This pair of amendments was drafted in light of the failure of Overture 2022-15 from the 49th General Assembly in response to Side-B homosexuality and the Revoice Movement. Many actions have already been taken to address this controversy in the PCA (i.e. a study committee on human sexuality, an SJC decision on the handling of Revoice, corrective responses concerning the Revoice Conference in Missouri Presbytery, and ratified amendments in BCO 16-4, 21-4, and 24-1). Furthermore, all of this has taken place in light of the church which sparked this controversy by hosting the Revoice Conference leaving the PCA (along with its ministers). Many hope this will be the last round of amendments concerning sexuality in the PCA (at least for now).
I may not be King Theoden from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and we are not on the verge of the Battle of Helm’s Deep, but I would like to make the observation that we in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) are beginning another significant event in the life of our Church. While Book of Church Order (BCO) amendments pale in comparison to the excitement caused by orcs laying siege to an impregnable fortress, they have significant importance as it relates to the work of the Church. What begins now is the voting season for the items passed by the 50th General Assembly held this past June in Memphis. Presbyteries all across the United States and Canada will have the next 9 months or so to offer their advice and consent about the amendments passed at this year’s Assembly. You can find overall results of the General Assembly here.
After an amendment passes the Assembly, it is bundled together with other proposed amendments and together they are then presented as “items” according to their location in the Book of Church Order. These items must pass at least 2/3 (or 59) of the 88 regional presbyteries by a simple majority vote of each presbytery. Any amendment that reaches the 2/3 threshold will be considered for final ratification at the 51st General Assembly in Richmond, VA on June 10-14, 2024. This year, there will be three amendments for the presbyteries to consider (derived from Overtures 23, 26, and 27). These proposed changes, respectively, clarify the sexual character expected of ordained officers in the Church, the use of technical titles for non-ordained laypeople, and an alteration in the procedure for a case without process. This article will include the language for each amendment, the history of the respective section in the BCO, and the rationale for each amendment. You can follow the progress of these amendments here (also linked on the Presbyterian Polity homepage).
Item 1: Overture 26
Overture 26 seeks to amend BCO 7-3 on church officers to address the usage of the titles pastor, elder, and deacon for those who have not been duly ordained for said office in the PCA. The amendment reads (underlined section):
7-3. No one who holds office in the Church ought to usurp authority therein, or receive official titles of spiritual preeminence, except such as are employed in the Scripture. Furthermore, unordained people shall not be referred to as, or given the titles of, the ordained offices of pastor/elder or deacon.
This amendment passed the assembly with about 75% support from commissioners with a vote of 1427-481. The relevant section in the BCO (Chapter 7) deals explicitly with the general classification of officers in the church. Section 3 concerns the scriptural authority and titles for those who hold office. Historically, this section grounds the authority of officer bearers to Scripture itself. Furthermore, it protects the church from “men usurping authority because they hold office in the church.”
The rationale for this amendment arises from misapplication of the titles pastor, elder, and deacon (e.g., unordained “youth pastors,” “music pastors,” but also those who are not ordained to the office of deacon receiving that title). Those in favor of this amendment hope that it will help to protect the Church from the unordained (intentionally or unintentionally) usurping the authority of the ordained by claiming the titles of those ordained by God. If this amendment is ratified, what was once implicit in the Church’s constitution will be made explicit.
Item 2: Overture 23
Overture 23 seeks to amend both BCO 8-2 on elders and 9-3 on deacons to require officers’ conformity to the biblical standards of chastity and sexual purity. The amendments read as follows (underlined section):
8-2. He that fills this office should possess a competency of human learning and be blameless in life, sound in the faith and apt to teach. He should exhibit a sobriety and holiness of life becoming the Gospel. He should conform to the biblical requirement of chastity and sexual purity in his descriptions of himself, and in his convictions, character, and conduct. He should rule his own house well and should have a good report of them that are outside the Church.