byFaith - The magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America
byFaith's mission is to draw readers into the full life of the Church by informing, edifying, and encouraging them with the news of God's kingdom. Through articles, the magazine motivates and equips readers to serve Christ in the PCA and in His kingdom.
Howie Donahoe, moderator of the 47th General Assembly, has announced his selections for the Ad Interim Study Committee on Sexuality. The committee members are Teaching Elders Bryan Chapell, Kevin DeYoung, Tim Keller, and Jim Weidenaar, and Ruling Elders Derek Halvorson, Kyle Keating, and Jim Pocta.
The committee has the authority to appoint its own advisory members.
According to the approved overture from Chicago Metro Presbytery, the study committee is to “study the topic of human sexuality with particular attention to the issues of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and transgenderism.”
“It’s an honor to appoint such wise, learned and experienced brothers to such a committee,” Donahoe said. “While each man’s views undoubtedly vary to some degree, I’m confident this committee will be unified and will help provide guidance and leadership on the issues — both in the PCA and more-broadly.”
Chapell is Senior Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and the founder of Grace Unlimited, a radio and online Bible-teaching ministry. From 1985-2013 Chapell served at Covenant Theological Seminary, first as a professor, then dean of faculty, president, and chancellor. He was moderator of the 2014 PCA General Assembly in Houston and serves on the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission.
DeYoung has been Senior Pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina since 2017 as well as assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Charlotte. Prior to moving to Charlotte, DeYoung was senior pastor at University Reformed Church, East Lansing, Michigan, and a Chancellor’s Professor at RTS. He is a member of the General Assembly’s Committee on Administration, and the author of more than a dozen books, including “What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?”in 2015.
Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 and pastored for 28 years. He is also the chairman and co-founder of Redeemer City to City (CTC), which starts new churches in New York and other global cities and publishes books and resources for ministry in an urban environment. In 2017 Keller transitioned to CTC full time to teach and mentor church planters and seminary students through a joint venture with the City Ministry Program at RTS.
Since 2012 Weidenaar has worked for Harvest USA, a ministry that helps individuals and families affected by sexual struggles and provides resources addressing biblical sexuality. Currently he serves as director for Harvest USA’s office in the greater Pittsburgh region. His 2011 Ph.D. dissertation is titled, “A Study of Calvin’s Doctrine of Concupiscence with Special Reference to its Place in his Soteriology.” Weidenaar is a member of Pittsburgh Presbytery and worships at First Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pittsburgh.
Halvorson is a ruling elder at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church and the president of Covenant College. He serves on the boards of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Before coming to Covenant College in 2012, Halvorson served as president of Providence Christian College and as director of constituent relations and regional director of development at Covenant.
Since January 2013, Keating has taught upper school history and theology at Providence Classical Christian Academy in St. Louis. He also serves as director of student life, athletic director, and the boys varsity basketball coach. Keating was one of three ruling elders on the eight-member Missouri Presbytery committee that reported on Revoice, and Memorial Presbyterian Church, in May 2019. He attends South City Church.
Pocta is a licensed professional counselor who has practiced biblical counseling for over 30 years. He runs his own private practice specializing in depression, anxiety, sexual trauma and abuse, same-sex attraction, and transgender experiences. He is a ruling elder at New St. Peters Presbyterian Church in Dallas and is a member of North Texas Presbytery.
This committee is entirely funding by designated contributions. Checks can be mailed to the PCA Administrative Committee, 1700 North Brown, Suite 105, Lawrenceville, GA, 30043.
“Greetings to the church of America, our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are part of you in the body of Christ, just as you are part of us. Though we are of different ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, and at different stages of spiritual growth, the Gospel levels and unites us. Thus, we long for your prayers for the church of China. But it is not just for China. It is for Christ and his kingdom that you pray for us.” – a Presbyterian house church pastor in China
Now is an intense and a hopeful time for the church in China. During the past 40 years, Christianity has grown rapidly in the country; scholars estimate that by 2050, nearly 15% of the population will identify as Christian. Yet if these predictions are accurate, the church’s growth likely will happen against a backdrop of persecution.
Though the country is long past the slogans of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s “Little Red Book,” the church is entering what may already be the most serious time of persecution since the 1970s. Since the central government implemented new religious regulations at the beginning of 2018, authorities have closed some prominent house churches and initiated smaller, softer attacks on less-well-known churches.
In December 2018, Wang Yi, his wife, the elders and deacons of Early Rain, and hundreds of church members were detained and arrested. The church’s property was almost entirely destroyed, including the sanctuary — where more than 500 members worshipped each week — the adjacent seminary, and the library that housed hundreds of translated theological works.
Since their arrests, Wang Yi and his wife have been held in criminal detention, and their 12-year-old son has been placed under house arrest with his grandmother. Members of Early Rain still endure harassment.
Though China may feel a world away, pastors such as Wang Yi and churches such as Early Rain have more similarities with us than we may think. Wang Yi is an ordained Presbyterian minister, and Early Rain belongs to a Chinese Presbyterian movement. Multiple networks of Reformed churches are now spread across China, many of which have adopted “The Book of Church Order,” which has been translated into Mandarin and contextualized for the local realities and commitments of the traditional house church. Wang Yi and his congregation, along with hundreds of thousands of others, are our spiritual siblings who share our particular ecclesiological commitments.
Bryan Chapell, Julius Kim, Paul Tripp, John Piper, and Tim Keller have all assisted with training house-church pastors and speaking at large conferences. Dozens of other teaching elders, seminary professors, and women in ministry have worked to help provide materials, expertise, and training to leaders of China’s urban house churches on topics ranging from gospel renewal and Christ-centered preaching to Christian education and women in the church.
