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  #1  
Old 17th May 2010, 09:03 AM
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The DIfference between PCUSA and PCA

What are the differences between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)?
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Old 17th May 2010, 04:23 PM
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It's pretty straightforward: The PCA is more conservative. They require accepting the Westminster Confession, which the PCUSA requires officers to be "guided by" a group of Reformed confessions. They don't ordain women, PCUSA does. PCA says they believe the Bible is inerrant in the original manuscripts. PCUSA believes Scripture is authoritative, but is more flexible on how. The PCA is growing (at least until 2008, which seems slightly below 2007). The PCUSA is shrinking. Otherwise the theological tradition and approach is similar.
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Old 18th May 2010, 07:13 AM
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I agree with the above post, it sums things up nicely. The PCA is a conservative and, in general, confessional reformed denomination, and the largest member of NAPARC. However, the PCA has several different faces to it. There is also a strong influence of broad evangelicalism in the denomination, as well as a strong missional focus in certain quarters (a la Tim Keller). In a sense, the PCA is a grassroots church body with a lot of diversity, and some inner tension because of that. Sometimes worshipping in the PCA can be like a box of chocolates, depending on where you go. Although, as hedrick mentioned, the PCA is still a conservative denomination with a focus on evangelism, holding to Bibilical inerrancy and the secondary authority of the Westminster Standards.

The PC(USA) is generally considered to be a mainline protestant denomination as opposed to a conservative or evangelical church body. Nowadays, mainline usually means liberal or liberal-leaning. Although there are certainly evangelical churches and even renewal groups within the PC(USA), it's not characteristic of the church body in general. Although I wouldn't consider the PC(USA) to be as liberal as the ECUSA or the UCC, there is a similar tendency to be strongly influenced by higher criticism. I'm curious if hedrick would agree, but given the general theological tenor and trajectory of the PC(USA), I think they are on the same basic path as the other more liberal denominations, and just haven't gotten there yet. I would imagine that in the not too distant future, it will have policies similar to the ECUSA and ELCA.
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Old 18th May 2010, 07:18 AM
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Yeah. But in both there is significant variance from congregation to congregation, and there's a degree of overlap. My experience is that PCA "liberals" and PCUSA "conservatives" are both what I would call moderate -- about where I am.
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Old 18th May 2010, 09:09 AM
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Agreed, there is definite variation in both denominations.
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Old 18th May 2010, 05:31 PM
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As to changes, I'm not so sure. I grew up in the PCUSA in the late 50's, and still have Sunday School material from that period. I don't see much change in theology. Both then and now, the Church does not believe in inerrancy, but thinks the Bible is accurate enough for practical purposes, and does consider it authoritative. The main issue with that kind of hybrid position is really Genesis, i.e. evolution. Ordination of women actually dates back to the 50s, as I recall. It was justified then, and now, as the most likely reading of Paul. I'd be prepared to argue that, though possibly in a separate thread.

The main change I think is in attitudes towards homosexuality. There have been some well-publicized cases of people who seem to deny standard ideas of Jesus as dying for us and as savior, but these were never typical, and incidents actually seem to be decreasing, not increasing. I would argue that increased toleration for homosexuality does not reflect a more liberal approach to theology or the BIble. I think the theological basis for it goes back at least 50 years, and the only reason it hasn't happened is a distaste in our culture for homosexuality, not Biblical interpretation. I think the distaste is slowly receding, so I don't have in doubt that the PCUSA will ordain homosexuals. The merger with the Southern church probably delayed it, as it brought people in who were on average more conservative. The current trickle of churches leaving to conservative groups will speed it up. But I don't think that change reflects anything else. On other things, I don't see much change.

There are differences in the current hot-button issues. I think ordination of women is actually the easiest, as I believe Paul actually recognized female apostles and deacons, although probably not elders. So no fancy footwork is needed for this. Both evolution and ordination of homosexuals requires arguments that not everyone accepts, although I don't see them as different in principle from ordaining people who work for the IRS or banks. This difference is reflected in the position of the OPC. That's the body that most churches who leave the PCUSA go to. They're a bit more conservative, but still permit ordination of women (as a per-Presbytery option). It's pretty obvious why churches that leave would want a group that accepts ordination of women. Most PCUSA churches have female elders. It wouldn't be great to join a church that didn't recognize half your elders and deacons. But a number of churches at least think they don't have homosexual officers.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens to memberships. A number of us have suspected for a while that the conservative churches are growing mainly by taking members from the liberal ones, but once they've taken the people who are interested, they'll have the same problems the rest of us do. I note that the PCA declined in 2008, and I believe the Southern Baptists are declining as well. This isn't good. I'm not so partisan as to wish the PCA problems. If people aren't willing to accept what I think is the most accurate form of Christianity, I'd still like them to find a Church. But I'm a bit worried that some of the more conservative folks have been overly optimistic about how attractive their churches are, and that we (jointly, liberals and conservatives together) aren't doing as well as we should in reaching the unchurched in the US.
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Old 19th May 2010, 09:34 AM
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Thank you for your thoughts. I believe you're thinking of the EPC, not the OPC. The EPC is somewhat more conservative than then PC(USA) but does leave the issue of women's ordination up to the presbyteries. Most congregations leaving the PC(USA) are going to that church body. However, the OPC is significantly more conservative than either (and some would argue that it might be more conservative than the PCA) and has never allowed wormen's ordination.

I find your comments regarding church growth to be interesting, and in many ways I agree with you. It's bothered me for a while that many conservative churches have relied on marketing tactics to grow their churches. I certainly agree that this makes them think that their churches are more attractive than they really are. They may be more attractive to a certain niche demographic, but they are (forgive the term) more ugly compared with Biblical Christianity. It's interesting that one could make the case (as I would) that this approach to "doing church" isn't conservative at all and is in some ways a practical denial of what those churches claim to stand for.
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Old 19th May 2010, 01:56 PM
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As far as I can tell, if you want to grow as a denomination, you do "church planting." Comments on the slowdown in growth in the PCA are that they lost their emphasis on church planting. Doing that is a good strategy for the denomination. However if you look at Protestants as a whole, it may lead to too many churches for the population. It used to be that churches tried to spend 50% on mission. Few have managed to do that for many decades. There's a fair overhead in just staffing and running a church. So more churches than you need costs in terms of service and mission.

The tradeoff isn't pure, because we certainly need new churches in some areas where population is expanding. And new churches may adopt new styles and new approaches to mission that will attractive or involve people who otherwise wouldn't be involved. Some traditional churches haven't done as well as they should in adapting to change. They may end up effectively being replaced by new churches, and that may be a good thing.
But I do think there may be a difference between what makes sense for an individual denomination and for the Body overall.
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Old 20th May 2010, 02:04 PM
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There are no real PCA liberals, but they're sure PCUSA liberals. There are revivalistic, evangelicals in the PCA but they would all affirm innerancy, the westminster standards, etc.. Or to get the debate going: PCUSA is not reformed though was founded historically in the reformed tradition and the PCA is reformed though there is alot of variety in it. Even conservatives in the PCUSA refuse to submit to the westminster standards, thus even if they are orthodox, there is no way historically they can be considered reformed in any sense of the word pre 1950 (when TULIP became the popular way of defining this word).
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Old 20th May 2010, 04:48 PM
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But aren't there some conservatives in the PC(USA) that do submit to the Westminster Standards? I'm thinking of some of the ones in the Confessing Church Movement. Although, as far as I know, the purpose of the CCM is to encourage the churches to preach the evangelical gospel, but not necessarily to be reformed.
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