A Philosopher’s Guide to the Overtures

I give my frank assessment of the overtures in the hopes that, even if you disagree with me, you can better formulate reasons for why you do so.

If you want a balanced perspective on this year’s overtures to the General Assembly (GA) in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) you have come to the wrong place. Go instead to the helpful notes prepared by Scott Edburg and Jared Nelson. In what follows, I take a different approach. I give my frank assessment of the overtures in the hopes that, even if you disagree with me, you can better formulate reasons for why you do so. I also, at times, offer an analysis of different issues surrounding the overtures. This approach will, I hope, be helpful to anyone interested in current issues facing Christians everywhere. (For those readers not in the PCA, think of an overture as a proposed piece of legislation to amend already existing law.)

A note about the workings of this guide: Because the PCA numbers overtures according to their arrival time, overtures discussing the same issue will not be listed side by side. I find it easier to talk about topics rather than overtures, so I group similar overtures under a heading of my own design, e.g., SEXUALITY, along with my recommendations (with O standing for overture), e.g., AFFIRMATIVE: O23; ANSWER BY REFERENCE TO O23: O24; POSSIBLY ANSWER SOMETHING FROM O9, O16, O17 IN THE AFFIRMATIVE AS AMENDED (OR REFER THEM TO O23).

I have arranged all the topics under four main headings: DOCTRINE, CHURCHES, DISCIPLINE, and DENOMINATION. Many of these overtures relate to the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO), but some request the General Assembly to do something else; if so, I try to make that clear. Within each category, I sort the topics by the earliest overture from this year connected to that topic. So, for example, all the overtures on sexuality occur in this guide before the single overture on critical race theory, even though there were three overtures on sexuality before critical race theory and two after it. If this explanation sounds confusing, read on. It may be easier to see than to explain.



We must speak against the horrific mistreatment of children. This overture should be affirmed, hopefully with changes that will improve it. First, I think the second half of the petition should come first. Second, the overture speaks of a special status for children “before they are capable of choosing good and refusing evil.” This statement may be an oblique reference to Isaiah 7:16, but that verse speaks about knowledge to refuse and to choose, not the capability to do so. This difference is important. It’s not that children can never refuse evil. It’s that children are easily manipulated to embrace something that harms them, and even to embrace that harmful thing as though it helps them. Children should be protected from such deception and destruction. Anyway, here’s my attempt at polishing up an overture that should be affirmed:

We who love our nation, in the name of God who alone is sovereign, call upon you to renounce the sin of medical and surgical sex change procedures in minors by the American healthcare system. Obedience to God, which places us in subjection to your rightful civil authority, requires us to humbly, boldly, and prayerfully proclaim the counsel of God as it bears upon the same God-given authority.
The Bible teaches that God made man in his own image, male and female, and called his creation good; that God blessed man and woman commanding them to be fruitful and multiply; that children are God’s heritage and should be protected from harm, not exposed to it; and that it is scientifically impossible for a man to become a woman or a woman to become a man. Medical and surgical sex change procedures in minors result in irreversible harm, and we call upon you to renounce them.
Humbly and respectfully submitted,
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America


Overture 23, my dear friends, is the one we have been waiting for. It is concise, lacks parenthetical asides or em dashes, and avoids identity language. Here is the proposed single sentence addition to BCO 8-2, on elders: “He should conform to the biblical requirement of chastity and sexual purity in his descriptions of himself, his convictions, character, and conduct.” The overture places the same language in a clause to BCO 9-2 on deacons. This addition to the BCO communicates to our Church that we have higher requirements for office holders than for members; it does not focus on a particular sin, and the language is plain.

I like BCO 7, so my heart warms to overtures 9, 16, and 17. Even still, I think they need work. For example, O9 speaks of deviating by declared conviction and also of God’s creational intention for human sexuality. I don’t know who does the former (even if they are deeply in error), and I wonder whether the latter could be read to question the presence of unmarried men in ministry, something the overture obviously does not want to do. Overture 16, also on BCO 7-4, is clunky; it can be shorter and fit with the language of BCO 7-3. Perhaps something like the following:

BCO 7-4. No one who holds office in the Church should describe himself by any sin identified in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. He should instead describe himself as someone “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Overture 17, again on BCO 7-4, raises questions. Does anyone ever refer to “a particular sin struggle as descriptive of their . . . being”? What would it even mean to do so?

