Exploring Overture 15 from the PCA General Assembly

Exploring Overture 15 from the PCA General Assembly

This issue has caused disunity, confusion, and chaos in the PCA for far too long. If we desire that this particular sword should depart our house, then we will acknowledge that Overture 29 needs Overture 15 to be effective and pass both through our presbyteries. The two overtures go hand-in-hand. The one works through the other.

Recently, the Presbyterian Church in America held its 49th General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama. Much lively debate was once again centered around issues of human sexuality. This was not out of choice or obsession, as most commissioners would readily admit, but out of necessity. Since 2018, the denomination has been rocked and troubled by the collective frustrations of Side-B “Gay Christianity” and the repercussions & lasting legacy of the Revoice Conference. It is the issue of the day in the PCA and everyone is looking for a solution to restore the peace and purity of the church. The most recent attempts at reaching a solution are Overtures 29 and 15, both of which are being sent out for presbytery approval

Many criticisms have mounted towards Overture 15, some with merit & some without. Let us consider Overture 15 in light of the Westminster Standards, the PCA’s own AIC Report of Human Sexuality, and Overture 29 itself. Let us see what it addresses and how it fits into the framework provided by these three streams of teaching.

False Dichotomy

First, a bit of context. Overture 29 was approved by the Overtures Committee, while Overture 15 was put forward to the assembly via minority report. Overture 29 was considered a ‘bipartisan’ success gaining wide support in the Overtures Committee and in the assembly, passing on the floor with a vote of 90% in favor and only one commissioner speaking against it. Overture 15 was the subject of significant floor debate, and passed the assembly with a much narrower 54% vote in favor.

Critics of either overture would like you to think that the two amendments are diametrically opposed. Some vocal proponents of Overture 15 argued that Overture 29 does not go far enough in its language and lacks teeth, leaving room for equivocation on the part of lower courts. Some who would see Overture 29 as a unifying compromise say that Overture 15 goes too far, that it will bind the courts and arbitrarily disqualify some men from church office.

The reality is that both of these views are wrong. As the minority report stated, Overture 29 wonderfully defines the standard, and Overture 15 clearly applies that standard by drawing a line in the sand that shall not be crossed. The truth is, to be effective & unifying in our current moment in the PCA, Overture 29 needs Overture 15. Taken together, these two overtures build up the defenses of the Book of Church Order’s standard of holiness for officers in light of repeated attacks on the Church from the world.


To recap, Overture 29 seeks to amend BCO 16 by adding the following paragraph:

16-4. Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who deny the sinfulness of fallen desires, or who deny the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or who fail to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.

Our standard of conduct is always the Word of God, which transcends any culture; whether a sin is especially hated or excused in a particular society shall neither excuse those who are unrepentant nor bar those who are clearly repentant.

Overture 15 seeks to amend BCO 7 by adding the following paragraph:

7-4. Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.

In Light of the Westminster Standards

It is often said that the Church does not invent new doctrine; it merely refines & codifies the teachings of Holy Scripture in light of challenges, controversies, or attacks from without or within. The standard which Overture 15 seeks to codify is not a new imposition upon the church or its requirements for officers. While it meets a particular need for the current time of difficulty the PCA finds itself in, the requirement is as old as the Reformed tradition itself.

Westminster Larger Catechism 139 clearly contains these sins & their attached desires as forbidden by the 7th Commandment. Besides expressly forbidding sodomy, there are also prohibitions on ‘all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections.’ Cherishing a homosexual or gay self-conception is clearly a product of an unclean imagination & affections, particularly realized within our postmodern era. A man holding to this decayed self-conception is worthy of our love, pity, and ministry of care, but not the weighty responsibility of church office.

It is almost as if the Westminster Divines were present in the 21st century to hear argumentation of Side B proponents. LC 139 goes beyond refraining from the external sin of sodomy and pushes us to remember the innermost places where we must be chaste: our hearts & minds. The divines would not have allowed men who serve as church officers to envelop themselves in worldly desires & appetites of the flesh as though they were not to be repented of, but instead used as casual descriptors. The divines would have directed such men to continue to seek Christ and to cast off what the world tells him about how his sin defines him and instead adopt what the Bible says about him as a new creation.

