Assembly Refuses to Allow Churches to Raise Voting Age for Congregational Meetings

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—The 27th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly today voted not to begin the process of amending the Constitution to allow churches to set age limits for voting in congregational meetings. The action came despite the recommendation (21-4-0) from the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee that the overture from Pacific Northwest Presbytery be answered in the affirmative.

Proponents of the proposed amendments urged that children who might be admitted to the Lord’s Table might not be mature enough to determine matters of finance and the selection of church officers. Opponents successfully argued that the measure would create yet a third class of members in the denomination: “non-voting communicant” would be added to “voting communicant” and “non-voting non-communicant.”

This is not the first time the Assembly has dealt with the issue. In 1996, the Assembly approved a similar amendment, and sent it down to the presbyteries. It was reported to the 1997 Assembly that an insufficient number of presbyteries had voted in favor of the proposal. However, the Stated Clerk had been counting “abstentions” in the votes cast in the presbyteries as equivalent to “no” votes; upon challenge, that practice was overturned, and the Assembly declared that two-thirds of the presbyteries had voted for the change. At that point, floor debate persuaded the Assembly not to give final blessing to the amendment.

Congregational meetings which are also corporation meetings may be subject to age limits, in accordance with applicable state law. However, in all other congregational meetings, those who are communicants have all the rights and privileges afforded all communicant members.

Assembly Concludes with a Bang

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—The 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) had been relatively quiet and peaceful. But just prior to its early conclusion, the commissioners were jolted by the introduction of four protests and one objection.

A “protest” is a solemn declaration by one or more of a minority, expressing disagreement with an action by the court. An “objection” is employed by members of the court who did not have opportunity to vote on a judicial case. For close to an hour, the Assembly dealt with the emotion-laden matters.

The first protest was lodged by the Rev. Mr. Henry Johnson of Tazewell, Va., regarding the failure of the Assembly to receive a personal resolution with regard to the report that the Covenant College choir had sung in a Roman Catholic mass. The protest especially noted that the President of the school, Dr. Frank Brock, had admitted the previous evening that the incident occurred. The protest concluded: “We believe the Assembly was under obligation as a court of the church to investigate such a report in order either to maintain the good name of the parties involved, or to take appropriate action should the report be true.” Upon motion by Mr. John White, parliamentarian and Moderator of the 1989 Assembly, the body authorized the Board of Trustees of Covenant College to answer the protest, with that response to be brought back to next year’s Assembly.

The second protest was lodged against the conduct of public worship on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Read by the Rev. Mr. Gene Case of Woodville, Miss., the protest alleged that the worship was entertainment-oriented rather than truly worshipful. At the heart of the matter was the use of an orchestra on Tuesday night, and the use of a band on Thursday. The document does not question the motives of those responsible for the services, saying: “We do not believe the offense to have been intentional, nevertheless it is real.” The protest also stated: “We further deplore the offering of applause in honour of men in that true worship should be focused on God.” The protesters did acknowledge with gratitude the message given on Thursday night by the Rev. Dr. Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary of Louisville. The Rev. Mr. Mark Dalbey, who helped coordinate the services, proposed an answer to the protest, which answer the Assembly adopted. The answer to the protest stated that the worship was designed to be: 1. Reverent and joyful, drawing on the richness of the past and the freshness of the present; 2. Christ-centered and grace-centered gospel worship; 3. From the heart, according to the Word, to the glory of God, and for the edification of believers; and 4. Biblical content driven. The answer also stated that the purpose was “to present 1. excellence of musicianship drawing from the full Biblical repertoire of winds, strings and percussion, as well as the diverse giftedness of the PCA and Great Lakes Presbytery; 2. A Calvinistic Baptist preacher; 3. A women gifted in song to enhance the content of Isaiah 6, and 4. Instruments to aid in the singing of Biblical praise to triune God.”

The third protest took exception to the fact that the Assembly vindicated its Mission to North America (MNA) Committee regarding the appearance of a woman at the church planters conference in California in February, and the report that she had engaged in Biblical exposition and application, in apparent violation of the instruction given by the 1997 Assembly. The protesters, led by Mr. Dan Witcher of Bristol, Tenn., were concerned that the Assembly had given the MNA staff a clean bill without having bothered to consider evidence. The MNA Committee of Commissioners had access to a tape of one of the woman’s addresses, but did not listen to it.

