The PCA's Relationship to the Secondary Standards

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
In the last two or three days, I've read comments in my Twitter feed, by three different people, completely independently of each other, to the effect that the PCA's embrace of good-faith subscription to the secondary standards, beginning in 2002, is the source of most of the denomination's current problems.

I thought it was remarkable that three different people would say that in quick succession.

I guess that wasn't one of the PCA's better ideas.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
A PCA majority imposed good faith subscription over a sizable minority objection back then; and one can certainly trace a precipitous decline over the last 20 years to it along with other faults in the PCA. The video below of Dr. Strain's address at the recent GRN conference says the common fact that if you take no exceptions to the PCA's doctrinal standards, you get more grief than if you do! Dr. McGraw of GPTS observed over a decade ago that this move for good faith subscription as adopted and executed essentially took the PCA off a confessional standard (now only at the wayback machine).
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Which decisions were worse, out of interest?
I think the more incisive question would be ask "Which 'bad decisions' have been worse that were not the natural ramifications of good faith subscription?"

In other words, I agree that we sold the farm with good faith subscription.
Since then there have been bad decisions, but most of the garbage going on flows directly from that one big bad decision.
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
I think the more incisive question would be ask "Which 'bad decisions' have been worse that were not the natural ramifications of good faith subscription?"

In other words, I agree that we sold the farm with good faith subscription.
Since then there have been bad decisions, but most of the garbage going on flows directly from that one big bad decision.
Thanks. It was a genuine question on my part as I have very little knowledge of goings on that side of the pond - that did seem a rather big one though to be far from the worst!
 

J.L. Allen

Puritan Board Sophomore
I've had this same conversation with some PCA brothers at seminary. Has there been any movement to fix this issue?
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Which decisions were worse, out of interest?

I think the more incisive question would be ask "Which 'bad decisions' have been worse that were not the natural ramifications of good faith subscription?"
Joining and Receiving. It predates good faith subscription. And it brought in diverse thinking. It did seem like a good idea at the time.

Some other bad decisions for the list:

Change in church planting strategy at MNA. Change in global mission strategy at MTW. Wokeism in the denomination. Abdication of duties by the General Assembly.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Joining and Receiving. It predates good faith subscription. And it brought in diverse thinking. It did seem like a good idea at the time.

Some other bad decisions for the list:

Change in church planting strategy at MNA. Change in global mission strategy at MTW. Wokeism in the denomination. Abdication of duties by the General Assembly.
J&R was a big one. On GA, add no appeal to the GA from the SJC and the turning GA into a convention rather than a functioning court; the latter is its job; do your job.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Joining and Receiving. It predates good faith subscription. And it brought in diverse thinking. It did seem like a good idea at the time.

Some other bad decisions for the list:

Change in church planting strategy at MNA. Change in global mission strategy at MTW. Wokeism in the denomination. Abdication of duties by the General Assembly.
Agreed that J&R was a huge one. It probably brought in the perspectives and sympathies that ultimately led to good faith subscription.
I reckon your other issues - MNA, MTW, wokeism, etc. As fallout from good faith. Because good faith subscription isn’t *just* about the specific acts of taking exceptions, it’s the embracing of a certain ethos and way of thinking. This “softening” at the philosophical level has had tangible impacts in areas such as doctrine and strategy and practice. At least by my reckoning.
 

bookish_Basset

Puritan Board Freshman
In light of the above discussion, I'm curious what others think of this open letter that appears to have come out just within the past few days: https://www.afaithfulpca.net/letter

To my reading, it seems to portray Good Faith Subscription as being the heart of what's good about the PCA, though it actually seems to illustrate the above comment about negative fallout in terms of ethos, etc.

Example quote: Good Faith Subscription is not an escape valve for Christians who refuse to be bound by confessional standards. It is a protective device for guarding against galvanizing what the scriptures don’t galvanize. And it allows us to maintain our adherence to the Westminster Standards in the spirit that all extra-biblical documents are intended to be held to, without elevating a human document to biblical status. That is why GFS was so overwhelmingly adopted into our Constitution for this Bible-believing church. GFS does not open the door to doctrinal erosion, it secures biblical fidelity.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
In light of the above discussion, I'm curious what others think of this open letter that appears to have come out just within the past few days: https://www.afaithfulpca.net/letter

To my reading, it seems to portray Good Faith Subscription as being the heart of what's good about the PCA, though it actually seems to illustrate the above comment about negative fallout in terms of ethos, etc.

