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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 12 : The Church Session

Paragraph 5 :

12-5. The church Session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the church, for which purpose it has power :
a. To inquire into the knowledge, principles and Christian conduct of the church members under its care; to censure those found delinquent; to see that parents do not neglect to present their children for Baptism; to receive members into the communion of the Church; to remove them for just cause; to grant letters of dismissal to other churches, which when given to parents, shall always include the names of their non-communing, baptized children;
b. To examine, ordain, and install ruling elders and deacons on their election by the church, and to require these officers to devote themselves to their work; to examine the records of the proceedings of the deacons; to approve and adopt the budget;
c. To approve actions of special importance affecting church property;
d. To call congregational meetings when necessary; to establish and control Sunday schools and Bible classes with special reference to the children of the church; to establish and control all special groups in the church such as Men in the Church, Women in the Church and special Bible study groups; to promote world missions; to promote obedience to the Great Commission in its totality at home and abroad; to order collections for pious uses.
e. To exercise, in accordance with the Directory for Worship, authority over the time and place of the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, over all other religious services, over the music in the services, and over the uses to which the church building and associated properties may be put; to take the oversight of the singing in the public worship of God; to ensure that the Word of God is preached only by such men as are sufficiently qualified (BCO 4-4, 53-2, 1 Timothy 2:11-12); to assemble the people for worship when there is no minister; to determine the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the church and congregation;
f. To observe and carry out the lawful injunctions of the higher courts; and to appoint representatives to the higher courts, who shall, on their return, make report of their diligence.


DIGEST: PCA 1973 does not have the following clauses : "to remove them for just cause;...to approve and adopt the budget; c. To approve actions of special importance affecting church property; d. To call congregational meetings when necessary;... to promote world missions; to promote obedience to the Great Commission in its totality at home and abroad;". PCA 1973 also reflects the PCUS background of the BCO in that it employs the older terms "men of the church" and "women of the church". The current text dates to 1986 [M14GA, 14-19, Item 2, p. 86], with an additional change to BCO 12.5e adopted in 2002 [cf. M30GA, 30-10, Item 6, p. 71-72]. Inclusion of "examine" in "to examine, ordain, and install Ruling Elders..." dates to the revision implemented with PCUS 1925.]

ANTECEDENT TEXTS:
PCA 1973, 13-6, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 133
and
Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 13-6, Proposed text, p. 13

The church Session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the church, for which purpose it has power to inquire into the knowledge, principles and Christian conduct of the church members under its care; to censure those found delinquent; to see that parents do not neglect to present their children for baptism; to receive members into the communion of the church; to grant letters of dismission to other churches, which when given to parents, shall always include the names of their baptized children; to examine, ordain, and install Ruling Elders and Deacons on their election by the church, and to require these officers to devote themselves to their work; to examine the records of the proceedings of the Deacons; to establish and control Sunday schools and Bible classes with special reference to the children of the Church; to establish and control all special groups in the Church such as, men of the Church, women of the Church and special Bible study groups; to order collections for pious uses; to take the oversight of the singing in the public worship of God; to assemble the people for worship when there is no Minister; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the church and congregation; to observe and carry out the lawful injunctions of the higher courts; and to appoint representatives to the Presbytery, who shall, on their return, make report of their diligence.

PCUS 1933, XIV, §65
and
PCUS 1925, XIV, §65
The church Session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the church, for which purpose it has power to inquire into the knowledge, principles and Christian conduct of the church members under its care; to censure those found delinquent; to see that parents do not neglect to present their children for baptism; to receive members into the communion of the church; to grant letters of dismission to other churches, which when given to parents, shall always include the names of their baptized children; to examine, ordain, and install Ruling Elders and Deacons on their election by the church, and to require these officers to devote themselves to their work; to examine the records of the proceedings of the Deacons; to establish and control Sunday schools and Bible classes with special reference to the children of the Church; to order collections for pious uses; to take the oversight of the singing in the public worship of God; to assemble the people for worship when there is no Minister; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the church and congregation; to observe and carry out the lawful injunctions of the higher courts; and to appoint representatives to the Presbytery and the Synod, who shall, on their return, make report of their diligence.

