The impact of the other nine amendments to the Constitution all of which were ratified will be only moderate for the church at large, but high for particular segments of the church. The amendments are discussed below in order of estimated highest to lowest impact.
Voice for Educators
Both amendments 08-F and 08-I dealt with the matter of whether Christian educators could speak and vote on the floor of presbytery meetings. The approval of these two results in a slight weakening of the position of educators.
These amendments allow, but no longer require, a presbytery to grant the privilege of the floor with voice only (or with voice and vote for an elder) to Certified Christian Educators. This privilege will expire when the educator is no longer actively engaged in an educational ministry under the jurisdiction of the presbytery. These privileges do not expire for pastors when they retire. Certified Associate Christian Educators are not allowed voice or vote. Of course, both types of Christian educator are allowed voice and vote if they are an elected commissioner from a church or are ordained ministers.
One fuzzy area resulted here from having two amendments to the same paragraph of the Book of Order. The approval of 08-I means that Certified Associate Christian Educators may not have voice or vote, but language in part of 08-F implies that they do. The amendments booklet says, “If both are approved, their wordings will be merged. Questions about compatibility will be sent to the Advisory Committee on the Constitution.”
While these amendments’ overall impact on educators will not be great, this has been another testy debate surrounding the status of educators. It will have a demoralizing effect, especially in light of the powers given to commissioned lay pastors, who are required to have far less education than Certified Christian Educators. On the positive side, the passage of 08-I at least clarifies that Book of Order paragraph G-14.0730c applies to Certified Christian Educators and not Certified Associate Christian Educators.
The confusing nature of these two amendments together should send a message to General Assembly leaders and staff that they need to get their act together before asking the Assembly to approve amendments and authoritative interpretations.
Amendment 08-G struck a provision that allowed each synod to nominate a member to each permanent committee of the General Assembly, coordinated by the GA Nominating Committee. It replaced it with a provision that the General Assembly Committee on Representation shall advise the General Assembly Nominating Committee “of the need for nominations in particular categories needing increased representation.” The Committee on Representation will have a member from each synod. The GA Mission Council will have at least one member from each synod.
The approval of this amendment means the Assembly will go about its nominations business in pretty much the same old way. The pull and push of this is the question of which is of greater importance on GA committees: diversity or balance, diversity or expertise. A committee can have racial, gender, geographic and all the other required diversities, but near-uniformity in theological stance. A committee can have full diversity, but not have people with the knowledge, expertise and leadership to do its job.
Four approved statements move us closer to Jesus’ strong desire for unity among his disciples. They represent steps toward closer relationships with four other expressions of the Christian Church in the world. The statements are contingent on approval by the sister denominations.
— Roman Catholic Church
Statement 08-K is an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church on mutual recognition of baptism. This is a big step for both denominations. There would be no more re-baptisms when Presbyterians join Catholic churches. With it, both churches recognize the other’s baptisms if the Trinitarian formula “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is used. No baptizing in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, or other wording. Actually “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is in fact required by the PC(USA) Book of Order W-3.3606.
— Episcopal Church
Statement 08-L represents an important half step toward the “full reconciliation of ministries [ordained officers]” between the Episcopal Church and the PC(USA).
The sticking point has been the mutual acceptance of each other’s ordained ministers. The Episcopal Church follows apostolic succession as practiced by the Roman Catholic Church — the laying on of hands of the apostles to ordained ministers carried over the ages by bishops. The Reformers broke with apostolic succession, believing that this was accomplished by the Holy Spirit, not by human hands (bishops). The Episcopal Church did not do so.
In previous discussions, the Episcopal Church has insisted that to achieve “full reconciliation of ministries,” bishops would have to lay hands on Presbyterian ministers. The Presbyterian Church representatives balked at this. This agreement allows the churches to “acknowledge one another’s ordained ministries as given by God and instruments of grace, and look forward to the time when the reconciliation of our churches makes possible the full interchangeability of ministers.” We’re getting there.
— Korean Presbyterian Church
Agreement 08-M with the Korean Presbyterian Church in America forms a foundation for working together. Important points are that ordination is for both women and men and that the churches will develop a process for the orderly exchange of ministers and congregations.
— Moravian Church
Agreement 08-N is with the Moravian Church. Five denominations have participated in the Moravian-Reformed dialogue: The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the PC(USA), the Reformed Church in America (RCA), the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Moravian Church.
Specifics of the agreement include recognizing each other as valid churches; recognizing each other’s ordained ministries as valid and seeking to reconcile them; working cooperatively in mission; inviting mutual participation in governance; developing joint resources; and seeking opportunities to sit at table in fellowship and Communion.
The Moravian Church “recognizes a variety of historic creeds and confessions; it steadfastly maintains, however, that the Bible contains no single system of doctrine … ” the agreement says. “Two mottos guide members’ life and work: ‘Our Lamb has conquered; let us follow him’: and ‘In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.’”
The intent of amendment 08-H is to ensure that candidates are fully prepared before they take the ordination exams. It adds a stipulation that the presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry “shall first attest that the inquirer or candidate has completed adequate academic preparation in each examination area and adequate supervised experience in the practice of pastoral ministry.”
This ensures that candidates take the exams only after proper preparation, and not prematurely. This will help avoid failures, which have become too common, and frustration with the exam process. It will also place an extra burden on the Committee on Preparation for Ministry to verify a candidate’s or inquirer’s adequate preparation before being allowed to take the exams.
Vows of Membership
Amendment 08-A now requires church members who transfer their letter to another Presbyterian congregation to make a public profession of faith before the new congregation. Under the previous rules, only those making their initial profession of faith or reaffirmation of faith did this. Those coming by certificate of transfer were simply received by the session and welcomed by the congregation.
The Directory for Worship already encourages this in W-4.2004 by stating that public profession by all would be appropriate. With the current emphasis on discipleship, not merely membership, this can strengthen both the commitment of transferees and their bonds with the community of faith.
Amendment 08-E will allow a congregation to join a non-geographic presbytery in another synod under certain circumstances. It also places new limitations on non-geographic presbyteries: they are to be formed only on the basis of language, and each should carry a sunset clause (end date).
The change is a compromise that supports the expansion of non-geographic presbyteries while limiting their long-term use. It makes it easier for immigrants to be a part of the PC(USA) while moving toward the General Assembly’s vision for a united, multicultural Church.
Words of caution as we implement this: We should move toward unity, not separate denominations; we should see this as a temporary step, not permanent; and we should all support the constitutional requirement for the ordination of women.
Amendment 08-J will make it easier to use alternative forms of resolution in a disciplinary case.
The new language makes it clear in Book of Order D-2.0103 that “those persons representing the governing body (i.e., the investigating committee or prosecuting committee), and the accused” may initiate alternative resolution. It avoids the mistake of giving the accuser veto power over using an alternative form of resolution.
This change should assist investigating and prosecuting committees in using the softer approach to discipline when they judge it appropriate.
New Name for GAC
Amendment 08-D changes the name of the General Assembly Council to the General Assembly Mission Council in the Book of Order, Organization for Mission, and the GAC Manual of Operations.
While the name change itself is not so important, it does support the renewed missional and evangelistic emphases of the Church.
Sympathy or Compassion
This amendment 08-C replaces the word “sympathy” with the word “compassion” in two Book of Order paragraphs regarding the role of deacons.
While this amendment seemed like much ado about nothing, it does adopt the more vigorous word “compassion,” which is also the choice of the Form of Government Task Force (FOGTF) for the new, streamlined Book of Order.
Now the harder work begins, to act compassionately.
Bill Lancaster is associate executive for new church development in Foothills Presbytery, S.C.