2024 Overtures Committee Actions

The Overtures Committee of the 2024 PCA General Assembly convened Monday morning at 10am. By a show of hands, more than half of the members said this was their first time serving on the Overtures Committee.

Bryan Chapell, stated clerk of the PCA, provided instructions to Committee Members, as well as a brief history of the Committee. When the PCA was initially founded, Commissioners deliberated on and amended Overtures on the floor of General Assembly. However, as the PCA grew, so did attendance at the Assembly. The discussion needed for amending Overtures became unweidly in such a large group.

The PCA had two choices. They could become a representative assembly, like the OPC, allowing a limited number of representatives from each Presbytery. Or they could move to handling Overtures in a Committee. They formed the Overtures Committee which consists of a maximum of one Ruling Elder (RE - elder) and one Teaching Elder (TE - pastor) from each Presbytery. The Overtures Committee deliberates, amends, and makes recommendations for the full Assembly to vote on.

Officers and a Docket

The Overtures Committee elected Steve Tipton chairman and Matt Fender vice chairman. The committee adopted a docket for addressing Overtures in groups of related topics for efficiency. These were the groups:

7, 14, 28
4, 20, 19, 21, 25, 26
1, 18 (witness eligibility)
17, 24, 6, 16, 23 (background checks)
27, 2
30, 32
9, 10, 22, 31
13
3, 29, 15
33

(You can click on any number above to jump right to the discussion of that Overture below.)

TLDR

Here's the quick-reference format I used in our Facebook Group if you want an at-a-glance view of the Overtures Committee recommendation on each Overture. (Note: The much-abbreviated names for each Overture are included for identification purposes only and should not be considered an accurate summary of the full purpose or mechanisms of the Overture.)

Key:

Overtures by Number:

Overtures by Category:

Limited Discussion

Some Overtures were handled quickly without much discussion. I've collected them here although they were not all addressed before the Overtures that come below. Here were the recommendations of the Overtures Committee for these Overtures:

Recommend in the Affirmative Overture 7 which seeks to rectify confusion about which committees should handle which Overtures

Recommend in the Affirmative Overture 14 which asks for enrollment data from "institutions of higher learning" such as Covenant College and Covenant Seminary

Recommend to Refer Back to Presbytery Overture 28 which seeks to resolve contradictions between the BCO and the ROA about the options for taking exception to Presbytery minutes

Recommend in the Affirmative Overture 27 to require ministers transferring to another Presbytery be examined on their Christian experience, including family management and personal character.

Recommend to Refer Back to Presbytery Overture 32 which addressed ascertaining the circumstances of the dissolution of call for someone employed by a permanent committee or agency.

Recommend in the Negative Overture 9 adding a requirement for sessions to follow the Great Commission.

Recommend in the Negative for Overture 10 adding a requirement for Presbyteries to shepherd the spiritual wellbeing of teaching elders in the Presbytery.

Recommend to Refer Back to Presbytery Overture 22 which sought to clarify membership of teaching elders in Presbyteries and resolve confusion when a teaching elder lives in one Presbytery but serves in another.

Recommend in the Negative Overture 31 which sought to clarify the types of policies permanent committees or agencies could change with or without approval from the General Assembly.

Overtures 4, 19, and 20

Overture 4 proposed to form a study committee to review all Overtures on the Rules of Discipline. It was sent to general assembly by the Central Indiana Presbytery. 

Overtures 19 and 20 both proposed substantial changes to the Rules of Discipline in the Book of Church Order (BCO) and were submitted by a church in the Central Indiana Presbytery.

The speaker representing these three Overtures acknowledged that Overtures 19 and 20 were not ready to be passed but had been submitted as intended for the Committee proposed on Overture 4 where they could be refined. He proposed to amend the Overture to send only Overtures 19 and 20 to the Overture 4 study committee.

Speakers cited "study committee fatigue" at the Assembly. Also, as the Overture included names of proposed members of the committee, a speaker was hesitant to deliberate on Committee membership in the Overtures Committee. He noted that it is the job of the Overtures Committee to deliberate on an amend Overtures; another Committee is not needed to do this job.

The Committee Recommended in the Negative Overtures 4, 19, and 20.

Overture 21

One concern about church trials is that complaints about process or venue or other matters effectively interrupt and delay the trial. Overture 21 proposed to require that all complaints about process be put on hold until after a trial and all appeals had been exhausted. This means that parties could still file a complaint, and the complaint could be grounds for a future appeal, but it would not delay the trial.

The Committee Recommended in the Affirmative Overture 21.