These American leaders are witnessing the suffering of those who have become their friends and co-laborers in the gospel. Even for Chinese Christians who do not experience the intense persecution that Wang Yi and Early Rain have faced, the pressures are rising. As partners in the gospel of Christ, how can we increase our support for our brothers and sisters in China?
We offer three practical suggestions that keep in mind the changing nature of China, missions, and the global church.
Pray for the house churches in China.
This is the first thing Chinese pastors ask of their brothers and sisters in Christ in the West. Prayer is an active response to the suffering and needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ. According to Scripture, prayer is not passive: it is the frontline of the spiritual battle in which the whole church is engaged. Through prayer, you actively stand with China before the throne of God.
Pay for Chinese government leaders to govern justly and righteously, because God will hold them accountable for their actions. Pray that these trials will refine and strengthen the churches in China and that our sisters and brothers there will have strength and courage to stand firm under increasing pressure. Pray that believers in China will count the cost and make adequate preparation to face this battle. Most importantly, we should pray that Christ will be lifted up and glorified as house churches in China walk the way of the cross.
As churches in China continue to mature, the relationship between Western churches and Chinese churches will transition into mutuality. The public nature of how our Chinese brethren are suffering is lighting such a candle in the world that shall never be put out. Let their faith and perseverance light up the fire in your own heart. In a time when every American election causes many to fear about Christians’ right to exist, every Supreme Court confirmation battle seems to be a fight over our nation’s soul, and every legal setback seems to be a slippery slope toward full-blown persecution, perhaps there is no better time for believers in America to humble ourselves and learn from those familiar with the marginalization of the church — our brothers and sisters in China.
Organizations like China Partnership are working to translate and publish content written by Chinese pastors. Western believers have much to learn from the resilience and humility of Chinese believers walk the way of the cross, “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41) because they trust that their suffering only brings them closer to the cross of our Lord. We have much to learn from their devotion to “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Despite raids by police and threats of arrest, house churches continue to gather and preach and pray every Sunday. Their devotion to these spiritual disciplines is preparing their bodies and souls for whatever is to come. If we were placed in their situation, would our spiritual disciplines give us the resilience to endure this kind of suffering? Would our ecclesiology be strong enough to unite our members through trial? Even as we offer significant support, service, and encouragement to the Chinese church, these churches have much they in turn can and do offer to us.
We must remember our unity with our brothers and sisters in China. “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). We are one body with the house churches in China. Their suffering should jolt us out of our complacency and comfort.
Take some time to learn about what is happening in China. Write letters to local churches in China to encourage our brothers and sisters that they are not alone. Host prayer events at your church to pray for China. Travel to Malaysia with a team from your church to attend the next convention of urban, Reformed house churches as an international guest. Give financially to support the work among Chinese house churches. You can contact organizations like China Partnership to learn more about any of these opportunities to serve your brothers and sisters in China.
We have much to learn from their faith in the unseen. The saints of the past all “died in faith, not having received the things promised” (Hebrews 11:13). In their trials, our Chinese brothers and sisters are showing us what is most important to them. They seek a homeland, they desire a better country — a heavenly one — and they look forward to the city with a foundation designed and built by God. All China’s recent prosperity and wealth cannot capture their hearts.
Westerners may not face such national persecution, but we may be even more enslaved by worldliness. So then, as Hebrews says, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Ryan Zhang moved to the United States from Guangzhou, China, at age 12 and calls Cincinnati, Ohio, his American hometown. Ryan received his master of divinity degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained teaching elder in the PCA. He lives with his wife and children in Cincinnati and serves as an assistant pastor at New City Presbyterian Church.
Hannah Nation first traveled to China in 2005 while a Covenant College student. She later served with Mission to the World and worked with Chinese scholars in a variety of capacities both in China and the United States for nearly a decade. She completed a master of arts degree in church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughters. Hannah is a member of Christ the King Presbyterian Church (PCA) and writes frequently for various platforms.
In each case Guthrie illustrates how “When we enter the new Eden, our Sabbath rest, the final temple, the New Jerusalem, we’ll begin to experience all that God has intended for us all along.” ByFaith editor Richard Doster asked Guthrie about a few of the book’s major themes.
You’ve written a number of books on grief and loss as well as numerous Bible studies. Why did you choose to write “Even Better Than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything About Your Story”?
I wrote the book because I’m on a mission. I’m on a mission to introduce and infiltrate women’s Bible study in the local church with biblical theology. I’ve noticed that, even in churches in which pastors preach with a sense of redemptive history week to week, oftentimes the materials used in women’s Bible study have no grounding in rich, biblical theology, but are oriented more toward felt needs.
I want to help readers get a better grip on the storyline of the Bible so that they can better interpret smaller parts of the Bible. For most of my life, even though I was very saturated in the Bible, I would have been unable to trace the basic storyline of the Old Testament — patriarchs through slavery, redemption from slavery, entering the land, establishment of the kingdom, exile, and return. And as I speak in various churches, it becomes obvious that I am not alone in that.
A firm grasp on this storyline is essential to understanding the Bible. In the chapters of this book, I tell the story that runs from Genesis to Revelation from nine different angles, tracing nine major themes including wilderness, the tree of life, the image of God, clothing, Sabbath rest, marriage, the offspring, the dwelling place of God, and the city.
I often ask those I’m speaking to if they are able to tell the story of the Bible in just four words. We’re usually on the same page for their first three — Creation, Fall, Redemption. But then there are a number of different suggestions thrown out for the fourth word. What I hear most often is “restoration.” But I’ve become convinced that the Bible’s story is not merely pointing us toward a restoration or return to the original Eden. What God is preparing for us in the new heaven and new earth is far more glorious, far more secure, far more satisfying than Eden. It’s my hope that this book will create a deeper longing for the greater garden-city to come in the hearts of those who read it.