At that point, Dr. Will Barker registered an objection to one of the cases out of James River Presbytery. The Westminster Seminary professor objected to “the sustaining of James River Presbytery’s disallowing of a man to teach his exception to the Westminster Standards.” Dr. Barker stated: “It is certainly the prerogative of Presbytery to determine if a man’s exceptions to the Standards violate the second ordination vow, in which case a man would not be acceptable for ordination in the PCA. A minister, however, must be free to teach what he believes the Scriptures teach if his exceptions are not deemed to violate his ordination vows. As WCF 20:2 says, “God alone is Lord of the conscience,” and ministers are conscience-bound to teach the whole counsel of God. We must, therefore, be free to teach and preach what we understand the written Word of God to teach. . . .”

A fourth protest raised the issue of women addressing the court. The protest noted that this was the second consecutive Assembly at which the practice had occurred; and that, while many had remained silent on the issue last year, hoping that it was an “aberration,” this year they felt compelled to bear testimony against the practice. The protest stated that historically, such a practice had been a prelude to female ordination. The protest also took exception to the fact that the incident had occurred without warning, and with no ability to consider the matter, nor to allow commissioners with conscientious objection to be excused formally from the meeting.

During the hour of dealing with these protests and this objection, one young ruling elder from Wilmington, N. C., attending his first Assembly, stood at a microphone. He stated that a “double-minded Assembly is unstable in all its ways.”

Shortly after dealing with these matters, the Assembly approved the report of the Committee on Thanks, and sang Psalm 133 (“Behold, how good a thing it is And how becoming well When those that brethern are delight In unity to dwell. . . .”).

Assembly Warns Parents of the Homosexual Agenda Being Promoted through Public Schools

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—The 27th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly today adopted a statement warning of the danger of homosexuality. The Assembly referred to prior statements against homosexuality made by previous Assemblies, and also adopted this statement: “Given the serious threat that sexual perversion generally, and homosexuality in particular, represents to young people in our society, the congregations of the PCA are encouraged to study the Scriptures, to pray for God’s mercy and truth to triumph in the lives of people involved in or affected by homosexuality, to speak and act pastorally on behalf of our children, and to direct further questions and concerns within our churches to those within our denominational circles especially able to assist them, such as Harvest USA.” The Assembly also added a sentence, which encouraged the elders of local churches “to warn parents of the homosexual agenda being promoted through the agency of government schools.”

Covenant College Choir

Returns from Eastern Europe Tour

Group Participates in Roman Mass in Two Churches

The Covenant College Choir returned in early June from its two week tour of Eastern Europe. Among the countries toured were Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

According to Dr. John Hamm, Professor of Music at Covenant College, the choir sang in a variety of places, including in Roman Catholic churches on two occasions, and in churches of the Hungarian Reformed Church (HRC) in the Magyar Republic (Hungary).

Professor Hamm stated that although there was perhaps some apprehension to go into a Roman Catholic church for worship, he and the choir members were “really inspired by the worship of the people there.” The fact that the church would be packed on a Friday at 5:00 PM was a great “commentary on their faith,” the professor said. In one Catholic church, the choir sang during the offertory, and in another the young people sang during the serving of the mass. However, none of the Covenant College Choir partook of the Eucharist.

When asked about how participation in a Roman Catholic mass squared with the Presbyterian standards, which condemn the mass, Dr. Hamm said: “We didn’t feel that was a big issue. I didn’t really have any students who at least voiced any significant concern.”

He continued: “I think the effects of participation were very positive”; and added that “under some circumstances, we might be involved again” in a mass. “I certainly wouldn’t seek out a Roman Catholic Church,” he said, but “if an opportunity arose, depending on the circumstances, I might consider it again.”

Dr. Hamm said that the individual who arranged for the Covenant College Choir to visit these various places was a lady at a university in Slovakia, with whom Covenant College works. The woman, who is a Roman Catholic, thinks highly of the Presbyterian school, according to Professor Hamm.