Overture 24 turns us back to BCO 8, on elders; unfortunately, it does not include a proposed change to BCO 9, on deacons. This overture is good, but it is too long. Even still, I do like the sentence (slightly modified by yours truly): “They should guard against setting a damaging or confusing example to the flock by describing or defining themselves by their sinful desires.”

My hope is that the Overtures Committee will happily endorse O23, with or without some polishing, and will also give us an additional overture to consider on BCO 7.


I am surprised at how animated I am on the question of oaths. But perhaps I should not be surprised. We are commanded to take oaths in God’s name (Deuteronomy 6:13, 10:20; Isaiah 65:16) and not to take oaths in the name of anyone else (Joshua 23:7). We see such oaths in the Old Testament (Genesis 24:2–9; Nehemiah 13:25; Ezra 10:1–5), and this practice continues in the New Testament — and understandably so, as God is both the witness of statements made under oath and the ultimate judge of their truthfulness (Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23, 11:31; Galatians 1:20).

We have an entire chapter in the Westminster Confession on oaths and vows, so we know constitutionally what an oath is. “A lawful oath is a part of religious worship” (WCF 22.1). Why? “The person swearing solemnly calleth God to witness what he asserteth, or promiseth, and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he sweareth” (WCF 22.1). So God serves both as witness and as judge. By what name should one swear? “The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear” (WCF 22.2). What about swearing by another way? “To swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred” (WCF 22.2).

Outside the context of church courts, oaths are properly seen as a religious act, requiring belief in God and the afterlife. “Neither will it do to allege that an oath is a merely civil transaction,” writes the Scottish Presbyterian James Bannerman in his Church of Christ (1868). “In so far it may be true that there stands connected with an oath a civil engagement as well as a religious. But it is the solemn appeal to God, as the present Witness of the truth, and the future Avenger of falsehood or breach of engagement, that forms the essence of an oath; and it is in this character that it is employed in the transactions of human society.”

In the Westminster Confession of Faith, a lawful oath comes before the discussion in chapter 23 on the civil magistrate and chapter 24 on marriage and divorce. Why? Because a lawful oath is a precondition for these other things. The requirement in BCO 35-1 for witnesses to believe in God and the afterlife is not a Presbyterian distinctive but a feature of the common law. Indeed, the text of the oath in BCO 35-6 reverberates with the language of English and American law courts. The PCA Historical Center points to the revision of 1858 draft as the background for BCO 35-1 and 35-6. Prior to these revisions, in 1845, the Presbyterian minister D. X. Junkin published The Oath: A Divine Ordinance. Unsurprisingly, his definition of an oath conforms to the one given by the Westminster Confession of Faith (belief in God as a witness and as a future judge), but Junkin also takes time to appeal to various legal authorities, demonstrating the consensus on belief in God and future rewards and punishments (pp. 36–38).

What constitutes a properly administered oath is far from an arcane issue. (Mark David Hall has been influential in my thinking on this issue, see, e.g., my review of his recent book.) True, in 1784, Connecticut required each office holder to take God as a witness. That was then. Yes, but it is also now: In 2023, with the General Assembly in Memphis, it is not inappropriate to mention article 9, section 2 of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee: “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” Absent the Supreme Court ruling Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961), this section of the state constitution (and similar provisions in several other states) would still be in force.

The provision for an affirmation instead of an oath developed to accommodate Quakers and others, not to make room for atheists and agnostics. Quakers believe in God and the afterlife but are unwilling to swear, given their misunderstanding of Matthew 5:33–37 and James 5:12 (hence the need for WCF 22.2 to contend for the lawfulness of oaths).

