44th PCA General Assembly (2016): Selected Acts & Deliverances

Some highlights of actions taken at the 44th GA of the Presbyterian Church in America.

PCA statistics reported at the end of 2015: Total membership, 370,332 (increase of 11, 816, as opposed to a decrease of 1,318 the year before); Churches, 1,534 (increase of 35); Ministers, 4,556 (increase of 140); and Presbyteries, 84. Attendance at the 2016 General Assembly meeting in Mobile, Alabama: 1,252 commissioners (977 Teaching Elders, 275 Ruling Elders).

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

  • Overture 37 to Amend BCO 13-2 to add requirement for annual reports for ministers without call;
  • Overture 38 to Amend BCO 5-3 to add an explicit requirement for reporting and reviewing minutes of a mission church temporary system of government.

2) Adopted:

  • Overtures 21, 22, 26, memorials for deceased elders;
  • Overture 43, a declaration “Pursuing Racial Reconciliation and the Advance of the Gospel” (861-123-23; for text see Appendix 1), after which the Assembly paused to pray and sing;[2]
  • Overture 44, a proposal to create a “PCA Unity Fund” (for text see Appendix 2);
  • Overture 45, to create a “Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation study committee” (814-87-15; for text see Appendix 3).

3) Approved of the appointment of a study committee:

That the Assembly form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church. The Assembly authorizes the Moderator to appoint the study committee. The study committee should be made up of competent men and women representing the diversity of opinions within the PCA.

The committee should give particular attention to the issues of:

(1) The biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination;

(2) The biblical nature and function of the office of deacon;

(3) Clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses;

(4) Should the findings of the study committee warrant BCO changes, the study committee will propose such changes for the General Assembly to consider.

The committee will have a budget of $15,000 that is funded by designated donations to the AC from churches and individuals (RAO 9-2).

A Pastoral Letter to be proposed by the ad interim study committee and approved by the General Assembly be sent to all churches, encouraging them to (1) promote the practice of women in ministry, (2) appoint women to serve alongside elders and deacons in the pastoral work of the church, and (3) hire women on church staff in appropriate ministries.

4) Declined to adopt:

  • Overture 3, to amend BCO 15-3 to allow judicial commission minority reports (the matter was returned to the Presbytery “without prejudice”);
  • Overture 5, to amend BCO 15-5 to allow the General Assembly to give directions to the SJC in judicial decisions;
  • Overture 7, to petition government leaders to insure religious liberty in light of SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage, was referred to the AC with instructions to report to the 45th GA;
  • Overture 14, to amend BCO 35-1 to require accused offices to testify if on trial for doctrinal defect;
  • Overture 25, to amend BCO 15-1 et al. empowering the appointment of session commissions;
  • Overture 32, to declare a day of prayer and fasting (the matter was returned to the Presbytery “without prejudice”);
  • Overture 36, to amend RAO 13-2 concerning procedures for new business at GA (on a vote of 619-20-38 the Overture failed to gain the requisite majority; see RAO 20);
  • Overture 39, to amend BCO 38-1 and 42-2 to allow an appeal instead of a complaint in a case without process;
  • Overture 40, to amend BCO 43-1 to clarify the timing of higher court review of complaints in judicial cases;
  • Overture 60, a declaration on gospel supremacy and the work of the church (the Overture was answered by reference to Overture 43).

APPENDIX 1: “Pursuing Racial Reconciliation and the Advance of the Gospel”

Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10); and

Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of past failures to love brothers and sisters from minority cultures in accordance with what the Gospel requires, as well as failures to lovingly confront our brothers and sisters concerning racial sins and personal bigotry, and failing to “learn to do good, seek justice and correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17); and

Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly praises and recommits itself to the gospel task of racial reconciliation, diligently seeking effective courses of action to further that goal, with humility, sincerity and zeal, for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel; and

Be it further resolved, that the General Assembly urges the congregations and presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America to make this resolution known to their members in order that they may prayerfully confess their own racial sins as led by the Spirit and strive towards racial reconciliation for the advancement of the gospel, the love of Christ, and the glory of God; and

Be it further resolved, that the 44th General Assembly call the attention of churches and presbyteries to the pastoral letter contained in Overture 55 as an example of how a presbytery might provide shepherding leadership for its churches toward racial reconciliation; and

Be it finally resolved, that the 44th General Assembly remind the churches and presbyteries of the PCA that BCO 31-2 and 38-1 provide potent and readily available means for dealing with ones who have sinned or continue to sin in these areas.