Creation Study Committee Continued for Another Year

Committee Members Report a Consensus Statement Which Affirms Historicity of Genesis and Rules Out Evolution

Louisville, Kentucky (June 16, 1999)—The 27th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly today continued for another year its Creation Study Committee (CSC). Created by last year’s Assembly, the CSC is charged with studying “the exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological interpretations of Genesis 1-3 and the original intent to the Westminster standards’ phrase ‘in the space of six days.’” The Committee was formed because of widespread controversy over the doctrine of creation.

The CSC was unable to complete its work, and so requested the one-year extension. Perhaps the most controverted matter which it faces is the meaning of the Confessional Standards’ phrase, “in the space of six days.”

Although there was no lengthy report, the Committee did authorize one of its members, Dr. Morton H. Smith, to read a consensus statement from the Committee. The original Stated Clerk of the PCA General Assembly, Dr. Smith read the following: “Your committee has not completed its work. While there is a diversity of viewpoints on the committee, our working together leads us to affirm our confidence in each other’s acceptance of the text of Genesis 1 and 2, as of all Scripture, as the inerrant Word of God and in each other’s integrity in the exegesis of the text. The Assembly should know that the members of the committee have unanimity as to some foundational issues. The committee unanimously affirms the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2 as a self-consistent and true account of God’s creation of the universe and of mankind in six days, and deny that Genesis 1 and 2 represent a mythical account of creation without reality in space and time, or that they represent two accounts that are without reality in space and time, or that they represent two accounts that are inconsistent with each other. Every person on the committee affirms that God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3-”By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible”), and deny that the universe or anything in it was eternal, existing alongside the eternal God. We affirm God’s special creation of Adam and Eve as real, historical individuals (Romans 5:12-14; I Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49), and deny that Adam and Eve were the products of evolution from lower forms of life.”

The Assembly ordered this statement spread on the minutes.

The motion to extend the life of the Committee was not automatically approved. Several commissioners spoke against the motion. In the end, however, the court decided to let the CSC to continue its work.

Assembly Declares Female Preaching to Violate Scripture

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—The 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America today declared that female preaching does indeed violate Scripture. The court also stated that any contemplated action in dealing with the phenomenon should originate with the lower courts.

The Assembly’s position came as it answered in the negative an overture from Western Carolina Presbytery which would have advised the presbyteries and churches that women preaching is inappropriate. However, in answering the overture in the negative, the Assembly gave as grounds that female preaching is out of accord with I Timothy 2:11-12.

Western Carolina’s overture was prompted by a report that women have preached at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, prominent PCA congregation in Knoxville, Tenn. Besides sending an overture to General Assembly, the North Carolina presbytery has also written to Tennessee Valley Presbytery, asking for an investigation into the matter.

Dr. Morton H. Smith, the first Stated Clerk of the PCA Assembly, and author of the overture, moved as a substitute that the overture be answered in the affirmative, based upon the same grounds as that cited by the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee. The Assembly, however, went with the B&O recommendation. After the vote on the issue, the Rev. Mr. Brent Bradley of Kingsport, Tenn., asked for his affirmative vote to be recorded on the substitute motion. A long line of commissioners joined him in recording their affirmative votes.

GA Adopts Statement on Creation

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—The 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) today adopted a statement on the doctrine of creation. The ten-point document does not directly address the length of the “days” of Genesis 1, but does take a firm stance on other matters, such as evolution.

As adopted by the court, the statement says that “Genesis 1 and 2 are a historic, self-consistent, and true account of God’s creation of the universe and of mankind in six days”; that “Genesis 1 and 2 do not represent a mythical account of creation without reality in space and time”; that “Genesis 1 and 2 represent one unified account of creation and not two accounts that are inconsistent with each other”; that “God made all things directly by His command . . .”; that “the eight fiat acts of creation in Genesis 1 were discrete, supernatural acts, and describe the creation of all kinds”; that “those things created by these acts were brought into existence instantaneously and perfectly”; that “God made Adam immediately from the dust of the ground and not from a lower animal form and that God’s in-breathing constituted man a living soul, in the image of God”; that “God made Eve directly from Adam”; that “the entire human race, with the exception of our Lord Jesus Christ, descended from Adam and Eve by ordinary generation”; and that “each of the kinds resulted from separate creative acts, and that any genetic development is only within these kinds, thus denying macroevolution.”

