Our denomination’s General Assembly (GA) will meet soon, from June 28th-July 2nd. The General Assembly is the highest court of the Presbyterian Church in America in that it is an assembling of the ruling and teaching elders (pastors) of the denomination to worship God, and vote on important matters concerning the life of the Church. General Assembly matters for a number of reasons, one of which is because many of the decisions about the nature of the denomination are decided there. It is especially important this year because of its location, because of the overtures (requests) that have been submitted to it for voting, and because last year’s Assembly was canceled. This year’s GA will meet in St. Louis, MO, near the Church of a pastor in the PCA who previously claimed at the floor of General Assembly that he is a “gay Christian minister”. Now, what he means by this is not “I am a practicing homosexual”, but rather, “I have recognized a pattern of attraction in my life, and will not act upon it.”
That said, our registered elders for this General Assembly are the highest on record, which is likely because there is a pending trial against this minister, because there are several overtures that seek to deal with what is appropriate for a minister to claim about himself, and because there are also several overtures that seek to deal with how we examine men for ordination and our ministerial standards. Suffice it to say, this General Assembly may decide some very important things for the life of our denomination.
Based on this, I want to urge you all to do two things: First, pray for this General Assembly. Outrage is at times appropriate. Discussions about whether it is time to leave a denomination are at times appropriate. But prayer is always appropriate. Until we have prayed, we can do nothing else.
Second, I would like you all to very calmly consider what warrants a departure from a denomination. When is it appropriate to leave? You see, there is a time to leave and abstain from sin. But there is also a time to stay and fight against sin. Sometimes, leaving is not bold and pure, but an act of cowardice. Sometimes, staying is not courageous and faithful, but rather an act of complacency. So we must make our decisions based upon biblical principles.
There are four biblical principles, which I’ve derived from Dr. Joey Pipa (who in turn derived them from Owen and Calvin):
- 1. Does the Church believe and preach the gospel?
- 2. Does the Church persecute you for holding to the truth?
- 3. Does the Church require you or other Christians to sin?
- 4. Does this Church edify me?
Charles Hodge puts it this way,
“…so long as the standards of the church were unaltered, and its ministers were not called upon to profess what they did not believe, or prevented preaching what they believed to be true, or required to do what their conscience condemned, to withdraw from the church was the crime of schism, which the Scriptures expressly forbid.”
Last, depending on how we answer these questions, it is time to stay, or it is time to leave. In my estimation, it is time to stay and fight for the PCA. It still believes and preaches the gospel, it does not persecute us for holding to the truth, it does not require us to sin, and it edifies us. There may yet be a time to leave. If ministers are required to sin in that they must serve alongside someone they believe has been undisciplined for sin, then this may warrant a departure. But that time has not yet come. So think through these things, and pray, pray, pray.