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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 13 : The Presbytery

Paragraph 1 : On the Constituency of the Presbytery

13-1. The Presbytery consists of all the teaching elders and churches within its bounds that have been accepted by the Presbytery. When the Presbytery meets as a court it shall comprise all teaching elders and ruling elders as elected by their Session. Each congregation is entitled to two (2) ruling elder representatives for the first 350 communing members or fraction thereof, and one additional ruling elder for each additional 500 communing members or fraction thereof.

HISTORICAL SUMMARY:
For this paragraph, the PCA breaks clearly from the long-standing traditional text, with a conscious intent to increase the level of involvement by Ruling Elders in the work of Presbytery. The current text, a refinement of PCA 1973, dates to an initial amendment in 1981[M9GA, 9-65, Item 2, p. 132], and a further amendment in 2002 [M30GA, 30-10, Item 5, p. 69-70].

ANTECEDENT TEXTS:
PCA 1973, 14-1, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, pp. 133-134
The Presbytery consists of all the Ministers and Churches in its bounds. When the Presbytery meets as a court it shall be comprised of all Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders, representing the churches on the following basis: one Elder per 350 communicant members, and one additional Elder for each 500 communicant members, or fraction thereof.

Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, Proposed text, p. 14
The Presbytery consists of all the Ministers and Churches in its bounds. When the Presbytery meets as a court it shall be comprised of all Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders, representing the churches on the following basis: 2 Elders per 350 communicant members.”

1. PCUS 1933, XV, § 70
2. PCUS 1925, XV, § 70
3. PCUS 1879, V-4-1
The Presbytery consists of all the Ministers and one Ruling Elder from each church within a certain district.

PCUS 1869 draft, V-4-1
The Presbytery consists of all the Ministers and one Ruling Elder from each Congregation within a certain district.

PCUS 1867 draft, V-4-1
The presbytery consists of all the ministers and one ruling elder from each congregation within a certain district.

PCUSA 1821, 10-2
A presbytery consists of all the ministers and one ruling elder from each congregation, within a certain district.

PCUSA 1789, IX-2
A presbytery consists of all the ministers, and one ruling elder from each congregation, within a certain district.

OPC 2003, 14-1 – 3

1. A regional church consists of all the members of the local congregations and the ministers within a certain district. The general assembly may organize a regional church when there are at least four congregations, two ministers, and two ruling elders, within a region.
2. The presbytery is the governing body of a regional church. It consists of all the ministers and all the ruling elders of the congregations of the regional church.
3. Meetings of the presbytery shall be composed, insofar as possible, of all the ministers on the roll and one ruling elder from each congregation commissioned by the respective sessions. Any four presbyters, among whom shall be at least two ministers and one commissioned ruling elder, being met at the time and place appointed, shall be a quorum.

BPC 2003, 9-1
A presbytery consists of all the ministers, in number not less than three, and regularly elected ruling elders from each congregation, within a certain district.

COMMENTARY:

F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
(1898, pp. 89-92), on V-4-1 :
Section IV.--Of the Presbytery.
The first five paragraphs have to do with the question of what members the Presbytery shall be composed. The first two define the membership, the second prescribing how a Ruling Elder's right to sit shall be determined; the third defines the quorum; and the next two prescribe how Ministers shall be admitted and what obligations they shall subscribe. The sixth paragraph enumerates the powers of the Presbytery. And the last three paragraphs contain some special regulations; the first as to records and reports to higher courts; the next as to meetings; and the last as to extending the courtesies of the floor to other Ministers than the members.
72.--I. The Presbytery consists of all the Ministers and one Ruling Elder from each church within a certain district.
Three things are here determined : that the Presbyteries shall not territorially overlap ; that every minister within the district shall be a member of the Presbytery ; and that one Ruling Elder, and only one, from each church shall be a member. The principle underlying the district regulation is this : that neither shall Ministers or churches select their own Presbytery, nor shall Presbyteries select their own Ministers and churches, but that the Presbyterial connection of Ministers and churches shall be determined by their residence and sphere of labor. For "district" is not to be interpreted rigidly, so that, for instance, a Minister, could not, for convenience, reside in the territory of one Presbytery and be Pastor of a church in another Presbytery ; but a Minister could not be Pastor of a church belonging to a different Presbytery from himself. It is not, then, the place of residence of a Minister that determines his Presbyterial connection, but the sphere of his labor. Accordingly, if a Minister is engaged in labor that has no territorial location, or that is not under the control of one Presbytery rather than another, his Presbyterial connection is not determined by the provisions of this paragraph. The district regulation is to be interpreted more rigidly as to churches, and yet the end of the regulation is to be kept in view. If there were two populations of different languages inhabiting the same territory, so that it would be impossible for their Elders to understand one another in the same Presbytery, it would not violate the principle here intended to have two Presbyteries covering more or less the same geographical district; but to have churches lying within the same district of inter-communication to belong to different Presbyteries would violate the principle. Other causes than distance in place or different in language might be important enough to enter into the delimitation of a Presbytery's district; and of such possible causes the higher courts would have to decide. But in no case must churches be permitted to group themselves according to their mere preference.
Every Minister, even if his labor is not specially under the control of a Presbytery, must be assigned to that labor by some Presbytery, and be answerable to this Presbytery for his ministerial conduct therein. Even when he is not engaged in any ministerial labor, he must be answerable to some Presbytery for not being so engaged, and subject to some Presbytery's direction when called to a work. At all times a minister must be answerable to some Presbytery for his behavior. He must, therefore, always be a member of some Presbytery, that he may always be under the immediate jurisdiction of some court. And the Presbytery is the lowest court whose jurisdiction is extensive enough to direct and to judge him in the labors proper to his office. The necessity of his always being a member of some Presbytery is not so much that he may have a voice in ruling the Church as that the Church may be able to rule him.
The Ruling Elder is not a member of the Presbytery in order to come under its jurisdiction, for he is under the immediate jurisdiction of his Session, but in order that the Church may have his counsel in the Presbyteries. That they are not all members of Presbytery is due to the practical difficulty of attendance by them all. One is required from each church, that there may be in the Presbytery intelligence of the needs of every church, and that every church may be kept in living connection with the Presbytery. Only one is required, however numerous the membership of the particular church, because it is not the theory that majorities are wise and should rule, but that the Church comes to see together the mind of Christ by counselling together in love. While, from practical necessity, the majority prevails when there is a difference of judgment, this difference of judgment, after deliberation, is simply a failure of men to work out this rule of Christ. And the members of a majority ought to grieve more over the difference of judgment than rejoice over carrying the decision their way.


CONSTITUTIONAL INQUIRY:
2005 - M33GA, 33-29, First Supplemental Report, pp. 155-156
The question referred from Potomac Presbytery was: "Given that BCO 13-1 defines a presbytery as 'all the teaching elders and churches within its bounds that have been accepted by the presbytery,' does a presbytery have the constitutional right to include as a member a church not within its bounds?"
ANSWER: In the opinion of the CCB a presbytery does not have the constitutional right to include as a member a church not within its bounds. (BCO 13-1). Adopted by CCB.

 



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