Saturday, December 1, 2007


As Beelzeblog continues to throw his worldwide tempter tantrum regarding the PCA’s process, a brother on the Warfield list noted that seven years ago Louisiana Presbytery used an overture to seek remedy against Tennessee Valley Presbytery.

From P&R News, volume 6, number 2, March–April 2000:

Cajun Court Also Asks for Condemning of Judgment in John Wood Case

At its April 15, 2000, stated meeting, Louisiana Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) adopted two overtures, both of them dealing with Tennessee Valley Presbytery (TVP) and the John Wood case. The court overtured the General Assembly to discipline Tennessee Valley Presbytery and to condemn the judgment rendered by the Standing Judicial Commission in the John Wood case.

The first overture which passed asks the 28th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to condemn and to bear testimony against the judgment of the 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America in re the judicial case with respect to the Rev. Mr. John Wood. Included among the rationale offered were the following:

“Presbyterianism historically has allowed for one General Assembly to condemn the opinion of another General Assembly”; “the decisions of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) are those of the previous General Assembly”; “the General Assembly is bound “to bear testimony against error in doctrine . . . , injuriously affecting the Church. (BCO 14- 6.a.)”; “the decision of the SJC in re Presbyterian Church in America vs. John Wood is evidently flawed”; “because of the peculiar nature of current PCA judicial process, the General Assembly as such never was able directly to review this decision of the SJC”; “the decision is flawed in numerous ways, especially in its interpretation of the Constitution”; “this situation of having a seriously-flawed decision in this judicial case is troubling to the church and is potentially divisive”; “the God who has called us to peace is not the author of confusion”; and “the Ninth Commandment requires ‘from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice. (WLC, Q/A 144).”

The overture lists various errors in Constitutional interpretation:
  1. The SJC assumes that a corporate responsibility by a session means that individual members cannot also be held responsible for the action of the session;
  2. the SJC assumes that there were no doctrinal issues involved, but merely the action of inviting a woman to fill the pulpit, when there is evidence that Mr. Wood advocates female preaching;
  3. the SJC assumes that action by Tennessee Valley Presbytery to vindicate the Session of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee, automatically clears Mr. Wood;
  4. the SJC forcibly recused members of the SJC from Ascension, Calvary, and Western Carolina Presbyteries, based on the allegation that these presbyteries were parties to the case, whereas in point of fact, in a case of original jurisdiction, the “original and only parties in a case of process are the accuser and the accused. The accuser is always the Presbyterian Church in America. . . .” (BCO 31- 3).
A second successful overture directly takes aim at Tennessee Valley Presbytery, seeking its discipline. The overture argued that “several presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) have formally brought to the attention of Tennessee Valley Presbytery (TVP) the fact that one of its churches has allowed women to preach”; that “TVP, to date, has refused to deal adequately with the situation”; that “our Constitution tells us that it is “incumbent” upon a higher court that has been “well advised” of serious neglect or irregularity, to “take cognizance of the same, and to examine, deliberate and judge in the whole matter” (BCO 40-4)”; that “the 14th General Assembly, in approving the report of the blue-ribbon Ad Interim Committee on the General Assembly, approved the following principle: “In the event the lower court does nothing [with regard to discipline], by virtue of its ecclesiastical authority the higher court may (a) ignore the failure to act, or (b) counsel, advise, exhort, and urge the lower court to comply, or (c) reprimand or rebuke the lower court, or (d) suspend one or all of the ecclesiastical privileges of the lower court with respect to the higher courts — e.g., to overture or reference a matter to the higher courts, to vote upon amendments to the Standards, to vote at the higher courts, or even to have commissioners at the higher courts, or (e) as a last resort “act against” the lower court by dismissing it from the fellowship. (M14GA, pp. 103, 436)”; that “given the great turmoil which TVP’s failure to act has engendered throughout the PCA, it does not seem prudent for the General Assembly to ignore this willful failure”; that “since sister presbyteries have already counseled and urged TVP to act in a satisfactory manner and it has refused to heed this advice, it seems that the second option has already, in essence, been exercised”; and that “we do not want to proceed immediately to the drastic measure of exscinding TVP from our fellowship without giving it at least one more opportunity to repent.”

