The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is approaching its fiftieth anniversary. Since its founding in 1973, the PCA has devoted itself to three goals—to be faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission. By God’s grace, the PCA has, in large measure, realized these goals and has grown to be one of the largest theologically conservative and missions-minded ecclesiastical bodies in the world.
Whether it is in the local church, in the academy, on the mission field, or through a constellation of worthy vocations, members of the PCA have joyfully proclaimed the riches of Christ from a Reformed perspective for almost half a century. From its first assembly to the present day, the Lord has done great things in and though the PCA. To God alone be the glory (Ps. 115:1)!
While it is important to reflect upon and celebrate the PCA’s past, it is even more critical that we contemplate our denomination’s future.
While it is important to reflect upon and celebrate the PCA’s past, it is even more critical that we contemplate our denomination’s future. It doesn’t take an astute church historian to recognize that theological and confessional drift is the rule rather than the exception for aging denominations. One has only to consider historic Reformed communions such as the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be reminded of how once-faithful churches can become untethered from their biblical moorings, only to drift out to a sea of cultural accommodation. If we are not vigilant, the same will happen to us (cf. 1 Cor. 10:12; Eph. 6:10-12).
GRN Beginnings | A Conversation on Sanctification
The Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) began in 2012 by a group of PCA pastors with the specific goal of promoting a proper articulation of, and call to, sanctification in the ministry of the church. Many began to notice a growing trend within PCA churches and ministries that put an almost exclusive emphasis upon justification, to the considerable neglect of sanctification. Some taught that sanctification was no more than looking back to one’s justification, with no real emphasis upon spiritual growth and godliness. Thus, these pastors began a conversation about the third use of the law, biblical imperatives, pastoral piety, spiritual disciplines, and the Bible’s clarion call to personal holiness (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
Through conferences, articles, seminars, affirmations and denials, and an annual General Assembly luncheon, the GRN has sought to foster a renewed commitment to a biblical and confessional view of sanctification. Over the last few years, the widespread interest in and support for the work of the GRN has been both encouraging and surprising. Numerous PCA pastors, elders, and theological students have reached out to express their appreciation for how the GRN has helped them understand more clearly the doctrine of sanctification.
The GRN’s New and Expanded Vision for Church Health
The scope of the GRN’s message has (until now) been intentionally narrow, focused on a single issue. But the GRN Council believes it is time to widen that scope. Indeed, in an effort to cultivate healthy Reformed churches within the PCA, and to encourage our denomination to maintain its long-term integrity as a biblical and confessional denomination, our expanded vision and message will include numerous subjects related to the Christian life and the ministry of the local church.
Certain progressive trajectories within the PCA have raised concerns within our presbyteries and churches. Some of these theological trends appear eerily similar to those that litter the historical landscape of liberal mainline churches. Therefore, as a network of PCA ministers who love our denomination and want to see it hold fast to its confession without wavering, the GRN is committed to winsomely engaging all issues related to Reformed faith, practice, and mission.
To initiate this conversation, the GRN Council composed seven pairs of distinctives that it believes reflect the founding vision of the PCA—a vision it hopes will continue for generations to come:
- Biblical Fidelity & Confessional Integrity: An unyielding commitment to the inspiration, inerrancy, authority, sufficiency, and efficacy of Scripture for faith and practice, along with a resolute adherence to the Westminster Standards (Isa. 55:10-11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Titus 1:9; 2 Pet. 1:21; Rom. 10:17; Jude 3; Heb. 10:23).
- Gospel-Driven & Christ-Exalting Ministry: A sincere passion to proclaim the gospel of grace, always with the aim of exalting Christ in the hearts, minds, and affections of God’s people (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2; Eph. 3:8; John 21:15-19; Phil. 1:21; 3:8).
- Earnest Prayer & Expository Preaching: A resolve to practice fervent prayer in the closet and from the pulpit, along with a unbending dedication to expository preaching that informs the mind, transforms the heart, and stirs the affections (Matt. 6:5-13; 1 Thess. 5:17; Acts 2:42; Eph. 1:15-23; Acts 2:14-36, 42; 12:5; 20:27; Rom. 10:14-15; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).
- Intentional Evangelism & Personal Discipleship: A purposeful commitment to bold evangelism, coupled with a dedication to the old paths of serious, deliberate, faith-maturing discipleship (Luke 9:1-6; Acts 7:1-60; 8:26-40; Matt. 28:19; Luke 9:23-24; Col. 1:28-29).
- Godly Leadership & Presbyterian Polity: A sincere devotion to personal piety among church leadership, coupled with a strong adherence to biblical Presbyterianism (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Acts 15:1-21; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
- Reformed Worship & Vibrant Community: A joyful commitment to, and humble confidence in, the ordinary means of grace in Lord’s Day worship, coupled with the nurture of loving Christian fellowship (Ex. 20:1-11; Ps. 100; Acts 2:42-47; 20:7; Rom. 12:10; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; 12:12-31; John 13:34; WCF XXI; WLC Q. 153-196).
- Missional Clarity & Church Multiplication: A fervent and undistracted commitment to make disciples of all nations though the preaching of the gospel and the planting and strengthening of biblical churches (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 14:7, 21-23; 15:35; Rom. 10:14-17; Titus 1:5-9).
Over the next several months, able writers from around the PCA—men and women—will unpack these distinctives through bi-monthly feature articles and blog posts on our website. The hope is that these online resources will challenge readers to think more clearly about our denomination’s Reformed and confessional commitments. In our age of doctrinal indifferentism and missional confusion, we need more faithful teaching and writing from a Reformed perspective, not less.
A Grassroots PCA Network
Networks are nothing new in denominational life. Several networks and partnerships currently exist within the PCA. In varying ways they seek to provide ministry and support to our growing communion. Some networks focus on church planting, others on ministries for men and women. Still others concentrate on global and local missions. Like these other networks, the GRN hopes to bring some measure of encouragement to the PCA, specifically as it pertains to her identity as a Reformed and confessional denomination.
As a member of the PCA for almost twenty-five years, and an ordained PCA minister for sixteen of those years, the PCA has had a wonderful and shaping influence on my life, my family, and my ministry. I love the PCA, and it is my earnest prayer that as we approach the PCA’s fiftieth anniversary, our beloved denomination will not lose her way amidst the strong currents of cultural change. My prayer is that she will remain faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.
If you are interested in learning more about the GRN or partnering financially with us, please contact the GRN’s editorial director, Brian Cosby at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1The GRN leadership team started out as a relatively informal group of PCA ministers. However, in 2015, a more formal council was formed to provide stronger organization and leadership. Presently, the GRN Council members are: Rev. Dr. Harry L. Reeder, Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, Rev. David T. A. Strain, Rev. Dr. Richard D. Phillips, Rev. Dr. David Garner, Rev. Jason Helopoulos, Mr. Mel Duncan, and Rev. Dr. Jon D. Payne. In addition, the Rev. Dr. Brian Cosby is serving as the GRN’s editorial director.
2 For example, the replacement of biblical mission and discipleship with social justice endeavors and cultural transformationalism; a lack of confessional integrity; a deficient emphasis upon Reformed worship and the means of grace; an insufficient focus upon pastoral piety; confusion over sexuality and gender roles.