It's summertime, and for many American church leaders, that means annual denominational meetings. Debates over evolution and Bible translations in Muslim-dominated cultures highlighted the Presbyterian Church in America's (PCA) 40th General Assembly. On evolution, the conservative denomination affirmed that Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith make clear that "Adam and Eve are real, historical human beings directly created by God." Some delegates wished to state more explicitly that the Bible contradicts any evolutionary interpretation of Adam's origins, including theistic evolution. But by a majority vote, the denomination agreed to let its traditional stance remain the final word on evolution, for the time being.
Representatives of the 347,000-member PCA also voted to rebuke Wycliffe Bible Translators and other missions organizations that, in order to avoid causing offense to Muslims, have steered away from using the term "Son of God" as a descriptor for Jesus in Arabic and other Middle Eastern Bible translations (see "Inside Out," May 7, 2011). The Quran teaches that God cannot have a son, and the phrase "Son of God" carries implications in Arabic of God having had conjugal relations with Mary. Some translators have substituted terms such as "Christ" or the "spiritual Son of God" for the designation "Son of God." The PCA assembly, following a similar action by the Assemblies of God, suggested cutting funding to organizations that tailor translations to Muslim sensibilities.
The Reformed Church in America (RCA), a mainline denomination of Dutch Reformed origins, also held its General Synod, during which delegates voted to remove a controversial "conscience clause" that had allowed objecting ministers to recuse themselves from ordaining female clergy. The denomination began ordaining women in 1979, but also adopted the conscience provision in order to reduce friction over the policy. The removal of the clause, which local RCA governing bodies must still approve, would make acceptance of female pastors the unequivocal policy of the denomination.
The RCA, like most mainline denominations, is also grappling to settle its positions on homosexuality and gay marriage. The synod voted to create a committee to consider ways to manage denominational turmoil over these issues. Unlike more liberal mainline denominations such as The Episcopal Church, the RCA has consistently affirmed that homosexual acts are sinful, and that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. - Thomas Kidd
The election of the Southern Baptist Convention's (SBC) first African-American president, New Orleans pastor Fred Luter, headlined that denomination's meeting in New Orleans. But the SBC also confronted other issues that have generated controversy in the 16-million-member denomination in recent years. First, messengers (SBC delegates) voted by a slim margin to give their churches the option of calling themselves "Great Commission Baptists" instead of Southern Baptists. For years, Southern Baptists ministering outside the South have indicated that the denomination's name could be a problem in evangelism and church growth because of negative cultural stereotypes or an awareness of the denomination's slave-owning past. The denomination will keep Southern Baptist Convention as its legal name.
The SBC also adopted a resolution affirming the legitimacy of the "Sinner's Prayer," the traditional evangelical prayer in which non-Christians are encouraged to invite Jesus into their hearts. David Platt, the Calvinist SBC pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., ignited a furor in March when he decried the Sinner's Prayer as unbiblical and superstitious, and suggested that it gave many a false assurance of salvation. In an unrecorded vote, a majority of messengers declared the prayer "a biblical expression of repentance and faith." - Thomas Kidd