Louisiana Presbytery thereupon overtured the 28th General Assembly “to take appropriate disciplinary measures against Tennessee Valley Presbytery for its failure to uphold the Standards of our church, said disciplinary measures being that of a reprimand or rebuke, along with the pronouncement that if TVP does not act in a satisfactory fashion by the time of the 29th General Assembly, its ecclesiastical privileges of having commissioners seated at the General Assembly and of having representatives from the Presbytery to be nominated to any General Assembly committee, commission, board or agency, will be revoked.” Louisiana Presbytery further resolved that the 28th General Assembly should “enact these measures by any lawful means possible, including, if deemed necessary, the conduct of a trial on the floor of the Assembly (BCO 40-5 and 40-6).” Also passed was a resolution consisting of a series of questions to be posed to the Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB).

The overture begins by stating that “many in the Presbyterian Church in America have serious doubts about the ability of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) effectively to represent the denomination as a whole”; that “the decision of the Standing Judicial Commission in re the judicial case of Presbyterian Church in America vs. John Wood is, in the minds of many in our denomination, seriously flawed”; that “we desire to proceed in these matters in such a way as to address our concerns in a proper and, so far as possible, a peaceful manner, with full submission to the wisdom of the General Assembly”; and that “the toleration of a situation in which a woman is allowed to fill a PCA pulpit is divisive, and will, if not satisfactorily redressed, lead to division of our beloved church. Based on those premises, Louisiana Presbytery directed the following questions to the CCB:
  1. Suppose that a presbytery declined to proceed judicially against a session with regard to an apparent violation of our Standards (for example, allowing a woman to preach), and suppose further that no one in the presbytery filed a complaint against that willful failure by the presbytery. What are the possible recourses for others in the Presbyterian Church in America in order to deal with the situation? For example, would it be appropriate or legitimate for charges to be brought against the presbytery, seeking its discipline since it had failed to uphold our Cajun Court Also Asks for Condemning of Judgment in John Wood Case church’s Standards?

  2. Suppose that the Standing Judicial Commission was derelict in its duty, whether deliberately or because of incompetence. What possible recourses are there?

  3. a. For example, would it be appropriate or legitimate for judicial charges to be brought against the individual members of the SJC?

    b. Would it be appropriate or legitimate for administrative charges to be brought against the individual members of the SJC? (Presumably, this would require a rescinding of the vote to elect them to their post.) How would an administrative trial be conducted? If prior notice were given, would a vote to remove require a simple majority?

  4. If a court is responsible for a particular matter, may charges be brought not only against the court corporately but also against the individual members thereof who approved of that action? For example, our Book of Church Order says that the session is responsible for the conduct of public worship in the congregation. Suppose that a session authorized a known homosexual to preach; could charges be brought against the individual members of the session who voted for that action?

  5. What would be the effect of an Assembly declining to approve the motion, that it declares the SJC to be its commission (BCO 15-4)?

  6. Historically, Presbyterianism has allowed one General Assembly to condemn the opinion of a prior Assembly (see M12GA, p. 140: “Properly speaking no action of previous General Assemblies may be amended, rescinded, or annulled. A subsequent General Assembly may take a contrary position and condemn the action of a previous Assembly. . . .”). Since an SJC decision is the position of the previous General Assembly (BCO 15-4 “. . . and each subsequent Assembly should declare the Standing Judicial Commission as a whole to be its commission”), may the current General Assembly condemn the opinion of the SJC which is reported in the current year?
These proposals did not meet with unanimous approval. The series of Constitutional inquiries was approved, 14-4.

The overture asking for the condemnation of the John Wood case was approved, 10-4. The third overture, asking for disciplinary measures to be brought against Tennessee Valley Presbytery, carried, 10-6. The Rev. Dana Casey asked that his negative vote be recorded on these motions.

The series of Constitutional inquiries will be sent to the Committee on Constitutional Business, which will report directly to the floor of the General Assembly. The overture on condemning the John Wood case presumably will go to the Bills & Overtures Committee, which will bring recommendation to the floor of the Assembly. The overture regarding Tennessee Valley Presbytery may be referred either to the Bills & Overtures Committee or the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records.

Two other overtures did not pass Louisiana Presbytery. One would have called upon the General Assembly, “as an emblem of its own distrust of the current makeup of the SJC, to decline to adopt the motion declaring the SJC to be its commission.” The other would have asked the Assembly to “seek the removal from the SJC of those members who voted with the majority in the John Wood case, and to use any and all lawful means to do so, including, but not limited to, the following: (1) asking for their resignation; (2) administratively removing them from their posts.” Those motions failed, 4-10 and 7-9.

Thank you.