Presbyterian Church in America: In Quest of Name and Niche

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In a confrontation considered the crisis point in the fledgling denomination’s brief history, the newly rechristened Presbyterian Church in America (PCA; nee National Presbyterian Church last December) decided in its second General Assembly to consider itself as a city open to the world rather than a community needing the protection of massive walls labeled “Reformed.” At the same time it also, in effect, served notice that tongues-speaking charismatics would not be welcome in town.

It was a test of basic philosophies within the largely Southern-based church that everyone was expecting. Nobody, however, knew over which particular item on the agenda the battle would be fought. Ever since the organizing assembly in December in Birmingham (see January 4 issue, page 52), where the original lines had been drawn between hardline followers of latter-day Calvinists and those referred to by the hardliners as “evangelical,” the trenches had been dug and the guns loaded.

In Birmingham the church’s right wing, largely identified with some graduates of the new Reformed Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, had surfaced with such demands as that an absolutist stand be taken against so-called special gifts of the Holy Spirit, and against women’s work of any kind in the denomination.

Prior to the opening of last month’s four-day assembly, held in the First Presbyterian Church of Macon, Georgia (whose ante-bellum sanctuary has been placed in the National Register of Historic Places in America), observers agreed the denomination’s future would be decided over one of several subjects scheduled for consideration: charismatic experiences, inter-church relations, or overseas missions policy.

Setting ...

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