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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 33 : Special Rules Pertaining to Process Before Sessions

Paragraph 3 :

33-3. If after further endeavor by the court to bring the accused to a sense of his guilt, he persists in his contumacy, he shall be excommunicated from the Church.

[Historical Summary : In 1998, North Georgia Presbytery brought Overture 15 before the 26th General Assembly, seeking to amend 32-6, to clarify provisions for contumacy. The proposed change apparently mandated additional changes in BCO 33-2, 33-3 and 34-4, though these latter paragraphs were not specifically addressed in Overture 15. Presumably it was the Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB) that worked out the ramifications of an amended 32-6 and so wrote and presented additional amendments to 33-2, 33-3 and 34-4. The CCB noted in conclusion that "The proposed amendment makes clear that contumacy includes refusal to cooperate with lawful proceedings of a court, and makes clear that the court is to act immediately upon a finding of contumacy. Further, the proposed amendment clarifies the provisions for contumacy by bringing uniformity to the language of the various provisions." The matter was sent down to the Presbyteries for advice and consent (M26GA, p. 202-203) and following their vote (47 for; 4 against), the amendments were adopted by the 27th General Assembly (M27GA, pp. 60-62)]

Background and Comparison :
1. PCA 1973, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 148
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 7-3, Proposed text, p. 46
3. PCUS 1933,
4. PCUS 1925,
5. PCUS 1879, VII-3
If the charge be one of gross crime or heresy, and the accused persist in his contumacy, the court may proceed to inflict the highest censure.

PCUS 1869 draft, VII
[no comparable text in this chapter]

PCUS 1867 draft, VII

[no comparable text in this chapter]

COMMENTARY :
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
(1898, p. ), on :
194.--III. If the charge be one of gross crime or heresy, and the accused persist in his contumacy, the court may proceed to inflict the highest censure.
Otherwise, one could always escape excommunication by being contumacious. The principle underlying these regulations may be stated thus : refusal to honor the court's citations or to plead at its bar--that is, refusal to recognize the court--is itself a sin against the Church and its Head so serious as to call for suspension, whether there is any other offence or not ; and that persistence in this sin raises a presumption of guilt in respect to the charge of the indictment, a presumption strong enough to require the court to act upon it when the offence charged is so grave as to require excommunication for the honor of religion. It is assumed that there can be no trial in the absence of the accused ; but the commencement of process is always preceded by inquiry that has resulted in the commencement of process.

Overture 15 From North Georgia Presbytery
"Amend BCO 32-6 To Clarify Provisions for Contumacy"
Whereas, the honor of Christ and His church are damaged by persons who assail the rules to flout the court; and
Whereas, BCO 32-6 is vague, in that the provisions for contumacy are never clearly "hereinafter provided;" and
Whereas, the framers of the BCO intended that contumacy should be dealt with in a timely, and expeditious manner;
Therefore, be it resolved, that the session of The Rock Presbyterian Church overtures the twenty-sixth General Assembly to change the Book of Church Order 32-6 from its present reading :
"if he appear and refuse to plead he shall be dealt with for his contumacy, as hereinafter provided."
To read instead :
"if he appear and refuse to plead, or flout the court and/or otherwise reject its authority, he shall be dealt with for his contumacy immediately."

The Committee on Constitutional Business, in its report (M27GA, pp. 229-230), noted:
Overture 15 - from North Georgia Presbytery
"Amend BCO 32-6 To Clarify Provisions for Contumacy"
Response :
It is the advice of the Committee that Overture 15 is not in conflict with any portion of the Constitution.
The Committee also noted that, contrary to the second, "whereas" of the overture, the words "hereinafter provided" in BCO 32-6 refer to provisions for dealing with contumacy rather than provisions for defining contumacy. In addition, the Committee noted that the word "flout" may not be any clearer than the word "contumacy".

 



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