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.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

PCA GA for Beginners, Part 2

The work of the PCA is carried on at the denominational level by five permanent committees and five agencies. The five committees are: the Administrative Committee (AC), the Committee on Christian Education and Publications (CE&P), the Committee on Mission to North America (MNA), the Committee on Mission to the World (MTW), and the Committee on Reformed University Ministries (RUM, an admittedly unfortunate acronym). The five agencies are: Covenant College (CC), Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS), PCA Retirement & Benefits, Inc. (RBI), PCA Foundation (PCAF), and Ridge Haven Conference Center (RHCC). Each of these committees and agencies present a report to each GA. These reports include summaries of the activities of the committee or agency throughout the year, a budget for the coming year, and a set of recommendations for the coming year.

Before the official beginning of the assembly (that is, on Monday and Tuesday of the meeting week) these reports are reviewed by Committees of Commissioners (CoC), made up of either a TE or an RE from each of the presbyteries (see RAO 14 for more information). That means that theoretically each of these CoC has 80 members, though it is rarely the case that the number approaches that total. In 2013, for example, the CoC for the Permanent Committees consisted of the following numbers: AC-29, CE&P-21, MNA-25, MTW-38, and RUM-29.

It is the responsibility of the CoC to review the reports of the permanent committees and agencies. These reports are to be circulated at least one month prior to GA, so that the commissioners may have time to review and evaluate the reports, so that they are not unprepared when the time comes for the CoC to meet. The committee may ask representatives of the committee or agency questions regarding its report. The committee may also amend or change the recommendations that constitute part of the report of the committee or agency. Again, more detail appears in RAO 14.

For prospective commissioners to the GA, especially for those who will be serving on a CoC, it is your responsibility to make sure you are thoroughly acquainted with the material to be covered in the GA. For that reason, I recommend that commissioners register as early as possible. Them when you begin receiving material for GA, set apart time to review it. If you have questions about any of it, ask your pastor (if you are an RE) or ask a more seasoned minister in your presbytery (if you are a TE). Also make sure that you have familiarized yourself with the BCO and the RAO.

In addition to these CoC, there are other committees that meet annually for issues related to GA. These will be discussed in future posts.

Monday, December 09, 2013

PCA GA for Beginners, Part 1

It is about six months until the 2014 meeting of the PCA GA (Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly). I am planning to do a series of posts over the next several weeks that will provide an introduction for those for whom this will be their first GA. GA can be overwhelming to the first-time attender. These posts are intended to reduce that difficulty.

First of all, get used to acronyms. The most prominent ones will be, of course, PCA and GA. Others that you will see frequently, and that I will use in these posts are: BCO (Book of Church Order, available online here:; and RAO (Rules of Assembly Operation, included in the BCO at the above link). I will introduce others along the way.
First, what is the GA? It is the annual meeting of representatives of the churches that make up the PCA. A fuller description of the GA is found in Chapter 14 of the BCO. I recommend that you read it. The GA meets at different locations around the nation, usually in a city that has sufficient hotel accommodations and a meeting place large enough to hold a full contingent of commissioners.

As for attendees, all teaching elders (TEs) in good standing may attend, as well as ruling elders (REs) as elected by their churches (see BCO14-2). The PCA has 4,321 TEs, and 1,474 churches, as well as 303 mission works. Given that each church may send at least two REs, theoretically the attendance at GA could be about 7,000 commissioners. Usually, though, it runs between 1,500 and 2,000. That can still be an overwhelming number for a first-time attender.

Preliminary meetings take place on Monday and Tuesday of the week of the meeting (I’ll explain more about these in a later post). GA officially opens with a worship service Tuesday evening of the meeting week. After the service, the assembly takes care of some basic business (electing a moderator, declaring a quorum, approving a docket, and so forth), then recesses until Wednesday. The work of the GA as a whole begins on Wednesday morning. The docket is set to wind up Friday at lunch time, but in recent years there has been a concerted effort to finish business Thursday evening.

In all, it can be a busy and tiring week. In future posts, I’ll outline some of the structure of the Assembly, and try to give some counsel on the best way to maneuver through the week.