In response to the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) ruling in the case of Hedman v. Pacific Northwest Presbytery, Grace Presbytery recently submitted an overture to consider revising the Book of Church Order (BCO) 15-5 a & b. The proposed revision would give the General Assembly final authority on any rulings passed down by the SJC.

The ruling denied the complaint of ruling elder (RE) Gerald Hedman against the Pacific Northwest Presbytery, ultimately declaring teaching elder (TE) Peter Leithart not guilty of contradicting both the Westminster Standards and Scripture. The ruling sparked debate at the 2013 Assembly and brought into question the SJC’s authority to rule ultimately on such matters.

“I believe that the process connected to the Leithart case showed that there was a big hole in our BCO,” said TE Sean Lucas, who drafted the overture. “The BCO hole centered on this possibility: Is it conceivable that … a presbytery could decide that a man could deny biblical inerrancy, that the SJC could rule that the presbytery did not err, and that there was no way for the Assembly to address that issue? The way our rules are currently written, that could happen, and Presbyterian history has shown exactly that scenario has happened.”

If passed, the overture would allow extensive review of these discipline and doctrinal cases in order to preserve the peace, purity, and unity of the church.

The overture would effectively revert to the practice that existed in 1988 (the year the SJC was formed) when the Assembly approved or rejected the SJC’s decisions “without question or debate or discussion.” In instances where at least one-third of the SJC’s members issued a minority report, both reports were presented to the Assembly for a vote. In 1996, BCO 15-5 was amended; the “without question, debate, or discussion” provision, it was believed, had proved to be unenforceable. Subsequently, the decisions of the SJC were final.

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