A Catechism on the Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church (1849) Continued...
NOTE: I have changed the Bible quotations to ESV throughout and noted where this differs substantially from the KJV. I have also adopted British spelling rather than the American English of the original
THE CONSTITUTION AND JURISDICTION OF CHURCH COURTS.
Q. 1. What is the nature and extent of that authority which Christ has given to the rulers of the Church?
A. It is merely ministerial and subordinate.
“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.”
2 Cor. 1: 24
Q. 2. What is meant by ministerial authority?
A. It is authority, as ministers or servants of Christ, to proclaim, apply, and execute his laws for promoting the order and spiritual edification of the Church.
Q. 3. What is meant by subordinate authority?
A. It is the subjection of the inferior to the superior Courts of the Lord’s house—as of Session to Presbytery, and of Presbytery to Synod, Synod to General Assembly and of all to Christ.
Q. 4. How is this rule or authority exercised?
A. By the Presbyters or Elders assembled in Session, Presbytery, Synod, or General Assembly.
“The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.” Acts 15:6.
Q. 5. What is a Church Session?
A. It is the Minister (who teaches and rules) along with the Ruling Elders of any particular congregation met together as a Church Court. The Minister acts as Moderator or President; and the Court thus formed may be called a Congregational Presbytery. This court, with the superior judicatories, is founded on the model of the more ancient synagogue courts, for purposes of government and discipline.
“Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs.”
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone… But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
Matt. 18:15—17. See also 1 Cor. 5:4, 13.
Q. 6. Who are subject to the authority of Session?
A. All the members of the church of which it has the oversight.
Q. 7. What is the duty of each church or congregation towards the Session?
A. To respect and uphold that authority which is given it by Christ; to render a cheerful obedience to its decisions in the Lord ; and cordially co-operate in the plans of usefulness which it recommends.
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” 1 Thess. 5:12, 13.
Q. 8. Of what does a Presbytery consist?
A. Of the Ministers of a convenient district, with a Ruling Elder from each congregation.
Q. 9. What is the extent of its jurisdiction?
A. It extends to its own members, and to the several Sessions and congregations belonging to it. It is a Court of Appeal from Sessions, and has the general oversight of the congregations under its care. An appeal lies from its decision to the Synod.
Q. 10. Of what does a Synod consist?
A. It consists of the Ministers of three or more Presbyteries with a Ruling Elder to represent each Session. In some branches of the Presbyterian church the Synod is the supreme court of jurisdiction ; but in other, more numerous and extended churches, such as those of Scotland, of Ireland, and of the United States, there is also a General Assembly, composed of a specific number of Ministers and Ruling Elders, appointed by the Presbyteries.
(NOTE: Many Presbyterian denominations no longer have Synods, but move directly from the Presbytery to the General Assembly.)
Q. 11. Does the New Testament furnish any model of Presbyterian government by such Church Courts?
A. It does, in the 15th chapter of Acts.
Q. 12. How does the 15th chapter of Acts establish that form of church government?
A. The facts therein recorded for our example, furnish its outline or general principles.
· In the church at Antioch, a question was disputed, affecting the faith and practice of all the churches of Christ. Ver. 1, 2.
· It was referred for settlement, to an assembly to be convened at Jerusalem. Ver. 2.
· The assembly consisted of the rulers of the church, but was open to the people. Ver. 6, 12.
· It acted in a deliberative capacity. Ver. 7, 12, 13.
· It decided, not by direct inspiration, but by discussion and consideration, under the ordinary guidance of the Holy Ghost. Ver. 7, 22, 28.
· One member of the assembly proposed a resolution which was unanimously adopted as its decision on the question. Ver. 19, 22.
· The decree thus enacted, was authoritative, and extended to all the churches. Ver. 28; and 16:4.
These principles are applied in government, with all the necessary and expedient details, to particular congregations, by the Session; to the churches of a convenient district, by the Presbytery ; and to the whole Church, by Synod, or General Assembly.
“But all things should be done decently and in order.” 1 Cor. 14:40