Forty Seven Overtures Now Before the General Assembly
By Larry Hoop

In the PCA, an overture is a proposal from a lower church body to a higher body requesting the higher body to take some particular action. Forty new overtures will be before the 49th General Assembly (GA) and seven have been carried over from the 48th GA.

Overture 1 from Palmetto Presbytery asks the Assembly to make the report of the Overtures Committee (OC) the order of the day at 9:00 a.m. on the Thursday of each General Assembly. Palmetto argues that the important report of this committee often comes at the very end of the GA when commissioners are tired, which hampers robust debate on the Committee’s report. 

Overture 2 from Tennessee Valley Presbytery (TVP) calls for the amendment of Book of Church Order (BCO) 22-3. The presbytery notes that there is no clear recourse for an assistant pastor to address what he perceived to be an error or misjudgment by the session that he serves, except for that session to be charged by the presbytery under BCO 40-6. The presbytery proposes allowing an assistant pastor to file a complaint against his session as a remedy. 

Overture 3 from Pee Dee Presbytery calls for the GA to withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), arguing that the NAE has improperly “intermeddled in civil affairs.” This is the third time a presbytery has asked the GS to withdraw from the NAE. 

Overtures 4 and 5 did not conform to the provisions on overtures in the Rules of Assembly Operation (RAO) and have been vacated. 

Overtures 6 and 7 from Nashville Presbytery (NP) suggest alternatives to BCO amendments proposed by Pacific Northwest Presbytery (PNP) to last year’s GA which referred them to this year’s GA. Both sets of proposals are designed to promote caution before “administratively” suspending someone from church office or the Lord’s Table while their case is being heard or appealed. 

Overture 6 offers an alternative to the previous proposal now referred to as 2021-20. Both would amend BCO 31-10 and 33-4. BCO 31-10 currently allows a court to suspend the official functions of a church officer while he is being tried for an alleged offense; BCO 33-4 allows a session to prevent an accused from approaching the Lord’s Table during his trial. In neither case are these actions to be considered an official censure, which can be imposed only when the person in question has been found guilty after a trial. 2021-20 from PNP would require a ¾ majority to impose this pre-trial sanction; in Overture 6, NP calls on the court to exercise “prudence and wisdom,” but does not impose a numerical standard for taking such an action.

Overture 7 from NP offers a similar alternative to PNP’s proposal to amend BCO 42-6, now identified as 2021-21. Under the current BCO 42-6, when a person appeals his conviction of an offense, notice of that appeal suspends the judgment against him until the higher court decides his case, unless the court that has tried him determines to prevent him from coming to the Lord’s Table or (if he’s an officer) prevent him from exercising all his official functions. This can only be don “for sufficient reasons duly recorded” and may never be considered a censure. PNW’s proposal 2021-21 would require a 2/3 majority to take such an action; in Overture 7, NP once again would not require only that the court to show “prudence and wisdom.” NP’s proposal also include a provision that such an action is “ most appropriate when the censure is suspension from the sacraments and/or office, excommunication, or deposition from office.” 

Overture 8 from Houston Metro Presbytery (HMP) and Overture 9 from Calvary Presbytery both concern the issue of a higher court assuming original jurisdiction from a lower court in a judicial case against a member. Both propose changes to BCO 34-1, which requires the GA, upon the request of two Presbyteries, to assume original jurisdiction when a presbytery has refused to act in a doctrinal case or a case of public scandal.

Both overtures would make two changes to this provision. Both would change the requirement to make such a request to a percentage of the number of presbyteries (10%) so that as the number of presbyteries increase, the number required to secure GA original jurisdiction would increase proportionately. And both would remove the provision that allows such requests only when a presbytery “refuses to act.”

