Monday, May 18, 2015

Overtures to the 2015 PCA General Assembly

First, a quick explanation for those who don’t know anything about the government of the PCA. The PCA is a connectional denomination, which means that the various churches that make up the denomination are considered to be connected to one another; not separate and distinct entities. The denomination has three levels of government: 1) the session, which is the governing body of the local church, made up of ruling elders (REs) and teaching elders (TEs, that is, pastors); 2) the presbytery, which is the governing body of a region of churches, made up of REs and TEs from the churches within the regional bounds of the presbytery; 3) the General Assembly, made up of REs and TEs from the churches of the denomination.

The General Assembly (GA) meets annually. This year it is meeting in Chattanooga, TN. Each year, various proposals, called overtures, come from presbyteries for the GA to consider and act on. Since the denomination is connectional, the decisions made by the GA are binding on the presbyteries and the churches. Some years, many overtures come before the GA. This year there are ten overtures, plus one that was submitted last year, but was returned for further study.

Three of the ten overtures have to do with what I call “housekeeping.” Palmetto Presbytery (the second-largest presbytery in the denomination) is proposing to divide into three smaller presbyteries. Southwest Florida and Sun Coast Florida are proposing to redraw the boundaries of the presbyteries, so that some churches will move from one presbytery to another. I don’t expect any opposition to these changes.

A fourth overture is seeking to memorialize the work of John Wayne King, who spent much of his career doing Bible translation in Malaysia. Mr. King died last year. I don’t expect any opposition to this overture either, though it does not appear to be something that is done frequently.

The other overtures are more substantive. I will summarize them here, then deal with them in more detailed fashion in coming posts. North Texas Presbytery and Tennessee Valley Presbyteries have overtured the GA to establish a study committee to change the language in the Westminster Confession and catechisms in regard to the idea of recreation on the Sabbath. I will have more to say about this, but I would not be surprised if the GA approved the study committee.

Pacific Northwest Presbytery is seeking some changes in the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO) with regard to how presbyteries may deal with a judicial case. Gulf Coast Presbytery is seeking to change the language in the vows that parents take when they present their children for baptism, since the language in one of the vows seems more Baptistic than Presbyterian. Tidewater Presbytery is seeking to change the language in the BCO regarding ministers and other church officers who are currently without call (that is, a minister who is currently not serving in any ministerial capacity). This one strikes me as interesting due to the way the overture is structured. The session of New Hope PCA in Fairfax, VA has presented an overture that seeks to require an accused church officer to testify in a judicial case. This is a case in which church law would differ from civil law. This is also an interesting overture, and I’ll be back to review it. Finally, the overture from last year from Potomac Presbytery proposes that a provisional presbytery be created for Paraguay, with a view toward establishing a Presbyterian denomination in that country.

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