Last week Dr. David Talcott, Rev. Chris Diebold, and I traveled to Atlanta for the 46th General Assembly of the PCA. This is our denomination’s annual gathering. Our Presbyterian structure calls for us to delegate much of the business of the church to committees. These committees then report back to the General Assembly, and the Assembly votes on their recommendations. Often, important decisions that will shape the trajectory of the church are finally decided on the floor of Assembly. I was thrilled that Covenant Presbyterian had three commissioners. This is incredibly important work for the greater church, and I am grateful that you would send us.
I arrived early to serve on the Overtures Committees (OC). Dr. Talcott served on it last year. The OC takes most of the Overtures submitted by presbyteries and debates them, perfects them, and then votes on how to advise the whole assembly to vote. It is understood that each commissioner should be aware of the issues, but those on the OC take extra time to research and study the pending Overtures, wrestle with relevant biblical texts, think through unintended consequences, and then advise the whole body. For most of the Overtures, this was very simple and straightforward. I had actually submitted an Overture to amend our Book of Church Order (BCO) chapter 35-11. It relates to how an elder is disqualified from sitting in judgment during a church trial. It was answered in the affirmative by the OC and sent to the Assembly.
There were two vigorously debated Overtures. Overture 24 sought to give full constitutional authority to the BCO’s chapter on marriage (BCO 59). This chapter falls in our Directory of Worship and is received as “pious advice” but not as binding on what a minister may or may not do. With the current cultural issues regarding same-sex marriage and the court cases regarding refusal of services to them, many in the denomination were worried about who’s next. Making the chapter constitutional would afford greater legal protection to our ministers. And it makes a clear stand in a world that has repeatedly been bullied into support of sexual anarchy. But not all of the language in BCO 59 was agreeable to everyone. And initially, the OC voted to answer in the negative, meaning the majority voted to not give the chapter full constitutional authority. But a Minority Report, of which I was a member, was filed. The Minority Report sought to find a resolution that would be simple, clear, and unifying. Once we presented our work, many who had voted against the Overture thought they could get behind this. There seemed to be a groundswell of support, so much so that the Assembly, instead of voting on the OC’s original recommendation, sent the OC back to work with this new framework. After another hour of debate, we emerged with a final Overture that was approved by the OC by a vote of 104-1. We concluded by singing the Doxology. There are real divisions in the PCA, and it was sweet to participate in a moment on genuine brotherhood and unity. The Minority Report’s goal of simple, clear, and unifying was met. The Assembly voted to approve this Overture by 764-12-7.
The other vigorously debated Overture in the OC was Overture 13 (Overture 26 was similar but only related to Covenant College). This was to revise the BCO and the Corporate Bylaws of the PCA to allow women to serve on the permanent committees of the denominations. There were a number of issues to deal with here, but the most significant to me was that it would allow unordained women and men the opportunity to sit on permanent committees. There is a considerable amount of authority wielded in these committees. Unordained men and women would only have to be members of a PCA church, while elders must be subscribed to our confessional standards and be examined in the knowledge of them and the Bible. It would open the door for men and women who don’t necessarily agree with Westminster to begin making important decisions for things like Covenant Seminary, RUF, and the like. It would also put women in positions of authority over men in the church, violating 1 Tim 2:12. The OC narrowing recommended that this be answered in the negative, and the Assembly followed by a vote of 727-449-18.
Overall, these were, in my opinion, great outcomes. We also saw the unanimous election of our first African-American Moderator, Dr. Irwyn Ince. Dr. Ince was one of the most capable Moderators we’ve had in the last few years. With a new shortened schedule, he deftly kept debate on topic and moving forward. We actually ended business early.
There was one other important item that was approved by the Assembly that will have a significant effect on our church. The Committee of Mission to North America and the Assembly approved an Overture to divide the Metropolitan New York Presbytery into two presbyteries. The new dividing line will be the Hudson River. North Jersey and two counties of New York will now be known as the West Hudson presbytery. We will convene in January 2019. This is a good move for our church, as it should make for a much more connectional and aligned presbytery.
If you have questions or want more details, Pastor Chris, Elder Talcott, or I would be happy to share more.