APPENDIX 2: “PCA Unity Fund”

Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly create a fund to be known as “The PCA Unity Fund” to help raise up future generations of godly, reformed African American and other minority Ruling and Teaching Elders that would include the following objectives, based on the availability of designated funds given to the Unity Fund:

  1. a) Provide tuition to approved Reformed seminaries for minority PCA seminarians;
  2. b) Pay expenses for minority Ruling and Teaching Elders to attend General Assembly;

c)Support the compensation expenses of minorities serving as an Assistant Pastor in a PCA church, for the first two years of their ministry in churches that pledge to provide full support by the third year;

  1. d) Provide means for historians to explore the role that Reformed minority pastors and theologians have played in our country’s history.

Be it further resolved, that this Unity Fund would be managed by Mission to North America, which would be responsible for:

  1. a) Establishing a board that reports to MNA and is comprised of African American and other minority teaching and ruling elders of the PCA;
  2. b) Receiving, receipting and disbursing monies;
  3. c) Approving the seminaries to which support can be directed;
  4. d) Encouraging individuals, churches and presbyteries to donate to the fund.

And further, that the Permanent Committee on Mission to North America be directed to proceed with implementation of both sets of items a) through d) of the Overture, reporting that implementation to the General Assembly in future years through the customary Permanent Committee and Committee of Commissioners procedures.

APPENDIX 3: “Appoint a Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation Study Committee”

Therefore be it resolved that the 44th General Assembly:

  1. Authorize the Moderator to appoint a Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation study committee, comprised of multiple ethnicities, with ruling elder participation, that would use available resources and consult knowledgeable persons, in order to:
  2. Assess the current situation in the PCA concerning racial and ethnic reconciliation; b. Identify specific problems the PCA needs to address to promote racial reconciliation and ethnic diversity;
  3. Develop constructive guidelines and suggest concrete steps for the use of the PCA, including all presbyteries and sessions, in order to make progress toward the work of racial reconciliation;
  4. The Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation Study Committee shall report to the 45th General Assembly;
  5. Set the budget for the study committee at $15,000/year and that funds be derived from gifts to the Administrative Committee designated for that purpose.
  6. Recognizing the particular circumstances that exist at the local level, the 44th General Assembly urges each presbytery and session to form similar study committees to consider how to make progress toward racial reconciliation within their context.

Highlights

1,252 commissioners (977 Teaching Elders, 275 Ruling Elders); meeting in Mobile, Alabama.

The theme of the Assembly was “Refreshed in and for the Cross.” The Assembly continued for a second year electronic voting and that with far fewer difficulties than the inaugural attempt.

TUESDAY

Opening Worship

  • Outgoing Moderator Mr. James Wert, Ruling Elder of Intown Community Church, Atlanta, GA, delivered an address on the theme “How Long?” from Habakkuk 3:16-19.

New Moderator

  • Dr. George W. Robertson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, GA, was elected as Moderator. Dr. Robertson ably led the Assembly with grace, humility and good humor.

WEDNESDAY

Assembly-wide Seminar

  • “Sexual Brokenness in a Fallen World,” a panel consisting of Tim Geiger, Executive Director, Harvest USA; Allen Edwards, Pastor, Kiski Valley PCA; and David Strain, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, MS, addressing how we may better minister the gospel to people struggling with same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria, or pornography addiction. A list of all Assembly seminars can be found here; and recordings can be purchased here.

Report of the Stated Clerk

  • There were no proposed amendments to The Book of Church Order (BCO) sent down to the Presbyteries last year!
  • Statistics reported:

* Total membership, 370,332 (increase of 11, 816, as opposed to a decrease of 1,318 the year before);

* Churches, 1,534 (increase of 35);

* Ministers, 4,556 (increase of 140); and

* Presbyteries, 84.