You begin by teaching readers the Hebrew phrase tohu wabohu. Why are these words foundational for the book?
The Bible begins by saying that God created the heavens and the earth and that it was, in Hebrew, tohu wabohu. Tohu means “unformed, chaotic wilderness,” and bohu means “empty.” So Genesis 1:2 tells us that when God created the heavens and the earth, it was initially an uninhabitable wasteland, a barren wilderness. In fact, there were three significant problems with the earth as God initially created it, according to this verse. It was formless, empty, and dark. But it was not without hope. Why? Because “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). The Spirit of God was there hovering — or fluttering — over the deep darkness of the unformed earth like a hen hovering over an unhatched cosmos. Something was about to happen. God, by His Spirit, through His Word, was about to illumine and order and fill His creation.
The city of man is a city of greed and is marked by a rejection of God’s word and the shutting out of God’s presence. The spiritual city of God is built around calling upon God rather than keeping God out, humility instead of pride, dependence instead of independence. Those who reside in this city recognize that the security and significance they need can come only from God.
So right there in the first chapter of the Bible, we discover that tohu wabohu is not a problem for God. As His word, “Let there be,” goes out, and as the Spirit’s creative energy hovers, what was dark was flooded with light, what was chaotic came to order, and what was empty was filled with life and beauty and purpose.
And this is great news for us as people who sometimes sense that our lives are, in a sense “tohu wabohu.” Many of us have a deep sense of emptiness in our lives that we long to have filled. So, right at the beginning of the Bible, we learn that emptiness is not a problem to God. We see that God fills the emptiness of His creation with light and life, beauty and relationship. This fills us with hope that He can and will accomplish the same new creation work in the interior of our lives.
Though it seems impossible, Adam and Eve grew discontented in Eden. You talk about how Eve saw an empty place in her life, diet, and knowledge. As we think about eternity, why is it important to understand Adam and Eve’s discontent?
Adam and Eve had every reason to be perfectly content. Their world was filled with so much goodness. Yet when the serpent suggested to Eve that there was something she didn’t have, something she really needed to be happy — namely, the wisdom that would come from eating from the forbidden tree and the taste experience of eating its delicious fruit — Eve allowed the perspective of the serpent to shape her perspective. Rather than being content with all the goodness showered on her and surrounding her, she began to see an empty place in her life. Her desire for something more, something other than God’s provision, combined with her growing doubts about God’s goodness, led her to reach out for what she thought would make her happy, fulfilled, and satisfied.
Of course, this sense of discontent must have been magnified when she and Adam were expelled from the garden into the wilderness that surrounded it. In fact, throughout the Bible’s story we’re meant to see the lack of contentment that is inherent to life in the wilderness. When the children of Israel wander in the wilderness for 40 years, their lives are punctuated by discontentment with God’s provision of manna and His provision of a godly, humble leader, and they pretty much grumble about everything.
There is one person, however, who proved to be content in the wilderness. Jesus, sent out into the wilderness to be tempted, responded to Satan’s temptation to turn stones into bread by expressing His contentment with God’s provision. This compels us to be joined to Him, not only so His perfect record of contentment will be credited to us, but also so that we will become increasingly, if not yet perfectly, content as we wait for the day when He will lead us into the greater garden where we will forever be perfectly and completely content.
Chapter 4 is called “The Story of Clothing.” From Genesis to Revelation, how does the Bible’s discussion of clothing heighten our anticipation for eternity?
When we read in Genesis 2:25, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed,” we tend to think of this as the ideal. But ancient Near Eastern readers would have recognized this nakedness as an undesirable condition for human beings — particularly for royal representatives. Consider Joseph and his coat of many colors that indicated he would be head of the family, Joseph given royal robes by Pharaoh when made prime minister, Jonathan giving his royal robe to David, Daniel clothed in purple when made third in the kingdom, and Mordecai being clothed with the king’s robes. Throughout the Bible, royal representatives are always dressed for the part.
Adam and Eve were created to rule over the world under God, the Great King. Had they obeyed God regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, rather than serving as means of the downfall, it would have led to their exaltation. They would have been transformed from glory to glory.
But, of course, that’s not what happened. After they rebelled against God, the image of God in them became marred, and we find them trying to cover themselves in leaves from a fig tree. In grace, God came and clothed them with the skins of an innocent animal. In this way He demonstrated how it would be possible for all of His people to one day be clothed in the royal splendor He had intended for Adam and Eve. One day He would deal with human sin in a pervasive and permanent way — through the covering provided by the atoning death of one precious, perfect Lamb. Christ has made it possible for us to actually be clothed in the greater glory Adam and Eve forfeited.
Even now, as the Holy Spirit works in us, we are being changed from one degree of glory to another. As we bring ourselves naked and exposed before the Word of God, this living and active Word goes to work in the interior of our lives, discerning our impure thoughts and ugly intentions of the heart so that we can confess, repent, and truly change (Hebrews 4:12–13). The Spirit does His work of transformation so that we are increasingly wrapped in the robes of the righteousness of Christ — not simply in a judicial sense, but in the reality of our lives.
This heightens our anticipation for eternity because, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:4, we find ourselves longing to be “further clothed.” This will be the ultimate outfit: immortality. Unending, unstoppable life. He describes the day when we will get the wardrobe we’ve longed for this way: “The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15: 52–53).
In Chapter 8, “The Story of a Dwelling Place,” you tell readers, “The story of human history is a story of God’s ongoing intention to make His home with us.” How, by understanding that story, will our outlook change?
