Presbyterian Church in America

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Presbyterian Church in America
Presbyterian Church in America logo.svg
The PCA has not officially adopted a logo.[1] This image is presented at the homepage of their website.[2]
Abbreviation PCA
Classification Protestant
Orientation conservative Calvinist
Theology Reformed and Evangelical
Governance Presbyterian
Moderator Jim Wert[3]
Associations North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council; National Association of Evangelicals; World Reformed Fellowship
Region mainly United States & Canada but has a Presbytery in Chile and a forming provisional presbytery in Paraguay, and churches in various cities in Germany, Japan, South Korea, Grand Cayman Island and the Czech Republic
Headquarters Lawrenceville, Georgia
Origin December 1973
Birmingham, Alabama
Separated from Presbyterian Church in the United States
Absorbed Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (1982)
Congregations 1,831 (end of 2014)[4]
Members 358,516 (end of 2014)[5]
Ministers 4,556 (end of 2014)
Official website

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is the second largest Presbyterian church body and the largest conservative Reformed denomination in the United States. The PCA is Reformed in theology, Presbyterian in government, and active in missions. It is characterized by a blend of Reformed practice and broad evangelicalism.[6]



The family tree of Presbyterian denominations in the United States, courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society
Lowndesboro Presbyterian Church PCA in Lowndesboro, Alabama

The PCA has its roots in theological controversies over liberalism and neo-orthodoxy that had been a point of contention in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (formerly the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America) which had split from the mainline Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A along regional lines at the beginning of the Civil War. While the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy had led to a split in the PC-USA in the mid 1930s, leading to the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Bible Presbyterian Church, the PCUS remained intact. However, beginning in 1942, as the PCUS began to experiment with confessional revision, and later, when neo-orthodoxy and liberalism began to become influential in the PCUS' seminaries, and attempts were made to merge with the more liberal PC-USA and its successor, the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., renewal groups began to be formed, including the Presbyterian Churchmen United, which had been formed by more than 500 ministers and ran 3/4 page statements of their beliefs in 30 newspapers,[7] the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, conducted revivals in PCUS churches, the Concerned Presbyterians, and the Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), an organization of conservative pastors in the Southern Presbyterian Church.[8] They sought to reaffirm the Westminster Confession of Faith as the fullest and clearest exposition of biblical faith, which many conservatives felt that presbyteries had been violating by receiving ministers who refused to affirm the virgin birth and bodily resurrection, and to expect all pastors and leaders to affirm the inerrancy of scripture. Opponents of the merger with the Northern Church alleged bugaboos were the amorphous doctrine of the United Presbyterian Church, which mean that it adhered the Auburn Affirmation, the Confession of 1967, the Southern Presbyterian denomination rejected the adoption of these confessions as official standards, as well as criticized the lax doctrine, sexual freedoms, and conversations with other church bodies that did not adhere to the Reformed faith, such as those explored by the Consultation on Church Union.[9] They also felt the church should disavow the ordination of women.[10][11] Conservatives also criticized the PCUS Board of Christian Education's published literature and believed that the denomination’s Board of World Missions no longer placed its primary emphasis on carrying out the Great Commission.[12] In 1966, conservatives within the PCUS, concerned about the denominational seminaries founded Reformed Theological Seminary. Finally, when word came out that a planned Plan of Union between the UPCUSA and PCUS lacked an "escape clause" which would have allowed for PCUS congregations that wanted no part in the planned union to leave without forfeiture of property, the steering committee of several of the renewal groups called for conservative PCUS congregations to leave.

Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama, where the organizing Assembly of the PCA took place on December 4, 1973.

After protests from a UPCUSA congregation of the same name in Washington, D.C., the denomination at its Second General Assembly (1974) renamed itself the National Reformed Presbyterian Church, then adopted its present name the next day. At its founding, the PCA consisted of 16 presbyteries.[13][14]

Within a few years the church grew to include more than 500 congregations and 80,000 members.

Notable Founding Churches


The Kenyon Case - PCA growth in the Mid-Atlantic (1975)

The Old Stone Church of Fairfield Presbyterian Church, Fairton, New Jersey, the oldest congregation in the denomination, founded in 1680, joined the PCA in 1980 after leaving the UPCUSA in 1971
Historic Third Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama left the PCUS to join the PCA in 1982.
First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a flagship congregation within the PCA

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 seceder churches formed the Ascension Presbytery, officially organised in July 29, 1975. That year, a minister of that presbytery described its history as follows:

The constituents of the Presbytery of the Ascension were almost exclusively members, in one way or another, of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA). ...

Walter Kenyon was an honors graduate of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. ... Mr. Kenyon ... stated that he could not in good conscience participate in the ordination of a woman. He said that it was his understanding of Scripture that prevented such involvement, but went on to say that he would not stand in the way of such an ordination, if such was the desire of a church which he would happen to serve. Immediately there arose much dissent, and such dissent grew until the overwhelming majority of the church endorsed the judicial verdict which banned Kenyon and all future Kenyons from the pulpits of the UPCUSA. Furthermore, there was both explicit and implicit action which was taken against those men already ordained.