The action came in response to a personal resolution introduced the first night of the Assembly by the Rev. Dr. Joseph Pipa, President of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS). Located in Taylors, S. C., GPTS hosted a Creation Conference in March, 1999, which featured speakers from a variety of viewpoints. Out of that conference came a book, Did God Create in Six Days?, just released by the Seminary.

Dr. Pipa stated that he introduced his resolution in order to try to bring healing to the denomination. Over the last few years, PCA presbyteries and General Assemblies have been wrestling with the meaning of Genesis 1-3, and where and how to draw lines in order to prevent liberal views from infecting the church. The 1998 Assembly appointed an Advisory Committee on Creation, charged with studying “the exegetical, hermeneutical, and theological interpretations of Genesis 1-3 and the original intent of the Westminster standards’ phrase ‘in the space of six days.’” That ad interim committee did not complete its work, and was granted another year to present its report.

In arguing for his resolution to be accepted and sent to the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee, Dr. Pipa said that the issues he had raised needed to be addressed this year. The Assembly agreed to send the resolution to the B&O Committee, rather than the Creation Study Committee (CSC). President Pipa also stated that he did not view his resolution as being in competition with the work of the CSC.

In point of fact, the B&O Committee heard from both Dr. Pipa and members of the CSC, who affirmed that they did not view the resolution as being a threat to their work. Indeed, the Rev. Mr. Mark Rowden, chairman of the B&O Committee, said that two CSC members who appeared before his Committee, assured the men that adoption of some such statement would assist the CSC in its labors. The B&O Committee urged adoption of the statement.

However, there was not nearly the same unanimity on the floor of the Assembly. The Rev. Mr. Frank Van Landigham of Montrose, Colo., objected to the language of “instantaneous” to describe the creation acts of Genesis. And the Rev. Mr. Bill Smith, pastor of First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a member of the CSC, also objected strongly to certain points in the document. Efforts to remove that terminology failed, but not overwhelmingly—probably about one-third of the Assembly voted against the language.

GA Registration Fee Set at $200

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—The 27th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly approved the recommendation of its Administrative Committee, to set the registration fee for the 28th General Assembly at $200. The action increases the fee $60, from the current $140—an increase of close to forty-three percent.

The proposal was approved by the Permanent Administrative Committee (AC), which has been facing shortfalls in its budget; and by the AC Committee of Commissioners, on a vote of 18-4-1. Rationale for the huge jump includes the fact that the registration fee is not covering the expenses of conducting the Assembly; that next year’s Assembly will be even more expensive, since it will be held at a convention center; and that the fee also helps to support mandates from the Assembly, such as funding the Standing Judicial Commission and other committees and agencies whose budgets come under AC.

Speaking in opposition to the proposed increase was Dr. Jay Neikirk, a political science professor at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa. Dr. Neikirk, who is a ruling elder at Hillcrest Presbyterian Church, Volant, Pa., and Stated Clerk of Ascension Presbytery, argued that setting the fee so high would discourage many smaller churches from sending commissioners to the Assembly. The court, however, overwhelmingly adopted the measure.

The registration fee was first approved in 1983, to be effective at the 1984 General Assembly, “not exceeding $45.00.” By 1994, the fee was $100. In 1995, the AC asked for a thirty percent increase, to $130. The Assembly agreed to raise the fee to $115, for the 1996 Assembly only. The 1996 Assembly acquiesced with the AC request for a fee for the 1997 Assembly of $130. The 1997 Assembly raised the rate to $140.

Childs’ Play

Assembly Turns Down Attempt to Amend Vows for SJC Judges

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—By an overwhelming margin, the 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) voted down an attempt to amend the vows taken by those who sit on the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). The issue revolves around which standard is to be used in judging cases—is it the Word of God as understood by the church corporately (and as expressed in the Constitution), or is it the Word of God as understood by the individual interpreter?

