PART 4

PROCEDURES

 

 

Chapter 9 : STEPS TO THE OFFICES OF PRESBYTER AND DEACON

9.1 Steps to Ordination to the Vocation of Teaching Elder in the Office of the Presbyterate.

.01 Final authority for the preparation of men for ordination to the vocation of teaching elder is vested in the presbytery. It may recommend any theological schools it considers appropriate but the successful completion of courses of study shall not be deemed equivalent to approval, by the presbytery, for ordination.

.02 Though presbyteries may differ in the details of procedures the following provisions must be observed.

9.2 Status of Teaching Elder

.01 When a man is ordained to the vocation of teaching elder he becomes a member of the presbytery in whose bounds he resides and the clerk shall enrol him as such. If he is called to a particular church his name may also be added to the church's roll of communicant members but from the point of view of jurisdiction he is a member of the presbytery.

.02 If a teaching elder desires to leave his vocation he shall notify the presbytery and the presbytery shall allow a year for appropriate counselling. If after a year the teaching elder still desires to leave his vocation the presbytery shall record the facts of the case in its minutes and erase his name from the roll of teaching elders.

.03 A teaching elder may properly engage, if necessary, in remunerative employment outside of church structures. If, however, he should pursue such employment for five years (or a period decided by his presbytery), and fail, for reasons other than age or disability, to exercise the functions of the teaching eldership, the presbytery shall determine, after counselling, whether he should remain in the teaching eldership, and deal with him accordingly.

.04 The presbytery has the right to transfer the name of a teaching elder from its roll of members to its non-voting associate members' roll if, for more than one year, he is not genuinely engaged in the work of the ministry. Removal of a teaching elder's name from all the rolls of a presbytery shall occur if he transfers to another presbytery, or moves to the oversight of another ecclesiastical body, or if he voluntarily demits the teaching eldership, or declares himself independent of the presbytery, or if he is deposed by judicial process according to chapter 13 of this Book of Church Order, or if he dies.

.05 Teaching elders who are not teaching elders of local churches but are genuinely engaged in the work of the teaching eldership, such as in teaching, evangelism, Christian educational or missionary administration, shall have the same rank as other presbyters in the assemblies of the church.

.06 A teaching elder who is not a called teaching elder of a local church should be careful to set an example by attendance at regular services for worship and prayer. Such men are encouraged to attend a local WPC congregation for regular worship and fellowship. Exemptions to this requirement, or selection of the local church, should be made in consultation with the presbytery. The teaching elder's name may properly be recorded on the roll of members of the church, but he should refrain from voting in congregational meetings. He must exercise great care not to undermine the installed teaching elder or be party to any disaffection. He is eligible for appointment as a ruling elder, if approved by the congregation and the session. He may serve in any way deemed helpful by the session. The essential membership of a teaching elder appointed as a ruling elder and not engaged in another work of the teaching eldership shall be the same as that of a ruling elder (see BCO 7.1.02, 7.1.03). Since he is ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament, however, he may preach and administer the sacraments if asked, and in these activities he is accountable to the presbytery.

.07 An ordained teaching elder is at liberty to preach the Gospel in any community, with due respect for the legally constituted authorities responsible for the premises in which he may preach. He shall not preach or teach in any church contrary to the orders of the session thereof. All teaching elders shall carefully avoid stirring up dissension in the flocks of other teaching elders, and a teaching elder shall not receive secret accusations against other presbyters, since to do so is explicitly forbidden in the Scriptures (1 Timothy 5:19). If a teaching elder has reason to fear that a fellow teaching elder is in error, he shall proceed in obedience to Scripture (Galatians 6:1) and shall carefully avoid the sin of the talebearer or of the busybody.

.08 If a teaching elder intends to move to another presbytery of WPC he shall request formal transfer and shall not be admitted to the presbytery to which he wishes to transfer until he has sustained its examination of his doctrine and life.

.09 When an officer of another denomination seeks admission to this denomination as a teaching elder he shall be examined by the presbytery to which he applies in exactly the same way as a candidate for ordination and he shall also present to the presbytery testimonials from the denomination in which he previously served.

9.3 Steps to Ordination to the Vocation of Ruling Elder in the Office of the Presbyterate.

Nomination and examination.

9.4 Steps to Ordination to the Office of Deacon.

Nomination and examination.