The Rev. Arthur C. Broadwick (and the Union United Presbyterian Church USA of Pittsburgh) and the Rev. Carl W. Bogue, Jr. (and the Allenside UPCUSA of Akron, OH) were already involved in litigations which involved this issue. ... When the Permanent Judicial Commission of the UPCUSA ruled that Mr. Kenyon could not be ordained it effectively elevated this doctrine concerning social relationships to the place of being a major doctrine of the church. ...

Such action by the Permanent Judicial Commission led to a crisis for all of those pastors and elders who held to the traditional views on this question and who were now considered heretics. Accordingly, to uphold the peace, unity and purity of the church, most of the men who made up the membership of the charter presbytery peaceably withdrew from the UPCUSA. ...

A fitting conclusion to this description of the genesis of the Presbytery of the Ascension is the mention of the Presbytery’s new affiliation, the Presbyterian Church in America. In the Fall of 1974, men who were affected by the drift of the Kenyon Case, sent four representatives, from an informal committee which was considering alternatives to the UPCUSA (i.e., in case that body should make a ruling against Mr. Kenyon which would affect the church as a whole), to the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (which became the Presbyterian Church in America). These four pastors were the Rev. A.C. Broadwick, the Rev. K.E. Perrin, the Rev. R.E. Knodel, Jr., and the Rev. W.L. Thompson, on behalf of the larger concerned group, seeking a historically Reformed body which was also evangelical and mission minded. While this small entourage went to Macon, Georgia with many suspicions and questions, they returned overjoyed that there was an option such as the Presbyterian Church in America.

Adopted from Reformationanglicanism.blogspot July 29, 1975 A.D. Ascension Presbytery (PCA) Officially Formed
— [16]

For example, seceders from Union UPCUSA formed Providence Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh under the leadership of Rev. Broadwick.[17]

PCA expands in the Midwest

Dozens of churches from the Midwest become part of the Presbyterian Church in America leaving the Synod of the West of the PC(USA) then the United Presbyterian Church in the USA. This become Siouxlands Presbytery composed of only South Dakota, but in 1982 the Joining and Receiving took place with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, boundaries were expanded to cover Minnesota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.[18]

In the state of Michigan dissenting Christian Reformed and RCA church members, about 75 households formed Covenant Presbyterian Church in Holland, MI in 1996 under the leadership of Rev. Tom Vanden Heuvel, former pastor of First Christian Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan), who cited that Christian Reformed Church(CRC) has departed from its original commitment to the clarity of Scripture, the authority of Scripture. In that time another CRC church joined the PCA in Texas, as well as in New York, the Monsey Christian Church.[19]

Departures from the PCUS (1973-1990)

Dissenting conservative Southern Presbyterian Churches joined the PCA until the early 1990s.[20][21] Early PCA growth was largely through secessions from the Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS), which from 1983 to 1990 allowed churches to leave with their property. About 110 to 120 churches did come in during that period of time to the PCA with their properties, allowed by various PC(USA) Presbyteries. Since that time, PCA growth has been largely through church planting and local congregational outreach rather than by transfers of entire churches from other denominations. PC(USA) ministers are now required to agree with the ordination of women, which the PCA opposes. However, since 1996 about 23 PC(USA) congregations have joined the PCA.[22] As of the 2014 PC(USA) General assembly, most churches withdrawing from the PC(USA) are joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or the newly formed ECO due to their acceptance of women ministers, though since then many conservative PC(USA) groups and even whole congregations have affiliated with the PCA.[23]

After many conservative churches left the PCUS for the PCA and the EPC, it became easier for the PCUS to achieve union with the UPCUSA. On June 10, 1983, the reunion between the northern and southern Presbyterians was celebrated in Atlanta with the new denomination taking the name of the " Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or PC(U.S.A.)."

Merger with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (1982)

In 1982, the PCA merged with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), with 25,673 communicant members and 482 ministers in 189 congregations in the United States as well as in a few Canadian provinces.[24] Discussions had begun in 1979 with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, which had itself come about due to a merger between the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (formerly the Bible Presbyterian Church - Columbus Synod and not the current denomination of the same name) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod (a group of "New Light" Covenanters). The RPCES brought to the PCA a more broadly national base of membership with a denominational college, Covenant College, and a seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary. Previously, the PCA had relied on independent evangelical institutions such as Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The PCA had originally invited three denominations to the merger, including the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).[25] The OPC voted to accept the invitation to join the PCA, but the PCA voted against receiving them. The PCA presbyteries did not approve the application by the required three-quarters majority, and so the proposed invitation process was terminated without the OPC presbyteries voting on the issue.[26] The RPCES was the only church to carry through with the merger. The merger was called "Joining and Receiving." When a sufficient number of RPCES and PCA presbyteries voted in favor of the plan, the final votes occurred at the respective annual meetings, both held in Grand Rapids, Michigan: the RPCES Synod voted to join the PCA on June 12, 1982 and the PCA General Assembly voted to receive the RPCES on June 14. The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod agencies and committees were united with their PCA counterparts. The history and historical documents of the RPCES were incorporated into the PCA. Graduates from Covenant College and Seminary were also officially recognized.[26] The move reflected a rare phenomenon in American Protestantism of two conservative denominations merging, an occurrence that was far more common among mainline, moderate-to-liberal bodies in the 20th century (such as the UPCUSA/PCUS reunion). In 1982 the RPCES had 25, 718 communicant members in 187 congregations served by 400 pastors. The PCA had 519 churches, 91,060 communicant members, and 480 pastors. After the merger the PCA membership was 706 churches, 116,788 communicant members, and 1,276 teaching elders.[27]

