PCA 47th General Assembly: Some Highlights and Actions

Some highlights and actions from the 47th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America meeting in Dallas, Texas, June 25-28, 2019

1,616 commissioners (1,209 Teaching Elders, 407 Ruling Elders) meeting in Dallas, Texas

The theme of the Assembly was “Press on for God’s Glory,” drawn from 2 Cor. 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” The Assembly continued for another year electronic voting and there were far fewer glitches in the use of the keypad than in previous years. The devices appear to be here to stay. Video recordings of sessions of the Assembly can be found here:

https://livestream.com/accounts/8521918/events/8720909

WEDNESDAY

Opening Worship

  • Outgoing moderator, Dr. Irwin Ince, Director of Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission, Washington, DC, preached a powerful sermon calling believers to “Grind on for Glory” from 2 Cor. 4:1-6. In the course of his sermon Dr. Ince reminded the Assembly of the first question of Abaddon’s Catechism: “What is the chief end of Satan? The chief end of Satan is to deny God of His rightful glory by preventing people from enjoying Him forever.” Dr. Ince urged that the great work of the Church is to bring the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ to overcome this darkness. There were over 3,500 in attendance and the worship in song was thrilling. A video of the entire service is available here:

https://livestream.com/accounts/8521918/events/8720909/videos/193041678

New Moderator

  • RE Howard “Howie” Donahoe, a ruling elder from Seattle in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery and a pilot for American Airlines, was elected as Moderator. RE Donahoe led the Assembly with humility and good humor, as well as with a competent firmness that served the Assembly well in the course of its full and challenging docket. You can read more about Moderator Donahoe here:

https://byfaithonline.com/howie-donahoe-elected-moderator-of-47th-general-assembly/

Report of the Stated Clerk

  • In a relatively rare series of actions, the Assembly rejected 3 of the 7 BCO amendments proposed by the 46th GA, that had received the affirmative vote of 2/3s of the Presbyteries. The rejected proposals included:

* an amendment to BCO 30-1, regarding definite suspension, that was shown to be self-contradictory;

* an amendment to BCO 30-3 regarding indefinite suspension, that was shown to be dangerously lacking in specificity; and

* an amendment to BCO 32-19 to allow counsel by any communing member in all courts.

The Assembly approved the following BCO amendments, proposed by the 46th GA, that had received the affirmative vote of 2/3s of the Presbyteries:

  • an amendment to BCO 8-1; 8-3 regarding the qualifications of elders;
  • an amendment to BCO 25-11 to require thirty-days’ notice for a congregation to withdraw from the PCA;
  • an amendment to BCO 35-11 not to disqualify automatically a member of a court who was called as a witness;
  • an amendment to grant BCO 59-3, as amended, full Constitutional status. The amended provision (new text underscored) reads: “Marriage is only to be between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24,25; Matt. 19:4-6, 1 Cor. 7:2), in accordance with the Word of God. Therefore, ministers in the Presbyterian Church in America who solemnize marriages shall only solemnize marriages between one man and one woman.
  • Statistics reported:

* total membership, 384,793 (increase of 10,057);

* churches, 1,572 (increase of 4);

* ministers, 4,951 (increase of 69); and

* presbyteries, 88 (adding 2).

Interchurch Relations

  • The Assembly was introduced to Fraternal Delegates, Corresponding Delegates, and Ecclesiastical Observers. Contrary to the recommendation of the Committee of Commissioners, the Assembly voted to answer in the negative an overture that sought to have the PCA withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals.

Review of Presbytery Records

  • Potomac Presbytery’s minutes passed without exception.
  • All of the recommendations proposed by CRPR were approved. However, a recommendation with respect to the minutes of Mississippi Valley, directing that the Presbytery be brought before the SJC under BCO 40-5, to answer a “credible report” involving “an important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional [proceeding],” to “show what the lower court has done or failed to do in the case in question,” was approved after considerable debate. Further, there was a vigorous debate concerning a recommendation with respect to the minutes of Calvary Presbytery, concerning a presbytery’s right to forbid the teaching of an approved exception to the doctrinal standards. The Assembly finally approved the recommendation of the Committee to find an exception of substance.

