General Assembly Preview: Polity, Procedure, & Personnel

The Assembly will have the opportunity to consider whether to uphold our polity and/or to reform our judicial procedures. Additionally the Assembly will take crucial votes regarding the personnel who comprise our GA Committees and Judicial Commission as well as for the staff who administer the daily operations of the denominational agencies.

Thanks to last year’s overture from the Presbytery of the Mississippi Valley (PMV), a broad consensus regarding officer qualifications and character seems to be emerging in the PCA. This much-needed respite from debates on sexuality and abuse has given the PCA the luxury to focus on other issues that may seem less exciting, but may be more significant.

This year’s Assembly will focus largely on three main issues: Polity, Procedure, and Personnel. The Assembly will have the opportunity to consider whether to uphold our polity and/or to reform our judicial procedures. Additionally the Assembly will take crucial votes regarding the personnel who comprise our GA Committees and Judicial Commission as well as for the staff who administer the daily operations of the denominational agencies.

A number of men have prepared guides to and analyses of the overtures as they prepared for GA. Some of them have been made available to others; this is not an attempt to sway votes, but to aid the brethren in their own preparations:

TE David Coffin
RE Howie Donahoe
TEs Jared Nelson & Scott Edburg (Polity Matters Podcast)
TE Fred Greco

Whether you’re an elder or not, I’d encourage you to consider the commentary provided by these brothers. It will help you to better understand and to talk with the elders and members of your congregation about the issues before the Assembly.

I. Presiding Officer

The first vote of the Assembly will be to elect a new moderator. TE Fred Greco did a superb job in the role at the PCA’s Semi-Centennial Assembly. An attempt to elect him “moderator for life” was ruled out of order at the close of last year.

By custom, this year’s moderator will come from among the PCA’s Ruling Elders, since last year’s moderator was a Teaching Elder.

For Prayer: Ask the Lord to grant the Church a moderator who is clear, compassionate, and competent to efficiently guide the Assembly through the business. Pray God will give the moderator wisdom in the appointments and rulings he will make.

II. Previous Overtures

One of the first votes of the Assembly will be whether to ratify the Amendments to the Book of Church Order that were passed by the 50th General Assembly. This year there are three items the 51st Assembly may ratify:

Item 1: The titles of pastor, elder, and deacon may be used to refer only to men ordained by a church court to those offices.

Item 2: Officers in the PCA must conform to the biblical requirement of chastity in their convictions, character, and conduct.

Item 3: Any confession from a person coming as his own accuser must be reviewed by the person(s) offended before a Church Court approves an official confession.

For Prayer: Ask the Lord to grant unity to the PCA regarding decisions on these items and to promote truth, righteousness, and justice in all the Courts of the PCA.

III. Polity

1. Review of Presbytery Records (RPR)

Among the most important works of the General Assembly is the examination of the minutes of the 88 presbyteries that comprise the PCA. This is a necessary component of our polity and ensures consistency and fairness across the spectrum of the PCA.

Each year a committee consisting of (up to) one representative from each presbytery examines the minutes of the presbyteries to ensure the presbyteries are upholding the theology of the Westminster Standards, balancing the rights and responsibilities of the congregations and ministers who comprise the Presbyteries, and correctly recording the actions of the Presbyteries.

Holding one another accountable, spurring one another along, and encouraging the brethren is a crucial aspect of Presbyterianism. The RPR committee meets this week; its report is usually worth careful consideration.

At last year’s General Assembly two presbyteries were referred to the Judicial Commission (SJC) due to irregularities in their minutes. For example, Metro New York Presbytery will have to report back on how it has fulfilled the corrective actions mandated by the SJC to this year’s Assembly (see WS Pod Episode 27 for more).

2. Preaching (Overture 3)

Last year the PCA saw a number of congregations depart for independency or more progressive faith communions over the issue of women’s roles (see WS Pod Special Episode for more).

Even though some churches have left the PCA due to a desire for women to preach, other congregations continue to push the envelope on the matter. Pee Dee Presbytery has proposed granting a section of our Directory of Worship (Chapter 53) constitutional authority and specifying that only “qualified men” may preach.

In our day there is great confusion both in the Church and the culture. Language games and equivocations abuse the plain meaning of words, which require us to further clarify our position on preaching: what it is and who may do it. The Overture says much more than that only “qualified men” may preach, but that seems to be the focus of the attention. The definition and description of a sermon contained in BCO 53 is a needed addition to our Constitution.

(See WS Pod Episode 9 for an interview with the author of this overture or this recent episode of Presbycast).

3. RUF Affiliation Agreement

At last year’s Assembly, there was prolonged debate over a new standardized Affiliation Agreement that RUF National desired to have implemented across the denomination.

TE Zach Byrd of PMV successfully argued before the Assembly last year that RUF National Committee must submit any substantial change to the review and control of the General Assembly.

As the new “Affiliation Agreement” was crafted for consideration by the Richmond Assembly, careful attention was paid to the relationship between a campus ministry of RUF, the presbytery of which the RUF campus minister is a member, and the RUF National and Regional Coordinators.

For Prayer: Ask the Lord to bless the Presbyterian Church in America and keep us faithful to our historic polity and more rigorously, zealously, and charitably to apply the biblical principles Christ has given to govern His Church.

IV. Personnel

1. Nominating Committee

The Report of the Nominating Committee is one of the Assembly’s few “orders of the day.” At this time dozens of men are elected to serve on the boards (committees) for the agencies of the Presbyterian Church in America as well as her Standing Judicial Commission and special committees.

These committees are responsible for ensuring the staff and agency coordinators execute the policies and priorities of the General Assembly. These committees recommend to the Assembly who will serve as Agency Coordinators (e.g. Covenant College President, MTW Coordinator, Stated Clerk, etc.).

As a Presbyterian communion, the heads of staff for our missionary and discipleship organizations (e.g. MTW, RUF) are not styled “Presidents” as in the case of many other faith communions, but “Coordinators.” This is because the heads of staff for the PCA committees are ministers of the General Assembly and not executives with broad powers. This is another way in which the grass-roots nature of the PCA is manifested.

2. Election of the Stated Clerk

The Administrative Committee annually recommends a candidate to the Assembly to serve as Stated Clerk. Frequently, this election is simply a formality with the current clerk receiving overwhelming reelection. There have been some exceptions, for example at the 1986 General Assembly there was much back and forth regarding the resignation of inaugural Stated Clerk Dr Morton H Smith.1

The current Stated Clerk’s tenure has not been without controversy. In 2021 there was objection to his continued service on the SJC while simultaneously serving as interim Stated Clerk; historically when a judge on the SJC is elected Stated Clerk, he resigns his position on the SJC. As interim clerk, however, TE Chapell continued to participate in the SJC until the Assembly elected him Stated Clerk at which point he did resign. But many brothers believed he should have resigned or abstained during his service as interim.

In 2022 there were many questions as to whether the Stated Clerk had been or continued to be a member of the “National Partnership,” a caucus group advocating for progressive causes within the PCA. TE Chapell denied ever having been a member of the now-defunct Partnership and while emails claim him as a member, there is no evidence he actually participated in the National Partnership.

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