The next General Assembly is ramping up with the committees of commissioners hard at work, particularly the Overtures Committee which has overtures related to a couple of important issues to make recommendations on.
So here we go, the 47th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America is starting to get rolling in Dallas, Texas. (As a side note, interesting to see both the OPC and PCA General Assemblies there this year.) The Assembly convenes in plenary session this afternoon, Wednesday 26 June, at 1:30 PM CDT, and adjourns at noon on Friday. The theme of the Assembly is “Press on for God’s Glory.” The meeting will be live streamed and there is a schedule of what will be streamed live. There is also the GA app available for several platforms to follow along, and a ShareFile! app on that page for registered commissioners to download reports and other documents.
While the full volume of reports is available only to commissioners, the docket, schedule, and overtures are available online. There is a nice page with links to all the forms and schedules for the meeting.
To track the polity of the PCA you can access the Book of Church Order (BCO) online, which also contains the Rules of Assembly Operations (RAO). For the hardcore polity wonks there is Morton Smith’s Commentary on the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America which is only available in a print edition. (Similar to what some branches call the Annotated Book of (Church) Order.)
News updates will be posted through the official news website and online publication byFaith, including the update from yesterday’s Overtures Committee action. Update: Article with all Overtures Committee recommendations is now posted.
Turning to social media, you will probably want to keep an eye on the byFaith Magazine Facebook page. There are numerous opportunities to follow the meeting on Twitter including the official feed from byFaith (@PCAbyFaith). The hashtag for the Assembly is #pcaga, although #pcaga2019 is floating around as well. For pictures, keep an eye on the PCA Flickr site.
Other related Twitter accounts include Reformed University Fellowship (@RUFnational), PCA Discipleship Ministry (@PCACDM), Mission to the World (@mtwglobal), and the Mission to North America (@pcamna). I would also include in this group the denomination’s schools, Covenant College (@CovenantCollege) and Covenant Seminary (@covseminary).
As for individuals to watch – round-up the usual suspects. Some who will be at the meeting and are, or will probably be tweeting include Irwyn Ince (@Irwyn) the retiring Moderator, Fred Greco (@fredgreco), Ligon Duncan (@LigonDuncan), Sean Michael Lucas (@SeanMLucas) who has a high-profile job as chair of the Overtures Committee this year, and Melton L. Duncan (@MeltonDuncan). For organizations, I will mention Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing (@prpbooks), Greenville Seminary (@GPTseminary) and Reformed Theological Seminary (@ReformTheoSem) and their local Dallas campus (@RTS_Dallas). (And as a note, there are other Twitter accounts for the different RTS campuses.)
There is a long list of people tweeting (check out the #pcaga hashtag) but I will mention a few of the early active ones now. Derek Radney (@DerekRadney) is doing us a great service with the detailed tweeting from the Overtures Committee meeting. Others with active accounts at this time include Scott Swain (@scottrswain), Jessica Fore (@forejessica), Robert M. Phillips (@AceAdvocate), and Mark Horne (@purify_elevate). There are also three accounts that have some overlap: More in PCA (@MoreinPCA) – a grassroots organization of REs, Chortles Weakly (@ChortlesWeakly) and Presbycast (@Presbycast). I will add Allan Edwards (@edwardsae1) who is actively tweeting from the meeting, and has given us a new Bingo Card to go along with his past Bingo Card and the Selfie Scavenger Hunt. And for a Twitter feed that is posted decently and in order there is the @PCAPresbyter himself. And don’t forget Joey Pipa’s Mustache (@jpipasmustache), PCA Logo (@PCALogo), and GA Famous (@GA_Famous).
As usual, the overtures to this Assembly reflect where the PCA is today and what it is concerned about. This business will provide a lot of opportunity for discussion, debate and discerning God’s will for the church. The Overtures Committee is the last item of business on Thursday docketed to begin their report at 4:15 PM. If it is not concluded by the dinner recess 45 minutes later (anyone want to give odds on that?), the report will resume at 9:00 PM after worship. I do not see a single article from byFaith with a summary of all 48 overtures, but their GA News feed has a number of articles covering all the overtures grouped by theme.
The topic with the most overtures is human sexuality with eleven of them. This is a timely response to the 2018 Revoice Conference held at a PCA church in St. Louis last August. That conference, and the upcoming one this year, address the Revoice mission: “To support and encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians—as well as those who love them—so that all in the Church might be empowered to live in gospel unity while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.” The theology of this mission statement is under active debate in the PCA and will be significant at this GA. The Overtures Committee is recommending that the Assembly accept Overture 4 affirming the Nashville Statement and there will be a minority report on that. Overture 11 asked that the Assembly commend and distribute the RPCNA’s statement ‘Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis.’ The Overtures Committee did a major rewrite on the Therefore’s and instead, it now recommends the publication The Gospel & Sexual Orientation. There were also overtures to establish a study committee on Sexuality and the Overtures Committee is recommending these be answered with Overture 42 as amended. The amendments increase the size from four to six teaching and ruling elders, and include in its purview two presbytery studies of the Revoice Conference, one from Central Carolina Presbytery and the other from Missouri Presbytery. We will see how these and the other nine overtures fare as they are handled on the floor.
Another major topic is domestic abuse and sexual assault with nine overtures addressing that topic. The Overtures Committee is recommending that they are answered by Overture 7 which calls for an “Ad Interim Committee to Address Matters Related to Domestic Abuse, Domestic Oppression, and Sexual Assault.” The Committee is recommending that this be answered in the affirmative but it has been amended. In the committee there was discussion as to the makeup of the committee as only men can be ordained officers and a more diverse representation on this committee would be desirable so non-ordained members would be beneficial. I will add the link to the amended version when it becomes available.
And in a related action, and part of a continuing discussion, Overture 8, and related overtures that would allow non-ordained persons to serve on committees and boards, are recommended to be answered in the negative. Overture 29, which would have allowed local option in whether to ordain women as deacons, was withdrawn before the Assembly.
And there are lots of smaller items – like an overture to withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals and a proposal to study remote voting at General Assembly – that will also be considered.
As I mentioned earlier the Overtures Committee report begins at 4:30 PM on Thursday. One of the polity features of the PCA General Assembly is the role of the OC as a gatekeeper and manager of how the overtures reach the floor. As the GA Stated Clerk, Roy Taylor, quipped yesterday – “We have a convention surrounding a delegated assembly — the Overtures Committee”. There may be more truth in that than many want to admit.
There’s lots on the docket this week and multiple items that are sure to provide a spirited, and hopefully Spirit-filled, discussion among the commissioners. I have seen enough GA’s to know that predicting the outcome of these debates is difficult, but for a couple items of business, certain outcomes could make this a milepost year in the history of the PCA.
Our best wishes and prayers to the commissioners and leaders of the PCA General Assembly for this important meeting and prayers for your discernment the next few days. May the Spirit guide you in your work.