Thursday, July 06, 2006

General Assembly Roundup

The General Assemblies of the PCA and the OPC recently met, and I would like to make a few comments. However, my information is second hand, so feel free to correct me if anything is off.

First, I want to congratulate Rev. Dr. Dominic Aquila for his election as the Moderator of the PCA General Assembly. Dr. Aquila is the President of New Geneva Theological Seminary, from which I graduated, and he is deserving of the post. The JollyBlogger says that there was not as much "heat" in the discussions this year at the Assembly, and I have little doubt that Dr. Aqulia as the moderator had a great deal to with the civility of the discussions.

Second, I think the PCA made a mistake by creating a study committee on the Federal Vision, New Perspectives on Paul, and Norman Shepherd’s views, commonly called Shepherdism. The vote to create a study committee overturned the majority opinion of the Bills and Overtures committee. One reason I believe this is wrong is the same reason I objected to the Mississippi Valley Report a few years ago: the scope is too broad. As a result, the report will either take years to complete or be too shallow. The RCUS handled it well, in my obviously biased opinion, by breaking each group into its own study committee. The majority opinion of the PCA Overtures Committee, which was overturned by the General Assembly, stated that the creation of a study committee would interfere with ongoing Standing Judicial Committee (SJC) cases. This is clearly a most important point. To what extent are the rulings of study committees binding? If the committee were to find that the Federal Vision is heresy, no Federal Visionists would be automatically removed from office; charges would still have to be brought before the SJC. Would the SJC even be bound to deliver a verdict that conforms to the Study Committee? If it were to take several years for the committee to report back, what happens to the trials pending? When I read Acts 15, I see the church coming together in a court to decide things, not creating non-binding study committees. Not to mention the nightmare of deciding who serves on the committee. Do you appoint a Federal Vision proponent to serve on the committee? If so, then how many? If not, then how do you answer the cries of foul that will most certainly appear? I would bet this committee comes back with a minority report, and then what happens? Study committees work well for deciding the biblical approach to denominational pension plans or for determining the biblical position concerning women in the military. However, the investigation of possible heresy charges is absolutely not the business of a study committee. This is why we have church courts. This debate will end up in the church courts anyway, so why bother with the committee? This is why I favor judicial process instead of study committees. It should be noted that I am in a minority on the web. JollyBlogger favors the study committee approach, and so does Rev. Polski. Rev. Polski has a great post on the PCA GA that reports how the Assembly decided to allow a minister to teach his exception to the Westminster Confession to his congregation without notifying his congregation that his teaching is out of accord with the WCF. This makes one wonder what the point of declaring an exception to the WCF is in the first place, but then I do come from a strict subscription church.

Third, I am also disappointed with the report brought back by the OPC study committee on the Federal Vision, even though it entails a negative assessment. This report itself has other detractors, and will merit an upcoming post. For now I want to note that the report was not adopted, instead it was commended to the churches for study. Now what exactly that means is up for discussion, and therein lies my problem with it. The Assembly, by neither recommending it nor voting it down, failed to clearly approve or disapprove of it. So, then, what is the will of the Assembly on this matter? I believe "straddling the fence" is the best phraseology. A similar discussion is taking place in conservative PCUSA churches over the new names for the Trinity report. The PCUSA decided neither to approve nor to adopt, but rather to commend for study, the idea that the Trinity could now properly be called, "fountain, well-spring, and river" or other manmade non-masculine names, and even a few feminine ones like "Mother, child, life-giving womb." It is the perfect way to satisfy both sides: by not taking one at all.

All in all, this General Assembly season has to be regarded as a giant victory for the Federal Vision movement (yes, I believe there is a movement, but if you would rather call it an impetus, that is fine). The RCUS failed to do anything by recommitting their report for another year, the PCA failed to allow the judicial process to take its course, the OPC failed to adopt its report critical of the Federal Vision, and the Christian Reformed Church passed paedocommunion.


Mr. Baggins said...

The issue with the SJC is moot, in Dominic's mind. It is a completely separate track that will have little influence on the SJC, which will rule according to the materials at hand: the standards of the church. A study committee will interfere no one whit, according to Dominic (who wrote the overture from Rocky Mountain Presbytery).

Actually, the majority favored the erection of a study committee. Because they could not agree on the scope of the committee, the majority report was negative. But the reason was not that the majority didn't want a study committee. They did want it.

The issue of the composition of the study committee is one about which I am not really at liberty to speak right now.

Lee said...

Thanks for the clarification on the majority report about the need for a study committee.

As for the study committee and the SJC being separate tracts, I think that only makes my point for me. If the SJC does not need a study committee and can rule regardless because all the material are at hand, then what is the point of the Study Committee? What happens if the SJC rules the FV unorthodox, but the study committee decides it is orthodox, or vice versa? Surely these two tracts have to be related somehow, or study committee tract is pointless at best.

Andrew McIntyre said...

I am no supporter of the Federal Vision heresies, but I do understand the PCA's hesitance. The RCUS has the advantage of being monolithic on the issue, which is due to the fact that we are so small. As a result, our firm stance involved no negative or chaotic consequences. An outright condemnation of FV will involve a denominational split in the PCA. Thus, I can understand why they are taking it slowly. It is a heresy today, so it will also be a heresy tomorrow, if it does not die out as the fad that it is.


Andrew McIntyre said...

We should also remember that the Jerusalem council involved a heresy that had completely invaded the early church and was causing extreme unrest. The congregants were clamoring for guidance. This was also true of the Nicean Council. Although the FV heresy is dangerous, I am not sure that it has completely infested the PCA as of yet. In my opinion, they have enough orthodox capital to take their time.


Andrew Duggan said...

Nice assessment. I think you're right that the churches basically did essentially nothing about this at all. The wolves have told the shepherd's to go back to sleep and the OPC for the large part is all to happy to oblige. A member of the OPC's Philadelphia Presbytery's Candidates and Credentials Committee remarked just a couple of weeks ago that he did not know of a single active teacher of the doctrines of the FV or NPP. I wouldn't be surprised if that is a common view across the entire OPC -- no FV here, no sir.

It's too bad the OPC is likely to take the approach of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil".

Mr. Baggins said...

I would say in response to Lee that there are two very good reasons that a study committee is a good idea: one is that we are seen to be doing something. There are those who feel that the SJC may not actually deal with it. Now, of course, the study committee would not have constitutional authority. However, a denominational stance needs to be taken. The second reason is that once a study committee is done, then the SJC can refer to it in their cases. But they are only related after the fact.