In 1993, the General Assembly responded to concern expressed about the conduct of the SJC by appointing an Ad-Interim Committee on Judicial Procedures (AICJP). The AICJP, consisting of men representing a variety of viewpoints in the denomination, worked hard to produce a consensus. When the proposed reforms were adopted by the 1996 General Assembly, they were adopted as a “package.” Part of the package was a provision that called for those who judge cases to vow that they will judge according to the Constitution of the church.

For the second time in two years, Evangel Presbytery overtured on the matter. Helping to spearhead the effort was the Rev. Dr. Craig Childs, a member of the denominational Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB).

Reflecting the language of the overture, Dr. Childs argued that binding judges to the Constitutional understanding of Scripture would bind their consciences. However, the Rev. Mr. David Coffin argued against the proposed change, pleading that the present vow was viewed by many as a necessary part of the package, in order to keep the peace of the church.

The Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee recommended that the overture be answered in the negative. The Assembly agreed.

General Assembly Encourages Psalm Singing

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—The 27th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly today voted to encourage the singing of Psalms at each Assembly. Responding to an overture from Central Georgia Presbytery, the court encouraged the General Assembly Arrangements Committee and all those involved in planning the Assembly worship services to: “Distribute the Trinity Psalter for use of the Assembly each year”; “Sing Psalms as well as hymns at each Assembly”; and “Identify Psalms as such when they are used.”

In 1992, Central Georgia had overtured the Assembly, asking for a committee to study the use of Psalms and to encourage their use. Out of that study committee’s report came the recommendation to publish a words-only psalter. In 1994, the Trinity Psalter appeared, as a joint effort between the PCA and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, a sister denomination which still maintains the practice of exclusive psalmody.

At the 1994 Assembly, 1000 copies of the psalter were anonymously given for the use of the Assembly. The Christian Education and Publications bookstore sold out of the 1000 copies of the psalter it had brought, and took another 800 backorders. A total of 10,000 copies were initially printed. The Trinity Psalter is now in its second printing.

The Assembly utilized the psalter in 1994 and 1995, but for the last three Assemblies (1996-1998), the psalters lay unused in their boxes. At this year’s Assembly, a concerted effort was made to sing numerous psalms, including from the psalter.

PCA Again Expresses Concern Over Abortion

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—The 27th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly echoed previous Assemblies in condemning abortion. Responding to an overture from Philadelphia Presbytery, the Assembly adopted the following statement:

The 27th General Assembly of the PCA reaffirms with united voice the sanctity of human life under the protection of the Sixth Commandment. And to that end, The Stated Clerk is requested to do the following:

Remind all the churches and presbyteries of the continuing availability of its published report on the sanctity of Human Life adopted by the Sixth General Assembly.

That his letter to the churches regarding the actions of the 27th General Assembly repeat recommendations 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8 [from Philadelphia’s overture] urging our churches and presbyteries to seek God’s enablement and grace to implement them in light of the continued tragedy of abortion on demand in America.

Appoint someone to lead the Assembly in prayer for this issue at this time.

Appoint a national PCA day of prayer and fasting for the ending of abortion to be held at an appropriate day in the year AD 2000, inviting NAE churches, our sister NAPARC churches and other approved PCA ministries and agencies to join with us.

That each of the PCA Presbyteries be urged to establish a pro-life committee to address the recommendations of the Sixth General Assembly Report on the Sanctity of Human Life among its constituent particular churches.

The recommendations from Philadelphia’s overture included approaching the President of the United States, Congressional leaders, and the Chief Justice of the United States with a strong statement against abortion. Also included was the establishment of a Sanctity of Human Life Sub-Committee under the Christian Education and Publications Committee, to assist the Stated Clerk in informing the denomination, on a yearly basis, of the responsibility to show compassionate love to those contemplating abortion, and urging PCA members to “seek to bring about substantial changes in existing legislation so that the human life of an unborn child be recognized and protected.”

Pittsburgh Goes Three-for-Four

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—Three of the four overtures sent by Pittsburgh Presbytery with regard to amendments to the Book of Church Order (BCO) were approved by the 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). All four of the proposals had to do with judicial process.