In 1986 the PCA again invited the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to join them, but without success. Not everyone agreed with the decision. In the four years after 1986, there was a voluntary realignment as congregations left the OPC for the PCA mainly from California, Montana and Pennsylvania, but as far as Alaska, OPC churches joined PCA.[28] By the 1970s the OPC had grown a new ‘pietist/revivalist’ wing under the influence of Jack Miller. According to Tim Keller, the New Life Churches and their Sonship course represented classic revivalism, and it did not fit well with the more doctrinalist cast of the OPC. The New Life Churches were made to feel unwelcome and nearly all left in the early 90s to swell the pietist ranks of the PCA.[29]

Nationwide Growth

Christ the King Presbyterian Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the former building of Prospect Congregational Church
The Monsey Church, founded 1824, left the Christian Reformed Church in North America for the PCA in 2005
City Presbyterian Church, a recent church plant in Oklahoma City, OK meets in a historic building which originally housed Pilgrim Congregational Church.

In 1983 several PCUS churches had joined the PCA, instead of merging with the UPCUSA into the current PC (U.S.A.); 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 a denomination of their choosing.

At the 20th anniversary of the PCA in 1993 there were 1,086 congregations and 242,560 members.[30]

The PCA Historical Center, a repository of archives and manuscripts, is located in St. Louis, Missouri.

The PCA is one of the faster-growing denominations in the United States, with over 1,700 churches and missions throughout the US and Canada. There were over 335,000 communicant and non-communicant members as of December 2000.[31]

In 2004 the former PC(USA) member First Presbyterian Church in Charleston, MS voted to join the PCA rather than the EPC, which allows women as church officers.[32] Hospers Presbyterian Church in Hospers, Iowa was also PC(USA), joined the PCA in November 2006. Park Cities Presbyterian Church was formed when about 1,500-2,000 former Highland Park Presbyterian Church (Dallas, Texas) member separated from the PC(USA) and joined PCA. In 2013 and 2014 a few disappointed conservative PC(USA) congregations from New York state[33] and from the Presbytery of Sheppards & Lapsley (Unity Presbyterian in Weogufka, AL, and Southwood Presbyterian in Talladega, AL) in the state of Alabama and Smyrna Korean Presbyterian Church in Enterprise, AL[34] joined the Presbyterian Church in America instead of ECO or EPC, which have women ministers.[35][36][37] Several PC(USA) breakaway groups like New Covenant Presbyterian Church in McComb, MS which broke from J.J. White Memorial Presbyterian Church in 2007,[38][39][40] and First Scot's Presbyterian Church, PCA in Beaufort, South Carolina (formerly First Scots Independent Presbyterian Church) voted to affiliate with the PCA.[41][42] As well as several independent Anglo and till now unaffiliated Korean Presbyterian churches like Greater Springfield Korean Church in Agawam, Massachusetts.[43][44] According to the PC(USA) statistics 7 PC(USA) congregations with 550 members joined PCA, excluded the seceder groups since 2005.[45]

Doctrinal debate in the Reformed Church in America[46] led some RCA congregations like Grace Reformed Church in Lansing, Illinois (Pastor Andy Nearpass),[47] the Peace Community Church from Frankfort, IL (Rev. Dr. Kurt Kruger), Crete Reformed Church in Crete, IL (Pastor David Smith),[48] First Reformed Church in Lansing, IL (Pastor Ben Kappers),[49] Mission Dei Church in New Lenox, Illinois (Pastor Paul Vroom) [50][51] and the University Reformed Church in Lansing, Michigan[52] to join the PCA as a conservative alternative.[53][54]

The three main issues were RCA position on homosexuality, the adoption of the Belhar confession and complementarianism. Beyond the three reasons University Reformed Church mentioned: "We have a deep desire to belong to a family of churches where who we are as a congregation fits squarely with what our denomination does and believes." "We want to raise up pastors who do not fear that the ordination process is against them"."We want to work alongside churches that share our convictions." "We want to be in a denomination that sees us as occupying center ground, notsome extreme right flank". "The denomination(RCA) has moved away from churches like ours." "We want to work alongside churches that share our convictions." "In practice, the RCA is already well down this path [of endorsing homosexual activity] and that given the way our classical structure works those who stand for biblical orthodoxy can do little to stop it. We believe laboring in such a mixed denomination undermines the true nature of biblical unity, hinders our witness for Christ, and does not represent the most effective avenue for ministry for URC in the years and decades ahead." "URC would be able to serve with greater integrity and disciple our people (especially ministerial candidates) more effectively if we were in a denomination that shares our complementarian convictions, rather than in one that is moving full speed ahead in the other direction." "We(URC) are troubled by the weak form of confessional subscription in the RCA, the process for examining ministerial candidates, and our formal ecumenical ties with liberal denominations like the UCC, ELCA and PCUSA". "We have often heard from visitors that though they lived in Lansing for years they never thought to visit URC because it was an RCA church or because of things they had heard about liberal leanings in the RCA. How many others might be staying away because our denominational affiliation gives them the wrong idea about who we are and what we believe?"We do not recommend our RCA seminaries. "We want to be in a denomination that sees us as occupying center ground, not some extreme right flank". "The RCA connection inhibits interest in planting churches, the vision for training up pastors, and placement for new pastors." "we also feel a measure of distance between us and most churches in the denomination".[55]

