Providence Presbytery has sent an overture to the 44th General Assembly, seeking to amend BCO 35-1. The amendment would require church officers to testify in cases against them when the accusations concern their doctrinal views. The proposal is nearly identical to one narrowly defeated by the last General Assembly.
In the rationale for the overture, Providence argues that since an officer is required by the BCO to explain and defend his doctrinal positions in a variety of nonjudicial settings (e.g., when a teaching elder is examined for transfer from one presbytery to another or when any officer changes his views about a teaching of the Confession), a rule that permits him to refrain from testifying about those positions in a judicial setting is inconsistent. Providence also submits that the current rule hampers a court’s ability to provide proper oversight for the members under their care. Additionally, its rationale points to passages from Scripture and the Westminster Standards.
Last year’s proposal was an amended version of an overture sent from the session of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia, which did not gain the approval of a majority of Potomac Presbytery. After amending the overture to address several concerns raised by the Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB) and others, last year’s Overtures Committee (OC) recommended it be answered in the affirmative. A minority report presented by nine OC members calling for a negative answer to the overture prevailed on the floor by 22 votes.
When asked why Providence Presbytery thinks GA should reconsider last year’s denial of the proposal, Providence clerk Gary Nantt said, “A number of our commissioners who attended last year’s Assembly voted against it then because they wanted more time to consider it prayerfully. After they had the opportunity to do so, they approved the overture unanimously.”