Select and Annotated Bibliography on Ecclesiastical Judicial Procedures:
Doctrines and Practices of the American Presbyterian Church,
by David F. Coffin, Jr.
[Note: Most of the works listed below may be found
in the PCA Historical Center's research library]
On Judicial Procedures, in General
• Baird, Samuel J. A Collection of the Acts, Deliverances, and Testimonies
of the Supreme Judicatory of the Presbyterian Church, From Its Origin
in America to the Present Time: With Notes and Documents Explanatory and
Historical: Constituting a Complete Illustration of Her Polity, Faith,
and History. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1855;
2nd edition, revised, 1859.
Standard collection for the ante-bellum church.
• Hays, George Price. Presbyterians. A Popular Narrative of Their Origin, Progress, Doctrines, and Achievements. Introductions by Rev. John Hall, D.D., LL.D., and Rev. William E. Moore, D.D., LL.D. New York: J.A. Hill & Co., Publishers, 1892. Chapter XII reviews the development of GA judicial procedures in the Northern Church.
• Hodge, Charles. The Church and Its Polity. Edited by William Durant and A.A. Hodge. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1879. Discussion of judicial procedures throughout.
• ____________, The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1851. Discussion of judicial procedures throughout.
• Hodge, J. Aspinwall. What is Presbyterian Law as Defined by the Church Courts? Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1882.
Most comprehensive summary of Presbyterian of church law, procedure and cases, covering both Northern & Southern Churches, Old School & New School.
• Leslie, J.D. Presbyterian Law and Procedure in the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1930.
For the Southern Church (PCUS); quotes extensively from T.E. Peck.
• Maddex, Jack. "Presbyterians in the South, Centralization, and the Book of Church Order, 1861-1879." American Presbyterians 68:1 (Spring 1990): 24-45.
Comprehensive and insightful discussion of the application the principles of Old School Presbyterian Polity in, and the historical influences upon, a complete revision of the BCO of the PCUS, led first by Thornwell, and then by Adger, which provided the foundation for the BCO of the PCA.
• Manual For Church Officers and Members of the Government, Discipline, and Worship of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. n.p.: Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1926--.
• Monfort, F.C. [Francis Cassatte]. Ecclesiastical Discipline: Its Necessity, Purpose and Methods as Shown in the Presbyterian Book of Discipline. Cincinnati, OH: [F.C. Monfort?], 1900.
Broad discussion defending principles and practices of Presbyterian judicial proceedings.
• Nicolassen, G.F. In A Digest of the Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, Revised Down to and Including Acts of the General Assembly of 1922. Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1923.
Collection of past decisions and deliverances from the Southern Church.
• Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Committee on the Revision of the Book of Discipline. The Report of the Committee on the Revision of the Book of Discipline to the General Assembly. Ordered to be transmitted to the ministers and sessions of the church for consideration. New York: S.W. Green's Son, Printer and Binder, 1882.
• Ramsay, F.P. An Exposition of the Form of Government and the Rules of Discipline of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1898, pp. 117-21.
Commentary on the PCUS FOG as of 1898 (first adopted in 1879); many of the procedures of the PCA BCO are discussed here.
• Roberts, William Henry. A Manual For Ruling Elders and Church Sessions Containing the Laws and usages of the Presbyterian Church in the USA in Relation to Ruling Elders and Other Church Officers, Church Sessions, Churches and Congregations With Introductory Matter, Notes, Suggestions and Appendix. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1897; 1905.
Standard summary for the Northern Church.
• Smith, Morton H. Commentary on the Book of Church Order. Second edition. Greenville, SC: Greenville Seminary Press, 1994.
Commentary on the PCA BCO .
19th Century Debate Concerning the Revised Book of Discipline (chronologically arranged)
• Hodge, Charles. "The General Assembly. Judicial Cases." Princeton Review (1856): 582 ff; reprint, "§1. Revision of the Book. a. Need of Revision." In The Church and Its Polity. Edited by William Durant and A.A. Hodge. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1879, pp. 456-459. [Hereafter Church and Polity, pp.] Call by Hodge for a revision to the Book of Discipline, characterized by him as "unintelligible, inconsistent, and in some of its parts unreasonable." A committee of revision was appointed the next year, chaired by Thornwell and in addition composed of Drs. Hodge, Hoge, Breckinridge, Swift and McGill, and Judges Sharswood, Allen and Leavitt.
