The Subordination of Assemblies
37. It is agreeable to and founded on the word of God, that the church be governed by several sorts of judicatures, and one in subordination to the other, such as congregational, classical, provincial, and national, that so appeals may be made from the inferior to the superior respectively. The provincial and national assemblies are to have the same power in all points of government and censures brought before them within their several bounds respectively, as is before expressed, to belong to classical presbyteries within their several associations. An assembly has power to handle, order and redress all things omitted or done amiss in assemblies subordinate to it. And generally, these assemblies have the whole power of the particular elderships whereof they are collected.
38. An ordinary meeting of a judicature higher than the session may be described as one which takes place in consequence of an express adjournment for ordinary business from a previous ordinary meeting, or in consequence of an express appointment to the same effect by a higher court. It is necessary, at each ordinary meeting, to resolve when the next ordinary meeting shall be held, and to cause public intimation of it to be made. An in hunc effectum meeting is a meeting specially appointed by the court for the transaction of some particular business. This kind of meeting requires that the particular business, and the time and place of meeting, be specified in the minute of the immediately previous ordinary meeting, along with the resolution to meet in hunc effectum. No other business can be transacted at an in hunc effectum meeting except that for which it has been specially appointed. A pro re nata meeting is a meeting called during the interval between one ordinary meeting and another, in consequence of some unexpected business having arisen which requires to be immediately attended to. Such a meeting may be called by the moderator, either on his own motion, or in consequence of a requisition addressed to him by three or more of the members. The specific object must be distinctly stated in the circular calling it, and no other business can be transacted at it. The circular must be sent to the clerk of every session in reasonable time before the day fixed upon. When, at the time appointed for a meeting of a judicature higher than the session, two ministers, and one or more ruling elders, duly elected, have convened together, there is a valid meeting of the judicature. No meeting of an ecclesiastical judicature or committee thereof can be lawful without both a minister and a ruling elder.
39. The inferior judicatures are held responsible by the next superior judicature for the record of their proceedings being regularly and faithfully kept by their clerk. The names of all the members present must be recorded. Every minute ought to be signed, both by the moderator and the clerk. Any erasure of the minutes can be made only by authority of a superior judicature, who may call for the record at any time. It is sent up annually to the next superior judicature for examination and attestation by that body. The superior judicature may be called to exercise the right of review, through its periodical examination of the records of an inferior judicature; it must pronounce a judgment of approval or disapproval as to the correctness and accuracy with which each record is kept, requiring serious errors to be rectified. It may find any deliverance of an inferior judicature is erroneous, as exhibited in the minute, and reverse any such deliverance. Or it may declare the judgment of an inferior judicature to be null and void, because it was beyond the legitimate power of the court, or in opposition to the laws of the church. The superior judicature may also order passages of the record under review to be deleted; the minute ordering the deletion must be inserted in the record.
40. It is the duty of the clerk of a judicature higher than the session to bring forward the several matters of business in the order which he thinks best, although the presbytery may overrule his judgment. Strictly speaking, it is the part of the moderator to intimate, at each stage of procedure, what ought next to be considered. With a view to a judicature higher than the session coming to a decision upon any question, a member must make a motion on the subject. Any motion, other than the most simple, submitted to the court should be committed to writing and given in to the clerk. If, after the mover has addressed the court, the motion be not seconded, it falls to the ground, without discussion. When it is duly seconded, it is open either for unanimous adoption, or for discussion.
41. Any member of a judicature may enter his dissent from any part of their procedure. He may require his dissent to be marked in the record. In order to be received, the dissent must be given in immediately when the judgment dissented from is pronounced, and consequently can be given in by those only who were present at the pronouncing of it. If reasons for the dissent be given in along with it, both the dissent and the reasons for it ought to be engrossed in the record. If the dissent itself be duly given in, intimation may be also given that reasons for it will be added at a subsequent meeting. A simple dissent’s effect is to save a person from any censure that may arise out of the procedure, and from seeming to acquiesce in what he considers contrary to the mind of Christ.
42. A member of a judicature may also dissent and protest for leave to complain to the next superior judicature. A dissent and complaint can be received only at the time when the judgment complained of is pronounced. Reasons of dissent and complaint must be lodged with the clerk of the inferior judicature within ten days from the date of the judgment and the protest, or the complaint is held to be fallen from. The effect of a dissent and complaint is to bring the proceedings of the inferior judicature under the review of the superior. The giving in of a dissent and complaint has the effect of suspending the procedure of the inferior judicature in the matter to which the complaint relates, until either a final decision by the superior judicature be pronounced on the case, or the complaint be fallen from.
