At the most recent meeting of Covenant Presbytery (my home presbytery), we voted up an overture to the 2010 PCA General Assembly to amend the Book of Church Order of the PCA (or BCO). This is a very big deal, and I want to comment on why I think it is such an important move.
At the 2009 General Assembly, we voted to amend a section of the BCO with regard to marriage, to clarify a particular position on what constitutes a legal marriage. The amendment we voted on actually makes our BCO more consistent with our theological standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. And the substance of the amendment is good-- I don't think anyone at the assembly (or any PCA pastor or ruling elder I know period) had or would have a point of disagreement with the substance.
It is how the amendment was accomplished that is a problem-- and that is what the Covenant Presbytery amendment addresses.
Just as the Constitution of the United States of America specifies how it may be amended, so too our BCO specifies how our constitutional standards may be amended. For BCO amendments, it requires a majority vote at one general assembly, "advice and consent" from at least ⅔ of all presbyteries, and the majority vote of a subsequent assembly. This is spelled out in BCO 26-2.
At last year's Assembly, however, the amendment was passed by a single vote. The justification for this was that the section being amended was a "non-binding" section, and that the essence of the amendment was "time-sensitive" because without it some of our members were deemed to be legally exposed. It was clear that the issue at hand was an emotionally-charged issue, and in the eyes of some it may have seemed that the very essence of our public witness to the gospel was at stake.
There was discussion on the floor about whether we had the constitutional capacity to make the amendment and whether the time-sensitive factor was as pressing as was being represented. In the end, however, we moved ahead with the amendment with a single vote (the moderator asked for a ⅔ majority vote of those present as a nod to the constitutional requirement).
In other words: we set aside our constitutional requirements for amending the BCO, mainly because of the emotional commitment to the importance of the issue at hand.
But such reasons are precisely the reason we need constitutional requirements. Without procedural checks, it becomes far too easy to change our identity on a whim. In this case we abandoned our standards over something that we all generally agree upon; what will happen, though, when such an occasion arises over an issue that we are divided about? If this precedent is allowed to stand, I fear that we may see the day coming when sweeping changes of who and what the PCA is will be made with a matter of a single vote.
Therefore, our presbytery overtured the General Assembly to amend the BCO so that the requirements for amending the BCO reads like this (the new parts are in bold):
BCO 26-2. Amendments to any portion of the Book of Church Order, whether constitutionally binding or not, may be made only in the following manner:
1. Approval of the proposed amendment by majority of those present and voting in the General Assembly, and its recommendation to the Presbyteries.
2. The advice and consent of two-thirds (2/3) of the Presbyteries.
3. The approval and enactment by a subsequent General Assembly by a majority of those present and voting.