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David Coffin’s (annual) recap of the PCA General Assembly

42nd GENERAL ASSEMBLY | Highlights, June 2014 | by Dr. David F. Coffin, Jr.

1,123 commissioners (867 Teaching Elders, 256 Ruling Elders) meeting in Houston, Texas.

The theme of the Assembly was “Proclaim Christ, Disciple the Nations.” Overall the Assembly was marked by some very fine preaching in the worship services and thoughtful, charitable debate in the business sessions. The revised Assembly procedure for consideration of proposals (concisely put: “up, down or return”) continued to have a wholesome influence, focusing floor debate on the major issues at hand and preserving the Assembly from getting bogged down in technical and procedural complexities.

TUESDAY

Opening Worship

• TE Ray Cortese of Seven Rivers PC, Lecanto Florida, preached from Mat. 12:1-14 on the theme “A Beautiful Orthodoxy,” on behalf of retiring Moderator RE Bruce Terrell of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NY.

New Moderator

• Dr. Bryan Chapell, Senior Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church, Peoria, IL, was elected as Moderator. Dr. Chapell served for nearly 30 years at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, 18 of those years as president. Beyond his pastoral duties, he currently serves on the Assembly’s Standing Judicial Commission. Dr. Chapell, led the Assembly in an expeditious and exemplary fashion with scrupulous fairness, good humor, and clear directions and rulings.

WEDNESDAY

Assembly-wide Seminar

• The topic, “PCA: Past, Present, and Future” was addressed with thoughtfulness and insight respectively by Dr. Roy Taylor, Dr. Bryan Chapell, and TE Murray Lee, Senior Pastor of Cahaba Park Church. The seminar focused on why the PCA was formed, how the PCA has developed, and the challenges the denomination faces as it seeks to fulfill the motto: “Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission.”

Report of the Stated Clerk

• Both proposed amendments to The Book of Church Order (BCO) sent down to the Presbyteries for their advice and consent approved and finally passed by the Assembly: to amend BCO 34-8 and 37-10 clarifying the conditions under which a court may remove the censure of deposition; and  to amend BCO 43-10 to require a higher court, upon returning a matter to the lower court, to accede to a Reference from the lower court should it be forthcoming.

• Statistics reported:

* total membership, 367,033 (increase of 3,014);

* churches and missions, 1,808 (net gain of 21);

* family units, 139,364 (increase of 2,033);

* ministers, 4,416 (increase of 95); and

* presbyteries, 81 .

Partial Report of Christian Education & Publications

• The Assembly approved the proposed new name, “Committee on Discipleship Ministries” as better reflecting the mission of the Committee to serve local churches by “connecting and equipping” through ministry that is “Word-based and relationship-driven.” See the newly designed web-site at www.pcacep.org

Interchurch Relations

• Greetings from fraternal delegates, corresponding delegates and ecclesiastical observers (some delightfully entertaining).

• As directed the IRC reported with respect to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE): “There are no actions, policies, and positions of the NAE to report to the General Assembly as contrary to the official positions taken by the PCA.”

Review of Presbytery Records

• Potomac Presbytery’s minutes passed AGAIN without exception!

• Most recommendations proposed by CRPR approved; one matter was returned to a presbytery for further consideration.

Ad Interim Committee on Insider Movements

• The Committee presented a revised “Call to Faithful Witness, Part 2: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements,” the report from 2013 having been recommitted. The report continued to argue compellingly, and more concisely, against Insider Movement paradigms. After vigorous debate the recommendations of a minority report were defeated, the Committee recommenda­tions approved (including that the report be recommended by the Assembly for the study of presbyteries, sessions, and missions committees). The Committee was dismissed with thanks.

Informational Reports

• On Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning the Assembly heard concise and encouraging reports concerning the work of Assembly committees and agencies.

Reformed University Ministries

• The Assembly gave thanks to God for the faithful service of outgoing Coordinator TE Rod S. Mays (1999-2014) and elected TE Thomas K. Cannon as the new Coordinator.

Mission to the World

• Approved November 9 as a day of prayer for the persecuted church worldwide and November 2014 as a month of prayer for global missions.[1]

Standing Judicial Commission

• 23 matters before the court this year (’11, 5 cases; ’12, 3 cases; ’13, 12 cases); of these 2 were found administratively out of order; 1 was withdrawn as prematurely filed; 10 cases were reported. There were 3 concurring opinions; 1 dissenting opinion; and no minority reports. The SJC also answered 3 Overtures referred to it at the 41st General Assembly in the negative and offered a lengthy statement of the grounds for such a reply, 15 concurring with 1 dissent. The dissenter filed a Protest with the SJC and the Commission formally answered the Protest. The chairman noted that the SJC had had over 4,500 pages of case materials before it in the year past.

