PCA Ruling Elder Brad Isbell On The Future Of The Overtures And The PCA GA

PCA Overture 37 will fail to receive the requisite two-thirds vote of the presbyteries to bring it before the 2022 PCA General Assembly for final approval. And Overture 23 (which, like 37, concerns same-sex-attracted church officers) will pass or fail by a narrow margin of 1-5 presbyteries. This will confuse outsiders and PCA members, and it will confuse PCA sessions who are on the fence about their churches’ future in the PCA. Adding further confusion will be a raft of replacement overtures if both 23 and 37 fail. The outcome of the overtures votes and the prospect of prolonged conflict will prompt… Read more»

Brad Isbell | “Presbyterian Predictions For 2022” | January 14, 2022


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  1. A question for Brad Isbell: Do you think that the prospect of a wholesale departure of churches from the PCA is much of a concern to what you refer to as the “progressive-missional” faction of the PCA?

    • I’m not sure if it is, but it should be. Traditional-confessional churches are major funders of many PCA projects. And some men in other PCA camps have recognized the importance of confessional “ballast.” inconvenient as it may be sometimes. But history tells us that it is rare for large groups of to depart en masse, the PCA in 1973 being an exception. The issues today are not as clear as they were in the early 70s, though many would say they are similarly serious.

  2. Another question for Brad,
    I’ve been keeping a close watch on the articles written for and against the overtures in question. To get to the point: what good will it do if both 23/37 pass and are approved in the next GA if these overtures are not going to be binding as to polity and practice?
    Is it true that individual PCA churches can just ignore wholesale the changes to the BCO and keep going along the track of SSA with no regard? The GFS seems to me to be the means by which this will be accomplished by those churches who are opposed to the overtures. This just stinks.
    I’m not a member of the PCA yet and all this is why. I’m waiting to see how this shakes out, though I have my doubts that it’s going to end well. Absolutely depressing.

    • Hi Nick: Brad can probably provide a more authoritative answer since he is a Ruling Elder but I’ll give you the perspective of a long-time layman in the PCA. Good Faith Subscription applies to the Westminster Standards. The Book of Church order is in theory binding for all in the PCA. However, individual presbyteries appear to be functionally sovereign. The highest court of the PCA, the Standing Judicial Commission, has been loath to overrule the judgments of individual presbyteries. So we have 80+ presbyteries with fairly widely differing views under one “big tent”. The question is whether this “big tent” can hold with large factions who hold theological views that are antithetical. History would say no. How this conflict will be resolved (and it will be resolved one way or the other) is open to speculation at this point.

  3. Nick, there is no silver bullet to cure what ails any particular denomination and there are no quick fixes. The overtures have some practical value and even more symbolic value: they would make a statement about whether the PCA is or is not a Side B-friendly denomination.

  4. Bob, it is true that the SJC has been loath to rule on biblical-doctrinal issues, generally sticking to questions of process. This obviously leads to confusion and mistrust. Some would say the lack of conviction and clarity re: the Federal Vision cases in the PCA left the door open for some of what has followed — arguably there’s a latitude-peace vs. clarity-precision thing going on.

  5. Overture 37 Will Lead to Cultic Practices

    This is a difficult issue to write about – difficult because the issues surrounding Overture 37 are indeed very complex and nuanced. I have read the Overture, and am familiar with the arguments for passing it, as well as the arguments against it. Both sides make excellent points, which makes writing on the Overture all the more difficult, especially since I am a lay member in the PCA, and one who does not aspire to be an Elder or a Deacon. And yet, Overture 37 deeply concerns me in how it will affect the local church, the Presbytery, and the entire denomination if it passes. If the Reader will allow me to say so, I have experienced ‘Overture 37’ before, and liken such a proposal to the kind of practices which eventually lead to an entity becoming cultic. To qualify my point, by the Lord’s grace, I have survived 2 cults in my 62 years, one before I came to saving faith in Christ, which was a mind-science cult, and the other, after I came to saving faith in Christ at age 17, which was during the time of the Charismatic Movement, of which there were many camps; my experience happened in the ‘Shepherding’ camp, which emphasized ‘authority’ and ‘accountability’ in discipleship as major themes, achieved through the vehicle of ‘small accountability groups’. As I write about my experience, I think it wise not to name names in recounting my experiences; I have truly forgiven the offenders, yet, because the reality of men seeking to dominate and have pre-eminence over others is a recurring theme in life and living, it is urgently important to talk about it.

