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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 11 : Jurisdiction of Church Courts

Paragraph 2 :

11-2. The jurisdiction of Church courts is only ministerial and declarative, and relates to the doctrines and precepts of Christ, to the order of the Church, and to the exercise of discipline.
First, they can make no laws binding the conscience; but may frame symbols of faith, bear testimony against error in doctrine and immorality in practice, within or without the Church, and decide cases of conscience.
Secondly, they have power to establish rules for the government, discipline, worship, and extension of the Church, which must be agreeable to the doctrines relating thereto contained in the Scriptures, the circumstantial details only of these matters being left to the Christian prudence and wisdom of Church officers and courts.
Thirdly, they possess the right to require obedience to the laws of Christ. Hence, they admit those qualified to sealing ordinances and to their respective offices, and they exclude the disobedient and disorderly from such offices or from sacramental privileges. The highest censure to which their authority extends is to cut off the contumacious and impenitent from the congregation of believers. Moreover, they possess all the administrative authority necessary to give effect to these powers.


[Note : The current PCA text dates to PCUS 1879. The 1933 PCUS edition and all prior PCUS editions have "Moreover" in the final sentence rendered in italics. None of the PCA editions have followed that convention. In the printing of M1GA, the following portion of the third point was omitted: "..., and they exclude the disobedient and disorderly from their offices..."]

Background and Comparison :
1. PCA 1973, Adopted text, 12-2, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 132
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, Proposed text, 12-2, p. 11
3. PCUS 1933, XIII, 58
4. PCUS 1925, XIII, 58
and
5. PCUS 1879, V-2-2

The jurisdiction of Church courts is only ministerial and declarative, and relates to the doctrines and precepts of Christ, to the order of the Church, and to the exercise of discipline. First. They can make no laws binding the conscience; but may frame symbols of faith, bear testimony against error in doctrine and immorality in practice, within or without the pale of the Church, and decide cases of conscience. Secondly, They have power to establish rules for the government, discipline, worship, and extension of the Church, which must be agreeable to the doctrines relating thereto contained in the Scriptures, the circumstantial details only of these matters being left to the Christian prudence and wisdom of church officers and courts. Thirdly, They possess the right to requiring obedience to the laws of Christ. Hence, they admit those qualified to sealing ordinances and to their respective offices and they exclude the disobedient and disorderly from their offices or from sacramental privileges; but the highest censure to which their authority extends is to cut off the contumacious and impenitent from the congregation of believers. Moreover, they possess all the administrative authority necessary to give effect to the powers.

PCUS 1869 draft, V-2-2
The jurisdiction of Church courts, which is only ministerial and declarative, is three-fold, relating, respectively, to the doctrines and precepts of Christ; to the order of the Church; and to the exercise of discipline. First, they can make no new laws binding the conscience; but, declaratively, they may frame symbols of faith to be received by all who enter into Church-communion; they may bear testimony against errors in doctrine and immoralities in practice, within or without the pale of the Church; and, ministerially, may decide cases of conscience. Secondly, they have power, ministerially, to establish canons for the government, discipline, worship, and extension of the Church, which must be agreeable to the general doctrines relating thereto contained in the Scriptures; the circumstantial details only of these matters being left to be regulated by the Christian prudence and wisdom of Church officers and courts. Thirdly, having the power of the keys, they possess the right of requiring obedience to the laws of Christ. Hence, ministerially, they admit those qualified to sealing ordinances and to their respective offices; and they exclude the disobedient and disorderly from their offices, or from sacramental privileges; but the highest censure to which their authority extends, is to cut off the contumacious and impenitent from the congregation of believers. Moreover, they possess all the administrative authority necessary to give effect to these powers.

PCUS 1867 draft, V-2-2
The jurisdiction of church-courts, which is only ministerial and declarative, is three-fold, technically termed the dogmatic, the diatactic and the diacritic. The first relates to the doctrines and precepts of Christ; the second to the order of the church; the third to the exercise of discipline.
First, they can make no new laws binding the conscience, but declaratively they may frame symbols of faith to be received by all who enter into church-communion; they may bear testimony against errors in doctrine and immoralities in practice within or without the pale of the church; and ministerially may decide cases of conscience. Secondly, they have power, ministerially, to establish canons for the government, discipline, worship and extension of the church, which must be agreeable to the general doctrines relating thereto contained in the Scriptures; only the circumstantial details of these matters being left to be regulated by the Christian prudence and wisdom of church-officers and courts. Thirdly, they hold the power of the keys, and therefore the right of requiring obedience to the laws of Christ. Hence, ministerially, they admit those qualified to sealing ordinances and to their respective offices; and they exclude the disobedient and disorderly from their offices, or from sacra-mental privileges; but the highest censure to which their authority extends, is to cut off the contumacious and impenitent from the congregation of believers. Moreover, they possess all the administrative authority necessary to give effect to the other powers.

