Thursday, June 17, 2010

General Assembly anticipation

Once again, I'm looking ahead to the General Assembly of the PCA, starting in less than two weeks. As always, I'm really looking forward to it and anticipate that it will generally be a great week.

Like last year, I'm teaching a seminar (actually, this year I'm teaching two) during the time devoted to workshops and seminars. Mine will be on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.

Also, as I have done for the past two years, I will serve on a Committee of Commissioners. This year I'll serve on the Covenant Seminary Committee (again-- I did that one two years ago, too).

A new twist this year is that I'll be helping a friend staff one of the exhibition booths. Ginger Korljan has reached out to me and to Doulos Resources as a potential partnership, and we (some of the Doulos Resources board) will be working her booth, especially encouraging folks who are considering transition or are in the midst of it.

There are a number of overtures that have been offered this year, and I'll comment on each one briefly (and a couple, not-so-briefly):
  1. On "ministry to seniors"-- I think this is a good overture, echoing what has already been suggested by the Christian Education & Publications folks about emphasizing ministry to seniors.
  2. To "prohibit deaconesses"-- while I understand the sentiment expressed in this overture, I think it misplaces the emphasis on wording and terminology where that is less helpful. A better overture, seeking to accomplish the same thing, would offer clarification about who the diaconal assistants are and what their function is, where such clarification is needed. (And where it isn't needed, this overture doesn't do anything to strengthen what is already clear.) More on this idea in a few overtures.
  3. To "expand the boundaries of Pacific Northwest Presbytery"-- this presbytery is already HUGE, and from what I understand many presbyters must take a plane to get to the meetings, so I don't see how expanding the boundaries serves their ministry as a presbytery. At the same time, I am not a member of that presbytery, and therefore I speak in ignorance. If they want to expand, that's fine with me.
  4. To "revise the boundary of Central Georgia Presbytery"-- this is pretty standard-issue realignment.
  5. To "amend the BCO clarifying how non-binding sections are to be amended"-- this is the overture that Covenant Presbytery offered, which I discussed earlier. I'm still in favor of seeing this pass, since last year's Assembly made an amendment that seems to me to have been out of order-- but more than that, I'm glad that the topic will be raised for discussion, which may be the most important thing.
  6. For a "feasibility study on a bi-annual General Assembly"-- I love G.A., and would not like to see us meet less. That said, I recognize the practicality of this overture, and would be willing to consider the advice of a study committee on the subject.
  7. To "specify that those who assist Deacons may not be ordained"-- much like #2, this looks like something of a kludge amendment: it sort-of fixes part of the perceived problem, but doesn't offer a real solution and opens up its own set of problems. Does this mean that the Ruling and Teaching Elders may not assist the Deacons in any formal capacity? (If so, that contradicts the BCO's requirement that the Session shall take up those duties that the Deacons are unable to perform.) Look to #13 for more on this topic.
  8. To "revise the boundary of Savannah River Presbytery"-- like #4, nothing to see here.
  9. To "prevent assistants to the Deacons from being commissioned or installed as office-bearers"-- not very different from #7, this one also includes those who are "commissioned"-- which is curious. Does this mean that someone who is appointed by the Session as a diaconal assistant must resign from that capacity to be commissioned as a short-term missionary or recognized as a WIC officer? The semantic problems these amendments introduce are as confusing as what is already in the BCO, if not more so.
  10. To "amend the BCO to allow unordained men and women to perform diaconal ministry"-- here's a departure from the others. "Let's open it up to anyone in the church!" I'm grateful for the boldness of Northern California Presbytery to offer this overture, if only because it punctuates the fact that not everyone in the PCA is either confused or on the "no women in the diaconal ministry" camp.
  11. To "amend the BCO to allow latitude in oversight of mission churches"-- this is a needed amendment, because church planting methods and strategies have changed a lot in almost 40 years, but the BCO's language about how mission churches are established hasn't.
  12. To "ask the government to retain the 'Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell' policy"-- I think this overture is lukewarm and half-a-loaf. Why the "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell" policy is perceived as inherently better than full disclosure has no basis in the Bible. Are we effectively saying, "it's okay for there to be practicing homosexuals in the military as long as we don't KNOW about it?" I recognize that the removal of this policy leaves our chaplains vulnerable to potential litigation and/or disciplinary action, but I have to wonder if this is justification for anything at all when it comes to standing firm for biblical truth. Maybe I'll blog more about this another time.
