Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ouch!!! The PCA more heavy-handed than the PCUSA? - UPDATE

Today the Layman Online is reporting that the PCUSA is writing off nearly $1,000,000 in uncollected per capita giving for 2009.  Embedded in this story is an astonishing statement:

"Further, the GAPJC has held that no punitive action can be taken at any level of governance against those who fail to pay per capita."

That is a far cry from what was proposed at the PCA General Assembly - failure to pay the annual fee would be cumulative, would result in loss of voting rights at General Assembly, and could result in losing the ability to serve on GA committees. 

If the PC-USA will not punish for failure to give then why is the PCA so quick to rule with a big stick? 

Go here for the full story:

Last spring, from the moment I began reading the Strategic Plan for the PCA and watched the accompanying videos, I stood opposed to its adoption. Incumbent with that position is my steadfast opposition to amending our constitution to require churches, individual ministers and presbyteries pay an annual fee (tax) to the denomination's headquarters as represented by the Administrative Committee. I have written about funding the AC in an alternative manner and I have also argued that churches need to express their 'connectionalism' by voluntarily supporting this office.

The Aquila Report has posted an article that sheds light on the proposed amendments to our Book of Church Order. The opinions come from a surprising place - the more liberal (and top-down, command and control) Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). In short, many in that denomination are looking on and cannot believe the heavy-handed approach proposed by our denomination's Cooperative Ministries Committee.  Quoting from the article...

“It would be a shame if your General Assembly were to adopt a policy more restrictive than the one currently in force in the PCUSA.”

“I can't imagine that the PCA wants to be viewed as MORE draconian than the PCUSA.”

We should not be surprised at this response. I have had private conversations with members of my own church who know little about PCA politics and they are appalled at these amendments.  I have had similar responses from folks representing sister NAPARC churches who cannot believe that this has been proposed.  

When this came to a vote on the floor of our presbytery in September the amendments were soundly defeated by a 9 to 1 margin.  Our debate was anything but heated.  A few days earlier I had come down with a cold and I barely had a voice.  Thus, though I was adamantly opposed to the amendments I could barely speak without coughing.  Man after man stood up and spoke in favor of our current voluntary plan and expressed great consternation about the perceived centralization of power in Atlanta as expressed through the Cooperative Ministries Committee.  Some even went so far as to say that they had left denominations for this very reason and came into the PCA for its 'freedom' and 'liberty.'

Remember, the PC-USA will not allow congregations to leave that denomination with their buildings (talk about 'restrictive' and 'draconian').  Churches who wish to leave that denomination must pay an 'exit fee' (usually running into hundreds of thousands of dollars or more) to retain ownership of their buildings.  That those folks view the PCA as being more restrictive and draconian than them speaks volumes.

The Aquila Report: PCA Proposed AC Funding Changes more restrictive than current PCUSA Policy, official explains


Ken Pierce said...


That was precisely our situation in MS Valley. There was very little debate. Only I, and one other brother, spoke, and both of us opposed. Nobody spoke up in favor. Both BCO 14 amendments were defeated by overwhelming majorities.

Jon Barlow said...

Just wanted to tell you how much I love that photograph you have up there of the poles from the old train trestle. I only wish I was there to cast my lure between them and catch a big fish! Your photographs are always so nice.

Dave Sarafolean said...


Your comment is very telling about the nature of the opposition to these amendments. This story">20 October 2010

speaks of the stated clerk's office engaging in a full-court press to counter a campaign of "misinformation" about these amendments. There was no misinformation spoken on the floor of Great Lakes Presbytery. If anything, full disclosure of what is just around the corner (another amendment to the BCO requiring full disclosure of every church's finances and a resulting fee/tax) was the final straw.

The men in our respective presbyteries do not want a top-down denomination. Furthermore, I would assert that these lop-sided votes reveal are a referendum on the Cooperative Ministries Committee (i.e. the rank and file do not trust the CMC and its prooposals). Here is the relevant question: Is anyone in Atlanta listening? Sadly, mounting a full-court press indicates a certain tone deafness reminiscent of a certain president.