In addition to these changes, Houston Metro’s proposal would also remove language that limits the types of cases eligible for original jurisdiction and generalizes the language that defines the specific actions the GA is to take in assuming original jurisdiction. Houston Metro also calls for virtually identical changes to BCO 33-1, which applies the same provisions for a presbytery to assume original jurisdiction over a member of a local congregation. Both Calvary and Houston Metro offer two reasons for these proposed changes: (1) that the assumption of original jurisdiction by the General Assembly should require greater threshold than the current standard; and (2) there is no clear definition of the current language that the proposals would eliminate or change.

Overture 10 would adjust the boundaries between Southwest Florida and Central Florida Presbyteries so that the entire Tampa metro area lies in the boundaries of the Southwest Florida.

Overture 11 from Korean Capital Presbytery would add a clause to BCO 25-2 that would raise the threshold for the number of communing members necessary to ask their session to call a congregational meeting for churches with over 1,000 communing members from 100 to 10%. KCP argues that for exceptionally large churches (they use as an example a church with 5,000 members), it would be possible for a very small minority to request a meeting. 

Overture 12 from Hills and Plains Presbytery calls for the addition of a paragraph to BCO 16 (BCO 16-4) that addresses some of the issues that prompted the recently defeated proposed change to the same BCO chapter, using language drawn directly from the report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality.

Overture 13 from Ascension Presbytery calls on the GA to petition the United States government to end abortion, and proposes language for such a petition.

Overture 14 from Westminster Presbytery would amend BCO 15-4, RAO 17-1 and the Operating Manual of the Standing Judicial Commission (OMSJC) 5.1 and 6.1 to alter the composition of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). Currently, the SJC consists of 12 teaching elders and 12 ruling elders elected by the General Assembly to four year terms, with no two members from the same presbytery. Westminster’s proposal calls for each presbytery to elect a member to the SJC. Members would serve four-year terms, and would rotate between teaching and ruling elders. Each GA would be required to appoint those elected by the presbyteries to the SJC.

Westminster argues that if this change were adopted, judicial decisions would be more representative of the denomination as a whole. The changes to the OMSJC proposed by Westminster would require presbyteries to underwrite the expenses of their members, and the GA Administrative Committee (AC) to bear the administrative costs of SJC officers (currently, all SJC expenses are borne by the AC); and would raise the quorum for the SJC from 13 to 25. 

Overture 15, also from Westminster, would add a new paragraph to BCO 7 (BCO 7-4) that would prohibit anyone identifying as a homosexual, including those who claim to practice celibacy, from serving in church office. Westminster argues that this is in keeping with biblical teaching on the matter. 

Overtures 16 and 17 were presented to Northwest Georgia Presbytery (NGP) by Teaching Elder (TE) Ted Lester. After presbytery rejected the two overtures, TE Lester sent them to GA with the notation that they had been rejected, which is allowed by the RAO. 

Overture 16 would amend BCO 25-2 to require an annual stated meeting of PCA congregations to  “consider the affairs of the congregation.” The proposed changes calls for this meeting  to include a report on the state of a church’s ministry, a disclosure of the financial state of the church, a presentation of the terms of call for teaching elders, and disclosure of the status or outcome of any judicial actions involving the session or its members.  TE Lester argues that this change would preserve the congregational voice in the congregations of the PCA and assist members in upholding their vows.

Overture 17 would amend BCO 32-3 calls for church disciplinary trials to ordinary be held in open court, and would require that to be the case when requested by a person accused.  In his rationale for the proposal, TE Lester argues that this provision best accords with the Biblical command  to “render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace” (Zech. 8:16). 

Overture 18 from PNP would amend the RAO to require the stated clerk to “forward all allegations, or suggestions of need for disciplinary attention, to the appropriate court, or shall instruct individuals how they may do so.” The proposal includes language that clarifies that this would be a purely administrative and not a judicial function. PNP, while noting that this new responsibility would not be limited to specific areas, focuses their rationale for the proposal on matters related to public speech, which reflects much of their concern. 

Overtures 19 through 22 were sent to the GA by NGP. 

