As the definition of marriage continues to be batted around in the wider religious community, two presbyteries have recommended that the PCA take further steps to reinforce its position on biblical marriage.

Calvary and Grace presbyteries have submitted overtures requesting that constitutional status be granted to Book of Church Order (BCO) Chapter 59, titled “The Solemnization of Marriage.”

Chapter 59 is part of the PCA Directory of Worship, only a few portions of which have been granted full constitutional authority. Among other things, this chapter defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

“While our constitution is crystal clear on biblical marriage, the section of BCO that covers the subject is not constitutional,” explains Melton Duncan, clerk for Calvary Presbytery. “The Book of Church Order is what binds the PCA together in a common practice.”

While the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) already defines marriage as between one man and one woman and the WCF already has full constitutional authority, Duncan explains that other denominations (such as the Presbyterian Church USA) also embrace the WCF but have found a way to define marriage more broadly. By including BCO 59 in the PCA’s constitution, it provides greater protection in a court of law should a church face legal issues for denying privileges to same-sex couples.

Calvary submitted an overture to last year’s Assembly that called for Chapter 59 to be granted constitutional status. Due to concerns raised on the floor about possible conflicts between that chapter as it stands and the WCF, the Assembly voted to recommit it (as this year’s Overture 1) to the Overtures Committee for further consideration. Calvary has sent Overture 5 to this year’s Assembly to address the constitutional concerns that were raised. Calvary suggests three specific changes to Chapter 59:

  • 59-2 states, “Christians should marry in the Lord; therefore it is fit that their marriage be solemnized by a lawful minister.” The overture recommends that “should” be replaced by the stronger “shall” in order to make clear that the biblical witness regarding marriage is a morally binding obligation.
  • 59-4 deals with the handling of marriage when at least one of the parties is under legal age. The recommendation is that this section be removed because it no longer reflects the uniform theological position of the denomination, nor does it accurately reflect its cultural practices in regard to parental involvement in matters of marriage.
  • 59-5 says, “Parents should neither compel their children to marry contrary to their inclinations, nor deny their consent without just and important reasons.” The overture asks that the word “inclinations” be changed to “wishes” because the language of “inclinations” is most commonly understood in our culture as a reference to sexual preference, not personal preference.

Overture 2, submitted by Grace Presbytery, suggested similar changes. The drafters of the relevant overtures hope that updating and clarifying the language in this chapter will improve its chance of ratification at General Assembly.

“I think when there’s confusion about something as foundational as marriage and human sexuality, the church should be clearer and exercise its categories clearly but boldly,” Duncan says. “The intention is not for Overture 1 to be a weapon to drive people away, but to be a lighthouse to people to show that we, in a loving way, are affirming biblical sexuality. We think that being clearer is more helpful than being ambiguous.”