The GA approved the amendment and sent it to the Presbyteries; the BCO requires that amendments be approved by two-thirds of its Presbytery. It is now clear from an unofficial tabulation of the Presbyteries that have voted, that 30 Presbyteries have voted against approving the amendment, which means that the two-thirds requirement cannot be met.
The 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, at its meeting in June 2017, approved an amendment to its Book of Church Order (BCO) 25-3, and sent it to its eighty-six Presbyteries for approval. The amendment to BCO 25-3 proposed requiring a special and a larger quorum, increasing it to 50% of resident communicant members, for congregational meetings if they were voting to consider withdrawing from the PCA.
The amendment added one sentence at the end of the present provision so that it would have read (the amendment is underlined):
The quorum of the congregational meeting shall consist of one-fourth (1/4) of the resident communing members, if the church has not more than one hundred (100) such members, and of one-sixth (1/6) of the resident communing members if a church has more than one hundred (100) such members. 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 approved the amendment and sent it to the Presbyteries; the BCO requires that amendments be approved by two-thirds of the Presbyteries. It is now clear that after an unofficial tabulation of the Presbyteries that have voted, that 30 Presbyteries voted not to approve the amendment, which means that the two-thirds requirement cannot be met.
Supporters of the amendment argued that the General assembly approved sending the amendment to the Presbyteries by a vote of 706-183, which was a significant vote. They also argued that the present provision of the BCO would allow as few as 9% of the voting members of a congregation to approve withdrawing from the PCA. Thus, the Assembly’s recommended change was intended to assure that any action to withdraw would be a more accurate reflection of the mind of a greater number of the congregation, not just a small minority. As presented by the supporters, the amendment’s intent was simply to insure that it was really a greater number of the congregation, not just a small minority of the church, that would approve withdrawing from the PCA.
Opponents of the amendment argued that to require a quorum of 50% of the resident communicant members was excessive. A quorum sets the baseline number of members required to conduct business. Amendment proponents apparently assumed that the lower quorum for congregation meetings in the present provision would be the total number of the members present and voting. However, for a congregation meeting considering whether to withdraw from the PCA, opponents argued that many more members would be present than just the bare minimum required by the quorum.
They also argued that the PCA had chosen to make withdrawing from the PCA a matter for each local congregation to consider on its own without interference from any higher court of the church. The PCA had purposefully adopted a non-hierarchical form of Presbyterian polity, and as such it saw its commitment to this grassroots system, as stated in BCO 25-10, as a solemn covenant between the local churches and the PCA. And they argued further, that the amendment requiring an untenable quorum, was seen as a means of the PCA restricting and impinging on the right of local congregations with regard to their ecclesiastical affiliation. Thus the amendment was seen as contrary to the letter and spirit of the principles embedded in the BCO. While the amendment was a seemly slight one, it carried significant implications that would begin to erode foundational PCA principles, which could produce unintended consequences in the future.
Dominic Aquila is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Editor of The Aquila Report.