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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 24 : Election, Ordination and Installation of Ruling Elders and Deacons

Paragraph 7 :

24-7. Ordination to the office of ruling elder or deacon is perpetual; nor can such offices be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a ruling elder or deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the active duties of his office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him and the church.
The ruling elder or deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his official capacity to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the ruling elder, or deacon, and after careful consideration, may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation. If the Session fails or refuses to report to the congregation within sixty (60) days from the date of the congregational meeting or if the Session reports to the congregation that it declined to dissolve such relationship, then any member or members in good standing may file a complaint against the Session in accordance with the provisions of BCO 43.


[Historical Summary : The last paragraph of the present text, excepting the final sentence, dates to 1988, when Item 13 was approved by the 16th General Assembly by a vote of 34 to 7. Of the seven Presbyteries voting against the amendment, Delmarva (2/47) and Westminster (7/24) showed the strongest votes against. (M16GA, pp. 104-105.] The final sentence of the current text, as noted, was not part of this 1988 amendment, and instead dates to ________.

Background and Comparison :
PCA 1973, 25-6, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 143
The offices of Ruling Elder and Deacon are perpetual; nor can they be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a Ruling Elder or Deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the active duties of his office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him and the church.
Or the Ruling Elder, or Deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy, nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his official capacity to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the Ruling Elder, or Deacon, and after careful consideration may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation.

Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 25-6, Proposed text, pp. 34-35
The offices of Ruling Elder and Deacon are perpetual; nor can they be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a Ruling Elder or Deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the active duties of his office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him and the church.
Or the Ruling Elder, or Deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy, nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his official capacity to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the Ruling Elder, or Deacon, and after careful consideration, may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation.
Since all offices are perpetual, all congregations, using a limited term of office for Elders and Deacons, uniting with the _____________ _______________ should elect to their Sessions and Diaconate all those inactive Elders and Deacons, willing to serve, and thus ceasing to use limited term of office.

PCUS 1933, XXVII-§149
The offices of Ruling Elder and Deacon are perpetual; nor can they be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a Ruling Elder or Deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the active duties of his office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him and the church.
Or the Ruling Elder, or Deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy, nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his official capacity to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the Ruling Elder, or Deacon, and after careful consideration, may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation.
"If any particular church, by a majority vote at a congregational meeting, shall prefer to elect Ruling Elders and Deacons for a limited term in the exercise of their functions, this may be done ; provided, that the time of such active services be not less than three years, and that the session and the Board of Deacons be made to consist of three classes, one of which classes shall be elected each year ; and provided further that the Ruling Elders and Deacons, once ordained, shall not be divested of their office when they are not re-elected for active service, and if re-elected shall not be re-ordained ; and provided further that a congregation voting to make such terms of office limited may also determine for how long a period of time, if any, such retired officers shall be ineligible for re-election. Elders thus retired shall be entitled to represent their church in the higher courts of the church when appointed by the session or by the Presbytery." (Adopted 1932.)


PCUS 1933, XXVII-§149
The offices of Ruling Elder and Deacon are perpetual; nor can they be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either office but by deposition after regular trial; yet a Ruling Elder or Deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the active duties of his office. In such a case the Session, after conference with him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him and the church.
Or the Ruling Elder, or Deacon, though chargeable with neither heresy, nor immorality, may become unacceptable in his official capacity to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case the church may take the initiative by a majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, and request the Session to dissolve the official relationship between the church and the officer without censure. The Session, after conference with the Ruling Elder, or Deacon, and after careful consideration, may use its discretion as to dissolving the official relationship. In either case the Session shall report its action to the congregation.

PCUS 1879, VI-4-3

The offices of Ruling Elder and Deacon are perpetual ; nor can they be laid aside at pleasure ; nor can any person be degraded from either office but by deposition after regular trial. Yet a Ruling Elder or Deacon may, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, become unacceptable in his official character to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case, it is competent for the Session, upon application, either from the officer or from the church, to dissolve the relation. But no such application from either party shall be granted without affording to the other party full opportunity for stating objections.

PCUS 1869 draft, VI-4-3
The offices of Ruling Elder and Deacon are perpetual; nor can they be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either office but by disposition after regular trial. Yet a Ruling Elder or Deacon may, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, become unacceptable, in his official character, to a majority of the Congregation which he serves. In such a case, it is competent for the Session, upon application either from the officer or from the Congregation, to dissolve the relation. But no such application from either party shall be granted, without full opportunity for stating objections being afforded to the other party.

PCUS 1867 draft, VI-4-3
The offices of ruling elder and deacon are not temporary; nor can they be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either office but by disposition after regular trial. Yet an elder or deacon may, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, become unacceptable, in his official character, to a majority of the congregation which he serves. In such a case, it is competent for the session, upon application either from the officer or from the congregation, to dissolve the relation. But no such application from either party shall be granted, without full opportunity for stating objections being afforded to the other party.

COMMENTARY :
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
(1898, pp. 139-140) on VI-4-3 :
113.--III. The offices of Ruling Elder and Deacon are perpetual ; nor can they be laid aside at pleasure ; nor can any person be degraded from either office but by deposition after regular trial. Yet a Ruling Elder or Deacon may, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, become unacceptable in his official character to a majority of the church which he serves. In such a case, it is competent for the Session, upon application, either from the officer or from the church, to dissolve the relation. But no such application from either party shall be granted without affording to the other party full opportunity for stating objections.
See Rules of Discipline, Chap. VIII, Sec. X.
The office is perpetual in the same sense as the status of communicating member is perpetual ; as one cannot come into either dignity without the coaction of the Church, so one cannot pass out of either obligation without the coaction of the Church. And the Church cannot deprive any one of either status without regular trial. But just as the pastoral relation between a Minister and a particular church may be dissolved without degrading him from the office of Minister, so the official relation between a Ruling Elder or Deacon and a particular church may be dissolved without degrading him from his office. When called again to serve in his office in the same or another particular church, he needs not to be ordained again, but only to be installed. And as it is the Presbytery that dissolves the relation in the case of a Minister, so it is the Session that dissolves the relation in the case of a Ruling Elder or Deacon. Either party may request the dissolution, but the court may not act without first hearing from the other party. How the church can initiate proceedings in such a case is not pointed out, and there seems to be no way provided, unless one of these two be resorted to : a majority of those entitled to vote may request the Session to convene the Church for the purpose of taking action on the question of the official relation of such or such, and then the Session would be bound to convene the Church as requested (102) ; or the Session itself, without request from either party, may present the question of the continuance of his official relations either to an officer or to the church, as the Presbytery might present such a question to a Pastor or to his church. Our paragraph suggests unacceptability in his official capacity to a majority of the church as a reason for the dissolution of one's official relation ; but, of course, unacceptability to a minority, or other reason, might be sufficient ground, as in the case of a Pastor, of which the Session must judge. But by analogy (cf. par. 128), the Session has no option but to dissolve the relation when both parties request it.



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