An overture to the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) seeks to clarify what is actually meant by “essentials of the Reformed faith.”
The rationale of Overture 032, from the Presbytery of Upper Ohio Valley, states that candidates for ordained office in the Presbyterian Church (USA) are asked whether they receive and adopt the “‘essential tenets of the Reformed faith,’ but no comprehensive list of essential tenets can be found in our Book of Order.”
The overture fleshes out the principles of the Reformed faith, “refer[s] candidates and councils to them for guidance, require[s] candidates to declare scruples to their councils, and give[s] candidates specific tenets to affirm at the time of their examination for ordination or installation.”
If a second PCUSA presbytery concurs with the overture, then the 2014 assembly will consider the measure at its meeting June 14-21 in Detroit, Mich.
According to the Office of the General Assembly, “A Book of Order amendment that went into effect on July 7, 2013, states that overtures from presbyteries will require a concurrence from at least one other presbytery (see G-3.0302d) before being referred to the assembly.”
The overture seeks to amend Section F-2.05 and two other sections of the constitution to read: (Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.)
“F-2.05 The Confessions as Statements of the Faith of the Reformed Tradition
“In its confessions, the Presbyterian Church (USA) expresses the faith of the Reformed tradition. Central to this tradition is the affirmation of the majesty, holiness, and providence of the one triune God, eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son as Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully divine; and the essential truth that salvation and justification are in Jesus Christ alone, through faith in Him and what He has accomplished through His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit. who i In Christ and by the power of the Spirit, God creates, sustains, rules,and redeems the world in the freedom of sovereign righteousness and love. Related to this central affirmation of God’s sovereignty are other great themes of the Reformed tradition:
“The authority of Scripture as God’s written word and our only rule for life and faith.
“The election of the people of God for service as well as for salvation;
“Covenant life marked by a disciplined concern for order in the church according to the Word of God;
“A faithful stewardship that shuns ostentation and seeks proper use of the gifts of God’s creation; and
“The recognition of the reality of human sin, including our tendency to idolatry and tyranny, and our need for God’s gracious provision of the Holy Spirit, which empowers the covenant life of the Church, its faithful stewardship of God’s creation, and its obedience to the Word of God, and which calls the people of God to work for the transformation of society by seeking justice and living in obedience to the Word of God.”
2. Shall the final sentence in G-2.0105 be amended as follows:
“The decision as to whether a person has departed from essentials of Reformed faith and polity as stated in our Foundations of Presbyterian Polity is made initially by the individual concerned, who must declare any scruples at the time of his or her examination by a council, but ultimately becomes the responsibility of the council in which he or she is a member.”
3. Shall W-4.4003c be amended as follows:
c. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church and in our Foundations of Presbyterian Polity as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions and by our polity as you lead the people of God?”
Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery contends in the overture that section F-2.05 “offers a good introduction to some principles of the Reformed faith, but leaves out many that are common in all Reformed denominations; it also does not declare any to be essential tenets, leaving candidates and councils with little guidance as to whether a candidate’s beliefs are outside the scope of the Reformed faith. Much is left in the realm of personal opinion, not requiring candidates to explain their beliefs to their councils.”
To make a change in the denomination’s constitution, the assembly must approve the overture and then a majority of PCUSA presbyteries must ratify it.