Now to the overtures themselves. Overture 2021–41, carried over from last year, removes the first sentence of BCO 35-1, thereby eliminating any explanation of who counts as a competent witness. By dealing only with this part of the BCO, it cannot stand alone, since BCO 35-6 would still require an oath or affirmation that stipulates belief in the existence of God and a future judgment — which, to be clear, BCO 35-6 should do.

Overture 13 can stand alone, but it too should be rejected. Overture 13 seeks to change both the provision for who counts as a witness and the actual oath. These proposals would make things both too loose and too restrictive, in ways that could hurt the very people the overture seeks to help. First, it is too loose, because it does away with belief in God and heaven and hell, contrary to the Bible, the Westminster Standards, and our common law tradition. Second, it is too restrictive, because it gives the court wide discretionary judgment in assessing the quality of a witness. According to the current BCO 35-1, a seven year old who believes in God and heaven and hell is a competent witness. Period. According to this overture, that same child is generally competent to testify as a witness (whatever that means) but “the court shall give consideration” to a variety of factors (including age, intelligence, and relationship to the parties involved) “in judging testimony.” Whereas the current BCO 35-1 gives the court latitude to judge “the degree of credibility to be attached to all evidence,” this overture instructs the court to assess the testimony by consideration of the witnesses themselves. The current language is superior, because it allows a court to believe a dumb 15 year old, who is obviously telling the truth, and to disregard entirely the extremely intelligent 50 year old, who is so obviously lying.

Additionally, I want to voice my displeasure with two of the whereas clauses in this overture, specifically those relating to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) and to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). In one whereas clause, the Presbytery informs us that “the ARP already recognizes the competence of all persons created in the image of God to stand as witnesses,” citing the ARP’s Book of Discipline 4.4.J. But the Presbytery neglects to mention the ARP’s proposed oath in form 6, which requires belief in God and the afterlife. (Is there an ARP Presbytery that uses a different oath?) Likewise, another whereas clause appeals to the OPC Book of Discipline IV.A.4.a for support, but it neglects to mention that IV.A.4.b, to which IV.A.4.a refers, requires a witness to say, “I solemnly swear, that by the grace of God, I will speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth concerning the matters on which I am called to testify.” That is to say, the OPC requires that its witnesses believe in God.

Finally, overture 13 proposes that a witness can swear “with other language . . . provided such oath or affirmation impresses the solemnity of this duty upon the witness’s conscience.” The overture proposes an empty set, i.e., there is no oath that impresses such solemnity upon a witness’s conscience if belief in God and the afterlife are absent. An ecclesiastical court cannot bring to a prospective witness’s mind any sanctions apart from those related to God and the afterlife. There is no threat of a perjury conviction, like in a civil or criminal court.

Indeed, one can argue that without belief in God and the afterlife, a church court has no authority to administer an oath at all. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Presbytery of Georgia overtured the General Assembly with that question: “Whence do the General Assembly derive authority to empower the Moderator of a church session to administer an oath?” The Assembly adopted a reply, drafted in committee, that begins with a description of an oath: “‘An oath for confirmation, (saith the Apostle,) is to men, an end of all strife,’ Heb. vi. 16. It is a solemn affirmation, wherein we appeal to God, as the witness of the truth of what we say; and with an imprecation of his vengeance if what we affirm is false, or what we promise be not performed.” The reply adds, “The authority of Moderators in the Presbyterian church to administer oaths, is not derived from the General Assembly, but from the constitution, or articles of compact, which our churches have adopted, and by which they have agreed to be governed as a Christian community” (Extracts from the Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America [1817], pp. 144–145). Given that our constitution specifies what oaths are (WCF 22.1) and on what their warrant depends (WCF 22.2), these overtures ask us to abandon the very constitutional grounds we have for obligating witnesses by oaths.

Finally, this overture may have atheists and agnostics in mind, but the changes would apply to any possible witness. A Hindu medical doctor and Muslim psychologist will have as much right to use “other language” in swearing oaths as an atheist. Will a Muslim be allowed to swear in “the name of Allah be He Exalted” in a Christian church court? To ask the question is to answer it. Hence the need to answer overture 13 in the negative.


