Saturday, December 21, 2013
PCA GA for Beginners, Part 3
There are essentially three forms of church government. In alphabetical order, they are congregational, episcopal, and presbyterian. In the congregational system, the authority of the church rests in the local congregation. The congregation may have elders or deacon, or leaders of some sort that they give other names to, but the authority ultimately lies with the congregation. In the episcopal system, the authority of the church lies in the bishops (episkopoi in Greek). These bishops are ranked in order up to the archbishop. In the presbyterian system, the authority in the church lies in the elders (presbuteroi in Greek), but not just at the congregational level. In that sense, the presbyterian system is more like the episcopal system than the congregational system. At each higher level, there is what the PCA calls “review and control” (R&C) of the lower levels. The elders of the local church have R&C with regard to the congregation. At the presbytery level, the presbytery exercises R&C over the congregations by means of the annual review of the records of the sessions of the local churches. This R&C is done to make sure that everything is being done “decently and in order” (a popular phrase with Presbyterians).
The GA exercises R&C over the presbyteries by means of the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records (RAO 16). This committee is made up of one representative from each presbytery, either and RE or a TE. Once elected to the committee, the commissioner serves a three-year term. It is the responsibility of each presbytery to submit its records for annual review by the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records (RPR). Thus, theoretically, there are eighty sets of presbytery records and eighty commissioners to review them. In practice, some presbyteries are negligent about submitting their records, and some presbyteries are negligent about electing and sending commissioners to serve on this committee.
This committee works in the following fashion. It meets in Atlanta approximately a month before GA for approximately three days. Prior to this meeting, copies of records of two-three presbyteries are sent to the commissioners to be reviewed before the RPR meeting. At this point, each set of presbytery records is reviewed by at least two first readers using guidelines provided by the committee. When the committee meets, the presbytery records are reviewed again, paying particular attention to anything that the first readers noted. After all the reviews are reviewed and collated, the committee, as a committee, decides on recommendations for each presbytery. These recommendations are submitted to the GA for action.
The work of the RPR can be tedious. But there are at least three distinct advantages to serving on this committee. First, it gives the commissioners a real understanding of how the work of the church is being carried out throughout the denomination. Second, it gives the commissioner an understanding of what major issues there are in the denomination, and where those issues are hottest. Third, it gives the commissioner an opportunity to meet face-to-face with men he would otherwise never meet. Thus, other presbyteries become more than just names, and the denominational identity takes on a reality it does not otherwise have.
I encourage men starting out in a presbytery to seek to serve on the Sessional Records committee, because in doing so they will learn a great deal about their presbytery. I make the same recommendation regarding RPR. It’s a great way to learn about your denomination.