• ____________, Princeton Review (October 1858): 692-721. Hodge, as one of the members of the Committee of Revision appointed in 1857, defends in a chapter by chapter review the Committee's proposed amendments to the Rules of Discipline.
• Dabney, Robert L. "The Revised Book of Discipline: A Discussion of Some of the Changes Proposed by the Committee of the General Assembly." Southern Presbyterian Review. XII:I (April 1859): 36-82; reprint, Discussions by Robert L. Dabney, D.D., LL.D. 4 volumes. Edited by C.R. Vaughan. Volume II-Evangelical, pp. 312-355. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1890-93; reprint, Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1982. Detailed and critical response to Hodge's defense, Princeton Review. (October 1858).
• Hodge, Charles. "The General Assembly. Revised Book of Discipline." Princeton Review (July 1859): 594-607; reprinted in part, "Infant Members Subjects of Discipline." In Church and Polity, pp. 215-217. Summary of, and remarks in defense of, Thornwell's speech in support of the Revised Book of Discipline given at the time it was presented to the Assembly, as well as an account of the Assembly's disposition of the matter.
• Thornwell, James Henley. "The Revised Book of Discipline." Southern Presbyterian Review. XILIII (1859): 373-406; reprint, The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, D.D., LL.D. Volume IV-Ecclesiastical, pp. 299-335. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1871-75; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974. [Hereafter, Collected Writings, IV:pp.] Defense of the Committee's proposals for revision against a variety of criticisms, including RLD, supra.
• Dabney, Robert L. `The Revised Book of Discipline." The Presbyterian (Dec. 1859-Jan. 1860); reprint, Discussions, 11:392. Detailed and vigorous response to Thornwell's defense.
• Thornwell, James Henley. "A Few More Words on the Revised Book of Discipline." Southern Presbyterian Review. XIII:I (April 1860): 1-38; reprinted as "The Revised Book Vindicated." Collected Writings, IV:336-375. Further defense of the revision proposals, responding to RLD's second critique.
• Hodge, Charles. "The General Assembly. Revised Book of Discipline." Princeton Review (1864): 513 ff; reprint," §1. Revision of the Book, b. Effective Methods For Revision." In Church and Polity, pp. 459-461.
• Adger, J.B. "The General Assembly of 1872. Revision of the Book of Discipline." Southern Presbyterian Review XXIII/4 (October 1872): 495-518. Adger, Chairman for the continued committee of revision in the Southern Church, gives an account of the vigorous debate on the Revised Book, as well as outlining the history of the work on the project.
• Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Committee on the Revision of the Book of Discipline. The Report of the Committee on the Revision of the Book of Discipline to the General Assembly. Ordered to be transmitted to the ministers and sessions of the church for consideration. New York: S.W. Green's Son, Printer and Binder, 1882.
• Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. General Assembly. The Revised Book of Discipline, as Unanimously Adopted and Overtured to the Presbyteries by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, in Session at Saratoga Springs, NY., May 29, 1883. Edited with and index by the Rev. William H. Roberts, D.D., Permanent Clerk. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1883.
On Judicial Commissions
• Baird, Samuel J., "Book IV. The Church Courts. Chapter II.-Of Ecclesiastical Commissions." in A Collection of the Acts, Deliverances, and Testimonies of the Supreme Judicatory of the Presbyterian Church, From Its Origin in America to the Present Time: With Notes and Documents Explanatory and Historical: Constituting a Complete Illustration of Her Polity, Faith, and History. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1855; 2nd edition, revised, 1859, pp. 233-246. Includes discussion and citations on the nature of commissions (arguing views contrary to the views of Hodge and Thornwell, infra), Scottish background, commissions of the General Synod and commissions under the "present" Constitution, including the first proposals to create a Judicial Commission of the General Assembly (1849).
• Hays, Geo. P. [George Price]. Presbyterians. A Popular Narrative of Their Origin, Progress, Doctrines, and Achievements. Introductions by Rev. John Hall, D.D., LL.D., and Rev. William E. Moore, D.D., LL.D. New York: J.A. Hill & Co., Publishers, 1892, pp. 196, 239, 241-43.