    One of the many things which drew me to the PCA was the reasonableness of the denomination; true, everyone acknowledged that they were sinners in need of salvation, accomplished through faith in Christ alone, but it also seemed that the Doctrines of Grace established a foundation for understanding a loving Heavenly Father, who was working in our lives in a wise and gracious way, leading us in becoming more Christ-like without trying to embarrass us for our past lives which were not lived for Him, but were lived after the flesh, against which, of course, the battle continues until death. This was the general attitude and tone of so many in the PCA, and needless to say, the sermons and teaching were excellent. However, after a time I began to see ‘more than strains’ of what I had come out of in the Charismatic-Shepherding Movement – becoming more apparent in the PCA. I do not believe that this is true of the PCA in general, but it is quite apparent and visible through the books, literature, media, and writings of a number of teaching elders and members of the laity, in laying so much emphasis upon sanctification, to the diminishment of justification, the bedrock of our Reformed faith. It seems to me that Overture 37 is an outward manifestation of this school of thought, and recalls many of the same themes of heavy-handed authority and accountability, intense cross examination for sin and patterns of sin, and legalism, all of which are employed as practices done in the name of pursuing holiness, or sanctification. Witch-hunts (trying to find secret sins), and ‘looking demons under every rock’ (even a ‘sports’ demon) were commonplace in the church of my youth. Even without the ‘revelation gifts’, this kind of practice is still utilized – to try to find secret sin, especially, and to give the devil more attention and credit than he is due. The fundamental truth about Overture 37 is that when the leaders begin practicing it, the sheep will follow suit in practicing it on each other (as people are naturally mimetic), and the church will suffer damage. Inevitably, people will leave, churches will break up, and some might even bring harassment lawsuits. The church of my youth experienced a split, resulting in the side of the church which was more reasonable and loving – surviving – even to this very day, and though I don’t agree with them theologically, they are beautiful saints who love the Lord. The other side of the split, which was very much into authority and accountability, with all of the trappings, died a tragic death as a church. All of this hurt and damaged people on both sides, and some never recovered from it, and there were those who, reportedly, stopped walking with the Lord. I was a member of the side which completely went up in smoke. To say that this could not happen in the PCA would be foolish; it could happen to any church in the Body of Christ, regardless of denomination.
    Time and space do not permit me to explain the why of why I was caught up in such a movement, except to say that I sincerely desired to be pleasing to the Lord and fulfill my ‘calling’ (which was erroneous, confusing, and false). Later on, a brother in Christ shared something with me that was very liberating, though it was difficult to hear at the time – in that, “we can be sincere, but we can be sincerely wrong”. I do not understand even now why the Lord decreed that I would journey through such pain, chaos, and confusion in being under bad authority and bad practices in the church, but I trust that His Will is always good, even during the worst of times.

    For certain, if Overture 37 passes, there will be fewer candidates, fewer good men – who will step forward to express their desire to serve in the church as Elders and Deacons. Who would want to invite that level of scrutiny into their lives in being examined for a church office? If Christ has forgiven – and forgotten – why would Christ require such an ‘emptying of the bowels’ before men in order to serve Him in His church? True, there is need to be prudent and discerning when choosing men for ‘the office of bishop’, but it seems that the present language, structure, and process of the Book of Church Order is more than adequate for the task at hand. I do so very much agree with how the PCA has addressed the latest issues regarding those in the ministry who identify as being attracted to the same-sex, and yet, Overture 37 seems to be ‘overreach’, in response to the urgent and pressing issues facing the church. My first impression of Overture 37 was that it was an unsound, and, consequently, an unorthodox practice. My first impression remains my last impression.

    I close with the prayerful hope that my dear brothers in Christ in the PCA, the denomination I love, and which has been my spiritual home for so many years (31), will consider my words, and refrain from taking on practices which will damage the church, and add more suffering to the suffering. I do love all in the Lord, even those with whom I disagree. May the Lord’s Will be done.