THURSDAY

Assembly-wide Seminar

  • “Christian Civility in an Uncivil Age; Speaking the Truth in Love.” The panel included Sean Lucas, Irywn Ince, Bryan Chapell, and David Richter.

A list of all Assembly seminars can be found here:

https://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Seminars-PDF-For-Website-2.pdf

and recordings can be purchased here:

https://barkerproductions.net/shop.asp?catID=8003

Committee on Constitutional Business

  • CCB reported on the advice given to Committees of Commissioners and that it had examined the minutes of the SJC and they were found to be in order without exceptions.

Nominations Committee

  • Almost all Committee nominations prevailed.

Mission to the World

  • The Committee of Commissioners recommended an answer in the negative with respect to an overture to direct CMTW to amend its guidelines to implement CMTW’s ‘statement on valuing women in MTW,’ so that only ordained elders will be allowed to serve in the roles of team leader, regional director, and international director within MTW. The Assembly voted to recommit the matter to the Committee of Commissioners.
  • Approved November 3 as a day of prayer for the persecuted church worldwide and November 2019 as a month of prayer for global missions.[1]

Standing Judicial Commission

  • 8 matters before the court this year (’18, 6 cases; ’19, 2 cases). 5 cases were reported. There were no minority reports.

Discipleship Ministries

  • Upon the Committee of Commissioner’s recommendation the Assembly answered in the negative: in light of copywrite restrictions, an overture to publish the RPNA’s study on sexual orientation; and, as vague an unnecessary, an overture to direct Presbyteries, Sessions and Diaconates of the PCA to give preference, in a variety of ways, to “wholly Christian education.”

Administrative Committee

  • Approved all budgets, “partnership shares,” and “ministry asks”.
  • Upon the Committee of Commissioner’s recommendation, the Assembly answered in the negative: an overture to amend the RAO to change procedures for planning and leading times of worship and prayer at GA; and an overture to study the possibility of remote voting at GA.
  • Upon the Committee of Commissioner’s recommendation, the Assembly answered in the affirmative an overture, with amendments as proposed by the Committee, to add Constitutional precedence statement to all Permanent Committee and Agency policy manuals.
  • Stated Clerk Dr. L. Roy Taylor, who has served as stated clerk since 1998, announced that he plans to retire after the 2020 General Assembly. It will be very difficult to replace such an able and devoted servant of the church. The Administrative Committee has formed a search committee for the next stated clerk of the PCA General Assembly. You can read about the process here:

https://www.pcaac.org/stated-clerk-search/

Worship

  • TE David Cassidy, Lead Pastor of Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN, preached on the theme “A Brief History of the Future” from Psalm 145:1-13.

Overtures Committee

  • The committee reported on 41 Overtures, enjoying leadership from Dr. Sean Lucas, senior pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn.. and associate professor of church history at RTS Jackson. For the first time electronic voting was used in the Overtures Committee. There were four minority report filed; none prevailed with the Assembly. All Committee recommendations were approved. The Committee went very late into the night on Thursday, and then early on Friday it finished its report. For more on the Assembly’s actions on the Overtures see “Selected Acts & Deliverances”.

FRIDAY

Worship

  • TE Ryan Anderson, RUF Campus Minister, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX, preached on the theme, “Delusions, Meet Grace” from Rev. 3:14-22.

Committee on Thanks

  • Continued a tradition of long-standing: without peer, the best report of the Assembly!

 

Selected Acts and Deliverances

1) Approved to be sent down for the advice and consent of the Presbyteries:[2]

  • Overture 9, amend BCO 42-4; 43-2; 43-3 regarding method and deadlines of filing cases.
  • Overture 17, amend BCO 32-8 to allow for video testimony by witnesses.

