Reality Check & the Future of the PCA
The Book of Church Order (BCO) amendments that many hoped would guard the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) from further infiltration of Revoice/Side B Gay doctrine were officially defeated. Yes, in case you haven’t heard, the amendments are now dead in the water. They will not be voted upon in the 49th PCA General Assembly in June. The road to reform has narrowed.
Reflections After Defeat
I believe that there are several reasons why a good number of PCA elders and congregants are discouraged by the failure of Overtures 23 and 37, and do not dismiss the defeats as a small bump in the road to reform. First, the failure of the overtures reveals that a significant number of ordained elders in the PCA are either in support of, comfortable with, or indifferent to having self-identified gay celibate pastors in the denomination. Can this point really be disputed anymore? The numerous personal interactions that I’ve had with PCA elders and denominational leaders since the inauguration of Revoice only underscore this point in my own mind. There is a subtle normalization and quiet acceptance of Side B Gay Christianity taking place in the PCA right now. The line has moved.
Second, the failure of the overtures shows that many elders who opposed them for technical (language) reasons do not regard Side B Gay Christianity as an imminent threat to the biblical fidelity and confessional integrity of the PCA. If they did, they would have voted on principle for these crucial, though imperfect, amendments — amendments that would’ve provided clear constitutional guidance to our presbyteries regarding pastors and ordinands who profess a settled gay identity. To argue that Overtures 23 and 37 are unnecessary or imperfectly worded, and thus rightly defeated, is to raise doubt that any amendments on the matter of self-identified gay pastors will ever be satisfactory enough to be approved by two-thirds of our presbyteries.
Third, the failed overtures communicate the same truth as the unanimously approved PCA Study Report on Human Sexuality. If this is the case, then why did the overtures fail to reach the necessary two-thirds presbytery threshold? Could it be that a large number of presbyters are agreeable to the PCA possessing a non-binding study report, but not to the application of the report to our constitution and church courts? It’s a fair question that I’ve heard asked more than once.
Fourth, the failed amendments demonstrate that they can be passed by overwhelming margins at the General Assembly, and yet be soundly defeated in the presbyteries. For those laboring for denominational reform, this is a difficult pill to swallow.
Broad to Progressive?
Since its founding in 1973, the PCA has had a wide variety of churches. Diverse and sundry expressions of worship, piety, mission, and practice have always existed within our ranks. There have been more broad and evangelical approaches to ministry, along with more narrow and distinctively Reformed approaches. Some might refer to themselves as “Evangelical and Reformed” while others might be more comfortable describing themselves as “Reformed and Evangelical” or simply “Reformed and Confessional.” The nature of the PCA’s “broadness” — too broad for some and not broad enough for others — has, over the years, caused men on both ends of the spectrum to depart the PCA for what they believe are greener pastures. However, for the most part, men with different perspectives on ministry and mission have been able to labor together with relative peace and unity for almost five decades. Personally, I’ve deeply appreciated aspects of this broadness, and have learned from varying perspectives in ministry and mission that have differed from my own.
So what has changed? Why the dust-up? Haven’t we (the PCA) always been a big tent? Haven’t we always been broad? Why can’t we just all get along and continue to embrace our diversity of approaches? These are questions being raised by some presbyters. Perhaps you’ve wondered the same.
The problem lies in the fact that a significant percentage of the PCA has moved from broad expressions of worship, ministry, and mission to progressive ones. Yes, that’s the main problem. Many of our churches, presbyteries, and agencies have shifted from broad to progressive, not unlike the wider evangelical world. Ten years ago Side B Gay Christianity and social justice were not noteworthy movements with influential voices in the PCA. Today they are. Ten years ago we didn’t have a self-identified gay pastor making national headlines in USA Today, Christianity Today, and Yahoo! News. Today we do. Ten years ago we didn’t have Revoice. Today we do. Ten years ago we didn’t have TE’s promoting cultural expressions of social justice to their congregations. Today we do. The PCA’s broadness has turned progressive.
