Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thoughts on the 2012 PCA GA (3)

Now we move to the hard stuff. But first a little background as to how GA functions. Monday and Tuesday are given over to the work of the Committees of Commissioners. These review the reports of the Permanent Committees of the General Assembly (such things as Mission to North America and Mission to the World) and make recommendations that the Assembly will vote on. These Committees of Commissioners also includes the Committee on Overtures, about which more later. 

Tuesday evening the Assembly officially begins, with the opening worship and the election of the new moderator. Wednesday morning begins the information reports of the permanent committees (with all due respect to these committees, most of the commissioners [attendees] consider these to be nothing more than glorified infomercials) telling about what the committee has done during the past year. Thursday is the day on which the bulk of Assembly business is transacted. This, year, though the report of the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records was docketed for Wednesday afternoon at 1:30, it was postponed until Thursday morning at 9:30, so that commissioners would have time to review the report.

Review of Presbytery Records (RPR)

The primary issue this year coming out of RPR had to do with paedocommunion. For those who don't know, paedocommunion is the view that any baptized member of the church ought also to be given the Lord's Supper. There are variations among those who hold to this view, with some eschewing infant communion, but arguing that children as young as two or three could make a credible profession of faith, and hence should be allowed to the Lord's Table. This view is an exception to the doctrinal standards of the PCA. Three presbyteries had approved candidates for ordination who held to paedocommunion. One had been cited last year for the action, and had responded to the RPR. The majority of the members of RPR determined that the response from this presbytery was satisfactory, in that while the ordinand would be allowed to teach his view, he would not practice it. A minority considered that response unsatisfactory, and brought a minority report to the GA. After some debate, the GA decided to kick the issue back to RPR, to bring back a new report next year.

Frankly, I'm not sure what the commissioners to GA thought they were accomplishing by the action. RPR next year will be made up largely of the same members (it takes a special breed of elder to serve on RPR, and the same men tend to get reelected after the end of their three-year term), who will still be holding the same views. There will be a majority report and a minority report, and it will come back to GA next year. All in all, an unsatisfactory action on the part of GA. Perhaps some were thinking that the issue will somehow go away in the next year. If so, they were dreaming.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thoughts on the 2012 PCA GA (2)

The Standing Judicial Commission

In addition to the Committee on Overtures, and the Committee on the Review of Presbytery Records, the other body that does a great deal of work for GA is the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). The difference between a committee and a commission is that the former "is appointed to examine, consider, and report" while a commission "is authorized to deliberate upon and concluded the business referred to it" (Book of Church Order [BCO] 15-1). As one might assume, the SJC deals with any judicial case that makes its way to the denominational level. The work of the SJC is summarized in BCO Chapter 15 and the Rules of Assembly Operations (RAO) Article 17. Except in certain specified circumstances, the SJC decisions are the decisions of the GA, end hence are not reviewed of voted upon by the GA. Thus, while the members of the SJC do a great deal of work, they generally receive no attention for it. For example, this year there were 28 cases before the SJC. Two of those were dismissed. Five were ruled out of order for various reasons. Seven were still in the process of adjudication by the time GA met, and four cases were waiting to be assigned to a panel for adjudication. The remaining  ten, with their decisions, were reported to the GA this year (Pp 2003-2051 of the Commissioner Handbook) and will be in the published minutes of GA. If you know anyone on SJC, thank them for their hard labor for the church.


This is one of the regular frustrations of GA. The GA meets annually and "shall consist of all teaching elders [TEs] in good standing with their Presbyteries...and ruling elders [REs] as elected by their session" (BCO 14-2). The number of ruling elders eligible is a minimum of two per church, with additional ruling elders depending on the number of members in a church (specified in BCO 14-2). Given that there are 1,466 churches in the PCA, and 4,256 TEs, the theoretical attendance at GA this year was a minimum of 7,188. Actual attendance, however, was 797 TEs and 278 REs. That means that fewer than one in five TEs attended GA, and no more than one in five churches were represented by REs. A lot of this has to do with expense. Registration this year was $400.00 per elder (less in some special cases). When you add to that the cost of travel, the expense of hotels, and meals for most of a week, the cost becomes prohibitive for many churches, as it can easily reach $2,000.00 per commissioner. The total number of commissioners this year, 1075, is the lowest since at least 2005. In short, the GA is hardly a representative assembly. But a further difficulty is that many commissioners do not attend the GA that they attend. On many of the counted votes at GA this year, the total number of votes cast (yea + nay) was less than 800, and in some cases less than 700. In other words, 200-300 commissioners simply were either not in attendance at that particular session, or abstained. Since abstentions are ordinarily not counted, it is hard to tell which is the case. But undoubtedly many commissioners do not, for whatever reasons, attend the business sessions.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thoughts on The 2012 PCA General Assembly

It is the case that hardly anyone leaves General Assembly (GA) entirely satisfied. There are always things that commissioners wish had gone differently. However, in this first reflection on the Assembly, I'd like to focus on the positive.

Two committees do most of the heavy lifting for GA: the Committee on Overtures, and the Committee on the Review of Presbytery Records (RPR). The RPR actually meets a month or so before GA, spending a full three days consolidating the reviews that individual members of the committee have already produced. Most members of the committee spend hours reviewing the minutes of three or so presbyteries before the meeting of RPR. Depending on the presbytery, this review process can be lengthy. The reviews produced by the individual reviewers are then further reviewed by subcommittees made up of two members of RPR. The reviews produced are then reviewed by the committee as a whole, and the entire thing consolidated into a report for the GA. In this process, the officers of the committee bear the brunt of the work, especially the recording clerks. The chairman of the committee then presents the report to the GA, and field questions or comments from the floor. For the three years I have been on the committee, Per Almquist of Northern New England Presbytery has been the chairman, and he has done a marvelous job. So if you know Per, give him the thanks of the Assembly.

The Committee on Overtures (CO) meets just prior to the Assembly and reviews all the overture to the GA that have come from the presbyteries since the preceding GA. This year, there were 44 overtures. While some of these overtures are rubber-stamp considerations (for example, overtures requesting the re-drawing of presbytery boundaries) most of them are substantive, and require a great deal of time. The Committee is often pushed hard to finish their work before the Assembly begins. As with RPR, the chairman of the Committee on Overtures then presents the report to GA, dealing with questions from the floor. This year's chairman, Frederick "Jay" Neikirk of Ascension Presbytery did a great job. Again, those of you who know Jay, extend to him the thanks of the Assembly.

The situation for both committees was complicated this year by the fact that more than one minority report accompanied the committee report. For those who don't know the arcana of GA Committees, each committee presents a recommendation to the Assembly on each of the matters with which it deals. Thus the CO presents a recommendation on each of the overtures it dealt with, while the RPR presents a recommendation regarding each of the presbyteries of the denomination (this year there were close to eighty presbytery recommendations). Generally, the recommendations are virtually unanimous. However, when there is a strong minority opposed to the recommendation of the committee, that minority will usually present a minority report. It will then be the responsibility of the GA to choose between the committee recommendation and the minority report.