Assembly Approves Most Amendments, Turns Down Voting Age Proposal

Colorado Springs, CO (June 11, 1997)--The 25th General Assembly, with very little debate, approved seven of the eight Book of Church Order amendments that were before it for final approval. The most significant of those adopted had to do with judicial procedures and with removal of people from the membership roll of the church--both very controversial topics over the past several years.
TE Byron Snapp did raise objection to approval of the new provision in BCO 15, which, except for extraordinary situations, removes from review of subsequent Assemblies the judgments of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). But RE Jack Williamson argued that the Assembly should adopt what had been hammered out by the Ad Interim Committee on Judicial Procedures (AICJP), of which he had been a member; and the court overwhelmingly agreed.
Also generating some discussion was Item 7, which establishes that a member of the SJC must submit his private judgment to the corporate judgment of the church as expressed in its constitutional standards. TE Craig Childs, who had been Chairman of the Constitutional Business Committee, wanted to have that Committee deal with the constitutionality of this amendment. Mr. Childs stated that, in 1995, his Committee had found a similar proposal out of accord with other portions of the Constitution, particularly on the question of the supremacy of Scripture. But TE David Coffin raised a point of order, that such a motion to refer was a "dilatory" motion in that the body had already decided that question. The chair sustained the point of order. Mr. Childs argued against the amendment, but the Assembly overwhelmingly approved the measure.
Item 6 amended BCO 38 and 46 regarding the removal of a member who has indicated he no longer wants to be a part of the church. This item had been initially proposed because of concerns by a number of teaching and ruling elders who could not conscientiously submit to what they perceived as the implication in the 1994 "Chen case", viz., that a church could not exercise discipline on someone who wanted to "resign" from that body. Worked out over a two year period was a carefully-crafted proposal, designed to satisfy the consciences of both those who insisted that the removal of a member from the roll of the church in such an instance is an act of discipline, and those who, reflecting a "voluntaristic" view of the church, did not want to exercise discipline in order to erase a person's name from the roll. The compromise solution involved placing said removal in Chapter 38, "Cases Without Process."
The 1995 Assembly had sent to the presbyteries for consideration information contained in an overture from Potomac Presbytery along with three personal resolutions addressing the same matter from diverse viewpoints. The 1996 Assembly received eleven overtures and six communications from sixteen presbyteries on the matter. Of those presbyteries, half of them--Great Lakes, Western Carolina, Southeast Louisiana, Palmetto, Nashville, North Georgia, Heartland, and Southeast Alabama--asked that the Constitution not be changed. An overture from Palmetto went so far as to say that "after 25 years of debate and discussion those who hold a different view of church polity should accept the majority view as clarified by the current BCO 46-5 and subsequently interpreted by the General Assembly; and if in good conscience they cannot do so, they should consider seeking another affiliation for the peace and unity of Christ's Church." However, when it came time to vote on the BCO amendment, several of those eight presbyteries joined in voting in favor, including Palmetto (53-2-5), Great Lakes (22-2-7), Western Carolina (23-0-4), Southeast Louisiana (11-1-3), Nashville (30-0-3), Heartland (26-0-0), and Southeast Alabama (36-0-0). Of the eight presbyteries on record as being opposed to changing the Constitution, only North Georgia (4-49-2) voted against the amendment.
Item 2, which would have amended the Constitution so as to allow congregations to set a minimum voting age for the church, almost did not get voted on at all at this Assembly. The Stated Clerk reported that only 37 presbyteries had voted in favor, one less than the requisite two-thirds. However, RE Robert Brown of White Oak Presbyterian Church, Fremont, NC, pointed to the fact that at least one of the presbyteries was listed as in the "no" column only because the abstentions were counted as negative votes. After consultation with the parliamentarians, the Moderator ruled that Fellowship and South Texas should be counted as affirmative votes, thus making the tally 39 in favor.
With the matter now before the Assembly, Dr. Morton H. Smith, the original PCA Stated Clerk, argued against it, saying: "I don't believe we ought to go beyond the Scriptures and set a voting age on this." TE Steve Wilkins argued in favor, stating that "not everyone in Israel was allowed to make judgments" and suggesting that there should be a level of maturity before anyone should be allowed to vote on issues such as the selection of ruling elders and property matters.
TE Brent Bradley expressed his belief that the church had been "chameleon-like in adapting to our culture", and that the only genuine solution was to adopt congregational voting by heads of households. He opposed the amendment because of it being "arbitrary."
RE Frank Young, Chairman of the Constitutional Business Committee, also recommended that it not be passed. TE Wallace Tinsley of Fellowship Presbytery pointed out that one of the reasons why his presbytery had been so highly divided on the matter was because the proposal would leave the question of voting age up to the congregation rather than the session.
The amendment was defeated, 313-421.