In Light of the AIC Report on Human Sexuality

The Ad-Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality was received with broad support by all wings of the PCA when it was presented to the 48th General Assembly in 2021 for being eminently applicable in this area. It helped to clarify definitions, parse through seemingly impenetrable cultural language barriers, and provide context for conversations around sexuality. Overture 15 fits perfectly within its pastoral framework.

Statement 10 of the AIC Report states that it is ‘inappropriate to juxtapose this sinful desire, or any other sinful desire, as an identity marker alongside our identity as new creations in Christ.’

While recently it has become common practice in PCA circles to avoid “identity” language as it is often vague and unhelpful, here it stands as a synonym with the “describes” wording in Overture 15. The message is clear: Christians are to avoid defining or describing themselves by their sinful desires.

Statement 10 continues: ‘​​Our burden is that we do not justify our sin struggles by affixing them to our identity as Christians. Churches should be gentle, patient, and intentional with believers who call themselves “gay Christians,” encouraging them, as part of the process of sanctification, to leave behind identification language rooted in sinful desires, to live chaste lives, to refrain from entering into temptation, and to mortify their sinful desires.’

How can we as the Church come alongside believers struggling with homosexual desires and encourage them? How can the PCA tell our people that the Holy Spirit can progressively sanctify them, and at the same time allow our officers to describe themselves by their impure lusts & affections? How can we allow the promotion of a lifestyle of celibacy in our officers, at the expense of chastity? How can we minister to poor sinners caught up in homosexual lifestyles, when we have nothing to offer them but a life of outward conformity? This is the particular issue that Overture 15 addresses. Our officers must be above reproach in their Christian walk, not as an futile exercise in reaching perfection, but to serve their purpose of edifying the body.

In Light of Overture 29

Take a close look at what Overture 15 seeks to prohibit. Men ‘who describe themselves as homosexual’ are disqualified. This is not a statement of experience. This is not even a statement of temptation to sin. This is a statement of how a man, a supposedly mature Christian man who is being considered by a church as an officer candidate, describes himself.

Imagine an officer in the PCA habitually describing himself as a thief, a drunkard, an adulterer, or a rapist. You would surely be shaken by this self-description. You might have questions as to whether he is speaking of his past, before his conversion to Christ or in some great trial of sinful relapse. Tragically, he insists he is describing himself at the present time. Now, imagine this officer describing himself by these words, and then going on to say that while he abstains from these particular sins, he feels such a strong desire to commit these particular sins daily that he chooses to describe himself by those sinful desires. It is his chosen self-description of his Christian walk. He is a thieving Christian. He is a drunken Christian. He is a fornicating Christian. He binds himself up in his remaining corruption as a self-descriptor. This postmodern contortion cannot be made square with Paul’s admonition to ‘put off your old self’ (Eph. 4:22).

Overture 29 says that those ‘who deny the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or who fail to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office’. This is the language that won overwhelming support on the general assembly floor. This raises the question: who in the PCA is denying the reality & hope of progressive deliverance from their sinful temptations? Who is saying that their sinful desires describe them? It is not thieves nor drunkards. Sadly, it is homosexuals who are being deceived by the world that their desires are uniquely descriptive of their lives and are an intrinsic part of their humanity. Overture 15 takes the exegetical language of Overture 29 and applies it to our current controversy in the PCA, adding actionable teeth with its addition to Chapter 7 of the Book of Church Order, which is exactly where strict officer requirements are explicitly stated.


The rapid advance of LGBTQ+ ideology into broader culture, into institutions, and indeed, into the church, has clearly necessitated this response. The PCA has arrived at the moment where we are asking ourselves: how does the church preach not just Gospel redemption, but Gospel transformation to a listening world? One way is through its officers, the heralds of Christ’s kingdom. While no one on this side of glory will see perfection, these men are recognized by and for their exemplary Christian character more so than any other qualification. Remember Paul as he says ‘be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.’ (1 Cor. 11:1) Overture 15 seeks to apply this principle to the Side B/Revoice controversy.

This issue has caused disunity, confusion, and chaos in the PCA for far too long. If we desire that this particular sword should depart our house, then we will acknowledge that Overture 29 needs Overture 15 to be effective and pass both through our presbyteries. The two overtures go hand-in-hand. The one works through the other.

Joe Gibbons is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Miss. This article is used with permission.

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