Monday, June 01, 2015
Overture 7 from New Hope PCA, Fairfax, VA
Ordinarily, overtures will come to the GA from presbyteries, but Potomac Presbytery rejected this overture by a vote of 18 for and 24 against.
It has already received substantive treatment online. Here is a two-part argument against the overture: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/05/the-pca-and-the-right-against.php. Here is an extended argument in favor of the overture, responding to the critique from the Ref21 blog: http://theaquilareport.com/the-case-for-overture-7-to-be-considered-by-the-pca-general-assembly/#_ftn1.
The essence of the overture is that church officers (that is, ministers, ruling elders, and deacons), when they have been accused in a church court, “shall be required to testify before the court of original jurisdiction.” For example, if charges are brought against a ruling elder in a church, he would be compelled to testify in the case. Given the current reading of the PCA’s Book of Church Order, that would not be the case.
The argument against the overture draws heavily on criminal and civil court precedent, going back to the New Testament and then to the period of the Westminster Assembly and subsequent Presbyterian history. The response makes the case that the church court is neither a civil nor a criminal court, and that most of the material that the critique brings forward is really immaterial. To my mind, the defense of the overture makes a compelling case. There is one significant addition that is made in the defense of the overture, having to do with a church judicial case when the testimony of the accused and the results of the case may influence a civil or criminal proceeding. That addition would be the proviso that if civil or criminal proceedings either have begun or are likely in the case, the church court will hold off on its proceedings until the civil/criminal case has been adjudicated. The church court may suspend the officer from his official functions until the ecclesiastical proceedings are complete.
My own sense is that this overture (with the additional proviso) would be a wise addition to the BCO. Anyone who has ever been involved in a church judicial case (at least in the PCA context) probably knows the frustration of dealing with a man who essentially “pleads the 5th.” The two-fold consideration brought by this overture (that a church officer may be compelled to testify, and that ecclesiastical proceedings be postponed until civil/criminal proceedings have been completed) will not solve all difficulties faced by church courts, but it will solve a significant number of them.
I am afraid, however, that the overture will meet a fate at GA similar to the one it met with in Potomac Presbytery.