It is significant to take note of how much space is given in the Bible to home and a place for God’s dwelling. Consider how many chapters in Exodus are given to the design for the tabernacle and then a record of the tabernacle being constructed according to that design. They are constructing the place in which God will come down to dwell among them. God leads His people into the Promised Land with the promise: “I will be with you.” The law of God is given to God’s people so that they will know how to live in a holy land in which a holy God has come down to dwell in their midst. Then in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, we have another significant number of chapters devoted to the design and construction of the temple. As the Old Testament continues, its story centers on the destruction of the temple and the rebuilding of the temple. And it ends, in Malachi, with the promise that the Lord is going to come suddenly to His temple.
As we trace the story, it is staggering to consider God’s passionate desire and intention to dwell with His people — especially in light of our often-dispassionate desire to be near to God. We often voice our desire to escape the sin-sickness of this world, but I’m not sure that is the same thing as having a deep and abiding desire to be in the presence of God. Yet that is where history has always been headed for God’s people. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus showed the true zeal for God’s house that we often lack. God will be faithful to His commitment to come and dwell with us, His people, even though our desire to dwell with Him often wavers or fades. But I also think immersing ourselves in this story of God’s desire to dwell with us nurtures greater longing for that in our own hearts. The day is coming when we’ll hear a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). On that day we will feel and know the closeness of God like never before.
In the final chapter, “The Story of the City,” you reference Psalm 87 and its roster of those who will be in the eternal city. At first glance, there seem to be some surprises. What’s the lesson there?
When we trace the story of the city throughout the Bible, we discover that it is the story of two cities from beginning to end — the city of God and the city of man. The city of man is a city of greed and is marked by a rejection of God’s Word and the shutting out of God’s presence. The spiritual city of God is built around calling upon God rather than keeping God out, humility instead of pride, dependence instead of independence. Those who reside in this city recognize that the security and significance they need can come only from God.
In the final chapters of the Bible, we witness the final destruction of Babylon, the city of man, as well as the long-awaited entrance of the people of God into the true and lasting city of God, the New Jerusalem. The day is going to come when we will make our home in the most livable city in the world. In fact, this city will encompass the whole world (Revelation 21:12). The tohu wabohu will have been gloriously and completely filled with radiant life and rich relationship.
In Psalm 87, the psalmist leads God’s people in singing about those who will make their home in the city of God. We discover that it will be inhabited by people who were physically born in the city of man but have been spiritually reborn in the city of God. He lists a number of cities that we would not think of producing inhabitants of the city of God, including Babylon. This may have been difficult for the original singers of this song to grasp, as the list includes numerous enemies of Israel. But really it is a song that celebrates how God, in His grace and mercy, turns enemies into friends. The list of those who will make their home in the New Jerusalem is good news for all of us! It tells us that the day is coming when all who have taken hold of Christ will come away from our exile in Babylon to make our home in the New Jerusalem.
Nancy Guthrie teaches the Bible at her church, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and at conferences worldwide. She and her husband, David, are the cohosts of the GriefShare video series used in more than 10,000 churches nationwide and also host Respite Retreats for couples who have experienced the death of a child. Guthrie is also the host of “Help Me Teach the Bible,” a podcast of the Gospel Coalition.
Dallas, Texas, Site of 47th General Assembly, June 25-28, 2019
The 47th General Assembly of the PCA met in Dallas, Texas, in shortened format, convening Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and adjourning Friday before noon. A total of 1,616 commissioners (1209 Teaching Elders and 407 Ruling Elders) registered, representing 827 churches from all 88 presbyteries. The theme of the Assembly, hosted by North Texas Presbytery, was “Press on for God’s Glory.” Ruling Elder Rick Owens was Host Committee Chairman.
Worship is an important aspect of the General Assembly. In the Wednesday Communion Service, retiring Moderator Dr. Irwyn L. Ince Jr. preached on “Grind on for Glory” from 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. Thursday Rev. David Cassidy preached on “A Brief History of the Future” from Psalm 145:1-3, and Friday Rev. Ryan Anderson preached on “Delusions, Meet Grace” from Revelation 3:14-22.
This year’s Assembly-wide seminar was on “Civil Conversations: Speaking the Truth in Love.” The topic was apropos because several controversial matters were docketed for discussion later in the Assembly. Panelists were Dr. Irwyn Ince, Dr. Sean Lucas, Dr. Bryan Chapell, and Rev. David Richter. Stated Clerk Dr. Roy Taylor moderated and Rev. Joel St. Clair facilitated the question and answer period.
Ruling Elder J. Howard Donahoe, Moderator
The PCA has a tradition of electing a minister or a ruling elder as Moderator in alternating years. This year RE J. Howard “Howie” Donahoe of Pacific Northwest Presbytery was elected Moderator. Mr. Donahoe has been a PCA Ruling Elder for thirty-two years. C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer were influences in his early Christian growth. He has been a commissioner to the General Assembly for the last twenty-six years. He has served as a Clerk of Session, Moderator, and Stated Clerk of Presbytery, a number of General Assembly committees of commissioners such as Review of Presbytery Records and Overtures Committee and has served on the Standing Judicial Commission of the General Assembly for twenty years. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and holds a Master’s degree from Arizona State University. He and his wife of thirty-four years, Debbie, have five adult children and a grandson, with another due soon. Donahoe, who is with American Airlines, skillfully piloted the Assembly through several stormy issues.
Transitions in Assembly-level Ministries Leadership
The Board of the PCA Foundation announced that they had elected RE Timothy W. “Tim” Townsend, to succeed RE Randel Stair, who has served twenty-one years as President of PCAF, during which time the assets of the foundation have grown from $20 million to $86.4 million.
