As the presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) begin taking up the amendments this fall, I hope to provide monthly updates on how the amendments are faring throughout the country. There are only three items – in contrast to last year’s twelve – sent down by the 50th General Assembly to the presbyteries for advice and consent. In order for an amendment to be ratified in our Book of Church Order, there is a three-step process:
The General Assembly must approve it by a simple majority.
Then it must pass 2/3rds (currently 59 presbyteries) of the PCA’s 88 presbyteries by a simple majority.
If an amendment receives 2/3rds support, it must then be approved by a majority vote of the next Assembly for final ratification.
As we enter the fall, 9 Presbyteries have already taken up the three proposed BCO Amendments.
Overture 26 (Item 1)
Overture 26 (Item 1) seeks to amend BCO 7-3 regarding titles given to unordained people who serve on the staffs of PCA churches. The amendment reads (changes are underlined):
7-3. No one who holds office in the Church ought to usurp authority therein, or receive official titles of spiritual preeminence, except such as are employed in the Scripture. Furthermore, unordained people shall not be referred to as, or given the titles of, the ordained offices of pastor/elder or deacon.
While all the items before the General Assembly received super majority votes, this item has the most potential to cause heated debate within the presbyteries. So far, though, contention over this Item has not materialized in the presbyteries. Of the 9 presbyteries to vote, 8 of them have answered this item in the affirmative. The raw votes for this item presently sit at 84% with a vote of 237-45.
Overture 23 (Item 2)
Overture 23 (Item 2) seeks to amend BCO 8-2 and 9-3 on the requirements for ordained officers to conform to the biblical standards for chastity and purity. The two small additions apply to both Elders and Deacons in the church. They read:
8-2 (Elders). He that fills this office should possess a competency of human learning and be blameless in life, sound in the faith and apt to teach. He should exhibit a sobriety and holiness of life becoming the Gospel. He should conform to the biblical requirement of chastity and sexual purity in his descriptions of himself, and in his convictions, character, and conduct. He should rule his own house well and should have a good report of them that are outside the Church.
9-3 (Deacons). To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment, conforming to the biblical requirement of chastity and sexual purity in their descriptions of themselves, and in their convictions, character, and conduct.
These proposals are likely the final BCO amendments related to the “Side B Gay Christianity” controversy sparked by the Revoice Conference in 2018. With the departure of Memorial Presbyterian Church and its ministers (to Independency), the controversy seems to be in denouement. This is exemplified by the fact that all 9 presbyteries have voted to affirm this latest round of amendments with around a 95% approval within those presbyteries at an overall vote of 284-16.
Overture 27 (item 3)
Overture 27 (Item 3) seeks to amend BCO 38-1 in requirements pertaining to personal confessions from those who confess their offense to a court of the church. This item reads:
38-1. When any person shall come forward and make his offense known to the court, a full statement of the facts shall be recorded and judgment rendered without process. In handling a confession of guilt, it is essential that the person intends to confess and permit the court to render judgment without process. Statements made by him in the presence of the court must not be taken as a basis of a judgment without process except by his consent. In the event a confession is intended, a written Confession (i.e., a sufficient summary of the facts, the person’s specific confession, and any expression or evidence of repentance) must be approved by the accused, and by the court, before the court proceeds to a judgment, and the co- signed document shall be appended to the minutes (regular or executive session). No other information may be presented without written consent from the accused and the court, and this prohibition includes individuals, prosecutors, committees, and commissions. A censured person has the right to appeal (BCO 42). The person has the right to be assisted by counsel at any point, in accord with the stipulations of BCO 32-19.
In any instances involving a personal offense (BCO 29-3), the court shall attempt to inform the offended person(s) of that part of the Confession the court deems pertinent to the offense against him or her. The court shall invite the offended person to provide the court comment on the Confession prior to final approval of the Confession by the confessor and the court. The court shall encourage the offended person to enlist the help of an advisor in preparing any such comments. In all instances, the court shall report the way such offended persons were informed of the parts of the Confession pertinent to them.
At this time, this amendment has similar results to Item 1, passing 8 of the 9 presbyteries that have considered it. The raw tally total of individual votes sits at just over 90% approval with an overall tally of 246-25.
There are 79 presbyteries yet to take up the proposed amendments in advance of the 51st General Assembly in Richmond, VA. Fourteen of them will consider the three Items throughout the month of October, and just over thirty before the calendar year ends. If you know when a presbytery will take up the amendments, please fill out this form or email me at [email protected]. This information will help me keep accurate records with timely information. Continue to pray for our presbyteries as they consider the items before them. As a reminder, these results are unofficial and need to be confirmed by the Stated Clerk’s Office in the Spring.
 All information in this spreadsheet is unofficial. For official information, wait for reports from byFaith or the Stated Clerk’s Office. With that said, the data has been reconciled by individuals from the voting presbyteries.