Worship

• Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas, Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Columbia, SC, preached on “The Cross of Christ, the crucifixion of the believer (to the world), and the crucifixion of the world (to the believer)” from Gal. 6:11-18.

THURSDAY

Committee on Constitutional Business

• CCB advised that all the proposed amendments to the BCO concerning the SJC were in conflict with the BCO. The Assembly was reminded that advice from the CCB on non-judicial references was “for information only and without binding authority or precedent. . . .” (RAO 8-2.b.2).

Nominations

• All Nominations Committee nominees were elected.

Administration

• Approved all budgets, “partnership shares,” and “ministry asks”. The Committee continued its progress toward a “Largely Paperless General Assembly.” Next year the Assembly may enjoy electronic voting!

Overtures

• The committee of 91 members (of the 162 possible), including 61 TEs and 30 REs, efficiently and ably reported on 42 Overtures referred, enjoying outstanding leadership from RE Jim Wert of Metro Atlanta. There was one minority report and that report was adopted as a substitute for the Committee’s recommendation on Overture 43. For the Assembly’s actions on Overtures see “Selected Acts & Deliverances”.

Worship

• TE Bill Sim, a native of Korea and organizing and Senior Pastor of New Church of Atlanta Presbyterian Church, preached from Acts 20:17-38 on “Grace-Filled Conviction.”

FRIDAY

On Friday morning PCA commissioners learned that the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA), meeting in Detroit, had acted to redefine marriage by beginning the process to amend their Book of Church Order, replacing “one man and one woman” with “two people” and had also issued an Authoritative Interpretation that allows ministers to perform same sex weddings in places where the practice is legal.[2] The Associated Press picked up the story, but reported that it was the PCA that had changed its doctrine! NBC followed suit on the Nightly News. The next day our Stated Clerk’s office had to move into high gear to try and correct the error. The following statement was released forthwith:

There are several Presbyterian denominations in America. Sometimes people mistakenly attribute the views or actions of one Presbyterian denomination to another. The “Presbyterian Church in America” (PCA) is an evangelical denomination in the Reformed theological tradition. The PCA, like other Evangelical, Conservative, Orthodox, and Traditional Christians from many denominations, believes that, from creation, God ordained the marriage covenant to be a bond between one man and one woman, and that understanding is what the Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. Therefore, we believe that the divinely sanctioned standard for sexual activity is fidelity within a marriage between one man and one woman or chastity outside of such a marriage. Throughout history, there has often been a conflict between the unchanging standards of biblical ethics that the Church seeks to maintain and the changing social practices of the culture. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has not redefined marriage nor does it intend to do so.

L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk

General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America

[1] Resources for participation in both of these events will be found on the MTW website.

[2] Cf. http://www.layman.org/presbyterian-lay-committee-board-directors-repudiates-action-pcusa-general-assembly/

 

42nd GENERAL ASSEMBLY  |  Selected Acts & Deliverances, June 2014

1) Approved to be sent down for the advice and consent of the Presbyteries:[1]

• Overture 37 from James River to Amend BCO 43-3; 43-8; 43-9 regarding Complaint procedures;

• Overture 49 from Pittsburgh to Amend BCO 18-7 regarding removal of Candidates and Interns.

2) Adopted:

• by an overwhelming vote in the affirmative, Overture 6, as amended, concerning child protection in the PCA (this answered Overtures 7, 12, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 30, 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, & 51)—see Appendix 1;

• by a very close vote in the affirmative (445-395), Overture 43, on support for those standing for a biblical view of sanctity of life and marriage, as significantly amended in a minority report—see Appendix 2.

3) Declined to approve:

• Overtures 3, 8, 11, 13, 15, 17, 20 to amend BCO (variously) 15-1 and -5. a. & b. to require a General Assembly vote on SJC decisions, as undermining well-established and effective judicial procedures (the 82% majority recommending a negative answer in committee appeared to have been larger on the floor of the Assembly).