PCA Retirements & Benefits. announced the formation of a transition committee in August of 2018 to seek a successor to RE Gary Campbell who has served as President of RBI for twelve years and anticipates retirement. RE Jonathan Medlock is chairman of the transition committee https://pcarbi.org/search/.
The Assembly elected RE Will Huss to become the Coordinator of Reformed University Fellowship on January 1, 2020, to succeed Dr. Rod Mays, who has served as RUF Coordinator 1999-2013 and provisional Coordinator since March of 2018. Mr. Huss is a graduate of Clemson University and a Ruling Elder at Clemson PCA in Clemson, SC. He is President of Trehel Construction Company, one of the largest construction firms in South Carolina.
After his election to his twenty-second one-year term as Stated Clerk and Coordinator of the Administrative Committee, Dr. L. Roy Taylor, announced that he will retire at the adjournment of the Forty-eighth General Assembly in 2020. Nominations may be made at https://www.pcaac.org/stated-clerk-search/.
Progress Reports of the Ten Assembly-level Ministries
Administrative Committee/Office of the Stated Clerk – A proposal to return to beginning was approved. An overture to allow online remote voting for the Assembly was not approved. An overture to prefix or append to all Committee or Agency policy manuals a statement that the PCA Constitution takes precedence over all policies was answered in the affirmative as amended. This is already stated in the Corporate Bylaws of the PCA, Article VIII, Section I. Budgets of the ten Assembly ministries were approved.
Committee on Discipleship Ministries – The 2018 Women’s Love Gift of $115,000 to RBI launched a ministry to PCA pastors’ wives. CDM seeks to connect PCA people to resources through its conferences, events, blogs, social media, and its website https://pcacdm.org/.
Covenant College – CC welcomed 296 new students from 36 states and 11 countries, appointed five new full-time faculty members, began renovations of The Kirk (a multipurpose building), and developed a seven-year strategic plan.
Covenant Theological Seminary – The CTS Board and the Assembly answered in the negative an overture to disassociate CTS from General Assembly oversight. CTS has added two new hybrid (online and residential) degree programs, MABTS and an MA in Ministry.
Mission to North America – MNA helps facilitate church planting, church renewal, and missional partnerships such as Engaging Disabilities, Metanoia Prison Ministries, Disaster Response, Chaplains Ministries, and the Unity Fund to fund minority theological education.
Mission to the World – MTW has 630 long-term missionaries, serving in 95 countries, 2,279 short-term missionaries, and 703 national partners. Overture 41 regarding MTW’s “Statement on Valuing Women” was recommitted to MTW and the MTW CoC for next year.
PCA Foundation – PCAF now has assets of $86.4 million. Gifts in 2018 were $11.8 million. 2018 distributions were $14.4 million, with $4.7 million to PCA churches, $2.1 million to PCA Committees and Agencies, and $7.6 million to other evangelical ministries.
PCA Retirement & Benefits. – RBI has 7,500 PCA minister and staff person retirement accounts with $556,375,106 invested. The 2017–2018 Relief Offering and other donations to Ministerial Relief totaled $775,254.
Reformed University Fellowship – RUF has a fixed Reformed theology and a flexible methodology to reach students on various campuses. RUF ministers on 163 campuses in the USA and six campuses abroad. RUF-I ministers to international students on six campuses.
Ridge Haven Conference Centers – RH has conference centers in Brevard, NC, and Cono, IA, which together hosted over 10,000 visitors in 2018. Brevard is a year-round ministry; the Cono center began with a two-week camp in 2018 and will expand to four weeks of camp in 2019.
Review of Presbytery Records
Two significant items were acted upon by the Assembly after considerable debate:
A recommendation concerning the minutes of Mississippi Valley Presbytery, directed that the Presbytery be brought before the Standing Judicial Commission under BCO 40-5, to answer a “credible report” involving “an important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional [proceeding],” to “show what the lower court has done or failed to do in the case in question.” The Assembly approved the recommendation of RPR.
A recommendation concerning the minutes of Calvary Presbytery, regarding a Presbytery’s right to forbid the preaching or teaching of a minister’s stated difference with the Westminster Standards that the Presbytery had accepted as “not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine” (RAO 16-3.e.5.b). The Assembly found an exception of substance for Calvary Presbytery as it did in 2018.
The Assembly heard from several representatives of other Reformed denominations and interdenominational organizations. Overture 23 from Central Carolina Presbytery (similar to Overture 2011-12 but with some additional arguments), for the PCA to leave the National Association of Evangelicals, was presented. MTW has been a member of NAE since 1973. The General Assembly joined the NAE in 1986. The IRC Permanent Committee recommended that the Assembly answer the overture in the negative. The Committee of Commissioners recommended that the Assembly answer the overture in the affirmative. The Assembly answered the overture in the negative once again.
An overture is ordinarily a request of a Presbytery for the General Assembly to take an action. In 2019 48 overtures were presented to the General Assembly. See https://www.pcaac.org/general-assembly/overtures/ for a list of all overtures. The Assembly approved:
Overture 4, to declare the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood’s “Nashville Statement” on biblical sexuality as a biblically faithful declaration.
Overture 6, to amend Rules of Assembly Operations (RAO) 11 and 13 to disallow memorials regarding deceased officers.
Overture 7, to form an ad interim study committee on domestic abuse and sexual assault. (Eight other overtures were answered by reference to this overture.)
Overture 11, to commend RPCNA’s “Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis.”
Overture 18, to amend RAO 11-5 to prevent reference of overtures to multiple CoCs.
