An overture is ordinarily a request by a presbytery that the General Assembly (GA) of the PCA take action on a specific matter. Ten overtures have been submitted to the 43rd GA. The Assembly will also consider an overture the 42nd GA referred to the Permanent Committee on Mission to the World.
Three overtures concern the adjustment of presbytery boundaries and have been referred to the Committee of Commissioners on Mission to North America. Overture 4 asks the Assembly to divide Palmetto Presbytery in South Carolina into three new presbyteries: a “Columbia Area” presbytery, incorporating Fairfield, Lexington, Richland, Aiken, and Kershaw counties; a “Costal Carolina” presbytery, consisting of Chesterfield, Marlboro, Lee, Sumter, Darlington, Florence, Dillon, Marion, Clarendon, Williamsburg, Georgetown, and Horry counties; and a “Low Country” presbytery, including Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Colleton, Calhoun, and Orangeburg counties. Each presbytery would chose its own name if this change is adopted, and teaching Elders with calls to RUF or calls from MTW or those carried on the rolls as Honorably Retired, Laboring Out-Of-Bounds, or Without Call could choose the presbytery in which they desire membership.
Overture 5 and Overture 6, from Southwest Florida Presbytery and Suncoast Florida Presbytery, respectively, concern the same boundary change. Southwest Florida, with 26 churches and three mission works, had begun discussion of the possibility of spinning off a new presbytery. Suncoast Florida, with 8 churches and two mission works, became aware of these discussions and suggested that Southwest Florida consider adjusting their boundaries to add the southern portion of their presbytery to Suncoast: Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto, and Glades Counties and the portion of Charlotte County north of the Peace River. The two presbyteries are proposing this change, and are also proposing that the Teaching Elders and churches within these boundaries be received by Suncoast Presbytery without additional examination.
The other overtures have been referred to the Overtures Committee. Three of them propose changes to the Book of Church Order (BCO), and therefore were reviewed by the Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB), which advises the Overtures Committee concerning the consistency of these proposals with other parts of the Constitution.
Overture 1, from Pacific Northwest Presbytery, proposes a change to presbytery judicial procedure similar to that proposed by last year’s Overture 40. It calls for the amendment of BCO 15-3 to expand the options a Presbytery has for hearing a judicial case. In addition to its two current options (trial by the court as a whole or referral of the case to a judicial commission whose judgment would require presbytery’s ratification), this overture would add the option of referring the case to a judicial commission whose decision would be final, analogous the process used by the General Assembly through its Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). Should a presbytery chose this option, the proposal would allow the presbytery to adopt a procedure for considering a commission minority report similar to that outlined for the SJC in BCO 15-5.c. The CCB advised that this overture, as currently written, may be in conflict with the constitution due to certain ambiguities concerning the provisions for filing a complaint against a judicial decision reached under the proposed new procedure.
In Overture 3, Gulf Coast Presbytery asks for a change in the wording of question three of the parental promises made at the baptism of a covenant child, found in BCO 56-5. Gulf Coast argues that, in a church culture where many Baptistic churches practice “infant dedication”, the phrase, “Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God . . .” can, in their words, undermine “the distinction we make between what we do with our children and what God has in his providence already done by placing them in a Covenant home.” Therefore they are recommending that phrase be stricken and replaced with the phrase, “Do you now acknowledge that God in his providence has placed this child within the covenant family, and entrusted (him/her) to your care. . . ” The CCB advised that this proposal is not in conflict with other provisions of the constitution.
