Last year, the 46th General Assembly (GA) proposed seven amendments to the Book of Church Order (BCO), the most proposed since 1996. These proposed amendments were sent to the presbyteries for their advice and consent.
All seven of the amendments proposed in 2018 have been approved by the required number of presbyteries, and thus will be presented for final adoption to the 47th General Assembly later this month.
According to the BCO, a proposed change must be approved by two-thirds of the presbyteries (currently 59 of 88) in order for it to be considered for final ratification by the next GA. If a presbytery fails to act on a proposed change, it has the effect of a negative vote, as approval by two-thirds of all existing presbyteries is required. The proposed amendment being considered for adoption, along with the votes of the presbyteries, for and against, are:
- Item 1, which would make two changes to BCO 8 (on the office of elder). A change to BCO 8-1 would substitute “spiritually fruitful, dignified” for the word “grave.” Proponents argued that “grave”, drawn from the King James Version of I Timothy 3 and Titus 2 carries different connotations in modern English than it did in the 17th century, and that the proposed language better communicates the sense of the original. A second change would add “demonstrate hospitality” to the list of responsibilities of elders in BCO 8-3. Supporters cite Paul’s mention of hospitality as a qualification for elders in both I Timothy and Titus. Seventy one presbyteries voted in favor of this proposal, six against.
- Item 2 would amend BCO 25-11 to require 30 days’ notice before a congregational meeting called to vote on withdrawal from the PCA. Those in favor argue that a decision of such significance should require longer than the seven days’ notice required by the general provision for a congregational meeting. Sixty-eight presbyteries favored this change, nine opposed it.
- Items 3 and 4 would amend to BCO 30-1 and 30-3 to clarify the difference between suspension from sacraments and suspension from office. Though these two proposed amendments were related, they were voted on separately. Supporters say that the proposed amendments would give presbyteries more control over when a repentant minister may be restored to office and more clarity concerning the difference between the two kinds of suspension. Item 3, the proposed amendment to BCO 30-1 was the most closely contested proposal, gaining the approval of 60 presbyteries while 17 voted against it. Item 4, the proposed amendment to BCO 30-3, was approved by 73 presbyteries, with four opposed.
- Item 5 would amend BCO 32-19 to allow those accused in a church judicial case greater latitude in obtaining counsel to represent them. Currently, an accused in a case before a session may be represented only by a member of his or her church, and in a case before the presbytery, only by a member of the presbytery. The proposed amendment would allow any communing member in a church in the presbytery to represent an accused before his or her session, and any member of the PCA to represent him or her in cases before the presbytery. The BCO already allows representation before the General Assembly Standing Judicial Commission by any member in the denomination. This proposal was approved by 61 presbyteries and defeated in 16.
- Item 6 would amend BCO 35-11 to close what proponents see as a loophole that could allow the disqualification of an entire court to judge a case it has instituted by the accused calling all members of the court as witnesses in the case. Sixty-four presbyteries voted in favor, 13 opposed.
- Item 7 would amend BCO 59-3, part of the Directory for Worship, and grant it full constitutional status. Currently, BCO 56, 57, and 58 are the only chapters of the directory with such status — the rest of the directory is not constitutionally binding. The amended BCO 59-3 reads: “Marriage is only to be between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24, 25; Matthew 19:4-6, 1 Corinthians 7:2), in accordance with the Word of God. Therefore, ministers in the Presbyterian Church in America who solemnize marriages shall only solemnize marriages between one man and one woman.” Proponents argue that granting this newly-amended paragraph constitutional status would provide greater public clarity concerning what marriages a PCA minister may solemnize, without making the other provisions in BCO 59 binding. There were 74 presbyteries in favor, three opposed.
Approval by one GA and a super-majority of presbyteries does not ensure a proposed amendment will be adopted. When the amendments are presented to the subsequent GA (in this case, the 47th) they are subject to further debate, and must be approved by the majority of Commissioners present and voting.