The first one asked for clarification when a complaint is heard by the court of original jurisdiction. Originally, a complaint would go immediately to the next higher court. When the BCO was amended in the 1980s, so that a complaint would go back to the original court before being taken higher, not all of the terminology was changed to reflect the new situation. The proposed amendment would make clear that the court of original jurisdiction would have to appoint one or more representatives to defend its actions only “before the higher court.”

The second amendment would provide that when a presbytery has appointed a commission to serve as an interim session, that interim session becomes the court of original jurisdiction. Technically, since a commission is the creature of the court which created it, the court of original jurisdiction in such a case would be the presbytery. However, five years ago, in Case 92-10, the Standing Judicial Commission ruled in effect that the commission, since it was functioning as a session, was the court of original jurisdiction. The new amendment would ratify the SJC’s understanding of the Constitution.

The third amendment would clarify “Cases Without Process,” so that it would be clear that a court may not accept an alleged “confession of guilt” unless the person “intends to confess and permit the court to render judgment without process.” This, too, was approved.

The fourth proposed amendment was an attempt to clarify the distinction between suspension from office and from sacraments. In this instance, the Assembly agreed with the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee, that the recommended change was not helpful.

The three proposed changes which did meet with the approval of the Assembly now go to the presbyteries. If two-thirds of the presbyteries give their blessing, the 2000 Assembly would have to give final approval, by majority vote, for the changes to be enacted.

SJC Manual Amended

Louisville, Kentucky (June 16, 1999)—The 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) today amended the Manual for the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). The four amendments, each of which required approval by two-thirds of those voting which must also be a majority of the total General Assembly enrollment, passed as a package, 599-1.

The first amendment deals with situations in which people upon whom notice has been served cannot be found or refuse the delivery of notice. As amended, the SJC Manual now specifies that notice shall be regarded as having been given if: 1. “a party changes his/her address without notifying the Office of the Stated Clerk”; 2. “a party cannot be located after diligent inquiry”; 3. “a party refuses to accept delivery of materials or notice”; 4. “materials or notice are returned by the carrier with a notation that delivery could not be accomplished.” The second amendment specifies that the “Record of the Case, Briefs, Arguments, and all proceedings before a Panel or the Commission shall be presented in the English language.” The third amendment removes the requirement that the Stated Clerk send a copy of the Manual to the parties in the case, and now requires that the Clerk “shall notify the parties that the SJC Manual is printed as an appendix to the Book of Church Order.” The fourth amendment clarifies that a ruling elder who is “a member of a church which was in the bounds of the Presbytery that was a party of the case” is automatically to be recused from judging in that case.

[Editor’s Note: Historically, a ruling elder who came from a presbytery against whom complaint was lodged would be regarded as being a party to the case, because of the notion of the organic unity of the church. The impetus for this fourth amendment appears to come out of a different understanding of the nature of the church and the relationship of her courts.]

GA Votes Down Proposed Amendment to Directory for Worship Regarding Who May Read Scripture in Public Worship

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—The 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) today voted down an attempt to state in the Directory for Worship that only a “man approved by the Session” may read Scripture in public worship. The current terminology simply says that “the minister” or “some other person” may read the Bible in public worship.

Some PCA churches have interpreted the Constitution to mean that women and children may properly read Scripture in public worship. On the other hand, the 1997 General Assembly took exception to the minutes of Southern Florida Presbytery for having a woman read Scripture and another one lead in prayer during an organizational service; and the 1998 Assembly reaffirmed that judgment by giving Scriptural and Constitutional rationale for it.

By a vote of 24-2, the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee recommended that the Assembly answer the overture in the negative; and gave as grounds that the overture had not presented sufficient exegetical reasoning. B&O Chairman Mark Rowden spoke approvingly of the fact that in his congregation on Mother’s Day, the children had come up front to read Scripture. Other commissioners spoke of the legitimacy of non-authoritative reading of Scripture.

The man who had submitted the overture was the Rev. Mr. Timothy Rott. Originally presented as a proposed overture from his congregation, Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church, Cochranville, Pa., it had been turned down by Susquehanna Valley Presbytery. According to Mr. Rott, several of the congregations in Susquehanna Valley do have women read Scripture in public worship.

