Today we began reviewing and approving a report on each of our 75 presbyteries. Overnight our clerks typed a report summarizing the final reading of each presbytery's minutes. That was projected on a screen and our committee went line by line, presbytery by presbytery, approving our findings. By suppertime tonight we had done more than half of the presbyteries and we will hit it hard tomorrow AM in the hopes of finishing by noon. Once the final report is finished it is sent to the floor of the General Assembly for final approval. Word has it that our General Assembly business might be completed early but the assembly cannot be adjourned until our report is completed. We do not want to be the reason why the assembly cannot adjourn early.
This morning I went to the colloquium on the sacraments and their efficacy. Each speaker spoke for about 30 minutes back to back. After two hours each speaker was given a few minutes to critique the positions of the other three speakers. Afterwards they were going to take a few questions from the floor. Personally, the address given by Dr. Robert Rayburn was my favorite. He had more material than time so he spoke like a machine gun in rapid fire mode -- taking notes was futile. Jeff Meyers moved the ball forward by arguing that 'how' Communion is celebrated has an impact on its efficacy (he didn't discuss coming forward vs. distributing the elements but spoke against the stern, sometimes dour and introspective way many churches observe this sacrament). Dr. Will Barker, professor of church history, traced well the efficacy of the sacraments from Calvin to Knox and the Puritans. Dr. Ligon Duncan addressed efficacy from the perspective of Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith. I didn't stay for the rebuttals or the questions so I will need to get the CDs.
Part of the reason I didn't stay was that I wanted to visit the Overtures Committee to observe its work. The real action at General Assembly happens here as the overtures that arise from presbyteries (and occasionally a Session) are debated and amended. The hot issue today was Overture 9 from Philadelphia Presbytery requesting that a study committee be erected to study the issue of deaconnesses (see my earlier post for background). When I got to the room a motion was on the floor to answer this overture in the negative (ie. recommending that the General Assembly answer the overture in the negative). I heard one person passionately speak in favor of the overture and several other people were waiting to speak when the committee paused to pray for wisdom and then break for lunch. Later in the day I learned that they are strongly recommending that the General Assembly not erect a study committee. Their formal opinion will be published and sent to the floor along with their recommendation but I can already guess that they feel that our standards and Book of Church Order adequately speak to this issue. Tomorrow will be a big day.