

Strains became evident as understandings of the church’s mission were not as fully agreed upon as once thought. One presbytery even suggested that Mission to the World has increasingly been working under cooperative agreements (76.2% in 1982, as opposed to 23.8% in wholly PCA, works for the same period).” However, the answer by MTW indicated that 53% of PCA missionaries worked wholly under MTW. Further refinement to the MTW purpose statement came in response to a Personal Resolution from RE David Coffin who called for modifications to key MTW statements of philosophy, to wit: “1. That the statement entitled ‘Church Growth’ in Appendix K, p. 356, be changed to read “Obedience to the Scriptures is the final test of our ministry. Such obedience will result in God’s blessing, which by the graciousness of our God often may be observed in qualitative and quantitative church growth. 2. That the MTW Primary Purpose found in Appendix K, p. 355, read: “To reach the world’s unreached responsive peoples with God’s good news through the testimony of church planting teams and strategic technical and support personnel. Success in observable church growth will be an important means of evaluation.” (Min12GA, 99)

An attempt to invite the newly formed EPC was proposed but voted down on the floor of this Assembly. Some leaders of the PCA wished to expand; the grassroots, however, thought it better to continue to go slow toward some ecumenical relations. The PCA presbyteries, by exactly three-fourths, approved inviting the OPC to join with the PCA. Only seven Deep South presbyteries opposed. This Assembly also adopted a congratulatory minute recognizing the “heroic witness” of the OPC at her 50th anniversary. Plans, including adjusting presbytery boundaries, were continuing as the merger with the OPC was anticipated.

As an indication that the PCA was still interested in moral issues, the Assembly voted to send a delegate to a national meeting on pornography and obscenity with a requirement to report on that meeting. An overture from Southern Florida Presbytery also called on the Assembly to urge all PCA members to vote in the upcoming 1984 political elections. 

The honeymoon of J&R was fading, if not over. St. Louis Presbytery, in the first Assembly after the “honeymoon” gathering of 1983, sent many overtures and communications to the Assembly. Many matters were obviously unsettled or unclear. [2] The unity was being frayed and could become a deterrent to additional unions.

David Hall | “The 1974 (2nd) Assembly: Gifts, Administrative and Charismatic,” in Irony and the Presbyterian Church in America (Covenant Foundation, 2023)

Editor’s Note: This material is reproduced here with permission from the author. Single copies of this volume are available here. Discount available on bulk orders from the author.


  1. The adoption of this motion reflects MNA’s optimism: “That our churches continue to strive toward our goal of 6% growth, recognizing that in older, static communities this may not be achievable, but in new and dynamic communities, and in young churches, even 13% annual growth is often realized. (With an average growth in churches of 6% and with expected new church additions our goal of doubling the denomination between 1982 and 1992 will be achieved. Our growth in 1983 was 5.7%.” (Min12GA, 149)
  2. The 1984 GA had as many overtures (60) as any other single Assembly (p. 61).


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  • David Hall
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    Reverend David W. Hall is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children and grandparents of eight grandchildren. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. Previously, he served as Pastor of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (1984–2003) and as Associate Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Rome, Georgia (1980–1984). He was ordained to pastoral ministry in 1980. He was educated at Covenant Theological Seminary and is the editor and author of several volumes.

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