"The question of the wisdom of leaving judicial cases to be decided by such changeable bodies as Synods and Assemblies has long been a mooted one. In 1849 a committee was appointed on the subject, and it worked out an elaborate plan for a Permanent -Judicial Commission. Presbyteries, Synods and General Assemblies are very changeable bodies, because the elders are usually appointed to attend but a single meeting. Even the ministers, however able and scholarly they may be in general, are not specially trained and habituated to the work of analyzing testimony and excluding irrelevant matter. With a view, therefore, to securing picked men to decide these intricate cases, it was proposed that there should be in each Synod and for the General Assembly a commission of appeals, composed of four ministers and four elders, elected two each year. The plan, however, was almost unanimously rejected. The discussion developed widespread feeling, first that the time of the General Assembly and the subordinate judicatories should not be occupied with many judicial cases to the exclusion of or interference with church mission work; and second, that some method should be devised for a more careful consideration of each case by selection persons qualified to decide its vital points on their real merits..."
Charles. "The General Assembly. Commissions of Presbyteries and Synods."
Princeton Review (1847): 400 ff; reprint, "§11. Commissions of Presbyteries
and Synods." In Church and Polity, pp. 353-363.
Extensive report of 1847 GA Committee, chaired by Hodge, concerning a resolution, "Resolved, That in the judgment of this Assembly, it is contrary to the Constitution, and uniform practice of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, for any ecclesiastical judicatory to appoint a Commission, to determine judicially any case whatever." The Report opposed the resolution, arguing that the practice is contrary to neither and concluded, "In view therefore, of the original rights of our judicatories, of the longcontinued practice of the Church, and of the great value of the right, on due occasions, of acting by Commissions, the hope is respectfully expressed, that the Assembly may do nothing, which may have the effect of calling that right in question." The final disposition was the indefinite postponement of the whole subject, which Hodge saw as a victory and Thornwell as ambiguous. cf. Thomwell's discussion of the matter, infra. .
• ___________ "The General Assembly." Princeton Review (1853): 527 ff; reprint, "d, In Favor of a Commission to Try Appeals and Complaints." In Church and Polity, pp. 498-499.
Concerning judicial proceedings at GA, Hodge describes "great inconveniences" wherein "the whole Church is liable to be harassed and occupied by causes of no general importance." Listing the problems, Hodge argues that "the General Assembly is, from its size [300 or so!], an incompetent tribunal." He concludes, "We think we shall have to adopt the... method of commissions ... a body consisting of not less than a quorum of the court appointing it, and in which every member of the court who chooses to attend, has the right to a seat, clothed with full power of the court itself." .
• ___________ "The General Assembly. Commissions." Princeton Review (1855): 502 ff, reprint, "§ 3. Power to Act by Commission." In Church and Polity, pp. 374-377.
In response to discussion at the 1854 GA concerning judicial commissions, Hodge provides an insightful discussion of the fundamental nature of Presbyterian courts, their powers, and their relation to the constitution of the Church. With respect to commissions H. takes a view similar to Thornwell, infra, and contrary to Baird, supra. Concludes by briefly answering objections to judicial commissions.
• ___________ "The General Assembly. Judicial Cases." Princeton Review (1856): 582 ff; reprint, "§1. Revision of the Book. a. Need of Revision." In Church and Its Polity, pp. 456-459.
"This is another lesson [portions of six days of an Assembly spent on one case] teaching what the Church seems slow to learn; that a body consisting of upwards of two hundred members is not a very suitable court of appeal.... We believe the necessity for the appointment of a commission is forcing itself more and more on the conviction of the leading minds of our Church."
• ___________ The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1851, pp. 112-13, 350-60.
Review of the use of commissions (including judicial) after the Scottish model in the American Church from the time of the original Synod to the adoption of the Constitution in 1788-89. Hodge concludes, "Our judicatories are sometimes so oppressed with judicial business, that it might be well, on some occasions, to resort to this old usage of our church.... Most men would be as willing to have a cause in which they were interested, decided by ten good men as by a hundred. Much time would thus be saved, and many details of evidence kept from coming before a large Assembly." (360)
• Hodge, J. Aspinwall. What is Presbyterian Law as Defined by the Church Courts? Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1882, pp. 196-97, 226-27, 253-54, 269-70.
Brief statement of the law of commissions in judicial cases, describing their nature and justification, the history of their use, and their employment at Presbytery, Synod, and GA. The last cited section provides the language of the 1894 "Book of Discipline" in full, wherein a distinction is made between matters of law, constitution and doctrine, and the rest of the decision-the former being liable to review by the appointing body and the latter not.
• Leslie, J.D. Presbyterian Law and Procedure in the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1930, pp. 119-20.