 

 

Chapter 10 : ELECTION AND INSTALLATION OF RULING ELDERS AND DEACONS

10.1 Ruling Elders.

.01 The session shall commend to the congregation men who have sustained their examinations for the vocation of ruling elder.

.02 Election of ruling elders from among those commended by the session shall be by orderly ballot of the local church in accordance with the principles of Scripture and the local church constitution.

.03 Elected ruling elders, if not previously ordained to that vocation, shall be ordained as set out beneath. Although the session is the ordaining and installing body it is desirable that at least three other presbyters appointed by the presbytery should assist the session.

.04 An ordination service shall include:

.05 In cases where a previously ordained ruling elder is to be installed the elements in the above service outline should be suitably modified.

10.2 Deacons.

.01 The session shall commend to the congregation men who have sustained their examinations for the office of deacon.

.02 Election of deacons from among those commended by the session shall be by orderly ballot of the local church in accordance with the principles of Scripture and the local church constitution.

.03 Elected deacons, if not previously ordained to that office, shall be ordained as set out beneath, by the session.

.04 An ordination service shall include:

.05 In cases where a previously ordained deacon is to be installed the elements in the above service outline should be suitably modified.

 

 

Chapter 11 : TEACHING ELDERS: CALLS; INSTALLATION; RESIGNATION; DISMISSAL.

11.1 Call and Installation of Teaching Elders.

.01 When a local church desires to appoint a teaching elder the session shall seek to bring suitable candidates to the attention of the congregation.

.02 The session shall form a committee from communicant members of the congregation to aid in the search for a suitable candidate.

.03 Any communicant member may propose a candidate to the session and its committee.

.04 When the session and its committee are persuaded of the suitability of a certain licentiate or teaching elder; and when they have reasonable assurance that he would be available if called; then a proper and legal meeting of the congregation shall be called in accordance with chapter 3, for the purpose of issuing a formal call.

.05 Determination of the percentage of voters deemed desirable for issuing a call is a matter for the local church, but a call ought not to be issued if a large minority of voters opposes it after sincere attempts have been made to secure their agreement.

.06 When the congregation agrees to issue a formal call it shall be prepared by the session in consultation with the congregation, approved by the congregation, signed by those communicant members who support it, or by a committee acting for the congregation. If the latter, the presiding officer shall certify that the persons signing have been appointed by the congregation to do so.

.07 The call shall include:

.08 Copies of the call must go simultaneously to the candidate concerned, to the presbytery, and if the candidate is from another presbytery a copy should also go to that presbytery. The presbytery in which the candidate will serve must also be informed of the circumstances leading up to the issuing of the call.

.09 The call becomes effective in securing the teaching elder or licentiate called, after

    (1) the presbytery of which he is a member has ascertained that he wishes to accept the call;

    (2) any existing pastoral relationship has been dissolved;

    (3) any necessary change of presbytery membership has occurred;

    (4) the recipient of the call, if a licentiate, has been examined and ordained;

    (5)the teaching elder has been officially installed by the presbytery in the church that called him.

.10 No church shall issue a call to a teaching elder from another denomination until he has been examined and approved by the presbytery.

.11 At the service of installation the new teaching elder shall answer affirmatively the questions in BCO 2.4

.12 The people of the congregations shall also answer affirmatively the following questions:

    (1) Do you, the people of this congregation, continue in your readiness to receive ……………… whom you have called to be a teaching elder in this church?

    (2) Do you promise to give him all that honour, encouragement, and obedience, in the Lord, to which he, according to the Scriptures, the Constitution of this church, and the denominational Book of Church Order, is entitled?

    (3) While he serves as your teaching elder will you continue that material provision for him which you have promised?

.13 The moderator shall declare the installation effected and the session shall take appropriate steps to welcome the new teaching elder.

11.2 Resignation of Teaching Elders.

.01 If a teaching elder desires to leave the position in which he has been installed he shall notify the session and the presbytery simultaneously at least three months before the date of his intended departure.

.02 If, after discussion with the session, the teaching elder continues in his desire to resign, the session shall advise the congregation.

.03 The congregation may appoint representatives to appear on its behalf at the next stated presbytery meeting or a special presbytery meeting called to deal with the resignation.

.04 If the congregation fails to appear, or if its reasons for retaining its teaching elder are deemed insufficient by the presbytery, the presbytery shall give the teaching elder leave to resign from his position, and due record shall be made by the clerk of the presbytery.