Each of the churches was allowed to withdraw with their respective properties and assets. But if a church should withdraw from the PCA within five years of the approval of the agreement, then the property is to revert to the Classis of Illiana-Florida.[56] the University Reformed Church was also granted dismissal by the RCA Classis in March 21, 2015.[57]

Kevin DeYoung the pastor of University Reformed Church summarized the reasons of withdrawing from the Reformed Church in America[58] and affiliate with the PCA:

"Let me simply say at this point that our reason for seeking to leave the RCA is not one thing, but many things. From the adoption of the Belhar Confession, to the removal of the conscience clauses related to women’s ordination, to the growing acceptance of homosexual practice in the denomination, we believe the RCA has changed significantly in the last several years. The denomination has moved away from churches like ours. Our request is that we may be able to move too."[59][60]

In 2015 Riverside Reformed Church in Bloomington, Minnesota voted to dismiss from the RCA and join with the PCA, because of the similar issues.[53][61]

Doctrine and practice

The Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland with statues to William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, and John Knox, the founders of the Reformed theological tradition to which the PCA subscribes
John Knox the "father" of Presbyterianism
The title page of the 1658 printing of the Westminster Standards, the confessional standard of the PCA

The PCA includes representation from all the historic Reformed branches of Presbyterianism. The PCA's founding churches came out of the Southern Presbyterian church, which included revivalists, Old Siders, classic ‘Princeton’ Old Schoolers, conservative New Schoolers, and others. In 1982 the PCA merged with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, which itself was the product of a union between the ‘New Light’(New Side) Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod, and parts of the Bible Presbyterian church (the pietistic New School). In addition, many evangelical congregations that had lived within the mainline Presbyterian churches, both north and south, left as individual churches and joined the PCA. In short, the PCA has been formed with churches and leaders from many different branches—Old School, Old Side, New School.[29]

A Synopsis of the Beliefs of the Presbyterian Church in America

  • The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
  • There is one God, eternal and self-existing in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who are to be equally loved, honored, and adored.
  • All mankind participated in Adam's fall from his original sinless state and is thus lost in sin and totally helpless.
  • The Sovereign God, for no other reason than His own unfathomable love and mercy, has chosen lost sinners from every nation to be redeemed by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit and through the atoning death and resurrection of His son, Jesus Christ.
  • Those sinners whom the Spirit quickens, come to believe in Christ as Savior by the Word of God, are born again, become sons of God, and will persevere to the end.
  • Justification is by faith and through it the undeserving sinner is clothed with the righteousness of Christ.
  • The goal of God's salvation in the life of the Christian is holiness, good works, and service for the glory of God.
  • At death the Christian's soul passes immediately into the presence of God and the unbeliever's soul is eternally separated from God unto condemnation.
  • Baptism is a sign of God's covenant and is properly administered to children of believers in their infancy as well as to those who come as adults to trust in Christ.
  • Jesus Christ will return to earth, visibly and bodily, at a time when He is not expected, to consummate history and the eternal plan of God.
  • The Gospel of God's salvation in Jesus Christ must be published to all the world as a witness before Jesus Christ returns.[62]


The Presbyterian Church in America motto is "Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed faith, Obedient to the great commission of Jesus Christ." 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,[63] which alone is viewed as the inspired Word of God.[64][65]

Education and ministries

As might be expected given Presbyterianism's historically high esteem for education, the PCA has generally valued academic exploration more highly than 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" 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.

Life issues

The PCA is pro-life on abortion, because it believes that it consists in the killing of an unborn child and in violating God's command and authority. "Therefore we are convicted that the scriptures forbid abortion. Abortion is wrong, it is a sin. Scripture considers such a child as a person and thus covered by Divine protection even as a person after birth. Any medical support or historical precedent can only be of secondary authority when we have a clear Word from God on moral questions." Their 6th General Assembly, in 1978, adopted the following stance: "God as the righteous and holy Judge will not permit sin to be justified by human 'situations'. Thus the practical application in each of these cases in the consistent application of God's absolute prohibition and then comfort derivered from the knowledge that greatest good is dependent upon our obedience of God."[66]

The PCA opposes euthanasia, according to the official statement adopted at the 16th General Assembly in 1988: "Euthanasia, or "mercy-killing" of a patient by a physician or by anyone else, including the patient himself (suicide) is murder. To withhold or to withdraw medical treatment, as is being discussed here, does not constitute euthanasia and should not be placed into the same category with it."[67]

