Updated: Committee Actions on Overtures Presented to the 41st PCA General Assembly

Overtures before the PCA General Assembly June 18-21

Both the Administrative Committee (AC) and the Overture Committee (OC) have met and completed their recommendations on the overtures referred to them. The AC recommended answering Overtures 7 and 11 in the affirmative and Overture 1 in the negative. The OC answered Overtures 12, 13, and 15 in the affirmative, Overtures 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 14, 16, 17, 18 in the negative, and referred Overtures 2,3, and 8 either to MNA or back to the presbytery. The OC also recommended that the moderator rule both Overture 19 and 23 (Leithart and Meyers’ cases) out of order. Minority reports will be submitted on both of those.

Overtures Presented
To The Forty-First General Assembly
The Presbyterian Church In America
June 18-21, 2013

OVERTURE 1 from Pacific Northwest Presbytery (to AC, CCB)
“Amend RAO Article One (Organization of a GA Meeting) by adding a new final paragraph to set a combined special order for six items at each GA”

Be it resolved that the following paragraph be added to RAO Article One.
1-6. A special order shall be set for immediately after reconvening on the second morning of GA (usually Thursday) to begin considering the business listed below. Items can be considered in any sequence within the special order, and sequence is set when the docket is proposed and adopted. But no other business will be conducted until these are completed (unless Rules are suspended per RAO 20).

  • Voting on BCO amendments previously approved by Presbyteries
  • Report of Standing Judicial Commission
  • Report of Nominating Committee
  • Report of Committee on Review of Presbytery Records
  • Report of Overtures Committee
  • Report of any Ad-Interim Committee (if containing recommendations)

Rationale:

1. It would be prudent to handle these six items together when the most Commissioners could be present, and to consider them sequentially rather than at different times over the course of the week. While the specific sequence of the six items shown above has merit, there might be reasons for other sequences at different GAs, so the final sequence within the special order will be recommended by the Stated Clerk and approved by GA when each year’s docket is adopted.

OVERTURE 2 from North Texas (to CCB [RAO 8-2.b3], MNA [RAO 14-1],
“Amend BCO 5-1, 5-2, 5-9; and Add New Sections 5-11, 5-12 OC [RAO 11-5]) Regarding Mission Churches”

Whereas, the current BCO 5 does not make provision for the constitution of a “mission church” by request of the “core group” and action of the Presbytery; and

Whereas, the current BCO 5 does not allow for the calling of a TE to “plant” a mission church prior to the existence of a core group; and

Whereas, this practice is a common and recognized practice in PCA church planting; and

Whereas, the role of the Presbytery in examining and approving initial officer nominees is omitted when an “organizing commission” of Presbytery is responsible for ordaining and installing the initial nominees for officers in the mission church; and

Whereas, there is no clear provision on the authority of the Presbytery to “close” a mission church that for one reason or another has not proven to be viable; and

Whereas, clarification is needed in the matter of the process for churches outside of the PCA wishing to join the PCA;

OVERTURE 3 from North Texas Presbytery (to CCB [RAO 8-2.b3]; MNA [RAO 14-1];
“Amend BCO 8-6 regarding Commissioning an Evangelist” OC [RAO 11-5])

If so amended, BCO 8-6 would than read:
8-6. When a teaching elder is appointed to the work of an evangelist in countries or more remote parts of the Church where there are no other PCA churches within a reasonable distance, he is commissioned for a renewable term of twelve months to preach the Word, administer the Sacraments, receive and dismiss members of mission churches, and to instruct and disciple potential officers. By separate actions the Presbytery may in very extraordinary situations commission him to examine, ordain and install ruling elders and deacons and organize (particularize) churches.

OVERTURE 4 from Suncoast Florida Presbytery (to CCB, OC)
“Amend BCO 32 by Adding Section 32-21 Defining Supporting Reasons for a Complaint or Appeal”

Therefore, be it resolved that Suncoast Florida Presbytery overtures the Forty-first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to amend The Book of Church Order by adding a new section 32-21, to wit,

32-21. The “reasons therefor” in a complaint or appeal filed with a higher court (BCO 32-18) shall be limited to evidence, documents, and exhibits presented to the lower courts for its consideration of a case or arguments based on such evidence, documents, and exhibits.

