Amanda and I have recently decided to make the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) our denominational home for now. To most people, denominations are arbitrary. But, for me, who desires to teach the Bible vocationally, previously hoping to make the SBC my denominational support through seminary, this felt like a big decision. So, since I have talked about it with many of my friends, I wanted to, in blog format, express some of my reasoning for choosing the PCA.
Calvinism: You can be a Baptist and a Calvinist. I was. And, in fact, I first really learned about Calvinism from John Piper and Charles Spurgeon (both Baptists). But, I have found that to be a Baptist Calvinist is to be an embattled Calvinist. Anyone who follows the SBC at all will know what I am talking about. These issues shouldn’t divide us, and I definitely will not let the issue of Calvinism and non-Calvinism (which is really what most people mean when they say “Arminianist”) be an issue of contention with other believers. I have come to learn, however, that people who say the debate doesn’t matter tend not to be Calvinists. That is because Calvinism is more than just a belief about how people are saved. It becomes (at least, for me) a worldview. It affects the way that I think about worship, evangelism, family life, and the list goes on. So, it is important enough for me that I like to think that my direct co-laborers in future ministry would agree with me on that.
Covenantal Hermeneutics: The first Bible book-study that I ever did on my own was on the book of Romans. During that time, I learned a lot of things from Paul that I later discovered were categorized as “Covenant Theology.” If I could explain Covenant Theology in a sentence (I hope I’m not butchering this), I would say that it is the belief that what Christ inaugurated in the church is exactly what was promised to Israel through Abraham. So, there is not a plan for Israel and a plan for the church. It is one covenant and one people. So, even though I realize that the “covenant of grace” isn’t a term in Scripture, what most Covenant Theologians mean by it seems right to me.
The Means of Grace: Whether it was taught to me or not, I have nearly always come to church with an attitude of wanting to position my heart rightly to the Lord in order to access him in worship. For example, when we sing, I have tried to feel how I should feel about God. During communion, I was always taught to get my heart right with God before I approach the table. But how can my heart ever be clear of fault? Regarding proper baptism, there were a lot of issues that caused a good deal of anxiety. When is baptism proper? How do you know if someone is ready for baptism? Do you have to get re-baptized if you may not have been a Christian when you were? Can someone be a member of your church and take communion if they were not baptized as an adult? If not, would we not have accepted Augustine, Calvin, and Luther as members of our churches?
The Reformed tradition sees it differently, and I find it refreshing. They teach what they call “the means of grace.” What they mean by that is that we go to church, not to present something pleasing to God, but to be ministered to by God. The means of grace for the church are the preaching of the Scripture and the Sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). In these, it is primarily God ministering to his people, not us blessing Him.
How is this different? I’ll give an example. When we sing at our PCA church, we start with a corporate confession of sins. We are acknowledging together that we do not rightly embody the truths that we are about to sing about. We need them. When we come to the Lord’s Table, we don’t come haphazardly, but we also know that we come as sinners, in needed of the grace represented at the table. When we baptize the infant of a believer, it isn’t because we think that child has a faith that merits baptism, it is because we acknowledge that this child is graciously born into a covenant family, where the truths represented in baptism will be offered to her or him.
Liturgical Uniformity: Originally, one of the main things that drew me to the SBC what its flexibility in secondary issues (issues that don’t determine orthodoxy). I never understood how someone could commit to a confession that was not Scripture and not hold it to the same level as Scripture.
There is something to be said though about being part of a tradition that has held strong for centuries. It is not that confessions are held to the level of Scripture. I see it as us saying, “Let’s be in agreement on this.”
I like that. I like reading from a confession that has dated itself as worthy. I like the idea of reading catechisms to my children to teach them about the foundational truths of the faith.
Authority: Baptists are Congregationalists, which means that all of the authority for the church is internal. In a Presbyterian model, there are overseers outside of the church. To be honest, I haven’t settled this debate in my mind. I do see the benefit of the Congregationalist model in that it can avoid corruption from the top down. I have also seen from experience, that it can lead to disorder.
It seems like the Presbyterian model compliments the biblical idea of church discipline, which functions in layers. If a there is sin in a relationship, it is addressed on a personal level. If it can’t be resolved on that level, more believers are involved. If that doesn’t help, the church is involved. But what if an entire church has a problem? The Presbyterian model seems like another helpful layer of accountability.
Rich Tradition: At this point, I don’t feel that I know enough to critique any tradition. But, if I wait until I know “enough” before acting, I will never hold any convictions. What I do know is that what I have learned so far form the Reformed Tradition has been greeted with a hardy “amen!” I could change my mind as I grow. I know that men and their traditions are not infallible. But, for now, I will drink from these wells.