For first time commissioners, General Assembly can be bewildering. Thankfully, Dr. Stephen Estock, Coordinator of Christian Education and Publications, has authored A Basic Guide to the PCA General Assembly. Over the next four weeks, Reasoning Together will publish the book, chapter-by-chapter, though we strongly encourage commissioners to purchase a copy and keep it with them during the Assembly.
Two introductory notes: (1) The book opens acknowledging: “This guide was inspired by a seminar taught by Dr. L. Roy Taylor, PCA Stated Clerk, at the 41st General Assembly in Greenville, S.C. Some of the wording found in the descriptions and definitions of this guide come from the … Administrative Committee.” (2) The last chapter of the book, “An Ocean of Acronyms,” lists common PCA acronyms heard at General Assembly.
I. What is the General Assembly?
The General Assembly (GA) represents in one body all of the churches in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). GA constitutes the bond of union, peace, and correspondence among all the congregations in the denomination (BCO 14-1).
The term is understood in 2 ways:
1) In an ecclesiastical sense, the General Assembly is the highest court of the denomination, and is a visible expression of the unity of the members and churches of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The word “court” refers to the fact that the GA has jurisdiction over the ministers and churches of the denomination. Also, the GA determines and interprets the standards by which the denomination operates in unity. The GA is an expression of the worship of a particular branch of the visible church, as well as our connection with the broader visible body of Christ.
2) In a more practical sense, “General Assembly” refers to the annual meeting of representative elders and churches of the denomination. This meeting is hosted by one or more presbyteries and held at various locations around the denomination.
This annual meeting also serves as a type of “church family reunion,” as elders from around the denomination make, build, and renew relationships through participation in seminars, work on various committees, and fellowship opportunities in the exhibit hall and other social events.
Who can come to GA?
The Assembly consists of all Teaching Elders (TEs) who are members in good standing with their presbyteries and Ruling Elders (REs) who are elected by the session of churches who are members of PCA presbyteries. The session of each congregation is allowed to send two RE representatives for the first 350 communicant members, and one additional RE for each additional 500 communing members or fraction thereof (BCO 14-2).
Who can vote?
Voting privileges are granted to the TE and RE representatives who pay the commissioner registration fee, which is set annually by the General Assembly.
In addition to voting commissioners, there are a number of visitors to the GA, particularly family members/friends of commissioners, vendors, and representatives of various church and para-church ministries. Visitors are usually found in the exhibit hall or in the area designated for them in the assembly hall.
GA also provides an opportunity for elders to receive continuing education in theological, church, and cultural issues. This primarily occurs through seminars offered before and during the Assembly. Organizations and ministries offer a list of possible seminars 3-6 months prior to the Assembly. A committee chooses the slate of seminars based on the perceived relevancy of the content to the needs of church officers and members at the time of the Assembly.
Exposure to resources
GA attendees have the opportunity to speak to a number of ministry leaders and vendors who request and purchase a booth in the exhibit hall. Ministries related to the PCA are represented, along with others whom the PCA Administrative Committee approves. The PCA Bookstore is also located in the exhibit hall. The bookstore staff attempts to offer resources based on what is mentioned in the seminars (if the presenters provide the information), resources that have been in demand throughout the year, resources written by PCA authors, or resources that have been recommended as important or helpful to members of the PCA.