Reports about the Presbyterian Church in America’s 2016 General Assembly focus on the issues of racial reconciliation and the ordination of women deacons and some sundry other matters. I am contemplating writing an analysis of the PCA’s decision to appoint a study committee to look into the ordination of women deacons in the near future. For now I offer interested readers links here, here, and here. But today I write about a more serious problem, which is THE most serious problem the PCA faces, the Federal Vision (FV). The FV, more than the movement to ordain women into church office, is a direct assault on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For years now the PCA has tolerated and officially exonerated proponents of the FV. Some of the men have taught the FV for over 10 years in the PCA and yet have not been disciplined for their heresy. There are some in the PCA who claim to be enemies of the FV. But, year after year, nothing is done in the ecclesiastical courts to address the issue. Thus, the main takeaway from the PCA’s 2016 general assembly is that the denomination continues to provide a safe-haven for the Federal Vision.
Peter Leithart, perhaps once the most notorious advocate of the FV in the PCA (he asked the denomination to examine his theology and won exoneration at the General Assembly level) no longer resides in the denomination. He has sauntered over to the openly FV CERC. But several FV men remain at home in the PCA with virtually uninterrupted tranquility.
Oh, in the past, some of these men faced charges for their heresy and struggled through the turmoil of being examined by ecclesiastical courts. But in the end they were all exonerated. Jeff Meyers (exonerated by the Missouri Presbytery) and Greg Lawrence (exonerated by the Siouxlands Presbytery) are the primary examples of such men.
Others have openly stated their positions, either espousing Federal Vision theology or defending those who teach it (which is just as condemnable), have never faced any serious threat to their standing in the denomination. Joshua Moon defended Greg Lawrence, Rob Rayburn defended Peter Leithart, and Mark Horn defended and works closely with Jeff Meyers. To my knowledge none of these men have repudiated their false doctrines or faced any ecclesiastical censure for them—peace and quiet is all they know in the PCA.
There is a “conservative” wing in the PCA that expresses some criticism of PCA’s tolerance of various errors. This conservative wing of the PCA, if Rick Philips may be viewed as one of its representatives, wants to hold on to long-held beliefs and practices. But there is a willingness to have unity and peace with those who reject these long-held beliefs and practices. Philips does not want the denomination to impose changes from the top down (see the article linked to his name). That would be detrimental for the unity of the PCA according to Philips. The fact that there are two different views on certain issues, one that harmonizes with scripture and the Reformed Confessions and one that contradicts Scripture and the Reformed Confessions, apparently does mean for Philips the unity has already been destroyed. These conservatives seem content with life in the PCA as long as new views (women’s ordination, Federal Vision) are not imposed on them. This must be the explanation, at least in part, for why there is no effort to censure those who promote unorthodox ideas on the PCA.
The PCA needs, but apparently does not have many, Confessionalists—men who confess, teach, and defend the Reformed Confessions. It needs men who will maintain the confessions as the standard of truth and orthodoxy and insist adherence to the standard. It needs men who will insist on adherence to the standard by means of discipline. As long as the PCA allows people within its fellowship to contradict the confessions without facing consequences, then the conclusion must be that the denomination is no longer as a whole substantially confessional.
That 2016 will pass without anything being done in the PCA to deal with the Federal Vision raises a very serious question for the Reformed churches of North America—how long can fellowship be maintained with the PCA? This is a very pressing question for NAPARC, the most “conservative” council of Reformed churches in North America. In 1995 the CRC, then a member of NAPARC, approved women in office. In 1997 NAPARC expelled the CRC from its membership. The FV more directly attacks the gospel than the ordination of women, yet the PCA remains a member of NAPARC, despite many more than two years of providing cover for gospel-denying heresy. The PCA’s membership in NAPARC contradicts the council’s desire and claim to be a council of confessionally committed denominations.
This post was written by Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.