Part II of Don Clement’s Post on the J&R Concept

In Third General Assembly of the PCA (1975) on May 15, 2009 at 3:22 pm

The Birth of the Joining And Receiving Idea – Part II

In Part I, I shared the events of which I was a party that brought about the determining of the Seventh General Assembly to elect an Ad Hoc Committee to Study the Differences and Similarities between the PCA, RPCES, and OPC.

As so often happens during General Assemblies, the Nominating Committee had to reconvene to bring nominations to the floor for men to serve on this Ad-Interim Committee.  They returned to the floor on Friday after lunch and, as the last piece of business before the Committee on Thanks report and adjournment, presented their slate of nominees to serve – all of whom were elected without objection (Minutes of 7GA, page 141, Section 7-98).  Men elected to serve on this Ad-Interim Committee were:  TE Carl Bogue, Ascension Presbytery; RE Rob Cannada, Sr., Mississippi Valley Presbytery; RE Ed Robeson, Calvary Presbytery; TE Paul Settle, Calvary Presbytery; TE William J. Stanway, Grace Presbytery; and RE Jack Williamson, Evangel Presbytery.  After the meeting of the General Assembly the Moderator appointed TE Settle to act as Convener and he was subsequently elected as Chairman at the first meeting.

This Ad-Interim Committee met on September 14, 1979 and had invited representatives of the Fraternal Relations Committees of the RPCES, RPCNA, AND OPC to meet with them.  After a series of joint discussions, the PCA Ad-Interim committee met and unanimously included the following notation as part of their report:

The question was raised in the joint meeting of the various denominational representatives as to whether or not the PCA would be receptive to the idea of inviting the RPCES, for example, to come into the PCA under terms of the PCA Book of Church Order without the necessity of prolonged negotiations to develop a plan for denominational merger (See BCO 15-6).  There was discussion of the organizational structure of the PCA and the provision for receiving congregations from another denomination on a congregation by congregation basis.  So far as any proposal for action was concerned, the PCA Ad-Interim Committee recognized that its function was strictly a fact finding function and it could go no further than that.  Such a proposal might be initiated by presbytery overtures or through recommendation of the Sub-committee on Interchurch Relations of the Committee on Administration.  (Minutes 8GA, p239, Committee report).

This report came to the floor of the 8th General Assembly in Savannah on Tuesday evening (June 17, 1980) as specified by the Committee of Commissioners on Inter Church Relations.  In what can only be called a providence of God (by which I hereby declare absolute innocence from any pre-GA finagling (other than seeking to be elected by Central Georgia Presbytery to serve on the Committee) I had been elected Chairman of this Committee of Commissioners and had the privilege of presenting the report.  I can guarantee that I did no finagling because I had returned from a 9 month deployment with the Navy in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean just two weeks before the General Assembly convened!!

The GA recessed early that afternoon as we ended up with no paper in our hands upon which to take action (as a member of several GA planning committees and chairman of the Host Committee for the 1983 Assembly in Norfolk, I can testify that this is one of the biggest problems affecting those who work so hard behind the scenes to make GA’s go as smoothly as they do.  We were out of paper at 3:30PM and so we headed out to an early supper and returned to reconvene at 6:00PM.  After completing some work by the Committee of Commissioners on Mission to the World (which included a hotly debated item concerning the adoption of a policy that allowed MTW to support their Administrative expenses by adding an increment to the support requirements of each missionary and transferring this amount to the MTW general fund), the Committee on Commissioners came to the floor.  I tell you the story about the MTW debate – which had resulting in the recording of 32 negative votes (not including mine, I say with some pride and as proof of my assertion that I was well into recovery of my T. R. addictions by this time!) – because it describes the mood of the Assembly as the ICR report was to come to the floor.

My recollection is we were on sometime between 7:30 and 8:00PM.  And we stayed until 11:45PM (which may in fact be the record for the latest adjournment in the history of the PCA – I’ll have to research that more closely).  Again, just to let you know the mood of the Assembly.  At by that time we had only completed half of our work and had to come back the next afternoon to finish.