"After studying closely fifty judicial cases coming up to the General Assembly, from 1870 to 1909, and having had all judicial cases since then go through my hands as clerk, I do not find a single case in which the Assembly opened for discussion the judgment of a commission to which an appeal or complaint was given. In very case, the judgment of the commission was entered on the minutes as the judgment of the Assembly. In 1889, I was a commissioner to the General Assembly, and saw an effort made by the defense counsel to have the case opened for further discussion after the commission had made its report. The moderator decided against this being done. Rev. G.D. Armstrong, D.D., was chairman of the commission. He had been the chairman of a committee of the Assembly that revised our old Book of Church Order and prepared the articles on Ecclesiastical Commissions, He explained to the Assembly the meaning of these articles, in which he stated very clearly that it was not the intention of the Book of Church Order to indicate that the case would be opened in the court for further consideration after the commission had made its report, but its judgment should be entered upon the records of the court as the judgment of the court itself In this case, this was done, and the judgment of the commission became the judgment of the Assembly."
• Monfort, F.C. [Francis Cassatte]. Ecclesiastical Discipline: Its Necessity, Purpose and Methods as Shown in the Presbyterian Book of Discipline. Cincinnati, OH: [F.C. Monfort?], 1900, pp. 44-53.
Discussion of Judicial Commissions, particularly concerning the distinction between deciding a point of fact and a point of law.
• Nicolassen, G.F. "Book VIII. Judicial Cases." In A Digest of the Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, Revised Down to and Including Acts of the General Assembly of 1922. Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1923, pp. 1100-01. Cites attempts by the PCUS to create a Standing Judicial Commission.
• Ramsay, F.P. An Exposition of the Form of Government and the Rules of Discipline of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Richmond: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1898, pp. 117-21.
Commentary on the chapter in the PCUS FOG on Ecclesiastical Commissions as of 1898 (first adopted in 1879).
• Robinson, Stuart. "The General Assembly of 1855." The Presbyterial Critic and Monthly Review 1.8 (August 1855): 347-350.
Vigorous criticism of dealing with judicial cases on appeal by a hearing of the entire GA, and thoughtful discussion of judicial commissions, with some interesting comments by the way, from one the chief theoreticians of church polity among Old School Theologians. "[O]ne thing is perfectly obvious, namely, that as discipline is now administered in our superior church Courts ... it amounts either to a denial or a perversion of justice.... And this state of things is getting worse and worse-until the whole thing is becoming a scoffing to the wicked, and a deadly heartsore to good men.... We would undertake to screen any offender before the General Assembly more certainly than before any jury of twelve upright men.... We confess ourselves to be averse even to the appearance of stripping the church courts of the exercise of any power vested in any of them by the Lord.... We therefore greatly prefer to reduce the church courts, all of them, to denominations [numbers of delegates] in which they will be masters of their time and business, and every member feel his proper responsibility; rather than keep them at an unwieldy size, [Note: Robinson thought there should be no more than 100 commissioners.] and appoint commissions to do any part of their work.... We say we prefer this method of dealing with the subject-by far to any other, and think we could show abundant reason for that preference. * * * As to the power of the church courts, however, to appoint commissions, that power is just as clear as their power to appoint committees; and it has been as invariably exercised.... [A]nd with all due respect.... it is simply ridiculous to deny the existence of the power in the Assembly.... [W]hat utter folly is it, to pretend that it has no power, and ought not to have any, to appoint a similar body to ascertain and determine, whether a certain Minister got drunk, or a certain Elder is dishonest.... [W]e violate all laws human and divine, by pretending to try them before two or three hundred Presbyters, when in fact, by that pretence, they are prevented from being tried at all.... sending them before tribunals which ... are utterly indisposed, and hopelessly incompetent to administer justice. *** [O]f all parts of the duty of the General Assembly, the one to which the use of a commission is most peculiarly appropriate, [is to try cases of discipline].... [N]o sane man, who had a just cause, but would prefer that any ten, of three hundred respectable gentlemen, should try his cause-rather than let the whole three hundred try it.... The sole object of the existence of that General Assembly is to do God's work in the world; one of the most thoroughly important portions of which is the righteous administration of discipline. This part of its work the Assembly grossly neglects, and is no longer competent to perform aright, by reasons of its enormous bulk, the vast accumulation of its business, and the necessary shortness of its sessions. The conclusion is irresistible. And they who oppose and defeat some adequate reform, are to be held justly to a rigorous account for all the evils that may follow." (pp. 348-50) 61
• Smith, Morton H. Commentary on the Book of Church Order. Greenville, SC: Greenville Seminary Press, 1990, § 15.
