Why the Overtures Belong in Our BCO – Overcoming Objections

It is not the intent of this article to redo the work of brothers in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) who have already defended Overture 23 and 37 on Biblical, Theological, Practical, Pastoral, and Semantic grounds.  Here are some resources to help in that regard.

I’d like to more pointedly address the objections to the Overtures on the basis that some claim they don’t belong in our Book of Church Order (BCO) and they would set a precedent that we haven’t seen before.  While this is not a critique of David Coffin’s article, many of these objections do appear there. For a line-by-line analysis of the Coffin article, see Pastor Aldo Leon’s Video.

Here are rebuttals to 8 common objections to the Overtures that say they Don’t Belong in our  BCO:

Objection 1: This is not the type of thing we put in the BCO.  The BCO is for Procedures for the governance of the Church.

Rebuttal: This does set procedures for the Governance of the Church.  But in as much this sets forth what we believe about Identity and Same-Sex Attraction, we have done this before on areas that require clarity, emphasis, or are absent from the Westminster  Standards.

  • Defining The Office of Deacon and specifying it is only open to Men. (BCO 9, 9-3)
  • Defining What Marriage is and that it is only for 1 man & 1 woman (59-3)
  • Saying that Women or Men can be Assistants to the Deacons (9-7)

Objection 2: Our Constitution shouldn’t go beyond what Scripture Says are the Qualifications for Ordination

Rebuttal: BCO 21-4c sets the standards for Ordination and we do in fact further define, assess, and determine what to test men on for Ordination.

For example, 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1 says that a man must be “able to teach/give instruction.”  We don’t solely leave that up to the Presbyteries to determine.  It is the BCO which tells Presbyteries HOW men must be trained (Seminary or other approved method) and WHAT must be tested. Scripture doesn’t tell us that a man must have an Master’s Degree or that they must show proficiency in areas like Church History and in the Biblical Languages.  Those things are in the BCO.

We NOW need guidance on how to test and hold a man accountable to the Scriptural area of their Christian Maturity, Character, Communication, and Godliness with regard to a  pressing societal issue that is redefining the Worldview of everything in our culture.  These Overtures do that. Additionally, they aren’t limited to SSA but also highlight the issues of addiction, abuse, racism, and financial mismanagement.

Objection 3: This Kind of Language is too Confusing & Subjective to Have in the BCO

Rebuttal:  Overture 37 says “must not be known by reputation.”  This is Biblical, Pauline, and not at all confusing. Unless of course, we are willing to say we don’t understand what  Scripture means when it says that a man must be “above reproach” and “well thought of by outsiders” in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. (Overture 23’s use of “profess an identity” is taken up in Objection 6)

Additionally, the  BCO has this type of language that is left for good and reasonable men to ascertain what it means given our shared commitments.  If those shared commitments can’t guide us in the application of these Overtures, then we are hopeless in these areas which already exist as well:

16-3 – “every one admitted to an office should be sound in the faith, and his life be according to godliness.”

18-2 – “consisting of testimonials regarding his Christian character”

9-3 – “shall be chosen men of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.”

21-4 c – ““Trials for Ordination shall consist of: his acquaintance with experiential religion, especially his personal character and family management.”

Objection 4: This will Set a New Standard by Which to Amend the BCO for Every Cultural Issue.

Rebuttal- Almost every year the BCO is amended so that we are guided and aided in our practice as new issues with it present themselves.  These changes directly affect and guide the practice of the church.

We have entered a new phase in American Christianity where the dominant worldview of the country no longer fits with a Biblical Worldview. In these changing times, it is conceivable that we will have to further clarify things in our BCO that were once taken for granted.  We must realize the times that we are in and adapt our processes to them as we always have.

Objection 5: We have the AIC Report , we don’t Need them in the BCO

Rebuttal – The AIC report has no constitutional authority. We have already seen how it has been used to justify practices that it condemns because it allows for selective exceptions in practice.  That’s all some need to justify the wholesale use of the exception.  To some men the exception is the rule.  Adding them to the BCO will at least make the rule the rule.

Objective 6: We don’t Put Psycho-Sociological Language in the BCO.

While rare, that’s not exactly true.  The BCO uses the word “feels” multiple times in places you would expect to see more objective words such as “reasons,” “determines,” or ‘believes.”  In 41-2 for instance, cases can be referred where the lower court “feels” the need for guidance.  Why does it not say “determines” or “believes they need guidance” or “reasons that it is wise that they receive guidance.”

Psychological or Psycho-Sociological language is the spirit of the day and it doesn’t seem to be abating.  Do we really believe that speaking of how a person “identifies” is any more socio-psychological than speaking of how a person or body “feels” about an issue?

Additionally, it is just the nature of documents to have the flavor of when they are written. The Westminster Standards have many clarifications that seem odd to our current contexts, until we realize the theological battles they were dealing with in their day which required that clarity.  When we read those sections we understand why they are there.

Objection: This type of change should be added to the Westminster Standards not the BCO.

While rare, I have heard this.  First, the BCO is rightly where the Church defines how we test and ordain men.  Additionally, The Westminster Standards are documents that are a shared by many denominations. It would make no sense for the PCA to change them , thereby giving us a version unique to us. Further, the precedent has been set, that we don’t do that.  We didn’t add our understanding of Deacons to the WCF, but we put it in the BCO.

Objection 8: This won’t fix or change anything regarding the problems that people are seeing in the PCA.

Rebuttal: That may or may not be true.  But Officers in Christ’s Church are called to more than this type of argument based on pragmatism.

In Conclusion

The Overtures are in line with the AIC Report on Human Sexuality. In as much as this issue is serious enough to warrant a Study Committee and Report, it is all the more important that these principles be placed in our Constitution.

More Reading:

George Sayour
George Sayour

George is Senior Pastor of Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian
Church (PCA) in Lexington, NC. When he's not pastoring or writing, he's fishing, kayaking and spending time with his family.

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