Overture 25

Overture 25 sought to amend the Book of Church Order (BCO) to make it clear that churches or Presbyteries "may" choose to hire third-party services to investigate a charge. The speaker representing this Overture explained that it is a necessary clarification because there are churches and church leaders who believe it is not proper to bring a third party into a church court process.

One speaker was concerned that by failing to specify which third-party organizations are acceptable, this could open the church up to any third-party organization, even those that would be unreliable or antagonistic to the church. Another speaker argued that since churches already may use a third-party, adding this to the BCO isn't necessary.

The Committee Recommended in the Negative Overture 25.

Overture 26

Currently the BCO only allows an accused person on trial before the Presbytery to be represented by a member of the court (a pastor or elder in that Presbytery). Overture 26 proposes to allow an accused person to be represented by anyone who is a member in good standing in a PCA church.

The speaker representing this amendment pointed out that often times trials are more complicated than they need to be because the person defending himself doesn't understand the church court process. It would benefit everyone for them to have wise representation from the beginning.

The speaker also noted that almost all NAPARC denomination already have similar language in their constitutions.

One concern raised by this Overture was the creation of "traveling representatives" who would make a practice of traveling from location to location defending the accused and substantially changing our church court process. The speaker representing the Overture proposed a change of language to address that concern.

The Overture originally proposed "an accused person may ... be represented by a communing member in good standing of a PCA church or any member in good standing of a PCA court."

The amended language reads "an accused person may ... be represented before the Session or the Presbytery by any member in good standing of a church in the same Presbytery or by any Teaching Elder member of that Presbytery, or before the General Assembly by any member in good standing in the PCA.  ... Courts are encouraged to suggest to the accused/appellant the names of potential advisors he might contact.

Two other amendments were proposed to further limit the danger of the "traveling representative". One Overture proposed to limit one person from representing in more than three trials in a calendar year. Another amendment proposed to limit one person from representing in multiple cases at one time. Both amendments were rejected on the grounds that it might not be so simple to measure and gauge compliance if trials overlap calendar years or are appealed.

The Committee Recommended Overture 26 in the Affirmative as Amended.

Overtures 1 and 18 (Witness Eligibility)

Overtures 1 and 18 both seek to change the current language of the Book of Church Order (BCO) that prohibits people who do not "believe in God or a state of eternal rewards." In other words, only theists can testify in a church trial in the PCA.

The speaker who represented Overture 1 proposed amendments that would make Overture 1 more similar to Overture 18 and were acceptable to the author of Overture 18. The speaker summarized this Overture as giving our church courts the most possible access to sources of truth.

Arguments in Favor

One speaker in favor of the Overture said that pastors can be trusted to discern the credibility of a witness regardless of their religion. Sheep-eating shepherds should not be shielded from discipline because they have driven their victims out of the church.

A speaker in support of the Overture argued that the main question to be answered by the Overture is "Shall we continue to prohibit courts from hearing certain forms of evidentiary testimony?"

A speaker gave a specific example of a time when an atheist came to give important testimony in a case of church discipline. Another speaker in favor of the Overture gave the example of a physician who examined a child victim of sexual abuse who could testify about his findings, even if the case was not handled by the civil authorities.

Arguments Against

Another speaker moved a substitute motion that this Overture be answered in the negative. This speaker said that atheists are, by definition, liars, because they suppress the truth of God and we should not admit the testimony of liars in our church courts.

A speaker against the Overture said that the name of God is the only name by which one may swear and this Overture is striking away at our confession.

A speaker opposed to the Overture expressed concerns that it would open the door to "gadflies" - organizations concerned about abuse to come in and testify in church trials. Another speaker was concerned that this Overture would allow testimony of secular psychologists who, rather than being witnesses to the issues at hand, may simply be sharing about their examination of a person.

In the end, the Overtures Committee Recommended in the Negative Overture 1 and Recommended Overture 18 be Answered with Reference to Overture 1.

Members of the minority gave notice of their intention to file a Minority Report.

Overtures 6, 16, 17, 23 and 24 (Background Checks)

Five Overtures on Background Checks were sent to the PCA General Assembly. (You can read more about each one here). Of the five, Overture 17 was deemed to be the most workable and was moved to the front of the discussion on these Overtures.

Arguments in Favor

The speaker representing Overture 17 said that this is a grassroots Overture and gives power to local courts to make decisions. Acknowledging the potential for errors in background checks, this Overture also gives candidates the opportunity to see what was included in their background check report and respond to it if needed.