OVERTURE 5 from Suncoast Florida Presbytery (to CCB, OC)
“Amend BCO 42 by Adding 42-13 to Define Terms Used in Chapter 42”

Therefore, be it resolved that Suncoast Florida Presbytery overtures the Forty-first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to amend The Book of Church Order by adding a new section 42-13, to wit,

42-13. Definition of terms used in Chapter 42:

a. “Supporting reasons” in BCO 42-4 shall be limited to evidence, documents, and exhibits presented to the lower courts for their consideration of the particular case being appealed or arguments based on such evidence, documents, and exhibits.
b. “Reasons therefor” in BCO 42-5 shall be limited to evidence, documents, and exhibits presented to the lower courts for their consideration of the case being appealed or arguments based on such evidence, documents, and exhibits.
c. “Any papers bearing on the case” in BCO 42-5 shall be limited to evidence, documents, and exhibits accepted as relevant by the lower courts in their consideration of the particular case being appealed and also revisions to the Record of the Case as determined by the higher court through orderly procedure.

OVERTURE 6 from Suncoast Florida Presbytery (to CCB, OC)
“Amend BCO 43 by Adding 43-11 to Define Certain Terms Used in Chapter 43”

Therefore, be it resolved that Suncoast Florida Presbytery overtures the Forty-first General Assembly to amend The Book of Church Order, Chapter 43 by adding a new section

43-11, to wit:

43-11 Definition of certain terms used in Chapter 43:
a. “Supporting reasons” in BCO 43-2, 43-3, and 43-6 shall be limited to evidence, documents, and exhibits presented to the lower courts for their consideration of the particular case against which complaint is being carried forward or arguments based on such evidence, documents, and exhibits.
b. “Papers bearing on the complaint” in BCO 43-6 shall be limited to evidence, documents, and exhibits accepted as relevant by the lower courts in their consideration of the particular case against which complaint is being carried forward to a higher court.
c. “Papers bearing on the complaint” in 43-9 shall be limited to evidence, documents, and exhibits accepted as relevant by the lower courts in their consideration of the particular case against which complaint is being carried forward to a higher court and also revisions to the Record of the Case as determined by the higher court through orderly procedure.

OVERTURE 7 from North Texas Presbytery (to OC, AC [RAO 9-2; 11-11])
“Establish Study Committee on Sabbath Issue in Westminster Standards”

Be it therefore resolved that the North Texas Presbytery overtures the Forty-First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to appoint a study committee to examine this issue and consider whether there are necessary amendments to the appropriate items in the Westminster Standards that are true to the Scriptures, not unduly restrictive nor overly permissive, and are agreeable to men of sound faith and good conscience.

OVERTURE 8 from James River Presbytery (to: CCB, OC)
“Amend BCO 21-5, Question 2, Regarding Change of Views”

Therefore be it resolved that James River Presbytery overture the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to amend the BCO in the following manner:

1) Amend 21-5, question 2, so that the amended version will read:

2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you determine that you differ with the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow, so that they might determine- the acceptability of your exception(s)?

2) Add 21-12. “If a Teaching Elder changes his views from those previously presented to his presbytery in regard to any difference he may have with the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions, he shall report the change to his Presbytery, submitting to the court’s judgment of whether or not his declared difference is out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine or is hostile to the system or strikes at the vitals of religion.

OVERTURE 9 from James River Presbytery (to MNA)
“Form Tidewater Presbytery”

Now therefore be it resolved, that JRP overture the 41st General Assembly to divide JRP and form Virginia Tidewater Presbytery, effective January 1, 2014, to include all mission works and churches of James River Presbytery located in the Eastern counties and cities of the Commonwealth of Virginia and in the state of North Carolina, including: (from Virginia) Surry, Southampton, James City, York, Gloucester, Mathews, Isle of Wight, and the cites located within and between these counties and the Atlantic Ocean, including Williamsburg, Suffolk, Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach; and (from North Carolina) the counties of Currituck, Camden, Perquimans, Pasquotank, Chowan, Gates, Hertford, Bertie and the area of Dare County east of Crotan Sound and North of Oregon Inlet.

OVERTURE 10 from Westminster Presbytery (to CCB, OC)
“Amend BCO 37-4”

Therefore, be it resolved that Westminster Presbytery overture the General Assembly to amend BCO 37-4 by adding the words “that excommunicated him” after the words “the Session.” The sentence would then read “When an excommunicated person shall be so affected with his state as to be brought to repentance, and to desire to be readmitted to the communion of the church, the Session that excommunicated him, having obtained sufficient evidence of his sincere repentance, shall proceed to restore him.”

