Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Overture 1: Pacific Northwest Presbytery
In Presbyterian government, there are two possible subsets of the particular court of the church (session, presbytery, General Assembly). The first is a committee. The committee can “examine, consider, and report” to the court on any issue assigned to it. But the committee cannot make any judgment on the matter. That judgment is left to the court. The second subset is a commission. “A commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business referred to it” (BCO 15-1). In other words, the commission acts in place of the court. The one exception to this rule is the judicial commission. A judicial commission can be assigned a case (if the court doesn't want to deal with it directly). When the judicial commission completes its work, it submits its record of the case and its judgment to the court. At this point, the court can either approve or disapprove the judgment of the commission.
In the overture from PNWP, they propose a third option, which would allow the commission the final say. The presbytery would assign the case to the commission with the understanding that the judgment of the case rendered by the commission will be the judgment of the presbytery. So in judicial cases, there would be three options: 1) the presbytery could try the case with the presbytery as a whole; 2) the presbytery could assign the case to a commission, with presbytery rendering the final approval on the judgment; or 3) the presbytery could allow the commission the final say from the beginning, without any final approval by the presbytery as a whole.
The rationale for this third option is that the presbytery as a whole might not have sufficient knowledge of the case to vote intelligently in approving or disapproving the judgment of the commission. It would also provide for a quicker decision on the case, since the judgment would not have to wait until the next meeting of presbytery to go into effect.
This revision of the BCO was first proposed by another presbytery last year, but it was sent back for further perfection. There is admittedly a certain attractiveness to the overture, particularly in the desire to streamline the process. It also recognizes that the presbytery often votes to approve the judgment of the commission on the basis of the presbytery simply trusting that the commission did its work properly.
However, this strikes me as being essentially the same rationale that provided the PCA with its current Standing Judicial Commission of the General Assembly. While that seemed good at the time, there has developed a great deal of discomfort with the way it has worked out in the long run. As a result, my own sense is that such a change is unnecessary. Rather, there ought simply to be an understanding that the requirements that the BCO already puts upon a judicial commission should always be followed. As the BCO currently reads, “a commission shall keep a full record of its proceedings, which shall be submitted to the court appointing it” (emphasis added). That record should then be made available to the presbytery as a whole in a timely manner, so that presbyters have sufficient time to review the record of the case. That way, the presbytery will be able to vote approve/disapprove in an intelligent fashion.