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General Assembly 2016

General Assembly 2016

A Pastor Looks Back at General Assembly 2016
Key Issues That Impact All of Us

Not many Southwood members think of sitting through committee meetings and assembly meetings at the annual meeting of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) as a highlight of their summer vacation. But that doesn’t mean the issues dealt with there aren’t important and helpful to all of us. I’ll highlight a couple of particular things for us to consider, but as always it is encouraging to remember that God is continuing to build his Church (unlike most denominations in our country, the PCA grew numerically this year). We should be encouraged by many issues we are not debating because the PCA continues—even in our disagreements—to be committed to the authority and inerrancy of God’s Word, a biblically driven theology and mission, and the priority of sharing the good news of Jesus with all people.

Repentance and Racial Reconciliation

The most significant issue dealt with at this year’s Assembly was racial reconciliation. I mean this not merely in terms of a statement approved but particularly in the relationships developing across racial lines in the denominational leadership, the spirit of excitement surrounding future ministry among minorities in our communities, the development of the African American Presbyterian Fellowship, and the tenor of discussion in many seminars and meals organized around this theme.

One of the fruits of this general movement of the Spirit in the PCA was the approval of the statement included in full alongside this article that expresses corporate repentance over past and present racial sins and commits to ongoing gospel-driven racial reconciliation. I shared about this at some length in my July 3 sermon from Daniel 9 entitled “Corporate Confession.” This is a vital issue at this time in the life of our denomination and our nation, and we need to consider it in our own hearts, lives, and churches as well as in the broader denomination. Social change in general and racial reconciliation in particular are not the gospel in themselves, but the gospel of Jesus Christ has always impacted society in both word and deed, and the reality of the gospel at work always breaks down barriers that divide us from each other by uniting us together in our bond in Christ.

Much has been done in this state alone in the name of Christ that denies the biblical truth of all people being made in God’s image and treated as worthy and valuable because of that. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to consider what repentance needs to look like for us and what the fruit of repentance would look like in our own lives and our own church. Since we are prone to blind spots in regard to our own sin, this often begins with listening and seeking to understand the pain and experiences of others. I’ve been listening for the past year to some of our minority members here at Southwood in an effort to put myself in their shoes as they experience being a part of the family here. We could all be more intentional about listening to our friends and neighbors and learning from them as well.

When God gives us a vision of his kingdom in Revelation, it is a multi-colored kingdom made up of people from every tribe, language, people, and nation. Perhaps since we often pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” we should ask ourselves if our current relationships reflect the longing for God’s kingdom that should be in our hearts. In 20 years God may intend Southwood to be a minority white church. He also may not—there are many factors that could impact that reality. But for now, I know He would call my friendships, the people I invite into my home, and the people I learn from, to be more colorful than they are today. This would be one fruit of true repentance for me and for many of us. Even if we feel generations preceding us were guilty of more outwardly grievous racial sins than we have been, we need to consider the reality of what those sins have produced in our hearts, in our cities, in our social systems, and in the ministries of our churches. I believe we will find much to confess.

I also believe the gospel frees us to confess. The Bible says it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Because we are confident in his mercy and forgiveness, we are safe to own our sin and brokenness. One of the primary things I believe has sparked this renewal and repentance in the PCA is the way our African-American brothers and sisters have patiently modeled the merciful and forgiving heart of God to us. They have been unrelenting in their work for justice and equally unrelenting in their gracious commitment to forgiveness!

In addition to the statement made, the denomination as a whole took some practical steps as fruits of repentance by approving the establishment of a “Unity Fund” to help finance the training of minority pastors as well as a multi-ethnic study committee to continue advising us on racial realities as we move forward. Please pray for God’s continued work in these areas and particularly for the members of this committee: Kevin Smith, Carl Ellis, Alexander Jun, Sean Lucas, Jonathan Seda, Richie Sessions, and Alex Shipman; advisory members Sylvester Brown, Otis Pickett, and Russ Whitfield.

Women in the Church Study Committee

In regard to the Bible’s teaching on gender issues and marriage, the PCA has always held a complementarian position. This means that we believe God designed unique roles for men and women as well as that both genders need each other for the appreciation and reflection of the image of God and the beauty of his body, the Church. While there is broad agreement on many fundamental issues here, the practice in regard to how that works out in the local church is varied through the denomination.

As a result, the General Assembly approved a study committee on the role of women in the ministry of the church to report back next year with direction as to how we can best engage our women in many different ways. Thankfully, we are including our women in this conversation as several will participate on this study committee, whose members are as follows: Irwyn Ince, Jeffrey Choi, Ligon Duncan, Kathy Keller, Mary Beth McGreevy, Bruce O’Neil, and Harry Reeder; advisory members Nikisha Alcindor, Leon Brown, Dan Doriani, Kimberly Jones, Lani Jones, and Roy Taylor.

There has been some controversy surrounding the committee’s direction and composition during and following the General Assembly. So, please pray for the members of this committee, for God’s direction on their work and recommendations, and for unity and charity for our denomination as we approach these issues.

New PCA Logo

Finally and on a lighter note, for the first time in its 43-year history, the PCA has an official denominational logo. This may eventually be of help in identifying sister churches on the internet or on the road in other cities, but for now it’s making headlines for other reasons. The newly approved logo (pictured on this page) features an open Bible and a cross, but the third element is less clear and has been mentioned as picturing the world and thus our mission as the Church. Apparently to many, however, it is more recognizable as a Star Wars character, which even The Washington Times has pointed out in a recent article.


“Pursuing Racial Reconciliation and the Advance of the Gospel”

Be it Resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10); and

Be it Further Resolved,that this General Assembly does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of past failures to love brothers and sisters from minority cultures in accordance with what the Gospel requires, as well as failures to lovingly confront our brothers and sisters concerning racial sins and personal bigotry, and failing to “learn to do good, seek justice and correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17); and

Be it Further Resolved, that this General Assembly praises and recommits itself to the gospel task of racial reconciliation, diligently seeking effective courses of action to further that goal, with humility, sincerity and zeal, for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel; and

Be it Further Resolved, that the General Assembly urges the congregations and presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America to make this resolution known to their members in order that they may prayerfully confess their own racial sins as led by the Spirit and strive towards racial reconciliation for the advancement of the gospel, the love of Christ, and the glory of God; and

Be it Further Resolved, that the 44th General Assembly call the attention of churches and presbyteries to the pastoral letter1 contained in Overture 55 as an example of how a presbytery might provide shepherding leadership for its churches toward racial reconciliation; and

Be it Further Resolved, that the 44th General Assembly remind the churches and presbyteries of the PCA that BCO 31-2 and 38-1 provide potent and readily available means for dealing with ones who have sinned or continue to sin in these areas.


Watch GA Worship Services
Video recordings of worship services (and sermons) are at: http://livestream.com/accounts/8521918/PCAGA2016
Tuesday—Sermon by Jim Wert, Retiring Moderator
Wednesday—Worship by Keith & Kristyn Getty; Sermon by Tim Keller
Thursday—Sermon by Thurman Williams on Racial Reconciliation