Note: BCO 37-4 deals with the restoration of an excommunicated individual in ordinary circumstances. BCO 37-7 deals with a situation in which the offender has taken up residence at a great distance from the court of original jurisdiction. Since the proposed amendment only makes explicit what is currently implicit in 37-4, there is no conflict with BCO 37-7. In the case of an offender living at a distance the original session may still send a copy to another session for them to take up the case.

Be it further resolved, that greater care be taken to properly summarize this proposed amendment to BCO 37-4.

Grounds:

  • When this proposed amendment was presented to the 40th General Assembly the summary stated, “Amend BCO 37-4 to Require That Only the Session That Imposed an Excommunication May Remove the Excommunication,”
  • As stated above, that is not the intention of the amendment, nor does the language of the amendment require such an interpretation. It is an amendment to make explicit what is already implicit in BCO 37-4.
  • The CCB repeated the language of the summary rather than the language of the proposed amendment. The summary statement is in conflict with BCO 37-7.
  • A more accurate summary would be “To clarify that the court of original jurisdiction imposing excommunication is the court that restores the excommunicated person unless he has removed his residence to a great distance.”

OVERTURE 11 from Pacific Northwest Presbytery (to AC)
“Request AC to Study Feasibility of a Largely Paperless General Assembly”

The 41st General Assembly in Greenville requests the Administrative Committee to develop a plan on the feasibility of transitioning to a largely-paperless GA, including a plan to transition to having all Committee reports accessible in the GA halls via Wi-Fi. The 41st GA requests AC to report to the 42nd GA in Houston, hopefully with recommendations.

OVERTURE 12 from Pacific Northwest Presbytery (to CCB, OC)
“Amend BCO 20-6 Regarding Terms of Call and add BCO Appendix J, Sample Form”

20-6. Form of call: The terms of the call shall be approved by the congregation in the following or like form. (See also the sample form in BCO Appendix J.)

The ___________ Church being on sufficient grounds well satisfied of the ministerial qualifications of you, ________, and having good hopes from our knowledge of your labors that your ministrations in the Gospel will be profitable to our spiritual interests, do earnestly call you to undertake the pastoral office in said congregation, promising you, in the discharge of your duty, all proper support, encouragement and obedience in the Lord. That you may be free from worldly cares and avocations, we hereby promise and oblige ourselves to pay you a combined salary and housing allowance of $___________ a year in regular _______ (semi-monthly, biweekly, monthly or quarterly) payments. In addition to the salary and housing allowance, we will also provide other benefits, such as, manse (with equity allowance), Social Security allowance, retirement savings, medical insurance, life insurance, long-term disability insurance, leaves of absence, sabbaticals, vacations, moving expenses etc., during the time of your being and continuing the regular pastor of this church.
In testimony whereof we have respectively subscribed our names this __ day of ____, A.D.___.
Attest: I, having moderated the congregational meeting which extended a call to ____________ for his ministerial services, do certify that the call has been made in all respects according to the rules laid down in the Book of Church Order, and that the persons who signed the foregoing call were authorized to do so by vote of the congregation.
_________________________________
Moderator of the Meeting

OVERTURE 13 from Pacific Northwest Presbytery (to CCB, OC)
“Amend BCO 34-8 and 37-6 to Require a Two-thirds Majority Vote to Remove Censure of Deposition If Imposed for Scandalous Conduct”

Amend BCO 34-8 and BCO 37-6 by adding a final sentence to each section as follows:

34-8. A minister under indefinite suspension from his office or deposed for scandalous conduct shall not be restored, even on the deepest sorrow for his sin, until he shall exhibit for a considerable time such an eminently exemplary, humble and edifying life and testimony as shall heal the wound made by his scandal. A deposed minister shall in no case be restored until it shall appear that the general sentiment of the Church is strongly in his favor, and demands his restoration; and then only by the court inflicting the censure, or with that court’s consent. If the deposition was for scandalous conduct, the removal of censure requires a 2/3 vote of the court inflicting the censure, or by 2/3 of the court to which the majority of the original court delegates that authority.

37-6 When a ruling elder or deacon has been absolved from the censure of deposition, he cannot be allowed to resume the exercise of his office in the church without re-election by the people. If the deposition was for scandalous conduct, the removal of censure requires a 2/3 vote of the court inflicting the censure, or by 2/3 of the court to which the majority of the original court delegates that authority.

