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Archives and Manuscript Repository for the Continuing Presbyterian Church


The Historical Development of the Book of Church Order

Chapter 13 : The Presbytery

Paragraph 9 : Of the Presbytery's Powers

13-9. The Presbytery has power to receive and issue* appeals, complaints, and references brought before it in an orderly manner. In cases in which the Session cannot exercise its authority, it shall have power to assume original jurisdiction. It has power:
a. To receive under its care candidates for the ministry; to examine and license candidates for the holy ministry; to receive, dismiss, ordain, install, remove and judge ministers;
b. To review the records of church Sessions, redress whatever they may have done contrary to order and take effectual care that they observe the Constitution of the Church;
c. To establish the pastoral relation and to dissolve it at the request of one or both of the parties, or where the interest of religion imperatively demands it;
d. To set apart evangelists to their proper work; to require ministers to devote themselves diligently to their sacred calling and to censure the delinquent.
e. To see that the lawful injunctions of the higher courts are obeyed.
f. To condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church; to visit churches for the purpose of inquiring into and redressing the evils that may have arisen in them; to unite or divide churches, at the request of the members thereof; to form and receive new churches; to take special oversight of churches without pastors; to dissolve churches; to dismiss churches with their consent.
g. To devise measures for the enlargement of the Church within its bounds; in general, to order whatever pertains to the spiritual welfare of the churches under its care;
h. And, finally, to propose to the Assembly such measures as may be of common advantage to the Church at large.
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*Editor's note: "Issue" means "settling the issue of the case."

DIGEST: The Proposed Book of Church Order(1973), building upon PCUS 1933, made only one substantive change to the paragraph found in that earlier edition, adding "...to dismiss churches with their consent,...". This addition reflects the PCA polity which vests and insures the right of property ownership with the congregation, rather than the presbytery.

BACKGROUND & COMPARISON:
PCA 1973, 14-1, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 134
and
Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 14-7, Proposed text, p. 15
The Presbytery has power to receive and issue appeals, complaints, and references brought before it in an orderly manner and in cases in which the Session cannot exercise its authority, shall have power to assume original jurisdiction; to receive under its care candidates for the ministry; to examine and license candidates for the holy Ministry; to receive, dismiss, ordain, install, remove and judge Ministers; to review the records of church Sessions, redress whatever they may have done contrary to order and take effectual care that they observe the Constitution of the Church; to establish the pastoral relation and to dissolve it at the request of one or both of the parties, or where the interest of religion imperatively demands it; to set apart Evangelists to their proper work; to require Ministers to devote themselves diligently to their sacred calling and to censure the delinquent; to see that the lawful injunctions of the higher courts are obeyed; to condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church; to visit churches for the purpose of inquiring into and redressing the evils that may have arisen in them; to unite or divide churches, at the request of the members thereof; to form and receive new churches; to take special oversight of churches without Pastors; to dissolve churches; to dismiss churches with their consent, to concert measures for the enlargement of the Church within its bounds; in general, to order whatever pertains to the spiritual welfare of the churches under its care; to appoint Commissioners to the General Assembly; and, finally, to propose to the Assembly such measures as may be of common advantage to the Church at large.

PCUS 1933, XV-76
PCUS 1925, XV-76
The Presbytery has power to receive and issue appeals, complaints, and references brought before it in an orderly manner and in cases in which the Session cannot exercise its authority, shall have power to assume original jurisdiction; to receive under its care candidates for the ministry; to examine and license candidates for the holy ministry; to receive, dismiss, ordain, install, remove and judge Ministers; to review the records of church Sessions, redress whatever they may have done contrary to order and take effectual care that they observe the Constitution of the Church; to establish the pastoral relation and to dissolve it at the request of one or both of the parties, or where the interest of religion imperatively demands it; to set apart Evangelists to their proper work; to require Ministers to devote themselves diligently to their sacred calling and to censure the delinquent; to see that the lawful injunctions of the higher courts are obeyed; to condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church; to visit churches for the purpose of inquiring into and redressing the evils that may have arisen in them; to unite or divide churches, at the request of the members thereof; to form and receive new churches; to take special oversight of churches without Pastors; to dissolve churches; to concert measures for the enlargement of the Church within its bounds; in general, to order whatever pertains to the spiritual welfare of the churches under its care; to appoint Commissioners to the General Assembly; and, finally, to propose to the Synod or to the Assembly such measures as may be of common advantage to the Church at large.

