Decisions of the 51st General Assembly

A previous article linked to the timestamp of each event or discussion on the floor of General Assembly. This article summarizes some of the decisions made there. Click any of the headings below to go directly to that section.

Amendments to the Book of Church Order Finalized

Three Overtures from the 50th (2023) General Assembly to amend the book of church order passed in the required two-thirds of Presbyteries to be up for final approval on the floor of General Assembly this year.

Item 1: Limit the use of titles "Pastor," "Elder," and "Deacon" to ordained men only.

Item 2: Requirement that officers of the church "conform to biblical requirements of chastity and sexual purity in his descriptions of himself, and his convictions, character, and conduct."

Item 3: In cases "without process" where an accused person confesses, making a trial unnecessary, those impacted by the sin being confessed should have an opportunity to review and comment on the written confession.

Items 2 and 3 passed without discussion. Debate on Item 1 centered around churches who have historically had unordained (commissioned) women deacons and the prevalence of the use of titles such as "elder" and "deacon" to show respect to men and women in Korean language churches.

Relevant moments in the livestream:

Item 1 passed.

Review of Presbytery Records

The Committee on the Review of Presbytery Records reviews the minutes of each Presbytery and notes instances where the Presbytery was out of accord with the PCA Constitution in one of the following ways:

  • Notations - typographical errors, misspellings, etc. This is given as advice to the Presbytery clerk. No Presbytery action is needed.
  • Exceptions of Form - violations to the requirements for keeping Presbytery records such as omitting to list the number of votes on a decision. No Presbytery action is needed, but repeated Exceptions of Form may constitute an Exception of Substance.
  • Exceptions of Substance - apparent violations of Scripture or the Confessions. Presbyteries are called to respond to the Review of Presbytery Records Committee with an explanation or further information.
  • Citation to Appear before the Standing Judicial Commission - Book of Church Order (BCO) section 40-5 provides a means for individuals to report "important delinquency or grossly unjust proceedings." In such cases, the cited court is called before the next highest court to account for its actions. In the case of Presbyteries, the next highest court is the Standing Judicial Commission.

Generally only Exceptions of Substance and Citations are discussed on the floor of General Assembly.

Exceptions of Substance

Five Presbyteries were cited with Exceptions of Substance for apparently allowing candidates for ordination to take inappropriate exception to sections of the Westminster Confession of faith. While the details of these exceptions and the rational for the objection to them were not listed in the RPR (Review of Presbytery Records) report given to Commissioners, chairman of the RPR assured the Assembly that these details were included in the report given to the respective Presbytery clerks.

Discussion of these five items

These five items were sent back to next year's RPR Committee for consideration.

Exceptions of Substance against Heartland Presbytery and Siouxlands Presbytery were reported for apparent violations to the second commandment for use of images of Jesus.

Discussion of Heartland Presbytery

Discussion of Siouxlands Presbytery

These portions of the RPR Report were approved by the Assembly.

Exceptions of Substance against Piedmont Triad Presbytery and Westminster Presbytery were reported for allowing the moderator of Presbytery to appoint Commissioners to Committees of General Assembly rather than electing them as a body. Speakers pointed out that this is a common practice when there are last minute vacancies due to illness or pastoral emergency at a time when it would be difficult to convene a commission to vote on replacements.

Discussion of Piedmont Triad Presbytery

Discussion of Westminster Presbytery

These two exceptions were removed from the RPR report by the Assembly.

The RPR listed an exception of substance against Canada West Presbytery for allowing a candidate for office to take an exception to the Westminster Confession. The speaker did not mention what that exception was, but ask that it be removed from the report as it was an exception commonly taken and no rationale was given by RPR as to why that exception was not allowable.

Discussion of Canada West Presbytery

The Assembly approved this portion of the RPR Report.

The RPR reported an exception of substance against Potomac Presbytery noting that their response to a previous year's exception of substance was unsatisfactory because they did not provide reasons for their decision and did not record a three-fourths majority. The speaker pointed to documentation listing three reasons for the decision and a note that the vote was unanimous.

Discussion of Potomac Presbytery

The Assembly voted to remove this exception and replace the word "unsatisfactory" with "satisfactory" with regards to the previous response.

The RPR listed an exception of substance against Missouri Presbytery for placing racial quotas on membership of a Presbytery committee. A speaker who served on the RPR committee noted that this committee was designed specifically to address racial tension in the Presbytery and for this reason, the Presbytery felt it was important to have representation from various minorities.

Discussion of Missouri Presbytery

The Assembly voted to remove this exception of substance.

The RPR reported an exception of substance against Northwest Georgia Presbytery for failing to rescind an accusation. The speaker argued that since the complaint about this decision had been sustained by the Standing Judicial Commission, there was nothing to rescind. A representative of the RPR clarified that this was a related but separate matter that in fact was not brought before the Standing Judicial Commission.

Discussion of Northwest Georgia Presbytery

The Assembly approved this portion of the RPR report.

Citations to Appear Before Standing Judicial Commission

Columbus Metro Presbytery and Metro New York Presbytery were both cited to appear before the Standing Judicial Commission.

An individual submitted a letter to the General Assembly drawing attention to the decision of Columbus Metro Presbytery to dissolve a church in its jurisdiction without the approval of the congregation, and using church funds to cover debts and pay severance to three employees. According to Book of Church Order (BCO) 40-5 in these situations, the first course of action is to cite the Presbytery to appear before the Standing Judicial Commission.