Commentary on the PCA BCO chapter 15 on Commissions, including in its discussion of the Standing Judicial Commission both the applicable RAO provisions and the SJC Manual.
• Thornwell, J.H. "The General Assembly of 1847." Southern Presbyterian Review 1:11 (Sept. 1847): 78-104; reprint, Collected Writings, IV:486-88.
JHT's discussion of issues before the 1847 Assembly, of which he was Moderator, meeting in Richmond, VA, May 20 through the 31st. T. notes with approval Charles Hodge's report, supra, asserting that the report "furnished conclusive proof that the appointment of such Commissions is contrary neither to the Constitution nor the uniform practice of the Church." (p. 486) Thornwell concludes that a commission is "the court itself, resolving to be constituted as such, with less than a majority of its members." (p. 487)
On Courts of Final Appeal
• Anon [E.R. Craven?]. The Constitution of Courts of Appeal
in the Presbyterian Church. By a Pastor. n.p., n.d.
Full defense of the proposal to establish courts of final appeal, with answers to objections.
• H.K.C. The Book of Discipline and the Next Assembly. Detroit, May 8, 1865.
Urges that the Assembly as a whole cannot properly deal with judicial cases, and that a court of final appeal should be set up to handle such cases.
• Hodge, J. Aspinwall. What is Presbyterian Law as Defined by the Church Courts? Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1882, pp. 268-69.
Brief account of the history of the consideration of courts of final appeal in the Northern church.
• Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Old School). Committee on Courts of Appeal. Report of the Committee on Appellate Courts Presented to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, May 1865. New York: Edward O. Jenkins, Printer, 1865.
Committee chaired by E. R. Craven reports advocating a court of final appeal to handle appeals & complaints at the Assembly urging that: "A Change Allowable", "A Change Desirable", "A Change Practicable", and setting forth "Amendments Proposed".
• Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Minutes of the General Assembly, June 1874, pp. 162-64.
Language proposed for a "Court of Final Appeals" and the objections of the Presbytery of Buffalo.
On the Powers of the Assembly in Judicial Cases and the Doctrine of Stare Decisis
• Adger, John B. "Deliverances of Church Courts." Southern Presbyterian Review XXXI (July 1880): 535-603.
• Hodge, J. Aspinwall. What is Presbyterian Law as Defined by the Church Courts? Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1884, p. 271.
Can the Assembly answer questions in "thesi"? It does not appear that the constitution ever designed that the General Assembly should ever take up abstract cases and decide on them, especially when the object appears to be to bring these decisions to bear on particular individuals no judicially before the Assembly." [citing Presbyterian Digest, p. 279.] What authority have the decisions of the Assembly? Even its recommendations are of authority, coming as they do from a body representing the whole Church. Its recommendations concerning the Boards are obligatory. Its replies to overtures are authoritative interpretations of the constitution. Its testimony on doctrine and morality is the Church's declaration of the meaning of the "Confession of Faith," and its application. And its judicial decisions are final and obligatory in all similar cases." No later Assembly can reverse its judicial acts or revise its proceedings. A manifest error may be corrected. [citing Presbyterian Digest. p. 689.] (Emphasis added.)
• Leslie, J.D. Presbyterian Law and Procedure in the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1930, pp. 182-185, 188.
Deliverances and General Assembly decisions. Two forms of decisions: 1. The General Assembly sits as a deliberative body which is legislative. 2. The General Assembly frequently sits as a court, in the trial of judicial cases.... 1. The deliverance that is of the highest authority is that of a decision in a judicial case, the case having come up by appeal or complaint from the lower court. The General Assembly sits as the supreme court of Jesus Christ, and its decision is final. It determines and concludes a particular case. (see also paragraph 418.) The Assembly in 1879 made a deliverance stating that the deliverances of 1865, 1869 and 1877 on the subject of worldly amusements are not to be accepted and enforced as law by judicial process upon the following grounds:
(1) That these deliverances do not require judicial prosecution expressly, and could not require it without violating the spirit of our law.
(2) that none of these deliverances were made by the Assembly in a strictly judicial capacity, but were all deliverances in thesi, and therefore can be considered as only didactic, advisory and monitory. [p. 183; Note that this phrase, "didactic, advisory and monitory" applies only to in thesi statements, not judicial decisions."]"
(3) That the Assembly has no power to issue orders to institute process except according to the provisions of the Rules of Discipline found in the Book of Church Order (revised 1925)." (A.D. 1910; M.G.A. 1879, p. 23.)....