PCUS 1879,


PCUS 1869 draft, V-4-1

PCUS 1867 draft, V-4-1

Northern Tradition :
PCUSA 1821, 10-2

OPC 2003, 14-1 – 3


BPC 2003, 9-1


COMMENTARY:
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
, on Chapter V, section IV, Paragraph 6 :
77.—VI. The Presbytery has power
1. to receive and issue appeals, complaints and references brought before it in an orderly manner.
What is an orderly manner, and how the Presbytery shall proceed, are questions answered in the Rules of Discipline.
2. and in cases in which the Session cannot exercise its authority, shall have power to assume original jurisdiction;
The continuity and harmony of the sentence would have required it to run thus: "to assume original jurisdiction in cases in which the Session cannot exercise its authority." But the clause was inserted as an amendment, and in the framing of it the harmony of the sentence was not sufficiently attended to. These cases will be as follows: where there is no Session; in all matters for which one Elder is incompetent, where there is but one member of the Session; in every matter for which the Session as it exists is disqualified by the relations of its members to the matter. Of its own ability the Session must judge, and of the need of assuming jurisdiction the Presbytery must judge.
If the Session undertakes that for which it is not competent, the Presbytery does not have to wait for the Session to refer the question of its inability to the Presbytery, nor for some one to complain against the Session as unable; but the Presbytery may act upon its own information, and assume the functions of the Session at its discretion, whenever the Presbytery judges the Session to be unable. This action of the Presbytery, as every other of its actions, is subject to review by the higher courts.
In all cases where there is no Session, the Presbytery is the Session.
3. to examine and license candidates for the holy ministry.
As no time is prescribed to elapse between the Presbytery's first recognition of one as a candidate till his licensure, he may be under the Presbytery's care as a candidate an indefinite length of time; and his examination may take place from time to time, in the discretion of Presbytery. But he is not a licentiate, until he is licensed; and after he is licensed, he still remains a candidate for the holy ministry, for no one is a Minister until he is ordained. Obviously, it lies with the Presbytery to give directions to a candidate in his preparations pending the conclusion of his examinations.
4. to receive, dismiss, ordain, install, remove and judge Ministers.
More special regulations for the exercise of these, as of other functions, are to be found elsewhere; but such regulations are not intended to take away the powers here assigned. The power to receive, dismiss, ordain and judge Ministers involves full jurisdiction over their conduct and teachings, private and official; and the power also to install and remove them involves full control over them in assigning them to spheres of labor. While the Presbytery could not appoint any Minister to a labor to which Christ does not appoint him, and it must be assumed that Christ will make known His will to the Minister as well as to the Presbytery, yet Christ may speak to him through the Presbytery; and he has promised subjection to his brethren in the Lord. Constitutionally, Ministers are subject to the order of Presbytery.
5. to review the record of church Sessions, redress whatever they may have done contrary to order, and take effectual care that they observe the Constitution of the Church;
It is not enough to look over the sessional records, but the Presbytery should "redress whatever" the Sessions "have done contrary to order." The Sessions are small in numbers, and often of necessity composed of men only imperfectly acquainted with the application of the principles of order, and the Presbytery is supposed to be composed of men among whom will be some of superior skill and wisdom in these matters; and accordingly the Presbytery is given the greatest power of supervision. And it is able effectually to see that they observe the Constitution; for the Presbytery may, as pointed out above, assume the functions of the Session when it finds the Session unable to exercise its authority. As it would be exceedingly tedious to read over all the Session records before the whole Presbytery, they may be referred to committees to examine in detail and report upon; but care should be taken that these committees are men of superior ability as Presbyters, and they should do their work carefully and make their reports to Presbytery full.
6. to establish the pastoral relation, and to dissolve it at the request of one or both of the parties, or wheere the interests of religion imperatively demand it;
Full regulations are elsewhere given for the first two items in this clause; but where the interests of religion imperatively demand the dissolution, the Presbytery may act without the request or consent of either party.
7. to set apart Evangelists to their proper work;
The principle must apply to teachers, editors and Ministers called to labor in such other works as may be needful to the Church. (Cf. par. 37.)
8. to require Ministers to devote themselves diligently to their sacred calling and to censure the delinquent;
There is much official work for a Minister to do who is not engaged as Pastor or in any special work. Ministers may be dilinquent in doing this general labor, and they may be delinquent in not entering into openings for special labor. The Presbytery should allow no man to retain the dignity and power of a Minister who will not dililgently devote himself to his official work. If the Presbyteries will faithfully exercise their power of appointing their Ministers to special work, they may also exercise this power of requiring them to devote themselves to their ministerial duties.
9. to see that the lawful injunctions of the higher courts are obeyed;
by itself and by its Sessions and churches.
10. to condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church;
It is not intended that Presbytery shall take note of all opinions. An opinion to be condemned by Presbytery should be such as is erroneous, as is injurious to either the purity or the peace of the Church, and as will have its injurious influence diminished by the Presbytery's condemnation. But the Presbytery in condemning such opinions is not going outside of its proper sphere.
11. to visit churches for the purpose of redressing the evils that may have arisen in them;
For the exercise of this power the Presbytery is given an effectual method, the assumption of the jurisdiction of Session in needful cases.
12. to unite or divide churches, at the request of the members thereof;