Partial Report of Administrative Committee

  • The Assembly approved a recommendation from the Committee of Commissioners to refer back to the AC the task of proposing a means whereby memorials might be received by the Assembly.

Interchurch Relations

  • Greetings from Rev. Davi Gomes, Presbyterian Church in Brazil; Rev. David Monroy, Iglesia Nacional Presbiterian ade Mexico; Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn, Orthodox Presbyterian Church; Douglas Field, United Churches in North America; Rev. Bruce Backsnsto, Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America; Tony Bracefield, Grace Presbyterian Church of New Zealand; Gerald McDermott, The Anglican Church in North America; Rev. David Meridith, Free Church of Scotland.

Review of Presbytery Records

  • All recommendations proposed by Committee on the Review of Presbyteries Records (CRPR) approved.
  • One minority report was defeated, a report proposing to add to CRPR recommendations an exception of substance with respect to a candidate’s view of the connection between the Sunday and weekly worship.

Informational Reports

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

Partial Report of the Administration Committee

After much discussion a PCA logo was adopted (325-277-11). In a sense, the logo was 43 years in the making, as the matter was raised at the 1st General Assembly! In this recent attempt, produced by Beaver Design Group, nine designs were assessed using national surveys as well as four focus groups held around the country. Matt Smartt, the son of one of the PCA’s founders, Kennedy Smartt, designed the winning logo.

Worship

  • After a pre-worship concert by Keith & Kristyn Getty, Dr. Tim Keller, Sr. Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NY, NY, preached on the theme “I came to you in weakness” from 1 Corinthians 1:6-2:5.

THURSDAY

Committee on Constitutional Business

  • CCB reported that it had examined the minutes of the Standing Judicial Commission and they were found to be in order without exception or notations.

Standing Judicial Commission

  • 18 matters before the court this year (’14, 1 case; ’15, 13 cases; ’16, 4 cases). The SJC found 8 cases either administratively or judicially out of order; 1 case moot; 2 cases were withdrawn; 4 cases were reported. There were 5 concurring opinions; no dissenting opinion; no minority reports.
  • The Assembly approved five amendments to the Operating Manual of the Standing Judicial Commission.
  • In a relatively unusual procedure, under RAO 16-4.e and BCO 40-4, -5, the SJC considered and ruled upon Presbytery responses to exceptions taken by CRPR over several years.

Nominations

  • All nominees were elected.

Mission to the World

  • Approved November 6 as a day of prayer for the persecuted church worldwide and November 2016 as a month of prayer for global missions.

Mission to North America

  • The Assembly acknowledged the work of outgoing Coordinator TE James C. Bland III with a tribute, and elected TE J. Paul Hahn, Jr. as the new Coordinator.
  • As recommended by the Committee of Commissioners, the Assembly answered in the affirmative Overture 44, a proposal to create a “PCA Unity Fund” managed by MNA for the support of minority PCA seminarians and other like purposes. For the full text of the motion see “Selected Acts & Deliverances”.

Administrative Committee

  • Approved all budgets, “partnership shares,” and “ministry asks”.
  • Approved a proposed study committee on women serving in the ministry of the church. After a failed point of order urging that the Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) had no authority (RAO 7-3) to bring such motion (582-466), the Assembly failed to adopt a substitute motion from the Committee of Commissioners (447-669) to reject the proposal. The Assembly then approved of the motion from the CMC brought through the AC to form a study committee, as appointed by the Moderator. For the full text of the motion see “Selected Acts & Deliverances”.

Overtures

  • The committee reported on 56 Overtures, enjoying fine leadership from TE Irwyn L. Ince, Jr. of Chesapeake Presbytery. There was one minority report seeking to answer Overture 14 (a proposed requirement that officers testify at trial when under accusation) in the negative and that report was adopted as a substitute for the Committee’s recommendation. All other recommendations were approved. For more on the Assembly’s actions see “Selected Acts & Deliverances”.

Worship

  • TE Thurman Williams, Associate Pastor Grace & Peace Fellowship, St. Louis, MO, preached from Acts 11:1-18 on “Making Room at the Table.”

David F. Coffin is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is the Senior Pastor of new Hope PCA in Fairfax, Va.

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

[2] All other overtures on racial reconciliation were answered in reference to the Assembly’s action on Overture 43.