Interchurch Relations Report Avoids Controversy on Overtures

St. Louis, Missouri (July 1, 1998)-Since at least 1993, the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) report has been the focus of significant controversy. This year, a unanimous and a virtual unanimous vote from the IRC Committee of Commissioners on two controversial overtures helped prevent the same type of rancorous debate which previous Assemblies have witnessed.

At last year's Assembly, four presbyteries had overtured to ask for a full investigation of actions by the IRC with regard to the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council. Those four overtures focused on the failure of the IRC to present in a timely fashion a motion before NAPARC regarding the removal of the Christian Reformed Church from that conciliar body; and on the affirmative vote by the PCA delegation for the admittance of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In response, the IRC had used Scriptural sayings against those four presbyteries. This year, Northeast and Ascension Presbyteries, offended by the terminology employed by the IRC, had sought a redress of the situation.

An effort at harmony prevailed in the IRC Committee of Commissioners, which voted, with the concurrence of representatives of those presbyteries, to note that last year's Assembly had expressed its confidence that the IRC had acted in good faith; to express regret at the language used, including "what could be described as deliberate distortions of the truth"; and to urge that the parties work toward reconciliation.

However, not every proposal of the Committee of Commissioners sailed through. Objection was raised to the Committee of Commissioners (C of C) wanting to take exception to the Permanent Committee's minutes for having an alternate serve as Chairman and vote, even though his presence was not necessary to constitute a quorum. A previous General Assembly had taken exception to another committee's minutes for that violation. But on motion from the floor, the matter was committed to the Committee on Constitutional Business.

Re-committed to the Permanent IRC was the matter of ecclesial relations. The 1997 Assembly had instructed the IRC to work on various categories of relationships which the denomination might have with other churches. In carrying out this assignment, the IRC had proposed four categories, with the Assembly to vote directly only on the establishing of "fraternal relations." The C of C recommended that the Assembly should have a direct say in whether it wanted to enter into relations with any church at any level. Questions and concerns about the implications of inter-communion and pulpit exchange led one commissioner to ask that the matter be referred back for clarification. With the support of TE Rick Perrin, Chair of the Permanent Committee, the Assembly agreed.

The Assembly declined to receive two position papers from the National Association of Evangelicals, but did refer them to Christian Education and Publications for study.