PCUS 1879, V-3-5

The church Session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the church, for which purpose it has power to inquire into the knowledge, principles and Christian conduct of the Church members under its care; to censure those found delinquent; to see that parents do not neglect to present their children for baptism; to receive members into the communion of the Church ; to grant letters of dismission to other churches, which, when given to parents, shall always include the names of their baptized children ; to ordain and install Ruling Elders and Deacons on their election by the church, and to require these officers to devote themselves to their work ; to examine the records of the proceedings of the Deacons ; to establish and control Sabbath schools and Bible classes with especial reference to the children of the Church ; to order collections for pious uses ; to take the oversight of the singing in the public worship of God ; to assemble the people for worship when there is no minister; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the Church and congregation ; to observe and carry out the lawful injunctions of the higher courts ; and to appoint representatives to the Presbytery and the Synod, who shall, on their return, make a report of their diligence.

PCUS 1869 draft, V-3-5
The Church-session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the Congregation; for which purpose it has power to inquire into the knowledge, principles and Christian conduct of the Church members under its care; to censure those found delinquent; to see that parents do not neglect to present their children for baptism; to receive members into the Church; to grant letters of dismission to other Congregations, which shall always include the names of any baptized children; to ordain and install additional Ruling Elders and Deacons on their election by the Congregation; to examine and approve, or censure the records of the Board of Deacons; to establish and control Sabbath-schools and Bible classes, with especial reference to the children of the Church; to order collections for pious uses; to take the oversight of the singing in the public worship of God; to assemble the Congregation for worship when there is no Minister; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the Congregation; to observe and carry out the injunctions of the higher courts; and to appoint delegates to the Presbytery and the Synod, who are on their return to make report of their diligence.

PCUS 1867 draft, V-3-7
The church-session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the congregation; for which purpose it has power to inquire into the principles and conduct of the church-members under its care; to censure those found delinquent; to see that parents do not neglect to present their children for baptism; to receive members into the church; to grant letters of dismission to other congregations, which shall always include the names of any baptized children; to ordain and install additional elders and deacons on their election by the congregation; to examine and approve or censure the records of the board of deacons; to appoint deaconesses where it shall appear needful, and to direct them in the discharge of their duties; to establish and control sabbath-schools and bible classes, with especial reference to the children of the church; to order collections for pious uses; to appoint the precentor, and take the oversight of the singing of the congregation; to assemble the congregation for worship when there is no minister; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the congregation; to observe and carry out the injunctions of the higher courts; and to appoint delegates to the presbytery and the synod, who are on their return to make report of their diligence.

PCUSA 1789, VIII-2
The church session is competent to the spiritual government of the congregation[b] : For which purpose, they have power to inquire into the knowledge and christian conduct of the members of that church[c] ; to call before them the offenders and witnesses, being members of their own society, and to introduce witnesses of their own society, and to introduce witnesses from other societies or denominations, where it may be necessary, to bring the process to issue ; and, when they can be procured to attend, to admonish, to rebuke, to suspend, or exclude from the sacraments, those who are found to deserve the censures of the church[d] ; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the congregation, and to appoint delegates to the higher judicatories of the church.
------
[b] Heb. 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief. I Thess. 5:12, 13 and I Tim. 5:17.
[c] Ezek. 34:4.
[d] I Thess. 5:12, 13 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you--And to esteem them very highly in love, for their work's sake, and be at peace among yourselves. See also 2 Thess. 3:6, 14, 15; I Cor. 11:27-34.


