(Pictured above: PCA General Assembly 2017)
A look of bemused puzzlement is the usual response upon telling someone that I serve as a Presbyterian pastor. It's a look that begs at least two thoughts which while not expressed are surely there: What and Why? In other words, what's a 'Presbyterian' and why are you one? Well that's a long story.
One important aspect of Presbyterianism is our conviction that God oversees His church through the connected and collective work of elders or presbyters (see Acts 14:23). These presbyters work together on a local (single congregation) regional (group of churches in a geographic area called a presbytery) and national (General Assembly) level for the ongoing ministry of the church.
On our national level the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) addresses pertinent biblical issues that currently impact our society in one way or another. In this way we differ from the Roman Catholic Church in which the Pope at times is authorized to speak for that body. We also differ from independent evangelicalism who on occasion follow the pronouncements of well known pastors of large churches on matters that affect the church's societal witness.
Instead, on matters that affect our national witness Presbyterians gather a committee of several elders to investigate, study and then report their conclusions to us. This report comes with a set of recommendations that we encourage our presbyteries and local churches to adopt.
Why all this? We do this with the conviction that God speaks to His church through collective study, discussion and prayers of our elders. It doesn't mean we're always right since we are still fallible men. It does mean that from our perspective this is God's mind flowing from His word for His church on this subject at this time.
Once a committee has finished its work the chairmen presents their findings to the General Assembly which must then vote to receive the report and its recommendations. Keep in mind these are recommendations and not mandates. Individual presbyteries and local churches can disagree with them. But it's worth noting this is the way we believe God has spoken through His church. It's not in giving us of new revelation. Rather, it's applying what God has said to the issues that affect our present witness.
This year the general assembly will receive and vote upon the report on racial and ethnic reconciliation. Click here to read and download the report. This committee spent the last two years studying this issue and will call for the assembly to vote on its recommendations this week. I'd encourage you to at least read the first 25 pages or so of the report which gives the biblical, theological and confessional basis for its conclusions as well as specific recommendations for local churches and presbyteries.
As you read please pray that our assembly will have God's mind on this issue. Pray that we'll express our trust in our Lord by acknowledging the form of church government we feel is closest to the biblical ideal. Finally, pray that our churches and presbyteries will take the report and its recommendations to heart, should it pass our General Assembly.