Dave Sarafolean said...


I love the photo too. Fishing would be great but this time of year is famous for deer hunting. This area is just west of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and is pretty wild. One year I recall crossing timber wolf tracks in the snow while deer hunting.

I cannot take credit for all the photos that I have put on my masthead. A relative sent this one in an email. Others have been randomly sent by friends. Truth be told my photographic skills are somewhere below that of an amateur.

Jon Barlow said...

Wow, wolves. That's something I've never encountered in the wild. Bears, coyotes, etc., but never wolves...

Anonymous said...

yeah, that is UNBELIEVABLE photo. congratulations on that. Get it framed and pass it on to your grandkids' grandchildren. I'm serious.

Chris Hutchinson

Joe said...

Dave, what is the problem with the denomination requiring support as a condition of belonging? Why is it "heavy handed" as opposed to just plain fair?

Is it preferable that congregations (or presbyteries) insist to belong while refusing to support? Why isn't this just a free ride?

Dave Sarafolean said...


It violates one of the founding principles of the denomination - voluntary affiliation and voluntary support. BCO 25-8 includes this line...

"The superior courts of the Church may receive monies or properties from a local church only by free and voluntary action of the latter."

To force me or my church to give violates this principle. So does taking away my right to vote at General Assembly.

Behind this 'innocuous' set of amendments is another one that will require every church to report their annual receipts and pay a percentage on those funds to the denominational headquarters.

There are Scriptural grounds too - II Cor. 9, Exodus 25:1-2, 35:4-5; 35:21-29 for starters.

Beyond this is the general direction of the denomination moving away from other confessionally reformed churches and embracing broad evangelicalism.

Joe said...

Perhaps I need to learn more about what is meant by voluntary affiliation and support.

My regular contribution to the church is voluntary. However I would not expect to remain a member in good standing if I refused to support the church while I am able to support her. I am free to leave our church, but is the church compelled to continue to minister to me even as I refuse to support her?

Am I wrong about that? Or are there two different senses of "voluntary?"

I am concerned about "embracing broad evangelicalism" as you are, but that seems separate from denominational support. I still don't see the problem with a requirement to support the denomination as a condition of belonging to the denomination.

Trying to humbly gain understanding.

Dave Sarafolean said...


The PCA was founded to be a grass-roots denomination with a limited government. All of the denominational agencies were to rely on the free and voluntary gifts of the members of the PCA. These proposed amendments reverse that founding vision.

Other denominations impose a 'head tax' upon churches: pay-up or else. The PCA was founded with the understanding that it would not repeat the mistakes of the southern and northern denominations.

What's happened is that the agencies who can demonstrate tangible ministry (conversions, church plants, etc.) raise millions of dollars. The Administrative Committee, struggles to raise what it needs. All agencies rely on voluntary gifts and people simply prefer to give where they can see results.

Instead of a tax on all churches, ministers and presbyteries I have proposed that the PCA do what other non-profit agencies do: take a percentage of all gifts to fund the AC. Thus gifts to MNA, MTW, Covenant College, etc. all be assessed in the range of 1% to fund the AC. This wouldn't raise all that the AC needs so voluntary gifts would still be needed. However, the advantage would be much preferrable to the proposed tax. I know the other PCA agencies do not want to go down this road because they would have to fork over some of their funds. Yet, they benefit from the AC just as much as any church, minister or presbytery.

As it stands each church is asked to give at least $7.00/communicant member annually to the AC. If that church should choose to send a commissioner to General Assembly that registration fee ($400 last year) also funds the AC. So, we are already contributing, and doing so rather generously. Perhaps the AC needs to reduce its budget. Perhaps it needs to commission a study to determine why connectionalism, as expressed by voluntary gifts runs so low (last year about 45% of churches gave).