While this is an anecdote about church merger, I think it is helpful to understand the other issues which this Committee of Commissioners had to face.  For some reason, I have had the privilege of chairing a Committee of Commissioners on four different occasions and each time it seemed that Committee was on the hot-seat!  (Again, clearly a providence of God!!)

On our plate that weekend as we came in to meet on the Saturday prior to the GA were the following issues:

  1. A proposed relationship of the PCA to the Korean American Presbyterian Church
  2. A proposed relationship of the PCA to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod
  3. Participation of the PCA in NAPARC’s study of Hermeneutics
  4. The Ad-Interim Committee report currently under discussion
    1. A Communication from the OPC asking that the PCA authorize merger discussions with them and other likeminded Reformed bodies (which I would view as an alternative to what they already saw as a growing Joining and Receiving momentum.
    2. An action of the Fraternal Relations Committee of the RPCES concerning a possible invitation to join with the PCA.
    3. Ascension and Warrior named all those in the Ad-Interim Committee report (OPC, RPCES, RPCNA); Pacific Presbytery advocated only the OPC and RPCES, and Mid-Atlantic advocated on the RPCES.

Although I been out of the country for the 9 months between the meeting of the Ad-Interim Committee and the General Assembly, it was easy to see that word had quickly spread.  In fact, three of the four Presbyteries had adopted their overtures in January and February.  And already in place at Savannah – waiting to meet with the Committee of Commissioners of ICR were representatives from both the OPC and RPCES.

The OPC had sent two members of their Fraternal Relations Committee =- TE John Galbraith, the retired as General Secretary for the Committee on Foreign Missions and chairman of the OPC’s Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations and TE Larry Mininger, pastor of Lake Sherwood OPC in Orlando, FL, was not on the committee but was the closest pastor to the Savannah assembly, and so was asked to join Rev. Galbraith as a fraternal delegate.  The RPCES had sent two members of their Committee – TE Don MacNair, Director of National Presbyterian Missions (the church planting arm of the RPCES) and RE Marion Barnes, who was then President of Covenant College.  As I learned that day, it was Don MacNair who first surfaced the very idea about denominations just ‘joining’ the PCA without going through merger negotiations during combined meeting the previous September.  The RPCNA had sent Dr John White of Geneva College.

Also there were present at our meeting a number of members of the PCA Assembly who were very interested in the ideas we were going to discuss.  They included TE Aiken Taylor, chairman of the PCA Sub-Committee on ICR and the editor of the very influential Presbyterian Journal and representatives of three of the Presbyteries submitting overtures:  TE E. Crowell (Midge) Cooley, Mid-Atlantic Presbytery; TE Carl Bogue, Ascension, and TE Phil Clark, Pacific (who was also Coordinator for the Mission to the United States committee).  Needless to say it had the makings of an exciting day.

In all honesty – 29 years after the fact – the details of how the meeting went are vague in my memory.  I had just returned from a 9 month separation from my family and be home a bit over 2 weeks – as excited as I was about the possibility of uniting three denominations of which I was very fond and within which I had ministered in the past (not to mention the fact that each of my three daughters had been baptized in a church of each of the three!)  – my memories of that period were focused on family issues.

So, in an effort to renew my memories, I called the youngest member of the Committee of Commissioners – TE Mark Dalby – who at the time of this writing was serving as the Dean of Students at Covenant Seminary.  Mike reminded me that as we gathered in the morning it looked like an insurmountably obstacle to overcome the mountain of differences between the denominations that had been spelled out by the Study Committee.  Yet we had the overtures from four different Presbyteries asking for action.  But then – after lunch – we came back and turned our attention to the “Joining and Receiving Idea” and quickly became convinced that this was the only possible solution to the dilemma we were facing.  From there worked on issues like which provisions of the Book of Church Order would apply, what size vote was required, and other such details.  However, we finally adopted a compromise statement, feeling that it would be more prudent given the action of the previous year putting a five year moratorium on merger discussions.  Knowing we would be early on the docket we completed our work quickly and proceeded to have our report printed and distributed.