The PCA is against divorce, except in cases of adultery or abandonment (desertion).[68][69]

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."[70] The PCA opposes same-sex marriage. L. oy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PCA, has said that the PCA "believes that, from creation, God ordained the marriage covenant to be a bond between one man and one woman" and that "divinely sanctioned standard for sexual activity is fidelity within a marriage between one man and one woman or chastity outside of such a marriage. Throughout history, there has often been a conflict between the unchanging standards of biblical ethics that the Church seeks to maintain and the changing social practices of the culture."[71][72]


In 2014, in response to media confusion between the PCA and the PCUSA, the stated clerk's office issued the following:[73]

There are several Presbyterian denominations in America. Sometimes people mistakenly attribute the views or actions of one Presbyterian denomination to another. The "Presbyterian Church in America" (PCA) is an evangelical denomination in the Reformed theological tradition. The PCA, like other Evangelical, Conservative, Orthodox, and Traditional Christians from many denominations, believes that, from creation, God ordained the marriage covenant to be a bond between one man and one woman, and that understanding is what the Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. Therefore, we believe that the divinely sanctioned standard for sexual activity is fidelity within a marriage between one man and one woman or chastity outside of such a marriage. Throughout history, there has often been a conflict between the unchanging standards of biblical ethics that the Church seeks to maintain and the changing social practices of the culture. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has not redefined marriage nor does it intend to do so.

— L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk, General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America

Social and theological differences between PCA and the PC(USA)

Topic Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) Presbyterian Church USA (PC(USA))
Doctrinal Standards The PCA affirms primary the Bible and the Westminster Confession of Faith, Westminster Shorter Catechism and Westminster Larger Catechism and the Book of Church Order. All church officers must subscribe to these documents as their Confession of Faith. Teaching against the doctrines contained in these documents or violating them could result in trial and deposition from office The PC(USA) affirms the Bible and the Book of Confessions, which includes the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed, the Scots Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Shorter Catechism, the Larger Catechism, the Theological Declaration of Barmen, the Confession of 1967, and A Brief Statement of Faith.
Theology Conservative, Calvinistic, Evangelical, but the theological orthodoxy can be vary to Presbytery to Presbytery, and even individual churches can be differ, some are orthodox Reformed and some more broad Evangelical, but all of them must subscribe the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Book of Church Order of the PCA Mainline, between moderate to progressive. Evangelical wing is also present.
Affiliated Seminaries PCA has one official Theological Seminary, the Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri The PC(USA) official Seminaries are Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Columbia Theological Seminary, Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, McCormick Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, San Francisco Theological Seminary, Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia and Charlotte, North Carolina, and University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.
Ordination Only ordains men in "obedience to the New Testament standard for those who rule the church and teach doctrine." Ministers, ruling elders, and deacons in the PCA are men only, in obedience to the New Testament standard for those who rule the church and teach doctrine, though women have a wide range of use for their gifts in our churches" Both men and women can be ordained pastors or elders.
Inerrancy Scripture is inerrant and infallible in all that it teaches. Creationism is the doctrine held and confessed by most PCA pastors. The definition of inerrancy differs from the PCA. Scripture is inerrant with regards to theology, not history nor science. Higher criticism of text is considered a valuable tool. Inerrant is considered to mean the Bible, properly exegeted, will not lead one into false doctrine. In the PCUSA, evolution is widely believed in.
Church property Church property belongs to the local congregation without any right of reversion whatsoever to any Presbytery or General Assembly, all giving to the administration and permanent committees of the PCA is voluntary Church property is held in trust by the Presbytery for the benefit of the denomination.
Abortion "Abortion would terminate the life of an individual, a bearer of God's image, who is being divinely formed and prepared for a God-given role in the world." The 14th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, reaffirms our church's pro-life and anti-abortion stand, and that we communicate our position to the President of the United States, the Supreme Court, and the United States Congress; further, that we encourage our pastors and sessions to emphasize this position of our church in the congregations and communities in which they serve.[74] Morally "acceptable" though it "ought to be an option of last resort." All abortions imply some sort of tragedy.
Homosexuality Homosexual practise is sin. But just as with any other sin, the PCA deals with these people in a pastoral way, seeking to transform their lifestyle through the power of the gospel as applied by the Holy Spirit. Churches should actively seek to lead the homosexual person to confession and repentance that he might find justification and sanctification in Jesus Christ, according to I Corinthians 6:11; Hence, in condemning homosexual practice PCA claim no self-righteousness, but recognize that any and all sin is equally heinous in the sight of a holy God. The Presbyterian Church in America is committed to the sanctity of human sexual relationships. PCA believes that God’s intent in creation was that male and female would be complementary, that the privilege of sexual expression would be between male and female only, and this expression would be only in the context of marriage. Both heterosexual and homosexual sexual behavior outside of marriage violates the human spirit and distorts God’s intent for men and women. In light of the biblical view of its sinfulness, a practicing homosexual continuing in this sin would not be a fit candidate for ordination or membership in the Presbyterian Church in America.[72] There is a great diversity of opinion regarding homosexuality in the PCUSA. In 2010, the General Assembly expressed that "The PCUSA has no consensus in the interpretation of Scripture on issues of same-sex practice." Homosexuals are welcome as members. There is currently great debate regarding ordination of non-celibate homosexuals and same-sex marriage. Currently, celibate homosexuals may be called as pastors or elected elders if the congregation so desires. In some Presbyteries, congregations may, at their option, call/elect non-celibate gay or lesbian pastors/elders or endorses same-sex "blessing" ceremonies. Recently, the General Assembly amended the Book of Order to redefine marriage as between "two people" rather than between a man and a woman and allows ministers to perform any legal marriage between two people. Ministers or congregations who object to same-sex marriage will not be required to perform such ceremonies in states where such marriages are legal. That amendment will require the approval of a majority of the presbyteries before it will take effect.
Divorce The PCA teaches that divorce is a sin except in cases of adultery or desertion In 1952 the PCUSA General Assembly moved to amend sections of the Westminster Confession, eliminating "innocent parties" language, broadening the grounds to include no-fault divorce.[69] Divorce is regrettable and not to be done lightly.
Worship The PCA believes that all of the worship should be directed only by the Bible (Adopted from the 13 Differences Between the PCA and the PCUSA posted by Andrew Webb, April 16, 2013)[75] The PCUSA states that worship should be an amalgam[unbalanced opinion] of Bible, culture, and tradition. Congregations have considerable freedom to worship in ways meaningful to them.

