The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order
Chapter 3 : The Nature and Extent of Church Power
Paragraph 1 : Its Nature
3-1. The power which Christ has committed to His Church vests in the whole body, the rulers and those ruled, constituting it a spiritual commonwealth. This power, as exercised by the people, extends to the choice of those officers whom He has appointed in His Church.
HISTORICAL SUMMARY: PCA 1973 has “the rulers and the ruled,” while the current PCA text has "the rulers and those ruled,..." The change dates to ____ . This reading dates to the PCUS 1867, which itself has one notable difference in their text: “This power, as exercised by His people,” Also, the earlier 1867 PCUS draft conflated what are now paragraphs 1 and 2 and also conflated the two sentences of this section, thus: “…commonwealth; but this power….]
1. PCA 1973, Adopted text for 3-1, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, page 129
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church, 1973, 3-1, Proposed text, p. 4
3. PCUS 1933, IV-§15
4. PCUS 1925, IV-§15
The power which Christ has committed to his Church vests in the whole body, the rulers and the ruled, constituting it a spiritual commonwealth. This power, as exercised by the people, extends to the choice of those officers whom he has appointed in his Church.
PCUS 1879, II-3-1.
PCUS 1869 draft, II-3-1.
The power which Christ hath committed to His Church vests in the whole body, the rulers and the ruled, constituting it a spiritual commonwealth. This power, as exercised by the people, extends to the choice of those officers whom He hath appointed in His Church.
PCUS 1867 draft, II-3-1.
The power which Christ hath committed to his church vests in the whole body, the rulers and the ruled, constituting it a spiritual commonwealth; but this power is exercised by his people in the choice of those officers whom he hath appointed in his church. This power is ecclesiastical, which is wholly moral and spiritual, is two-fold; for the officers sometimes exercise it severally, as in preaching the gospel, administering the sacraments, reproving the erring, visiting the sick, comforting the afflicted, etc., which is the power of order; and sometimes jointly in church-courts, after the form of judgment, which is the power of jurisdiction.
OPC 2005, III-1
The power which Christ has committed to his church is not vested in the special officers alone, but in the whole body. All believers are endued with the Spirit and called of Christ to join in the worship, edification, and witness of the church which grows as the body of Christ fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of each part. The power of believers in their general office includes the right to acknowledge and desire the exercise of the gifts and calling of the special offices. The regular exercise of oversight in a particular congregation is discharged by those who have been called to such work by vote of the people.
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order (1898, pp. 25-26), on III-3-1 :
SECTION III.--Of the Nature and Extent of Church Power.
This section is extremely important in a Form of Government. The first two paragraphs point out the relation of the people and the officers to ecclesiastical power ; the third paragraph shows what the Church as government has power to do, and the fourth what is the end of all its doing in all aspects, and the fifth recalls the relation of Christ to the exercise of this power.
15.--I. The power which Christ has committed to his Church vests in the whole body, the rulers and the ruled, constituting it a spiritual commonwealth. This power, as exercised by the people, extends to the choice of those officers whom he has appointed in his Church.
The statement that Christ has committed power to his Church must not be pressed to contradict paragraphs 9 and 11 ; but neither must it be weakened down to the conception that the Church is a mere voluntary society, and submission to it a matter of individual option. This power does not vest in the rulers as such, so that they are in no sense accountable to the people, or in the people as such, so that the rulers are merely their committeemen ; but in the whole body, each in his corporate or organic place having authority and being subject to authority. And while in relation to Christ the Church is a kingdom, in the inter-relations of its members it is neither a monarchy or oligarchy, nor a democracy, but a commonwealth. But this power the people exercise, not in appointing the officers, but in choosing those whom Christ has appointed and in rejecting usurpers that he has not appointed. Only so far ; for all the powers of the Church are to be administered by officers. (Cf. Par. 4.)
As the Church is a spiritual commonwealth, the members thereof do not as such own material property in common.
And the power is wholly spiritual ; that is, it cannot apply physical force or extend material rewards and penalties.
1986 - Constitutional Inquiry #8, from the Trinity Presbyterian Church [M14GA, Appendix I, Item 8, pp. 331-332]
Question - 2. Can a congregation decide that its session must adopt a rotational system? Or must the session adopt the rotational system at the request of the congregation?
2. BCO 3-1 indicates that the power of the choice of officers vests in the people as a whole. The BCO does not explicitly state where the power is vested to determine (under the BCO) whether the system of officers is to be rotational or perpetual. We would therefore urge mutual subjection in determining the matter (Eph. 5:21). Where an insurmountable conflict occurs between a Session and the congregation, the Presbytery may be invited to arbitrate the conflict (BCO 13-9, 40-5, 41, 42, 43). Any decision to have a rotational system of ruling officers must be made in accordance with the procedures of the BCO and the Bylaws of that church (BCO 25-7, M3GA 3-89, p. 113). With regard to the rotation system, "...the BCO was deliberately written neither to promote nor to prohibit the rotational system of church officers. The General Assembly has repeatedly affirmed this position (M1GA, 1-46, p. 35; 1-81, p. 64; M2GA, 2-98, p. 72; M7GA, 7-41, p. 105; M8GA, 8-88, p. 118)" M12GA, Item 20, p. 127.
Recommendation - That the answer of the Permanent Committee concerning Constitutional Inquiry #8 from the Trinity Presbyterian Church be ratified. Adopted. [M14GA, 14-52, 16, p. 126]
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Chapter Index [links to Par. 1 of each chapter]:
I. King & Head of Church
II. Preliminary Principles
[FoG = Form of Government ; RoD = Rules of Discipline ; DfW = Directory for Worship]