I looked carefully over this one, in part because I did not immediately understand what this overture wants the General Assembly to do. I think it asks us to adopt its mini-study report on pages 3–5 of the overture, i.e., we should affirm what it affirms and we should reject what it rejects. So the overture is a homegrown Nashville Statement, but on race, and we are told to commend it as biblical.

Unfortunately, the overture does not clarify what we should affirm and what we should deny. For example, it says, “Secular social justice and critical theory ideology interprets an individual’s identity according to his/her ethnicity, gender, so-called sexual orientation/preferences, and other traits, many (though not all) of which are immutable and amoral.” But the overture also says the Bible affirms that “an individual’s ethnic background remains spiritually, psychologically, and socially significant, yet fundamentally an individual’s identity is either as an image bearer of God redeemed by Christ and united with him, or as an image bearer united to Adam and in need of God’s redeeming grace (Rom 8:1-11).” The overture does not clarify when an individual’s recognition of the spiritual, psychological, and social significance of his ethnic background become unbiblical. Perhaps someone speaks or thinks unbiblically if he appeals to the “oppressor/oppressed designations” this overture denies. But the Bible recognizes oppression, e.g., Exodus 3:9: “And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.” The overture references Ephesians 1:5–10, 2:6, and 2:13, in order to empathize the unity of believers in Christ. But the overture does not mention Ephesians 5 and 6, in which Paul addresses different believers differently. In Ephesians 6, Paul addresses bondservants (or slaves) and masters.

Even still, I think this issue is worthy of a study committee, with affirmations and denials like the Sexuality Report, or more narrowly tailored overtures. I am confident a study committee could help me very much, and I do not think I am alone. (For anyone wanting to read a recent book on race, I recommend George Yancey’s Beyond Racial Division, which received the Christianity Today 2023 book award in the Politics & Public Life category. About the book, I write, “Yancey proposes a compelling alternative to our current racial stalemate that — dare I say it? — actually gives me hope.”)



I appreciate the spirit of this overture, and I am glad to be at a church that takes background checks seriously. But I am unsure about this overture, so I am going to mark myself down as negative for now; I may change my position, though, depending upon what comes out of the Overtures Committee.

Here are my concerns: Though I am not a lawyer (merely a philosopher), various states have different laws on criminal background checks, and I wonder whether this overture proposes a conflict with some state laws. I also wonder what kind of criminal background check is required here. The more general phrase “background check” may be better. Finally, I fret about a higher court requiring a lower court to do something so particular. Perhaps this overture can be amended to more closely follow the DASA Report’s own language, namely that “Presbyteries and Sessions are encouraged to carefully investigate” candidates, using, among other things, “background checks.” Also, though this point is not as important, the language could be polished a little, e.g., the first sentence says “when a minister is seeking admission” but the better phrase is “when a minister seeks admission."


This overture tries to address an understandable concern: that women preach in all but name. I wonder whether this Session, or someone else, should try to craft a more narrowly focused overture. For example, someone may want to add a new paragraph in the BCO on how to handle gatherings that are not in a church on a Sunday morning or to add a paragraph with full constitutional authority on what any church must do it if gathers on a Sunday morning.

About this particular overture, I have questions. First, I am not sure I know what “a public worship assembly” is. The word “assembly” in the BCO is, as best I know, used exclusively for the General Assembly — and the overture can’t mean that. BCO language for a Sunday morning church service is “a service of public worship” (e.g., BCO 47-2), but I don’t think it means that, either, since it mentions any “gathering overseen by the Church or one of its agencies.” So what are we talking about exactly?

Second, the word “public” is unclear, too. Is a college chapel service public? I assume it is, but I have not thought carefully about it. Is a meeting of missionaries overseas public? Perhaps it is private, thought it may resemble a Sunday morning worship service in many elements. Greater clarity is needed here.

Third, though preaching has a clear definition, I am not sure what counts as teaching: “No woman shall . . . teach at a public worship assembly . . . in any educational institution . . . .” Due to the amorphous nature of “a public worship assembly,” I wonder whether a nurse making an announcement during a Covenant College chapel about the psychological stress to students during the COVID–19 lockdowns counts as teaching — or not.

