The PCA is governed through a series of graded courts. The session governs a local church; it is made up of elders elected by that church. The presbytery is a regional court consisting of ministers and elder representatives of the churches in the region. The General Assembly, the denomination-wide court, is open to all the ministers and representatives of all the churches in the denomination.
There are several ways the actions of a lower court can come under the scrutiny of the next higher court. If a member has been found guilty of an offense in a church trial, he or she may appeal the decision. Or, a member may file a complaint if they believe the court erred in a decision or action. But it is possible that a court may err and neither an appeal nor a complaint is filed. Thus, every year each of the higher courts of the PCA is responsible to review the records of the courts in the grade directly below.
But what if the records of court don’t clearly reflect its actions? In such cases, if the higher court is “advised” of some irregularity in the actions of the lower court that is not reflected in their records, they may still review the action and judge it as though it were recorded. This is explained in BCO 40-4. The next paragraph (40-5) goes further: If a higher court receives a “credible report” of “any important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings”, they are to cite the court to appear to explain their actions, and the higher court may correct any such errors they find.
Overture 36 proposes greater definition to the term “credible report.” It amends BCO 40-5 by identifying three sources from which a credible report may arise: (1) a review of the records of the lower court as required under BCO 40-1; (2) from other credible means that make known to the court having appellate jurisdiction of the court next below of any important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings; and (3) where the right of members to file a timely Appeal (BCO 42) or Complaint (BCO 43) was abridged by a lower court. It also modifies BCO 40-4 by making a “credible report” thus defined the standard for determining whether to review a court’s records for an irregularity.
Pastor Jim Shaw of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Brunswick, Georgia, is author of the overture. He believes that it provides benefits in addition to clarifying the meaning of “credible report.” “It also promotes the interests of justice by providing a means of redress from alleged erroneous actions by a court, allowing the matter to be reviewed and possibly remedied,” he argues.
The overture has been referred to the CCB for review of its compatibility with the rest of the constitution and to the Overtures Committee for its recommendation.