4) Declined to adopt:

• Overture 9 to revise RAO 17-1 to allow CCB to take exception to SJC case decisions, as unintentionally creating a “super-SJC”;

• Overture 22 to establish a study committee regarding BCO 21-5 3rd ordination vow, as unnecessary;

• Overture 31 to add proof texts cited in the Confession of Faith 24.1 to the Directory of Worship 59-3 regarding marriage, as unnecessary;

• Overture 32 to issue a warning regarding erroneous views of creation, as an unnecessary in thesi statement.

5) Referred to MTW for further study and report to the 2015 Assembly:

• Overture 29 to erect a provisional presbytery for Paraguay.

6) Referred to the Administration Committee to direct the PCA Historical Center subcommittee to consider and report to the 43th General Assembly:

• Overture 52 to adopt a seal/logo for the PCA.

7) Referred back without prejudice:

• Overture 40 to amend BCO 15-1 and 15-3 to make presbytery judicial procedures more like those that govern the SJC.

8) Ruled out of order by the Moderator:

• Overture 2 from Westminster to reaffirm the PCA’s position concerning same-sex marriage (see RONR (11th ed.), §10, p. 104, lines 24ff. );

• Overture 5 from Westminster to more elaborately reaffirm the PCA’s position concerning same-sex marriage (see Overture 2 above).

• Overture 14 from Eastern Pennsylvania to receive the report of the Ad Interim Study Committee on Insider Movements and dismiss the committee with thanks (a “meaningless” motion, see RONR (11th ed.), §151 p. 506 and 508).

APPENDIX 1: On Child Protection in the PCA

Be it resolved that we exhort all church leaders to become informed and to take an active stance toward preventing child sexual abuse in the church by screening staff and volunteers, training them in child protection, and actively maintaining child protection policies pertaining to our obligations to love our children and protect their rightful interests as God’s image-bearers from the devastating actions of abusers (Matthew 18:5-6; WLC 129-130); and

Be it further resolved that we remind all churches that the heinous crime of child sexual abuse must be reported to duly appointed proper representatives of the God-ordained civil authorities, in accordance with local laws, and that we must cooperate with those authorities as they “bear the sword” to punish those who do evil “in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered . . . to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever” (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14; WCF 23.3); and

Be it further resolved that we urge all church leaders to use their influence for the protection of children, by any and all godly means, including preaching and teaching against the heinous sin of child sexual abuse, warning anyone with knowledge of these sins to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11), and by supporting victims who often suffer in silence and shame without the vocal and compassionate support of the church; and

Be it further resolved that we direct the Permanent Committees and Agencies of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to review their policies, procedures and practices in the area of child protection, including their response to child sexual abuse disclosures, their faithfulness in reporting child sexual abuse to duly appointed proper representatives of the God-ordained civil authorities, in accordance with local laws, their care for survivors of child sexual abuse, and their future plans to help educate the PCA on child sexual abuse, and all other areas of response consistent with Scripture and the Constitution of the PCA, and report back to the 43rd General Assembly through the Administrative Committee, after it has referred the matter to and received a report from the Cooperative Ministries Committee; and

Be it finally resolved that the 42 General Assembly urge all members of the PCA to renew our allegiance to our Lord Jesus by loving our children as he loves our children, “for to such belongs the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).

GROUNDS: The protection of covenant children is an important Biblical duty, especially in light of the reality of child sexual abuse in our time. The various Permanent Committees and Agencies of the General Assembly of the PCA would be well served to review their policies, procedures, and practices and to communicate with each other to produce a report that will bring about consistency and assist Presbyteries and Sessions in dealing with such matters. The General Assembly is reminded that the “whereas” clauses are the rationale of the presbytery bringing the overture. They are, therefore, not adopted by the General Assembly, are not amendable, and the Assembly should not be understood as endorsing every point, particularly in the 3rd whereas clause.

APPENDIX 2: On Those Who Suffer for Faithfulness with respect to the biblical of View of

the Sanctity of Human Life  and the Definition of Marriage

Be it resolved that the Presbyterian Church in America expresses its gratitude to the Lord for sustaining by His grace ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians serving in the public sphere who are experiencing ostracism, penalties, and persecution for taking a Biblically faithful stand for the sanctity of human life and declining to participate in the cultural redefinition of marriage; and

Be it further resolved that the General Assembly pause and offer prayer to the Lord on behalf of such ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians.

[1] Find the full text of the overtures at http://www.pcaac.org/general-assembly/commissioners/overtures/

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