James River Presbytery has submitted an overture to the 41st General Assembly to change when teaching elders notify their presbyteries about changes in their views. The revised Book of Church Order language would require teaching elders to notify their presbyteries if they change their views on any items in the Catechisms or Confession of Faith.

Currently BCO 21-5, Question 2, asks an ordinand to promise that he will notify his presbytery, on his own initiative, if he finds himself out of accord “with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine.” Also, BCO 21-4 requires a candidate for ordination to specifically state any view that differs from the Confession of Faith and Catechisms.

But Teaching Elder Jeff Elliot feels this language is too vague, leaving it to the discretion of the individual to determine whether his changed view is out of accord with the fundamentals. Elliot was on a presbytery commission dealing with this issue and was shocked at how little the BCO had to say about when a pastor should report his change of view to presbytery.

“Most people think this is already in the BCO, but it’s not. There isn’t even procedure if a guy does self-report. I just wanted to put a couple pieces in there,” Elliot said.

Overture 8 would revise BCO 21-5, Question 2, so that the ordinand agrees to notify his presbytery “if at any time you determine that you differ with the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions.” The overture also adds BCO 21-12, which instructs a teaching elder to notify his presbytery of any changes to his views from those previously presented to his presbytery. Elliot notes this additional language is essentially the same instruction given to candidates for ordination.

Without such clear instructions, Elliot believes teaching elders have the space to change their views and hide their new views, claiming the change is not regarding a fundamental issue. “If someone hides his changes of views, then it breeds distrust, whereas transparency allows trust to develop among the brothers,” he said.

7 Responses to When TEs Report Changed Views

  1. Phillip Shroyer says:

    A thumbs up in agreement with TE Jeff Elliot; thought apt to stir up a hornet’s nest, the Overture brings focus upon a critical issue now facing PCA. Attitudes will vary a bit, i.e.; when in opposition with an (known) established policy, proceed anyway until discovered. Hiding? perhaps. May the grace of God prevail, bringing spiritual healing, glory to God.

  2. Mike Singenstreu says:

    Since when is a promise not good enough amongst brothers? We take a “vow”…promising that at any time when or if our views would change we would notify our presbyteries. That means we have determined a difference and we have determined a course of action. This is a sign of honesty, trust and unity in our brothers when we willingly follow through. A new section for us is redundant at best or stands as a measure of mistrust at the worst. The vow we take needs a followed legislation? seems to breakdown the trust factor that Jeff Elliot says he is wanting to ensure.

    Why don’t we require everyone to renew their vows before presbytery every year? Not! If we want to promote unity and trust lets begin by believing a man’s promise.

  3. Bob Essmann says:

    This is a necessary BCO change because individuals will rarely, if ever, consider themselves out of accord “with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine” when their agreement with the Westminster Confession changes. It is our nature to conclude that our own views are correct – otherwise we would never have chosen to adopt the new view. This BCO change is not about lack of trust; rather, it is about accountability and appropriate oversight by Presbytery – providing an opportunity to address the changed views just as promised by the ordination candidate. This puts the burden of determining whether the issue is fundamental to our system of doctrine back into the hands of the Presbytery, to be determined with grace and respect.

  4. Robert Barnes says:

    I would stand to speak against the motion.

    TE Jeff Elliot’s heart is in the right place; I also commend him for seeking to codify his and many other TEs thoughts on this matter. Many of us have watched in concern as men remain in the PCA when their blog posts and books seem remarkably out of accord with our stated doctrines. I hope my heart is in the same concerned, Presbyterian place as TE Elliot.

    However, the language TE Elliot suggests is easily navigated by the parties. It will not change the heart or practice of a single brother or father who openly advocates changes to the essence of our communion while staying in its safe bounds. When we stray into such deception, we become too wise to be bound by mere vows.

  5. Mike Singenstreu says:

    All in all this still requires the man to make this determination on his own. There are no “doctrine police.” The TE still must be the one to let his presbytery know his views have changed…it is still a honor system as it should be….and no matter how many times you put it in the BCO it is still an honor system. Bob, if individuals will rarely turn themselves in this “extra” line of 2 is not going to motivate them beyond giving their word at their ordination. If they are planning on deceiving they will deceive. Also, the more we legislate the less freedom of conscience we have. Most of our guys are just like you and me…seeking and doing the LORD’s will…those seeking to deceive are found out…judicial process takes care of…

  6. Mike Singenstreu says:

    That should have ended… God and judicial process will take care of this kind.

  7. Albert Hitchcock says:

    This proposal seems to comply nicely with the current political mood of suspicion, surveillance, and over-regulation. Is that really the model we want for our church?