OVERTURE 14 from Pacific Northwest Presbytery (to CCB, OC)
“Amend five BCO paragraphs regarding Indefinite Suspension from Office (30-1, 30-3, 36-5, new 36-6, 37-3)”

Rationale – This change would allow indefinite suspension from office without necessarily needing to render a judgment on the nature of the man’s repentance. This Overture will give the court more flexibility. While the change involves five BCO sections, it is not complicated. With these changes, indefinite suspension could be an option even if the man shows some signs of repentance. It does not revise any other censures.

Current BCO wording fails to adequately address a common situation – i.e., a man needs to be suspended from office, but as the BCO is currently worded, neither definite nor indefinite seem to apply. Currently, if the offender is not impenitent, indefinite would not apply. But definite suspension requires the court to set a date when the suspension will automatically be removed, and often the court is not confident what that date should be. The solution is to allow indefinite suspension even if there are some signs of repentance, and require the court to set a date on which the censure would next be reviewed. Then the difference between definite and indefinite would not hinge on an immediate judgment regarding repentance. Instead, the choice would hinge on whether the court is ready to set an automatic date for restoration (i.e., definite suspension). If not, it will choose indefinite. For example, let us say a minister sins, confesses, and repents (at least to some degree). And say Presbytery judges a censure greater than Admonition is necessary, but the court is not ready to set a specific date when it’s certain he will automatically be ready to pastor again (i.e., definite suspension). Current BCO wording puts them in a dilemma. The censured officer is, to some degree, “penitent, but not yet ready.” But the court is not sure when he will be ready.

Current BCO wording does not address that scenario very well. (A similar Overture was filed last year but returned to our Presbytery, without prejudice, for additional work. We believe this approach is better than last year’s, which sought to solve the problem by only addressing definite suspension.)

OVERTURE 15 from Pacific Northwest Presbytery (to CCB, OC)
“Amend BCO 43-10 to Require the Higher Court to Accept a Reference if the Higher Court Has Sustained a Complaint Against a Non-indictment in a Doctrinal Case or Case of Public Scandal.”

43-10. The higher court has power, in its discretion, to annul the whole or any part of the action of a lower court against which complaint has been made, or to send the matter back to the lower court with instructions for a new hearing. If the higher court rules a lower court erred by not indicting someone, and the lower court References the matter back to the higher court, it shall accept the Reference if it is a doctrinal case or case of public scandal (see BCO 41-3).

Rationale
When a lower court declines to indict someone, against whom allegations have been made,
a) and a Complaint is filed against that non-indictment decision,
b) and the higher court sustains that Complaint and rules the lower court erred by not indicting,
c) and if the lower court References the matter back to the higher court,
d) and it is a doctrinal case or case of public scandal,
e) the higher court should accede to the request and institute process (and must if the change is adopted).

Otherwise, it might be poor stewardship of the Lord’s time and money to remand the matter to the lower court with instructions to institute process. This is especially true if the lower court has conducted a thorough inquiry into the allegations and/or the lower court is nearly unanimous in its decision.

OVERTURE 16 from Pacific Northwest Presbytery (to CCB, OC)
“Amend BCO 34-1 and 33-1 to Clarify the Prerequisite, and Provide a More Reasonable Threshold, for the Assumption of Original Jurisdiction”

Background – This is the same wording as Overture 18 filed last year by our Presbytery. It was referred back to PNW, without prejudice, for further consideration. We believe some judicial decisions during last year make it more likely this will be considered favorably by the Greenville and Houston General Assemblies, and by at least 2/3 of the Presbyteries in the intervening year

Rationale – Five pages of rationale for this proposed change were included with Overture 18 last year. In Overture 18, the suggested threshold was 7%, and it can be found in in last year’s GA Commissioner Handbook, pages 60-65, in the Minutes of the 40th GA, pages 707-714, and at https://www.dropbox.com/s/nqqzvgyopm6caa8/Overture%2018.pdf

Previous Attempts – In 2001, Evangel Presbytery brought a similar overture, but the Dallas GA answered in the negative (M29GA, pp. 203-205). The following year, the issue was revisited when 23 Presbyteries each overtured the 2002 GA to increase the petitioning threshold from “two other Presbyteries” to “at least 10% of all the Presbyteries.” The Birmingham GA adopted that overture and sent it to the 64 Presbyteries for vote. While 40 Presbyteries voted in favor of the increase (62%), it was three short of the 2/3 required and was not adopted (M30GA, pp. 214-219 & M31GA, pp. 51-53). Six years later in 2009, Central Carolina Presbytery overtured the GA again to revise 34-1 and 33-1, but the Overtures Committee recommended against adoption and the Orlando GA declined to adopt the Overture. With 80 Presbyteries, the 5% threshold would require 4 petitioning Presbyteries. It would increase to 5 Presbyteries once we have 81 and to 6 once we have 101.

