Monday, January 18, 2010

The uniqueness of the PCA

Dr. Roy Taylor, who is the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which is the denomination I serve, recently published a paper entitled, "The Uniqueness of PCA Polity" which he presented at a meeting of all Stated Clerks in the PCA.

By and large, I found Dr. Taylor's thoughts to be fair and accurate. I especially appreciated his section on the essence of presbyterian church government (pp. 2-3), which is a wonderful summary of how presbyterianism is distinct from other forms of government in the church (episcopal, congregational). And I found both his awareness and his description of the nature of weaknesses and strengths in a system (p. 3) to be refreshing, informative, and generally helpful.

A couple of things stand out to me that are worth thinking/re-thinking about:
  • Dr. Taylor mentions that we have a non-comprehensive Book of Church Order-- and that the "lower courts" (namely, the presbyteries and the local congregations) have the freedom to exercise their wisdom and discretion within the bounds of the principles (p. 3). In other words, our local congregations and presbyteries may enact policies more strict or specific than the BCO stipulates. This had occurred to me frequently regarding the work of a local congregation, but where it is new is in thinking about presbytery: perhaps that is a level at which many of the perceived shortcomings and/or ambiguities could be worked out more fully before overtures to the assembly are made. (I'm thinking about things like how pastoral transition and placement works, for example.)
  • I love how Dr. Taylor describes the dual nature of membership within the PCA as "a dynamic tension between voluntary association and mutual submission" (p. 4). That phrase alone is something to turn over in my head a few times, but his further discussion on the issue is thorough and thought-provoking. I believe that section "c" under that topic needs to be more widely considered and practiced by many PCA Ruling and Teaching Elders, myself foremost.
  • In #8 of the "Distinctives of the PCA" section, Dr. Taylor discusses "the supremacy of theology over polity" (p. 5). I was just speaking with a fellow PCA Pastor from another presbytery, who spoke of the starkness of how important this is.
  • One of the most valuable discussions in the paper, I think, is the acknowledgement of how "'the pendulum effect' may have been too strong as we reacted against the excesses of our former denominational connection." In the ongoing advance of our denomination, I think this piece of the puzzle must emerge as a part of the discussion, and those who are holding too tightly to the reactions "against excesses" must loosen their grip, while others must learn the greater value of the nature of those reactions. This has impact of both theological and political nature, practical and theoretical.

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