Example quote: Good Faith Subscription is not an escape valve for Christians who refuse to be bound by confessional standards. It is a protective device for guarding against galvanizing what the scriptures don’t galvanize. And it allows us to maintain our adherence to the Westminster Standards in the spirit that all extra-biblical documents are intended to be held to, without elevating a human document to biblical status. That is why GFS was so overwhelmingly adopted into our Constitution for this Bible-believing church. GFS does not open the door to doctrinal erosion, it secures biblical fidelity.
I'll have to look at it later, but church's treat doctrinal standards as subject to error by making them amendable through a process, not through a wax nose subscription to them that undermines those agreed upon standards.
 

arapahoepark

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Agreed that J&R was a huge one. It probably brought in the perspectives and sympathies that ultimately led to good faith subscription.
I reckon your other issues - MNA, MTW, wokeism, etc. As fallout from good faith. Because good faith subscription isn’t *just* about the specific acts of taking exceptions, it’s the embracing of a certain ethos and way of thinking. This “softening” at the philosophical level has had tangible impacts in areas such as doctrine and strategy and practice. At least by my reckoning.
Joining and Receiving. It predates good faith subscription. And it brought in diverse thinking. It did seem like a good idea at the time.

Some other bad decisions for the list:

Change in church planting strategy at MNA. Change in global mission strategy at MTW. Wokeism in the denomination. Abdication of duties by the General Assembly.
What's MNA and MTW?
 

83r17h

Puritan Board Freshman
What's MNA and MTW?

MNA = Mission to North America.

MTW = Mission to the World.

Broadly, they coordinate missions work throughout the PCA. They also train missionaries. I think MNA might be responsible for doing evaluations of people to see if they are qualified to be church planters (as in personality). Someone else would have to provide more specific info though.
 

arapahoepark

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
MNA = Mission to North America.

MTW = Mission to the World.

Broadly, they coordinate missions work throughout the PCA. They also train missionaries. I think MNA might be responsible for doing evaluations of people to see if they are qualified to be church planters (as in personality). Someone else would have to provide more specific info though.

I haven't been involved in a few years, but that's how it used to work. Looks like they still do. https://resources.pcamna.org/categories/church-planter-assessment-center/
I am sure I have probably heard of the problems previously but, mind enlightening me? I hope I am not straying too far from the OP but, its probably related.
 

83r17h

Puritan Board Freshman
I am sure I have probably heard of the problems previously but, mind enlightening me? I hope I am not straying too far from the OP but, its probably related.

I'm coming from an area of unfamiliarity with the inner workings of MTW/MNA myself - it doesn't exactly affect me with any sort of regularity. But I'd imagine that the PCA strategic plan for growth might be related (the point of "more seats at the table" specifically). I can only speak anecdotally, but both church planting ministers that have been hired at churches I've attended (that I got to know) over the last decade-ish have failed to impress, and were both causing trouble in the church by saying some pretty weird (wrong) things.

An elder at my last church made the observation: a lot of guys plant new churches from PCA congregations, subsequently find out that they don't really believe what the PCA claims to, and then take their churches and leave the PCA. That indicates that we might just be choosing the wrong guys. I was told recently by a friend at another former church that some people left, because the church planter decided to make the new church he was founding an Acts 29 church, instead of a PCA church.

Looking at the link from @Edward I traced it to the page with characteristics desired in church planters: https://resources.pcamna.org/resour...ently-asked-questions_who-are-we-looking-for/

If you take a look through the page, you'll see that the person who fits that list, is probably not the kind of person who's going to enjoy reading anything on the PB. A couple of quotes (emphasis added):

There is a passion for the glory of God and the work of His Kingdom; a passion for fulfilling the Great Commission and a vision for a Great Commission Church that includes reaching the many diverse people groups of a given community.

Are "normal churches" not following the Great Commission?

Men who are humble, repentant, broken, grace/gospel centered, who are praying and manifest the fruit of the Spirit.

If men are to be ministers, they are to be "fixed" rather than "broken," being mature and confirmed in the necessary qualifications for office. I extremely dislike the adjective "broken" being used as though its a positive description or state of a Christian.

Men who are looking for challenge; to attempt something so big for God that unless He is in it it is doomed to failure. Men with a pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit.

