Thursday, June 2, 2011

G.A. Biz

With the PCA's General Assembly next week, I suppose I should attend to my annual overview of the overtures-- which is to say, the actionable items put before the whole assembly by the presbyteries. I've done this now for several years (2009, 2010) and I prefer to do it with a sense of anticipation before the assembly, as I want to avoid any appearance of failure to submit myself with love and grace if a vote goes other than how I prefer.

This year, there are 15 overtures; we've had a lot more than this in the past, and so it may mean a shorter assembly! Here's a summary of what's to come, and my thoughts about them.

As usual, there's a small collection of overtures dealing with the ordinary work of the PCA: overtures 1, 5, and 6 all request that a presbytery be divided to form a new presbytery. This is natural, given that (hopefully) new churches are being planted and the boundaries (numerically and geographically) are being stretched. These will almost inevitably pass.

Also as usual, there are a couple of overtures seeking to improve the PCA Book of Church Order (or BCO) by way of slight changes. For example, overture #4 addresses a loop-hole, of sorts, with regard to the transfer of interns from one presbytery to another. Likewise, overture #10 deals with the lack of explicit instruction for handling the occasional problem of when a congregation finds itself without ruling elders (but with a teaching elder). Again, I suspect these will pass with little discussion.

One topic of obvious interest this year is ByFaith magazine; specifically, the interest is in removing funding at the General Assembly level for it. Overtures 7, 13, and 14 all require that funding be taken away from ByFaith by the 2012 G.A. The rationale given here is that the magazine, which is under the Administrative Committee's oversight (and is funded by that committee) represents a significant chunk of the AC's budget, and one of the central issues of the last couple of years has been how better to fund the AC. This solution is, from a budget perspective, a fair one. But two things keep me from being in favor of this overture outright:
  • First, I think it's important (especially in a denomination the size of the PCA) for a presbyterian denomination to have some avenue for news about the denomination. While ByFaith's interest is much broader than simply a PCA news-zine, it does serve that purpose as well. However, that function is, I think, one of the things that keeps subscription appeal from being more broad; in other words, a ByFaith magazine that is expected to stand on its own financially (based, presumably, on subscriptions and advertising) will do best to drop the distinctive PCA aspect. This would leave the PCA without any means of news, which is problematic.
  • Second, if we're going to look around and decide that we should drop a publication for the sake of budgeting, I'd vote for Equip rather than ByFaith. While Equip is under the Christian Education & Publications arm of the PCA, rather than the AC, they are close enough to consider shifting the one (ByFaith) into the place held by the other (Equip). My rationale here is simple: Equip is simply not a very good magazine. The writing and editing is regularly fair-to-poor, and I don't find many of its pieces to be of great interest. (And if I don't-- as a pastor with a strong background in youth ministry and education-- then I would think many others don't either.) Let's keep ByFaith and replace Equip with it!
Nevertheless, I'll be surprised if these overtures (or a combined version of the three) don't pass.

Another small collection deals with the funding of the AC in other ways: overtures 3, 11, and 15 all offer different funding plans for the AC. (It should be noted, too, that all three of these are different from the funding plan that was presented at last year's G.A.!) I won't try to summarize the contents here, because it would get too complicated-- it might actually require charts and a spreadsheet. But I will offer the following thoughts about these overtures:
  • I actually thought the funding plan we had last year had merit -- unlike the majority (of presbyteries, that is-- the majority of commissioners at the 2010 G.A. actually voted it up!). I'm all for finding a good way to fund the AC.
  • I think there are some good ideas in these plans, and they will be worth considering.
  • That said, I don't envy the committees that have to look at these, try to harmonize them or choose among them, and present them to the assembly. Last year's plan had the benefit of a lot of advance explanation and it still took us hours to hash through them on the floor. Some of that may be because of the more disagreed-upon aspects, but these will inevitably have those, as well.
  • I think we'll leave G.A. with some form of a funding plan passed, but I couldn't begin to speculate on what that will look like-- nor whether it will pass at the presbytery level.

The rest of the overtures are stand-alone items, and they will all require some consideration:
  • Overture #2 requests that term limits be set for the Stated Clerk, and for the coordinators of program committees. In general, I like this idea a lot, as it will force the hand-off of leadership in the PCA to others. I hope this one will pass-- yet, I won't be surprised if it fails.
  • Overture #8 asks that BCO chapter 59, on the solemnization of marriage, be granted "full constitutional status." Here's what's quirky about this one: the BCO's Directory for Worship (the 3rd section in the BCO) has a brief statement at the beginning, announcing that, per a "temporary" ruling of the 3rd General Assembly (in 1975!), the Directory for Worship is not a part of any constitutional rule of law for the PCA. This was amended at the 11th General Assembly to grant full authority to chapters 56-58, and that's what this overture is seeking to expand. But I think it's a little silly that we continue to treat as permanent that which was obviously expected by the fathers and brothers 36 years ago to be temporary! This one will pass, though, in spite of the silliness, because our views on marriage have become a defining mark of orthodoxy in the eyes of so many.
  • Overture #9 is titled, "A call to faithful witness" but is actually a statement against a particular movement called the "Insider Movement." The concern of the overture (and presumably of the writers) is that such Insider Movements are a clever disguise for religious syncretism, and that's not an illegitimate concern, from what I can tell. While I can see how such movements might begin with a common-ground approach to evangelism, affirming some of the basic starting points of other religions, I can also see how this could quickly give way to a compromise of truth. I'm a little uncomfortable with how this plays out in the form of an overture, but I do think it's wise for the assembly to speak to this method with clarity. I have little doubt that this overture will pass.
  • Overture #12 requests that the PCA withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). This one probably won't be discussed as much as it should-- or perhaps I should say, in the manner in which it should. On the one hand, I agree with several of the premises put forth in the overture: if our rationale for being a part of the NAE is for exposure, credibility, and political lobbying leverage, then we're definitely due to reconsider this. On the other hand, I think part of the great weakness of the PCA (and of Reformed protestantism in general) today is our lack of capacity to be biblically catholic, and withdrawing from the NAE entrenches us further into this weakness. And while I think the term "evangelical" carries too much baggage (much of it political, not ecclesiastical, in nature) to be of much use, I have to wonder if this move won't hurt us more than it helps us. Still, I think there will be a loud minority that cries out against the alleged compromise that our ongoing affiliation with the NAE represents, and we'll end up passing this one too.

There you have it. We'll see in a week or so, I suppose, how accurate my read on all of this is. I'm looking forward to the assembly, as always! I hope to see you there.

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