Overture 42, to establish an ad interim study committee on the topic of human sexuality with particular attention to the issues of homosexuality, same- sex attraction, and transgenderism. (Three other overtures were answered by reference to this overture.)
Several overtures calling on the Assembly to reaffirm previous statements on abortion and homosexuality were ruled out of order because the outcome, whether positive or negative, changes nothing (RONR [11th ed.] p. 104, ll. 24-3), and therefore the previous statements remain in effect.
Four minority reports came out of the Overtures Committee. None were adopted.
The Assembly answered in the negative four overtures to allow non-ordained persons (either men or women) to serve as voting members of General Assembly Permanent Committees or Boards of Agencies
Video recordings of Assembly business sessions and worship services may be found at:
Changing the BCO requires a majority vote of one General Assembly, the majority vote of two- thirds of the Presbyteries, and a final majority vote of a subsequent Assembly (BCO 26-2). BCO amendments given final approval
BCO 8-1; 8-3 regarding qualifications of Elders
BCO 25-11 giving thirty-days’ notice for congregation to leave the PCA
BCO 35-11 regarding process for disqualifying judges who are witnesses
BCO 9-3 adding nature of marriage to BCO as already is in Westminster Confession BCO amendments not given final approval
BCO 30-1, regarding definite suspension, that was self-contradictory;
BCO 30-3 regarding indefinite suspension, that was shown lacking in specificity
BCO 32-19 to allow counsel by any communing member in all levels of church courts. BCO amendments sent down to Presbyteries for approval
Overture 9, amend BCO 42-4; 43-2; 43-3 regarding method and deadlines for filing cases.
Overture 17, amend BCO 32-8 to allow for video testimony by witnesses.
PCA by the Numbers
The Stated Clerk reported the following 2018 statistics to the General Assembly.
The total number of churches increased by 4 to 1,572
The number of mission churches increased by 11 to 355
The number of ministers increased by 69 to 4,951
Sunday School attendance increased by 679 to 94,349
Total membership (communicant, non-communicant, ministers) increased by 10,057 to 384,793
Total reported giving increased by $33,574,188 to $870,679,800.
In the light of the major decline of mainline denominations and the plateau or decline of some evangelical denominations, the present gradual growth of the PCA is noteworthy.
Suggested Prayer, Offerings, and Events
Prayer for Covenant College as determined by local sessions during the month of October.
November 2019, a Month of Prayer for Global Missions (MTW).
A special offering for MTW Compassion Ministries on a date chosen by local sessions.
November 3, 2019, a Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church Worldwide (MTW).
When a mother learns she will have a child (whether through birth or birthed in her heart through adoption) she knows things will change. From observing others, she knows her sleep will change. She knows her time will no longer be hers. She knows she’ll sacrifice and love and worry in ways she never has before.
One change she may not expect, but perhaps is the biggest change of all, will take place in her own heart.
A Mother’s Heart
Moms read many books, blogs, and articles to prepare for motherhood. One thing these resources can’t prepare a mom for is the reality of how hard motherhood can be. Unlike the difficult jobs we’ve had before, motherhood is all consuming. It consumes energy, time, emotions, and wisdom, and everything else. It’s a 24/7 job, without breaks or vacations. It challenges us in our weakest areas and reveals our insufficiencies. It shows us just how much we don’t know and how incapable we really are. It also seems to spotlight sin in our heart, magnifying it so that we see the depths of our sin in ways we’ve never noticed before.
It’s not as though motherhood makes us more of a sinner; rather, areas of sin we didn’t realize we had are brought to the surface. Sinful habits and patterns are brought to light that may have once been in the shadows. The pressures and challenges of motherhood somehow make the sin we already have more pronounced. It’s like when the sunlight streams through the windows at just the right angle and shines upon the furniture. That light reveals all the dust layered on the tabletop. It was there before, we just didn’t notice it until the light shone down on it. In a similar way, specific areas of sin in our heart are brought out into the light in motherhood in ways they never had been before.
While God uses many circumstances and situations in our life to sanctify us—relationships, illness, work, even getting stuck in traffic—he also uses motherhood. That teething baby who keeps us up at night, that toddler who throws tantrums in the grocery store, that teen who insists on doing the exact opposite of everything we say, are all circumstances God uses to help us see our sin, show us our need for his grace, and change us into the image of Jesus Christ.
One area of sin in our heart God transforms is that of idolatry.
Idols of a Mother’s Heart
We were created to worship. We were made to glorify and enjoy our Creator. But because of the Fall of mankind, our hearts are prone to worship anything and everything else. We seek after our own glory. We seek after things we think will make us happy, whole, and complete. We look for hope, life, and meaning apart from God. We seek after false gods and give them the honor that God alone deserves.
Children are a blessing and a good gift from the Lord. But they, like many good things, can become idols in a mother’s heart.
In motherhood we see idolatry reveal itself in unique ways:
The Idol of Children: Children are a blessing and a good gift from the Lord. But they, like many good things, can become idols in a mother’s heart. This happens when we as moms find our meaning and significance in being a mother or in living through our children. We spend so much of our time, energy, and life serving, loving, and training our children, it’s easy to see how our life can revolve around them, where everything becomes about them, and where we find our purpose and identity in them, rather than in the One who made us.
The Idol of Success: Who doesn’t want their children to grow up into happy, healthy, productive adults? We all want good things for our children. The problem comes when we put our hope in their success — in their performance in school or sports, in how they behave in front of others, in how they look, or who their friends are. When we worship this idol, we take our children’s failures personally, as our failures, because our worth and value rests in our children’s success, rather than in Christ’s success for us.