43. A party in a case which has been under consideration by an inferior judicature may appeal against their judgment to the next superior court. A appeal is taken at the meeting at which the judgment has been pronounced, and immediately on its being intimated to the party. Reasons of appeal are either stated by him at the time, and entered on the record, or, they must be lodged by him in writing with the clerk of the inferior judicature within ten days from the date of the appeal, else the appeal is held to be fallen from. The effect of an appeal is to bring the judgment under review of the superior court. An appeal, which is not considered frivolous, suspends procedure until a final judgment be pronounced regarding it by a superior court, or until it be fallen from. Complainers and appellants are entitled to such extracts from the minutes as are necessary to enable them to bring the subjects of their complaints or appeals fully before the superior court. It is the duty of any judicature to explain to parties the rules and forms of church procedure, so that no injury may be done to any cause, through ignorance of those rules and forms.
44. An inferior judicature may refer any case to the next superior judicature for advice. The whole case may be referred, or some special point of difficulty may be referred for solution. It is competent for an inferior judicature to petition a superior court, with relation to any subject within the competency of that superior court to which the petition is addressed, if the subject be not one which can come up by reference, appeal, or complaint. Any member of a congregation may present a petition to the session or to the presbytery which asks for any procedure within the competency of the court being petitioned. By their petition, if competent, petitioners become parties at the bar, and have consequently the right of appeal to the superior courts. It is competent for any presbytery or synod to transmit what is called an overture to the highest court of the church, with the view of inducing the superior court to adopt any measure within its legislative or executive functions.
45. Although the highest judicature of the church is invested with the power of regulating the whole action of the church, it is expected to act ministerially under Christ, and to carry out such rules as appear to harmonize with his own instructions in his word. Consistently with the principles of Presbyterian government, all reasonable means ought to be taken for keeping the action of the highest court in accordance with the general mind of the church, inasmuch as all the ministers and ruling elders are entitled and called upon to judge for themselves as to the mind of the great Head of the church. Still it is held that, as Christ requires good order to be maintained in his church, it is needful for the highest court to act legislatively as well as judicially. But a particular course of procedure has been devised for preventing any innovation, and for securing due deliberation and harmony in the enactment of new laws, and in the alteration of old ones.
46. When a judicature higher than the presbytery shall have been erected in the Presbyterian Reformed Church, it will be the right and duty of every presbytery of the church to take its part in the legislation of the church, by approving or disapproving of overtures transmitted by the highest court, with a view to such overtures being passed into standing laws; no acts can be passed by the highest court, so as to be binding rules for the church, until they have first been passed by the highest court simply as overtures, and transmitted in that form to the several presbyteries for their opinions, and until the consent of a majority of presbyteries has been obtained.
47. In declaring their opinion of an overture transmitted by the highest court, a presbytery must either expressly approve of it or reject it. A qualified approval, or a proposed amendment of it, is held equivalent to its rejection. At the next meeting of the highest judicature, held not less than one year and not more than two years after the assembly which transmitted the overture to the presbyteries, the returns from presbyteries are classed. If it appears that a majority of presbyteries have given unqualified approval of any overture transmitted, the court, if it be of the same mind as the preceding assembly which transmitted the overture, may pass that overture into a standing law of the church. But it is a mistake to suppose that there is any obligation upon the court to do so, or that the matter is absolutely settled through the approval by a majority of presbyteries. That approval is simply the necessary preliminary to make it competent for the highest court to pass such an act. If it appear that a majority of the presbyteries have not given unqualified approval of any overture transmitted, the court may either pass from the subject or re-transmit the overture either in the same form as before, or with alterations.
48. Until a judicature higher than the presbytery has been erected, no acts can be passed by the presbytery, so as to be binding rules for the church, until they have first been passed by an ordinary meeting of the presbytery simply as overtures, and transmitted in that form to the several sessions for their opinions, and until the consent of a majority of the sessions has been obtained. At the next ordinary meeting of the presbytery, held not less than one year and not more than two years after the meeting at which the overture was transmitted to the sessions, if it appears that a majority of the sessions have given unqualified approval of any overture transmitted, the presbytery may pass that overture into a standing law of the church. This shall be the procedure for the adoption of this Form of Government and Book of Discipline by the Presbyterian Reformed Church.
49. Inasmuch as the Basis of Union (adopted by the congregations of Bloor East Presbyterian Church and the Free Presbyterian Church of Ontario on November 27, 1965) is the constitution of the Presbyterian Reformed Church, and inasmuch as the Basis of Union declares the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (received in the uniting congregations in the texts composed by the Westminster Assembly) to be subordinate standards of the church, and the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God to be a scriptural and suitable guide for the conduct of public worship, the Presbyterian Reformed Church acknowledges that it is not competent for the church to pass any act which contravenes the doctrine, worship, or principles of presbyterian government set forth in these documents, or which alters the Formula of Subscription for Office-Bearers with the effect of loosening the commitment to this doctrine and worship or to these principles of presbyterian government.