Discussion of the citation against Columbus Metro Presbytery

This citation was approved by the General Assembly.

Last year's General Assembly cited Metro New York Presbytery to appear before the Standing Judicial Commission related to their handling of a church that invited a woman to preach ("give a message") during the Sunday morning church service. This citation resulted in SJC Case 2023-13. The 2024 RPR Committee cited Metro New York to appear before the SJC once again for failing to reply sufficiently to the ruling in that case.

Discussion of the citation against Metro New York Presbytery

This citation was approved by the General Assembly.

Overtures

There were a total of thirty-five Overtures submitted to the 2024 PCA General Assembly. This article contains a summary of each Overture. This article explains the decisions made on each Overture in the Overtures Committee. Below are the discussion and votes that took place on these Overtures during the Overtures Committee's report to the General Assembly.

Overtures 5, 8, 11, 12, 34 and 35 related to changes in Presbytery boundaries. These Overtures were referred to the Mission to North America Committee of Commissioners and passed.

Overtures 7, 14, and 28 were approved without discussion in a partial report of the Overtures Committee on Tuesday evening.

Recommendations of the Overtures Committee for Overtures 2, 4, 6, 9, 10, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 30, 31, and 32 were passed without discussion during the Overtures Committee Report on Thursday Morning.

The following Overtures were pulled out of the Omnibus vote for further discussion.

Overture 17 - Background Checks

In the Overtures Committee, this Overture was significantly amended. It originally proposed an amendment to the Book of Church Order (BCO) requiring each Presbytery to pass and implement its own background check policy:

"A Presbytery shall order and review a background check on each candidate, administered under the specific rules and policies of the Presbytery, as part of its examination"

The Overtures Committee amended the Overture to be a statement from the 51st General Assembly, not an amendment to the Book of Church Order and not binding.

"Be it resolved that Presbyteries and Sessions are encouraged to adopt policies for conducting background checks on every candidate for office."

Discussion of Overture 17

Overture 17 as amended passed by voice vote. (More discussion about the voice vote - as opposed to a counted vote - here and here.)

Overture 26 - Representation for Accused Person in Church Trial

Previously church members on trial before a Session could be represented by anyone in good standing in the congregation, but in a trial before the Presbytery could only be represented by a member of the Presbytery (pastor or elder).

This Overture proposed to amend Book of Church Order (BCO) Chapter 35-19 to allow representation before Session or Presbytery by any member in good standing in a church in that Presbytery.

Discussion of Overture 26

Overture 26 passed by a vote of 1456 to 119 with 20 abstaining.

Overture 3 - Grant Constitutional Status to BCO 53

Currently most of the chapters in the section of the Book of Church Order called the "Directory for Worship" are not constitutionally binding. This means that they are given for guidance but no person or church could be brought up on charges for failing to comply.

The chapters of the Directory for Worship that currently have constitutional status are the chapters that relate to the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, plus a paragraph that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Overture 3 proposed to grant constitutionally binding status to Chapter 53 about preaching, as well as to add the sentence

"Only qualified men may be invited to preach in any of the churches under our care and only with the consent of the Session."

Discussion of Overture 3

Overture 3 failed by a vote of 857 to 906 with 13 abstaining.

Overture 13 - Commend Sex Reassignment Surgery Letter

The Moderator of the 50th General Assembly appointed a commission to write a letter to the Federal Government condemning sex reassignment surgery for minors. This letter was sent to leaders at the federal level by the PCA and to state and local leaders by some Presbyteries.

The letter was sent and published in January, 2024. The intention of this Overture was to be an official commendation of the letter by the General Assembly after the text was available to be read.

Discussion of Overture 13

Overture 13 passed by a vote of 985 to 727 with 35 abstaining.

Overture 33 - Investigate Jesus Calling

Sarah Young, author of the Christian bestseller "Jesus Calling," passed away in 2023 and her obituary revealed that she had been a member of the PCA as well as a missionary through the PCA's missions organization MTW (Mission to the World).

Overture 33 originally requested a study committee to investigate "Jesus Calling," published in 2004. The Overtures Committee amended the Overture to instead require two PCA permanent committees - MTW and CDM (Committee for Discipleship Ministries, PCA publishing wing and bookstore) - to report on any connection they had to the book's publication and sale. 

Discussion of Overture 33

Special note: Steve Young, widower of Sarah Young, author of Jesus Calling, spoke on the floor of General Assembly during this debate. His speech is here. A commissioner also offered prayer for the family.

Overture 33 passed by a vote of 947 to 834 with 20 abstaining.

Overture 1 - Expand Witness Eligibility 

The Book of Church Order (BCO) contains a chapter outlining who can be considered a competent witness in a church trail. It includes the phrase "except such as do not believe in the existence of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments." This phrase excludes non-theists as witnesses in a church trial.

Overture 1 proposed to change this wording to allow anyone who swears or promises to testify truthfully as a witness in the court. It also changed the wording of another paragraph to allow for an alternate affirmation (not an oath) for those who could not in good conscience swear before God.

Speech of the Overtures Committee Chairman representing the majority position of the Overtures Committee

Speech by Representative of the Minority Report

Discussion of Overture 1

The Minority Report failed by a vote of 843 to 880 with 18 abstaining.

The Overtures Committee recommendation (to answer Overture 1 in the Negative) passed by a vote of 950 to 750 with 34 abstaining.

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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