While we pilgrims are marching towards Zion, this world is our home. It is a home that involves joy and all the resulting toil and arduous labor from the fall of a historical Adam. In this world, in this life, for me and my family, we will serve the Lord within the blessed boundary stones of the PCA. We have all been either baptized into or called here by conviction and courage to be part of the Presbyterian Church in America. For the GRN and for the many thousands of our members, the PCA is too our home.
When Jesus gave the keys to Peter in Matthew 16, he was entrusting spiritual power for the church’s mission to its leaders. Geerhardus Vos famously commented on the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the Church as a “delicate and eminently practical question.” I will leave such great questions for the Doctors of the Church to explicate; but at the very least consider this idea of Church & Kingdom to be understood to mean the Church is the Kingdom.
Going into this Assembly Week let me share a few reasons why I think we all should love the PCA
Fathers in the Faith
God has graciously blessed us with the bold evangelism of D. James Kennedy, the prophetic voice of Francis Schaeffer, the American Presbyterian historical legacies of the Cannada & Rayburn families. I am grateful for the courageous churchmanship of Jack Williamson, the journalism of Aiken Taylor, the biblical exposition of James Montgomery Boice, the careful plans of John Reed Miller, the logic of RC Sproul and the always gracious wisdom of Paul Settle. These were, along with many others, the indispensable men who helped form and strengthen a young Presbyterian denomination into the family of churches we have become.
It was December 1973, a group of long suffering (Southern Mainline) conservatives withdrew from the PCUS because they were fearful of the theological liberalism of the old church and that it needed to be reformed. They would be a “Continuing Church,” and they would not neglect their Confession of Faith. The old church was becoming too much like the World. When the first General Assembly of the PCA was called to order at Briarwood Presbyterian Church our Fathers in the Faith knew they risked much for King Jesus.
Brothers in the Faith
I love the PCA because we joyfully embrace a “Big God” Theology as described by Kevin DeYoung. We network together for church planting and ministerial fellowship in wonderful places like the Twin Lakes Fellowship led by David Strain. I am so grateful for Jason Helopoulos challenging us to practice Family Worship. I rejoice at the way David Garner has recently taught us the theology of Adoption. I am so grateful for Jon Payne’s love of the ordinary means of Grace, Rick Phillips’ unyielding commitment to preach good bible exposition, Harry Reeder’s audacious evangelism, and Ligon Duncan’s love of covenant theology and church history.
Serving by Faith
I am grateful for the thousands of elders within the church who make the PCA so noteworthy. As I look forward to the week to come I hope I will get to see all of you but a few immediately come to mind. I look forward to seeing Mark Casson, who has a passion to serve Christians in Prison with the Gospel. I appreciate the ever-patient Tim Schirm of the PCA bookstore, who helps our churches have useful materials to read and study to help us grown in our faith. I remember almost 30 years ago, where a young David Sinclair knocked on my door my first day on a college campus and included me in a pickup basketball game, suggested a bible study to join, and encouraged me to read John Murray. That first year in RUF I would meet friends who have stuck with me to this very day. Where would be without Mark Lowery, who taught our campus ministers how to minister and his wife the sainted Priscilla Lowery, who along with everyone in Dr. Taylor’s office makes sure our denomination records are accurate for the ages. I give praise for the godly encouragement of Bob & Amanda Bailey of Yazoo City, (surely all good things in the PCA flow through Mississippi)! I honor the hopefulness of Joe Novenson, the kindness of Brian Cosby, the fervent prayers of Scotty Smith, the joy of Irwyn Ince, the conviction of Rhett Dodson, the cheerfulness of Rob Hamby, the godliness of Gordon Reed. I am so grateful for the churchmen who understand how procedure and principle come to meet, you know them: the gregarious Fred Greco, the gentlemanly John Bice, the parliamentarian extraordinaire David Coffin. I am proud of the work of the PCA History Center led by Historical Archivist Wayne Sparkman, and I always benefit from the work of the PCA’s head Floor Clerk, Ric Springer. I love watching Richard Doster bring the church family together in media. These servants of Christ serve us faithfully each day and each year as the PCA comes to order. I love to read the theologians of the PCA, I am reminded of Harry Reeder’s maxim that “the PCA fights above its weight class,” having produced a remarkable number of churchman, relative to our size. I join all the PCA in thanking its Committee and Agency Coordinators, who have the herculean task of facilitating ministries in a bottom-up grass roots context. They are extraordinary servants of the church.
Maintaining Those Presbyterian Principles
“It is interesting to note that by 1973 …. after we had decided to separate from the PCUS and before the PCA was actually formed, we called our group THE CONTINUING CHURCH, meaning that we intended to organize a denomination continuing the polity that our American forefathers adopted in 1789 based on these eight principles.” [excerpted from the Minutes of the 30th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, page 111.]
When you get down to it, the PCA was trying to continue a purer living stream of Presbyterianism and so, from day one we included the old 1789 “Preliminary Principles” in our Book of Church Order. They are simply stated.
Our truth must be agreeable to the word of God. Our procedures must be free from the Commandments of Men. Each Church and Presbytery will declare the terms of admission and be governed by ordained officers. Notions of godliness will be founded by truth and must be sound in the Faith. It is the sacred right of a congregation to picks its own leaders, and those leaders’ sole authority is to minister & declare.
I rest in thy bosom, Carolina, thy skies over me, thine earth and air above and around me. Among my own, in my own country, I sleep. -Ben Robertson
This favorite epitaph on a tombstone dating to 1943 in neighboring Liberty, SC reminds me of the great sense of place that belongs to someone who has lived life amongst a people for a long time. There is a deep almost haunting sense of belonging in (his own chosen) last words. Ben Robertson, author of the famous “Red Hills & Cotton,” is South Carolina’s beloved author who celebrated what he called the “Puritan South” in Depression era America. Robertson detailed an organic connection between people, profession, principle and place. It was almost…like the church itself.
Enjoy Your Family
This is General Assembly Week. Keep eternity (and Fred Greco’s maxims about How to Speak) in mind. Enjoy Your Family, you will be with them forever in heaven.
Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with Thee.