The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is believed to have started around the 17th century when European Settlers of the reformed faith arrived in America. The settlers soon established communities and they also brought their Presbyterian convictions with them. After colonies had been established, the first pedestrian congregations were also established therein. After several synods had been established, the first American General Assembly (of the PCUSA) was formed in 1789. The PCUSA continued to grow but also continued to evolve due to the widespread theological debates, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has a more recent history. It sprung up in 1973 following some disagreements that had emerged in the PCUSA. A section of conservative congregants broke off from PCUSA and thus formed the PCA in a bid to maintain strict adherence to the traditional reformed theology. The emergence of PCA created a dichotomy in the American Presbyterian churches with one being more liberal while the other maintaining the traditional doctrines.
Differences between presbyterian church USA vs PCA
Presbyterian Church USA is more progressive than PCA. For instance, PCUSA allows for the ordination of gay clergy while PCA maintains that traditional view on marriage between a male and a female and therefore does not ordain gay clergy. The progressive nature of PCUSA also influences its doctrinal stance.
The table below summarises the main differences between PCUSA and PCA
|Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)
|Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
|Social justice and inclusivity
|Biblical inerrancy and authority
|Progressive approach, considering the context
|Literal and conservative hermeneutic approach
|Embraces diverse thoughts within core principles
|Emphasizes theological orthodoxy
|Connectional system with regional governing bodies
|Presbyterian polity with more local church autonomy
|Ordination of Women and LGBTQ+
|Allows women and LGBTQ+ individuals in leadership
|Rejects female ordination but permits other roles
|Progressive and adaptive to societal issues
|Conservative and upholds traditional doctrines
Theological Foundations of PCUSA
- Emphasis on Social Justice and Inclusivity
PCUSA theology has a strong emphasis on social justice and inclusivity. The denomination is traditionally known for its advocacy for justice and equality in society. This approach stems from the reformed traditional belief that Christians have a responsibility to engage and transform the world by being God’s agents of love and compassion. PCUSA has sought to meet this objective by participating in civil rights movements, supporting the rights of marginalized groups, advocating for environmental protection as well as addressing global issues like inequality and poverty.
- Views on Scripture Interpretation
PCUSA has a progressive approach to Bible interpretation. Even though the denomination affirms the authority of God’s words, it realizes the need of understanding the cultural and historical contexts of the Biblical texts. Taking this approach to Biblical interpretation gives room to a more nuanced scriptural interpretation that takes into account the dynamic cultural and social realities of modern times. PCUSA encourages critical thinking and biblical scholarship in examining the teachings of scripture. As a consequence, there are lots of diversity in thought on various ethical and theological issues within the church which are often welcome as long as they align with the core principles of compassion, justice, and love.
Theological Foundations of PCA
- Focus on Biblical Inerrancy and Authority
The PCA puts a lot of emphasis on Biblical inerrancy and authority. They believe the Bible to be the infallible word of God which is free from any kind of error or contradiction. They, therefore, consider all passages in the scriptures as accurate and trustworthy. This view on the inerrancy of scripture aligns with their conservative theological stance that emphasizes the preservation of the Reformed doctrine.
- Views on Scripture Interpretation
Unlike PCUSA which adopts a contextual approach to Bible interpretation, PCA uses a literal and conservative hermeneutic approach. They seek to interpret scripture in a way that does not interfere with the inerrancy of the Bible. The PCA literal approach often results in rigid interpretation and application of some Biblical passages and doctrines.
The PCA, unlike the PCUSA, does not have much room for theological diversity – especially on foundational doctrinal issues. This is because the denomination believes in a traditional and unified understanding of Biblical teachings. As a consequence, the PCA has more emphasis on theological orthodoxy and the preservation of doctrinal purity.
Church Governance and Structure
PCUSA’s Governance Model
- Connectionalism and Committees
The PCUSA adopts a connectional system of governance. This means that the individual congregations are not autonomous but interconnected through regional governing bodies. The regional governing bodies may include synods and presbyteries that are in charge of overseeing individual churches in their area of jurisdiction. The General Assembly is the highest governing authority in PCUSA and it meets regularly to make important decisions on the denomination.
The connectional governance structure fosters collaboration and decision-making at several levels. For instance, task forces and committees play a vital role in dealing with financial, social, or theological issues. The committees are typically composed of representatives from different presbyteries to ensure a diverse approach to decision-making.
- Ordination of Women and LGBTQ+ Clergy
PCUSA has been a pioneer of gender and LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the leadership of the church. They allow for the ordination of women clergy and have also taken significant strides towards inclusivity of LGBTQ+ in their leadership. As of 2011, they removed any barriers that may restrict openly gay individuals from leadership in the church. They also allow for same-sex unions and their clergy to perform such marriages where legislation allows.
PCA’s Governance Model
- Presbyterian Polity and Local Autonomy
PCA, just like PCUSA, follows the Presbyterian form of government. However, PCA exercises local church autonomy more. The PCA local churches are therefore independent decision-making organs. Nonetheless, they are still connected to regional governing bodies referred to as presbyteries. The presbyteries help promote cooperation among the individual churches but they do not have as much authority on the local churches as their PCUSA counterparts.
- Complementarianism and Male-Only Ordination
PCA doctrine of leadership is complementarian and it rejects the idea of ordaining women as clergy. PCA doctrine emphasizes that men’s leadership is the divine order of leadership in the Scriptures and that is why they do not ordain females. However, they allow women to serve in other leadership roles within the church that do not require ordination.
PCUSA and PCA may have similar origins but the two have distinct beliefs and doctrines. For starters, PCUSA is more progressive in theology while PCA is more conservative. The progressive nature of PCUSA makes them more adaptive to societal and cultural issues as opposed to PCA which remains committed to upholding the traditional views of the the reformed doctrine.