2) Declined Approval:

  • Overture 1, revise BCO 14-12 to permit additional ruling elder representation at the General Assembly.
  • Overture 5, amend BCO 23-1 on procedures for dissolving various pastoral relations, without prejudice.
  • Overture 8, amend BCO 14-1.10, 14-1.11, and 14-1.12 to allow non-ordained persons to serve on committees and boards.
  • Overture 33, amend BCO 57-5 to add vow regarding trinity.
  • Overture 34, amend BCO 42-4; 43-2; and 43-3 as well as OMSJC 18.10 b. to clarify filing requirements and allow electronic filings without prejudice .
  • Overture 36, amend BCO 40-4 and 40-5 to clarify the meaning of ‘credible report’.

3) Adopted:

  • Overture 6, amend RAO 11 and 13 to disallow memorials.
  • Overture 18, amend RAO 11-5 to prevent confusion and possible contradictory actions on overtures by multiple committees of commissioners.
  • Overture 4, declare the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood’s ‘Nashville Statement’ on biblical sexuality as a biblically faithful declaration. See Appendix 1.
  • Overture 7, form study committee on domestic abuse, and sexual assault.
  • Overture 11, commend and distribute RPCNA’s “Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis.”
  • Overture 42, establish an Ad Interim Committee to study the topic of human sexuality with particular attention to the issues of homosexuality, same- sex attraction, and transgenderism.

4) Declined to adopt:

  • Overture 12, amend RAO 8-4 regarding floor nominations.
  • Overture 16, amend the RAO to provide for a moderator-elect and a vice-moderator by revision of RAO 1-4, addition of RAO 1-6, and 1-8, and revision of RAO 2-1, 2-3.
  • Overture 2, encourage CTS toward growth and release from assembly oversight
  • Overture 40, overture for sessions to acknowledge and support women leaders without delay or more divisiveness.
  • Overture 48, make a stronger statement regarding abortion.[3]

5) Ruled Out of Order:[4]

  • Overture 35, affirm the PCA’s commitment to the sanctity of bible sexual relationships.
  • Overture 39, re-commend the previous statements and study reports of the PCA in regard to homosexuality.
  • Overture 46, reaffirm PCA’s commitment regarding the sanctity of life and our stance against abortion in particular.

APPENDIX 1: Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood’s “Nashville Statement”

The 47th General Assembly declares the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood’s “Nashville Statement” on biblical sexuality as a biblically faithful declaration and refers the “Nashville Statement” to the Committee on Discipleship Ministries for inclusion and promotion among its denominational teaching materials.

Article 1

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.
WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.
WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

Article 3

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.
WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

Article 5

WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

Article 6

WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.

WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

Article 7

WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

Article 8

WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

Article 9

WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality— a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.
WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Article 11

WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.
WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his image- bearers as male and female.

Article 12

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

Article 13

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self- conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.

Article 14

WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.
WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.

David F. Coffin, Jr. is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Assistant Pastor of New Hope PCA in Fairfax, Va.

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

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

[3] The Overture Committee’s grounds: “The PCA has spoken biblically, clearly, and pastorally on the issue of abortion. For reference, see: 1979- Overture 7-Revise Assembly’s statement on abortion; 1980-Overture 12-Reaffirm original statement on abortion; 1984-Overture 14-Adopt statement that a memorial service is Biblical and appropriate in cases of miscarriage; 1989- Overture 17-Oppose research on transplantation of fetal tissue; 1993- Overture 25-Protection of Life of the Unborn; 1993- Overture 41-Exhort SBC to Continue Strong Stand Against Abortion; 1999-Overture 27-Reaffirm the sanctity of life; 2010- Overture 28-Sanctity of Life Resolution; 2014-Overture43-Expression of Support for Sanctity of Life and Marriage.”

[4] “Motions to ‘reaffirm’ a position previously taken by adopting a motion or resolution are not in order. Such a motion serves no useful purpose because the original motion is still in effect; also, possible attempts to amend motion to reaffirm would come into conflict with the rules for the motion to amend Something Previously Adopted (35); and if such a motion to reaffirm failed, it would create an ambiguous situation.” Robert’s Rules of Order Newly revised (11th ed.), p. 104, lines 24-31.