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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 11 : Jurisdiction of Church Courts

Paragraph 3 :

11-3. All Church courts are one in nature, constituted of the same elements, possessed inherently of the same kinds of rights and powers, and differing only as the Constitution may provide. When, however, according to Scriptural example, and needful to the purity and harmony of the whole Church, disputed matters of doctrine and order arising in the lower courts are referred to the higher courts for decision, such referral shall not be so exercised as to impinge upon the authority of the lower court.

[Historical Summary : The earlier PCUS drafts of 1867 and 1869 differed primarily in their distinction regarding the highest court as "a mere expansion of the lowest." The PCA's first approved edition remained that of PCUS 1879. Subsequent changes occurred in __________]

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, Proposed text, 12-1, p. 11
3. PCUS 1933, XIII, § 59
4. PCUS 1925, XIII, § 59
and
5. PCUS 1879, V-2-3

All Church courts are one in nature, constituted of the same elements, possessed inherently of the same kinds of rights and powers, and differing only as the Constitution may provide. Yet it is according to scriptural example, and needful to the purity and harmony of the whole Church, that disputed matters of doctrine and order, arising in the lower courts, should be referred to the higher courts for decision.

PCUS 1869 draft, V-2-3
All Church-courts are one in nature, constituted of the same elements, and possessed inherently of the same kind of rights and
powers; the highest court being a mere expansion of the lowest. Yet it is according to Scriptural example, and needful to the purity
and harmony of the whole Church, that disputed matters of doctrine and order, arising in the lower courts, should be referred to the higher for decision.

PCUS 1867 draft, V-2-3
All church-courts are one in nature, constituted of the same elements, and possessed inherently of the same kind of rights and
powers; the highest court being a mere expansion of the lowest. Yet it is according to scriptural example, and promotive of the purity and harmony of the whole church, that disputed matters of doctrine and order arising in the lower courts should be referred to the
higher for decision.

COMMENTARY :
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
(1898, pp. 73-74), on V-2-3 and V-2-4 :
61.--III. All church courts are one in nature, constituted of the same elements, possessed inherently of the same kinds of rights and powers, and differing only as the Constitution may provide. Yet it is according to scriptural example, and needful to the purity and harmony of the whole Church, that disputed matters of doctrine and order, arising in the lower courts, should be referred to the higher courts for decision.
62.--IV. For the orderly and efficient dispatch of ecclesiastical business, it is necessary that the sphere of action of each court should be distinctly defined.
The general principle that all the courts have the same kinds of rights and powers is subject to two limitations : "that disputed matters of doctrine and order, arising in the lower courts, should be referred to the higher courts for decision" ; and that, by special regulations, the sphere of action of particular courts should be limited by express definitions. It is involved in these two principles, that every court has all ecclesiastical powers not expressly withheld from it or expressly assigned exclusively to another court ; that every higher court has all power over all courts and persons within its jurisdiction, subject only to constitutional rules of procedure ; and that no court has any power over those who do not belong to that part of the Church of the Presbyters of which the court is an assembly.
The Session exercises jurisdiction over a single church,
but not over Ministers at all ;
the Presbytery over what is common to the Ministers, Sessions and churches within a prescribed district,
that is, it has exactly the same authority over one of its Ministers, Sessions or churches, as it has over any other of its Ministers, Sessions or churches ;
the Synod over what is common to three or more Presbyteries, and their Ministers, Sessions and churches.
from which it appears that every Minister, Session or church must belong to some particular Presbytery, and that a Synod must have at least three Presbyteries ;
and the General Assembly over such matters as concern the whole Church,
where "Church" means, as often, the Presbyterian Church in the United States, but that striving to be, within its measure, what the whole visible Church should be, and keeping itself a separate organization only so long as it has to do this for the sake of liberty to obey Christ ;
and the jurisdiction of these courts is limited by the express provisions of the Constitution. Every court has the right to resolve questions of doctrine and discipline seriously and reasonably proposed, and in general to maintain truth and righteousness, condemning erroneous opinions and practices which tend to the injury of the peace, purity or progress of the Church ; and although each court exercises exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters specially belonging to it, the lower courts are subject to the review and control of the higher courts in regular gradation. Hence, these courts are not separate and independent tribunals ; but they have a mutual relation, and every act of jurisdiction is the act of the whole Church, performed by it through the appropriate organ.
In the nature of the case, the entire Eldership of the Church assembled together would be a court having all power of every sort over every part and member of the Church, subject only to such limitations as in its nature ecclesiastical power is subject to. For this catholic assembly of all the Presbyters, as being impracticable, there is, by constitutional regulations, substituted an assembly of selected representatives of the Eldership from all parts of the Church, and, besides this delegated assembly, smaller assemblies, as Synods and Presbyteries, partly delegated and limited in their scope of action to the parts of the Church to which they respectively pertain, and also local assemblies of Presbyters not delegated. But all these assemblies are but sections of the one Eldership, who thus, for practical reasons, distribute among themselves fragments of the one jurisdiction pertaining to them as one court.



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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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44
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46
II. Preliminary Principles
§1
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§8
DfW
47
48
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53
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