Overture 19 would amend BCO 15-2 to make clear that a presbytery commission must be appointed from the presbytery’s members, and would call for the presbytery to fix the commission’s quorum at the time if its appointment. NGP argues that this would bring the language of BCO 15-2 into full conformity with that of 15-3 and clear up possible misunderstandings that could arise from the current differences between the two.

Overture 20, in common with Overture 12, calls for the addition of a new section to be added to BCO 16 (BCO 16-4).  The proposal would prohibit “those who identify or describe themselves according to their specific sins, or who teach  that it is acceptable for Christians to identify or describe in such a manner” from being “approved for service” by any court of the church. NGP argues that such a self-conception is inconsistent with Scripture. Overture 23 from Southeast Alabama sets forth an identical proposal except for one slight difference in wording.

Overture 21 would amend BCO 43-2 and 43-3 to require that a complaint be presented at least seven days before the meeting of the court that would take up the complaint. PGP argues that this would ensure opportunity for the members of the court time to deliberate on the complaint prior to considering it as a court.

Overture 22 would amend RAO 3-2.h. by calling on the Office of the Stated Clerk to call for the minutes and statistical report to be made available in digital format. The overture recognizes that the Minutes of the General Assembly are already available in digital format; the purpose of this proposal is to make the PCA Yearbook available digitally. NGP argues that this would make denominational statistics more accessible and would save the cost of producing the Yearbook.

Overtures 24 and 25 come from HMP. 

Overture 24 would change RAO 11-2 and 11-10 to clarify who many submit an overture to the GA. The change to RAO 11-2 merely adds the word “email” to the list of types of communications considered not to be proper communications by congregants and congregations. The change to RAO 11-10 would make clear that when a proposed overture has not been approved by a presbytery, only ruling elder commissioners, teaching elders, and sessions could send the overture on to the GA, and specifies that the overture would have to be accompanied by “a copy of the relevant extract from the minutes of the meeting at which presbytery rejected the overture or correspondence from presbytery’s Stated Clerk confirming presbytery’s rejection of the overture.”

The proposed change also makes clear that the overture sent to the GA would be required to be the same as was presented to and rejected by the presbytery. HMP argues that this change would eliminate confusing language that implies that an individual communicant member of a church may send an overture to the General Assembly.

Overture 25 would change the provisions of BCO 15-1 and 15-3. Its primary purpose is to eliminate the requirement that the judgment of a judicial commission be ratified by the presbytery as a whole. HMP argues that since all other commissions for any church court are empowered to complete the work assigned to them, a commission that must have its work approved is an anomaly. The change to BCO 15-1 also stipulates that the date for dismissal of a commission can’t be before the expiration of the deadline for filing a complaint or appeal from its decision, so that the commission can adjudicate such a complaint or appeal until such time as the matter be settled by the highest court. 

Overtures 26 and 27 come from Potomac Presbytery. 

Overture 26  contains a statement on political violence and calls on the 49th GA to “remind our members and neighbors of our allegiance to the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ, as “the sole Head of the Church and Law-giver in Zion”; to “condemn political violence and intimidation in unlawful expressions, especially that which is illicitly done in the name of Christ”; for the Moderator to call on a commissioner to pray for peace in our nation and for God to use His church as an instrument for peace; for the GA to encourage PCA members to apply a number of Scriptural injunctions related to peace. For more information on the origin of this overture click here.

Overture 27 is identical to Overture 25 from HMP.

Overtures 28 through 31 come from Pittsburgh Presbytery. 

Overture 28 would require teaching elders who have been approved by their presbytery to serve as chaplains and who require ecclesiastical endorsement for their chaplaincy to seek that endorsement through the GA approved endorsing agency. It also encourages those who serve in chaplaincies that do not require endorsement to seek the same endorsement. This overture is similar to an overture presented to the 48th GA with some edits and a significantly altered rationale, which cites a variety of practical reasons for the proposal.