Responding to anticipated criticism, the speaker said that this Overture does not five power or obligation to the magistrate but does allow the courts of the church to use a tool available to them as one way to ensure that officers are "well thought of by outsiders".

Our Book of Church Order says that some circumstances are common to man and should be ordered in the light of nature and prudence. The advancement of technology has afforded us this resource to be used according to prudence.

A speaker in favor of the Overture said that while background checks are not a foolproof solution to weed out all bad actors, that isn't a reason that it shouldn't be one tool in the toolbox.

Arguments Against

A speaker opposed to the Overture argued that churches can already perform background checks if they so choose and this requirement doesn't need to be written into the Book of Church Order (BCO). The speaker also said that this Overture lacks specificity.

The Chairman of the Overtures Committee read two brief emails from the PCA General Counsel and a PCA Human Resources contact. They shared considerations related to background checks such as making sure records obtained are properly maintained to protect confidentiality and various legal considerations that vary from jurisdiction about when and how background checks may be performed.

A speaker suggested the information just read was important and should be given more consideration before a vote. He suggested that any church not currently conducting background checks was "crazy" but felt it was inappropriate to have a "one-size-fits-all" policy when there are legal and financial ramification for background checks performed inappropriately.

Another speaker opposed to the Overture shared that in the Korean Presbyteries officers might be unwilling to submit to a background check because of concerns about their or a family member's immigration status.

A speaker proposed an amendment to Overture 17 which changed it from a proposal to amend the Book of Church order to, instead, a simple statement from the 51st General assembly that church courts are "encouraged to adopt a policy for mandatory background checks". An amendment was passed by voice vote to remove the word "mandatory" and the amended language passed.

The Committee Recommended in the Affirmative Overture 17 as Amended. The Committee Recommended Overtures 6, 16, 23, and 24 be Answered with Reference to Overture 17.

Overture 2

Overture 2 proposes to require ordination vows for ministers transferring from other denominations and other Presbyteries and, to require when refusing a transfer the Presbytery cite the reasons for the refusal and communicate them to the sending Presbytery.

The speaker representing the Overture proposed amended language that would remove the requirement for pastors transferring from another Presbytery from repeating his ordination vows (thought it might still be a wise choice). A further amendment passed by voice vote to remove the requirement to cite and report reasons for refusing a transfer.

The Committee Recommended in the Affirmative Overture 2 as Amended.

Overture 30

Overture 30 proposed to add a requirement for exit interviews when a teaching elder's call is being dissolved. This could result from resignation or termination. The speaker representing this Overture shared that while much exploration is done as a man is taking up a call, not much is done when one is leaving a call.

He suggested that if pastors are asked to sign NDAs, especially as a requirement for receiving severance, they may be reluctant to talk about any negative or concerning experiences in their job. He argued that if exit interviews were the common practice, it may allow more opportunity for a man to be open about things that should be uncovered about the church he is leaving.

A speaker opposed to the Overture said that while exit interviews are a good idea, they shouldn't be required of all Presbyteries.

The Committee Recommended Overture 30 be Answered in the Negative.

Overture 13

The Moderator of the 51st General Assembly was empowered to appoint a commission to draft a letter on the dangers of gender reassignment surgery to be sent to officials of the Federal Government and that Presbyteries could send to state officials.

Overture 13 sought to commend this letter as "biblically faithful" and encourages Presbyteries and churches to send the letter to their state and local officials.

Some Committee members were concerned with the specific language of the letter and that it made medical statements that are outside the purview of pastors and elders and without citing any sources in the letter. Another speaker shared that judges in a PCA church expressed concern about the letter and the potential that they would have to recuse themselves from cases if the PCA took a stated position on this issue.

A speaker in favor of the Overture wondered why anyone would be opposed to this letter since we are all called to preserve the life and health of our neighbors.

The Committee Recommended in the Negative Overture 13.

The next day, a member of the Committee made a motion to reconsider Overture 13 with considerably amended language. Other amendments were contributed by Committee Members.

A speaker argued that this Overture ought to be passed because if it wasn't, it would convey that the Assembly does not believe the letter to be Biblically faithful. Another speaker pointed out that there are several Overtures that the Committed recommended in the negative such as the amendment to require Presbyteries to shepherd the teaching elders in the Presbytery that do no communicate the Assembly does not care about that issue.

A speaker in favor of the Overture recommended it be passed because last year's General Assembly did not have a chance to see the actual language of the letter and convey their approval. Another speaker reminded the Committee that actions of a Commission of the Assembly are the actions of the Assembly.