When we finally got to the floor on Tuesday night, we were only to accomplish three of our list of assignments before getting bogged down in what became the ‘Joining and Receiving’ motion (I’ll refer to it as ‘J&R’ from now on).  We declined the invitation from the Korean American Presbyterian Church (not wanting to show partiality to various groups back in Korea where we had an active mission work); we authorized only sending observers to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, renewing the decision of the previous year not to join at this time; and approved participation in the proposed NAPARC study of Hermeneutics, naming TE’s Palmer Robertson and R. C. Sproul as our members.

The Permanent Sub-Committee on Interchurch Relations had proposed the adoption of a letter to be sent to the RPCES, the RPCNA, and the OPC asking them to pursue Joining and Receiving with us.  Our Committee had drafted a more moderate motion that sought to state the principles without making an overt ‘Invitation’.  The motion was as follows:

That the Eighth General Assembly of the PCA reaffirm at this time that portion of its original letter from our First General Assembly to all Churches, which reads: “As this new member of the family of Churches of the Lore Jesus Christ comes into being, we necessarily profess the Biblical doctrine of the unity of all who are in Christ. . .We greet all believers in an affirmation of the bond of Christian brotherhood.  We invite into ecclesiastical fellowship all who maintain our principles of faith and order.

Committees of Commissioners were required to express a written reason for why they proposed responses, and our reasons were given as follows:

The Sub-Committee on Interchurch Relations has responded to new channels of discussion with other Churches of like confessional base fro which we are grateful.  However, the Committee of Commissioners feels that the substance of the letter proposed in the Sub-Committee Recommendation Number 4 may have been inappropriate in view of the actions of the Seventh General Assembly

My own personal feelings were that it would be great to proceed, but I have always found myself working to find middle ground in the work of Committee of Commissioners since it is there that issues which divide the church can frequently be brought to a sense of a godly settlement – as had been my experience five years earlier with the Committee of Commissioners on Mission To The World.

But after I made the motion to adopt our revised recommendation, there was an immediate substitute motion to adopt the more aggressive language of the Permanent Sub-Committee which read:


Subject:  An invitation to effect one Church.

Brethren:  Greetings in the Names of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the Church.

Whereas, we hold to and desire to promote a common testimony to the inerrancy of Scripture, the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, and the doctrine of the purity of the visible Church; and

Whereas, we feel constrained by our commitments to seek a more perfect unity among us as members of Christ’s body;

Now therefore, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America in the bonds of our Lord Jesus Christ, invites you to come with as for the purpose of effecting and perfecting one Church among us.  We propose, as the basis for this association, the above named principles, together with the book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Standing at the front I could see the entire floor, as did our Moderator, TE Paul Settle.  The movement of people rushing to get to microphones happened almost as if it had been choreographed.  Shouts of ‘Point of Order’ could be heard from several fronts at the same time.  Paul very wisely asked one of the commissioners to lead the Assembly in prayer before we proceeded.  (The Minutes record RE Michael Williams, but neither Paul nor I can remember who he was nor was he listed in the enrollment for that meeting.)

The Moderator then entertained two Constitutional Inquiries and assigned them to the Sub Committee on Constitutional Business.

Because the complexity of the issue before us – with four overtures with varying languages, a recommendation from the Permanent Sub-Committee, and a different recommendation from the Committee of Commissioners, it was decided (and again, neither Paul nor I recall where the idea came from) to go into a Committee of the Whole in closed session (meaning visitors from other denominations would not be present).  Paul Settle asked TE James Moore – at that time pastor of the Eastland Church in Memphis and a skilled parliamentarian – to assume the chair.