11.3 Dismissal of Teaching Elders.

.01 Dissatisfaction with a teaching elder for non-disciplinary reasons must not be allowed by members to become an item of gossip or character assassination or an excuse for their leaving the church. It must be dealt with in obedience to the Scriptures and that entails, at the very least, prayerful, open, frank, and honourable discussion, with all participants remembering their relationship in Christ, and the necessity, even at such a difficult time, of making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

.02 The session shall devise procedures by which members can, without embarrassment, raise concerns and enter into discussion that is constructive. Presbyters from other sessions may be called upon for help and advice, and assistance may be sought from the presbytery.

.03 If, after extensive discussion, it appears that a significant number of members have made sincere, but unsuccessful, efforts to accept the continuance of the teaching elder, and if it seems that the peace of the church would be better served by the dissolution of the pastoral tie, the session shall call a meeting of the congregation to request the presbytery to effect the dissolution.

.04 BCO 6.1.05-6.1.08 shall be taken into account by the presbytery in its dealing with the congregational request.

.05 If procedures result in the dissolution of the pastoral tie the congregation must provide materially for the teaching elder for a period of at least three months from the date on which the dissolution becomes effective. Such material provision shall include payment of the teaching elder's stipend and of any other monies to which he is entitled by his terms of call and any subsequent provisions.

.06 The presbytery has the right to depose teaching elders guilty of heresy or immorality. Due process must be followed to ensure the teaching elder receives a fair hearing. The principle of "innocent till proven guilty" shall be enforced and there should be zero tolerance of gossip. (See BCO 12, CHURCH DISCIPLINE.)

 

 

Chapter 12 : CHURCH DISCIPLINE.

12.1 Nature and Purpose of Discipline.

.01 Discipline is the exercise by the church of those commands enjoined in Scripture, or clearly inferred therefrom, for the correction or prevention of evil within the church.

.02 Discipline is included within the broader concept of edification and its purpose is the preservation of the purity and good order of the church (Acts 5:1-11; 15:1-31), the spiritual welfare of its members, including the reclamation of offenders (1 Corinthians 5:5), and the strengthening of its witness to the world (Romans 12:17; 1 Corinthians 14:23-25; John 13:35).

12.2 Scriptural Principles in the Exercise of Discipline.

.01 The underlying principles in the exercise of discipline are chiefly set forth in the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 18:15-17, and in the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. However, the Scriptures in their entirety must be observed without neglect of any relevant passage (c/f Westminster Confession of Faith, chapters 1 and 9).

.02 From Matthew 18:15-17, Luke 17:3, and 1 Corinthians 5:1-3; 6:1-4, the steps in the exercise of discipline can be inferred as follows:

.03 The following scriptural principles are directly related to the exercise of discipline:

    (1) All persons concerned should examine their own hearts in the light of Matthew 5:43-45; 6:12, 14, 15; 7:12; 18:21-22; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:32-36; Ephesians 4:32. Unforgiveness or desire for revenge must not be allowed to influence the persons exercising discipline. (It can be inferred from this principle that those who are involved in exercising discipline and especially those who sit in judgment should, if their personal interests are involved, disqualify themselves.)

    (2) The Lord has commanded in Matthew 5:23-24 that when a person is conscious that a brother has a charge of wrongdoing against him he should not engage in formal worship before doing his part toward a reconciliation. (It can be inferred from this principle that those who are involved in exercising discipline and especially those who sit in judgment should, if they are conscious of any offence held against them, rightfully or wrongfully, by the person being charged, before discipline proceeds, make every reasonable effort to achieve reconciliation.)

    (3) Certain passages, such as Matthew 5:39 and Luke 6:29, indicate that in some circumstances wrongdoings should not be cause for grievance and should be tolerated in love. (From this principle it can be inferred that there are cases where no disciplinary action should be taken by the party offended. In such cases the glory of God is more clearly manifested by taking no action.

    (4) Although in the Jewish Commonwealth God ordained an elaborate system of jurisprudence, in the exercise of discipline the church must guard against the extremes of:

      1. the mere external observation of such a system;

      2. the denial of the principles of grace and equity contained therein which express God's holy and gracious character.

    (5) Before proceeding, those individuals or assemblies who believe discipline necessary shall carefully consider the scriptural principles relating to the exercise of discipline.

    (6) At any stage of discipline only evidence of a factual nature should be received.

    (7) It is also recognised that there are some cases in which appeal to the civil courts is a proper procedure, but such a step should only be taken after every effort has been made to follow the principles set out above.

12.3 Jurisdiction of Church Assemblies.

.01 In the exercise of discipline this church does not have jurisdiction over persons outside the church.

.02 In the church the appropriate bodies before which matters involving the exercise of discipline are brought are the session, the presbytery, and the Synod, any of which may appoint a judicial commission or a court to hear the matter.

.03 Nature and extent of jurisdiction:

.04 Notwithstanding the above, the assemblies of this church have a general and continuing obligation to exercise pastoral oversight of this church as a whole and of each part of it.

.05 Members dismissed to other local churches, or teaching elders dismissed to other presbyteries of this church, shall be subject to the jurisdiction of the local churches, or the presbyteries, that dismissed them, until they are received by the other local churches, or presbyteries.

12.4 Formal Exercise of Discipline – Preparation for Trial.

.01 Formal judicial hearings by a court appointed by an assembly shall proceed in a formal manner according to the rules of procedure and evidence and shall be initiated by the laying of a charge.

.02 A charge may be laid by a communicant member of this church or by any assembly or duly appointed committee thereof.

.03 A charge is laid when:

.04 In considering whether to issue a statement containing the details of the charge, the assembly should have regard to:

    (1) whether the scriptural steps in the exercise of discipline have been or are being observed;

    (2) whether the alleged offence is of such a nature that the matter should be heard in a formal manner; and

    (3) whether the matter should be referred to a judicial commission.

.05 No charge shall be laid if it is brought more than two years after the alleged commission of the offence, unless there is evidence of repetition or similar offences and the offence is unrepented of and uncorrected.

.06 Once a charge has been laid the appropriate assembly shall decide either to appoint a court composed of the assembly as a whole or of certain members thereof or to refer the charge to another assembly. If a court is appointed the appropriate assembly shall also appoint a moderator and clerk who shall keep a full record of all proceedings.

.07 Within two weeks of the charge being laid the assembly shall inform the accused of the court that will hear the charge and convey to him/her details of the charge together with a list of witnesses and the time and place of the trial.

.08 Each party shall be entitled to the assistance of counsel. No person who is counsel in a particular hearing may sit in judgment at any stage of the trial.

.09 In a trial initiated by an assembly the assembly shall appoint one of its members as prosecutor. He shall have no part in the deliberations or decisions of the court.

12.5 Formal Exercise of Discipline – Procedure During Trial.

.01 Every trial involving a charge of heresy shall be open. All other trials shall be open unless the court determines at its own discretion and at any stage of the trial that it shall be closed.

.02 Before every trial the moderator shall exhort the court to bear in mind its responsibility in accordance with the Word of God.

.03 At the beginning of the trial the parties may challenge the right of any member of the court to sit in such a case. Such challenge shall be decided by a majority of the other members of the court.

.04 The charge shall be read and the accused shall be asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

.05 The accused may at any stage of the trial object to either the regularity of the proceedings or the legal sufficiency of the charge.

.06 The court shall allow the parties to call such witnesses as they desire.

.07 Any person may be a witness in a trial if he/she makes the following promise and the court is satisfied that he/she understands the effect:

    I solemnly promise in the presence of the all- knowing and heart-searching God that I will speak the whole truth concerning the matters on which I am called to testify, as I shall answer to Almighty God.

.08 If the accused requests, witnesses shall give evidence separately.

.09 The accused shall be entitled to be present during the trial.

.10 If an accused refuses to appear before the court, the court may appoint counsel to represent him/her and may try him/her in his/her absence.

.11 In order to establish the truth or falsity of a charge the court shall not rely on the evidence of one person alone.

.12 The court may at its discretion hear third parties who may appear either personally or by counsel.

.13 Each party may sum up its case at the end of the trial.

.14 The court may reach its decision immediately or reserve its decision until a later date.

.15 Only members of the court who have been present during the whole of the trial shall be allowed to participate in a decision.

.16 If the court finds the accused guilty the court shall determine the appropriate action to be taken.

.17 The court shall not put into effect its decision if its decision is appealed from unless and until its decision is affirmed by the court of appeal.

