Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A "Catechism" on Church Offices

Questions on the Book of Church Order Procedures (PCA) Regarding Officer Nominations, Elections, and Nature of Office
By Ryan M. McGraw

The election of Church officers is a very important aspect of the life of the Church. Presbyterianism is rooted in the principle that the Scriptures are sufficient for Church government as a part of the faith and life of the body of Christ. However, when the biblical principles of Church government are put into practice in the local Church, it is necessary for the Church to conduct its affairs in decency and in order. The following twenty-five questions are designed to set forth the procedures relating to the nomination, election, service, and removal of elders and deacons in the Presbyterian Church of America. These questions may be useful to Church members who are unaware of their rights and role in these matters, for candidates for the ministry in the PCA, and to provide one example of the application of Presbyterian polity.

1. When are nominations for church officers to be held?
A. Nominations for church officers are to be held “At such times as determined by the Session” (BCO 24-1).

2. Are there any other occasions on which nominations are to be held?
A. “If one-fourth (1/4) of the persons entitled to vote shall at any time request the Session to call a congregational meeting for the purpose of electing additional officers, it shall be the duty of the Session to call such a meeting” (24-1).

3. Who may nominate officers?
A. “Communicant members of the congregation” (24-1).

4. How many candidates may be nominated at one time?
A. “The number of officers to be elected shall be determined by the congregation after hearing the Session’s recommendation” (24-1).

5. Must all nominees for elder and deacon be trained for the office?
A. Yes, provided that the nomination is accepted (24-1).

6. May the Session turn down nominations for the office of Ruling Elder or Deacon?
A. Yes. After training and examination, the Session is only to present to the congregation “candidates eligible for the election” (24-1).

7. How much notice must be given to a congregation before electing officers?
A. “If there are candidates eligible for the election, the Session shall report to the congregation those eligible, giving at least thirty (30) days prior notice of the time and place of a congregational meeting for elections” (24-1).

8. Who may vote in the election of Elders and Deacons?
A. “All communing members in good and regular standing, but no others, are entitled to vote in the election of church officers in the churches to which they respectively belong. A majority vote of those present is required for election” (24-3).

9. Who may be nominated and elected to church offices?
A. “Each prospective officer should be an active male member who meets the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1” (24-1).

10. May any active male member in good standing, though he is a godly man, serve in the office of Ruling Elder?
A. No. In addition to exhibiting “a sobriety and holiness of life becoming the gospel,” ruling his own household well, and having “a good report with those outside the Church,” “He that fills this office should possess a competency of human learning and be blameless in life, sound in the faith and apt to teach” (8-2).

11. What are the differences in qualifications between Elders and Deacons?
A. Although the qualifications respecting personal godliness are virtually identical for Elders and Deacons, the one qualification distinguishing Elders from Deacons is that Elders must be “apt to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2).

12. What are the differences in office between Elders and Deacons?
A. The office of Elder is primarily concerned with the oversight, government, and discipline of the church by means of teaching and applying the Word of God, whereas the office of Deacon is one of “sympathy and service,” “under the supervision and authority of the Session” (8-3; 9-1; 9-2).

13. How are the Elders of the church to govern the flock by using their gifts of teaching?
A. The Elders are to ensure “that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein,” “They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the Church,” and “set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples” (8-3).

14. What other special duties are laid upon the Elders of the Church?
A. “They should visit the people in their homes, especially the sick . . . They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock” (8-3).

15. Do these duties belong to all Elders or to one special class of Elders only?
A. The qualification of being “apt to teach” being required of all Elders, these duties “belong to those in the office of Elder, both severally and jointly” (8-3).

16. What additional duties are laid upon those who are designated “Teaching Elders?”
A. “When a man is called to labor as a Teaching Elder, it belongs to his order, in addition to those functions he shares with all other Elders, to feed the flock by reading [i.e., public reading. See Larger Catechism 156], expounding, and preaching the Word of God, and to administer the Sacraments” (8-5). [1]

17. Are Ruling and Teaching Elders equal in office and responsibility in all other respects?
A. “Elders being of one class of office, Ruling Elders possess the same authority and eligibility to office in the courts of the Church as Teaching Elders. They should, moreover, cultivate zealously their own aptness to teach the Bible and should improve every opportunity of doing so” (8-9).

18. How long does the ordination of a Ruling Elder or Deacon last?
A. “Ordination to the offices of Ruling Elder or Deacon is perpetual” (24-6).

19. May a Ruling Elder or Deacon seek to be released from the active duties of his office?
A. The offices of Ruling Elder and Deacon cannot “be laid aside at pleasure,” “yet a Ruling Elder or Deacon may have reasons which he deems valid for being released from the active duties of his office” (24-6).

20. Who determines whether these reasons are actually valid?
A. “In such a case the Session, after conference with him and careful consideration of the matter, may, if it thinks proper, accept his resignation and dissolve the official relationship which exists between him and the church” (24-6).

21. Is there any other way for a Ruling Elder or Deacon to cease exercising the duties of his office?
A. “When a Deacon or Ruling Elder becomes infirm or reaches the age of seventy (70), he may at his request and with the approval of the Session be designated Deacon or Elder emeritus”, at which time “he is no longer required to perform the regular duties of his office, but may continue to perform certain of these duties on a voluntary basis by the Session or a higher court” (24-9).

22. May a Ruling Elder or Deacon be removed from office?
A. A Ruling Elder or Deacon may be removed from office by a majority of the congregation finding him unacceptable in his service in office or by failing to perform the duties of his office for a period of one year (24-6; 24-8).

23. How is a Ruling Elder or Deacon removed from office when a congregation finds him unacceptable?
A. Although an officer is “chargeable with neither heresy or immorality,” a congregation may “without censure” declare him unacceptable “in his official capacity” by majority vote at a regularly called congregational meeting, pending approval by the Session (24-6).

24. What if the Session does not approve the congregational vote to dissolve an officer’s official relationship to the church?
A. “If the Session fails or refuses to report to the congregation within sixty (60) days from the date of the congregational meeting or if the Session reports to the congregation that it declined to dissolve such relationship, then any member or members in good standing may file a complaint against the Session in accordance with the provisions of BCO 43” (24-6). [2]

25. How is a Ruling Elder or Deacon removed from office after failing to perform the duties of his office for a period of one year?
A. “When a Ruling Elder or Deacon cannot or does not for a period of one year perform the duties of his office, his official relationship shall be dissolved by the Session and the action reported to the congregation” (24-8).

[1] This assumes a distinction between the public preaching of the word as an ambassador of Christ, and the rest of the teaching ministry which is common to both Teaching and Ruling Elders.
[2] Note that those with emeritus status may attend meetings and participate in discussion, but are not permitted to vote.