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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 38 : Cases Without Process

Paragraph 2 :

38-2. A minister of the Gospel against whom there are no charges, if fully satisfied in his own conscience that God has not called him to the ministry, or if he has satisfactory evidence of his inability to serve the Church with acceptance, may report these facts at a stated meeting of Presbytery. At the next stated meeting, if after full deliberation the Presbytery shall concur with him in judgment, it may divest him of his office without censure. This provision shall in like manner apply with any necessary changes to the case of ruling elders and deacons; but in all such cases the Session of the church to which the ruling elder or the deacon who seeks demission belongs shall act as the Presbytery acts in similar cases where a minister is concerned.

[Historical Summary : In 1986 the paragraph that had been BCO 38-2 was stricken [see below for the text of that paragraph], and subsequent paragraphs were accordingly renumbered. Otherwise the current PCA text, what had been 38-3 and is now 38-2, remains unchanged from that of prior editions dating back to PCUS 1920, the only distinction being the current lack of capitalization. PCUS changes to this text occurred in 1882 (Minutes, p. 568); 1884 (Minutes, p. 247) and finally in 1920 (Minutes, p. 80). The 1882 amendment gave this paragraph the distinction of being the first change implemented for PCUS 1879. It should also be noted that one of the earliest attempts to secure the right of demission was brought before the PCUSA General Assembly in 1847, but when sent to the Presbyteries, it was answered in the negative. Dr. James H. Thornwell wrote a review of that Assembly and was supportive of the amendments. See below for the text of the 1847 amendments, together with his comments, as published in The Southern Presbyterian Review.]

Background and Comparison :
1986 [M14GA, 14-19, Item 11, p. 95]

1. PCA 1973, 12-3, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 152
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 12-3, Proposed text, p. 54

3. PCUS 1933, Rules of Discipline, XII-§257
4. PCUS 1925, Rules of Discipline, XII-§257
A Minister of the Gospel against whom there are no charges, if fully satisfied in his own conscience that God has not called him to the ministry, or if he has satisfactory evidence of his inability to serve the Church with acceptance, may report these facts at a stated meeting of Presbytery. At the next stated meeting, if after full deliberation the Presbytery shall concur with him in judgment, it may divest him of his office without censure. This provision shall in like manner apply with any necessary changes to the case of Ruling Elders and Deacons; but in all such cases the Session of the church to which the Ruling Elder or the Deacon who seeks demission belongs shall act as the Presbytery acts in similar cases where a Minister is concerned.

PCUS 1884, Minutes, p. 247
[Further changes]

PCUS 1882, Minutes, p. 568-569
[The 1881 Overtures brought by the Presbyteries of Atlanta and Chesapeake (PCUS Minutes, p. 396) were approved, thus adding the following sentence to the existing paragraph at 12-3 : "This provision shall in like manner apply mutatis mutandis to the case of ruling elders and deacons ; but in all such cases the session of the church to which the elder or deacon who seeks demission belongs shall act as the Presbytery acts in similar cases where a minister is concerned."]

PCUS 1879, Rules of Discipline, XII-3
A Minister of the gospel, against whom there are no charges, if fully satisfied in his own conscience that God has not called him to the ministry, or if he has satisfactory evidence of his inability to serve the Church with acceptance, may report these facts at a stated meeting. At the next stated meeting, if after full deliberation the Presbytery shall concur with him in judgment, it may divest him of his office without censure, and shall assign him membership in some particular church.


PCUS 1869 draft, XII-3
Whenever any Minister, against whom there is no charge, is fully satisfied in his own conscience that God has not called him to the ministry, and there is satisfactory evidence of his want of acceptance to the Church, if the Presbytery, after full deliberation, concur with him in judgment, it may divest him of his office without censure, and he shall resume the position of a private member. This rule shall apply, under like circumstances, to the case of Ruling Elders and Deacons.

PCUS 1867 draft, Canons of Discipline, XII-3
Whenever any minister, against whom there is no charge, is fully satisfied in his own conscience that God has not called him to the ministry, and there is satisfactory evidence of his want of acceptance to the church, if the presbytery, after full deliberation, concur with him in judgment, it may divest him of his office without censure, and he shall resume the position of a private member. This rule shall apply, mutatis mutandis, to the case of ruling elders and deacons.

DOCUMENTATION:
1986 - Deletion of old paragraph 38-2 [M14GA, 14-19, Item 11, p. 95]
That paragraph read : "If a communing member of the church against whom no charges are pending shall request the Session to transfer his name to the roll of non-communing members, it shall be in the power of the Session to grant the request, and this action may be announced to the congregation should this seem wise and proper. This transfer, however, should not be made until the Session, after inquiry and due delay, is of the judgment that the request does not spring from temporary doubt or special temptation."
This paragraph stood from its adoption in 1973 until it was stricken in 1986.



