Presbyterian Church in America

Presbyterian Church in America
Presbyterian Church in America
Classification Protestant
Theology Reformed Evangelical
Governance Presbyterian
Associations North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council; National Association of Evangelicals
Geographical areas United States & Canada, especially the American South
Origin December 1973
Birmingham, Alabama
Separated from Presbyterian Church in the United States
Merge of incorporated the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod in 1982
Congregations 1,757[1]
Members 346,814[1]

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is an evangelical Protestant Christian denomination, the second largest Presbyterian church body in the United States after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The PCA professes a strong commitment to evangelism, missionary work, and Christian education. The church declares its goal to be "faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission."



The PCA formed as part of a major realignment among U.S. Presbyterians, who had been divided on regional grounds since the Civil War between the southern PCUS and the northern-based (though it had grown to have congregations in all 50 states) UPCUSA. Yet the two regional denominations were also internally divided between theological liberals and conservatives (evangelicals). As momentum slowly built towards unification of the two regional denominations, conservative pastors and lay leaders became alarmed by what they perceived as growing liberalism. In the PCUS, its sizable contingent of political conservatives felt alienated by denominational papers and pronouncements on a variety of social issues, including, but not limited to, “economic justice, poverty, marriage, divorce, sexuality, war, race relations, and civil rights.”[2] Conservatives also attributed the progressive movement of the denomination to the loss of the historic confessional and biblical standards of the church. By the 1970s, conservative pastors in the PCUS began to plan an exit from the denomination.[2] They sought to reaffirm the Westminster Confession of Faith as the fullest and clearest exposition of biblical faith and to call all pastors and leaders to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. They also felt the church should disavow the ordination of women.[3]

In December 1973, delegates from 260 congregations (over half of them from Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina) that had left the PCUS gathered at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in suburban Birmingham, Alabama, and organized the National Presbyterian Church. After protests from a UPCUSA congregation of the same name[4] in Washington, D.C., the denomination at its Second General Assembly (1974) called itself the National Reformed Presbyterian Church, then adopted its present name the next day.

During the 1970s, the denomination added a significant number of congregations outside the South when several UPCUSA churches in Ohio and Pennsylvania joined. This move was precipitated by a case regarding an ordination candidate, Wynn Kenyon, denied by the Pittsburgh presbytery because he refused to support women's ordination (a decision upheld by the UPCUSA General Assembly).

The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod merged with the PCA in 1982. The RPCES had been formed in 1965 by a merger of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (an offshoot of the Bible Presbyterian Church and not the current denomination by that name) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod. The latter body maintained a direct historical tie to the Scottish Covenanter tradition. The RPCES brought two important things: a more nationally-based membership, and a college and seminary, the latter of which the PCA did not yet have, relying instead on independent evangelical institutions such as Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. However, RTS received its initial support at the time of its founding in the mid-1960s by PCUS pastors and churches that would ultimately join the PCA. One notable figure from the RPCES was Francis Schaeffer.

Also in 1983, on the eve of the UPCUSA's and PCUS' merger into the current PC(USA), several PCUS churches that had originally remained loyal in 1973 opted to join the PCA (some others joined the recently-formed Evangelical Presbyterian Church, unrelated to the 1950s and 1960s body of that name). A clause in the Plan of Union between the two mainline bodies allowed dissenting PCUS congregations to refrain from joining the merger and to join the denomination of their choosing.

Doctrine and practice

The PCA professes adherence to the historic confessional standards of Presbyterianism: the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and the Westminster Larger Catechism. These secondary documents are viewed as subordinate to the Bible,[5] which alone is viewed as the inspired Word of God.[6]

The PCA has generally valued academic exploration more highly than lower church and revivalist traditions of evangelicalism. Apologetics in general and presuppositional apologetics has been a defining feature with many of its theologians and higher-ranking clergy, and many also practice "cultural apologetics" (pioneered by authors like Schaeffer) by engaging with and participating in secular cultural activities such as film, music, literature, and art in order to win them for Christ.

Additionally, the PCA emphasizes ministries of mercy such as outreach to the poor, the elderly, orphans, American Indians, people with physical and mental disabilities, refugees, etc. As a result, the denomination has held several national conferences to help equip members to participate in this type of work, and several PCA affiliates such as Desire Street Ministries, New City Fellowship, and New Song Fellowship have received national attention for their service to the community at large.

