More than 1,300 PCA ruling and teaching elders convened at the 38th General Assembly, June 29-July 2, in Nashville,Tenn., to discuss denominational church business. Following are several highlights:
WOMEN'S ROLES IN DIACONAL MINISTRY
Seven of the 28 overtures to this year's General Assembly dealt with women's roles in diaconal ministry. The Assembly addressed these overtures by adopting additional language to Book of Church Order 9-7 (regarding men and women appointed to assist in mercy ministries): "These assistants to the deacons are not officers of the church (BCO 7-2) and, as such, are not subjects for ordination (BCO 17)."
In the grounds for its decision, the Overtures Committee wrote: "There was general consensus that we are committed to two ordained offices, elder and deacon, to be held by men only." At one point during the debate, a leader of the PCA's Korean arm—which represents 20 percent of the denomination—was asked to speak about the potential effect of revised BCO language on non-English speaking churches and their practice of naming diaconal assistants.
While the role of women in the church—and specifically the role of women in diaconal ministry—continues to be a topic of debate within the denomination, there are those who see encouraging signs within the dialogue surrounding this issue.
"I saw people with different opinions working together to find language that would be acceptable while being biblically faithful," said Richard Phillips, a member of the Overtures Committee who serves as senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, S.C. He found it significant that "members of both camps voted together—that hasn't happened in the past."
"DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL"
Three overtures and a personal resolution dealt with the possible repeal of the current law governing homosexual individuals in the military, citing the effect it has on the ministry of PCA chaplains. In response, the General Assembly directed the stated clerk to send a letter to the President and key military leaders expressing concerns about protecting the free exercise of religion by chaplains.
The original overtures asked that the PCA letter specifically uphold the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy in the U.S. military. The change in the letter approved by the General Assembly reflects an ongoing debate over the extent to which the church, and the PCA specifically, should speak into public policy matters.
A key question is whether DADT represents a "case extraordinary," terminology used by the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which would override the guidance given in WCF 31.4: "Synods and councils are rightly forbidden from intermeddling in such [matters]."
The three General Assembly overtures outlined a number of potential consequences should DADT be repealed, saying that chaplains may be vulnerable to charges of discrimination if they preach, teach, or counsel in accordance with the Bible's teaching on homosexuality.