Assembly Adopts Judicial Procedures Report

The 24th General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the recommendations of the Ad Interim Committee on Judicial Procedures. The major proposal, which was considered as a package, passed 791-17.

Chairman David Coffin led the court through a one hour informal consideration of the report, before the actual voting took place. Reflecting on the unanimous votes by his committee, Mr. Coffin facetiously remarked, "I must admit, I was tempted to try the omnibus motion, but I will resist that temptation." One of the points he raised was to note that, if the proposal is adopted of having the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) reports spread on the minutes of General Assembly without the court voting on them, under most circumstances no member of the court would be allowed to register a protest, dissent, or objection.

Questions and concerns were heard from varying viewpoints within the church. RE John White, some of whose suggestions to the Committee had been adopted at the last minute by the AICJP, said, "I have been a vocal critic of some of the proposals of this committee. . . . I am now satisfied that the sufficiency and superiority of Scripture has been correctly noted and I can fully support the recommendation."

TE Craig Childs, who has been a chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB), wondered about the provision that would have the CCB review the minutes of the SJC. He asked "how easy is it going to be for some technical thing . . . to derail the whole process?" TE Lee Ferguson answered "it's only the minutes that the Constitutional Business Committee would review." Mr. Childs also expressed concern about the vows that would be required of SJC members, including those that would bind the judges to limit themselves to the church's Constitution: he stated that this would create "a package that will bind me in to a system that doesn't allow the Scripture to break in." Mr. Coffin responded that "there's certainly no intention to diminish Scripture as the . . . only rule of faith and practice." However, although Scripture functions immediately in the creed-making process, it functions mediately in the appeals process and the application of church law. RE Bruce Ferg objected to what he called the crux of the report: the contention that a commission is unreviewable by a court of the church. Quoting from Baird's Digest and J. A. Hodge, he stated that a commission's actions are only provisional. He urged that a higher court is "higher" because it is "broader," and pleaded, "We are abrogating our Scriptural responsibility as shepherds of the flock."

Chairman Coffin countered that Baird's position is "a distinct minority view, especially in the Southern church." He cited the writings of Charles Hodge, Stuart Robinson, and James Henley Thornwell, and appealed to Leslie's digest of the actions of the Southern Presbyterian Church, in support of the Committee's recommendation.

During the formal debate on the key recommendation, TE George Long objected to the possibility of a minority report, since that "reduces the commission to a committee." He also took exception to statements that controversies in judicial cases should be settled "by an application of the Church's publicly adopted view of Scripture's teaching as embodied in her Constitution" rather than "by the individual judge's private view of the Scripture's teaching."

TE Peter Lillback was concerned about the possibility of judicial tyranny, and asked, "Is the Committee confident that we've done everything to protect our Constitution?" Committee member RE Dale Peacock answered, "This Committee unanimously has devised a procedure which we believe is the best we can do." Supporting that contention were TE Howard Griffith ("The perception as well as the actual accomplishment of justice will be forwarded") and TE Skip Dusenbury ("They've succeeded in furthering justice . . . and the cause of unity in our church"). TE David Stockment and TE John Evans questioned the wisdom of having two different definitions of commission-one for the Assembly, another for the lower courts. Stated Clerk Paul Gilchrist, also a member of the Committee, said, "our committee did not feel that we had the mandate to address" the question of amending the BCO with regard to other courts.

"I feel as if this is a major, major event in the PCA," declared Moderator Charles McGowan upon the conclusion of the report of the Committee. "I sense that the entire Assembly is impressed that this committee came back with a unanimous recommendation," he said, adding, "that could only be the work of the Holy Spirit." Mr. McGowan stated, "We've all had to admit that there have been undercurrents in the denomination that trouble us all." To the Committee, he commented, "You have blessed us all."