Overture 29, in common with Overtures 12, 20, and 23 would add a fourth section to BCO 16 (BCO 16-4), but makes a proposal different from any of those three. Like Overtures 20 and 23, it would identify certain men as not qualified for church office, but on a different basis from those overtures. Pittsburgh’s proposal focuses on the officer’s understanding of sanctification, proposing that those “who deny the sinfulness of fallen desires, or who deny the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or who fail to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions” be declared unqualified for church office.

Overture 30 would amend BCO 6-5, 20-3, 25-1, and 24-3 to allow a congregation to set a minimum voting age for communicant members provided it is not about 18 years. The proposal would require a 2/3 majority vote of the congregation to institute such a policy, and would also allow it to determine specific matters on which this restriction would apply. Pittsburgh argues that there no Scriptural or confessional language that supports a requirement that all communicant members may vote on all matters before a congregation, and BCO 25-11 calls for local congregations to be allowed discretion in matters concerning congregational meetings.

Overture 31 proposes that a paragraph e be added to BCO 21-4. Like the proposed 21-4.e sent down to the presbyteries by the 48th General Assembly, it calls for presbyteries to give “special attention” to “potential notorious concerns” in the character of candidates for the ministry. Unlike the proposal sent down last year, it does not give specific examples of areas that might be of concern; nor does it require that a candidate “not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness” as was the case in last year’s proposal.

Instead, it requires that when church officers confess sins and sinful temptations publicly, they must “exercise great care to not normalize those sins in the eyes of the congregation, as though they were matters of little consequence, but rather should testify to the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus in changing our sin nature (1 Cor. 6:9-11).” As was the case in last year’s proposal, Pittsburgh’s proposal would encourage presbyteries to empower a committee “to conduct detailed examinations of these matters and to give prayerful support to candidates.” Pittsburgh argues that its revision addresses legitimate concerns that prompted last year’s proposal.

Overture 32 from Tennessee Valley Presbytery (TVP) requests a sentence be added at the end of RAO 8-4.h. that would call for the GA Nominating Committee (NC) to list in their report those nominated by their presbyteries who were also recommended by the Boards of Covenant College, Covenant Seminary, the PCA Foundation, PCA Retirement and Benefits, and Ridge Haven. TVP points out that the PCA Corporate Bylaws stipulate that these five boards, unlike GA permanent and special committees, may ask presbyteries to nominate men for their board and recommend and endorse them to the NC. TVP argues that, though the NC is not obligated to nominate these men, it would be helpful for the GA to know who they are. Note: Overture 32 was received by the Stated Clerk’s Office prior to the April 22 deadline for overtures asking for changes in the BCO and RAO, but for technical reasons its posting was delayed.

Though Overtures 33, 34, and 35 from Nashville, Metro Atlanta, and North Florida Presbyteries, respectively, differ in some details, they all ask for the same thing for similar reasons. The three overtures call for the 49th GA to advise sessions and presbyteries of the PCA “to give due and serious consideration” (a phrase drawn from BCO 14-7) to the Ad Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality (AIC) presented to the 48th GA by carefully studying its contents. Each of the overtures also asks the Assembly to call for church courts to use the report as a guide to examine the personal character of candidates for church office, and to consider requiring candidates for church office to study the report.

Additionally, the three overtures ask the GA to advise church courts to exercise particular care in evaluating a candidate’s use of terminology related to same-sex identity and orientation (as addressed in the AIC); to exhort pastors and elders to instruct their congregations on the historic teaching of the Bible and the church regarding human sexuality; and to encourage presbyteries and congregations to seek the Lord in prayer for wisdom “to navigate changing cultural contexts faithfully” as a church committed to Scripture and the Great Commission. 

Nashville and North Florida are also asking the GA to urge pastors and elders to take care in interacting with each other’s views, especially online. While the rationale each presbytery gives for their overture is slightly different from the others, all three argue that there is a need for the courts of the church to have clear guidance about qualifications for church office with regard to the matter of human sexuality, and that the 48th GA’s judgment that the AIC Report is a “biblically faithful declaration” makes it an excellent resource for that guidance.