Overture 8 from Tidewater Presbytery would change the way the church courts relate to officers without call. Under the current provisions of BCO 13-2, when a minister continues without a call for “a prolonged period, not exceeding three years,” presbytery is to apply a procedure outlined in BCO 34-10, and may divest him without censure for lack of evidence of a divine call. Such an action requires a 2/3 majority. BCO 34-10 states that the same principle may be applied to ruling elders and deacons “with any necessary changes.” Overture 8 calls for the following changes: (1) the ambiguous phrase in BCO 13-2, “a prolonged period,” would be removed, leaving the end of a three year period as the point at which BCO 34-10 would be invoked; (2) a teaching elder without call for three years would be divested unless a majority of presbytery votes to extend his without call status for another year or declares him honorably retired; (3) a teaching elder without call would be required to report annually at a stated meeting of presbytery; (4) BCO 24-7, which outlines the procedure for a congregation to request the Session to dissolve the relationship between them and a particular elder or deacon, and BCO 24-9, which provides for the dissolution of the relationship of an elder or deacon with the congregation when that officer cannot or does not fulfill the duties of his office for a period of a year, would be amended by adding a sentence that defines the status of such an officer as being without call and indicates that the provisions of BCO 34-10 (as revised by the overture) apply to such a situation. The proposal leaves intact the responsibility of the court to notify an officer of the meeting when his without call status will be reviewed and to allow him to speak to the matter, and the provision that allows the officer to appeal the decision of presbytery under BCO 42. The CCB advised that this proposal, as written, is in conflict with the constitution as it removed wording from current BCO 13-2 that clarifies the application of BCO 42 to this chapter.
Under the provisions of Rules of Assembly Operation (RAO) 11-10, individual sessions, teaching elders, or communicant members may submit overtures rejected by a presbytery, provided the overture indicates that the presbytery has rejected it. Overture 7 has been sent to the GA under those provisions by the Session of New Hope Presbyterian Church of Fairfax, VA. Overture 7 would amend BCO 35-1 by requiring church officers under accusation of an offense to testify in a case of process against them. Currently, this section of the BCO allows an accused person to testify but, in keeping with the long standing practice in Anglo-American law, does not require it. The New Hope Session argues that this undermines the responsibility of the court to exercise proper oversight of its members, and for that reason should be changed. The Session reports that this overture was rejected by Potomac Presbytery by a vote of 24-18. The CCB advised that this overture could be interpreted in ways that would place it in conflict with other portions of the constitution.
Overture 2 from North Texas Presbytery does not call for a change in the PCA Constitution per se, but asks the Assembly to erect an Ad-Interim Study Committee to consider changes to the Westminster Standards relating to its prohibition of “worldly recreations” on the Sabbath. North Texas argues that the growing number of teaching elder candidates who have taken exception to the portions of the Standards that contain this prohibition leaves the appearance of a conflict between what we confess and what we really believe and practice. This overture is similar to an overture sent by North Texas to the 41st GA except that, in response to the grounds the Overtures Committee cited in recommending it be answered in the negative, North Texas has appended to the overture specific possible amendments to the Standards. Overture 9 from Tennessee Valley Presbytery is identical to Overture 2, but appends a brief study paper examining the Biblical data on Sabbath recreation as grounds for the overture.
Overture 10 from Southern Louisiana Presbytery calls for the Assembly to “expresses its thanks and gratitude to the Almighty God for the life and ministry of Teaching Elder John Wayne King” who went home to the Lord last September. TE King served over 20 years in Malaysia as a translator for Wycliffe Bible Translators and the last ten years of his life as pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, LA. The overture also asks the Assembly to express condolences to his widow, Mrs. Julie King, and to spread the overture on the minutes as a memorial to TE King.
Last year’s General Assembly received an Overture from Potomac Presbytery to erect a Provisional Presbytery for Paraguay under the provisions of BCO 15-6 which provides for the formation of such a presbytery in a foreign country where no compatible indigenous presbyterian and reformed Church exists. The 42nd Assembly referred the overture to the Permanent Committee on Mission to the World for further study and recommendation. The Committee has recommended that the 43rd GA approve this request with the stipulation that Potomac Presbytery form the commission required by BCO 15-6 in light of their history and close relations with the ministry in Paraguay. This recommendation will be considered by the Committee of Commissioners on Mission to the World.
The final deadline for overture to be submitted to the General Assembly has now passed. Watch for articles on the byFaith website discussing individual overtures.