    • Dear Thomas,

      I appreciate your concern. Obviously, any part of a BCO can be abused but why, in your view, is overture 37 uniquely dangerous? What is it about 37 that makes it likely to be abused in the way you envision or fear?

      How should the PCA respond to the problem of, among other things, SSA candidates for the office of teaching elder?

      I’ve been watching the PCA since c. 1981 and fairly closely since ’84. I’ve not seen the sort of perfectionism that concerns you. I suppose it is possible and I don’t doubt that it exists in small pockets. The PCA has a little bit of most everything that exists in broader evangelicalism.

      One thing that distinguishes a confessional P&R denotation from the sorts of cults you mention is the structure of the PCA. There are sessions, presbyteries, and general assemblies by which TEs, REs, sessions, and presbyteries are held accountable. Should a session or a presbytery go rogue in the way you fear, why wouldn’t other presbyteries or GA hold them accountable? After all, each presbytery has to give account to GA for its actions and they are regularly corrected in small (and sometimes in large) ways. This review is done every year at GA.

      In other words, aren’t you overlooking the checks and balances built into the system?

    • Dear Thomas,

      I hope you will be so kind as to explain how it is unloving to forbid office to self-professed homosexuals, or how it is that language which is intended to defend against people who publicly (and proudly) identify as homosexual is an example of a ‘witch hunt’ or poking around rocks looking for secret sins. Your comment, like those of the PCA’s latitudinarians, is long on words and emotional appeals, but it essentially boils down to a dubious plea for pragmatism (e.g., your belief that “there will be fewer candidates”) and not hurting anyone’s feelings. No one has a right to office, least of all those who imagine that their heinous sins of the heart do not disqualify them from it. Overture 37 may not be perfect, but the alternative, which you seem to prefer, is one in which pretty much no one is disqualified for maintaining even the most dreadful sins of the heart or mind.

  6. Thank you Scott for letting me share. I really appreciate your thoughtful and informative reply. Being a lay member, I understand that the PCA does have a system of checks and balances, but I am not familiar with the mechanics of it, so you helped me to see and understand more. I think you and I have had different observations and experiences, for sure. For that reason I try hard not to make a generalization about the PCA as a whole, but, like a structural engineer, look at issues in terms of a plus/minus column in considering the structural integrity of an existing building. If Rev. David Coffin will permit me, I agree with his assessment of the language of the Overture, as stated so well in his recent ByFaithOnline article. The language of it seems to be crafted to give license to PCA leadership in performing very invasive spiritual MRI’s on prospective candidates. The wording of the Overture seems very vague….ambiguous….and where would it end? Again, I speak of the congregation imitating leadership, being naturally mimetic. This could lead to very extensive problems, even in the name of trying to screen SSA candidates, which is so needful in this hour of the church. If one wants to kill a fly, a 20-pound hammer will certainly do it, but in the aftermath, the marble counter whereupon the fly lighted will undoubtedly be severely damaged.

    • Thomas,

      The process is more art than science. Should a presbytery ask a candidate to detail his sins, they may be there a while. I do think it is fair for a presbytery to ask if a candidate has a same-sex orientation, which is the language used by the GA study committee.

      FWIW, it doesn’t seem likely that 37 will pass.

      The PCA does need to find a mechanism by which to address the candidacy of those with SSA.

  7. Scott,

    I do agree with you and the fairness aspect regarding asking whether a candidate has SSA. Your insights are very helpful to me…..’that the process is more art than science’…..so well said!

    On the status of the Overture passing, I’ve heard the same in other quarters, but then it seemed that it might barely pass. Regarding what I’ve experienced, it’s like being in a fire, as an analogy. When you’ve been burned, you never forget it, and you want to warn others so they won’t get burned either.

    Thank you Scott. God bless you.

  8. In this matter I think we forget that the TEs and REs do not have total control over this process. I will confine myself here to pastoral candidates for ordination. It is the *congregation* which alone votes to issue a call to a pastoral candidate. When a pulpit committee is formed to evaluate pastoral candidates, it can ask a candidate about his character. If it refuses to consider an SSA candidate then the matter ends there. The Presbytery only examines those pastoral candidates which a congregation has voted in the affirmative to call. So a congregation has preemptive power over pastoral candidates.

