Great Speeches of PCAGA49

by Zachary Groff | June 27, 2022

The 49th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America is in the books. Commissioners have their handbooks and supplemental materials in their archives and memories of deliberations in their minds. But where can church-members and Elders who were unable to attend go to watch the Assembly’s proceedings?

Each year, the Administrative Committee of the PCA arranges to have the Assembly’s worship services and deliberations broadcast live on the Internet. These livestreams are recorded for posterity, absent Elders, interested church-members, and future historians. Interested viewers can watch the full recordings of the 49th General Assembly here. But 26.5 hours of footage is a lot of material to get through!

There are highlights, however! The first worth mentioning is RE Brad Isbell’s excellent presentation as part of the Assembly-wide Seminar on Wednesday morning of GA week. Though an edited transcription is available on The Aquila Report (here), RE Isbell’s remarks are worth watching, hearing, and heeding here (starting at the 1:04:23 mark).

Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, SC has done the PCA a service in curating six particularly significant speeches from the week here. The staff at Second Presbyterian Church chose these particular excerpts with interested congregants in mind, but these videos will likely be of interest to members of the PCA beyond Greenville, SC. In this YouTube playlist, viewers will find:

  • TE Richard D. Phillips opening the debate on this year’s Overture 15, a proposal to amend the Book of Church Order which would disqualify from ordained office any man that describes himself as “homosexual.” You can listen to Dr. Phillips’s clear speech in favor of Overture 15 (which will be before the 88 presbyteries of the PCA in the coming cycle) here.
  • TE O. Palmer Robertson powerfully argued in favor of the Assembly’s adoption of Overture 15, and his five-minute speech is well worth watching (and rewatching) as the PCA’s Teaching and Ruling Elders prepare to vote on the ratification of the proposed amendment in the coming year. Toward the end, Dr. Robertson forcefully summarizes his argument, “In history, you will see that there is this floating – this moving along in history – and then somewhere, something cuts the line and says, ‘This far, and no further.’ And then, everyone reads the history and says, ‘why of course, that line should have been drawn right there.’ And that’s where we are today. Somewhere we must draw the line about this specific item of homosexuality. And if we are to draw any line in the public eye, it would be with respect to the ordained minister of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.” You can watch Dr. Robertson’s entire speech here.
  • Both Dr. Phillips and Dr. Robertson were speaking in favor of the minority report on Overture 15, which RE Matthew Fender ably presented in a fifteen-minute speech, available here.
  • TE Carl Robbins rose to speak in favor of Overture 3 before this year’s Assembly to remove the PCA from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). This was Pastor Robbins’s second time presenting said recommendation (the first being a failed attempt in the 47th General Assembly of 2019). Viewers can find Pastor Robbins’s excellent speech here. The PCA voted by a healthy margin (60% in favor) to leave the NAE.
  • TE Rhett Dodson rose to speak in favor of leaving the NAE. His well-crafted speech drew from his extensive background in ministry both within and outside of the PCA. His speech is available here.
  • One of the more technical proposals to come before this year’s Assembly had to do with the required threshold for petitioning a higher court (i.e., presbytery or Assembly through the Standing Judicial Commission) to take up original jurisdiction in a case inadequately handled by a lower court (i.e., session or presbytery). This may be the most significant proposed amendment to the PCA’s polity to come out of this year’s General Assembly. TE Fred Greco ably explained the rationale for the change in a speech in favor of the amendment. His speech is available here.

One of the great joys of being together as a General Assembly is the opportunity to worship together on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. Full recordings of the worship services are available here: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

On Thursday morning, TE William Thrailkill gave an unprecedented – but measured and respectful – speech against reelecting TE Bryan Chappell as Stated Clerk (here). The remainder of the discussion was interesting as commissioners deliberated as to the propriety of the Stated Clerk serving on the Standing Judicial Commission of the Assembly.

Finally, Thursday afternoon saw a number of interesting developments on the floor of the Assembly. In the first place, a minority report met with several strong challenges from the floor for perceived intemperate speech. This is an unprecedented development in the General Assembly, and it likely stems from certain stylistic decisions made by the authors of the minority report as presented. The entire report and attendant proceedings are available for viewing from the 1:48:50 timestamp of Thursday afternoon’s session here. The challenges themselves are available at 1:48:50 – 1:50:59 (here and here), 1:52:22 – 1:54:30 (here), and 2:10:58 – 2:14:37 (here).

The final overture taken up before the close of the Assembly had to do with secret societies and caucuses operative underneath and around the work of the Assembly. Though the Overtures Committee rejected the proposal, the minority report was thoughtfully argued and presented by TE Joe Christman, and it is available at 3:58:10 – 4:05:05 of the Thursday afternoon session here. Rising in favor of the minority report was TE Ryan Biese, and his historically illuminating speech is available at 4:07:24 – 4:11:37 (here).

One of the more protracted and passionate debates concerned an overture requesting the Assembly to make a statement condemning political violence on Thursday afternoon here. The exchanges from the 3:11:00 timestamp through the 3:28:03 timestamp are particularly interesting, and feature TE Derrick Brite, TE Michael Langer, TE Aldo Leon, TE Michael Philliber, RE Bob Mattes, and others (here and here). After the Assembly, I had a long conversation with one of the authors of the overture, and I intend to write and publish additional thoughts as to why I opposed this particular overture, though I sympathize with and even share the concern for an Assembly-level statement to be made in the future.

There are certainly many more moments worthy of highlighting from last week’s Assembly. These few excerpts will certainly get interested viewers started on what may become a deeper dive into the work of the 49th General Assembly of the PCA.

Zachary Groff is a PCA Teaching Elder serving as Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church in Woodruff, SC.

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