Finally, it is odd for a single sentence in BCO 53 to have constitutional authority but the rest of the chapter lack it. We are Presbyterians, but that seems pretty fine grained to me — though to be fair to the Session submitting this overture, BCO 59-3 (on marriage between one man and woman) does have unique constitutional authority in BCO 59.


Churches refer to unordained employees and volunteers according to their job titles, but some job titles are confusing, at best, and downright misleading, at worst. So we should approve overture 26.

I propose a few modifications. “Unordained people” seems odd, because it suggests we believe in “ordained people,” when we don’t — or we do, but only the male. Also, I like the idea of restricting the use of “titles connected to” the offices, e.g., a youth pastor should only be called a “pastor” if he is ordained. But this underspecified restriction creates problems, even with BCO 9-7, which speaks of “assistants to the deacons," which sounds like a title connected to an office.

Even still, let me be very clear: I am supportive of this overture; here is my attempt at a polished version:

7-3. No one who holds office in the Church ought to usurp authority therein, or receive any official titles of spiritual preeminence, except such as are employed in the Scriptures. Furthermore, no one without such an office should receive a title employed in the Scriptures for that office, such as pastor, elder, or deacon.



The current BCO 31-10 says, “When a member of a church court is under process, all his official functions may be suspended at the court’s discretion; but this shall never be done in the way of censure.” This overture seems to do away with this sentence (or perhaps it was an oversight) and replace it with a rather baroque set of provisions.

The overture is both too restrictive and too lenient. It is too restrictive because it gives Presbytery the power to require a local church to keep paying its minister, when the church may feel bound by conscience not to do so, and because it denies a member of the court his rights without qualification. The proposed changes are also too lenient, because, with the existing language removed, it applies only to “extraordinary moral failing that is public or in which there is an alleged victim.” Surely there are instances in which a member of the church court should have his functions suspended, even if the moral failing is private with no alleged victim.


This overture wants to make it possible for any commissioner at General Assembly (GA) to object to Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) decisions. The idea of “any commissioner” recording an objection to any SJC decision fills my heart with dread. It sounds like an administrative nightmare, and that’s after the GA floor riots. Additionally, if we are waiting with bated breath for an SJC decision to go our way, we are in a bad place as a whole denomination, and the ultimate answer should be legislative (via overtures) and not judicial (via the SJC).

Philosophical cross-reference: It should be impossible to favor this overture and be against O3 on decreasing the debate time. After all, if we have time to hear a hundred objections to an SJC decision, we can hear 30 more minutes of people saying the same thing. (This observation actually encouraged me to change my position on O3, for what it’s worth.)


I am sensitive to the concern raised in these overtures, namely that someone could skirt around the prohibition against using professional counsel by having a lawyer serve as a pro bono representative. But these overtures assume that this prohibition in BCO 32-19 stems from a desire to provide for equal resources between competing parties in a case. I disagree. I think the primary motivation is that no direct financial compensation be given to anyone advising someone in a case of process. After all, we must assume that, in every case, there will be any number of imbalances that the courts should address, when appropriate. For example, a high school teacher in a dispute with an illiterate will have an advantage before a court. The court should take that into account and make sure the illiterate has someone to read material to him.

I have trouble with the idea of getting upset over people who “unlock firm-wide resources” to help others. If the lawyer’s firm pays for his laptop or his phone, can he not appear in a church case if he has used these resources? Also, as best I know (I’m no lawyer), most law firms are not “corporations” so have no “corporate resources.” If the overture passes, then a shrewd lawyer could say he can still use his firm’s resources, since he is not using “corporate resources” anyway.

No more from me on this one: If you want more information, read what the very capable Matt Fender has written.


Allegations of abuse will more likely begin with an employer instead of a Presbytery. This overture asks four questions of the Administrative Committee about the relationship between a Permanent Committee or Agency — i.e., a teaching elder’s employer — and his Presbytery, that is, where he holds his membership as a minister. We need to know what is being done now so the General Assembly can decide whether the current practice is in fact acceptable.


