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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 11 : Jurisdiction of Church Courts

Paragraph 1 : Of Their Spiritual Authority

11-1. These assemblies are altogether distinct from the civil magistracy, and have no jurisdiction in political or civil affairs. They have no power to inflict temporal pains and penalties, but their authority is in all respects moral or spiritual.

[Historical Summary : The standing PCA text is unchanged from that of the first approved PCUS edition of 1879, and in substance is identical to the early PCUS drafts of 1867 and 1869. Earlier texts tend to be more discoursive, and this is displayed in the PCUSA text from 1821, proving that these early texts can in some cases serve as commentary to the present editions.]

Background and Comparison :
1. PCA 1973, Adopted text, 12-1, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 132
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 12-1 Proposed text, 12-1
3. PCUS 1933, XIII, 57
4. PCUS 1925, XIII, 57
and
5. PCUS 1879, V-2-1

These assemblies are altogether distinct from the civil magistracy, and have no jurisdiction in political or civil affairs. They have no power to inflict temporal pains and penalties, but their authority is in all respects moral or spiritual.

PCUS 1869 draft, V-2-1
These assemblies are altogether distinct from the civil magistracy, nor have they any jurisdiction in political or civil affairs. They have no power to inflict temporal pains and penalties; but their authority is in all respects moral or spiritual.

PCUS 1867 draft,
These assemblies are altogether distinct from the civil magistracy. They do not possess any civil jurisdiction; they have no coercive authority; nor can they inflict any temporal pains and penalties, but their powers are, in all respects, moral or spiritual.

PCUSA 1823, 8-2
These assemblies ought not to possess any civil jurisdiction, nor to inflict any civil penalties. Their power is wholly moral or spiritual, and that only ministerial and declarative. They possess the right of requiring obedience to the laws of Christ; and of excluding the disobedient and disorderly, from the privileges of the church. To give efficiency, however, to this necessary and Scriptural authority, they possess the powers requisite for obtaining evidence and inflicting censure. They can call before them any offender against the order and government of the church; they can require members of their own society, to appear and give testimony in the cause; but the highest punishment to which their authority extends, is to exclude the contumacious and impenitent from the congregation of believers.

COMMENTARY :
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order (1898, pp. 68-69), on V-2-1 :

Section II.--Of the Jurisdiction of Church Courts.
The first paragraph distinguishes these courts from civil government, and the second states positively the nature and scope of their jurisdiction ; and the third states the principle underlying the gradation of these courts, while the fourth shows the particular gradation agreed upon for this branch of the Church.
59.--I. These assemblies are altogether distinct from the civil magistracy, and have no jurisdiction in political or civil affairs. They have no power to inflict temporal pains and penalties, but their authority is in all respects moral or spiritual.
Even when the same individual is both a Presbyter and a civil functionary, he is not the one by reason of being the other. While he is appointed unto each office by Christ the Lord of all, and is accountable to him, the method and means of his appointment, and offices to which he is appointed, are so utterly separate that his holding or not holding one of them does not modify his duties in the other. The ecclesiastical courts have no jurisdiction in political or civil affairs, but only in ecclesiastical affairs. But may the same affair be at the same time political or civil and ecclesiastical? It may, and then the ecclesiastical court may deal with it. If, for instance, a member of a church should be charged with murder, it would pertain to the civil authority to try him, and, if guilty, to inflict upon him the civil penalty; and it would pertain to the session of his church to deal with him for the same offence. Nor would the ecclesiastical court be bound to conclude him guilty or innocent of the charge according to the decision of the civil authority. An ecclesiastical affair is any question of doctrine taught in the Scriptures or any action commanded or forbidden in the Scriptures, or any matter of temporal concern having to do with the use and disposition of offerings for pious uses ; but only so far as any question or action or concern is within what Christ in the Scripture has commanded his Church to teach or enforce or do as organized for the edification of the faith and the evangelization of the world, is it an ecclesiastical affair. That question is ecclesiastical which the Church cannot expound and apply the whole Scripture without answering ; and that is not ecclesiastical which may be differently answered by men that agree in their understanding of the Scriptures.
In no case, not even in a case of murder left unpunished by the civil authority, or in the case of the most awful blasphemies whatsoever, can the ecclesiastical court inflict or adjudge to be deserved, any penalty whatsoever except the declaration of the mind of Christ concerning the sin, and such treatment in the matter of fellowship in the Church as shall express this mind of Christ. The censure of Christ through the Church is the only instrument for enforcing the law of Christ.



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