Six BCO Changes Docketed for General Assembly Ratification
By Larry Hoop

Changing a provision in the Book of Church Order (BCO) is a three-step process. First, the proposed amendment must be approved by a majority vote of General Assembly (GA). The proposal is then sent to the presbyteries for their “advice and consent,” where it must be approved by two-thirds of them (currently, 59). Finally, it is docketed for ratification by the next GA. Ratification requires a majority of commissioners to that GA who are present and voting.

As of March 16, 79 presbyteries have submitted votes and six of the eight changes proposed by the 48th GA have been approved by a sufficient number of presbyteries to be sent to the 49th GA for ratification:

  • Item 1 would amend BCO 12-6 and 13-4 to allow presbyteries and sessions to establish rules for holding virtual meetings.  
  • Item 3 would amend BCO 20-4, 24-3, and 24-4 to clarify that the election of a pastors, elder or deacon requires a majority of votes cast rather than a majority of members present.
  • Item 5 would amend BCO 22-2 to allow an Assistant Pastor to be elected as Associate Pastor by the congregation he currently serves upon recommendation of the Session without the election of a pulpit committee. 
  • Item 6 would amend BCO 24-1 to clarify that a session has discretion on the timing of some parts of the exam of officer nominees.
  • Item 7 would replaces the current BCO 32-20, which requires a church court to commence process against a member in a case involving scandal within one year with a provision that would allow a person accused of an offense to object to its consideration and provide direction to the court about how to consider such an objection.
  • Item 8 would amend BCO 38-1 to specify what may be considered when a judgment is rendered in a case without process (in which a person comes forward to make an offense known).

Two proposals have been denied approval by a sufficient number of presbyteries to prevent them from being considered for ratification:

Thirty presbyteries have now reported that they have denied approval of Item 2, which would have amended BCO 16 by adding a clause (16-4) that would prohibit ordination of men who profess an identity contradicting their new identity in Christ and lists as examples those who self-identify as “gay Christians,” “same sex attracted Christians,” “homosexual Christians,” “or like terms.” Forty-eight presbyteries have voted in favor of this proposal (one presbytery has submitted its report on all items except this one).

Item 4, which would have changed BCO 21-4 and 24-1 to clarify the moral requirements for church office by requiring more extensive investigation of a candidate’s character, giving particular attention to “notorious concerns,” has also failed to received approval to go forward (the current official count is 41 presbyteries in favor, 38 opposed). 

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