Fifteen New Overtures Now Before the 49th 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. As of April 7, 15 new overtures will be before the 49th General Assembly (GA), and seven have been carried over from the 48th GA.

New Overtures

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 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 GA 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 Assembly. 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 three-fourths 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 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) prevents him from exercising all his official functions. This can only be done “for sufficient reasons duly recorded” and may never be considered a censure.

PNP’s proposal 2021-21 would require a two-thirds majority to take such an action; in Overture 7, NP once again would only require that the court to show “prudence and wisdom.” NP’s proposal also includes 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 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. They would change the requirement for making 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. The overtures would also 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 Assembly 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) 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 Commission. 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 by Teaching Elder (TE) Ted Lester. After Presbytery rejected the two overtures, 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 call 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. 

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

Overtures from the 48th General Assembly

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 known to his court an offense he has committed.

  • 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 PNW 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 Tennessee Valley Presbytery (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. To read the text of the overtures before the 49th Assembly, click here. 

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