A Summary of Actions Taken by the 42nd General Assembly of the EPC
This week my denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, held its 42nd stated General Assembly in Detroit, Michigan. This is the annual meeting and council (synod) of my church, and every pastor has a right to attend and every congregation may send elder representatives. Though there was plenty else going on at the GA meeting, below is a summary of the official actions taken by the assembly.
To amend the EPC’s constitution requires a majority vote of one assembly, a majority vote of a majority of presbyteries over the next year, and then a majority vote of the subsequent assembly. We completed that final step on four amendments to our Book of Worship and Book of Government. Three amendments shifted the obligation from local churches, presbyteries, and the GA from creating agencies or institutions (e.g. schools, orphanages, hospitals, prisons, retirement homes, etc) to identifying them, and adding agencies that focus on the disabled to the list. Churches may create such things, but would not be duty-bound to do so with these changes. The other amendment related to our denominational Chaplains. Chaplains are teaching elders, meaning that by virtue of their ordination they are authorized to administer the sacraments. There is a line in the constitution that says that presbyteries may permit Chaplains to administer the sacraments in their calling, and that line was seen as inconsistent with the fact that Chaplains already have that authority and so was deleted.
The biggest subject this year focused on starting the formal process to pastorally address racial sin and hurt. The EPC from time-to-time crafts pastoral letters on pertinent issues where ministers and churches could use guidance. This week the Assembly authorized the creation of a committee to draft a pastoral letter on racial lament and hope. This committee will give an interim update next year and submit their final report in 2024.
The Assembly received the report of the Theology Committee on the practice of virtual communion, which concluded that “The practice of virtual communion is no longer permissible, and it is proper that the Church affirm and maintain the normative practice for the administration of the Lord’s Supper…The consistent witness of Scripture, our constitution, and confessional standards is that the proper context for administering the Lord’s Supper is the physical gathering of God’s people, where the elements are given and received according to Christ’s command.”
The EPC entered into formal fraternal relations (ecumenical partnership) with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Sierra Leone. We also endorsed the revised master plan for World Outreach (foreign missions), which prioritizes equipping the Christians and churches of EPC partners in places around the world unreached by the gospel.
We shifted our financing model from asking each congregation to contribute $23 per church member to asking each congregation to give 1% of church income to the EPC. We also revised our policies on EPC Chaplains ministering in secular contexts where they may be pressured to acquiesce to LGBTQ+ practices and ideology. We asserted that “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and no EPC Chaplain shall be compelled to lead or participate in worship services or events with other leaders or participants whose conduct or activities violate the moral law of God as expressed in the EPC’s constitution.” This gives Chaplains both protection of conscience and pastoral flexibility.