Greetings from Dallas! As I write this, I’m getting ready to return from General Assembly, our annual gathering of Teaching and Ruling Elders in the Presbyterian Church in America. We had a busy agenda, but it was a great time of thinking, praying, worshipping, and enjoying the communion of the saints.
Here are some highlights and developments from the trip …
I arrived on Tuesday afternoon and caught up with two pastor friends of mine, one from Austin, TX and another from Bowie, Maryland. We got caught up on family life, discussed the books we’re reading, the series we’re preaching, and traded some pastoral wisdom about church issues that come up from time to time. (Thankfully, my stories were entirely positive … and I’m not just saying that because this is the Pinewoods Newsletter!) We were joined by a ruling elder from the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bowie, and after the meal he said, “Wow! I feel like we’ve known each other our whole lives!” Isn’t it amazing how the gospel of Jesus Christ brings people together? That was a common theme throughout the week. I would meet new friends who I’m going to spend eternity with … and it was great! In spite of some spirited debates about controversial issues (see below), I sensed an overall positive and encouraging attitude among all the elders and their families.
On Wednesday afternoon, we had our first worship service. The preaching pastor was the outgoing Moderator of the General Assembly, Rev. Dr. Irwyn Ince. Dr. Ince preached a powerful sermon about pressing on in our calling as pastors and evangelists. It’s hard sometimes, but the grace of God, given to us in the person of Jesus Christ, makes it all worthwhile.
This is somewhat of an aside, but Dr. Ince was the first African-American Moderator of a PCA General Assembly. He certainly won’t be our last, as there are a number of amazing African-American Teaching and Ruling Elders in our denomination. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth nothing that by God’s grace, we’re a more diverse denomination than we were when I was ordained twelve years ago. God willing, we’ll continue to make greater progress with recruiting and celebrating the gifts of all God’s people!
In case you were wondering, that’s not a liberal idea or a conservative idea … it’s a biblical idea! In Revelation 7:9-10, John tells us, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” The more our churches look like heaven, the more we’ll demonstrate to the world that the gospel really is “good news of great joy, for all kinds of people.” (Luke 2:10)
One more quick note: The music during the Wednesday worship was incredible! Kate’s more of a classical music aficionado than I am, but I can truly say the choir and the orchestra were spectacular. There were well over 1,000 people singing glorious songs of praise to God … again, a little bit of heaven here on earth. (According to the book of Revelation, heaven will be very diverse, and very loud!)
After the service, we elected a new Moderator, Ruling Elder Howie Donahoe from Seattle. He did a fine job of keeping things moving and making sure Robert’s Rules of Order and the Rules of Assembly Operation were followed to the letter. He had a bit of help from our Stated Clerk, Roy Taylor, who announced his retirement after 22 years of service, effective next year.
On Wednesday, I was happy to have lunch with two of our missionary partners! I won’t give you all the details, but they are supervising an internship for one of our members. I heard many great stories about that member and the work that person is doing overseas! (This sounds very cloak and dagger … but I’m often told that I’m not allowed to mention anyone’s names because there is real danger from extremists in some parts of the world … and I have no desire to put any of our brothers and sisters in harm’s way.)
After hearing from fraternal delegates from other Reformed / Presbyterian denominations, we heard from our various committees and agencies, which was very helpful. The PCA voted to stay in the National Association of Evangelicals, which was somewhat controversial because the NAE has become a bit more political in recent years, making statements about a wide variety of social issues. Ultimately, the Assembly decided that the benefits of being salt and light in the NAE outweighed the negatives of being associated with a group that sometimes makes statements that don’t align with our political and theological views.
Another major development was our adoption of the Nashville Statement on Human Sexuality, which was authored by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It’s a very clear, helpful, biblical statement, signed by familiar names like John Piper, James Dobson, J.I. Packer, D.A. Carson, Ligon Duncan, R.C. Sproul, Rosaria Butterfield, Sam Allberry, and many others.
To further the conversation about human sexuality, the PCA appointed a study committee to address some of the controversial issues of our day. Hopefully, this document will be a helpful pastoral resource for all of us as we seek to introduce all our friends and neighbors to Jesus, including many of our friends and family members who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. (Frankly, I’m not even sure if that’s the best way to describe what I’m talking about. I might have left out some letters, and I’m not exactly sure if I understand what the + stands for. Again, I’m hoping to get some guidance from the study committee, so I can use language and terminology that glorifies God as I seek to reach out to friends and neighbors. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the one hope for ALL PEOPLE, even those who struggle mightily with sexual sin.)
Well, that’s the report! I was happy to see some former professors and classmates from Westminster Seminary in California … I was happy to see old friends from First Presbyterian in Chattanooga … I was happy to connect with some church-planter friends of mine … the reunion stories are beyond the scope of this newsletter article, so I’ll leave it there.
Overall, I’m very happy with the state of the Presbyterian Church in America, and I’m glad that Pinewoods is part of a denomination that is dedicated to the authority of God’s word, celebrates the best parts of our Reformed tradition, and recognizes the urgency of the Great Commission. We’re not a perfect church, we don’t belong to a perfect denomination, but we worship a Great God who loved us so much that he sent his one and only Son Jesus to die on the cross for us … that we might become Spirit-filled children of the King! Praise be to God for his amazing grace!