Overtures 36 through 40 all invoke BCO 34-1, which allows two presbyteries to ask the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction (the right to first receive and initially hear and determine) over a doctrinal case or a case involving public scandal when the presbytery of  accused minister has refused to act on the allegation.

The nearly identical Overtures 36 and 37 (from Southeast Alabama and Grace Presbyteries, respectively) ask the SJC to assume original jurisdiction “in the case of doctrinal error of Teaching Elder Greg Johnson.” They allege that Johnson, subsequent to the adjudication of the complaint against Missouri Presbytery regarding its decision not to proceed to process against him, “has made numerous public comments that appear to either contradict or at least offer confusion to his previous affirmations” made to his presbytery and to the SJC. They offer 10 examples of these alleged discrepancies in an attachment to their overture. 

Overtures 38, 39, and 40, from Chesapeake, Northern New England, and Northern California, respectively all ask the SJC to assume original jurisdiction over matters concerning accusations against Teaching Elder Dan Herron, his subsequent filing of a civil suit against his accusers, and Central Indiana’s handling of these matters 

Overtures 41 and 42 were submitted to the GA by the Session of Bethel Christian Church in Chicago after Chicago Metro Presbytery rejected them at its May 18th Meeting.

In Overture 41, the Bethel Session asserts that Critical Race Theory (CRT) can be understood through seven tenets that it enumerates, and calls on the GA to declare CRT “a seriously flawed, and overall unhelpful way for addressing the issues surrounding race in the church” and instead to point believers to “the greater, truly sufficient answer centered on the reconciliation . . . accomplished through the blood of Christ.” 

In Overture 42, the Bethel Session alleges that “secretive and elusive political factions” have undermined the peace and unity of the church and calls on the GA to “call all teaching and ruling elders to not participate in such political groups for the purpose of influencing or manipulating the church courts according to a particular agenda.”

Two of the seven overtures carried over from the 48th GA and referred to this year’s OC are outlined above. Three of the remaining five came from PNP and propose the following changes to BCO 38-1, which deals with cases without process in which a church member or teaching elder comes forward voluntarily to make an offense he has committed known to his court.

2021-19 would change language in BCO 38-1 and 42-2 to allow a person censured in a case without process to appeal his censure. Currently such a person can file a complaint against it. Among the reasons PNP gives for the proposal is that an appeal allows much quicker adjudication for the person under censure as a complaint must first be heard by the court that imposed it; that an appeal gives the higher court the right to render the decision that they believe should have been rendered rather than sending the case back to the original court as is the case with a complaint; and that an appeal would suspend the censure approved by the presbytery until the appeal is complete.

2021-34 would change BCO 38-1 to clarify when a person may offer a confession and request a case without process. The overture proposes that such an offer and request may be made either before or after an investigation is started or even after a trial has begun, though in the latter case the prosecutor must determine if the confession is to be considered a plea of guilty to the charge or treated as a case without process.

2021-35 would make clear that any person involved in a case without process may be represented by counsel at any point during the process in accordance with BCO 32-19.

The two remaining overtures referred to the OC from the 48th GA came from TVP and propose special measures in disciplinary cases involving domestic abuse.

2021-40 would amend BCO 32-13, 35-1 and 35-5 to allow “reasonable accommodations to shield accusers from face-to-face contact with the accused” in cases involving child, domestic or sexual abuse, or sexual assault.

2020-41 would amend BCO 35-1 to remove the provision that limits testimony to believers of those judged to be of “sufficient age or intelligence” to testify. TVP expressed concern that the current restrictions “might hamper the prosecutor or the accused in presenting necessary evidence, or hamper the interest of justice”, particularly in cases involving domestic abuse.

For information about how these overtures originate and are brought to the GA floor, click here.  This article will be updated regularly to reflect new overtures received by the GA. Click here to read the text of all overtures

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