    • Thank you Bob. This is so helpful. Your commentary speaks to my belief that the tools are there already to deal with the issues, whether SSA, or other. And the congregation is very key in the process, as you shared. I wonder if the Overture is being pushed for legal reasons, given the present state of our culture? If you feel differently about the Overture than I do, it’s good to be able to talk about it, at least, in a civil way.

  9. Marshall,

    Thanks for your comment. Dr. David Coffin really would be my go-to person for fully laying out the reasoning for objecting to the Overture, and my concerns enjoin his; I felt that because I had been under such spiritual scrutiny (very much like the language of 37 in actual practice), and the consequences of what it did, not only to me, but to an entire church, was more than reason enough to talk about it. I believe you’ve misjudged me, and also others who don’t agree with your views/positions, and are making ‘jump-cuts’ in the film you are making about Overture 37.

    • I did not misjudge you; I disagreed with you. I do not doubt your sincerity and good intentions, but rather dispute that your position – namely, that homosexual lust should not disqualify one from office – would be anything other than disastrous for the PCA. My words were pointed not to insult but to bid you move beyond your experience and feelings and see that you are ignoring the actual nature and consequences of normalizing sexual immortality, which would be to take the PCA in the path of the mainline churches.

  10. Thanks Scott. I have not seen them, but am so glad for the conversation being generated about the issues. Maybe, like my Professor in Architecture said about my initial thesis statements,…..’there is an idea in there’. By the way, I am a fan of Nebraska the state and Lincoln the city. Beautiful place, with great people. Heartland of America. My favorite architect, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, designed the Capitol, and I was so glad to see it when I visited a long time ago.

  11. Thomas: The point that seems to be continually getting lost is that Overtures 23 & 37 have nothing to do with the laity. They are guides to evaluating the character of ministerial candidates by presbyteries. They are a much needed response to those in the PCA who see no biblical obstacle to ordaining candidates who self identify as SSA. The overtures would be a symbolic flag planted which proclaims that the PCA will not go willingly or easily into the kind of apostasies seen in other denominations despite cultural pressures in that direction.

      • Thank you Scott and Bob. I do see what you’re describing, which should not be the case. I’m still concerned about a ‘trickle-down effect’, though, which is why I feel the way I do.

  12. Marshall,

    This is a difficult issue, and because the fighting is so fierce on both sides, it is hard to see through the smoke and cannon-fire to be able to tell ‘who is who’ in some quarters……….I think that you either did not read my article very well, or have presupposed me to be a carrier of the Rainbow Flag in some way, along with others who hold opposing views about Overture 37…….

    Here (below) is my own statement about SSA and my support for the PCA’s handling of it from my article:

    ……..”I do so very much agree with how the PCA has addressed the latest issues regarding those in the ministry who identify as being attracted to the same-sex”……

    Based upon my statement above, how do you come to the conclusion that I am for LGBTQ/SSA candidates to be ordained as ministers in the PCA? Based upon what I have been reading, the overriding tone-feeling among those who support the passage of Overture 37 is that those who are against it are either actively pro-LGBTQ or passively so. I can tell you very plainly that I am neither, and others who oppose the measure, I sense are not, either.
    Christians cannot endorse and support what God says is sin and that for which Christ died. That being said, I still hold to the view that the Overture, in it’s current concept, would open a ‘Pandora’s Box of bad practices in the church, and I would refer anyone back to my article again for my reasons why, and also, even more so, to the excellent treatise on the Overtures by Rev. David Coffin in ByFaithOnline.

  13. Hi Thomas, and hello to all the others,
    I’ve read all the thoughts put to words here, and if I may be so bold as to put one statement into quotes, it would be yours Thomas.
    “Christians cannot endorse and support what God says is sin and that for which Christ died. That being said…”
    Unlike the other contributors here, I am no wordsmith. I am, though, diametrically opposed to that statement. It is my sin for which Christ died, and that so I might be able to see sin for which it is, a reprehensible offense to a thrice holy God. For a born again believe not to endorse and support what God says is sin, is indeed, both the original sin and to raise the fist against this very God and His word which He has most plainly and openly laid out for all to see.
    I’m not fishing for kudos here, I’m simply finding your statement perplexing, and hopefully, just a unfortunate choice of words.

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