The Idol of Comfort: At the end of a long and weary day with our children, we often turn to things to give us comfort. Maybe it’s binging on Netflix. Maybe it’s scrolling mindlessly through social media. Maybe it’s a big bowl of ice cream. The idol of comfort serves to numb us from the difficulties and challenges of life. For moms, there are many reasons we might seek an escape. We might even think we deserve an escape after a particularly rough day. The problem is that we seek refuge, hope, and help in created things, rather than in our Savior.
The Idol of Control: The idol of control involves a desire for things to go according to our will and plan. We don’t like chaos or disorder. We live by to-lists, plans, and routines. We may seek to control our children’s health, doing everything we can to keep germs away. We might research and study every strategy to manage our children and our home. We may be vigilant in keeping our children’s routines. While there is nothing wrong with order and structure and routine, the problem comes when we put our hope in our methods to make life work, rather than in the One who gives us life. Ultimately, our strategies to control things end up controlling us.
The Idol of Approval: When we worship the idol of approval, we long to accepted by others. Deep down, we believe we must be loved or accepted for life to have meaning. We care most about what other’s think of us. For moms, it can involve what our children think of us. It also includes what other people think of how we are doing with our parenting and whether we are doing a good job or not. In worshipping the idol of approval, we find our meaning and worth in what others think of us, rather than in what God thinks of us.
Good News for a Mother’s Heart
The good news is that idolatry doesn’t have the final say, the gospel does. The gospel tells us that because of Christ and what he did for us in his life, death, and resurrection, we are redeemed from sin and purified to live for him. We are being remade into worshipers who worship in spirit and truth. We don’t have to worship lesser gods and created things. We have been set free from slavery to sin and are now free to worship and glorify God. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
This means that when God looks upon us, he sees Christ’s perfect life lived for us. He sees Christ’s righteousness and his life lived to the glory of the Father. He sees Jesus in the temple, praising and worshipping him. He sees Jesus standing firm against temptation. He sees Jesus eating, serving, working, teaching, loving, resting, worshipping, and doing all things to the glory of God. He sees Jesus’ obedient life—from birth to his final breath. Every moment of our Savior’s life is credited to us as if we had done it ourselves.
There’s more good news: when Jesus ascended into heaven, he sent his Spirit to live in the hearts of believers. The Holy Spirit has made a home within us. He comforts us, guides us, convicts us, instructs us, and prays for us. He enables and empowers us to worship and glorify God as we were created to do. Though we are tempted and often give in to the desire to worship lesser things, we are strengthened by the work of the Spirit in us to put to death our idolatrous worship and learn to live more and more for God’s glory alone. The Spirit teaches and trains us to love the Lord with all our heart.
Motherhood often shines a light on things in our heart we didn’t know were there, especially idols of the heart. We shouldn’t waste the opportunity motherhood provides us to see the true content of our hearts and turn to our Savior in repentance. May we see each late-night visit from a little one, every tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, each disruption to our routine, and every unexpected illness as an opportunity for God to show us our need for him. May we see that he alone is our salvation and life. Because no matter how hard we try, we cannot find life and hope outside of him.
Christina Fox is a writer, speaker, and author of several books, including Closer than a Sister, Idols of a Mother’s Heart, and Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms. She serves on the PCA’s national women’s ministry team and is the editor of the enCourage blog with CDM. She lives with her husband and two sons in the Atlanta area and worships at East Cobb PCA. You can find her at www.christinafox.com.
Below is a summary of the major decisions made by the General Assembly on Thursday, June 27.
The General Assembly voted to answer Overture 23, “Withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals,” in the negative.
The Overtures Committee offered a partial report concerning its recommendations on Overtures 6, 12, 15, 19, and 18. The General Assembly voted, by voice vote, to affirm the recommendations of the Overtures Committee.
The Assembly voted to recommit Overture 41, “Direct CMTW to Amend its Guidelines to Implement CMTW’s ‘Statement on Valuing Women in MTW,’ so that only Ordained Elders Will Be Allowed to Serve in the Roles of Team Leader, Regional Director, and International Director within MTW,” to the MTW committee.
The Assembly voted to accept the recommendation from Committee of Discipleship Ministries to answer Overture 25, “Support Christian Education,” in the negative.
The Assembly voted to accept the recommendation from the Administrative Committee Committee of Commissioners that Overture 27, “Study Possibility of Remote Voting at General Assembly,” be answered in the negative.
Overtures Dealing With Changes to the “Book of Church Order”
The Assembly voted to accept the recommendations from Overtures Committee on Overtures 17, 36, 1, 5, and 34.
The Assembly voted to accept the recommendations from Overtures Committee on Overtures 9 and 33.
Overtures Addressing the Subject of Sexuality
The Assembly accepted the recommendation to answer Overture 4, “Declare the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood’s ‘Nashville Statement’ on Biblical Sexuality as a Biblically Faithful Declaration,” in the affirmative. The vote was 803-541.
The Assembly accepted the recommendation of the Overtures Committee to answer Overture 22, “Urge Assembly to Adopt Overture 4 Regarding Nashville Statement,” with reference to its answer on Overture 4.
The Assembly accepted the recommendation of the Overtures Committee to answer Overture 11, “Commend and Distribute RPCNA’s ‘Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis,’” in the affirmative as amended.
The moderator has ruled voted to recommend that Overtures 35 and 39 out of order because they call on the Assembly to re-affirm previous PCA General Assembly actions. According to the Robert’s Rules, re-affirmations are always out of order.
The assembly accepted the recommendation of the Overtures Committee to answer Overture 42, “Establish Study Committee on Sexuality,” in the affirmative as amended.
The Assembly has voted to answer Overtures 30, 44, and 45 with reference to its actions on Overture 42.