The PCA takes the following position on homosexuality: "Homosexual practice is sin. The Bible teaches that all particular sins flow from our rebellious disposition of heart. Just as with any other sin, the PCA deals with people in a pastoral way, seeking to transform their lifestyle through the power of the gospel as applied by the Holy Spirit. Hence, in condemning homosexual practice we claim no self-righteousness, but recognize that any and all sin is equally heinous in the sight of a holy God."[7]

Comparison to other Presbyterian denominations

The PCA is more socially and theologically conservative than the PC(USA), which is about six times as large. The PCA requires ordained pastors and elders to subscribe to the theological doctrines detailed in the Westminster Standards, with only minor exceptions allowed, while the PC(USA)'s Book of Confessions allows much more leeway. The PCA ordains only men who profess either traditional marriage or celibacy, while the PC(USA) allows the ordination of both women and non-celibate gays and lesbians as clergy.[8] Like the PC(USA), however, the PCA accommodates different views of creation[9] and strives for racial reconciliation.[10]

The PCA is generally less theologically conservative than the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (which split from mainline Presbyterianism much earlier), but more conservative than the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (which split from the mainline more recently), though the differences can vary from presbytery to presbytery and even congregation to congregation. The PCA, as mentioned above, does not acknowledge the ordination of women as teaching elders (pastors), ruling elders, or deacons; the EPC considers this issue a "non-essential" matter left to the individual ordaining body. While most OPC congregations allow women only to teach children and other women in Sunday school, some churches in the PCA allow women to do anything a non-ordained man can do. While the OPC and the PCA both adhere to the Westminster Standards, the OPC is generally more strict in requiring its officers to subscribe to those standards without exception. Nonetheless, the two denominations enjoy fraternal relations and cooperate in a number of ways, such as sharing control of a publication company, Great Commission Publications, which produces Sunday school curricula for both denominations.

Statistics, affiliations, and agencies

As of December 31, 2010, the Presbyterian Church in America had 1,757 churches (includes established churches and new church plants) representing all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 5 Canadian provinces. There were 346,814 communicant and non-communicant members.[1] The greatest concentration is in the states of the Deep South, with more scattered strength in the Upper South, the upper Ohio Valley, and the Southwest.[11]

Additionally, the denomination has its own agency for sending missionaries around the world (Mission to the World), its own ministry to students on college campuses (Reformed University Fellowship), its own camp and conference center (Ridge Haven in Brevard, North Carolina), and its own liberal arts college (Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, near Chattanooga, Tennessee) and seminary (Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri). The PCA also publishes its own denominational magazine, byFaith.

The church maintains headquarters in Lawrenceville, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, which was once home to the former PCUS (the reunited PC(USA) moved all offices to Louisville, Kentucky in 1988).

The PCA is a member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), an interchurch body representing traditional denominations in the Calvinist tradition. It is also a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Notable figures with PCA background


  1. ^ a b c L. Roy Taylor. "Actions of the 39th General Assembly of the PCA" (PDF). Presbyterian Church in America Administrative Committee. p. 4. Retrieved 2011-06-23. 
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^ National Presbyterian Church
  5. ^ Westminster Confession of Faith I.10
  6. ^ Westminster Confession of Faith I.9
  7. ^ "PCA Statements on Homosexuality, 2009
  8. ^ "PCUSA Votes to Allow Openly Gay Clergy", May 2011
  9. ^ "Report of the Creation Study Committee", 2000
  10. ^ "The PCA Pastoral Letter on Racism", approved by the 32nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, June 2004
  11. ^ [1] "PCA Church Directory"
  12. ^

Further reading

  • List of Presbyterian Church in America related articles
  • Loetscher, Lefferts A., The Broadening Church: A Study of Theological Issues in the Presbyterian Church Since 1869. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1954.
  • Smith, Morton H. How is the Gold Become Dim. Jackson, MS: Premier Printing Company, 1973.
  • Smartt, Kennedy. I Am Reminded. Chestnut Mountain, GA: n.p., n.d.
  • Hutchinson, George P. The History Behind the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack Publishing, 1974.
  • Nutt Rick. "The Tie That No Longer Binds: The Origins of the Presbyterian Church in America." In The Confessional Mosaic: Presbyterians and Twentieth-Century Theology. Edited by Milton J. Coalter, John M. Mulder, and Louis B. Weeks, 236-56. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1990. ISBN 0-664-25151-X
  • North, Gary. Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1996. ISBN 0-930464-74-5
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Confessions: Study Edition. Louisville, KY.: Geneva Press, c1999. ISBN 0664500129
  • Settle, Paul. To God All Praise and Glory: 1973 to 1998 - The First 25 Years. Atlanta, GA: PCA Administrative Committee, 1998. ISBN 0-934688-90-7
  • Smith, Frank Joseph. The History of the Presbyterian Church in America. Presbyterian Scholars Press, 1999. ISBN 0-9676991-0-X
  • Lucas, Sean Michael. On Being Presbyterian. Phillipsburg, PA: P&R Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-59638-019-5

External links

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