The dust has settled and enough time has passed to reflect on the 42nd General Assembly, and make some observations about it.
As significant as some of the Assembly’s actions were (for example, the child protection statement the Assembly adopted has been called “perhaps the most robust statement on child protection adopted by any Christian denomination” – read that article here), I was personally most impressed by the tone of this Assembly. By that I mean the nature of our relationships reflected in the way we spoke with one another and treated each other as we went about our work.
In my estimation, this Assembly sounded a more brotherly and gracious tone than any of the 23 Assemblies I have attended. We discussed weighty matters (the report of the Ad-Interim Committee on Insider Movements, for example). Several issues provoked spirited disagreement and were decided by close votes (the answer to Overture 43 springs to mind). Yet speakers consistently showed respect for opposing opinions, and charity toward those who held them.
Perhaps the best evidence of this spirit was a speech by a younger man who openly shared his struggles with same-sex attraction. It was intensely personal, eloquent, and, I would say, the most courageous speech I have ever heard on the Assembly floor. I’m convinced that this man felt the freedom to make that speech because he believed he was in a room with men he could trust, who would love and accept him in Christ, and not denounce him for his struggles. One commissioner commented that there were times during the week when he would have proudly brought a non-Christian around with him. This was one of those times.
Clearly, the Spirit of God was at work among us! It is obvious that He answered the prayers of many devoted brothers and sisters who were faithfully bringing us to the throne of grace both before and during the Assembly. But what human factors did He use to contribute to this Assembly’s tone? Several could be cited. In my judgment, the commissioners to this Assembly were unusually well prepared. The quality of the speeches I heard, both in the Overtures Committee and on the Assembly floor, suggested hard work and diligent study. The leadership exhibited by our moderator, Dr. Bryan Chapell, certainly affected the tone. Dr. Chapell expedited the Assembly’s business competently and fairly — and always with good humor. Moreover, his exemplary character was evident to all. The Wednesday morning seminar on the Past, Present, and Future of the PCA helped us see this Assembly in its historical and cultural context; that no doubt influenced how we conducted our work. And the fact that so many articulate younger men were actively engaged contributed to the positive tone as well.
But two other factors stood out to me above the rest. One was the sermon that opened the Assembly. Rev. Ray Cortese spoke from Matthew 12 on a “beautiful orthodoxy.” He described a church committed to a biblical orthodoxy marked by humility, mercy, and soul rest. Ray painted a picture of the church we long to be, and I believe it profoundly influenced the way we conducted ourselves as a body for the rest of the week.
The second factor was further in the background, but still significant. Several have noticed the absence of our Founding Generation at this Assembly — the men who risked so much to give birth to our denomination some 40 years ago, men who have often stood at the microphones and swayed the Assembly — as much by their wisdom and maturity as their arguments. We didn’t hear from many of them this year, but we did feel their presence. Recently, 18 of these men issued a letter titled “As We See It Today: The Perspective of Some of the Founding Fathers.” In that letter, these men observed that the differences of opinion in the PCA, which are often most evident at General Assembly, “reflect a healthy breadth of views and perspectives.” They noted that such differences produce “an ever present need for love and mutual respect;” such breadth, they explained, “presents the PCA with a need for leaders who will willingly search for the center; who will build and maintain unity so our mission might be accomplished.” The love and mutual respect we experienced at the 42nd General Assembly is evidence that, by the grace of God, we led each other to that unifying center during the week.
Most of us left Houston encouraged by the tone sounded by this Assembly. May the Lord grant us similar harmony next year in Chattanooga, and for many years to come.