Force of in thesi deliverance. A judicial sentence cannot be set aside by an in thesi deliverance. While it is competent for one General Assembly, under the rules provided by the constitution, to grant a new hearing to a case which has been judicially decided by a previous Assembly, a deliverance by the Assembly could not modify or set aside the judicial sentence. (A.D. 1922, p. 166, 167; M.G.A. 1879, p. 57.) (Also see par. 416.) [p. 185].... Original jurisdiction in judicial cases. The General Assembly has no original jurisdiction in matters of discipline; but when a judicial case comes before the Assembly, by appeal or complaint, it has the power to declare the law in this particular case. This judicial interpretation of the law is the interpretation in connection with a given case. This decision becomes the law of the Church in cases similar to this given case. Decisions of this kind are not to be construed as in thesi deliverances, but are of biding authority. These decisions have been made after the matter has been discussed in two or more courts and after everything connected with it has been discussed freely, not only in the lower court but also in the Assembly. [p. 188]. (Emphasis added.)
• Patton, Francis L. The Revision of the Confession of Faith, read before the Presbyterian Social Union, New York, December 2, 1889, p. 6 [reprinted from The Independent].
There is no doubt that there is an area of tolerated divergence from the Confession of Faith. How large that area is will depend upon the degree of readiness there may be in the Church to move the ecclesiastical courts, and upon the decisions reached in the court of last resort. Historical students may tell us what the Church has thought upon the subject, and dogmatic theologians may tell us what the Church ought to think; but it is only as the General Assembly decides concrete cases in appellate jurisdiction, and the principle of stare decisis may be supposed to govern subsequent deliverances, that the area of tolerated divergence can be defined. (Emphasis added)
• Peck, Thomas E. "The Action of the Assembly of 1879 on Worldly Amusements, or the Powers of Our Several Church Courts." Southern Presbyterian Review (April 1880): 218-244; reprint in Miscellanies of Rev. Thomas E. Peck. Edited by T.C. Johnson. Richmond, VA: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1895, II.331-360.
Review of the action of the Assembly in 1879, cited by Leslie supra, provides the occasion for a masterful discussion of the nature and authority of Assembly in thesis statements, as contrasted with the authority of Assembly judicial decisions, the constitution, and the lower courts, by one of the main theorists and chief authorities on Presbyterian polity and procedure for the Southern Church. Argues Peck:
Church, United States of America. "The Plan of Union, Synods of New York
and Philadelphia." Minutes of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia.
1758, p. 3; reprinted in Minutes of the Presbyterian Church in America
1706-1788. Edited by Guy S. Klett. Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Historical
Society, 1976, p. 341.
II. That when any Matter is determined by a Major Vote, every Member] Shall either actively concur with, or passively Submit to Such Deter[min]ation; or, if his Conscience permit him to do neither, he Shall, [after] Sufficient Liberty modestly to reason and remonstrate, peaceab[ly withdraw from our Communion, without attempting to make any Sc[hism:] provided always, that this Shall be understood to extend only to [Such] Determinations, as the Body Shall Judge indispensable in Doct[rine] or Presbyterian Gover[n]ment.
III. That any member, or Members, for the Exoneration of his, or t[heir] Conscience before God, have a Right to protest against any A[ct, or] Procedure of our highest Judicature, because there is no [fur]ther [App]eal to another for Redress, and to require that Such Prote[st]ation [be] recorded in their Minutes.... And it is agreed, that Protestations ar[e only to be entered] against the publick Acts, Judgments, or Determina[tions of the Judica]ture, with which the Protester's Conscience is offe[nded.]
• Ramsay, F.P. An Exposition of the Form of Government and the Rules of Discipline of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1898, pp. 112-113.
This is a power peculiar to the Assembly; for, while the other courts decide in the sense of rendering a judgment, that judgment, if controverted, is not the DECISION of the controversy; but the Assembly's judgment is the judgment of the Church, and is, therefore, the end of the controversy. When, then, the Assembly has decided, is that a prohibition of further discussion? By no means. But the Assembly's decision in a controversy respecting doctrine is thenceforth the doctrine of the Church; and further opposition to this doctrine is opposition to the doctrine of the Church, and is permissible only within the limitations within which opposition to the doctrine of the Church is permissible. And the decision of the Assembly in a controversy respecting discipline fixes the status of the parties affected, and they are to be treated accordingly in their ecclesiastical relations by all who prefer to remain in this Church and free from its censure. (Emphasis added)