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The DIfference between PCUSA and PCA

Discussion in 'Confessional, Covenantal, Creedal - Presbyterian' started by Nemo Neem, May 17, 2010.

  1. Nemo Neem

    Nemo Neem Acts 22:7 - 8

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    What are the differences between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)?
     
  2. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran CF Ambassador

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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.
     
  3. kenrapoza

    kenrapoza I Like Ice Cream

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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.
     
  4. Willtor

    Willtor Not just any Willtor... The Mighty Willtor

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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.
     
  5. kenrapoza

    kenrapoza I Like Ice Cream

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    Agreed, there is definite variation in both denominations.
     
  6. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran CF Ambassador

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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.
     
  7. kenrapoza

    kenrapoza I Like Ice Cream

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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.
     
  8. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran CF Ambassador

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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.
     
  9. Monseigneur_Gentilhomme

    Monseigneur_Gentilhomme Newbie

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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).
     
  10. kenrapoza

    kenrapoza I Like Ice Cream

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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.
     
  11. Monseigneur_Gentilhomme

    Monseigneur_Gentilhomme Newbie

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    I am sure in theory there maybe some in the PCUSA who do, but the ''church'' as a whole does not and actively participates in permitting those who teach against the standards by ordaining them. So I will not consider the PCUSA reformed because of that. The COnfessing Church movement is a good thing,and I rejoice where the Gospel is preached! But the gospel is not all there is to Christianity and the Gospel has implications. A woman can preach the true gospel, but Paul forbids it. To use the language of T4G: there are issues where there can be no compromise in christian fellowship, then there are issues where we cannot compromise if we want to preserve the Church (this is why church splits usually happen) and then there are issues that we can still worship together in the same church with even though we disagree about certain aspects of their thought. The first is essential to being a christian. The second is to being a healthy and God glorifying church. And the 3rd is essential to good discipleship. There is a disctinction between being an evangelical and being reformed. You can be reformed and not be evangelcial and evangelical without being reformed. Pentecotals, baptist, lutherans, etc... may choose to be evangelical but not all do. Being reformed is choosing to identify oneself in a specific tradition that is defined by a variety of confessions... by the church not just the true Gospel which others agree with. We can recognize them as true churches, but not as reformed. Evangelicism is not a church, it is a mentality and a movement and individualistic by deffinition. We can be reformed christians who have an evangelical spirit or are in the evangelical movement, but our primary identification is that where we are members in Christ's visible Church. There is no such thing as just an evangelical christian. We are called to be defined by Christ's Church into we are baptized and admited into fellowship upon profession of faith (and baptists would say the same thing!) The Church is God's idea not man's and we are called to membership and to live out our lives in it.
     
  12. kenrapoza

    kenrapoza I Like Ice Cream

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    Oh please don't misunderstand me, I see a huge difference between the reformed world and the broadly evangelical world - I'm not tyring to equate the two at all. But I'm basically in agreement with your above post. Remember...I'm an old-schooler! ;)
     
  13. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran CF Ambassador

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    There are almost certainly people in the PCUSA who accept Westminster, although I'd guess it's not a large fraction.

    The question is whether being Reformed means believing the same thing as in the 16th and 17th Cent, or using the same methods. My feeling is that requiring people today to accept Westminster is like requiring scientists to reject relativity in order to honor Newton. It's pretty clear that Calvin would want us to follow Scripture before following him. I would maintain that we do understand more about Scripture than in his time. There are two reasons: an advance in knowledge of the 1st Cent background, and an advance in critical methods. Note that he used both the best historical knowledge that he had, and the best critical scholarship. I don't think we honor him by freezing our understanding at the level he had.

    On the other hand, there should be a good deal of continuity or it makes no sense to use the term Reformed.

    I just looked through the WCF. I'll tell you the problems I have with it. I'm probably pretty typical.

    * While I accept original sin, their treatment of it seems to imply a more literal understanding of the creation story than I have
    * The treatment of Creation seems weak. I think there's more to be said than they say.
    * I doubt that there was ever a covenant of works. I believe that even Adam and Eve depended upon God's grace, although differently than after the Fall.
    * I think it's a mistake to call the Lord's Day the Sabbath.
    * The discussion of the last judgement seems to imply eternal conscious torment. I'm not sure that's a necessary conclusion, although I do expect a real judgement, and I'm not a universalist.
    * In addition, I have problems with the edition of the WCF used by the PCUSA. It was amended to imply that anyone dying in infancy is saved. I prefer the original wording.

    But beyond this, I'm not sure I'd support using the WCF as the primary authority. There are areas that while I don't exactly reject I think we would treat differently now. At the time the debate about predestination was big. The WCF tends to emphasize that and related issues. To my knowledge, most of our church members do believe God is in control, and if it is explained properly they'd probably accept at least 4 points. However it's no longer an emphasis for us. Grace still is. Because of the emphasis on TULIP, I think the WCF loses something of Calvin's more personal emphasis. Section 26 does talk about the union with Christ, but in a current treatment I'd expect that to take a more prominent position. My impression on reading the WCF is always rather different than when reading the Institutes, not so much that they contradict each other as that the emphasis is different.
     
  14. Monseigneur_Gentilhomme

    Monseigneur_Gentilhomme Newbie

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    buy the book or read it via inner libary loan ''Recovering the Reformed Confession'' by R. Scott Clark and listen to his mp3 talks (search Recovering Reformed Confession mp3 in google or monergism search). I think you need a lot of clarification here. As for union with christ again here is a great resource: Old Life Theological Society » Blog Archive » The Strunk & White Guide to Reformed Soteriology
     
  15. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran CF Ambassador

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    Actually I have a copy, and read it a few months ago. There's much in it that I find helpful, particularly his discussion of the difference between a confessional church and other approaches. I definitely see that as characterizing the churches from the magisterial Reformation, i.e. Lutherans and Reformed. The PCUSA is confessional. We just don't regard the WCF as the confession to end all confessions.