This is...problematic. It is a bit "me" focused, and also sounds like despising the ordinary means. At the very least, everyone I've known who says things like this has a tendency to despise the ordinary means. Missional is often not ecclesiastical. We affirm the primacy of the ordinary over the extraordinary. As an elder at a previous church advised me: "do the work in front of you." It's an emphasis I notice as I read Gurnall too.

That's just a couple of thoughts. It's short blurbs, and there's "good" ways to interpret what is said. The problem is that in my experience, what is meant by these things is never the good way to interpret it. Doctrinal purity, and fidelity to Scripture, is nowhere mentioned. Also, when 3 of the 6 points mention diverse communities / cultures, that's concerning to me. Doctrinal purity and fidelity to Scripture are top among qualifications in Scripture. Cultural diversity, so far as I'm aware, is not mentioned as a qualification for ministers in Scripture. Yet the former is absent, and latter emphasized, in the MNA's qualifications for church planters.

If someone is more familiar with the MNA, and I'm either incorrect or misreading, please correct me! There could definitely be (and probably are) other issues besides this.
 

Scottish Presbyterian

Puritan Board Freshman
Joining and Receiving. It predates good faith subscription. And it brought in diverse thinking. It did seem like a good idea at the time.

Some other bad decisions for the list:

Change in church planting strategy at MNA. Change in global mission strategy at MTW. Wokeism in the denomination. Abdication of duties by the General Assembly.
What is Joining and Receiving? (Pardon my very substantial ignorance)
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
What is Joining and Receiving? (Pardon my very substantial ignorance)
After the PCA formed as a new denomination in 1973, this denomination began almost immediately to court other denominations of "cast-offs" from the mainline--such as the OPC and the RPCES--to unite to form the "true" national Presbyterian witness in the USA. Rather than a process of merging through a combination and compromise of GA operations and existing presbyteries, the PCA as the biggest (though the newest) would absorb the others through a process of "joining and receiving." A whole denomination would "affiliate" with the PCA, losing its previous individual identity.

For a long time (by mid 1970s) the OPC and the RPCES had been in sober talks of merger. All that went away when the PCA came barging in with the enthusiasm, size, and (frankly) self-assured swagger of being both free (of the libs) and rich. None of the other cast-offs were ever so well off to begin with.

To cut to the chase, the original idea seems to have been to have the "doctrinaire" OPC come in on one wing, and the more "evangelical" RPCES come in on the other wing, and the PCA would then achieve growth and balance, to go along with gaining the "benefits" brought in by the strengths of each wing. This included Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary, both RPCES institutions.

However, in an odd twist of events, the PCA was persuaded only to join and receive the RPCES, and the OPC (which had voted itself out of existence, pending reception) was rejected. The factors would be hashed over and reviewed over the following years, and the proposal resubmitted by the PCA to the OPC some time later in the 1980s; which courtship was rejected by the OPC--at least on the old terms. Instead the OPC offered to enter talks of an actual merger, which the PCA rejected. "Join-and-Receive or Bust, Baby."

Analyzing the result for the PCA has led some to conclude that the PCA could not maintain its "strict old-school confessional" identity, once the RPCES's new-school tendencies and institutions (CC & CTS) were in the lifeblood of the denomination. This is probably simplistic, but also cannot be discounted as nothing but sour grapes and scapegoating.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
What is Joining and Receiving? (Pardon my very substantial ignorance)
Merger of the PCA and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. The OPC was invited to participate, but noped out. Rather than negotiate a merger of equals, it was recognized that the smaller RPC, ES would join, and be received by, the PCA. The PCA expanded its geographical base, and got Covenant Seminary and Covenant College out of the deal.

I see that Rev. Buchanan has given a more comprehensive, and fair, answer.
 

SeanPatrickCornell

Puritan Board Sophomore
Merger of the PCA and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. The OPC was invited to participate, but noped out.

Unless I am mistaken, the OPC actually went all-in on this, and it was the PCA that (for some reason) said "no".

Again, I might be mistaken.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
Unless I am mistaken, the OPC actually went all-in on this, and it was the PCA that (for some reason) said "no".
PCA said no, then yes. OPC said yes, then no. So after the PCA jilted the OPC at the altar, the OPC rejected the second attempt at a marriage.
 

pmachapman

Puritan Board Freshman
Is a Good Faith Subscription the same as a Declatory Act?

(This discussion of the PCA is all new to me, and very enlightening)
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
The OPC dodged a serious bullet back then.
Although things would likely have played out differently in the early years with OPC influence at the General Assembly. Many of the votes were close enough that an influx from the OPC would have made a difference.
 
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