The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) formed as part of a major realignment among US Presbyterians, who had been divided on regional grounds since the Civil War, between the southern PCUS and the northern-based UPCUSA. Yet the two regional denominations were also internally divided between theological liberals and conservatives. As momentum slowly built toward unification of the two regional denominations, conservative pastors and lay leaders became alarmed by the PCUS’s drift from orthodoxy and historic confessional and biblical standards of the church. By the 1970s, conservative pastors in the PCUS began to plan an exit from the denomination. This was the Presbyterian Churchmen United, formed by more than five hundred ministers, and the group published a statements of their beliefs in thirty newspapers. 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 that the church should disavow the ordination of women.
The PCUS was a mostly conservative denomination until more liberal elements gained control in the 1950s. Conservative Presbyterians felt that presbyteries violated the Westminster Confession of Faith by receiving ministers who refused to affirm the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Christ, while also denying membership to faithful ministers.
In December 1973, delegates representing 260 congregations with a combined communicant membership of more than forty-one thousand who had left the PCUS (Southern) gathered at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and organized the National Presbyterian Church. In 1974 they changed their name to the Presbyterian Church in America. These churches separated from the Southern Presbyterian Church in opposition to the long-developing theological liberalism which denied the deity of Jesus Christ and the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. In addition, the PCA held that the traditional position on the role of women in church offices was the biblical position.
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 denied by the Pittsburgh Presbytery because he refused to support women’s ordination, a decision which was upheld by the UPCUSA General Assembly.
In 1982, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, joined the Presbyterian Church in America. The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, had been formed in 1965 by a merger of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod. The PCA had also invited the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church to the merger. A second invitation to the OPC was extended in 1986 but not accepted.
The PCA is one of the faster growing denominations in the United States, having experienced steady growth since its founding in 1973. In 2012 the PCA had 1,777 congregations, 1,474 particular churches, 303 mission churches, and a membership of 364,019 with 4,321 ordained ministers, representing all fifty US states, the District of Columbia, and five Canadian provinces. More than 200 churches of the denomination are ethnic Korean.
The Presbyterian Church in America has a strong commitment to evangelism, missionary work at home and abroad, and Christian education. From its inception, the church has determined its purpose to be “faithful to the Scriptures, true to the reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.”
The PCA has its own agency for sending missionaries around the world, which has about six hundred foreign missionaries working in about sixty nations. Mission to North America serves PCA churches and presbyteries through the development of evangelism and church planting in Canada and the US. An average of three new churches are planted in a month in the two nations; currently there are three hundred mission churches in the US alone. More than 40 percent of all congregations are less than twenty-five years old, due to church planting. The PCA puts into the field the world’s largest Presbyterian mission force.
The PCA has its own ministry to students on college campuses, Reformed University Fellowship; its own camp and conference center, the Ridge Haven Conference and Retreat Center in Brevard, North Carolina; its own liberal arts college, Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia; and its seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary, located in Saint Louis, Missouri. The PCA also publishes its own denominational magazine, By Faith.
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. The PCA ministry buildings in Lawrenceville are the location from which the ministries of the denomination are coordinated.
Relations with Other Reformed Churches
The PCA is a member of NAPARC and of the World Reformed Fellowship, a worldwide organization of churches in which Reformed, Presbyterian, and Reformed Baptist denominations, congregations, and individuals can also participate. It is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).
The Presbyterian Church in America enjoys fraternal relations with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In 2008 the Presbyterian Church of Brazil and the PCA entered into full fraternal relationship with each other. The National Presbyterian Church in Mexico and the PCA also work together in missions and evangelizing. In 1994 The Fellowship of Reformed Churches was formed and was a product of the dialogue between the PCA, the Presbyterian Church in Brazil, and the National Presbyterian Church in Mexico. They decided to invite other Latin American Reformed churches to the fellowship.
PCA missionaries have helped found the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine, the Christian Presbyterian Church in Portugal, the Evangelical Presbyterian Reformed Church in Colombia, the Africa Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Australia, and the Presbyterian Church in America, Chile.
Perhaps the most well-known personalities of the PCA are R. C. Sproul, who is a minister of that denomination and founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries; and the late D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
1. The section about history is edited from the Presbyterian Church in America website: www.pcanet.org.
Mr. Myron Rau
is the chairman of the board of Reformed Fellowship. He is a member of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI.