The PCA Overtures

Being on the Committee of Commissioners for Overtures this year (for the first time!), I thought it would be helpful for me to get some of my thoughts down on “paper” regarding the overtures. There are quite a few this year. On some of them I won’t comment at all, and on others I might comment quite a bit. The overtures themselves can be found online here.

Overtures 1 and 2. The substance of these overtures (which are identical) is to make it required that Presbyteries record and rule on differences for licensure exams, just like they are required to do for ordination. The current practice is that Presbyteries are only required to do this for ordination. I like this overture, having been on Review of Presbytery Records this year. This overture would provide some consistency to the currently inconsistent practice (some Presbyteries record differences at licensure and others don’t). It also makes sense to record differences at licensure as well as ordination. If we are licensing a man to preach, shouldn’t we make a point of recording differences and ruling on them? Otherwise, Presbytery may be in an awkward situation of being pressured to ordain a man they have licensed, but the obstacle of the differences may be too great. They may not have licensed a man, had they known of the differences at the licensure exam. The theology portion of the exam being required at licensure is another reason why this overture makes good sense. My only caveat with the overture is the first dependent clause: “While out Constitution does not require the applicant’s affirmation of every statement and/or proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms…” While this statement is technically true, recording it like this could create problems down the road. Some could read this as affirming system subscription, which is NOT what we have. We have good faith subscription, which requires a candidate to list ALL his differences, which are then ruled on by the Presbytery, and it is assumed in good faith that he holds to ALL the rest of the standards.

Overtures 3, 6, 8, 27 all relate to how business comes up in the General Assembly. There seems to have been quite a reaction to the Administration Committee simply bringing a recommendation to the floor that proposed constitutional changes without having gone through the overtures committee. One of the overtures mentions that this threatens our grass-roots Presbyterianism. All these overtures attempt to clarify which overtures should go where, and what recommendations should be referred where, so that any committee that would conceivably be affected by an overture or recommendation should be allowed to put forth a recommendation on that proposed action. This seems very reasonable to me.

Overture 4 proposes that if a recommendation from a permanent Committee or Agency be properly divisible according to Roberts Rules of Order, then a 2/3 vote of the committee of commissioners dealing with said recommendation would be sufficient to divide the recommendation. This seems reasonable to me.

Overture 9 seeks to give the General Assembly more flexibility to allow for amendments to recommendations, where the current rules allow only for the motion to recommit. The overture would allow the GA to suspend the rule disallowing amendments, if the suspension vote receives 2/3 majority. Now, the Committee on Constitutional Business, while stating that this proposed change does not conflict with other parts of the Constitution, did note that this overture would create a conflict with RAO 20. I have to say I am a bit mystified by this conclusion. I looked for a whole twenty minutes for a supposed conflict, and couldn’t find it. The only possibility of a conflict came with regard to whether the motion to suspend was debatable. RAO 20 states that a motion to suspend any part of the RAO is not debatable. But the overture does not state that the possibility of suspending the no-amendment rule would be a debatable motion. So, I don’t see any conflict. Maybe one of the members of the CCB can enlighten me as to what the nature of the conflict was that they saw.

Overtures 10, 26, 29 have to do with views on evolution. The substance of overtures 10 and 29 are the same, although Overture 10 has an additional section (a VERY important section!) detailing judicial precedent in the PCA concerning theistic evolution. Overtures 10 and 29 have as their substance a declaration that theistic evolution is not a biblical position. Overture 26, while not necessarily disagreeing with the substance of the other overtures, states the position that because the other overtures would be in thesi (for a good definition of what in thesis statements are, go here and here) statements, that therefore we should not make them. I could not more thoroughly disagree with Overture 26. The assumption behind this overture seems to be that General Assembly cannot make judicially binding statements in thesi, and that GA is only a judicial body. This ignores many things and assumes things of the other two overtures that are simply not true. The other overtures are not trying to provide something that is judicially binding. Instead, they are trying to give pious advice. Consider this situation: a Presbytery is seeking to adjudicate a case where a TE is teaching something that might or might not be contrary to the Standards. Suppose the members of the Presbytery have not done a huge amount of reading in that area, and therefore they want the opinions of other people to help guide them in coming to a correct decision. That kind of guidance is what in thesi statements are created to be. Just because they are not judicially binding does not mean they are worthless.

Overtures 11-19 are all from Pacific Northwest Presbytery. Some of these overtures are good, and some of them are not so good, and one of them would be rather disastrous. Overture 11 would change BCO 20-3, 24-2, and 25-4 to allow a ruling elder to moderate a congregational meeting in a church not his own. To my mind, this overture seems sound. If a TE from the Presbytery could moderate a meeting, then an RE should be allowed to do so as well, especially given that any man in good standing from the church itself is able to moderate the meeting if there is no TE at the church.

Overtures 12-14 have to do with filing periods for complaints and the like. I would be in favor of these overtures. The dangers of not allowing a complaint on the pitiful basis of being a week late (which might have a very reasonable basis) seem silly to me.

Overture 15 would be disastrous, in my opinion. First of all, the overtures believes that the phrase “strong presumption of guilt” (which the overture would strike and replace with “if the court judges an indictment is warranted”) is a “somewhat subjective phrase.” It is no such thing. The phrase means something very specific and technical: it is the level of evidence needed to justify the filing of charges. In secular police work, the term answers the question, “Do you have enough evidence to book him?” That is not a somewhat subjective phrase, but a technical phrase that has a precise meaning. Of course, one court may have different standards on this than another court. However, “if the court judges an indictment is warranted” is not any clearer. A second problem I have with this overture is one noted by the dissenting opinion by RE David Snoke, stating that the proposed change concerning investigation of reports and allegations would potentially conflict with BCO 34-2, which states that no scandalous charges ought to be received against a minister on slight grounds. I do think that the proposed wording change would make Presbyteries do (perhaps!) too much investigating. I am sympathetic with the overture on this one point, however: the majority of doctrinal cases recently have been in contexts where the Presbytery has steadfastly refused to investigate BECAUSE of BCO 34-2, and wound up falling foul of the first part of BCO 34-2, which states that no minister ought to be screened in his sin because of his office. Some amendment to that proposed change ought to be propounded, such that frivolous charges can be ignored, while serious charges need to be investigated. The overture takes issue with the word “report” in BCO 31-2, stating that the BCO doesn’t define it. Maybe the BCO has not defined it. The SJC has. In the cases of Siouxlands Presbytery, the Presbytery argued that a report had not been received concerning the teaching of TE Greg Lawrence. The SJC ruled that the Presbytery had erred. A report is much broader than what the Presbytery had thought it was. It has to be more than a rumor, but it can be much, much less than a fully documented indictment.

Overture 16 is also dangerous, in my opinion. This would allow too many courts to dismiss charges way too easily. This also happened in Siouxlands Presbytery, when charges were made against TE Joshua Moon, and the Presbytery refused to allow the charges, based on very similar argumentation to this overture. While I don’t think that EVERY charge has to be admitted, this overture allows too much wiggle room for Presbyteries simply to ignore what they don’t want to face. And we have seen WAY too much of that lately.

Overture 17 misunderstands the nature of definite suspension. The very definition of “definite suspension” is that the suspension has a specified end-point. This overture would change that definition to mean that the court needs to review the case at the end of the definite suspension. This would, in effect, turn definite suspension into a form of indefinite suspension. I recognize the problem that the overture points out, concerning the hesitancy of Presbyteries when faced with a penitent, but not necessarily worthy-of-being-reinstated minister (that is, the repentance needs time in order to be judged genuine). However, to institute this change would create a different problem: namely, that a definite suspension would become, in effect, indefinite, creating a great deal of uncertainty for the minister.

Concerning overture 18, I can agree with the attempt to clarify what would become necessary for the assumption of original jurisdiction (a higher court taking over a lower court’s jurisdiction when a lower court is being delinquent in its actions). However, the result is not satisfactory to me. The threshold proposed is two-fold: when a Presbytery refuses to order an indictment, and when 7% of the other Presbyteries request the GA to assume original jurisdiction. There are problems with both proposed thresholds. With the first, the amount of time needed to determine when a Presbytery has refused to order an indictment is not specified. I also believe the threshold should be lower. The threshold should be on the investigation level, not the indictment level. It should be specified, also, that investigation has be more than one or two Presbyters having a drink with the person whose theology is suspected of being out of accord. The 7% of Presbyteries is completely unreasonable. The difficult of having 7% of Presbyteries consent to pass such a motion means that, effectively, it would never happen. Furthermore, I believe that GA should sit up and take notice when 2 Presbyteries request the assumption of original jurisdiction. I am not worried by the fear that it would happen too often. We have had the 2 Presbytery rule in place for a long time, and the request to assume original jurisdiction has rarely come before the GA. Both thresholds would, therefore, need to be modified, although, as I said, I am in agreement that some clarification would be helpful. The mere phrase “refuses to act” is too vague, and has generally been interpreted in too broad a manner, in my opinion. It has generally been interpreted to mean that if the Presbytery is doing the least little thing, that constitutes “acting,” when they have hardly been exercising due diligence. Presbyteries have a tendency to develop good ol’ boy clubs that most definitely refuse to act when doctrinal matters come before them. So, I’m in favor of amending, but not this particular way.

I have no problem with overture 20.

Overture 21 has been LONG overdue, in my opinion. The informational reports, while not unimportant, seem to me to prevent our Assembly from being a truly deliberative body. Now, if only they had also recommending going to a delegated assembly, which would save the denomination at least half a million dollars a year…

Overture 28 is a good overture, bringing the Theological Examining Committee into line with what Presbyteries are doing regarding stated differences.

I agree whole-heartedly with Overture 30 concerning intinction.

Overture 31 does seem to create a conflict with BCO 37-7, which allows jurisdiction to pass to another court.

Overture 32 seems to me to be a helpful clarification. The Committee on Constitutional Business says that it creates a conflict with BCO 1-3, 2-1, 6-2, and 57-2. However, the rationale provided only seems to apply to overtures 33-34.

With regard to the CCB’s argumentation on overtures 33-34, I’m not sure I agree. Overtures 33-34 would require a person to affirm the Apostles Creed to be admitted into the church. The BCO states that the only profession of faith required for membership in the visible church is the profession of one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, could not one argue that confessing one’s faith in Jesus Christ requires a Trinitarian profession? How can you truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ if you don’t believe the Father sent Him, or that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit? I am wondering if that profession is not being defined too narrowly in the CCB’s rationale. I wouldn’t have a problem using the Apostles Creed as part of the affirmation of faith in the Lord Jesus. I am in favor of overtures 33-34.

I disagree with overture 35. The Westminster Standards ARE a confession of faith. Just because the officers are the only ones required to hold it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t use it as a confession of faith in the worship service. Maybe some individual people won’t agree with it. Fine. They don’t have to say the words. But the Confession is the Confession of our church as a whole, not just of the officers. Therefore, it is appropriate for the church to confess its faith using the words of the Confession of faith.

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18 Comments

  1. Ryan J. Ross said,

    June 12, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I appreciate overtures 12-14, but I would love to see some statement in the BCO requiring a Court to give a decision in matters of complaint. As it stands, the Court does not need to give a decision (or supporting reasons) after making complaint. This leaves the member(s) with the need to file a delinquency to Presbytery. Thus, an action or decision could go on for approximately five months before a member can have a decision. Then, if that decision is denied at Presbytery, he is immediately faced with the decision to make complaint to SJC. This is a difficult situation for a member who presumably wants the Session to reconsider a decision and/or give the member help in understanding why the Session decided in the way that they did.

    For example, a member witnesses women reading the Scriptures in public worship. Then, he speaks to his elders and asks if they can discuss the issue in view of 1 Cor 14:33-35, 1 Tim 2:11-12, WLC Qs 156-8, and BCO 50-1 and 50-2at their next stated meeting in March. The elders agree. They discuss the matter and say that regardless of any of those reasons, we want to do it this way and if you have a problem with that, you can leave. So, the member makes complaint against the decision of the Session. The Session says that we meet and discuss the complaint.

    Three weeks after their stated meeting in April, the TE tells you that he will not be giving you the decision and will not be ruled by any constitutional process. Now, you have waited in good faith for a decision, thinking that they are considering the issue. Then, you find out that they have no intentions on giving you a decision and request you leave the church, if you don’t agree with what the church does.

    Now, the member has a few days to consider what to do. (Bear in mind, some members don’t understand how they should do what the BCO requires.) So, the member who has spent almost two months experiencing this issue, now files a delinquency with Presbytery. Presbytery says that they generally take summer vactions, so they don’t call a July meeting and they will probably meet in mid-October. Now, a member waits for about seven months, for Presbytery do consider the complaint, which is technically a delinquency.

    What if Presbytery denies the complaint? Should the member make complaint to the highest, without knowing the reasons for which the complaint was denied. Does not Presbyteries denial uphold the practices of the Session in some way? The member during this whole time must hear women read the Scriptures, which may bind his conscience. Then, what if other issues come up, like denying the Sabbath to be Sunday? If the Session does not need to give reasons for denying complaints (or, at least, give the decision of the Court), the member is in a difficult situation when considering if he should make complaint.

    Sorry for the long example, but if the Court does not need to give a decision or supporting reasons, then the member faces a very difficult situation for a long time.

  2. Joel S said,

    June 12, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Thanks for this helpful overview. I will be at GA for the first time, so this really helps me to understand what’s going on with all of these.

  3. George Crow said,

    June 12, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Very helpful, Lane. I am so glad you are serving on this committee (and also very grateful that I am not–burns my feeble brain to even read your synopsis :-(

  4. Andrew Barnes said,

    June 12, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Lane,

    I’m on Overtures too. With regard to Overture 31 and what you say is a conflict with BCO 37-7, I don’t see that necessarily. If the overture would pass, the court of original jurisdiction (the one in this case who excommunicated the man/woman) according to BCO 37-7 would be able to or literally, “it shall be lawful for the court, with the acquiescence of the offender and the concurrence of the receiving court, to transmit a certified copy of its proceedings to the court where the delinquent resides, which shall assume jurisdiction, take up the case, and proceed with it as though it had originated with itself.”

    So the court which excommunicated could, if it desired, grant another court (if the offender acquiesced and the receiving court concurred) to assume jurisdiction and ‘do’ BCO 37-4.

    So I don’t see the conflict.

  5. Todd Gwennap said,

    June 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Lane,

    Regarding your thoughts on Overtures 1/2 and your concern over the language of “While out Constitution does not require the applicant’s affirmation of every statement and/or proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms…”, I would simply point out that that language came directly from BCO 21-4.e.

    While we could certainly debate the wisdom of the wording, the overture doesn’t open any door that was not previously ajar.

    I’m the chair of the candidates committee in Western Carolina Presbytery, and that overture came through our committee, although authored by another TE in WCP. The basic desire of the author/committee/presbytery was to require the exact same thing of licentiates and ordinands with respect to their differences with our standards. The entire overture is basically lifting the language of 21-4.e-f and applying it, mutatis mutandis, to licentiates.

    Hope that clarifies things a bit.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    June 12, 2012 at 11:48 am

    I understand, Todd. I agree with the overture. I was basically trying to shut the door on a system subscription interpretation of the wording, because I don’t think that is what the overture means, or the BCO.

    Andrew, you could be right. We’ll just have to hash it out next week.

    Ryan, you should propose an amendment that would solve the problem, and present it to the Presbytery.

  7. Arthur Sartorius said,

    June 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Lane: You stated that you did not see the conflict suggested by the CCB between the change proposed by Overture 9 to RAO 14-9e and existing RAO 20. The RAO permits the CCB or his designee to address the Overtures Committee and the Overtures Committee can ask for an appearance by the CCB Chairman or his designee. So, my suggestion would be if you want an official explanation from the CCB, to simply make the request as you serve on the Ovetures Committee.

    IHaving said that, I served as an unseated alternate and thus a non-voting member of the CCB at it’s April meetings. I offer below my own personal view as to why I see a conflict existing:

    The conflict exists because the proposed amendment to RAO 14-9 provides for the suspension of one particular Rule of Assembly Operations by a two thirds majority of those “present on the floor and voting.” RAO 20 provides that a suspension of the Rules of Assembly Operations may happen “only by a two-thirds vote of those voting, which must also be a majority of the total enrollment of commissioners.”

    The super-majority provisions of the two RAO sections differ. In practice there have been times at the Assembly – especially in the last days of the Assembly – when two thirds of those present on the floor and voting will not also be a majority of the total enrollment of commissioners.

    Since RAO 20 uses the word “only” when it comes to a rule’s suspension and the proposed rule 14-9 provides for a different standard for the suspension of one Rule of Assembly operation there seems in my view to be a conflict.

  8. Jed Paschall said,

    June 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Lane,

    Thanks for highlighting the overtures, it’s very helpful. I think that the clarifications in overtures 10, 26, & 29 on the historicity of Adam are essential to our system of doctrine (whether or not one holds to a literal six day creation). One question, has the GA defined the terminology surrounding questions of origins in the past? I know that there was a report, but is there a glossary of sorts?

    The reason why I ask is that the terms “Young Earth Creation”, “Old Earth Creation”, “Theistic Evolution”, and other origins terminology are sometimes used differently depending on who is employing these terms. For example, some who hold to Theistic Evolution basically hold completely to the General Theory of Evolution, which at present is the latest iteration of Darwinism, while some hold that there may have been evolutionary development of some species, Adam was not a product of evolution, some of these individuals sometimes refer to themselves as Old Earth advocates as well. Hence, it becomes somewhat confusing to ascertain what is exactly meant behind the labels that are being thrown around. So, it may be helpful if the PCA could codify a common terminology in order to be more precise with which views are and are not in accord with the Standards.

    If such definitions already exist, great; however, if they do not, do you think it may be helpful if they were to be drafted at some point down the road?

  9. Frank Aderholdt said,

    June 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Lane and Andrew,

    I’m looking forward to serving with you on Overtures C of C. If we don’t all vote alike, someone will pay dearly.

    (With regard to enshrining The Apostles’ Creed in the basic affirmation of faith: Everyone realizes that the atonement of Christ is implied rather than stated in this Creed. The Apostles’ Creed is inadequate as a statement of what Christ actually accomplished for our salvation. I’m uncomfortable adding another level of requirement for confession, which itself needs to be explained and expanded.)

  10. Cris Dickason said,

    June 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Having just returned from the OPC’s 79th GA (RE commissioner from Philadelphia), I can’t believe I just read this post, Brother! (not quite LOL). Our GA was pretty tame in comparison to this list of overtures, nothing like the number you PCA brothers have before you. Two highlights of the week: Rev. John Van Meerbeke’s sermon Sunday evening (Ps 84) and Rev. John Currie’s “devotional” Monday morning (2 Tim 4:1-5), a powerful exhortation packed into 20 minutes.

    If this OP elder can say a few words on a couple of your overtures… Overture 30, I agree with you on this Lane.

    Overture 35: while confessing and catechizing are of course distinct actions, there is or can be a catechizing import to the confession in worship. We don’t confess only what we’ve got down pat, or only what we’ve mastered (think we’ve mastered). We don’t worship only in, through, or to the degree that we have mastered whatever the liturgical moment or material consists of. If passed Overture 35 would prohibit the reciting/responsive reading of the first question/answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. Is that a message Presbyterians want to send to Reformed Churches!?!

    The Lord be with you brothers in your Assembly.

    -=Cris=-

  11. Steve Drake said,

    June 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    So, it may be helpful if the PCA could codify a common terminology in order to be more precise with which views are and are not in accord with the Standards.

    I agree with Jed above, but the confusion comes from the individual himself not knowing where he sits. Are you a Hugh Ross old earth creationist, or a Tim Keller old earth creationist? Perhaps a BioLogos old earth theistic evolutionist, old earth Kline/Blocher framework hypothesizer, or old earth Jack Collins analogical dayist? Or is it perhaps you’re an old earth cosmic templeist?

    Study the differences, pick one, and have some wherewithal to defend your choice. All old earth positions inevitably lead to some form of evolution except the Hugh Ross position, which claims no evolution whatsoever over millions and millions of years.

    By all means do not pick the young earth six 24-hour calendar-day view. Gregg Davidson’s GA seminar will show you why.

  12. Steve Drake said,

    June 13, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Lane.
    I must be a pareira. No comments since my post. Sorry about that.

  13. Steve Drake said,

    June 13, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Lane,
    Shuts down the obsequious servantile conformity to BioLogos old earth/evolutinary creation, don’t you think?

  14. Scott said,

    June 14, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Good job summarizing a broad field of overtures.

    There is an important distinction between Overture 3 and 27 about referring constitutional matters to the Overtures Committee.

    Overture 3 would allow the denominational agency or permanent committee to present an opposing (minority) report to that of the Overtures Committee.

    Overture 27 would, apparently, allow the Overtures Committee to form its own minority report if it so chooses, under the easy threshold for minority reports there.

    Also, keep in mind the importance of Overture 6 regarding referrals from the Cooperative Ministries Council (CMC).

    While Overture 6 language needs to be perfected (and probably the whole section about the CMC needs revisiting), it would have that council refer constitutional matters to the Overtures Committee, and non-constitutional matters back to the affected denominational agency or permanent committee.

    All these Overtures- 3, 6, 8 and 27 and a few others stem from the concern that too much power seems to have been vested or assumed to have been vested in denominational agencies, not enough in the spiritual court of General Assembly.

    The balance that seeks to be struck in other Overtures, such as 9, is how much time General Assembly wants to spend on “subsidiary” motions once a recommendation has come via the proper channel. For example, while there might be a basis for a 2/3 “floor time” vote to divide a question, is it an efficient use of Assembly time to allow amendments on the floor (again, once the recommendation has been vetted through proper channels).

    The difficulties became evident last year when the 2010 “Strategic” Plan mostly went through, somehow, without broad popular support, in omnibus fashion without ability for the spiritual court being able to particularize consideration of its proposals, with large last-minute re-writes, etc.

    The whole process of how a biblical, reformed (and confessional) denomination sets “strategic” plans for itself needs to be re-examined. For example, whether origination and prosecution of such planning ought be outside a spiritual court.

    In the meantime, Overtures such as 27 present a straightforward proposition of allowing the broadly representative Overtures Committee prosecute recommendation, or alternative, for proposed constitutional changes.

  15. Scott said,

    June 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Overture 18 consists of two very different parts:

    1) define when General Assembly may assume jurisdiction from a Presbytery

    2) increase the threshold for such assumption

    It seems the process of assumption of original jurisdiction has fallen into disuse over uncertainty of the meaning “failure to act.” It likely will not re-start until the standard is clarified.

    We need some of the best minds in the denomination to perfect this language and this process- those who know the relevant history.

    I’m not sure if requesting Presbyteries ought need make a “prima facie” case for inadequate process, let alone how that would be determined.

    It seems that General Assembly is competent and within the scope of its authority to assume original jurisdiction, and that within the ordinary course of its annual business.

    While it’s possible a higher bar, e.g. 7% of Presbyteries, (which would be 6 of the 79 current Presbyteries) would not be much of a barrier, there is a biblical principle to consider.

    The right and privilege of a Presbytery that has spotted a serious error in a doctrine or morals matter to have a broad spiritual jury of peers consider the matter.

    The biblical principle being more along the lines of confirming in the mouth of two or three witnesses, not really a procedural requirement based on efficiency.

    With that in mind, it would be appropriate to require confirmation by 3 Presbyteries, annotating the biblical principle, e.g. Deuteronomy 19:15, II Corinthians 13:1, I Timothy 5:19.

  16. Scott said,

    June 15, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Overture 4 would allow the Committee of Commissioners for a denominational agency or permanent committee to divide a matter recommended to it by the agency by a 2/3 vote.

    It would seem that Roberts Rules of Order generally has that as a majority vote, not requiring a super-majority vote like 2/3.

    In some instances, such as when independent motions are combined in one action, one member (only) of a committee can request the independent motions be separately considered.

    As the Committee of Commissioners recommends to General Assembly, it would not seem they need a super-majority vote to “unbundle” a series of different measures that have been lumped together in omnibus.

  17. Wayne Sparkman said,

    June 17, 2012 at 9:33 am

    If it would help some to be reminded of the background on BCO 34-1:

    34-1. Process against a minister shall be entered before the Presbytery of which he is a member. However, if the Presbytery refuses to act in doctrinal cases or cases of public scandal and two other Presbyteries request the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction (to first receive and initially hear and determine), the General Assembly shall do so.

    DIGEST: The provision here for the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction is unique to the PCA, and the need for this provision was seen by the founders of the PCA as they reviewed the more recent history of the PCUS. Around 1940, the PCUS presbyteries of Harmony, Knoxville, Mecklenburg and Central Mississippi had each separately brought overtures before the PCUS General Assembly, requesting an investigation of the teachings of E.T. Thompson at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA. These overtures were answered in the negative on the understanding of the PCUS BCO that original jurisdiction over a minister resided solely in the presbytery. Dr. Thompson was further protected when his presbytery, East Hanover Presbytery, indicated that they had investigated his teachings and found them to be in conformity with the Standards of the Church. As a result, modernism was further entrenched in the denomination and conservatives in the PCUS were left without judicial recourse. The PCUS General Assembly by its action turned original jurisdiction into exclusive jurisdiction. In brief this is the history that explains why the PCA has this provision in 34-1 that allows other presbyteries to request the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction. [Conservatives in the PCUS did respond to their judicial defeat with the founding of The Southern Presbyterian Journal in 1942, using the magazine as a means of publishing their views on the health of the church. The Journal was key to the defeat of an attempted union of the PCUS with the PCUSA in the 1950s, and the magazine was later instrumental in the founding of the PCA.]

    1989 : The PCA text of 34-1 originally was vague, specifying only that “other Presbyteries” could request Assembly to assume original jurisdiction. Then in 1989, 34-1 was amended [M17GA, 17-6, Item 14, p. 55]. The amendment began as one of the recommendations brought forward by the Ad Interim Committee on the General Assembly [M15GA, 15-55, Item 16, "Exhibit P", p. 120], but because not all of the presbyteries had reported their votes in the advice and consent stage, the matter was deferred to the 17th General Assembly, in accordance with BCO 26-6 [M16GA, 16-10, Item 14, pp. 105-106; see also the note on pg. 88]. Thus in 1989 the amendment was adopted and now two presbyteries were required to petition for original jurisdiction. This brought BCO 34-1 into conformity with 33-1, where two Sessions are required for successful petition for the Presbytery to assume jurisdiction when an erring Session fails in its responsibility.

    2003 – Another attempt to amend BCO 34-1 failed [M31GA, 31-11, Item 1, p. 51-52]. Arising from a judicial case in 1999, some in the PCA began to be concerned about potential abuse of the principle of original jurisdiction. In 2001, Evangel Presbytery brought Overture 9 before the 29th General Assembly, seeking to amend both BCO 33-1 and 34-1. That effort was answered in the negative [M29GA, 29-44, III, Item 9, pp. 203-205]. Then by 2002, with the formation of the Presbyterian Pastoral Leadership Network as a supporting organization, overtures came before the 30th General Assembly from nearly two dozen presbyteries, seeking to amend 34-1 such that, instead of two presbyteries being required to petition for original jurisdiction, now ten percent of all presbyteries would be required. [M30GA, 30-50, III, Item 5, pp.213-218.] When the matter came back before the 31st General Assembly, the report of Presbytery voting indicated that the amendment had failed by a vote of 40 for the amendment and 24 against, a concurrence of 2/3′s of the presbyteries being required for adoption.

  18. Scott said,

    June 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for the history and background, Wayne.

    BCO 33-1
    “However, if the Session refuses to act in doctrinal cases or instances of public scandal and two other Sessions of churches in the same Presbytery request the Presbytery of which the church is a member to initiate proper or appropriate action in a case of process and thus assume jurisdiction and authority, the Presbytery shall do so.”

    So we have two parallel sections using the same language, one for local churches, one for Presbyteries.

    Is there any historical evidence:

    1) Of concern about Sessions abusing power of “AOJ” at the Presbytery level (33-1)?

    2) If GA had only assumed AOJ two times, what is the concern based on?

    3) In 1999, when GA did assume AOJ (after deliberating the term “failure to act,”) didn’t subsequent GA actions reflect general agreement with the seriousness of the issue (alleged woman preaching in a church where that church preeminently dominated its Presbytery)

    4) Is there any indication in the record of what “failure to act” (either 33-1 or 34-1) is intended to mean?
    E.g. Is it intended to give an unqualified right and privilege to two Sessions (33-1) or two Presbyteries (34-1) to remove a cause for AOJ?


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