What is a BCO “40-5 Matter”?

The Presbyterian form of church government provides a way for members to alert higher courts of important issues.

BCO 40-5 states:

40-5. When any court having appellate jurisdiction shall receive a credible report with respect to the court next below of any important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings of such court, the first step shall be to cite the court alleged to have offended to appear before the court having appellate jurisdiction, or its commission, by representative or in writing, at a specified time and place, and to show what the lower court has done or failed to do in the case in question.

The court thus issuing the citation may reverse or redress the proceedings of the court below in other than judicial cases; or it may censure the delinquent court; or it may remit the whole matter to the delinquent court with an injunction to take it up and dispose of it in a constitutional manner; or it may stay all further proceedings in the case; as circumstances may require.

Dr. Morton Smith in his Commentary of the Book of Church Order goes on to say:

When a flagrant matter comes to the attention of any court with appellate jurisdiction, it has the right to investigate the matter. It does this by first citing the court to appear by representative or in writing to answer concerning what it has done or failed to do.

The higher court may then correct the action of the lower court itself, or it may remit the matter to the lower court with instructions that it be handled in a constitutional manner. The higher court is not required to do either of these, but may simply stop any further proceedings on the matter in question.

A 40-5 matter is similar to a complaint in that it is a request of a higher court to reconsider the actions of a lower court. However, in some cases a congregant may not have “standing” to file a complaint. It has been the practice in the PCA that only those that are members of Presbytery or were delegates to a Presbytery meeting may file a complaint against a Presbytery; these are members who are considered to have “standing.”

As a result, there has been some confusion on who can and cannot file a grievance against the actions of a Presbytery. In SJC case 2013-8 (Elder Warren Jackson vs the NWGA Presbytery), members of the Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA wrote “It seems more reasonable to understand the intent of BCO 40-5 as being reserved for circumstances where the letter writer has no other access to the higher court”.


None of the signers of the February 14, 2021 “40-5 matter” to the PCA Stated Clerk were members of Presbytery or delegates to the January meeting where the important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings occurred.

Therefore, the only recourse afforded by the Book of Church Order to those signers was to send a credible report to the next higher court. In this case, since the actions were committed by the presbytery, the next higher court available was the General Assembly of the PCA.

In SJC case 2019-11 (Crouse vs NWGA Presbytery) the SJC stated in their ruling:

The right to seek redress of improper actions by complaint or appeal is foundational to our Constitutional system. Both due process and basic charity demand that no member or officer should be ostracized or penalized for the mere filing of a complaint or appeal. The filing of a complaint or appeal may never, standing alone, constitute proper grounds to deny any privilege of membership or office in our church.

Our church is governed by these various courts. This system is what makes us Presbyterian. Whether one is filing a complaint, an appeal, or a credible report to a higher court; no man should ever be ostracized, penalize, or charged for exercising these vehicles of redress provided to in our ecclesiastical constitution. Such filings are foundational to the Presbyterian form of government and should never be considered offenses.