Comparison to other Presbyterian denominations

John Calvin the founder of the Reformed family of Protestantism

The PCA is more socially and theologically conservative than the PC(USA). 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 (in certain Presbyteries) non-celibate gays and lesbians as clergy.[76] Like the PC(USA), however, the PCA accommodates different views of creation.[77] The PCA strives for racial reconciliation.[78] The PCA is unilaterally Pro-life, believing life begins at conception. Unlike the PC(USA), the PCA has no ecumenical relationship with organizations which accept denominations that they perceive to have strayed from orthodoxy, such as the World Council of Churches or World Communion of Reformed Churches. Due to problems related to church property when splitting from the PC(USA), in the PCA all church buildings belong to the local church, which gives the PCA a slightly more congregational church structure than most other Presbyterian structures.[79]

The PCA is generally less theologically conservative than the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC, founded in 1936), but more conservative than the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC, founded in 1981) and the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO, founded in 2012), though the differences can vary from presbytery to presbytery and even congregation to congregation. The PCA, as mentioned above, will not ordain women as teaching elders (pastors), ruling elders, or deacons, while the EPC considers this issue a "non-essential" matter left to the individual ordaining body, and ECO fully embraces women's ordination. However, there is an increasingly strong movement in the PCA to allow ordination of women as deacons including overtures in the General Assembly.[80] A number of PCA churches are known to have non-ordained women deacons and deaconesses.[81] The EPC is also more tolerant of the charismatic movement than the PCA. However, there is a strong New Calvinist movement in the PCA that practices contemporary music, adheres to a continuationist position on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and engages in civil dialogue with differing theological views.[82] This is not surprising since PCA has issued, from its inception, a pastoral letter to all the PCA churches to tolerate the charismatics within its ranks.[83]

The PCA has little doctrinal quarrel with the OPC. Both denominations have similar views on the Federal Vision, creation and justification. While most OPC congregations allow women only to teach children and other women in Sunday school, some moderate PCA congregations 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. It is hard to find any doctrinal differences between these two denominations. In recent years the OPC and PCA published substantial similar reports on the Creation Days, the debate about Justification and the issue of the Federal Vision. They have identical positions on social issues like women in combat, Freemasonry and abortion. The only divergence of any significance is the matter of charismatic gifts. The OPC maintains a strict cessationist position, while the PCA allows presbyteries to ordain non-cessationists if they do not believe that ongoing gifts are relevatory and they promise not to teach their distinctive views, but most PCA presbyteries would refuse to ordain such a man. Many PCA churches have moved toward contemporary worship, while the OPC is dominated by traditional Reformed worship. The southern roots of the Presbyterian Church in America were tempered somewhat by the merger with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod and the northern roots of the OPC was also tempered by the influence of Van Til and Kuyper.[84] 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.

Church government

Herbert, John Rogers, RA (c. 1844), The Assertion of Liberty of Conscience by the Independents at the Westminster Assembly of Divines (painting)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.

The PCA maintains the Presbyterian church government set forth in its Book of Church Order. Local church officers include teaching elders, ruling elders and deacons. The BCO is based on the PCUS Book of Church Order declared it in force in May 19, 1879.[85] PCA adheres to the Southern tradition of parity of elders in which the ruling elders and teaching elders (pastors) are considered equals while regarding teaching elders to be first among equals. This practice naturally includes ruling elders ordaining teaching elders. This is different from the Northern Presbyterian practice of two offices of elders.[86] Church government is exercised at three levels: the Session, which governs the local church; the Presbytery, a regional governing body, and the General Assembly, the highest court of the denomination.[87] The PCA is committed to a principle of voluntary association and all PCA congregations own their own property. Additionally all giving to the administration and permanent committees of the PCA is voluntary.[88] The PCA does not have Synods, which some other groups have either as the highest court or as an intermediate court between presbyteries and the general assembly. The Presbyterian Church in America is gradually centralizing power and was originally intended to be a "grass roots" denomination and power is still vested largely in Presbyteries in the PCA.