  13. To "amend the BCO stating that 'assistants to Deacons not to be elected, ordained, or installed as if they were office-bearers"-- echoes of #2 and #7 here, but this one is getting closer to an actually useful address of what many see as a problem: while the BCO states that the office of Deacon is, in the PCA, an office for men only, there are some congregations where women are selected alongside men and are treated differently only insofar as it comes to whether they are ordained in the same manner. In other words, there are women serving in the function of Deacons, with the title of Deacons, and (as far as the congregation is concerned) in the office of Deacon. Whatever the justification for such a practice, it's not doing things "in order". The function of an "assistant to the diaconate" is not an office, and shouldn't be treated as one (nor should it be left in such an ambiguous state that it could be mistaken as such).
  14. To "prohibit the use of intincture at General Assembly"-- here's curious one. In the several Assemblies that I've been to, the practice of Communion in the opening service has been a diversity of practices: service in rows, and coming forward; use of real wine, and use of grape juice; use of leavened bread, unleavened bread, and whatever category the styrofoam wafers sometimes passed off as "communion bread" is; and, last year, the option of intincture (which is the dipping of the bread into the wine/juice and consuming both at the same time-- and I think it is actually called intinction). I don't prefer intinction, because it's usually done for the sake of expediency (and because I frankly don't like the way it tastes). But I question whether that is the thing we should focus on for instruction or prohibition for future Assemblies. Why not say, "no styrofoam passed off as bread" or "always make real wine available, in accordance with our WCF and BCO standards"? This sounds like a case of, "I'm not used to it that way, so it must be wrong."
  15. To "revise the BCO regarding mission churches"-- like #11, this is a much-needed overture that offers good changes to how mission churches are overseen and organized.
  16. To "affirm unordained deaconesses"-- here's another one that is just a little gutsy because it challenges the (sometimes very loudly) vocal group that opposes anything like an official stance on what women CAN do in their service in a PCA church.
  17. To "instruct MNA, et al regarding 'Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell'"-- see my comments for #12.
  18. To "require proper vote on amendments of BCO 59-1 and 59-6"-- this overture is addressing the same issue as #5, but in a different way. They want to require the proper procedure for BCO amendment to be required for the amendment offered last year of the "non-binding" sections. The function is the same: it raises a needed question about procedure and when we can diverge from it.
  19. To "move Wilkes County from Western Carolina to Piedmont Triad Presbytery"-- another border change, like #4 and #8.
  20. To "consider participation in General Assembly by virtual private network"-- here's a glimpse into the future of denominational assembly: it's optional to attend in a literal, physical manner, and instead you can register and log in via video teleconference and participate. I think this overture is about 2-3 years too early, if for no other reason than that churches tend to be slow to adopt newer technologies. But the day is coming.
  21. For "coordination of disaster relief efforts between MNA and MTW"-- basically, why can't our different agencies cooperate in a more coordinated fashion when it is expedient for good ministry to do so? I think this may be the first step in seeing greater unity between these two agencies.
  22. To "retain 'Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell'"-- see #12 and #17.
  23. To "erect a study committee on political and economic justice"-- this is a breath of fresh air: an overture for the study of something that actually matters to people who aren't presbyterian policy wonks, and that isn't done for the sake of setting the stage for heresy trials. In other words, something that will generally advance ministry on many fronts and bring unity to those serving in such ministry. (For the newcomers to the PCA: yes, this is actually allowed in our denomination!)
  24. A "call for PCA renewal"-- I'm ambivalent about this one, because, on one hand, who doesn't want biblically-based renewal in the PCA? But on the other hand, this is presented as an alternative to the proposed Strategic Plan, which I also happen to like. I'm hoping we can find a way to divide the vote on this one, calling for renewal without dispensing of the Strategic Plan.
  25. On "the role of men and women to office in the church"-- I appreciate that this states affirmatively what roles are availed to both men and women, and that it does so without any assumption that the BCO must be amended to affirm such things. I don't agree with every word, but I think it may be a step in the direction of putting this discussion to rest-- at least for now.
  26. To "move Wilkes County"-- an echo of #19, from the other presbytery involved.
  27. To "transfer Harnett County, NC from Central Carolina to Eastern Carolina Presbytery"-- more boundary movement.
  28. A "sanctity of life resolution"-- this is a well-stated resolution, but I'm not sure what it accomplishes that isn't already stated and affirmed elsewhere in the actions of previous assemblies.

So, that takes care of my annual pre-G.A. post!

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