2017 General Assembly Recap

Dear Church Family,

It is good to be home! Thank you all for praying for me and my family as we traveled to our denominational General Assembly and then our follow-on vacation. We had a wonderful time visiting my wife’s parents in North Carolina and my parents in New Jersey; our children got to spend some good quality time with their grandparents. And, we were able to visit some other parts of the northeast, as well as some colleges along the way (we have two rising high school seniors in our household).

A special thanks to the elders of the church (Greg Berkhouse, Paul Wheeler, and Reed Gilmore), along with RUF campus minister at Texas Tech, Rev. Dagan Mayfield, for preaching and filling the pulpit while I was gone. You may not know this, but it is a rare privilege to have all the elders of our church willing and able to do so. While we were gone, the Williams family made the decision and then moved to Wisconsin. As Martina Williams was our bookkeeper, Deacons Jim Gilmore and Clete Seyle have been hard at work in facilitating her transition, as well as providing needed ministries of mercy for several of our congregation who have had acute needs in the past several weeks.

As I mentioned on Sunday, our family enjoyed some wonderful times of worship at different churches during our travels. It was a good reminder of the unique bonds of fellowship that all believers in Christ have with one another. At the same time, it was a good reminder of the wonderful blessings of being part of a local church – the blessings and responsibilities that such fellowship affords. And, as I said, it is good to be home!

2017 General Assembly of the PCA

In the middle of June (June 12-16), I attended the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the meeting of the highest court of our denomination. Before attending, I had written a little bit about what happens at the General Assembly, and specifically about the report of “The Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church.” You may read what I wrote about that online here.

I recognize that for many people in the local church, the goings-on of the higher courts of our church (presbytery and general assembly) may not be of great interest – especially when you have to sort through parliamentary procedural issues and Roberts Rules of Order. And, in fact, unless a change is dictated from one of these higher courts to our local church, many of the debates and decisions do not usually have an immediate effect on the worship and work of our local church.

Still, it is important to maintain that fellowship, connection, and mutual accountability with our presbytery and general assembly. For one thing, we want to be involved in the worship and work of the broader church as well, and not isolate ourselves from the greater body of believers and universal church. Additionally, it is important to be aware of the discussions, trends, ministry, work, and decisions of our presbytery and denomination – to be involved with these ministries and works of the larger church, and to add our voices to the discussions and decisions.

At this time, I won’t give a lot of my own personal take and commentary on what took place at this most recent meeting of our General Assembly; however, I do want to provide you with some resources where you may find summaries of what took place, as well as some pertinent issues to be aware of that are being discussed at the denominational level of the PCA.

(1) General Assembly Summary Reports: every year, the Stated Clerk of our denomination (Rev. L. Roy Taylor) provides a summary of actions of the General Assembly; you may find this year’s summary online here. Another (unofficial) summary by Pastor David Coffin – which might be a bit more readable, but have less statistical information – is available online here. Another unofficial summary (with much more critical commentary from a confessional perspective) by Pastor Andrew Webb is available online here.

(2) Presbytery Boundaries: one of the overtures that passed at the General Assembly (one which directly affects our local church and presbytery) was the formation of a new presbytery: The Hills and Plains Presbytery which is comprised of all of the PCA churches in Oklahoma, as well as some from Missouri and Arkansas. The formation of this presbytery was not the result of a split, but of multiplication and growth. There is a helpful map of the boundaries of the PCA presbyteries that you may find online here.

(3) Encouraging Trends: if you read the summary reports above, you will find that we have much to be grateful for as a denomination. For instance, in a day when many churches and denominations are getting smaller, the Presbyterian Church in America has continued (little by little) to grow in numbers of churches and membership. Also, there were two decisions that I, personally, found encouraging: (1) an overture that limits the power of committees and requires overtures to come before the General Assembly from the lower courts (churches and presbyteries) was approved; (2) one of our presbyteries was admonished for using an image of Christ in their worship service, as per the teaching of our confession of the use of such images (though it was hotly debated, the vote to admonish finally passed, but only by a small majority).

(4) Concerning Trends: For my part, there are four issues that are concerning trends in our denomination today, and they generally fall under the heading of “the danger of mission creep in the church.” These four issues are: (1) a prioritization of social justice issues and racial reconciliation that may potentially lead to a displacement of the centrality of the gospel; (2) a moving toward women’s ordination and leadership in worship (see my previous post here); (3) the increasing disregard for the regulative principle of worship and historic Presbyterian practice (see Terry Johnson’s initial and follow up articles); (4) a desire to maintain relevance to an ever-changing culture with respect to the sin of homosexuality (to be clear, I don’t know of anyone in our denomination who argues that homosexual behavior is not sin; however, there are those who advocate the notion that while homosexual behavior is sinful, homosexual desire is not – see this explanation); Dr. Rosario Butterfield has recently noted, “the PCA is smitten in a stupid way…to the gay Christian movement.”

Conclusion

I’ve provided a lot of information here; I don’t expect anyone to read through all of the referenced material in one sitting. And, my intent is not to be a “chicken little” with respect to some of the concerning trends in our denomination. On the whole, the PCA continues to be “Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission.” We should praise God for all that He has done and continues to do through our denomination.

At the same time, I believe that it is important – and part of my pastoral duty, really – to try and keep our congregation apprised of some of both the encouraging and concerning trends in the larger church context, particularly in our own denomination. And, I can assure you that the elders of our local congregation have, and will continue to discuss these matters. Please continue to pray for our church, our local session of elders, the North Texas Presbytery of which we are a part, and the PCA as a whole.

Let me conclude with how I began: it is good to be home!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch