Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Happy Birthday PCA!
Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission -Motto of the PCA
Did you know that this Wednesday, December 4th, 2013, the Presbyterian Church in America will be 40 years old? On that date in 1973, the first general assembly of what was (for that first year) called “The National Presbyterian Church” convened. Now why is that important to you? It has been said somewhere by someone that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. The issues that, in the providence of God, brought about our existence as a denomination are important for us to remember for they are still with us today in one form or another. However, in a short article like this it is simply not possible to describe with any degree of detail the topics and events which occurred over decades of time and which led to the birth of the PCA. Yet, if you would take the time to reflect upon and consider the motto of the PCA written above you will have internalized the main principles upon which our denomination has been established.
First is “faithful to the Scriptures.” The PCA was born out of aware and alert ruling elders fighting an increasingly losing battle over the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible as the very word of God. Phrases like “plenary, verbal inspiration,” and words like “inerrancy” became watershed issues that divided those who believed in the Bible from those who really did not. More and more professing believers, especially ministers and seminary professors, were rejecting the truths of Scripture for the so-called “progress” of modern sciences. In 1963-64, the Book of Church Order was changed to allow for women elders. The 1968 General Assembly of the PCUS (now the PCUSA), rejected supernatural creation in favor of evolutionary theory. The Bible was being supplanted and so God-fearing men and women within the denomination had to “come out from among them” (2 Cor. 6:17), in order to be faithful to the Scriptures.
Second, the PCA is committed to being “true to the Reformed faith.” In the 1920’s the PCUS replaced the Westminster Catechisms, which had always been used in the Sunday school curriculums, with more “modern methods.” Also, from 1939 on, the denomination began making changes to the Westminster Standards. These changes toned down total depravity, codified Arminianism, lowered the view of the Church as the only vehicle of salvation, introduced unbiblical grounds for divorce, and even altered direct quotations of Scripture! Moreover, many specific doctrines were being rejected or redefined as Church leaders took their cues from current philosophical, psychological, and educational theories rather than from our historic Reformed creeds and confessions. As a result, the Church began to speak out and support existing unbiblical movements such as pacifism, abortion, feminism, and socialism. God-fearing men and women within the denomination prayed and fought for reformation and revival as they tried to call the Church back to the true interpretation of the Bible reflected in the original Westminster Standards. But finding themselves increasingly in the minority, they were eventually forced to leave in order to be true to the Reformed faith.
Finally, the PCA is “obedient to the Great Commission.” The Great Commission refers to Christ’s charge to His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20). The founders of our denomination were committed to the proposition that the Church’s divine mission is to faithfully proclaim the unchanging gospel of man’s reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus Christ to the whole world until Jesus returns. Therefore, they refused to participate in missionary activities with individuals and denominations who denied Jesus as the only way, or who sought to achieve some fleshly, social goal rather than to bring individuals into a saving, spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Eventually they formed a new denomination in order to be obedient to the Great Commission.
Here at Providence we believe that the legacy of our denomination’s past is its mission for today and its vision for tomorrow. Join with me in thanking our sovereign Lord for raising up the PCA, and may He be pleased to make us ever more faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission!