Chapter 5 : AN OVERVIEW

5.1 The Session

.01 The most visible expression of Christ's Church is the individual congregation. Government of the congregation by the session, the local assembly of presbyters, is the most direct and immediate aspect of church government.

.02 Each congregation is governed by its approved officers. In Scripture and church history these officers have been given various titles, such as elder, presbyter, bishop, overseer, shepherd, minister, or pastor.

.03 Individual congregations shall be free to use their own terminology. All the above may be described as elders. For purposes of convenience of identification, however, the following terminology applies in this BCO:

5.2 The Presbytery.

A presbytery of this denomination is a regional assembly of presbyters whose chief responsibilities include oversight of the churches and ministries in a region. It includes (1) teaching elders of local churches, and teaching elders approved by the presbytery as genuinely engaged in other works of the ministry; and (2) all presbyters delegated by sessions or appointed by the presbytery to positions in the presbytery or its churches.

5.3. The Synod.

.01 The Synod consists of presbyters appointed as commissioners by the presbyteries in consultation with their sessions and the clerk of the Synod.

.02 While it is desirable that as many presbyters as possible attend the Synod as commissioners it is also imperative that the Synod shall always be a genuinely deliberative body, which would be impossible if it were too large.

.03 As far as possible all teaching elders, and at least one ruling elder from each congregation, should attend as commissioners.

.04 No presbyter shall attend the synod as a commissioner except by appointment by his presbytery.

5.4 The Relationships of the Assemblies of Presbyters.

.01 Chapter 1 describes the governing principle of the denomination as the practice of cooperation, with determination to maintain the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-3). This principle applies to life in the local churches, in the local and wider governing assemblies of presbyters, and in the relationships between the governing assemblies.

.02 Neither an hierarchical chain of command nor deliberately neglectful disregard of the resolutions of the wider assemblies shall characterize the life of this denomination.

.03 The pattern of the relationship between the local and wider assemblies may be seen in the following summary of their roles:

5.5 Communication.

.01 For any communication to be seriously considered as the business of any assembly of this denomination it must be conveyed through orderly channels and with due regard to our presbyterian system of graded assemblies, of which the synod is the widest.

.02 Communicant members may confer directly with their individual ruling elders and their teaching elders or with their sessions in any and all matters of Christian doctrine or practice about which they are concerned. Communicant members, or groups of members, convey all of their overtures, petitions, complaints, appeals, and other communications to the presbytery through the sessions of their local churches. All communications from or through sessions of local churches, or from individual presbyters or groups of presbyters, addressed to the Synod, shall be conveyed through their presbyteries. The sessions communicate directly with their presbyteries and the presbyteries with the Synod.

.03 Sessions and presbyteries are obliged to transmit all communications properly addressed through them to the next wider assembly, but they have power to attach to such communications, when transmitted, their own recommendations, comments, or records of relevant action.

.04 The wider assemblies shall not be obliged to take cognisance of communications brought before them through other than regular channels, unless it be alleged that the assembly through which the communication should properly have been conveyed has been delinquent in the transmission thereof.

.05 The synod shall be the sole agency in this denomination for communication and transaction of business with other denominations or branches of the church, and with interdenominational agencies in which other branches of the visible church function as denominations. Local churches shall not be prevented from participation in such activities as local Bible conferences, evangelistic programmes, or interdenominational associations of local churches free from apostasy; but for local churches of this denomination to associate themselves so as to assume, singly or together, any of the functions peculiar to a denomination or branch of the church among other denominations or branches, shall be regarded as divisive and censurable.




6.1 Composition

.01 Normally several presbyters including at least one teaching elder exercise government in the congregation. They are equal in authority, though their functions may differ. Together they constitute the session, the local assembly of presbyters.

.02 Ruling elders and teaching elders shall be appointed by the majority of communicant members according to the conditions specified in the constitution or governing rules of the local church and in conformity with the requirements of this BCO.

.03 Ruling elders acceptable to the congregation may be appointed temporarily from other congregations by the presbytery when the session lacks adequate numbers.

.04 When a church is without a teaching elder the moderator of the session may be either a teaching elder appointed for that purpose by the presbytery, with consent of the session; or, with the consent of the presbytery, a teaching elder invited by the session to preside on a particular occasion, or one of its own members elected to preside. In judicial cases the moderator shall be a teaching elder of the presbytery to which the church belongs.

.05 Since the presbytery is the assembly that installs teaching elders and in which the essential membership of teaching elders is located, it is the body that deals with matters concerning teaching elders. No action shall be taken by a local church to remove a teaching elder from office, or to terminate his financial support, before a written submission is made to the presbytery explaining the reasons why the teaching elder should be removed from office, and before the presbytery (or a committee thereof) has duly consulted with the local church. At all times in this process there must be full compliance with .07 (below). Given that the presbytery cannot impose an unwanted teaching elder on a congregation the outcome of such consultation may well be that the presbytery shall be obliged to remove the teaching elder from his position. It is open, however, for the presbytery, if it so chooses, to record in its minutes that in its opinion the reasons given by the congregation for removing the teaching elder were unsatisfactory and to investigate whether the congregation should be removed from the denomination.

.06 Since the session is the assembly that installs ruling elders and deacons and since the essential membership of these officers is in the local church, the session is the body that most properly has priority in dealing with matters concerning them. No action shall be taken by a local church to remove a ruling elder or deacon from office or to terminate any financial support he might have been receiving unless there has been the fullest possible consultation with the session. Given that an unwanted ruling elder or deacon cannot be imposed by any assembly on a local church the outcome of such consultation may well be that the session shall be obliged to remove the ruling elder or deacon from his position. It is open, however, for the session, if it so chooses, to record in its minutes that in its opinion the reasons given by the congregation for removing the ruling elder were unsatisfactory.

.07 Presbyteries and sessions can take note only of honourable expressions of dissatisfaction with a teaching elder or a ruling elder or a deacon. Honourable expressions include personal approach to the man concerned, consultation with other officers, a written communication to the session, or other ways consistent with Scripture and the provisions of this BCO. It is essential that officers be protected from damaging gossip.

.08 In all cases of dealing with an officer the vows made by him and by the congregation, at his installation, and also his history of service, shall be given due weight.

.09 If any officer has openly acted improperly the appropriate assembly of presbyters must deal with him as church discipline requires.

6.2 Responsibilities.

.01 Meetings

.02 Records

    (1) The session shall elect as its clerk one of its own presbyters as competent as possible in the keeping of records.

    (2) The session shall keep an accurate and clear record of its meetings and of congregational statistics. The statistics shall include:

    • names of communicant members;
    • names and dates of birth of non-communicant members;
    • names of associate members and their home churches;
    • names of adherents.
    • details of any removals from rolls.

    (3) Records and rolls shall be open to the presbytery or its appointed representatives if required.

.03 Pastoral responsibilities.

Session roles set out in BCO 5.4.03(1) and those deducible from the Vision Statement shall be fulfilled through ministries and activities including the following:

    (1) firm and persevering development of the understanding in the congregation that all presbyters – teaching elders and ruling elders alike – are called to pastoral ministry and to responsibility for the spiritual life, worship, and Gospel ministry of the congregation;

    (2) promoting the best measures for the edification of the congregation;

    (3) oversight of the ministry of the Word and sacraments – especially by the teaching elder/elders;

    (4) encouragement of prayer;

    (5) promotion of evangelism and church planting;

    (6) Christian education for all ages;

    (7) the ministry of music;

    (8) oversight of all meetings, committees, and organisations;

    (9) open and accountable government;

    (10) family ministry;

    (11) spiritual growth of individuals

    (12) in consultation with the presbytery, arrangement of regular preaching in the absence of a teaching elder;

    (13) promotion of wholesome Christian fellowship;

    (14) general pastoral care that honours God and is compassionate to sinners;

    (15) application of the principle of male headship in church and family;

    (16) encouragement of a view of Christian life and service that involves every believer and all of life;

    (17) functioning as the sole authority for receiving people into membership and for removing people from membership;

    (18) regular review (preferably quarterly) of the Vision Statement¸ and of resolutions of the presbytery and the Synod;

    (19) ongoing, proactive stance and actions aimed at developing the benefits of being part of a connectional church;

    (20) inculcating joyful awareness of our distinctives;

    (21) inculcating openness, warmth and understanding towards other churches.

6.3 Authority

.01 Since the session is the assembly of presbyters having oversight and care of the local church all members of the congregation, including ruling elders and deacons, must abide by its decisions.

.02 Any member of the congregation who disapproves of or feels aggrieved by a decision of the session has the right to petition the session, and, if still dissatisfied, to appeal to the presbytery and, if necessary, to the synod. In such cases, petitions, appeals, etc., must pass in orderly fashion from the session to the wider assemblies.

.03 The session does not have jurisdiction over a session member who is a teaching elder, because his essential membership is in the presbytery. The session, however, may petition the presbytery about a teaching elder should it become concerned about his ministry or his life, provided that it has first endeavoured to work together with him to resolve the issues causing concern.

.04 The session shall conduct all elections to the offices of teaching elder, ruling elder, or deacon. It must decline any person nominated for election whom it regards as unsuited for the office.

.05 The Session, in exercising its power of discipline, may call before it members of the congregation and, if necessary, admonish, rebuke, suspend, dismiss from office (in the case of an officer) or excommunicate, those found to deserve censure. (More details of Church Discipline are located in Chapter 12.)




7.1 Composition

.01 The membership of a presbytery of this denomination consists of both teaching elders and ruling elders. It is a regional assembly of presbyters. (See BCO 5.2.01.)

.02 The essential membership of teaching elders is in the presbytery, to which they are accountable in all matters concerning their calling; but teaching elders may also be counted as members of the local churches in which they serve and their names be shown on the roll of communicant members.

.03 The essential membership of ruling elders is in the local church, but ruling elders delegated or appointed to the presbytery are also to be counted as members thereof and their names shall appear on the membership roll of the presbytery.

7.2 Responsibilities - organisational

.01 Sessions may delegate all their ruling elders to be members of the presbytery and they may all vote in presbytery meetings. Before any vote is taken, however, any two presbyters may call for a restricted vote. When this occurs the presbytery shall accede to the call, allowing each session two votes (normally one by the teaching elder and one by a ruling elder) on the motion before the presbytery and allowing two votes to the group of presbyters not serving in local WPC churches.

.02 The presbytery shall appoint a moderator, a clerk, and a treasurer: the moderator to be elected annually to serve for a term of one year, and the clerk and treasurer to be elected to serve for a term of three years. It is open to the presbytery to decide whether any of these officers should serve more than one term consecutively. Assistants to these officers may be elected if desired.

.03 The presbytery shall consider the advisability of accepting nominations for the positions of officers well in advance of the stated meeting at which officers are to be appointed. New officers shall enter upon their offices at the meeting following that of their election.

.04 In the absence of the moderator or clerk at any meeting the presbytery shall appoint a moderator or clerk for that meeting, using assistants if they have been elected.

.05 There shall be a minimum of four stated meetings during each calendar year and the dates and venues of all stated meetings shall be made known during the previous calendar year.

.06 Special meetings of the presbytery shall be called by the moderator and clerk, or by four presbyters of whom at least two must be teaching elders from different churches, and notified to every moderator and clerk of session at least ten days in advance. The names of those calling the meeting; the time and place of the meeting, and the particular business of the meeting, shall be clearly stated.

.07 The quorum for a meeting of the presbytery shall be at least four members eligible to vote in a restricted vote, at least two of whom shall be ruling elders and two teaching elders.

.08 The boundaries of presbyteries and the creation of new presbyteries shall be determined from within and between presbyteries and recommended to the Synod for ratification.

.09 Each presbytery shall keep accurate and clear records of all its proceedings in meetings; of its teaching elders, ruling elders, deacons, ministerial candidates under care, licentiates, ordinations, and of actions by which additions to or removals from its rolls are made.

.10 Presbytery rolls and records shall be available to authorized representatives of the Synod for examination should the need arise.

.11 Teaching elders and ruling elders in good standing in other presbyteries of this denomination or other denominations of like faith; and teaching elders and ruling elders of a presbytery who are honourably retired yet continue to fulfil recognised ministry in the life of the church, may be invited to sit with the presbytery, to deliberate and advise, but not to moderate, propose or second motions, or vote. Other Christian friends, especially members of WPC congregations, may be welcomed as visiting brethren and may be given the floor for a specific purpose by special action of the presbytery, but otherwise may not deliberate or advise and may not moderate, propose or second motions, or vote.

.12 The presbytery may appoint a commission for such purposes as it may determine.

.13 A commission consists of a minimum of three of its members, including at least one teaching elder. It appoints its own convener. Its task is to deal with matters referred to it by the presbytery and it is invested with the powers of the presbytery itself so far as those matters are concerned.

.14 The presbytery may appoint a committee for such purposes as it may determine. Preferably a committee should not number more than five or less than three. At least one of its members should be a teaching elder and at least one a ruling elder.

.15 Special committees are appointed for special business and dissolved when that business is completed.

.16 A small number of standing committees shall be established by the presbytery to handle such matters as missions, church planting, Christian education, finance, candidates. One of the standing committees shall be the moderator's committee, consisting of the moderator, the immediate past moderator, the clerk, and the treasurer. It shall have a general administrative function as well as carrying out tasks assigned to it by the presbytery and shall provide guidance for the moderator in situations requiring immediate attention. A record of its meetings and actions must be presented to each stated meeting of the presbytery.

.17 The presbytery is responsible for its own finances and debts.

.18 A presbytery shall consider incorporating if incorporation would be legally advantageous.

7.3 Responsibilities - pastoral

.01 Presbytery roles set out in BCO 5.4.03(2) and those deducible from the Vision Statement shall be fulfilled through ministries and activities including those that are shown below.

.02 The primary duty of the presbytery shall be to "care for the church of God", as Paul instructed the presbytery of Ephesus (Acts 20:28), and it shall have authority to do whatever is necessary for the churches and persons under its oversight, always respecting the liberties guaranteed to individual congregations and persons in this BCO.

.03 General summary of pastoral duties

7.4 Authority

.01 As part of its work of shepherding, the presbytery shall have authority to respond pastorally in word and deed to situations of need within local churches adhering to it, and shall offer pastoral care and support in consultation with the sessions of the churches. Such offers of pastoral care and support shall include willingness to provide for regular ministry of the Word and sacraments.

.02 Though the presbytery solely has the power to install and remove teaching elders it shall neither install a teaching elder against a majority vote of the congregation as expressed by orderly ballot in a validly called meeting nor refuse to dissolve a pastoral relationship if requested to do so by a majority vote of the congregation as expressed by orderly ballot in a validly called meeting.

.03 BCO Chapters 6.1.05 and 11 MUST be consulted for further details about installation of a teaching elder, and removal of a teaching elder by dissolution of the pastoral tie.

.04 The presbytery shall have the power to receive new churches in accordance with the provisions set out in BCO 4.

.05 The presbytery shall have the power to remove churches from its roll, and to unite two or more churches, but neither removal nor union shall be carried out without full consultation with the sessions and congregations concerned and the concurrence of each of the congregations in a valid majority vote, as defined by the local churches' constitutions or governing rules. When the union of two churches is contemplated and only one of the congregations approves the union; or when a church does not wish to be removed from the roll, the presbytery shall consider other options consistent with the provisions of this BCO. It shall always be the aim of all concerned to maintain the unity of the Spirit and to further the health of churches and the preaching of the Gospel.

.06 The presbytery shall not defer removing a church from its roll if that church, in the opinion of the presbytery, declines to conform to the doctrinal standards of this denomination. A church facing removal for such reasons may request stay of action until its case has been heard by the Synod.

.07 The presbytery shall have authority to examine the rolls and records of the local church sessions should the need arise.

.08 The presbytery has original jurisdiction over the official ecclesiastical care, licensing, and ordination of candidates for the teaching eldership. It examines candidates for the teaching eldership ordains and installs teaching elders, examines terms of calls.

.09 The presbytery shall have authority to hear and resolve all questions of doctrine and procedure, and all administrative and judicial matters, brought before it by its members, by sessions of local churches, and by communications from church members through sessions; and to condemn opinions or practices that are injurious to the spiritual life of WPC; and to declare the great doctrines and principles of the Scriptures and our standards.

.10 The presbytery is the assembly of original jurisdiction over the teaching elders who are among its members; and it is the next wider assembly beyond the church session in jurisdiction over all communicant members who are not teaching elders.




8.1 Composition.

.01 The Synod shall be composed of teaching elders and ruling elders appointed by their presbyteries as commissioners.

.02 Clerks of presbyteries shall certify the names of commissioners to the clerk of the Synod.

.03 Only presbyters appointed as commissioners shall vote in Synod meetings.

8.2 Responsibilities - organisational

.01 The regular officers of the Synod shall include a moderator who shall serve as such from the close of the Synod by which he is appointed to the end of the next regular Synod. The Synod shall also elect a vice-moderator to serve for the same term. A special meeting of the Synod may, if necessary, elect its own moderator, who shall serve for that special meeting only.

.02 Other officers shall include a clerk and a treasurer, both of whom shall serve, preferably, for a term of three years. It is desirable that a competent clerk and a competent treasurer each be elected to succeed himself for as many terms as possible. Assistants to these officers may be elected if desired.

.03 A Synod meeting may extend over several days and may include any number of sittings.

.04 Stated meetings of the Synod shall occur at least once every two years, or more frequently if the Synod so decides. Each meeting shall be at a time and place designated by the previous regular meeting or at least three months in advance by a duly authorized committee.

.05 At the first sitting of a regular meeting of the Synod the moderator appointed at the close of the previous regular meeting shall conduct or arrange for a worship service in which the Word is preached and the Lord's Supper celebrated.

.06 Special meetings of the Synod shall be called at least thirty days in advance by the moderator or clerk at the written request of presbyters not all from the same presbytery and numbering at least one third of the number of commissioners at the previous regular Synod meeting. The call shall state clearly the time, place, and business of the meeting.

.07 No meeting of the Synod shall bind the actions of any subsequent meeting except in amendments to the Doctrinal Standard and the BCO (carried out as prescribed in Chapter 13) or in matters of liabilities and obligations legally and properly incurred.

.08 Incorporation should be effected if legally advantageous.

8.3 Responsibilities – pastoral

Synod roles set out in BCO 5.4.03(3) and those deducible from the Vision Statement shall be fulfilled through ministries and activities including those that are shown below.

.01 Function as the bond of union and fellowship among the presbyteries.

.02 Promote peace and confidence among the presbyteries and the churches adhering to them.

.03 Hear all judicial and administrative matters properly brought before it and decide the same in accordance with the Scriptures and the BCO.

.04 The Synod shall have powers of general review of the records and proceedings of any presbytery should such review be necessary.

.05 The Synod shall take cognisance, through all honourable channels of knowledge and evidence, of situations within the presbyteries that require correction, and shall cause whatever administrative and judicial cases that may be necessary for correction to be initiated and resolved in the proper assemblies.

.06 The Synod shall advise concerning, and resolve if necessary, all questions of doctrine or practice properly brought before it.

.07 The Synod shall promote and sustain the scriptural functions of the church wherever it is able to do so.

.08 The Synod shall deal with matters common to the presbyteries.

8.4 Authority

.01 When necessary, in consultation with the presbyteries the Synod shall determine the boundaries of presbyteries, and form new presbyteries.

.02 The Synod shall have power to dissolve a presbytery if it appears that the presbytery is unable to function or if it departs from the doctrine or procedure of this denomination and refuses to repent after extensive fraternal counselling. Notice of the intended dissolution must be sent to the clerk of the presbytery two calendar months prior to the regular meeting of the Synod in which the proposed act of dissolution is to occur. Any request from the presbytery to delay the dissolution shall be granted, but unless the presbytery declares, no later than three months after the regular Synod meeting, its repentance and willingness to abide by the standards of the denomination, or at least its genuine desire to receive further help to amend its ways so that it may be able to remain in the denomination, the clerk of the Synod shall notify the clerk of the presbytery that the dissolution has become effective.

.03 Dissolution of a presbytery does not dissolve any local churches nor depose presbyters. If a presbytery is dissolved the Synod shall inform sessions how they may remain in this denomination if they so desire. They may be assisted to form a new presbytery or assigned to existing presbyteries.

.04 The Synod may exercise any of its powers by its officers or by its commissions, committees, or boards, but it shall not delegate any of its powers beyond its own recall.

.05 The Synod shall have no power to coerce or in any way compel the local churches or the people to support its own or other enterprises or agencies, although it may commend its own and other enterprises to the churches and the people for their support.