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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 11 : Jurisdiction of Church Courts

Paragraph 4 :

11-4. 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 Session exercises jurisdiction over a single church, the Presbytery over what is common to the ministers, Sessions, and churches within a prescribed district, and the General Assembly over such matters as concern the whole Church. 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. Although each court exercises exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters especially belonging to it, the lower courts are subject to the review and control of the higher courts, in regular gradation. 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.


[Note : In substance, the current PCA text remains that of the earliest PCUS drafts, with the exception that the PCA does not have the Synod as part of its court structure.]

Background and Comparison :
PCA 1973, Adopted text, 12-1, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 133
and
Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 12-4, Proposed text, p. 12
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 Session exercises jurisdiction over a single church, the Presbytery over what is common to the Ministers, Sessions and churches within a prescribed district, and the General Assembly over such matters as concern the whole Church, 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.

PCUS 1933, XIII, § 60
PCUS 1925, XIII, § 60
and
PCUS 1879, V-2-4

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 Session exercises jurisdiction over a single church, the Presbytery over what is common to the Ministers, Sessions and churches within a prescribed district, the Synod over what is common to three or more Presbyteries, and their Ministers, Sessions and churches ; and the General Assembly over such matters as concern the whole Church, 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.

PCUS 1869 draft, V-2-4
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 Session exercises jurisdiction over a single Congregation: the Presbytery over what is common to the Ministers, Sessions, and Congregations within a prescribed district; the Synod over what belongs in common to three or more Presbyteries, and their Ministers, Sessions and Congregations; and the General Assembly over such matters as concern the whole Church; 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 dis-cipline 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; while each court exercises exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters specially belonging to it, the lower courts being subject to the review and control of the higher, 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.

PCUS 1867 draft, V-2-4
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 session exercises jurisdiction over a single congregation: the presbytery over what is common to
a definite class of ministers, sessions, and congregations; the synod over what belongs in common to three or more presbyteries, and their ministers, sessions and congregations; and the general assembly over such matters as concern the whole church; and every one of these courts is limited and bound 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; while each court exercises exclusive original jurisdiction over all matters specially belonging to it. But should any inferior court neglect and refuse to perform its prescribed duties, the court next superior may take original cognizance of the matters involved; but not otherwise. Moreover, the lower courts are subject to the review and control of the higher, 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.

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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I. King & Head of Church
.§1.
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RoD
27
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DfW
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