A Roundup of the Final Overtures Heading to the 51st General Assembly
By Larry Hoop
overtures general assembly

In the PCA, an overture is ordinarily a proposal from a lower church body to a higher body requesting the higher body to take some particular action. We’ve reviewed the first 19 overtures sent to the 51st General Assembly here and here. Since that time, 16 additional overtures have been sent to the GA.

Two of these new overtures address the subject of previously submitted overtures. Overtures 23 and 24 would amend BCO 13-6, 21-4, and 24-1 to require background checks as part of examinations for ordination to office and transfer of ministers into a presbytery, an issue already addressed in Overtures 6, 16, and 17. 

The proposed changes in Overture 24, from South Texas Presbytery, are identical to those proposed in Overtures 16 and 17, outlined in the previous update. This proposal calls for each presbytery to order and review background checks for minsters seeking transfer from other presbyteries and denominations, and for candidates for ordination under “specific rules and policies” for such background checks. Each session would be required to do the same for candidates for ruling elder and deacon. While the proposal does not specify details of the “specific rules and policies,” the overture does include suggested policies that presbyteries or sessions could adopt. The background checks would serve as part of the candidate’s/transferring minister’s examination in Christian experience (in the case of a candidate transferring from one presbytery to another or of a candidate for ruling elder or deacon) or acquaintance of experiential religion (in the case of a candidate for ordination as a teaching elder or a man transferring from another denomination). 

Overture 23 from Missouri Presbytery differs in that it includes items covered in the suggested policy of Overture 24 (who received the background check and who pays for it) in the proposed BCO amendment itself, as well as specifying that the background check be state and federal and fingerprint based.

Overtures 20, 21, 25, and 26 all call for changes to disciplinary procedures. 

Overture 20 proposes the most extensive changes, virtually reframing BCO 31, 32, and 35. The details of the proposed changes are too extensive to report in detail here, but the rationale for the overture summarizes them as retaining most of the current text with some additions throughout, relocating various items, and adding several new paragraphs concerning matters such as impartiality, reporting allegations, reporting the results of investigations, imposing non-censure suspension, and adopting closed session. 

Overture 20 was proposed by the session of Fountain Square Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis to Central Indiana Presbytery which rejected it. The Fountain Square Session then forwarded it to the GA under the provisions of the Rules of Assembly Operation (RAO) 11-10 which allows a session or individual to send an overture rejected by their presbytery to the GA provided it is accompanied by an extract from the minutes of the presbytery showing its rejection. 

Central Indiana Presbytery did approve and send Overture 21 to the GA, which would amend BCO 43-1 to extend the prohibition against complaints filed during a judicial case. The current BCO provision prohibits a complaint in a judicial case in which an appeal is pending. Overture 21 proposes this be extended to any point after the case has commenced (i.e., after the court has found a strong presumption of guilt), arguing that under the current provision complaints could delay a trial for a significant period of time. 

Overture 25 from Tennessee Valley Presbytery would amend BCO 31-2 which concerns the investigation of reports concerning a member’s character. This proposal would allow presbyteries and sessions to utilize “experienced or specially qualified outside parties or consultants” in such investigations as the circumstances warrant. Tennessee Valley argues this would clarify the paragraph, as some have argued that it restricts involvement in investigations to the presbytery or session conducting it. 

Tennessee Valley also sent Overture 26, which proposes an amendment to BCO 32-19. Currently, when a person is charged with an offense and tried by his session or, in the case of a minister, by his presbytery, he may be represented before the court by anyone who is a member of the church or (in the case of a minister) another member of his presbytery. This overture proposes that the person charged would be allowed representation by any member in good standing in a PCA church. Tennessee Valley argues that small congregations or presbyteries may not include members who are well versed in PCA disciplinary procedures and so under the current provision might be underrepresented in a trial. The proposal does not alter the prohibition against employment of professional counsel. 

Overture 22 from South Florida Presbytery seeks to remedy a potential inconsistency between BCO 8-7 and 13-2. BCO 8-7 locates a minister’s membership in the presbytery where he labors; BCO 13-2 says he is a member of the presbytery in which he resides. There are many possible instances in which a minister may serve a church within the bounds of one presbytery while he resides within the bounds of another presbytery. South Florida argues that it is best for a presbytery to have jurisdiction over ministers who labor within its geographical bounds, so they propose a change to BCO 13-2 that aligns it with BCO 8-7.

In Overture 27, Potomac Presbytery notes that personal moral issues and significant family changes may arise after ordination, but BCO 13-6 currently requires presbyteries only to examine transfers from other presbyteries with regard to their Christian experience and their views. Potomac proposes that BCO 13-6 be amended to specify that the examination on Christian experience include examination of the transferring minister’s personal character and family management. 

Overture 28 from New Jersey Presbytery would amend RAO 16-6.c.1 to eliminate what the presbytery identifies as a conflict between that paragraph and the provisions of BCO 40-5. New Jersey points out that BCO 40-5 requires that the “first step” the GA is to take upon receiving a report of “any important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings” of a presbytery and finding it credible is to is to cite the presbytery to appear in a judicial proceeding; but RAO 16-6.c.1 specifies that when the GA, through its Committee on Review of Presbytery Records discovers a matter of impropriety and important delinquency in a presbytery’s records, they are to cite it as an “exception of substance.” The presbytery is required to respond to the next GA concerning the exception. Only after the GA continues to find the response unsatisfactory may it cite the presbytery to appear before the SJC for proceedings according to BCO 40-5. 