While Presbytery has discretion to refuse to unite or divide churches when the members request, it may not unite two churches unless the members of each request it. This makes sacred to its own decision the individuality of the particular church. It is in the particular church as nowhere else that the whole idea of the Church is gathered up and expressed; and a group of churches such as is united in a denomination, as the Presbyterian Church in the United States, cannot so well or so fully express the life and unity of the whole Church as can a particular church. Therefore the particular church, while not independent of other churches, does not exist for the denomination, but the denomination for the particular church. It is to be assumed that, when there ought to be a union or division of particular churches, the members thereof can be brought to see it; and if they should be too hasty to request unnion or division in any case, the Presbytery may refuse the request.
Has Presbytery, then, the power to dissolve a church without the consent of its members? Certainly not. For if it cannot divide it without its consent, it cannot annihilate it. But a church may cease to exist, and whether a church still exists or not Presbytery must judge; otherwise, Presbytery could not even determine what churches are under its jurisdiction.
When does a church cease to exist as a particular church?

1. When (paragraph 20) it ceases to consist of a number of professing Christians;
2. when, its members having offspring, it ceases to associate these with their parents;
3. when it ceases to be an association for divine worship;
4. when it ceases to be an association for godly living;
5. when it ceases to act according to the Scriptures;
6. or when it ceases to submit to the lawful government of Christ's kingdom.

When the Presbytery finds any of these marks it may declare the fact that the church has ceased to be a church. Individual members of a church thus dissolved, as all members under the jurisdiction of Presbytery and not under the immediate jurisdiction of a Session, are under the immediate jurisdiction of Presbytery and may by it be give letters of dismission to other churches.
Whenever what was a church ceases to meet statedly for divine worship, it ceases to be a church.
13. to form and receive new churches;
(Cf. Sec. V. of Chap. II.) It may also receive churches from other Presbyteries or (subject to 90.14) churches existing outside of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.
14. to take special oversight of vacant churches;
(Cf. 2.)
15. to concert measures for the enlargement of the Church within its boundaries;
It belongs to the Presbytery to do this rather than to individuals or voluntary associations; but in the exercise of this power the Presbytery cannot transcend limitations or violate regulations elsewhere laid down.
16. in general to order whatever pertains to the spiritual welfare of the churches under its care;
As the churches have no other sort of welfare, this is equivalent to saying welfare. Here, again, the Presbytery is not by this clause given any power beyond limitations or contrary to regulations elsewhere laid down. In this and the preceding regulation, it is implied that it belongs to higher courts to care for the enlargement of the Church and the welfare of the churches outside the bounds of the Presbytery.
17. to appoint commissioners to the General Assembly;
By analogy with paragraph 67, last clause, and according to paragraph 88, these are to make report of their diligence.
18. and finally, to propose to the Synod or to the Assembly such measures as may be of common advantage to the Church at large.
For while it does not belong to the Presbytery itself to care for what lies outside of its own district, it is proper for it to be concerned, and to propose to the higher courts measures reaching beyond its own district. And, indeed, the Presbyteries aare the very courts where plans for the whole Church can receive the most careful and prolonged consideration in counsel. In the larger courts and courts whose action will be final, there is likely to be debate rather than counsel.


Chapter Index [links are to Paragraph 1 in 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]

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