An Overture To Assist The Accused

An overture to the 51st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America would expand the pool of representatives for those accused by church courts and bring the PCA’s practice more in line with that of her conservative presbyterian sister denominations. Church officers know that many church discipline cases end badly, with most accused dropping out of the process rather than being restored or convicted of anything other than contumacy—not participating in the process. Overture 26 seeks to keep accused church members in the process for their own good and reclamation. The whereases in the proposed amendment to the Book of Church Order (mostly just quoting other sections of the BCO) explain:

“Whereas, the exercise of discipline is highly important and necessary, and in its proper usage discipline maintains the glory of God, the purity of His Church, the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners, and…the power which Christ has given the Church (including the exercise of church discipline) is for building up, and not for destruction, is to be exercised as under a dispensation of mercy and not of wrath…”

There is a present barrier to the reclamation of and restorative mercy for erring church members: the loneliness, complexity, and difficulty of standing church trial alone. Overture 26 might help alleviate some of these difficulties. At present, an accused church member “if he desires it, be represented before the Session by any communing member of the same particular church, or before any other court, by any member of that court.” This means a person accused by his or her session of some offense can be represented, but the pool of available representatives may be very small (if the church is small), unlikely to include many unbiased persons (again, if the church is small), or unlikely to include persons well-versed in the PCA’s processes (few are expert in these matters). Ruling elders (who are always church members) are among the available representatives but assumedly are already involved in the process and may not be unbiased or willing to oppose their brother elders.
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Brad Isbell | “An Overture to Assist the Accused” | May 8, 2024


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