Hunter College, one of three meeting places for Redeemer Presbyterian Church (New York City), led by Tim Keller, with more than 5,000 weekly attenders and in excess of $30 million in annual giving[89]

Membership trends

The PCA is one of the fastest-growing denominations in the United States, having experienced steady growth since its founding in 1973.[90]

As of December 31, 2011, the Presbyterian Church in America had 1,771 churches (includes established churches and new church plants) representing all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico[91] and 5 Canadian provinces. There were 351,406 communicant and non-communicant members.[92] The PCA has 83 presbyteries or regional governing bodies. The latest formed in January 2014.[93]

In 2012 the PCA had 1,777 congregations - 1,474 particular and 303 mission churches - that means a net increase of 6, membership developed by 12,613 total of 364,019. The number of ordained PCA ministers are 4,321.[94][95][96]

The PCA had 359,834 members in 1,808 congregations served by 4,416 ordained ministers in 2013. Total membership grew by 3,014, the number of congregations also increased by 31 since 2012.[97][98][99]

As of the statistics of 2014, the PCA had 1831 congregations an increase of 23 churches, the membership was 358,516. Less than 50% of the PCA churches send statistical report, and the stated supply believes the membersip of the PCA experienced modest grow.[100]

More than 250 churches of the denomination are ethnic Korean churches with 9 non-geographical Korean language presbyteries, which is about 15% of the total.[101][102]

The PCA has grown tenfold in thirty years. This was partly the result of the union with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod and the voluntary realigment of some Orthodox Presbyterian Churches.[103] For example, in Georgia the PCA has 14 congregations and 2,784 member in 1973, but in 2006 there were 93 congregations and 22,000 members. In 2015 there are about 150 congregations. This is more than tenfold growth of the denomination in the Peach State.[104]

The PCA are among the top 5 denominations that are most aggressive in church planting in North America.[105]

Adherents and population penetration

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. Two-thirds of PCA churches and members are found in the Southeast, and 25 churches are in the Metro Atlanta area.[106]

The state of Florida has the most PCA churches with more than 160 congregations, but Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas in the South and Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia on the East Coast remain strongholds for the denomination. In the five southeastern US States (Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia) the PCA had 742 congregations, making up more than one third of the total 1,771 churches.[107] Mississippi has the highest percentage of adherents per 1,000 people, followed by Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Delaware, and Georgia.[108] Numerous mega churches can be found in the American South and East as well as in Illinois, but the largest and the second largest churches in the denomination are Korean churches. A Korean congregation, Sarang Community Church of Southern California in Anaheim, CA, is the biggest congregation in the denomination with as high as 11,000 members.[109]

In Canada

Grace Toronto PCA owns the historic St. Andrews Church

When the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod merged with the PCA Canadian congregations entered the union. Since the merger other congregations have been added through evangelism. Canadian churches report that "secularism and unbelief provide an opportunity to evangelism".[110] There are more than 22 congregations in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.[109]

Outside North America

The PCA has a Presbytery in Chile with more than 5 congregation and missions.[111]

The Potomac Presbytery proposed to elect a provisional presbytery in the Latin American county of Paraguay with 4-5 congregations and church plants in Asunción and the nearby cities. The Presbytery worked in the country for 15–20 years. The goal is to established a National Presbyterian Church in Paraguay.[112]


Korean churches

New York Presbyterian Church, a Korean PCA megachurch in Queens, NY

The membership of the PCA is predominantly Caucasian, but the denomination includes more than 260 Korean-American Churches in 8 Korean Presbyteries.[113] The first Korean Presbytery was formed in 1982; since then the number of presbyteries has grown to 9, namely the Korean Capital Presbytery, the Korean Central Presbytery, the Korean Eastern Presbytery, the Korean Northeastern Presbytery, the Korean Northwest Presbytery, the Korean Southeastern Presbytery, the Korean Southern Presbytery and the Korean Southwest Presbytery, and the recently formed Korean Southwest Orange County Presbytery.[93][114][115] Koreans comprise approximately 15% of the denomination, and the majority of them are located in the West coast and Northeast regions. In recent years several independent Korean congregations have joined the PCA to be a part of a conservative Presbyterian denomination.[102] The largest PCA church is a Korean church located in Anaheim, CA called Sarang Community Church. All the Korean churches in the PCA appoint non-ordained deaconesses and women encouragers (Kwonsa) who are elected and installed so that women can care for other women in the church. Such has been the practice of all Korean Presbyterian churches since its inception which is practiced across denominational boundaries.

