By Scott Edburg | September 9, 2022
As the 88 presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) begin deliberations on the actions of the 49th General Assembly in Birmingham, their presbyters may be overwhelmed by the number of proposed constitutional amendments that must be considered before the 50th General Assembly in Memphis. There are twelve such items for consideration this year. This is the largest number of proposed amendments to the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO) sent down to the presbyteries in a single cycle in over 30 years. The twelve amendments this year concern a myriad of issues in the Church (victim protection, judicial process, sexuality, original jurisdiction, etc.). The primary purpose of this article is to prepare both Teaching and Ruling Elders to participate faithfully in the constitutional amendment process within the presbyteries, but also to encourage brothers and sisters throughout the PCA to pray for the denomination as its elders deliberate and decide on each of the proposals.
Nothing gums up the process of an ecclesiastical court more than a lack of awareness and preparation. Do not be “that guy” at presbytery that needlessly slows down the process of voting on amendments. With that gentle admonishment out of the way, there are a few ways for presbyters to prepare for these votes.
First, elders must prayerfully study the twelve items that will be considered at presbytery. This can be done by writing notes and questions concerning the proposed amendments in the margins of a print out of the various items for consideration. Find answers to any questions long before the day of presbytery. Consult Scripture and spend time in prayer beforehand as you consider each proposal. Read relevant blog articles and books from across the spectrum of the PCA, listen to podcasts on the issues that concern the PCA, and call pastors and elders that you respect in the denomination to seek their advice. This study will not be in vain, and all parties involved will benefit from it.
Second, elders can study how the assembly handled the items up for debate. While this will not necessarily determine how the regional presbyteries will handle the proposed amendments, it will help prepare your mind for where potential disagreement may arise at presbytery. These items were not created in a vacuum, and each proposed amendment offers a trail of composition, revision, and deliberation that can be followed for a better understanding its purpose and meaning.
Third, elders should learn the process for dealing with constitutional amendments. Every presbytery has a slightly different process for voting on amendments. Some presbyteries have committees specifically designed to make recommendations concerning the amendments before the presbytery. Others merely present all the amendments and let the work carry out on the floor of the presbytery. Some presbyteries vote in the fall. Others vote in the winter and spring. Some presbyteries call special meetings for amendment approval. Others take up the amendments at their stated meetings. To be adequately prepared for the business of the church, you must first learn how that business is done within the particular court in question. When in doubt, ask a designated presbytery officer (i.e., Moderator, Parliamentarian, Stated Clerk, Recording Clerk) any procedural questions (e.g., “how would I make such-and-such a motion?”) before the day your presbytery meets.
There is no voting guide found here. Having an idea of how you plan to vote is an important responsibility that must be addressed before you vote on amendments. The presbytery is composed of both Teaching and Ruling Elders. Each Teaching Elder is entitled to a vote in the court of which he is a member. Ruling Elder participation in the regional presbytery is slightly different than that of our Teaching Elders. According to BCO 13-1, “each congregation is entitled to two (2) ruling elder representatives for the first 350 communing members or fraction thereof, and one additional ruling elder for each additional 500 communing members or fraction thereof.” Courts of the Church cannot be stacked, for every representative of that court is legitimately entitled to attend and participate in the business of the church.
A debate will inevitably arise within your presbytery. Perhaps in your study, you become convinced that you need to offer a floor speech on an amendment. Write out your thoughts clearly and concisely. Avoid repeating what others on the floor of presbytery have already said before you rise to speak. As our former Stated Clerk has said, “sometimes everything has been said, but not everyone has said it.” Brevity often wins the day. Redundancy and disorganization will only serve to hurt your chances of any meaningful contribution to the deliberation of the court. Teaching Elder Fred Greco’s article “How to Speak: How to Be Effective on the Floor of the General Assembly” on the Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) website is just as applicable to presbytery as it is to the General Assembly.
As your presbytery organizes these meetings. It is helpful to note where the tension is likely to arise. Issues concerning chaplain endorsements and clarifying the role of a commission are likely to cause little debate. On the other hand, the sexuality amendments will likely cause the temperature to rise in the meeting. Here is a quick ranking for where there will likely be the least and most friction:
Item 2 (O28)— Passed GA in omnibus
Item 3 (O25)— Passed GA in omnibus
Item 6 (O2021-20)— Passed GA in omnibus
Item 8 (02021-40)— Not in the omnibus at GA, but not controversial.
Item 9 (O2021-35)— Passed GA in omnibus
Item 10 (O2021-19)— Passed GA in omnibus
Item 11 (2021-21)— Passed GA in omnibus
Item 12 (O21)— Passed GA in omnibus.
Item 4 (O29)— Ongoing sexuality issues, but consensus
Item 5 (O31)— Passed GA in omnibus, but deals with sexuality
Item 1 (O15)— Passed GA as a minority substitute
Item 7 (O8)— Passed 70.5% of GA, but was challenged by a minority report
Tracking and Praying
After a vote on the above twelve items, the work of the church is not finished. All proposed amendments to the Book of Church Order must go through three rounds of voting. A proposed amendment must first pass the General Assembly by a simple majority. Then it is sent to the 88 regional presbyteries for passage. It must pass 2/3 of the presbyteries (i.e., 59 presbyteries) by a simple majority (in each individual presbytery). After an amendment is approved by 2/3 of the presbyteries, it will then come up for consideration at the following General Assembly for final ratification by a simple majority vote on each amendment. You can track the trajectory of each amendment at the 2022 BCO Amendment Tracker (linked-to on the Presbyterian Polity homepage). This tracker was created for the Church as a whole. It has no agenda outside of offering transparent and reliable data for the whole of the PCA.
The Tracker will provide not only updates on the real-time progress of each amendment, but also a list of presbyteries that are preparing to vote in the coming month, week, and day in relation to the time of viewing. You can use that information to inform your prayers for the PCA and her regional presbyteries. Praying for the future of the PCA should be on the mind of every member (ordained or not) of the Church. Do you care about the peace and purity of the church? Then pray for the presbyteries of the PCA. May this post and the linked-to resources help you in this lofty and noble task!
 Item 8 was approved by a strong voice vote before the Assembly.
Scott Edburg is a PCA Teaching Elder serving as Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Troy, IL.