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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 31 : The Parties in Cases of Process

Paragraph 5 : Of Personal Offenses and Mt. 18:15-16

31-5. An injured party shall not become a prosecutor of personal offenses without having tried the means of reconciliation and of reclaiming the offender, required by Christ.
"Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." (Matthew 18:15-16).
A church court, however, may judicially investigate personal offenses as if general when the interest of religion seem to demand it. So, also, those to whom private offenses are known cannot become prosecutors without having previously endeavored to remove the scandal by private means.


[DIGEST : The only notable difference between the current text and that of PCA 1973 and predecessors back to PCUS 1879 is the current use of the singular form "interest" in the penultimate sentence, where PCA 1973 and earlier texts had "interests". Whether this is a stylistic change, or a persistent typographical error will have to be searched out. Earlier editions also employed the use of Roman numerals for citation of chapters of the Bible. The PCUS drafts of 1867 and 1869 had an introductory clause, "In the case of personal offences", which was deleted in the first approved PCUS edition of 1879.]

ANTECEDENT TEXTS :
1. PCA 1973, RoD, 5-5, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 146
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, RoD, 5-5, Proposed text, p. 42
3. PCUS 1933, RoD, V-§186
4. PCUS 1925, RoD, V-§186
5. PCUS 1879, RoD, V-5
An injured party shall not become a prosecutor of personal offenses without having tried the means of reconciliation and of reclaiming the offender, required by Christ : "Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." (Matthew XVIII. 15, 16.) A church court, however, may judicially investigate personal offenses as if general when the interests of religion seem to demand it. So, also, those to whom private offenses are known cannot become prosecutors without having previously endeavored to remove the scandal by private means.

PCUS 1869 draft, RoD, V-2
In the case of personal offences, the injured party can never be a prosecutor without having previously tried the means of reconciliation, and of reclaiming the offender, required by Christ. “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother; but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” Matt. xviii: 15,16. A Church court, however, may judicially investigate personal offences as if general, where the interests of religion seem to demand it. So also in the case of private offences, those to whom they are known cannot become prosecutors without having previously endeavoured to remove the scandal by private
means.

PCUS 1867 draft, RoD, V-2
In the case of personal offences, the injured party can never be a prosecutor without having previously tried the means of reconciliation, and of reclaiming the offender, required by Christ. “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother; but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” Matt. xviii: 15,16. A church-court, however, may judicially investigate personal offences as if general, where the interests of religion seem to demand it. So also in the case of private offences, those to whom they are known cannot become prosecutors without having previously endeavoured to remove the scandal by private means.

PCUSA 1858, Revised Book of Discipline, III-1
In the case of personal offences the injured party can never be a prosecutor without having previously tried the means of reconciliation and of reclaiming the offender required by Christ. Matt. 23: 15, 16. A church court, however, may judicially investigate them as general offences when the interests of religion seem to demand it. Neither in the case of private offences can those to whom they are known become accusers without having previously endeavoured to remove the scandal by private means.

PCUSA 1789, Forms of Process, I-3
No complaint or information, on the subject of personal or private injuries, shall be admitted ; unless those means of reconciliation, and of privately reclaiming the offender, have been used, which are required by Christ. Mat. xviii. 15, 16. And, in all cases, the ecclesiastical judicatories, in receiving accusations, in conducting processes, or inflicting censures, ought to avoid, as far as possible, the divulging of offences, to the scandal of the church : because the unnecessary spreading of scandal hardens and enrages the guilty, grieves the godly, and dishonours religion. And if any private Christian shall industriously spread the knowledge of an offence, unless in prosecuting it before the proper judicatories of the church, he shall be liable to censure, as an uncandid slanderer of his brother.

COMMENTARY :
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
(1898, pp. 188-189), on V-5:
165.--V. An injured party shall not become a prosecutor of personal offenses without having tried the means of reconciliation and of reclaiming the offender, required by Christ : "Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." (Matthew XVIII. 15, 16.) A church court, however, may judicially investigate personal offenses as if general when the interests of religion seem to demand it. So, also, those to whom private offenses are known cannot become prosecutors without having previously endeavored to remove the scandal by private means.
Whether the person proposing to act as voluntary prosecutor shall be accepted by the court is a question on which the accused should be heard, and he should be allowed to introduce evidence that the proposed prosecutor has not complied with the conditions here prescribed ; for only the accused would be able to dispute his claim that he had. And courts should rigidly inquire whether this condition has been complied with before accepting a voluntary prosecutor.



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I. King & Head of Church
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