This overture tries to address a twofold concern. On the one hand, we all too easily find fault with each other; on the other, we all too easily avoid necessary conflict. Current provisions in BCO 33-1 and 34-1, hoping to navigate these troubled waters, face the problem of underspecification. They both use a conditional statement, “If the Session refuses to act” and “if the Presbytery refuses to act.” That creates a problem: What counts as a refusal to act? Almost every Session and Presbytery will act in some way. This overture, unlike last year’s 2022–08, does not remove that unclear language. That's too bad.

The answer is somehow to get a critical mass to bring an indictment. If the threshold of requests is low, we risk being plunged into never-ending infighting. If the threshold is high, these paragraphs in the BCO will function as window-dressing, there to be seen but never used. This overture’s proposed modification for BCO 34-1 seems really clunky to me. I think it offers two options; the first is a Presbytery threshold, and the second is two Presbyteries plus one-third of the SJC.

Is there no way to amend it with a percentage threshold but a minimum requirement, i.e., X% but not less than Y? I do not know what X and Y should be, but I imagine there is some possible consensus. If we start with a high number, like more than two-thirds of the Presbyteries and not less than 30 of them, then perhaps we can see how low we can go?


Honestly, I found this overture exhausting, in part because it spans different sections, handling one issue: minority reports. I know why, given last year’s GA, there is a proposed change to RAO 17-1.4: If some members of the Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB) do not like an SJC case, then there ought to be a way of presenting this minority position to the Assembly for its consideration. Perhaps the Overtures Committee could make this overture merely and only about CCB and SJC. As it stands, the overture left me wondering why a minority report should not be allowed from the nominating committee and what that has to do with minority reports from the Committee on Constitutional Business.

More generally, no one should hope that any SJC ruling will resolve something controversial. Controversial things should be resolved by changes to the Book of Church Order, i.e., the solution should be legislative and not judicial. Even still, I recognize the desire to somehow check the power of the SJC. Perhaps the solution is to add to SJC Manual 2.12.d a possible non-censure removal of a member of the SJC by a majority vote of the General Assembly, but only upon a recommendation to do so by the CCB, by a two-thirds vote.


This overture wants to add a new paragraph to BCO 31 seeks to encourage Sessions and Presbyteries to be diligent and swift in their investigations of alleged public moral failings or those in which there is an alleged victim. But the four paragraphs merely specify — as best I know — some possible actions courts can already undertake under BCO 31-2.

Additionally, the overture raises some confusion, at least for me. By saying the court  “shall be permitted to hire professional investigators,” does the overture assume that courts are not permitted to do so now? If hiring professional investigators shall be permitted, should we assume that other actions of church courts are not permitted, because the BCO does not provide this kind of explicit permission? Also, what does it mean to show “deference to the legal authorities” if an investigation finds an “alleged criminally chargeable offense”?


Sorry to say it, but this overture strikes me as creating a mess out of something that should be easy. Someone does wrong, confesses, and wants the court to render judgment. Why require the court in that instance to “evaluate the accuracy and sufficiency of the statement of facts and confession”? I can see why this requirement for BCO 38-1 could be beneficial in cases of appeal (even for the sake of the court, as evidence of due diligence), but such is not always the case. Indeed, I wonder whether this overture would actually eliminate cases without process, because the court would always be required to do an investigation.

Also, why should the Book of Church Order always require the court “to inform the offended person(s) of that part of the Statement the court deems pertinent to the offense against him or her” before “final approval of the Statement by the confessor and the court”? It may well be in everyone’s best interest — most especially for the offended person — for the court to exercise discretion for the sake of the person offended. Remember, someone can sin against someone else without that person knowing about it. A court may not want to trouble someone with the knowledge that someone has sinned against him, e.g., if someone confesses to hating his brother in his heart, the brother who is hated may not want to know about it.

