A Summary of Actions Taken by the 44th General Assembly of the EPC

This week my denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, held its 44th stated General Assembly in Memphis, Tennessee. 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. This was a busy and lively assembly. Many things went on at the assembly, but below is a summary of its official actions.

To amend the EPC’s constitution requires a majority vote of one assembly, a majority vote of three-fourths of the presbyteries over the next year, and then a majority vote of the subsequent assembly. The assembly completed this process for an area that is essentially cleaning up language. The Book of Government places the authority over a local church’s budget in the hands of the Session (board of elders). The GA voted to delete a section from the BoG on the grounds of redundancy and to clarify that a church’s financial and budgetary authority are always vested with the Session unless the Session delegates otherwise. The GA also completed the amendment process for part of the Book of Discipline to include this line: “Church discipline does not supersede or negate the legal responsibility to report cases of suspected abuse to civil authorities according to local and state requirements.” This is part of the denomination’s ongoing work of proactively addressing abuse in the church.

The EPC’s formal ecumenical relationships are called “fraternal partnerships” and are aimed at increasing cooperation on mission, church planting, theology, and education. The GA voted to terminate our fraternal partnership with the Association of Charismatic Presbyterian Churches in Puerto Rico and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Peru. The rationale for both is that no real partnership existed and efforts to rekindle them had been unsuccessful. The EPC entered into a fraternal relationship with the National Union of French Protestant Reformed Churches, a confessional and evangelical French denomination directly descending from the Huguenots and John Calvin’s work.

The EPC GA issues pastoral letters to the church from time-to-time to provide guidance to our congregations. In 2022 the GA formed a committee to draft a pastoral letter on racial lament and hope. That letter was presented to the GA and officially approved. A presbytery had sent an overture (formal request) to the GA to initiate the constitutional amendment process to clarify that people with mental disabilities can receive the Lord’s Supper. The EPC has dealt with this issue on-and-off for about 6 years now. The GA rejected that overture, but did form a committee for the purpose of drafting a pastoral letter addressing the issue of disabilities and coming to the sacraments.

The General Assembly also initiated the amendment process for how presbyteries deal with transitional pastors (interim pastors) who are ordained in other denominations, want to maintain their ordination in their home denominations, but still want to temporarily serve an EPC congregation in a transitional role. The proposed amendment, now sent to the presbyteries for ratification, would still require presbyteries to examine and vet these transitional pastors, but provide the flexibility to let them serve in that capacity without transferring their ordination credentials, though a presbytery could still require that if they wished.

Another overture proposed amending the Book of Worship to instruct ministers to invite “baptized believers” to partake of the Lord’s Supper, rather than the currently worded “true believers”. The Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC; the EPC’s “supreme court”) issued an opinion that this overture would was incompatible with the EPC’s constitution since it would allegedly erect extra-biblical barriers to the Lord’s Supper. Fortunately, the assembly rejected the PJC’s opinion. Unfortunately, the assembly also rejected the original overture. This means the status quo is unchanged: individual EPC churches and ministers are free to require baptism as a prerequisite for coming to the Lord’s Supper, but are not mandated to do so. The debate on the floor of the assembly was one of the more interesting theological debates I’ve seen in the EPC, and provided a good snapshot of our denomination’s culture.

The big topic this year was the issue of same-sex attraction, celibacy, and ordination. There were a series of overtures sent to the assembly to address this issue. The result was the establishment of a committee to review the EPC’s biblical and confessional commitments along with our other documents, such as our position paper on human sexuality, in order to clarify and strengthen the witness of our church in this area. The committee will present its final report and recommendations to the General Assembly in 2026. In the interim, the assembly expressed its will to all EPC churches and presbyteries to pause ordaining or admitting into the EPC as an officer anyone publicly known to be or self-identified as same-sex attracted until after the committee’s final report.

For the fourth GA in a row there was a proposal relating to the EPC’s chaplain policies that caused a stir. The Chaplains Work and Care Committee proposed a constitutional amendment that would have required all non-military EPC chaplains to receive the sign-off of the EPC’s chaplain endorser (a position that exists to facilitate EPC-military chaplaincies). A nearly identical proposal was decisively rejected last year. The PJC issued an opinion that this proposed amendment was incompatible with the rest of the constitution, the Chaplains Work and Care Committee then retracted its recommendation, and the GA officially rejected it again for good measure.

Finally, Dean Weaver was re-elected to a second 3-year term as the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly (director of the denominational office and the EPC’s public face).