Reflections – 2023.07

On Presbyterianism

Printed in the bulletin each week is the following statement:

Living Hope Presbyterian Church is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and shares its commitment to being faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

Presbyterianism is a form of church government that emphasizes elder leadership.  It is also a form of government that values accountability.  This works itself out in many ways and you can read all about it in our Book of Church Order (BCO), which can be found readily online.   The PCA’s BCO describes how a local congregation becomes a part of the PCA, how elders are ordained and installed, how discipline is to be applied when necessary.  If you were to read the entirety of the BCO (not exactly ‘light’ reading), you would see how accountability is an important emphasis in our denomination.   Each congregation in the PCA is bound to do things in the way described in the BCO.

In addition to sharing a common way of governance, churches in the PCA share a common theological persuasion.  All elders and deacons must affirm the following two questions to be ordained in the PCA:

1.     Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?

2.     Do you sincerely receive and adopt the [Westminster] Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; …?

The second question emphasizes the reformed nature of our theology (copies of the Confession and Catechisms are available on the Book Table or online if you want to find out more) and the first emphasizes the high view of Scripture in the PCA, which should be evident in the preaching and worship in any PCA church.  Not all Presbyterian denominations share these two commitments, but many do.

Now in any region in the country, there are usually several PCA churches.  These churches are brought into connection with one another as a part of a Presbytery, which consists of the elders from PCA churches in a particular region.  There are 88 PCA Presbyteries in the United States and Canada.  Living Hope is a part of the Chesapeake Presbytery, which consists of over 30 PCA churches in the Baltimore region.  Our Presbytery gathers five times a year and takes care of the business of ordaining pastors, starting and supporting joint regional mission works, handling discipline cases and complaints that come to our attention, and providing shepherding support when churches need it.

Once every year, elders from all PCA churches across the United States and Canada come together for our General Assembly.  This year’s assembly was held a couple of weeks ago in Memphis, TN and was attended by around 2000 men, including me.  At the assembly, elders engage in sometimes lively discussion and debate on a variety of topics.

I was very pleased with the overall actions of this year’s assembly.  As a denomination, we approved a strong statement to be sent to our government officials opposing gender reassignment surgery, particularly for minors.  We reaffirmed our position that elders and deacons must conform to Biblical standards with respect to issues of sexuality.  We took multiple actions in the ‘accountability’ vein, as we seek to hold one another accountable through a just discipline process that is always being refined, and through overseeing the agencies of our denomination (e.g., Mission to the World, Covenant Seminary, etc…) as they do good work in making disciples, training pastors, and engaging with our world.  I would be happy to share more specifics in any of these areas.  But overall I left the assembly with a sense that the PCA remains true to the declarations we print in our bulletin and the declarations that I personally see as important as your pastor – faithfulness to the Scriptures, staying true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission, that the Gospel would go into all the world and Christ would be glorified.