COMMENTARY:
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
(1898, p. 79-87), on V-3-5 :
67.--V. The church session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the church.
it being discretionary with the Session to commit the management of the temporal affairs to the Deacons.
for which purpose it has power
1. to inquire into the knowledge, principles, and Christian conduct of the church members under its care;
The Ruling Elders and Deacons are individually under the care of the Session, as well as all others enrolled as members, whether admitted to the Lord's Supper or not. It has power to inquire into their knowledge ; this is especially to be done in the case of the children of the church, in order to deal wisely with them as to their coming to the Lord's Supper, and it is needful in the case of all, in order to judge of their principles and conduct and of what instruction they need. Inquiry into principles and conduct is necessary, not only for purposes and conduct is necessary, not only for purposes of discipline, but also for the prevention of the entrance of heresies and immoralities. But the inquiry of Session has to do only with Christian conduct, that is, with their conduct as to whether it is as Christian conduct should be.
2. to censure those found delinquent;
This is to be done always in accordance with the Rules of Discipline ; but it is to be done. And when this function is unused, then Presbyterian government becomes a set of unused functions, which are sure to become diseased and perverted to wrong uses.
3. to see that parents do not neglect to present their children for baptism;
Otherwise Christ is disobeyed in neglecting the very first step to be taken by the Church toward saving its own children. Such negligence is a violation of their church covenant on the part of the parents. The Session is not to urge parents to present their children for baptism and with that be content, but to SEE THAT THEY DO IT.
4. to receive members into the communion of the Church;
The persons thus admitted may be either already members of the Church not hitherto admitted to its communion, or not before members of the Church at all. It must be observed that the phrase is "communion of the Church," not "communion of the church." The power to admit into the membership of the particular church from other churches is not here given to the Session, nor anywhere ; for such persons have already been admitted by the Church, acting through its appropriate organ, to its communion, and the only question remaining for decision, after it is ascertained that an applicant for membership in the particular church is already a member in the Church, is the mere question of particular jurisdiction, for which rules are elsewhere given. For if one Session should refuse admission to those to whom another Session has granted it, that would be for the Church through one organ to contradict its action through another organ. But such a person, it being determined to what particular jurisdiction he belongs, must be dealt with by that court as a member of the Church; and if unworthy of membership, he must be suspended or excommunicated by the methods prescribed, and not by a mere refusal to acknowledge the fact of membership. This principle is subject to three modifications. First, as to applicants from other churches or denominations, the Session has more discretion, for the reasons that the refusal to admit leaves the person where he was in the Church, and does not make the one set of Elders, working together as one under our Constitution, do contradictory acts, and that the principles which guided in the previous admission of these persons in the other denomination were more or less short of what the Session has itself undertaken to apply. In the second place, as in the organization of a new church (par. 26), so in enlarging the membership of an organized church, there is a higher necessity of preserving the church from destruction by an influx of the unregenerate than of complying with the letter of requirements than were meant to conserve and not to destroy the efficiency of the Church in all its parts. And in the third place, it is, after all, constitutional for one court to complain to the higher courts against the actions of another court, and pending the final decision let the status quo remain. And the unity and purity of the Church require that, if a Session refuses to accept members from another Session's jurisdiction, it refer their status back to the Session from which they came, that that Session either cancel the testimonials it has given or insist upon their acceptance, and that, the two Sessions not agreeing, the matter be brought in an orderly way to the higher courts for decision.
5. to grant letters of dismission to other churches, which, when given to parents, shall always include the names of their baptized children.
Regulations given elsewhere direct when such letters of dismission shall be granted. They should, of course, certify nothing that the Session does not believe to be true. The "churches" to which the letters are given need not be in the Presbyterian Church in the United States ; nor is it necessary always that a church be named in a letter of dismission. It would be proper to give a letter of dismission of a baptized but non-communicating member, if he has no parents in whose letters his name could be included, or if he is not to reside with them and under their control.
6. to ordain and install Ruling Elders and Deacons on their election by the church, and to require these officers to devote themselves to their work.
The Session has power to decline to ordain and install those who are not qualified, even if the church elects them, just as the Presbytery has power to decline to ordain and install as a Pastor a probationer called by a church ; and it is the duty of the Session not to ordain and install, unless satisfied that the persons elected are qualified
.

CONSTITUTIONAL INQUIRY:

1999 - Inquiry #2 from Southeast Alabama Presbytery, pertaining to BCO 12-5, b
Question - "May a congregation, by majority vote, instruct its session as to what standards it is to apply in the approval or disapproval of nominees for elder and deacon (beyond the standards set forth in BCO chapters 8 and 9 and in Holy Scripture)?"
Answer - No. It is the opinion of the Committee that BCO 12-5, b establishes the authority of the Session to examine candidates. BCO 24-1, 3 and 4 set forth the procedure establishing the authority of the congregation to elect candidates from among a field of those determined by the Session to be eligible. This same section elucidates the basis for determining eligibility. BCO goes to great lengths to reinforce the system of checks and balances established in Scripture. It is the congregation who can nominate. It is the Session who determines eligibility based on Scripture and Constitutional criteria. It is the congregation, finally, who ses the work of the Spirit in the lives of men and confirms the call of God by means of a prayerful election. The congregation does not have to elect those determined to be eligible. If in its opinion, those found eligible are still not acceptable for some other reason(s), it can express its view through the election process.
Further, the congregation may vote to advise the Session of its desires as to candidates' views or practices in regard to specific issues and may request the Session to inform the congregation of the candidates' views and/or practices regarding these issues.


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Chapter Index [links to Par. 1 of each chapter]:
FoG..
1
2
3.
4
5.
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
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
43
44
45
46
II. Preliminary Principles
§1
§2
§3
§4
§5
§6
§7
§8
DfW
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
[FoG = Form of Government ; RoD = Rules of Discipline ; DfW = Directory for Worship]