SJC Announces Verdict in Metro New York Case
By Larry Hoop

The PCA Standing Judicial Commission has released its decision in Case 2023-13, BCO 40-5 Matter re: Metropolitan New York Presbytery. The case came to the SJC by action of the 50th General Assembly which approved the recommendation of its Committee on Review of Presbytery Records that Metro New York Presbytery be cited to appear before the SJC for failing to redress an unconstitutional proceeding by one of its sessions. The RPR reported to the GA that Metropolitan New York had not redressed one of their sessions for permitting a woman to expound the Scriptures during a Lord’s Day worship service, and for holding services without preaching and serving the Lord’s Supper without a preceding sermon on multiple occasions; nor had Metropolitan New York corrected the church’s pastor who stated his approval of these actions.

The citation was issued by the GA under the provisions of BCO 40-5 which states that when a “credible report” of “an important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings” of a church court comes to the attention of the next highest court, the lower court should be cited to appear to show what  they had done or failed to do in the matter. The GA, as the next highest court, cited Metropolitan New York to appear before the SJC, their Commission to adjudicate such matters. 

In response to the citation, Metropolitan New York appeared before the SJC and produced the minutes of two meetings held subsequent to the citation in which they affirmed that an “exposition of the Word” by a woman shall not take the place of the ordinary sermon in public worship services in the churches within its bounds, that only qualified men should preach to God’s people during public worship services, and that it is permissible for unordained and unlicensed men to occasionally preach but not a woman.

They also adopted this statement: “Though allowing this woman to teach in place of a sermon only happened once, Metropolitan New York Presbytery has informed the church’s Senior Pastor and the Session that this practice is unconstitutional, and they are not to repeat it in the future. The Senior Pastor and Session agreed to submit to the will of the presbytery on this matter.” Metropolitan New York argued they did not err in taking no further action with regard to the allegation that many worship services were held without preaching and that the church in question celebrated the Lord’s Supper without a preceding sermon, having concluded that an exposition of the Word had always taken place though when delivered by a man who was not ordained or licensed, it was referred to as a “message” rather than a “sermon.” 

The SJC found that, when Metropolitan New York questioned the pastor and elders of the church about their views regarding women preaching in public worship in light of specific provisions of the PCA Constitution, the response of the pastors and session was “clearly inadequate and requires further response.” Furthermore, the SJC found that the minutes were unclear as to whether Metropolitan New York approved that (inadequate) response. For this reason, the SJC remitted the matter to Metropolitan New York to allow it to complete any remaining work needed, including:

  • seeking an admission of error from the teaching elder and session involved;
  • requiring a statement of specific stated differences that the teaching or ruling elders take to the Constitutional documents that led them to conclude they did not err (if that is their position); 
  • seeking evidence of repentance from those who committed the errors that Presbytery has identified; and 
  • determining how the congregation will be informed of Presbytery’s conclusion that the Session had erred in its actions.

The SJC required Metropolitan New York to report their actions to the 51st GA, which the GA could review as to their adequacy and constitutionality through RPR. 

One additional aspect of this decision that made it unique was the inclusion of a three page “Further Note on Procedure in the Matter.” The Commission noted that while it took up the matter as assigned by the GA, it questions the constitutionality of the referral and drafted the Note to explain its reasoning. The main points of that explanation are:

  • BCO 15-4 states that the GA is to commit all matters governed by the Rules of Discipline that come before the GA to the SJC except for the annual review of Presbytery records (emphasis was added by the Commission). This, the SJC argues, should give pause about any suggestion that a matter raised by RPR can come directly to the SJC.  
  • While the Rules of Assembly Operations and the Operating Manual for the Standing Judicial Commission are under the authority of the Book of Church Order, those documents tell us, by way of application, how the PCA understands relevant provisions of the BCO.
  • RAO 16-2 establishes that the GA will carry out the required annual review of presbytery records through RPR – a committee, whose powers and procedures must come as grants from the Assembly. These are spelled out in RAO 16-4.e; 16-6; 16-7; 16-8; 16-9; and 16-10.c  
  • RAO 16-6.c states “The findings of the committee with respect to the minutes of each presbytery shall be noted under the following categories as appropriate:” 1) exceptions of substance; 2) exceptions of form; and 3) notations. No other options are provided for RPR.
  • RAO 16-10.c states “If, in responding to an exception of substance, a presbytery reports that it disagrees with the conclusion of the Assembly and/or has not corrected or redressed the identified problem; and the committee…continues to believe that the presbytery has persisted in an error that is significant enough to require an Assembly response; then (again – emphasis added by the SJC) the committee shall notify the Assembly of the continuing exception, and shall make a recommendation as to whether the Assembly should again seek a more acceptable response from the presbytery, or should appoint a representative to present its case and refer the matter to the Standing Judicial Commission to cite the presbytery to appear for proceedings according to BCO 40-5.” 
  • Thus, RPR is empowered to bring a recommendation to cite a presbytery to appear for proceedings under BCO 40-5 only after 1) the Assembly has taken an exception of substance to the minutes of presbytery; 2) presbytery has had the opportunity to respond to the exception (whether by agreeing with it and redressing the matter or by disagreeing with it); and 3) RPR has concluded the response is unsatisfactory and requires further action by the Assembly. The SJC argues that the first two of these required steps were omitted in this instance.

Concurring Opinions by TE David Coffin and RE Howie Donahoe provide additional arguments in favor of the Note. Another Concurring Opinion drafted by TE Fred Greco expresses agreement with the SJC’s disposition of the matter itself but differs with the Note. RE Jim Eggert dissented from the Decision and in his Dissenting Opinion explained that his dissent was related entirely to the Note. The other dissenter, RE Mel Duncan, also filed a Dissenting Opinion. You may read the Opinions of these members by clicking on their names. To read the Decision in the Case, which was adopted by a vote of 16-2, click here.

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