COMMENTARY :

Dr. James H. Thornwell, on The General Assembly of 1847 (PCUSA), in The Southern Presbyterian Review, 1.2 (1847),
pp. 98-99:
DEMISSION OF THE PASTORAL OFFICE.
The subject of the demission of the pastoral office, referred by the previous Assembly to this, was committed to Messrs. Junkin, Pryor, Hoyt, Bullock, and Snowden. Dr. Hoge was subsequently added to the committee. The Assembly finally determined to send to the Presbyteries the following sections, to be embodied as a part of the Constitution of the Church:
Resolved. That it be referred to the Presbyteries, whether the following sections shall be added to the 15th chapter of our Form of Government, viz:
XVI. The office of a Minister of the Gospel is perpetual and cannot be laid aside at pleasure. No person can be divested of it but by deposition. Yet, from various causes, a minister may become incapable of performing the duties of the office; or he may, though chargeable with neither heresy nor immorality, become unacceptable in his official character. In such cases, he may cease to be an acting minister.
XVII. Whenever a Minister from any cause, not inferring heresy or crime, shall be incapable of serving the church to edification, the Presbytery shall take order on the subject, and state the fact, together with the reasons of it, on their records. And when any person has thus ceased to be an acting minister, he shall not be a member of any Presbytery or Synod, but shall be subject to discipline as other ministers. Provided always, that nothing of this kind shall be done, without the consent of the individual in question, except by advice of the Synod.
Nothing to us can be plainer than that he who has mistaken his call, should be permitted to retire from the labors and obligations of the ministry. He should retrace his steps. We entertain no doubt that the low views, which have too extensively prevailed, in regard to the nature of a call to the sacred office, have induced many to assume its responsibilities whom the Lord never sent. The doctrine has been proclaimed, and proclaimed in high places, that every young man of talent and education, who could plead no clear and definite vocation to secular employments, was bound to become a preacher. The Education Societies, too, have multiplied temptations—first by making the ministry an object of desire, as a convenient means of procuring an education—and then by shutting up the candidates to the necessity of actually entering upon its duties, under the penalty of being burdened with debt. In the by-laws of our own Board, under the head of candidates and appropriations, it is provided, among other things in the 14th Article, that “ if any candidate fail to enter on, or to continue in the work of the ministry, unless he can make it appear that he is providentially prevented, he shall refund, with interest, all the money he may have received of this Board.” This rule ought to be repealed. It presents a motive of interest to the young man who has mistaken his vocation, to prevaricate with his conscience, his church, and his God. It makes honesty a sacrifice. In our view, it would be infinitely better, that all the funds should be lost, than that a single man, without the anointing of the Spirit, should be induced, by the stringent application of a rule, however wisely intended, to curse the church with unbidden ministrations. We should give to the uncalled no facilities for entering the ministry. We should give them all possible encouragement in renouncing it. We hope, therefore, that the Presbyteries will act upon the overture submitted by the Assembly, and that something may be done to lessen an evil which cannot be wholly prevented.

F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
(1898, pp. 235-236), on RoD XII-3 :
236.--III. A Minister of the gospel, against whom there are no charges, if fully satisfied in his own conscience that God has not called him to the ministry, or if he has satisfactory evidence of his inability to serve the Church with acceptance, may report these facts at a stated meeting. At the next stated meeting, if after full deliberation the Presbytery shall concur with him in judgment, it may divest him of his office without censure, and shall assign him membership in some particular church.
This provision for demission of office makes manifest that ordination does not put one, or recognize one as being, in an unchangeable status or in a fixed relation of obligation or dignity. Ordination is not an indelible mark. Therefore, if one divested of his office should be again put into the same office, it would be proper to ordain him again.
To divest of office, as here provided, is not the same as to dissolve official relations, as provided in 113 and 128. An officer whose official relations to a particular church are dissolved is still in the office in relation to the Church generally ; but one divested of his office has henceforth no official relation, either to a particular church or to the Church generally. Hence the court may divest without consulting the particular church.
Three elements should concur in a call to the office, the man's inward conviction, the acceptance of him by the people, and the approval of the court. When one or both o the first two elements seem to be lacking, then the man himself or the court (205) may raise the question whether the man is really called of God ; but if he requests the action, the court divests by a majority vote, whereas, if the court proceeds against his will, it requires a two-thirds vote to divest (205).



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I. King & Head of Church
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