While the majority of overtures sent to the General Assembly await the meeting of the Assembly for the review and recommendation of the Overtures Committee (OC), some overtures are referred to the permanent committees or agency boards because they relate to their work.
These committees or agencies formulate their own recommendations on such overtures and, like the OC, may recommend that the Assembly answer it in the affirmative, propose amendments, or reject it by answering it in the negative. Typically, when they recommend an answer in the negative, they provide grounds for doing so.
This year, 20 overtures were referred to committees or boards other than, or in addition to, the OC. Of these, 13 were received in time for these committees/boards to make recommendations on them. These are as follows:
- Overture 2, from Northwest Georgia Presbytery, calls for the removal of Covenant Theological Seminary (CTS) from the oversight of General Assembly. This overture was referred to the OC because all overtures calling for a change in the Book of Church Order (BCO) must be referred to them; but it was also referred to the CTS board, as it pertains to them directly. The CTS board has recommended that the overture be answer in the negative. The grounds the board provided for this recommendation include: (1) The board’s shock at the overture, given that it was not consulted about it prior to its publication; (2) The seminary does not desire to be released, as it “delights in and values deeply the oversight provided through the General Assembly-elected ruling and teaching elders”; (3) The seminary believes that that oversight of the seminary by ordained elders is “particularly important and vital for the task of training men who will be ordained pastors in the PCA,” and cites the words of former CTS President Will Barker that “theological education should be under the denomination’s auspices and responsible to the church; and (4) The extensive provisions in the constitution and corporate bylaws that provide oversight for the work of CTS.
- In Overture 3, Northern New England Presbytery called for an amendment of RAO 10-3 that they believe would promote the exercise of godly prudence in planning and leading times of corporate prayer and worship at General Assembly. This was referred to the Administrative Committee (AC) which has recommended that General Assembly answer the overture in the negative. In its rationale, the AC points out that the overture is directed at pre-Assembly prayer meetings which are not in the purview of RAO 10-3; that while the Assembly provides rooms for these prayer meetings, they do not organize them; and that it would be impractical to assign AC staff to attend, monitor, and report every possible offense that might be taken to the conduct of these prayer meetings.
- Overtures 7, 10, 13, 20, 26, 30, and 31 all concerned proposals to form two Ad Interim Committees (AICs). These were referred to the AC as well as the OC. The OC makes recommendations regarding the establishment of AICs; the AC makes recommendations regarding their budgets. The AC has recommended that, should the General Assembly approve either or both of these committees following the OC’s recommendation, the budget of such committee(s) be $15,000, which would be provided solely by designated gifts to the AC.
- Overture 11, which calls for the Assembly to commend and distribute the RPCNA’s ‘Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis’”(CPSO) was referred to several committees and boards besides the OC, due to some of its specific provisions.
- It was referred to the AC, because it calls for its distribution to the presbyteries and congregations of the denomination, which would be the responsibility of the AC. The AC has recommended that the overture be answered in the negative because: (1) The Cooperative Ministries Committee has already suggested this as being among the useful resources on the topic; (2) Such a distribution could raise copyright issues; (3) The report is already available online; and (4) the cost of distribution to the 1,800 PCA churches and 4,800 ministers would be an additional unfunded mandated expense the AC would have to bear.
- It was referred to the Committee on Discipleship Ministries (CDM) because it calls for creating a resource or curriculum based on the CPSO for students dealing with issues related to sexual identity. CDM also recommended that the overture be answered in the negative because: (1) The material is copyrighted and was published by Crown & Covenant under the title “The Gospel & Sexual Orientation”; (2) This book is available for purchase from CDM through the PCA Bookstore: (3) The overture makes no provision for funding such a project.
- It was referred to the RUF Committee because the overture asks RUF to incorporate CPSO in their annual training; the RUF Committee simply asked that the overture be answered in the negative.
- It was also referred to the board of Covenant College because the overture calls for the College to make CPSO available to the college community and to include its content in the life of the school in some venue, but the board has not presented a recommendation concerning the overture to the Assembly.