    Actually my favorite of the classical confessions is Calvin's French Confession, although I certainly don't consider it inerrant. The PCUSA has considered adding it to the Book of Confessions, but for some reason hasn't done so.
     
  16. Monseigneur_Gentilhomme

    Monseigneur_Gentilhomme Newbie

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    The purpose of confessions is to EXCLUDE other views not throw in other views. When the confessions become ''informing'' and not something confessed you loose any identity of being reformed in the historic sense. If your honestly telling me that you think the reformer's thought ordination of women and homosexuality were within the bounds of any of their confessions you are seriously braindead. Reformed is rooted in history and theology and clearly the PCUSA has abandoned that (and has been) for years. Now I understand that not all congregations in it are like that. Some are evangelical and a couple maybe calvinists, but Can you excommunicate a homosexual in the PCUSA? Discipline is not exercisised and the official website advocates safe sex practicing and will not condemn fornication and adultery amoung their clergy as sin by removing them. If you compromise on innerancy, Jesus being the only way to God, and church discipline I do not believe that organisation can no more be called a church. And because the PCUSA has those in it and refuses to discipline them, I will consider every PCUSA congregation apostate by association and will not have fellowship with them.

    And no I wasn't born into a conservative church, I was actually confirmed in the United Church of Christ, which is why I am so bitter to theological liberalism.
     
  17. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran CF Ambassador

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    As to the web page: If someone asked why we are right with God, I would say that it is because we are justified, and that we are justified on the basis of Christ's death and resurrection, which we participate in because the Holy Spirit has united us with Christ, a union in which we participate through faith. This is intended to be what Calvin says. The supposed response given there combines several different concepts in a way that doesn't make any sense, giving the appearance that part of the reason we are right with God is sanctification, which of course I wouldn't say (and I wonder if Reformed theologians that consider the union important would either).

    Since N.T. Wright is invisibly present in this discussion, here's a short statement from him: "‘Justification’ itself is not God’s act of changing the heart or character of the person; that is what Paul means by the ‘call’, which comes through the word and the Spirit. ‘Justification’ has a specific, and narrower, reference: it is God’s declaration that the person is now in the right, which confers on them the status ‘righteous’. (We may note that, since ‘righteous’ here, within the lawcourt metaphor, refers to ’status’, not ‘character’, we correctly say that God’s declaration makes the person ‘righteous’, i.e. in good standing.)" [http://www.thepaulpage.com/the-shape-of-justification/]

    I believe this is forensic justification, of a normal Reformed sort. I believe it could also be reasonably described as imputed righteousness. The main issue is that he thinks Paul uses righteous to mean in good standing. I.e. righteousness is practically the same as being justified. If you use that definition, I believe his views are Reformed. And I believe he is correct that this is the definition used by Paul.

    "What then about the ‘imputed righteousness’ about which we are to hear an entire paper this afternoon? This is fine as it stands; God does indeed ‘reckon righteousness’ to those who believe. But this is not, for Paul, the righteousness either of God or of Christ, except in a very specialised sense to which I shall return. ... Is there then no ‘reckoning of righteousness’ in, for instance, Romans 5.14–21? Yes, there is; but my case is that this is not God’s own righteousness, or Christ’s own righteousness, that is reckoned to God’s redeemed people, but rather the fresh status of ‘covenant member’, and/or ‘justified sinner’, which is accredited to those who are in Christ, who have heard the gospel and responded with ‘the obedience of faith’." [http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_New_Perspectives.htm]
     
  18. Monseigneur_Gentilhomme

    Monseigneur_Gentilhomme Newbie

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    The question is whether justification has to do with the covenant community or directly to Christ. The CC bring the message and we ought to be in it, but it is not a fundamental requirement to be justified. Carson's two volumes esp. summary in vol.1 and 2 deal with this excellently.
     
  19. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran CF Ambassador

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    I believe Wright is using it in the sense of the Body of Christ, i.e. he's not necessarily talking about participating in a specific church. Thus every justified person is by definition part of the covenant community. Remember that his overall position is that righteousness is covenant righteousness, and of course the covenant is with Israel. Paul's arguments in the area of Rom 5 seem to speak of both individuals and the covenant community. Much of the wording is plural. Christ's act of righteousness leads to justification for "all". And the critical section at the start of 6 is all plural. But clearly each individual is justified because of Christ's death for him. I don't see that Wright contradicts this. In my quotation abaove he talks about the justified person as being both a proper member of the covenant community and a justified sinner. I don't see how you can object to this without rejecting the concept of covenant, which of course is critical to Reformed theology, or without maintaining (in violation of the Biblical evidence) that God makes individual covenants with each person.

    I have this feeling that you're going to come up with some way of objecting to Wright no matter what he says. It's like talking to a Catholic, who in the end believes that nothing we say can possibly be right, because after all we're not part of his Church.
     
  20. Monseigneur_Gentilhomme

    Monseigneur_Gentilhomme Newbie

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    Again, you are commiting eisegeis when it comes to Wright. The documentation is clearly out there that Wright associates the body of Christ to be the visible church of some sort. Carson, Duncan, Clark, etc... have reviewed this stuff and rejected it. Given the PCUSA considered Barthianism acceptable theology in 67, that was made it open to liberalism and causing the divisions in the reformed community. NPP is nothing but the newest wasy that professing christians who want to be respected by the academia can get away with calling them selves evangelical... by denying the heart of the reformation.