13 June 2005

pca ga 2005

The Presbyterian Church in America (the PCA) is holding its 33rd General Assembly in Chattanooga, Tennessee, beginning tomorrow night. Today various committees meet to review Presbytery records, make recommendations concerning various bills and overtures, and carry out other business that needs to be addressed prior to the start of the Assembly.

Ministers of word and sacrament and ruling elders from across the country will be traveling to Tennessee today, if they are not there already. Prayer for their safety during travel are welcome, I'm sure.

We can also keep the Assembly itself in prayer as they receive reports and make decisions on variety of matters. Many of the overtures involve re-drawing Presybtery boundaries reflecting both denominational growth and a desire to give more geographically functional pastoral oversight of congregations. Overtures also include proposals for several revisions to the Book of Church Order (BCO), as well as a couple of that relate to the Terry Schiavo case and one from the Mississippi Valley Presybtery (MVP) requesting that its committee report on the "new perspectives" be distributed to all Presbyteries.

While revisions to Presbytery boundaries should pass easily, it is difficult to predict the outcome of other overtures. Revisions to the BCO typically involve discussion and due consideration. Regarding the Schiavo case, GA is often reticent to speak on issues of politcal debate unless requested by the civil magistrate or in especially pressing and clear cases. The possibility of a study committee on end of life issues strikes me as a good idea, especially given changes in medical technology and law since the PCA last spoke directly to such matters.

With respect to the Overture from the MVP, I'm not sure what the Bills and Overtures committee will recommend or what the GA will decide. Personally, I find the Overture problematic in several ways:

[1] the Overture requests distribution of a document for the purpose of making it widely available to the Presbyteries, but this is redundant since the report has already been publicly available for some time and the MVP itself could easily enough send the report to the clerks of all the Presbyteries;

[2] the Overture cites the report's "usefulness" as reason for its distribution, but passing such an overture would involve an implicit endorsement on the part of GA regarding an issue it has not studied;

[3] since the issuing of the MVP report, various responses to the report have been issued from within the PCA, as well as a report by a committee of the NW Presbytery that found no fault in the teachings of one of the ministers named by the MVP report as holding problematic views; it would be only fair if the distribution of the MVP report was accompanied by the various responses to it;

[4] there are questions that hang over the MVP report itself inasmuch as it names specific PCA ministers in good standing within their own Presbyteries as holding to views that could be seen as contra-confessional; as such, the report could be seen as issuing charges extra-jurisdictionally, without the due process and protections enshrined in the BCO;

[5] finally, some within the PCA, including some who share the basic outlook of the MVP report, have raised concerns that the distribution of the MVP report would, in effect, "circularize" the church courts.

In any case, I'm confident that the commissioners to GA will take all these concerns into account as they consider the Overture.

Commissioners will also have opportunity to attend a number of seminars (pdf) on a range of topics from pastoral practice to worship to church budgets. These should be helpful to many ministers and elders as they return to their home congregations and exercise oversight and leadership.

Almighty God,
your Son promised his disciples
that he would be with them always.
Hear the prayer we offer for your servants
now to meet in General Assembly.
May your Holy Spirit rest on them:
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
Grant them vision and courage;
unite them in love and peace;
teach them to be trustworthy stewards of your truth.
And so guide them in all their doings
that your kingdom may be advanced,
your people confirmed in their most holy faith,
and your unfailing love
declared to all the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Update: It appears that the site for updates and webcasting of GA is gearing up to carry live coverage. That website is: www.pcaga.com

Very cool. There is also an official PCA GA blog this year.