A retired Navy chaplain, Timothy Rott spoke of his ministerial journey. When he was ordained in 1979, these kinds of issues regarding women were not even on the horizon in the denomination. When he went into the Navy chaplaincy in the early 1980s, he faced much pressure to incorporate female chaplains as leaders in public worship—which pressure he resisted. He was looking forward to returning to civilian pastoral work, where he would not have to deal with such issues, and was dismayed to learn that the same issues were now in the PCA. He is fearful, he said, of where the church is headed. Pastor Rott stated that in his twenty years of being an ordained minister, he had spoken only one other time on the floor, and that was to call the question. He gave that anecdotal history in order to emphasize to the court how deeply he feels about the issue of women’s leadership in worship.

GA Declares That the Constitution is the Only Binding Statement for Denomination

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—Responding to an overture from Westminster Presbytery which expressed concern over a “Statement of Identity” which had been distributed throughout the denomination, the 27th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly affirmed “that the only binding statement identifying this denomination is the Constitution of the Church as defined in the Preface of the Book of Church Order, Section III. All other statements are simply individual statements of opinion and are to carry no authority nor to be binding guides to practice within the churches, committees and courts of the church.”

In January, twenty-nine churchmen had circulated a booklet, Statement of Identity for the Presbyterian Church in America. This was the second attempt to generate widespread acceptance of such a statement, the first attempt having come in 1994. Unlike the earlier effort, the promoters this time specifically said that they were not going to approach church courts to adopt the statement.

Despite that disclaimer, concern was voiced throughout the denomination that the statement might indeed come to have quasi-official status. The overture had asked the Assembly to join Westminster Presbytery in “decrying” this attempt “to create extra-constitutional ‘statements of identity’ or other ‘unofficial’ standards for the Church.”

No one on the floor debated the recommendation which the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee, by a vote of 22-3-0, had proposed. The response, which was adopted overwhelmingly, allowed the Assembly to put behind it a potentially explosive issue.

GA Answers FORC Synod Regarding Deposed Minister

Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)—The 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) today answered a communication from the Synod of the Federation of Reformed Churches (FORC) regarding a deposed PCA minister received by the Synod. The court declared that the Rev. Mr. Burke Shade “was not transferred as one in good standing as alleged by the Communication but as one who had been found guilty of several charges, suspended from the sacraments and from office, and later deposed from the ministry.” The Assembly also said: “If the Federation of Reformed Churches desires to receive Mr. Shade, it should be with the recognition that he was not a minister in good standing at the time of his reception since his name was retained on the roll of Illiana Presbytery until his trial was completed. This being the case, the Assembly advises the Federation of Reformed Churches that if they have received Mr. Shade, they should take proper steps to deal with the discipline duly imposed by a PCA court.”

The Presbytery of Covenant Reformed Church, a FORC congregation located in Harrisonburg, Va., had sent what it styled a “memorial” to the General Assembly. The communique, which was received not as a “memorial” but as a “communication,” asked questions and raised concerns regarding the handling of the case against Burke Philip Shade by Illiana Presbytery. Mr. Shade was found guilty of “apparently” teaching a particular doctrine, and the FORC communication asked “is this terminology [i.e., of finding someone “apparently” guilty] actually considered appropriate in the Presbyterian Church in America?” The communication also noted that Mr. Shade had been “convicted of spreading injurious reports in a legal document written for the court in response to the denial of a complaint.” The communique then said: “We believe that a reasonable indulgence should be allowed in this type of legal response to a complaint, i.e., if the facts presented are pertinent to the case, they should not be considered a basis for action against the accused. Is this belief on our part counter to PCA policy?”

The Assembly left those questions unanswered, and the concerns regarding the handling of the case unaddressed. Instead, the court declared: “The proper way for a judicial case, that has been settled by one of our presbyteries, to be brought before our General Assembly is either by appeal by one who has been duly tried by the presbytery or by complaint by a member of the presbytery. Since neither action has taken place, the General Assembly declines to enter into a retrial or review of the case on the basis of the Communication from persons outside of the PCA.”