OVERTURE 17 from the Presbytery of the Ascension (to CCB, OC)
“Amend Westminster Confession of Faith 21-5”

Be it therefore resolved, that Presbytery of the Ascension overtures the Forty-first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to begin the process of amending Westminster Confession of Faith 21:5 by the addition of the italicized words as follows:

The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; collections for the work of the church, as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.

OVERTURE 18 from the Presbytery of the Ascension (to CCB, OC)
“Amend BCO 12-6 by Addition”

Be it therefore resolved that the Presbytery of the Ascension overtures the Forty-first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to begin the process of amending BCO 12-6 by addition, to read:

12-6 The Session shall hold stated meetings at least quarterly. Moreover, the pastor has power to convene the Session when he may judge it requisite; and he shall always convene it when requested to do so by any two of the ruling elders. When there is no pastor, it may be convened by two ruling elders. The Session shall also convene when directed to do so by the Presbytery. Whenever a special meeting of session shall convene, whether by the call of the pastor, the call of two or more elders, or by the direction of the Presbytery, notice of the items to be considered at the meeting shall be communicated with the call to the meeting, and no business other than that named in the notice is to be transacted.

OVERTURE 19 from Illiana Presbytery (to OC)
“Request for Rehearing of SJC Case 2012-05”

Therefore, be it resolved that Illiana Presbytery hereby overtures the 41st General Assembly to direct the Standing Judicial Commission to rehear case 2012-05 (RE Gerald Hedman v. Pacific Northwest Presbytery) in accordance with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America.

OVERTURE 20 from Gulf Coast Presbytery (to SJC [BCO 15-4, RAO 17-2])
“Assume Original Jurisdiction per BCO 34-1 and Direct the Standing Judicial Commission to hear ‘Pacific Northwest Presbytery vs. Peter Leithart’”

Therefore, be it resolved that Gulf Coast Presbytery overtures the 41st General Assembly to:

Assume original jurisdiction and direct the Standing Judicial Commission to hear “Pacific Northwest Presbytery vs. Peter Leithart,” because PNWP has “refused to act” per the provision found in BCO 34-1, by not declaring a mistrial in this case because of its chief prosecutor’s conflict of interest, stemming from his transition into membership of the Roman Catholic church. SJC should not fail to take into consideration the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms in hearing the case.

OVERTURE 21 from Calvary Presbytery (to SJC [BCO 15-4, RAO 17-2])
“Assume Original Jurisdiction per BCO 34-1 and Direct the Standing Judicial Commission to hear ‘Pacific Northwest Presbytery vs. Peter Leithart’”

Therefore, be it resolved that Calvary Presbytery overtures the 41st General Assembly to:

Assume original jurisdiction and direct the Standing Judicial Commission to hear “Pacific Northwest Presbytery vs. Peter Leithart,” because PNWP has “refused to act,” per the provision found in BCO 34-1, by not declaring a mistrial in this case because of its chief prosecutor’s conflict of interest, stemming from his transition into membership of the Roman Catholic church.

SJC not fail to take into consideration the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms in hearing the case.

OVERTURE 22 from Mississippi Valley Presbytery (to SJC [BCO 15-4, RAO 17-2])
“Assume Original Jurisdiction per BCO 34-1 and Direct the Standing Judicial Commission to hear ‘Pacific Northwest Presbytery vs. Peter Leithart’”

Therefore, be it resolved that the Presbytery of the Mississippi Valley overtures the 41st General Assembly to:

Assume original jurisdiction and direct the Standing Judicial Commission to hear “Pacific Northwest Presbytery vs. Peter Leithart,” because PNWP has “refused to act,” per the provision found in BCO 34-1, by not declaring a mistrial in this case because of its chief prosecutor’s conflict of interest, stemming from his transition into membership of the Roman Catholic church.

SJC not fail to take into consideration the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms in hearing the case.

OVERTURE 23 from Great Lakes Presbytery (to OC)
“Direct the Standing Judicial Commission to Find SJC 2012-09 Administratively in Order and to Hear the Case”

Therefore, be it resolved that the Great Lakes Presbytery hereby overtures the 41st General Assembly to direct the Standing Judicial Commission to find the case (SJC 2012-09) administratively in order, appoint a panel or have the case heard by the whole Standing Judicial Commission, and render a decision in accordance with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America and for the peace and purity of the Church.

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