In the unfortunate situation that a teaching elder in the PCA is removed from his position, the Book of Church Order lays out a process by which that former minister may be reinstated. Members of Tennessee Valley Presbytery think this process needs to be clarified and have submitted an overture (Overture 8) to the General Assembly that attempts to do that.
Their proposal both suggests that chapters 34-8 and 37-8 of the Book of Church Order be consolidated into one section and that the language be revised so that it is clear that the local church plays a significant role in evaluating the minister’s fitness to return to vocational ministry.
In the current process, the relevant presbytery assigns the deposed teaching elder to the care of a local congregation where he will, hopefully, demonstrate signs of repentance for the sin that led to his removal. While it is assumed that the leadership and members of this congregation will play a role in observing the elder and providing feedback to the presbytery (“court”) that will make the decision to remove the censure or not, drafters of the overture believe congregation’s role is not clearly laid out in the current language.
“In whatever church the former teaching elder winds up (assuming they stay in the church), then in terms of trying to give any type of understanding of where the man is in terms of repentance, how do you gauge that?” says Cal Boroughs, teaching elder at St. Elmo Presbyterian (Chattanooga) and the key drafter of the overture. “We can’t see inside a person, but at least the local church ought to be the place in which they can see some credible evidences of repentance.”
The new language includes a direct reference to the role of the local church in the restoration of a deposed minister.
“I’ve seen times in which this language was confusing in the process,” Boroughs explains. “There’s no foolproof system but I think this kind of helps clarify, cleans it up.”