Those who oppose self-professed gay ministers, Revoice, and social justice in the PCA are criticized by some as working to make the PCA more narrow than it has ever been. They argue that we are trying to make the Big Tent smaller. But that’s simply not true. Our convictions on union with Christ, regeneration, definitive and progressive sanctification, sin, concupiscence, biblical justice, and sexual ethics haven’t changed. We are happy to live in a broad tent, with diverse approaches to Reformed ministry, just not a progressive one.
Still Time to Hope
My candid assessment of where things stand in the wake of the failed overtures will naturally seem gloomy. Is there still time to hope for reform and positive change in the PCA? Yes, I believe that we still have time to hope, but that hope must fuel action.
Dear fellow TE’s and RE’s, it’s imperative that your presbyteries bring new overtures to the General Assembly that challenge current progressive trends. It’s vital that you register for, and participate in, the 49th General Assembly in Birmingham. It’s crucial that you and your churches pray for reformation in the PCA, and for presbyters to be courageous in defense of the truth within their congregations and church courts. Without the humble exercise of church discipline in our presbyteries, progressive Christianity will continue to grow in the PCA. Finally, I want to warmly encourage you to attend our GRN National Conference in May, and our GRN Luncheon at General Assembly in June (*more details below).
GRN Council Meeting | A Sweet Providence
Many of you will know that the Gospel Reformation Network was formed ten years ago to combat the rising tide of antinomianism in the PCA. At the time, the popular minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian (PCA) was aggressively pushing a version of grace that excluded progressive sanctification and the third use of the law. Through his pulpit ministry and mega-conference, he was having an adverse effect on our churches. This was, in part, what initially compelled us to form the GRN. We wanted to provide sound biblical and confessional teaching on sanctification. The need persists, not least as it concerns Side B doctrine, and so it’s a mission we still seek to advance.
Today Coral Ridge Presbyterian (founded by the late and highly respected Dr. D. James Kennedy) is enjoying a resurgence of healthy growth and blessing through the faithful preaching and leadership of Rev. Rob Pacienza and their session of elders. In a mysterious and sweet twist of providence, the leadership of Coral Ridge is fervently behind the work of the GRN, and has invited the GRN Council to have our annual meeting on their campus, and to meet with and encourage their leadership and staff. What a difference ten years can make! Please be in prayer for our meetings as we consider the best and most positive way forward for our presbyters and churches whose consciences are profoundly afflicted by the present state of things in the PCA. Whatever happens in the future, we can be confident that Christ will build His Church, and the gates and armies of hell shall not prevail against it.
The GRN National Conference | May 4-5th, 2022
Finally, I would like to warmly invite you to join us in-person or via livestream for our second annual GRN National Conference, May 4–5th. The conference is not limited to GRN supporters. All are welcome — yes, even our friends who are members of the National Partnership. The conference is also not limited to PCA elders. All PCA church members are welcome too. And if you are from another denomination, and you’d like to attend, you are more than welcome to register. We’d love for you to join us! The conference, if anything close to last year, will be a joyful and engaging time of worship, preaching, fellowship, and prayer. It will be hosted again by our gracious friends at Briarwood PCA in Birmingham. You aren’t going to want to miss it. Register now. Space is limited. Scholarships are available. Hope to see you in May! You may register HERE.
 My post 2021 General Assembly GRN article “The PCA’s Bright Future— Without a Bigger Tent” demonstrates my initial hope and expectation that things were looking brighter for the PCA. I did not believe that the overtures would be soundly defeated in the presbyteries.
 See Greg Johnson, “I’m a Gay Celibate Pastor in a Conservative Church”, USA Today and Yahoo News, December 22, 2021 ; Johnson, “I Used to Hide My Shame. Now I Take Shelter Under the Gospel”, Christianity Today, May 20,2019.
 While Revoice is not a ministry of the PCA, it has had a significant influence on many of our churches. A better choice for those struggling with disordered sexuality is Harvest USA.