Thus, New Jersey notes, currently the BCO and RAO specify different procedures and timelines for dealing with “important delinquencies.” New Jersey’s proposal would remedy this conflict by replacing the word “important” in RAO 16 with “substantive” to differentiate the two.

Overture 29 is another proposal drafted by a session (in this case, the session of Bryce Avenue Presbyterian Church of White Rock, New Mexico), but rejected by Rio Grande Presbytery. This overture calls for the addition of BCO 53-7 to the Directory for Worship, the third section of the BCO, which would prohibit women preaching a sermon to men in a church’s worship service, a college or seminary stated chapel service, or a campus ministry stated service. The proposal also calls for this paragraph of the Directory for Worship to be granted full constitutional status, as provisions of the Directory for Worship are not considered obligatory unless otherwise specified.

Overture 30, from Lowcountry Presbytery, would amend BCO 23-1 to require a pastor’s presbytery or one of its committees to conduct an exit interview with him when his relationship with his congregation is being dissolved. This interview would address the circumstances of the departure, the spiritual and emotional health of the pastor and his family, and any concerns for the health the church involved. 

The proposal would prohibit the church from hindering the pastor from speaking freely and openly with the presbytery’s appointed representatives. Omission of this interview would require approval by a two-thirds vote of presbytery, including a record of the reasons for the omission. The proposal also identifies the proper constitutional procedures to apply should the interview reveal an important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceeding by the session or raise concerns of moral failing among the church or session, or potential offenses by the departing minister. 

Overtures 31 and 32 both deal with the committees and agencies of the PCA General Assembly. Overture 31, from New River Presbytery, would amend sections of BCO 14-1, which enumerates principles of the organization of the GA. Currently, principle 7 prohibits GA committees from establishing policy, limiting their role to executing GA policy. New River’s proposal would modify this by requiring instead that any modification of a committee’s ministry priorities or mission be determined only by the GA, but that committees may create and execute operational policies to carry out their responsibilities. It requires a record of policy changes to be recorded in the committee’s minutes for review by the GA. The overtures also call for the addition of a new principle 8 (renumerating the principles that follow) to allow committees and agencies to create organizations entirely under the oversight of the committee or agency. These organizations would be allowed to adopt or change operational policies only with approval of the Committee or Agency, which would be reported in the Committee/Agency minutes. 

Overture 32, from Eastern Pennsylvania Presbytery concerns the dissolution of the call of a minister employed by a PCA committee or agency. It would add a new BCO 23-2 (renumerating the rest of the chapter) to process resignations of such employees in a manner parallel to the procedure for dissolution of a pastoral call. The committee or agency would be cited to appear to argue whether or not the resignation should be accepted; should the committee fail to appear or the reasons cited for retaining the employee be deemed inadequate, the presbytery would accept the resignation and the relationship would be dissolved. Should the committee or agency desire to dissolve the call of one of its ministers and the dissolution is contested, presbytery would hear both parties and make a final decision about the dissolution that would be binding on both parties.

Overture 33 is proposed by TE Benjamin Inman after being rejected by Eastern Carolina Presbytery. It calls for an Ad Interim Committee to return a report to the next GA that would (1) document the PCA’s historical relationship to the book, “Jesus Calling”; (2) demonstrate whether the book constitutes a violation of the Second Commandment according to our Subordinate Standards as proved from Scripture; and (3) bring recommendations for any warranted actions of repentance by the PCA. 

The Overture calls for the GA’s Theological Examining Committee to be empowered as a commission to appoint the Ad Interim Committee with four teaching elders and five ruling elders.   

Overtures 34 and 35, from Columbus Metro and Ohio Valley presbyteries request that their two presbyteries be merged. The principal reason for this request is the recent reduction of Columbus Metro to five churches, limiting its capacity to properly function as a church, court, and mission.

The last two overtures have been referred to the Mission to North America Committee, which makes recommendations concerning changes in presbytery boundaries. The remaining overtures have been referred to the Overtures Committee, and Overtures 31 and 32 have also been referred to the various permanent committees and agency boards as the overtures touch on their work.

Overtures proposing changes to the BCO are reviewed by the Committee on Constitutional Business to advise the Overtures Committee of any conflicts those proposals have with other parts of the Constitution. Those proposing changes to the RAO, which is not part of the PCA Constitution, are also reviewed by the CCB to identify conflicts with the Constitution. This year, CCB noted such conflicts in eight overtures: Overtures 4, 6, 19, 20, 21, 23, 29, and 32. 

In addition the CCB found Overture 21 to be “internally inconsistent’ and Overture 1 to be “constitutionally vague.” Details of the CCB report on these overtures may be found on pages 291-296 of the General Assembly Commissioner Handbook.

The full text of each overture, including the rationale for adopting them, may be found here. For information about how overtures originate and are brought to the Assembly floor, click here.

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