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. 69-73), on V-2-2 :
60.--II. The jurisdiction of Church courts is only ministerial and declarative,
that is, these courts can act only as servants to declare what he, as their King, commands them,
and relates to the doctrines and precepts of Christ, to the order of the Church, and to the exercise of discipline.
Their sphere of action has three sections, more or less overlapping : teaching, assigning to place and work in the Church, and censure of offenders.
First. They can make no laws binding the conscience; but may frame symbols of faith, bear testimony against error in doctrine and immorality in practice, within or without the pale of the Church, and decide cases of conscience.
Symbols of faith do not make the courts, but the courts make the symbols of faith. The courts exist and have all their authority before they frame the symbols, for the courts are nothing but Presbyters (appointed by Christ and furnished by him with the Word and Spirit) acting jointly. They may, therefore, not only formulate systems of truth, but also bear testimony, as occasion demands, against particular errors and immoralities, and give answers to questions propounded to them by doubtful consciences. Since the church is in the world as a witness to it from Christ, these courts need not confine their testimony to errors and immoralities of its own members. But with all this, these courts cannot make a law, they can only declare what laws Christ has already made and set forth in the Scriptures.
Secondly, They have power to establish rules for the government, discipline, worship, and extension of the Church, which must be agreeable to the doctrines relating thereto contained in the Scriptures, the circumstantial details only of these matters being left to the Christian prudence and wisdom of church officers and courts.
The Scriptures do not undertake to lay down minute regulations for the activities of the organized Church, as they do not lay down minute regulations for the conduct of the individual, but for each, regulating principles; and the Church, as the individual, is to apply these regulating principles to every point of activity. This s to be done always under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit working within and not speaking from without. The Spirit is in the Word to be understood, and in the mind seeking to understand, using the Word and the mind, and not superseding them or suspending them. The individual, then, is to decide upon his act in every set of circumstances, and ofttimes with only regulating principles in the Scriptures to guide him; and so must the organized Church. The Church must decide, not in a general parliament of all its members, nor in the counsel of any one select mind, but in the parliament and counsel of select minds appointed to this very function in the Church. This does not make the Church inerrant in these matters, even as the individual is not inerrant ; but the liability to error does not free the Church from the responsibility of self-direction any more than the individual.
Since both the Church and the individual are liable to err, which must yield to the other in case of difference? Neither to the other, but both to Christ. The disagreement may be due to error in the individual, then he ought to correct his error ; or to error in Church, then the Church ought to correct its error ; or to error in both, then both should correct their error. But the individual and the Church are equally answerable to Christ alone, and equally free from control by the other, except so far as each speaks the mind of Christ. The Church must show the gentleness of Christ toward the individual, and the individual must show the humility of Christ toward the Church ; but each must obey Christ, and each must judge what Christ commands. And woe to the individual that sets us his error against the teaching of Christ in the Church ; and woe to the Church that sets up its error against the teaching of Christ in the individual. But so far as the rules established by the Church are agreeable to the doctrines relating thereto contained in Scripture, Christ requires the individual to obey them, however unwisely they order circumstantial details.
These rules may have to do with the administration of government in general, as the regulations laid down in the Form of Government, or with the exercise of discipline in particular, as the regulations laid down in the Rules of Discipline, with the conduct of worship, as the regulations laid down in the Directory for Worship, or with the work of extending the Church, as the regulations adopted from time to time touching the various missionary activities of the Church. The very fact that these regulations are not wrought out in detail in the Scriptures, implies that they should be adapted to changing conditions from time to time.
Thirdly, They possess the right to requiring obedience to the laws of Christ. Hence, they admit those qualified to sealing ordinances and to their respective offices and they exclude the disobedient and disorderly from their offices or from sacramental privileges; but the highest censure to which their authority extends is to cut off the contumacious and impenitent from the congregation of believers.
The right of requiring obedience implies the possession of means of enforcing obedience ; but the only means in the hands of church courts is sentence of approval or censure. The sentence of approval may extend to admission to sacraments and office ; and the sentence of censure to exclusion from sacraments and office. Since the use of the sacraments is limited to the congregation of believers, the children being baptized only upon the faith of parents, to exclude from the sacraments is to exclude from the congregation of believers ; and this is the utmost to which the sentence of a church court may go.
Moreover, they possess all the administrative authority necessary to give effect to the powers.
For instance, if one is excluded from the sacraments, any Minister administering the sacraments to him is subject to ecclesiastical censure for disregarding the authority of Christ in the sentence of exclusion ; but a church court has only declarative authority, and can never inflict temporal pains and penalties.



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11
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15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
I. King & Head of Church
.§1.
§4
§5
RoD
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
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46
II. Preliminary Principles
§1
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§8
DfW
47
48
49
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54
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63
[FoG = Form of Government ; RoD = Rules of Discipline ; DfW = Directory for Worship]