The Assembly has voted to answer Overture 37, “Assembly Statement on Same-sex Attraction,” with reference to its answer to Overture 4.
The Assembly has voted to answer Overture 28, “Affirmations and Denials regarding Homosexuality,” with reference to its answer to Overture 4.
Dr. L. Roy Taylor was re-elected as the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. After his re-election, Taylor, who has served as stated clerk since 1998, announced that he plans to retire after the 2020 General Assembly.
Howard Donahoe has been elected moderator of the 47th General Assembly. The vote was 848-493. Read more about Howie here.
The seven BCO changes proposed by the 46th General Assembly and approved by two-thirds of presbyteries were presented to the 47th General Assembly for final adoption. The Assembly voted against adopting changes to BCO 30-1, BCO 32-19, BCO 30-3. The changes to BCO 8-1, 8-3, 25-11, 35-11, and 59-3 were adopted.
The General Assembly has elected Howie Donahoe, a ruling elder from Seattle in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery, to moderate the 47th General Assembly. The vote was 848-493.
Donahoe has been a member of the PCA for 36 years and has attended churches in Washington, Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. He has served as a ruling elder for 32 years.
In his years as a ruling elder Donahoe has served in many positions (sometimes multiple times) including session clerk, presbytery moderator, and presbytery stated clerk. He has attended 26 of the last 30 General Assembly gatherings and served as host committee chairman in 2003 when the Assembly met in Charlotte. For 20 years he has served on the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC).
Bryan Chapell nominated Donahoe. The two first met more than 20 years ago, and Chapell appreciates Donahoe’s tireless dedication to the work of the church.
“For those of us in pastoral ministry, it’s our livelihood to care for the life of the church. But for a ruling elder like Howie, it is love for the health of the gospel that drives him,” Chapell said. “And he has been extremely active and dedicated at all levels of the church.”
An Ambassador for Civility
In his years of service, Donahoe has developed a reputation for helping opponents come together, get to know each other, and talk out their differences in a personal setting. When Donahoe began serving on the Committee for Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) several years ago, he noticed that people clustered in the same groups to work and to socialize after the meeting.
Wanting to change the cliquish dynamic, he started bringing beverages and cigars, hoping to bring together people who didn’t know each other. Not only did the men initiate across-the-aisle conversations, but they built common ground by discussing shared experiences like families and favorite books
Donahoe understands that relationships are one of the antidotes to animosity, so when he senses that discord might threaten the unity of the church, he creates opportunities for relationships to grow.
As the 46th General Assembly approached in 2018, Donahoe became concerned that competing overtures dealing with memorials could disrupt the unity of the Assembly. Donahoe and his wife, Debbie, invited backers of the overtures to join them for dinner in Atlanta before the Assembly convened. When the differing sides had a chance to sit down face to face, get to know each other in an informal setting, and hear each other, they came away with greater understanding of the opposing points of view, Donahoe said.
“I have seen him willing to work across all lines of division and have an interest in being a peacemaker without compromising truth,” Chapell said.
David Coffin, who serves on the SJC with Donahoe, said Donahoe has helped repair damaged relationships among SJC members when conflicts have hampered the SJC’s work.
“Howie got members of SJC to come together — booked their hotels, flights and meals — and we spent the day together praying and talking and it was very healing. He facilitates people learning to trust each other.”
Coffin’s appreciation and respect for Donahoe seem remarkable considering the two men disagree on the correct application of law on many issues before the SJC. Still, they are able to maintain a close friendship despite their differences.
“We talk about it and sometimes energetically disagree with each other, [but] when it’s over, we are friends again,” Donahoe said.
Discovering Presbyterian Polity
A former Air Force pilot who now flies for American Airlines, Donahoe earned his undergraduate degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy and his Master of Science degree in Aviation Management and Human Factors from Arizona State University.
Donahoe grew up in a large Catholic family in the Pittsburgh suburbs. During his senior year in the Air Force Academy he discovered the work of C.S. Lewis. When he attended pilot training in Arizona, Donahoe started attending a Baptist church with his roommate.
After attending a seminar led by Drs. Francis Schaefer and C. Everett Koop called, “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” Donahoe got involved in pro-life work. When he was transferred to an Air Force base near Tacoma, Washington, he looked for a church in a pro-life, protestant denomination. He attended Faith Tacoma (PCA), and never left.
Under the teaching of Dr. Rob Rayburn at Faith Tacoma, Donahoe discovered Reformed covenantal theology, the doctrines of grace, and Presbyterian polity. He was a founding board member of a crisis pregnancy center that has grown into Care Net of Puget Sound, a pregnancy center that now has seven locations in the Tacoma-Seattle area.
From Tacoma, Donahoe moved to Virginia and then to Pittsburgh, where he worshipped at Providence PCA for 11 years. It was while serving as a ruling elder at Providence that Donahoe attended his first presbytery meeting.
“I was fascinated with the interactions among people who disagree but still get along,” he said. And as someone who always wanted to be a lawyer, Donahoe was interested in the procedural and judicial aspects in particular. He looked forward to the next meeting and soon was serving on Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Credentials Committee.
Because of the flexibility of his work schedule, Donahoe started requesting vacation for the week of General Assembly. His first Committee of Commissioners experience was on the old Bills & Overtures Committee. He later volunteered for multiple terms on the Review of Presbytery Records Committee (RPR), which meets three days each May. He sees RPR as a microcosm of the dynamics at work in the General Assembly.
“You have such differences of opinion and people can argue about it, but at some point you take a vote, and the minority is, per one of the ordination vows, subject to the brethren in the Lord,” he said.
Donahoe and his wife, Debbie, have been married for 34 years. They have five adult children who are all involved in local churches. They have one grandson, and another due in July.