Monday, July 16, 2012

A Few Thoughts on General Assembly

This year I served on the Administrative Committee of Commissioners (a first).  I'd like to offer a few comments about that experience as well as some thought I have about the General Assembly itself.  I've seen several reports on that gathering so I won't try to replicate those reports or even dispute them.  I simply want to list what I thought were some positives and negatives.


1)  Inviting Dr. Roy Taylor to administer the Lord's Supper to the assembly at our opening night worship service.  I thought that this was a classy act insofar that we almost always see Dr. Taylor functioning in his capacity as stated clerk of the denomination not as a teaching elder administering the sacraments. 

2) Interim report on the Insider Movement.  Like most, I had not heard about the Insider Movement until it came up in an overture to the General Assembly in 2011.  At the time I was serving on the Overtures Committee and it was our recommendation to appoint a study committee to produce a report for the denomination.  The assembly concurred and we received a preliminary report (80+ pages) at this year's meeting.  That report was well-received and the committee was tasked with completing its work and reporting to next year's assembly.  


1) Low attendance - this year we had 1,078 commissioners to the assembly.  As others have noted we every minister is eligible to attend as is at least one ruling elder from every church.  We have 1,466 churches and 4,256 ministers.  If every minister attended and every church sent an elder that would make a grand total of 5,722 commissioners.  Thus, less than 20% of those eligible to vote attended the general assembly.  Not good.  What isn't well known is the steady decline in attendance since 2006 when 1,415 commissioners attended.  There is a related issue to low attendance (see below). 

2) Increased registration for General Assembly - next year the registration fee will increase $50 to $450/commissioner.  Those from smaller churches will get a discount ($300/person I think).  Some have complained that the current costs (registration plus travel, hotel, meals, etc.) is a contributing factor to low attendance.  I must agree.  To raise costs only discourages participation.  

3) Debates about Communion - I won't re-hash the debates here except to explain that two issues arose which consumed quite a bit of time.  Paedo-communion (allowing very young children to take communion) and intinction (dipping the Communion bread into wine before consuming) led to much discussion.  The assembly kicked the can down the road to next year's Review of Presbytery Minutes Committee on the question of paedo-communion charging it to come back with a clearer response to Pacific Northwest Presbytery.  The assembly adopted language to amend the Book of Church Order to outlaw the practice of intinction and that amendment has been sent to the presbyteries for their votes.  That we are debating such things (which are not prescribed by our confessional standards) speaks volumes. 

4) Membership in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).  An overture was debated about severing ties to the NAE over recent political declarations.  Dr. Roy Taylor serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for the NAE and this overture put him in a delicate position.  He defended our involvement in the NAE on the grounds that George Whitfield and John Wesley cooperated in ministry.  He reasoned that if those two could put aside differences and work together sure we can do the same.  I was disappointed in this simplistic answer for two reasons:  1) It seemed to ignore the serious nature of the overture.  On what basis does the NAE speak about immigration or the environment or any other political matter?  We should speak where Scripture speaks and we should be silent when Scripture is silent.  2) It side-stepped the serious conversation that needs to take place about evangelicalism as articulated by D.G. Hart is his books Deconstructing Evangelicalism and From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin.  For the record the PCA voted to stay in the NAE while monitoring that group's actions.  

Overall the tone of debate was cordial and polite both on the floor and in committee.  I appreciated that but it will only take us so far: We are a divided denomination and it is time to discuss those divisions.  

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