Greetings from Greenville, SC!
We pulled into town Saturday, a bit more tan from our time at the beach, and with two new additions to the Lafferty Clan.
Two hermit crabs. (Gotcha) There Christening names are still to be determined.
We’re here in Greenville for our denomination’s 41st annual General Assembly. I’ll be posting updates this week about what’s going on. For now let me give you a little primer on what GA is about and how you can be wired into the deliberations yourself.
First of all, what’s this all about?
There are many ways to describe a presbyterian church (some of them even complimentary) but to use the term “presbyterian” is to distinguish it from a episcopal or congregational model of church governance. Presbyterians believe the New Testament outlines a form of church leadership that distributes authority among a plurality of people, rather than invest it in individuals (like bishops in, for instance, episcopal churches) or in individual churches who remain accountable only to themselves (like congregational churches).
In our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), authority is distributed in three “courts” of jurisdiction:
- a church session consisting in elders elected by the local church (like members of CtK will be electing in the coming months)
- a presbytery consisting in several local churches proximate to one another
- and a General Assembly to which teaching elders (pastors) and ruling elders (session members) are sent as “commissioners” to hear reports from the various committees of the denomination and deliberate matters of denominational significance
If you’d ever like to delve into the details of the responsibilities of each court of jurisdiction, or for that matter, what guides our governance, discipline, and worship, have a look at our denomination’s Book of Church Order (BCO).
In accordance with the BCO an assembly of teaching and ruling elders is convened annually to attend to the matters mentioned above. Thousands of elders and their families have converged upon Greenville this week to
- worship with one another,
- learn from one another in seminars about doctrinal and ministerial matters,
- hear updates about the state of our denomination’s faithfulness to the Gospel,
- and weigh various proposals (called “overtures”) from presbyteries that call for clarification or emendation of what guides our practice.
As to the latter, the North Texas Presbytery to which CtK belongs has forwarded three separate overtures to the Assembly for consideration.
The overtures involve a broad range of issues. Some are no more complicated than reorganizing presbyteries to accommodate changes in the size and location of local churches. Other overtures take up what may seem like awfully technical procedural issues concerning governance, election of officers, or how judicial cases are handled. (Take special note of Overture 2, submitted by our presbytery, since it relates to how mission churches–like CtK!–are formed.) But there are overtures that pertain to significant theological disputes and those alleged to hold to (and teach) ideas at odds with the “vitals” of our faith–vitals as those non-negotiable foundations of our belief. There are four separate overtures under consideration by this assembly that pertain to one pastor’s understanding of baptism, justification, forgiveness, and perseverances–surely no ancillary doctrines.
Since all overtures are considered by the Overtures Committee as to their merit, not all overtures make it to the floor of the Assembly. (So for instance, I’ve just learned Overture 8 has been sent back to the James River Presbytery for reformulation.)
Of particular interest to many in our community, two years ago our denomination commissioned a study group to review two issues related to ministry in Muslim contexts.
- bible translation–specifically how best to translate the texts that speak of Jesus as the Son of God when direct translation of the word “son” in Muslim contexts unavoidably implies God the Father engaged in sexual activity
- and the missiological question of to what extent can (should) Muslim converts to Christ be permitted to retain their Muslim cultural practices without denying the new identity they take on as members of Christ’s church (did that compute?)
The Study Committee issued its report on the first question at last year’s assembly. It’s submitted its report to the second question at this assembly. The report is lengthy but I’ll try to give a crude synopsis of their findings, and what implications it has for support of missionaries in Muslim contexts. There is no overture associated with this year’s report, but it will inevitably be a topic of discussion on the floor if only to accept the report as a helpful guide to the denomination’s thinking on this matter.
How to keep tabs
If any of you are still reading by this point, I commend you. You’re just the kind that may want to follow what happens here this week. You can either live stream the sessions at this link. Or you can drop by the Assembly’s Facebook page here. Finally, you Twitter folks can follow the assembly at either #PCAGA or through our denomination’s online magazine By Faith at @PCAbyfaith.
While I’m here
In addition to participating in the plenary sessions, I’ll serve on the Committee of Commissioners for the Christian Education and Publication committee (say that 10 times with marshmallows in your mouth). Our committee will be composed of a couple dozen elders all over the country, and will hear the report from that ministry’s Permanent Committee.
Of the several seminars I’ll attend, I’m most looking forward to that led by Ligon Duncan of First Pres, Jackson, MS, and Tim Keller of Redeemer Pres, NYC during which they’ll take up the topic of how to minister given our volatile cultural moment. They each represent broad swaths of constituencies within our denomination, and while they don’t agree on many things, they both have their finger on the pulse of culture. I’m anxious to hear how they think local churches need to think about being “faithfully present” in their context.
I’ll pause here and update you soon.
I’m proud to represent you here. I ask your prayers that I might listen and learn.