- Overture 23, which calls for the PCA to withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals, was referred to the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC), which recommends that it be answered in the negative and gives an extensive set of grounds for its recommendation, which are spelled out and annotated on pp. 909-913 in the Commissioner Handbook for the 47th General Assembly. Among those grounds: (1) A similar overture was defeated by the Assembly in 2011-12; (2) The overture seems to argue that sections of the Confession of Faith and BCO prohibits the church from addressing issues that are either directly addressed in the Scriptures or may be deduced from Scripture by good and necessary consequence, and that there are differences within the PCA as to how the “Spirituality of the Church” is to be applied; (3) Contrary to the assertion of the overture, the NAE does not “intermeddle with the civil government,” but it bears Christian witness on matters affecting the common good; (4) The NAE does not claim, as the overture asserts, “to speak for all its members” any more than the PCA General Assembly speaks for every single member of the PCA; (5) Contrary to the overture’s assertion that the term ‘evangelical” has become so politicized that the PCA should not be associated with it, the term should not be abandoned simply because some misunderstand and misidentify it; (6) Contrary to the overture’s observation that a number of other denominations are not part of the NAE, the IRC asserts that each denomination has its own ethos and reasons why it chooses to join associations; (7) The IRC states that the overture’s interpretation that the NAE has changed its stance on the death penalty is factually incorrect; (8) The IRC states that the overture’s assertion that “the NAE has recently passed a motion entitled ‘Fairness for All’ which, in advocating for a political compromise regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and religious freedom, goes beyond Chapter 31 of the Westminster Confession of Faith” is incomplete at best; the IRC provides a detailed account of the NAE board’s action on this matter (pp . 911-12 of the GA Commissioner’s Handbook); (9) Given the increasing secularization of our culture and threats to religious liberties, the PCA needs all the friends and allies we can muster “in order to advance the Gospel, be salt and light to our culture, and protect our religious liberties.”
- Overture 24, which calls for all the policy manuals of PCA permanent committees and agencies to contain a statement that they are subject to the PCA constitution and the manuals and changes to them must be approved by the General Assembly before they are implemented, was referred to all 10 permanent committees and agency boards as all would be affected by its adoption. The AC recommended the overture be answer in the affirmative with amendments it offered. The other committees and boards agreed, with the exception of Covenant College, which did not propose an answer. The AC’s answer with its extensive amendments, may be found on pages 306 and 307; in summary, besides changing the wording in ways that do not alter the substance, the AC’s amendments allow for policy changes to be reviewed by committees of commissioners through existing procedure, rather that requiring that the entire General Assembly take notice of and approve detailed policies. The AC points out that BCO 14-1.7, which the presbytery cites as grounds for their overture, “has historically been understood to mean major ecclesiastical policies not every-day-operations policies.” The AC also cites the differences between employment law and ecclesiastical law and suggests that committees and agencies differentiate between handbooks and policy manuals.
- Overture 25, which calls for several specific action in support of Christian education, was referred to CDM which recommends it be answered in the negative on the following grounds: (1) It is unnecessary, as “Scripture clearly teaches that parents have the responsibility for the education of covenant children” and the BCO states that sessions have the power “to determine the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the church and congregation”; (2) It is inappropriate for the General Assembly to direct parents to a particular method of fulfilling their responsibility to their children; and (3) Some of the overture’s stipulations are vague.
- Overture 34, which calls for allowing papers in a case before the SJC to be filed electronically, was referred to the Standing Judicial Commission as well as to the OC because it recommends changes to the SJC Manual. The overture arrived after the regular meeting of the SJC so no recommendation concerning the overture was made by the SJC before inclusion of their report in the Commissioner Handbook. However, the SJC voted on June 5 to recommend that Overtures Committee and General Assembly postpone consideration of the SJC Manual change this overture proposes until the General Assembly and the presbyteries render a decision on the BCO 10 provisions proposed by the overture.
- Overture 41, which calls for the amendment of some of guidelines recently adopted by the MTW Committee so that only ordained elders may serve in the roles of team leader, regional director, and international director within MTW, also arrived too late for that Committee to formulate a recommendation at one of its stated meetings. The Committee has since voted to recommend that the overture be answered in the negative. Among the grounds cited by the committee for this recommendation (found on pp. 719-20 of the Commissioner Handbook Supplement) are: (1) MTW has never required that the positions in question be held exclusively by elders. They have identified at least 33 un-ordained leaders appointed to these positions since 2003; (2) Many of the varied ministries of MTW teams are engaged in ministry that does not require ordained leadership; (3) The overture would immediately affect 19 un-ordained missionaries and their teams who are currently serving in these roles and would require taking ordained missionaries out of their current roles to fill these vacancies; (4) The committee and coordinator are committed to working with those whose consciences are affected by women or un-ordained men serving in leadership in non-ecclesial roles; (5) It has been MTW’s practice for many years that un-ordained leaders defer matters of the church to ordained leaders.
The full text of all the overtures and the reports of the committees and agencies that contain their recommendations concerning them may be found in the Commissioner Handbook, or, in the case of the last two listed above, in the Supplement to that Handbook that was recently released.