Without ‘Gravity,’ We Will Be Carried About by Every Wind of Doctrine

Reasons to Defeat Overtures 11, 15 and 27 at the 46th PCA General Assembly

Overtures 11, 15, and 27 recommend that the term “grave” be replaced by “dignified,” citing the fact that the Greek word that is translated as “grave” in the KJV is translated as “dignified” in the ESV.  While “dignified” is a fine word, it conveys a different sense than “grave.”  To be dignified is to carry oneself in a manner that is worthy of respect.  To be grave is to possess a measure of seriousness and solemnity. 

 

The Presbyterian in America (PCA) General Assembly will deal with three overtures that recommend revising the paragraphs in the BCO where the office of elder is described.  As the overtures explain in their opening paragraphs, they are revisions and resubmissions of an overture that was defeated at last year’s Assembly.  These overtures are making two recommendations.  First, they recommend that the phrase in BCO 8-1 that says that it is the duty of an elder “to be grave and prudent” should be amended to read “to be dignified and prudent” or “to be spiritually fruitful, dignified, and prudent.”  Second, the overtures recommend that the phrase “and demonstrate hospitality to those inside and outside the church” be added to the list of duties in BCO 8-3.

It is not surprising that this proposal has gained momentum and gotten the support of two additional presbyteries.  After all, a great deal of attention is being given to making the PCA a more hospitable church, especially toward those who are considered to belong to some kind of minority.  While hospitality is indeed one of the biblical qualifications for those who would serve in the office of elder, we should be aware of the danger of placing so much emphasis on being hospitable that it makes us reluctant when it comes to “the open statement of the truth.” (2 Cor. 4:2)

The much-discussed “Revoice” conference stands as a case in point.  The organizers of this conference seem to be so focused on being welcoming toward those who identify with the LGBTQ community that they have made the injudicious decision to employ terms like “gay Christian,” “queer Christian,” and “sexual minorities.”  As a number of writers have pointed out, this is confusing, unhelpful, and even dangerous.

Overtures 11, 15, and 27 recommend that the term “grave” be replaced by “dignified,” citing the fact that the Greek word that is translated as “grave” in the KJV is translated as “dignified” in the ESV.  While “dignified” is a fine word, it conveys a different sense than “grave.”  To be dignified is to carry oneself in a manner that is worthy of respect.  To be grave is to possess a measure of seriousness and solemnity.  BCO 8-1 already uses the term “dignity” to describe the office of elder, so nothing would be gained by using “dignified” in place of “grave” later in the paragraph.

But something would be lost.  Shouldn’t elders carry out their duties with a sense of gravity and seriousness?  It certainly seems so when we consider what the Scriptures have to say about this office.  The apostle Paul charged the Ephesians elders to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV).  And the writer of Hebrews said that the church’s spiritual leaders watch over the souls under their care “as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17 ESV).  The duties assigned to elders pertain to things that are weightier than anything else in this world.  It is good for us to be reminded of this, especially when we live in a culture that is not only dominated by casualness and frivolity, but is also pressuring people to be “open and affirming” toward ways of living that the Bible deems to be sinful and rebellious.

I hope that the Assembly defeats Overtures 11, 15, and 27.  Amending the BCO by removing an old-fashioned term that conveys an idea that is culturally unpopular may not seem like a big deal.  But when we really stop and think about it, it may very well be a matter of grave concern.

Andy Wilson is the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Laconia, New Hampshire


OVERTURE 11 from Eastern Pennsylvania Presbytery

(Overture 15 is from Tidewater Presbytery, Overture 27 is from Rocky Mountain Presbytery)

“Amend BCO 8-1 and 8-3 Regarding Qualifications and Roles of Elders 3 4

Background:

Overture from Rocky Mountain Presbytery to the 45th 5 (2017) General Assembly was referred to the Overtures Committee (OC). A motion in the committee to answer the Overture 5 “in the negative” was passed 58-41 with one abstention. A minority report from the OC (signed by elders from 15 presbyteries – 5 ruling elders and 10 teaching elders), moving that the Overture be answered in the affirmative, was presented to the Assembly and defeated as a substitute motion (426-494). Recommendation 5 from the OC, recommending that Overture 5 be answered in the negative, was adopted 805-183-1 (M45GA, p. 48). The Overtures Committee (OC) Chairman informally advised that the overture be revised in accordance with objections and that the overture be resubmitted.

The Overtures Committee listed two objections: 1. “The proposed language, while well meant, does not sufficiently provide clarity to warrant a change.” 2. “The change in BCO 8-3, as written, appears to narrow the area in which elders are to set an example.”

Overture 11 below is responsive to the objections listed above.

OVERTURE 11 from Eastern Pennsylvania Presbytery “Amend BCO 8-1 and 8-3 Regarding Qualifications and Roles of Elders”

Whereas, the BCO’s present description of an elder as “grave” is one-dimensional, heavy, and somber; and

Whereas, the Greek word translated “grave” in the KJV is translated “dignified” in the ESV; and,

Whereas, the term “dignified” provides clarity to this trait of an elder; and

Whereas, the term “hospitality” is used by Paul in both of his descriptions of an elder (I Tim 3 33 and Titus 1); and

Whereas, “hospitality” denotes love for the outsider and the disconnected, a dimension of love most helpful for elders in doing their work and being examples to the flock; and

Whereas, “hospitality” has a broad and useful application in the role of an elder: It applies personally: “Show hospitality one to another without grumbling (I Peter 4:9); It applies to the church body: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality (Romans 12:13); It applies beyond the church walls: “Do not neglect hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2);

Therefore be it resolved to amend The Book of Church Order 8-1 and 8-3 as follows.
[Proposed additions underlined and deletions noted by strike out.]

Chapter 8

The Elder

8-1. The office is one of dignity and usefulness. The man who fills it has in Scripture different titles expressive of his various duties. As he has the oversight of the flock of Christ, he is termed bishop or pastor. As it is his duty to be grave, [spiritually fruitful], dignified and prudent, an example to the flock, and to govern well in the house and Kingdom of Christ, he is termed presbyter or elder. As he expounds the word, and by sound doctrine both exhorts and convinces the gainsayer, he is termed teacher. These titles do not indicate different grades of office, but all describe one and the same office.

[8-2. – No change]

8-3. It belongs to those in the office of elder, both severally and jointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to his charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein. They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the Church generally when called thereunto. They should visit the people at their homes, especially the sick. They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the Church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted, and make disciples., and demonstrate hospitality to those inside and outside the church. All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation, and are to be discharged as official duties. They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock.

The modified portions would then read:

The Elder

8-1. The office is one of dignity and usefulness. The man who fills it has in Scripture different titles expressive of his various duties. As he has the oversight of the flock of Christ, he is termed bishop or pastor. As it is his duty to be dignified and prudent, an example to the flock, and to govern well in the house and Kingdom of Christ, he is termed presbyter or elder. As he expounds the word, and by sound doctrine both exhorts and convinces the gainsayer, he is termed teacher. These titles do not indicate different grades of office, but all describe one and the same office.

[8-2. – No change]

8-3. It belongs to those in the office of elder, both severally and jointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to his charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein. They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interest of the particular church, but also the Church generally when called thereunto. They should visit the people at their homes, especially the sick. They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the Church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted, make disciples, and demonstrate hospitality to those inside and outside the church. All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation, and are to be discharged as official duties. They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock.

Adopted by Eastern Pennsylvania Presbytery at its stated meeting, February 17, 2018

Attested by /s/ TE Melvin H. Farrar, stated clerk