By Anthony Gammage
My posture headed into our denomination’s General Assembly is often that of bracing myself against the extremes of the group who sometimes show up looking for a fight. Knowing that there were such issues as a committee report of racism in the PCA, overtures for and against women serving in ministry, a case regarding spousal abuse, and my Alma-mater (Covenant Seminary) being wrapped up in controversy over a hotly debated conference, my guard was up.
…Good thing my fears went unrealized (as usual!).
As I come away from the conference held on June 12-14, I find myself more hopeful about the PCA than ever before. After all of the business and the last worship service I attended, I was more encouraged than ever that God is a faithful restorer (Nehemiah) and that the Gospel is at work among us. It began with the election of the first black moderator of the PCA, Dr. Irwyn Ince. As the week progressed, it was clear that he was the right man to be in that position.
I also watched as we began to wake up to some of the injustices in the mix that we must address. The Committee Report on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation was masterful in that it both affirmed orthodoxy, rejected a social Gospel (among other things), yet pointed us to the heart of God as we are all made in His image, and the reconciling power of the Gospel. This committee challenged us right out the gate, as the chair opened up with something along the lines of, “I am disappointed in us, that so many of you said such terrible things about us, or our findings on blogs or on social media…yet not one of you ever approached any member of this committee.” He went on to call that sin. You could have heard a pin drop. And that set the tone for what was to follow, as Covenant Seminary calling this same action toward them rebellion against God and each other in a beautiful and redemptive way.
The topic of the mistreatment of women was then broached, both in a case regarding spousal abuse, along with some proactive findings within our missions organization, MTW. It was beautiful to see brothers moved deeply as we wrestled through a case on the Assembly floor. I believe, and pray, that this time together will lead us to better protect those who are vulnerable to injustice among us. The recent climate of abuse and mistreatment caused Dr. Lloyd Kim, the director of MTW, to do a proactive inquiry into the state of the treatment of women throughout the agency. He cried as he shared some of the difficult findings that have happened on his watch and shared with us how they are quickly putting zero tolerance and safe reporting policies in place along with bringing in outside organizations to evaluate them and help them to a God-honoring place.
Some of the greatest unity was seen on the floor as we moved to constitutionalize a part of our Book of Church Order that better defined our position of marriage being between one man and one woman. This is the hot topic of our day, but it was beautiful to see how the Lord brought some 1,400 men to an almost unanimous conclusion.
Finally, the last night’s worship service was one of great challenge. Joe Novenson preached on Eph 4:17-24 and hit us right in the chest with the Gospel. He basically called us on the same topic you read above…the sin of sowing discord: of sitting in restaurants and in the lobby, on social media and on blogs, and talking about someone while not talking to that person about it. It was gut-wrenching and hopeful as he, at the end, told us (after a great illustration from A Fist Full of Dollars) to “Get up, PCA! Your malice has knocked your feet out from under you…from your firm foundation of standing on The Rock! Get UP! And run to your King, Jesus!” The unity of the church is so critical for us at this juncture in our culture, and we were repeatedly called to repent from our lack of it and demonstrated repentance (we pray) as the week progressed.
My heart is encouraged that even during such divisive times nationally and internationally, I experienced a denomination that did not appear to be pulling apart but drawing together around repentance and faith in Christ as we look to preach the Gospel to ourselves, and to the world around us.