.18 Any member of the court who dissents from the decision is entitled to have his dissent recorded.

12.6 Formal Exercise of Discipline – Forms of Censure.

If the accused is found guilty, the court, in deciding what action ought to be taken, shall have regard for the following forms of censure:

12.7 Restoration.

.01 A teaching elder, ruling elder, or deacon who has been dismissed, cannot again take office without being ordained.

.02 Persons who have been subjected to censure and who have been duly restored ought to be received by the church with thanksgiving.

12.8 References, Referrals, and Appeals.

.01 A case may be moved to a wider assembly by either:

.02 Once a decision has been reached both parties have the right of appeal.

.03 Where an appellate court decides to hear an appeal it shall give reasonable notice of the hearing of the appeal to all parties.

.04 An appellate court may either:

    (1) dismiss the appeal;

    (2) allow the appeal;

    (3) after making a determination on a particular point request the lower court to re- hear the case.

.05 In any appeal, a member of the lower court shall not be a member of the appellate court.

 

 

Chapter 13 : AMENDMENTS

13.1 Book of Church Order.

Amendments or alterations to the Book of Church Order (except as provided for in Section 2 of this chapter) may be made only in the following manner.

The Synod, after due discussion, may propose changes to the presbyteries, but they shall not be regarded as having constitutional validity until they have been approved in writing by a majority of presbyteries before the next ensuing Synod; and it shall be the duty of that Synod to ensure that such changes have been adopted and are in effect. This does not apply to Chapter 3.8.03, 3.8.04 of this Book of Church Order, which are unamendable. Presbyteries may overture the Synod to send down suggested amendments to the Book of Church Order.

13.2 The Westminster Confession of Faith.

Amendments or alterations to The Westminster Confession of Faith and to the forms of subscriptions required of teaching elders, licentiates, ruling elders, and deacons, as these forms are found in the Book of Church Order, shall not be regarded as having constitutional validity unless sent down to the presbyteries by a two-thirds vote of the Synod, approved by two-thirds of the presbyteries in writing, and finally adopted by a two-thirds vote of the Synod next ensuing. Before any of the changes described in this section are proposed to the presbyteries, the Synod shall appoint a committee to consider the proposed changes and to report to the next Synod.

13.3 Restriction of Right to Amend.

No assembly has the right to set aside any part of the Book of Church Order unless and until the majority of the presbyteries have voted to set aside that particular part.

 

 

APPENDIX 1. Subscription to the Subordinate Standard.

Presbyteries and sessions shall be vigilant in upholding the subordinate standard of this church as embodying the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. To this end an assembly shall require candidates for the offices of deacon and presbyter to submit in writing to the clerk of the appropriate assembly the points of doctrine (if any) at which they diverge from the subordinate standard of the church. The assembly shall then consider any professed exceptions as follows.

1. Exceptions to form, where the candidate professes the doctrine of the subordinate standard, but in words other than those of the standard.

2. Exceptions in sense, where the candidate supposes he understands the standard in some sense differently from how the standard has been historically understood by the assembly.

    An exception in sense, if judged by the majority of the assembly to be in essential agreement with the standard's teaching, may then be freely taught.

3. Exceptions of substance, where the candidate disagrees with the standard's teaching, credibly believing the Scriptures teach otherwise.

    In this case no exception shall be permitted by which any chapter of The Westminster Confession of Faith may be rejected in its entirety or in respect of its main features.

    If the exception is found permissible the candidate shall be approved only on condition that:

      (1) He shall not be permitted to teach in opposition to the standard.

      (2) He must be able and willing to teach the doctrine of the standard with sympathy and deference, and bring his practice into conformity with the standard's teaching.

      (3) He shall be permitted to express his own conscience on the matter in the course of his teaching on the subject.

      (4) He shall be permitted to advocate his views peacefully and respectfully before the assemblies of the church in order to try to persuade the church to modify its standard.

4. No assembly shall permit any exceptions of substance except as set forth above, and then only with the approval of ¾ of the members of that assembly, subject always to the review of the wider assemblies.

5. Whenever an exception of substance is permitted the assembly concerned shall make a full record of the exception, including a citation of the portion of the standard excepted, and a brief statement of the candidate's views.

6. These provisions may only be amended by the same method as prescribed for the amendment of The Westminster Confession of Faith.