[First Sentence of Document; Universalism?]: “The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—creates, redeems, sustains, rules and transforms all things and all people.”
The 219th General Assembly approved a new constitution for the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Wednesday night (7/7). The new Form of Government (referred to as ‘nFOG’) will now be sent to the denomination’s 173 presbyteries for ratification.
The vote was 468 (69 percent) to 204 (30 percent).
Tim Beal, moderator of the Form of Government Revision Committee which debated, amended and then approved nFOG during the past several days, presented the recommendation to the assembly.
Beal went over several changes the committee made to the original report proposed by the New Form of Government Task Force.
“Our committee has made some 30 changes to this document,” he said. Many were editorial changes, but some of the changes did address some major issues.
Changing a footnote that defined “Church” – with a capital C – as the Church universal and “church” – with a lower case “c” – as the denomination. The committee deleted the reference to the church as the denomination. He said the consequences of the original footnote could shift the meanings of the relationships between churches, presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly. “So church is now defined the same way it was in the current Book of Order,” he said.
In the section dealing with the call process, the committee changed the wording so that instead of having to “obtain approval” from the presbytery, but instead “receive and consider the presbytery’s counsel.”
Beal said that the “’obtain approval’ language gave critics the fear of presbyteries overreaching.”
Another change made was the addition of language that made clear that congregational giving is voluntary. Section G-3.0106 now reads [added language in italics]:
Each council above the session shall prepare a budget for its operating expenses, including administrative personnel, and may fund it with a per capita apportionment among the particular congregations within its bounds. Presbyteries are responsible for raising their own funds and for raising and timely transmission of per capita funds to their respective synods and the General Assembly. Presbyteries may direct per capita apportionments to sessions within their bounds, but in no case shall the authority of the session to direct its benevolences be compromised.”
Beal said the funding relationship between the session, the presbytery and the synod is now the same as in the current Book of Order.
A motion to receive the nFOG, but not approve it, then post the document on the Web site for comment was defeated.
During debate on the issues, commissioners spoke in favor and against nFOG.
Rev. Greg Graybill of Washington Presbytery spoke against approving nFOG, because of the emphasis he said on “theological diversity. … If theology doesn’t matter why do we have a Book of Confessions?”
Elder Doris Mabrey of National Capital Presbytery spoke in favor of approving nFOG, and against receiving the report and posting it on a Web site for comments. “To me, it is a back door way of defeating the motion [approving nFOG]. … and I think that the church has asked for a new Form of Government for several years.
Elder Dan Packer of the Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery spoke of a instance several years ago, when an avowed atheist was able to become a member of the PCUSA. The “entry into membership” section – G-1.0303 – reads “Persons may enter into active church membership in the following ways: a. Public profession of faith, made after careful examination by the session in the meaning and responsibilities of membership; if not already baptized, the person making profession of faith shall be baptized; …”
“So now, profess your faith in what?” Packer asked. “We no longer have to profess your faith in Jesus Christ our Savior. I don’t believe that nFOG is ready to go yet.”
Rev. Gordon Raynal of Foothills Presbytery supported approving nFOG. “We will have a shorter, concise tool and a tool that is more aimed in a direction” that encourages mission, he said.
Rev. John Sweet of Philadelphia Presbytery spoke against approving nFOG, “because of the underlying universalism of the first sentence” of the document.
The sentence reads, “The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—creates, redeems, sustains, rules and transforms all things and all people.”
“Scripture never says that … It is not Reformed and it would be the first unbalanced universal creed inserted — not into our Book of Confessions, but our Book of Order.”