Perhaps we should explore having a case without process, as it now stands; a new case of partial process, in which the court does investigation into the accuracy and sufficiency of the statement alone; and also a case of process. (The parallel with Robert’s Rules of Order would be informal consideration, quasi committee of the whole, and committee of the whole [cf. RONR (12th ed.) 52:1].) Why would anyone want a case of partial process? A case of partial process could be especially useful in instances of establishing the accuracy and sufficiency of a confession as grounds for further action, e.g., one church member confesses the wrong that he and another church member did together.



Everyone is for it, so unless someone sets himself on fire during the floor debate, I will assume moving this boundary marker in Florida is an easy yes.


Given how infrequently the International Conference on Reformed Churches (ICRC) meets, everyone seems to favor postponing. I am there — at most. Looking at the list of churches, I wonder whether the ICRC is more Reformed than Presbyterian. I don’t know enough about it to say. Also, I wonder about the process of joining: The overture speaks of the PCA submitting a request to join the ICRC. Do we then need a subsequent overture to resolve to join, if our request is answered in the affirmative?


Initially, I was against this overture to decrease debate from 60 minutes to 30 minutes on a main motion and substitute. After all, in the case of a minority report, things are contentious, so I would rather hear the same thing over and over again, with different voices, than to have commissioners say the vote went against them because they did not have the opportunity to speak.

But then I started thinking about how many speeches can be made in 30 minutes with a capable Moderator guiding the Assembly. My back of the envelope calculation is that a near infinite number of speeches can in fact be made in that time. And, as the overture notes, a simple majority shall extend the time (RAO 19-9.h.3). If things are genuinely exciting, a majority of the commissioners will want to hear more. If not, we can save time for other business.


Overture 5 proposes to have chaplains function as evangelists, in part so they can baptize new converts. But chaplains are not evangelists in the technical sense, because evangelists are trying to plant a local church wherever they happen to be. Chaplains minister to servicemen and women who should be members of their home churches. Unbelievers who — praise God — come to faith in Christ should be encouraged to join a local church when they can. They should not be encouraged to have the chaplain “receive and hold the membership of the newly baptized.”

I am not sure what it means to hold someone else’s membership in oneself or one’s office. It sounds very Roman Catholic to me, e.g., CCC 832: “The Church of Christ is really present in all legitimately organized local groups of the faithful, which, in so far as they are united to their pastors, are also quite appropriately called Churches in the New Testament.” By contrast, in the PCA, membership is in a local church (BCO 4-1, 6-1, and 6-2); this overture almost make the chaplain a mission church in his own person (cf. BCO 5-3).


No one should reject this overture. Requiring Boards and Committees to report how they have responded affirmatively to the will of the Assembly sets the stage for better informed oversight by a future Committee of Commissioners. How many of us go to a committee meeting looking through what the previous GA said a committee should do?

The Administrative Committee proposes answering it in the affirmative with an amendment to add the word “material” before the word “policies.” I wonder whether replacing the word “policies” with “actions” would be better.


I assume this overture formalizes the practice of many churches, i.e., using electronic records for minutes and emails to dismiss members to other churches. I do have one question: The overture says the Administrative Committee and Office of the Stated Clerk should provide “practical and defendable solutions.” Should it say “defensible,” i.e., rationale or reasonable, or does the overture mean “defendable,” secure against a threat, e.g., hacking or tampering? I am fine with the overture either way, because I think both are important.


I read and re-read this overture carefully. I continue to be ambivalent towards it; I wonder whether the PCUSA is our spiritual mother, or whether this message should be delivered to the PCUS, which no longer exists. My change of heart from negative to affirmative came by thinking about my own relationship to the PCA. I was born after the PCA came into being, and I was raised a Southern Baptist. So I cannot imagine the persistent sorrow of my fathers and brothers over the continued apostasy of the churches of their ancestors. The divisions continue. For example, Princeton Seminary chose not to award Tim Keller the Kuyper Prize in 2017 — “in order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination” — even though he, on his part, was willing to speak there.


The overture wants the Board of Directors of the PCA Foundation to assume responsibility for risk management, which is one of the most important tasks of any foundation. So, yes.