Reasons for PCA Presbyteries To Approve the Proposed Amendment to BCO 25-3

PCA Presbyteries will be voting on a proposed amendment to Book of Church Order 25-3; here are reasons for them to vote to approve this amendment.

This change will ensure any departure decision genuinely reflects the mind of the congregation, and not just a small minority.  Likewise, the BCO only requires the Session to give one-week’s notice for such a congregational meeting.  One week’s notice and a very low quorum is a recipe for abuse.

 

I appreciate this opportunity to give further reasons why the GA-recommended change below should be adopted.  In June, the PCA General Assembly in Greensboro voted in favor of a proposed change adding a sentence to BCO 25-3 regarding the quorum needed at a congregational meeting where members will vote on a motion to separate from the denomination.

BCO 25-3  … However, at any meeting where there will be a vote to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church in America, the quorum shall be one-half (1/2) of the resident communing members.

The GA Overtures Committee had previously voted, by a strong 91-5 majority, to recommend the GA answer Overture 16 in the affirmative, which it did.  The GA adopted the OC recommendation, 706-183, to send the proposed change to the Presbyteries for their vote to approve or not approve.

An earlier article on this site argued against the change, but the arguments seem to mischaracterize, or at least misunderstand, the proposal.  For example, the article’s item 8 contends: “There is no reason for the PCA to make it difficult for a congregation to withdraw from the PCA.”  But that’s neither the intent nor the effect of the change.  A congregation could still leave the PCA by a simple majority vote.  The only change is the quorum required for the meeting.  One assumes it wouldn’t be too difficult to get a 50% quorum for such an important meeting.

The article went on to allege the change would be “imposing the exercise of force or coercion.”  If that’s true, then presumably any quorum requirement is force and coercion.  It’s common practice to have higher quorums for more important items of business.  For example, a General Assembly cannot suspend or revise any part of the Rules of Assembly Operation without a 50% quorum of the registered commissioners.  (RAO 20)

The article states: “The intent from the PCA’s beginning was that it would not impose any rule, decree or law that would make it difficult for local congregations to withdraw with their property and assets.”  But the change doesn’t make it more difficult for a local congregation to withdraw.  It only makes it more difficult for a small minority to affect the withdrawal.  A congregation, now better represented at the meeting because of the larger quorum, can still leave by a simple majority vote.

At present, our BCO would allow as little as 9% of the voting members of a congregation to take the church out of the PCA – at a meeting called with just one week’s notice.[1]  That’s simply not prudent.  The Assembly’s recommended change will ensure any departure vote better reflects the mind of the congregation, and not just a very small minority of it.

It’s difficult to understand why anyone would argue against a proposal that would automatically result in a fuller expression of the mind of a particular church on such an important matter.  Is it really prudent to allow a Session to call a meeting with just one week’s notice and have 9% of the church’s members adopt a recommendation and take the church out of the PCA?  Apparently, the Greensboro GA did not think so.

The paper seems to assert three main arguments.  Some brief responses follow.

  1. Allegedly, the change doesn’t solve any problem.
  2. Allegedly, the change is hierarchical.
  3. Allegedly, the change is PCUSA-esque.

No Problem? – The earlier article contends this change is a “solution in search of a problem.”  But that’s not the case.  Several presbyteries have seen churches leave the PCA based on votes from a very small representation of the congregation.  This happened in my own Presbytery last year.  And at the Greensboro GA, a commissioner relayed a story during floor debate about how this happened in his presbytery, and caused much turmoil.  Men who attended GA will certainly remember that persuasive story.

This change will ensure any departure decision genuinely reflects the mind of the congregation, and not just a small minority.  Likewise, the BCO only requires the Session to give one-week’s notice for such a congregational meeting.  One week’s notice and a very low quorum is a recipe for abuse.

Non-Hierarchical? – The article also contends the change runs counter to our non-hierarchical denomination.  But this change has no real bearing on hierarchy, and doesn’t make us any more or less hierarchical than we already are.

PCUSA-esque? – The article implies the change is PCUSA-esque, but it’s actually the opposite.  The change will ensure the mind of the congregation is most accurately expressed so that no small minority in that church can steer the assets of the corporation.  With the BCO’s current low-quorum and its one-week notice, as little as 9% could vote to leave the PCA and join another denomination – even if there had been decades of PCA members contributing their money and time to that church.  This change simply ensures the decision of the church is really the decision of the church, and not the decision of a very small minority.

As a comparison, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church requires at least two congregational meetings for withdrawal, and the Session must invite the Presbytery to speak at both.  Our PNW Presbytery considered this idea when discussing our overture, but two OP churches had recently transferred into our Presbytery and some of their leaders reported this OP provision wasn’t particularly helpful in practice.[2]

It’s difficult to understand why anyone would argue against a proposal that would result in a fuller expression of the mind of the church.  Despite the paper’s several references to the founding of the PCA, it presents no persuasive arguments that the change will make it “more difficult” for any church to vote to leave the PCA.  Granted, it might make if more difficult in the future for a Session to call a meeting with one week’s notice and get the required 50% quorum, but that only makes sense for the consideration of such an important matter.

This change doesn’t infringe in any way on the important provision of BCO 25-11:

Particular churches need remain in association with any court of this body only so long as they themselves so desire. The relationship is voluntary, based upon mutual love and confidence, and is in no sense to be maintained by the exercise of any force or coercion whatsoever. A particular church may withdraw from any court of this body at any time for reasons which seem to it sufficient.

The change simply ensures it’s really the church, and not a very small minority of the church, that seeks to withdraw from the PCA.

RE Howard Donahoe is a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and is the Clerk of the Pacific Northwest Presbytery.

[1]   101 members x 1/6 quorum x 51% = 9 (i.e., 9% of membership)

1,000 members x 1/6 quorum x 51% = 85 (i.e., 9% of membership)

[2] http://opc.org/BCO/FG.html#Chapter_XVI