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Summary Report of the 48th General Assembly 2021

Summary Report of the 48th Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly

Pastor Tim J. Reed

The 48th General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) met in St. Louis, MO last week (June 29-31). A record number of commissioners attended this year’s Assembly with a registration totaling over 2100 (1503 Teaching Elders and 603 Ruling Elders).

Thanks to everyone who prayed for the Assembly. Let us continue to pray for our denomination that we would remain “Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission” (PCA Motto).

The increase in the numbers of commissioners attending the Assembly is due in part to not meeting last year (2020) due to COVID and to a greater degree, the importance of a number of overtures sent form various presbyteries to be considered by the Assembly.

An overture is explained by John Bennett in an article that appeared on the Aquila Report (https://www.theaquilareport.com/pca-general-assembly-2021-a-review-of-some-of-the-actions/)

... an overture is an official communication submitted to GA from a lower governing body to a higher governing body, requesting to take a particular action, approve/disapprove, or endorse a particular statement/ resolution. Depending on the matter at hand, the decision can be binding or non-binding for both the lower courts and churches. For example, an overture requesting a Study Committee could be passed, yet even after the committee’s findings and final approval, the results are to be taken simply as “pious advice,” and are without binding and constitutional standing. With that said, any changes made via an overture to the Book of Church Order (to include the Form of Government, Rules of Discipline, and Directory of Worship chapters 56, 57, 58) are in fact binding upon churches and their elders.

If an overture is passed to change language in the BCO, a two-thirds vote is required by all presbyteries within the next year. The results are then presented to the following GA for a final vote. This exemplifies the difficulty in changing language in the BCO. Other overtures simply consist of nonbinding declarations or memorials.

This year’s Assembly considered 48 overtures. If you are interested in the complete list of overtures and the accompanying texts, go to the following link: https://pcaga.org/resources/#overtures

When overtures are submitted for consideration to the GA, they are sent to the Overtures Committee that meets the week of GA. Each overture is “examined and debated by the committee, they are then passed on to the Assembly for a vote with a recommendation, unless ruled out of order, referred back to the presbytery, or answered by a similar overture originally submitted” (John Bennett).

My purpose in this report is to highlight several of the most important overtures from this year’s Assembly. A complete list of overtures that made it out of the committee and were considered for a vote by the Assembly are available on the following link: https://byfaithonline.com/general-assembly-updates-for-july-1/

The Assembly voted to answer Overture 38, to commend the Human Sexuality Report, in the affirmative. The 47th GA appointed an Ad Interim Committee to “study the topic of human sexuality with particular attention to the issues of homosexuality, same-sex attraction and transgenderism and prepare a report.” Since the Assembly did not meet in 2020, the report was taken up by last week’s Assembly. I encourage everyone to read this report. You may find the full report at the following link: https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AIC-Report-to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf

The Assembly extended the Ad Interim Committee on Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault (appointed by 47thGA) for a year to give more time to complete the report. My hope is this report will be presented to the 49th GA in Birmingham, AL.

The adoption of the Study Report on Human Sexuality, and the approval of Overtures 23 and 37 send a clear signal that the PCA is not moving in the direction of progressive Christianity. The actions of this year’s Assembly addressed the confusion and division that has engulfed our denomination over the last three or so years in light of the “incursion of Revoice Theology” (Todd Pruitt). I recommend an article by Pruitt on Reformation 21 for more background on the debate in the PCA at the following link: https://www.reformation21.org/blog/a-clear-message-from-the-48th-general-assembly-of-the-pca

Overture 23 was affirmed by the Assembly as amended by the Overtures Committee by a vote 1438 for and 417 against. This overture “amend[s] BCO 16 by adding a clause which prohibits ordination for men who self-identify as ‘gay Christians,’ ‘same-sex attracted Christians,’ homosexual Christians,’ or like terms.” The approved clause is as follows:

16-4 Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.

Overture 37 was answered in the affirmative as amended by the Overtures Committee by a vote of 1130 to 692. This overture amends BCO 21-4 and 24-1 by “clarifying the moral requirements of church office.” The new language for both 21-4 e for the examination of Teaching Elders reads as follows:

BCO 21-4 e. In the examination of the candidate’s personal character, the presbytery shall give specific attention to potential notorious concerns, such as but not limited to relational sins, sexual immorality (including homosexuality, child sex abuse, fornication, and pornography), addictions, abusive behavior, racism, and financial mismanagement. Careful attention must be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires. The candidate must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending on this work of grace to make progress over sin (Psalm 103:2-5, Romans 8:29) and to bear fruit (Psalm 1:3, Gal. 5:22-23). While imperfection will remain, he must not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 6:9-11). In order to maintain discretion and protect the honor of the pastoral office, Presbyteries are encouraged to appoint a committee to conduct detailed examinations of these matters and to give prayerful support to candidates. 

The same language is used to amend BCO 24-1e for the examination of Ruling Elders and Deacons.

Lastly, Overture 14 was answered in the affirmative by a vote of 961 to 814. This Overture dealt with revising the Mission to the World Manual to insert the following language: “All MTW leaders in line of authority over church planting or church development ministry shall be ordained elders.” This action addresses the concern that non-ordained staff could have authority over church planting efforts on foreign soil.

There was much more to this Assembly than the limited business on which I have reported in this summary. The Assembly voted on many more overtures than the one’s I covered in summary; commissioners gathered for several worship services; encouraging ministry and agency reports were presented; a number of seminars were conducted; and an assembly wide seminar considered the future of the PCA. As I reflect on this year’s GA, I am grateful for the tone and direction of our denomination.

If you have any questions about GA or our denomination, please contact me.

All the best,

Tim