A speaker expressed concern that it was inappropriate to say that the letter was "Biblically faithful" when there were statements (such as medical statements) that are beyond the scope of the Scriptures. A speaker proposed an amendment to add the phrase "with respect to its statements touching human sexuality and God's design of man and woman" to clarify in which parts the letter was "Biblically faithful". This amendment failed.

The Committee Recommended in the Affirmative as Amended Overture 13.

Overture 3 and 29

Overture 3 sought to make several amendments to Book of Church Order Chapter 53 on Preaching. The speaker representing this Overture said that it would protect against the increased assault against preaching in worship and cited instances of sermons based only on the Westminster Confession or message with no Scriptural basis.

A speaker was in favor of making BCO 53 constitutionally binding, but objected to the phrase "or exhort" as that removed the distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders. Another speaker raised a concern that the grammar of the amendment suggested that only qualified men need the approval of sessions while others do not and recommended an amendment to modify the language.

Another speaker suggested an amendment that would have returned Chapter 53 to its original text, leaving only the change to make it constitutionally binding.

After more debate, the Committee voted to table discussion of this Overture and move it to the end of the docket and later voted to move discussion of Overture 29 after discussion of Overture 3.

When the Committee resumed discussion on Overture 3, a speaker proposed an amendment to deal with the potential grammatical confusion: "only qualified men may be invited to preach in any of the churches under our care and only with the consent of the session."

A speaker opposed to the Overture said that making this chapter constitutionally binding would put many good sermons in conflict with the Book of Church Order. Not all good sermons are a verse-by-verse interpretation of Scripture, including the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistles.

A speaker in favor of the Overture said that Chapter 53 does not require a verse-by-verse interpretation but does require that every sermon are ordinarily an exposition of some portion of Scripture. The speaker speculated that perhaps some are worried that if this chapter is constitutionally binding, it could be weaponized and used to bring charges against churches. The speaker noted that although the chapters on the sacraments are constitutionally binding and there is some diversity of practice in our denomination, to his knowledge, no one has been brought up on charges for their practice.

The Committee Recommended in the Affirmative Overture 3. The Committee Recommended Overture 29 be Answered in Reference to Overture 3.

Overture 15

Overture 15 proposed to add the word "biological" in front of the phrase "men only" in a discussion of preaching in the church. The speaker representing the Overture cited statistics about the rise in transgenderism in our culture and said it is important that our church documents affirm that you have value as a man or woman as assigned at birth. The word "biological" is a simple way to define someone who is born male.

A speaker opposed to this Overture said that we do not need to give credence to this view of different types of males by adding the word "biological". Another speaker opposed to the Overture said that this change was as unnecessary as adding "only males who are alive". Non-biological males already have a name: women.

The Committee Recommends Overture 15 in the Negative.

Overture 33

Overture 33 originally requested a study committee to review the book "Jesus Calling". This best-selling book has had a vast reach but many didn't know until after her death that the author was a PCA member. The author of this Overture wanted to form a study committee to review the book.

The speaker representing the Overture proposed significant amendments that changed the Overture from a proposal for a study committee to a request for two PCA Permanent Committees to answer questions about their connection to the book. The author was a missionary with MTW (Mission to the World, the PCA's foreign missions branch). And apparently the book was briefly offered for sale through CDM (Christian Discipleship Ministries - the PCA's publishing wing).

A speaker opposed to the Overture suggested that passing this Overture would have the "Streisand Effect" - drawing more attention to the book in our attempt to critique it. Another speaker opposed to the Overture said that it is the role of pastors to be aware of things that are likely to influence their congregation and be prepared to speak pastorally to the concerns.

A speaker in favor of the Overture said that the primary function of this Overture would be to manage and hold accountable permanent committees and agencies and determine what the denomination might need to repent of to clear its name.

A speaker opposed to the Overture said that since the person representing the Overture was able to succinctly rattle off the concerns with the book, this was low-hanging fruit. He wondered if the PCA would also be willing to examine other books written by people connected to the PCA. He shared that he was recently at a conference in England where the topic of conversation was Christian Nationalism and the PCA. Would the PCA examine Stephen Wolfe's "The Case for Christian Nationalism"?

A speaker in favor of the amendment said this was a different situation as "Jesus Calling" was written by a PCA member and "The Case for Christian Nationalism" was not.

The Committee Recommended in the Affirmative Overture 33 as Amended.

About the author 

Lynna Sutherland

Lynna has been in the PCA since 1982. Four generations of her family have participated in PCA church planting. Lynna has been around long enough to see the good, the bad, and the ugly and her particular calling is to equip the people in the pew to understand their church government and to advocate for victims of abuse in the PCA.

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