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.