Friday, June 30, 2017

General Asssembly Reflections

Over the years I have joked about the process of Presbyterianism which is at times painfully slow and often at odds with with my more quick decision making style. Despite the "poke your eyes our moments" of legislative procedure, I am really glad to be a presbyterian and General Assembly (GA) is a great reminder of that. Here are some reflections from my week away.

GOSPEL CENTERED WORSHIP. Any shortcomings that we might want to highlight about the PCA are dwarfed when experiencing the preaching and worship of the sisters and brothers of the PCA. From beginning to end our communal worship is thoroughly Biblical, Gospel focused and ultimately Christ exalting. When denominational attributes are audited this shines forth like a diamond. The worship services at GA alone speak to the worthiness of our mission as sisters and brothers join together at the foot of the cross and in shadow of the empty tomb. If you're interested in seeing some of these worship services and sermons, you can view them here.

EVERY CHURCH A VOICE. The idea of having a non-delegated assembly with over 1400 eligible-to-speak voices (most of them pastors!) is a daunting and sometimes unwieldy prospect. Inevitably we do get bogged down with speeches, motions and points of order that do not represent the majority, but that is the beauty of the process. Every church has a voice, and the very process is a check and balance against the kind of wayward thinking that can sometimes take over a more streamlined delegated assembly. Sometimes slowness is a virtue. I rejoice when I see 1300+ votes cast on motions before the court. We are working together!

BIG TENT. The PCA is a confessional denomination, meaning we adhere to the Westminster Standards as a faithful exposition of Biblical doctrine and ecclesiology. This confessional approach keeps us anchored in the scriptures and provides a framework for our life together. At the same time there is a diversity of interpretation in the application of the Standards that makes for a breadth of different approaches in the PCA. True there is sometimes frustration in this, both for those with a more “narrow" interpretation of the standards and for those with a more “broad” interpretation. But it seems to me that this diversity faithfully represents a more complete picture of the body of Christ than any one church or interpretation could on their own. Some wrestle with implementing a robust complementarianism, others struggle with more expressive worship that doesn’t fit familiar cultural forms, collectively we discuss and debate approaches to theological education, missions and discipleship, but we do it together in our "big tent."

Are there challenges facing the PCA in the coming years? For sure, both within and without. Outside the denomination we are seen as repressive and backward in our positive assertions of Biblical headship, marriage that is between a man and a woman, among other things. These attitudes aren’t likely to change anytime soon. Inside, we are still sinners who struggle to listen to each other at times, convinced that we know best and are suspicious of those not like us. But thanks be to God, who honors those who walk with him, those who seek his face and listen to his word. Our hope is in him and his joy is our strength.

Friday, June 2, 2017


But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (ESV)

As many of you know Sunday is Pentecost, the day that the church remembers the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a group of, until then, timid, untrained, “little faith-ed” disciples. What emerged from Pentecost is quite simply a world changing group of people that had not been seen before. Power was manifest.

Often we wonder if that same power is at work today? Perhaps this story will encourage you.

Sarah Irving-Stonebreaker “grew up in Australia, in a loving, secular home, and arrived at Sydney University as a critic of 'religion.' ” She didn’t look for or need faith to ground her identity or her values. She knew from an early age that she wanted to study history at Cambridge and become a historian. She would find her identity in academic achievement, and secular humanism, based on self-evident truths.

But then the power and love as described in Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven tracked her down. Here is part of a tremendous testimony of what she found:
Christianity, it turned out, looked nothing like the caricature I once held. I found the story of Jacob wrestling with God especially compelling: God wants anything but the unthinking faith I had once assumed characterized Christianity. God wants us to wrestle with Him; to struggle through doubt and faith, sorrow and hope. Moreover, God wants broken people, not self-righteous ones. And salvation is not about us earning our way to some place in the clouds through good works. On the contrary; there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves to God.
So YES! The Power of Pentecost is still at work today. The beauties of the Gospel are still wooing the most apathetic of hearts.