The Presbyterian Church in America at 50

“… for the WORD of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged SWORD, piercing even to the division of the soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the HEART.”

Hebrews 4:12

The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) that I attended was June 1998, the 26th anniversary of the PCA in St. Louis, Missouri.  I was a ruling elder with First Presbyterian Church, Prattville, Alabama, and it would be accurate to say I was “wet behind the ears.”  So, when our church petitioned the presbytery for me to serve at the assembly, the presbytery elected me to serve on the Bills and Overtures committee of commissioners.  That’s kind of like putting a baby in the cockpit of a Boeing 747 aircraft and expecting her to fly it.  I knew almost nothing about the machinations of our denomination.  But, I learned a whole lot that first assembly.  The three days our committee met I sat at the same table with Kennedy Smartt, one of our denomination’s founding fathers, and the Moderator of the assembly that year.

I’ve attended most of the general assemblies held since that first one back in 1998. Jan and I will be going to Memphis, Tennessee, the same week of Vacation Bible School this month.  Last year, we missed general assembly because Molly and Noah were married that week.  Every time I (we) go to general assembly, we’re reminded all over again that the PCA is the best thing going in the church universal today. (Even if that is a bit of a stretch, isn’t it good to know that your pastor thinks His denomination is faithful and true?)

My pastor, the late Henry Lewis Smith, was always one step (sometimes miles!) ahead of me.  When I came under the care of Southeast Alabama presbytery while serving my pastoral internship, Pastor Smith dreamed I’d plant a biblical, Reformed church in northern Illinois.  At the time, I was serving on active duty with the Air Force while also raising two children with Jan, in addition to all the responsibilities I had at the church. Planting a church several states away wasn’t exactly at the top of my priorities then. Not to mention, Pastor Smith a native North Carolinian, hadn’t gotten further north in his travels in Illinois than Cairo (pronounced KAYro), the very most southern town of substance in Illinois.

Regardless, I was thrilled with the thought of the PCA having churches in the Land of Lincoln.  Our presbytery numbers 10 particularized churches, a mission church, and a Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) on the campus of the University of Illinois!  We may be small in number, but we are powerful in spirit.  I believe Pastor Smith would be thrilled to hear of our impact. 

In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), we often articulate that our mission as a denomination is to be “Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission.”  But underneath this lies an important assumption: that we are a denomination characterized by dependence on God through prayer.

  • To be faithful to the Scriptures means we “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thess. 5:17).
  • To be true to the Reformed faith means we pray to the One who has “foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question and Answer # 7).
  • To be obedient to the Great Commission is in part to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)

As others have noted, the mission of the PCA is a mission that requires us to be a praying denomination.  As the first Moderator of the PCA’s first General Assembly, Ruling Elder Jack Williamson made the following statement 50 years ago,

“We must undergird this Church with a great outgoing of prayer.  We know it is far easier to fight than it is to pray.  But our battle is ‘not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world against spiritual wickedness in high places.’  Only fervent prayer will prevail.”

This dear church father’s words serve as an important reminder of the priority of prayer for our health as a denomination.  Unless the Lord tarries in His return to earth, may the PCA continue as a vibrant, Christ-centered, evangelical denomination for 50 more years!  

                               Happy Anniversary PCA!  See you Sunday?  Pastor Daren