We stayed in Committee of the Whole until 11:30PM.  During that time we took a ‘straw vote’ and determined that the best course of action was to issue a simple invitation to the RPCES and OPC to consider matters necessary to effect church union with the PCA.  With that work taking us as late as any Assembly has worked (in my memory) we recessed to get some sleep.

On Wednesday morning there was a fixed order of business for one of the Program committees, so Interchurch Relations didn’t get back on the floor until late morning.  The Judicial Business Sub-Committee had their report ready and answered the questions as follows:

Question 1:  Does an invitation from the General Assembly to other ecclesiastical bodies require a three-fourths vote of the presbyteries in order to be issued, on the assumption that an invitation presupposes receipt of the body upon acceptance of the invitation?

Response 1:  The BCO does not speak to the issue of extending an invitation to other ecclesiastical bodies but it does speak very clearly to receiving other ecclesiastical bodies.  It is the opinion of this sub-committee that the invitation could be extended by the General Assembly without presbytery consent, but that in doing so the General Assembly should remind those ecclesiastical bodies that their reception would be contingent upon the consent of three fourths of the presbyteries of the PCA (BCO 15-6).

This response cleared the way to proceed to issue the invitation is the Assembly so desired on that very day.

Question 2: What is the constitutional meaning of the phrase “the doctrine of the purity of the church?”

Response 2:  In responding to the question, the sub-committee has in mind the statement in the fifth line of the “Letter” which reads, “the doctrine of the purity of the visible Church.”  Such language is not found in the standards, but concern for the purity of the visible Church is clearly expressed in WCF 25:4,5,, the Preface to the Book of Church Order, II(4), and the Book of Church Order 2-1, 2-2, 22-5(6), and 25-5.

All was now in place for the continuation of the question.  Paul Settle asked TE Doug Miller, a member of Central Georgia Presbytery serving as a missionary in France, and RE Roscoe Riggins from the Second Church, Greenville (the moderator’s church) to pray as we began.

The first action was to actually vote to call all excused committees and commissions back to the floor for the matter before it.  There always seemed to be groups required to be off the floor – especially Judicial Commissions which had to meet during the Assembly in those days.

The next action was to adopt a special rule to apply to the discussions on the Interchurch Relations report increasing the time for each main motion to 10 minutes and allowing each individual to speak 3 minutes.

But then – it was time for the morning worship service – and Interchurch Relations was re-docketed for after lunch.

When we finally got back on the floor it was moving up to 2:00PM.  The house was full – since the order for all committees and commissions to return was still in force.  On the floor was a substitute motion from the previous night with a shortened form of the ‘Letter’ which had been proposed by the Permanent Sub-Committee on Interchurch Relations.

Although the straw vote taken the previous night in Executive Session indicated the Assembly desired to do something different, this piece of business was on the floor and had to be dealt with first.  In the wisdom of God that sometimes prevails in the light of day after a long, hard night the straw vote was quickly forgotten and the Assembly debated and finally voted on the ‘Letter.’  This version was approved by a counted vote of 423 affirmative and 124 negative.

Recognizing the importance of the advice received that morning from the Judicial Business Sub-Committee, the Assembly voted to amend the Letter by adding the following paragraph:

The final form of the ‘Letter’, including the language recommended by the Judicial Business Sub-Committee was as follows:

It is to be understood that this invitation is an action of the Eighth General Assembly, and to receive any denomination which responds to this invitation it should be stated that for the PCA to consummate any such union it would have to go through the constitutional process of approval by subsequent General Assemblies and three-fourths of our presbyteries.  In this constitutional process each denomination much be dealt with separately.

The Assembly quickly adopted a motion to make copies of this Recommendation, along with the vote tabulation, for commissioners to take home with them.  Clearly this was one of the most dramatic votes taken in the brief history of the PCA.

  1. Thanks for posting these J&R notes, Wayne, especially for us younger guys that were not around to witness this stuff for ourselves.

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