Hispanic churches

There are about 40 Hispanic American PCA churches in Alabama, Florida, California, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and also in Virginia.[116]

Brazilian congregations

Approximately 15 Brazilian or Portuguese-speaking congregations was affiliated with the denomination in 2011, mainly in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Georgia, New Jersey and Florida.[117]


Several multi-ethnic African American, Haitian, Japanese, Nepali, Albanian, Indian, Sudanese, Indonesian Russian ethnic churches belong to the Presbyterian Church in America and the denomination begun to build relationship with the First Nations/Native American groups in the United States and Canada.[118]

The PCA has congregations outside North America. These International congregations can be found in the Grand Cayman Island, in Okinawa, Japan, South Korea, Prague and various cities (Berlin, Cologne, Stuttgart and Munich) in Germany.[109]

Affiliations and Agencies

Presbyterian catechising, 19th century
The Lookout Mountain Hotel on Lookout Mountain, Georgia, now home to Covenant College


Additionally, the denomination has its own agency for sending missionaries around the world (Mission to the World)(MTW). Through Mission to the World well over 600 foreign missionaries are working in about 60 nations. Mission to North America serves PCA churches and presbyteries through the development of evangelism and church planting in Canada and the USA. An average of 3 new churches are planted in a month in the 2 nations and currently has more than 300 mission churches in the United States alone. More than 40% of all congregations are less than 25 years old, due to church planting.[90] The PCA puts into the field the worlds largest Presbyterian mission force.[79]

The PCA church planters must raise their own support and the denomination turned to the use of church planting networks of like-minded churches to found church planters. The PCA frequently use the evangelist model of starting a new church where the evangelist under the oversight of the Presbyteries home missions committee has the power of the sessions in his own person. The PCA supports one foreign missionary for every three congregations.[119]

Further, there are more than 100 chaplains in the military, hospitals, prisons and 45 college and university campus ministers. The church has high emphasis on education.

Educational and Theological institutions

The PCA has its own ministry to students on college campuses, the Reformed University Fellowship, its own camp and conference center, the Ridge Haven Conference and Retreat Center[120] (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). Covenant Theological Seminary is a fully accredited theological institution that offers several academic degrees: Master of Divinity, Master of Arts, Master of Theology and Doctor of Ministry. The Seminary is home to the Francis Schaeffer Institute.[121] The PCA also publishes its own denominational magazine, byFaith.


The church maintains headquarters in Lawrenceville, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. The site was once the headquarters of the PCUS, but all offices of the united PC(USA) were moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1988.[122]

The PCA Ministry Buildings in Lawrenceville is the location from which the ministries of the denomination are coordinated. These ministries are Mission to the World, Mission to North America, Christian Education and Publications, Administrative Committee and Reformed University Fellowship (RUF).[123]

Relations with other Reformed Churches

The logo of the World Reformed Fellowship, of which the PCA is a member

In 1975, the PCA joined the OPC, RPCNA, RPCES, and Christian Reformed Church in North America in becoming charter members of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), which it remains part of; and the PCA is also part of the World Reformed Fellowship,[124][125] a worldwide organisation of Churches where about 70 Reformed, Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist, Anglican denominations, as well as congregations and individuals can also participate.[126] It is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.[127]

The Presbyterian Church in America enjoys fraternal relations with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In 2008 the Presbyterian Church of Brazil[128] and the Presbyterian Church in America entered into full fraternal relationship with each other.[129][130] The National Presbyterian Church in Mexico and the PCA also work together in missions and evangelizing. In 2012 at the PCA 41st General Assembly the Presbyterian Church in America and the National Presbyterian Church in Mexico entered into an assembly level ecclesiastical relationship.[131] In 1994 The Fellowship of Reformed Churches was formed and was a product of the dialogue between the PCA, the Presbyterian Church in Brazil[132] and the National Presbyterian Church in Mexico. They decided to invite other Latin American Reformed Churches to join the Fellowship.[133]

PCA missionaries have helped found the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales,[134] the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine, the Christian Presbyterian Church in Portugal, the Evangelical Presbyterian Reformed Church in Colombia,[135][136] the Presbyterian Church in America, Chile,[111][137] the Africa Evangelical Presbyterian Church[138] and the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Australia.[139]

Notable churches in the PCA

First Presbyterian Church in Schenectady, New York
Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, founded by D. James Kennedy and now led by Tullian Tchividjian, joined the PCA from the PCUS in 1983

Notable people in the history of the PCA

Jim DeMint, former U.S. Senator and president of The Heritage Foundation

See also


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  3. Fikse, Susan (10 June 2015). "Jim Wert Elected Moderator of the 43rd PCA General Assembly". Aquila Report.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  12. Keys, Kenneth S. "History of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)". Committee for Christian Education & Publications. Retrieved 28 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  68. William H. Smith, Putting Asunder What God Joined: The Divorce Dilemma, Does a consensus on divorce exist within the PCA? If so, what is it? (May 29, 2013)
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  106. PCA Church Directory
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  110. Reformiert Online Promotig Unity among Reformed denominations
  111. 111.0 111.1
  114. Korean ministries
  118. Church-planting ministries
  119. Adopted from Peter Wallace
  126. "About The WRF". World Reformed Fellowship. Retrieved 28 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  129. 202011/doc11_060.pdf 2011/doc11_060.pdf
  132. Recent decades

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 0-664-50012-9
  • 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