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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 15 : Ecclesiastical Commissions

Paragraph 1 : Definition and Duties of a Commission


15-1. A commission differs from an ordinary committee in that while a committee is appointed to examine, consider and report, a commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business referred to it, except in the case of judicial commissions of a Presbytery appointed under BCO 15-3. A commission shall keep a full record of its proceedings, which shall be submitted to the court appointing it. Upon such submission this record shall be entered on the minutes of the court appointing, except in the case of a presbytery commission serving as a session or a judicial commission as set forth in BCO 15-3. When a commission is appointed to serve as an interim Session, its actions are the actions of a Session, not a Presbytery. Every commission of a Presbytery or Session must submit complete minutes and a report of its activities at least once annually to the court which commissioned it.

HISTORICAL SUMMARY:
In 1987, the Ad Interim Committee on the General Assembly proposed amending BCO 15-1, 15-3 and adding new paragraphs 15-4 and 15-5 as part of a restructuring of the judicial business of the General Assembly. The matter was sent down to the Presbyteries for their advice and consent. With a reported Presbytery vote of 29 in favor and 13 against, the 16th General Assembly (1988) then voted to adopt these changes [see M16GA, 16-10, Item 1, pp. 88-89].
Other amendments to this paragraph have occurred in 1994 [M22GA, 22-10, Item 1, p. 52]; 1997 [M25GA, 25-17, Item 3, p. 116]; and 2000 [M28GA, 28-12, Item 2, pp. 57-58].

ANTECEDENT TEXTS:
PCA 1973, 16-1, M1GA, p. 136
A Commission differs from an ordinary committee in this, that while a committee is appointed to examine, consider and report, a Commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business referred to it. It shall keep a full record of its proceedings, which shall be submitted to the court appointing it, which if approved, shall then be entered on its minutes, and regarded and treated as the action of the court. In the event of complaint or appeal against an action of a Commission, such complaint or appeal shall be made to the court appointing said Commission.

Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 16-1, Proposed text, p. 19
A Commission differs from an ordinary committee in this, that while a committee is appointed to examine, consider and report, a Commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business referred to it. It shall keep a full record of its proceedings, which shall be submitted to the court appointing it, which if approved, shall then be entered on its minutes, and regarded and treated as the action of the court. In the event of complaint or appeal against an action of a commission, such complaint or appeal shall be made to the court appointing said Commission.

PCUS 1933, XVIII, § 92
and
PCUS 1925, XVIII, § 92
A Commission differs from an ordinary committee in this, that while a committee is appointed to examine, consider and report, a Commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business referred to it. It shall keep a full record of its proceedings, which shall be submitted to the court appointing it, entered on its minutes, and regarded and treated as the action of the court.

PCUS 1879, V-7-1
Commissions differ from ordinary committees, in this, that while the committee is appointed simply to examine, consider and report, the commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business submitted to it, subject, however, to the review of the court appointing it. To this end full records of its proceedings shall be submitted to the court appointing it, which, if approved, may be entered on the minutes of that court.

PCUS 1869 draft, V-7-1
Commissions differ from ordinary committees in this, that while the committee is appointed simply to examine, consider, and report,
the commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business submitted to it, subject, however, to the review of the court appointing it. To this end full records of its proceedings shall be submitted to the court appointing it, which, if approved, may be entered on the minutes of that court.

PCUS 1867 draft, V-7-1
Commissions differ from ordinary committees in this, that while the committee is appointed simply to examine, consider, and report, the commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business submitted to it, subject to the review of the court appointing it. For this purpose it must always keep full records of its proceedings, to be submitted to the court appointing it, which, if approved, may be entered on the minutes of that court.

OTHER COMPARISONS:
UPCNA, 1911, XIX-§80 Definition.
A Commission is an agency invested with the power of the Court appointing it, and authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business committed to it. Such Commissions may be appointed by any Court to act in matters to which the full Court cannot, without great inconvenience, attend, or in which the ends of government may be attained more judiciously by a smaller selected body than by the full Court.

COMMENTARY:

F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order (1898, p. 117-118), on V-7-1:
Section VII.--Of Ecclesiastical Commissions.
The first paragraph defines a commission ; the second, specifies certain things that may properly be done by commission ; the third, indicates within what limitations judicial cases may be tried by commission ; and the fourth directs how the general work of evangelization shall be carried on by commission.
92.--I. Commissions differ from ordinary committees in this, that while the committee is appointed simply to examine, consider and report, the commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business submitted to it, subject, however, to the review of the court appointing it. To this end full records of its proceedings shall be submitted to the court appointing it, which, if approved, may be entered on the minutes of that court.
A commission is a committee, but a committee appointed to conclude the business, while an ordinary committee is appointed to report upon the business, that the appointing court may conclude it. The commission concludes the business in the sense in which an inferior court concludes a business, subject to the review of the court above. The conditions of that review are somewhat different. In the case of an inferior court, several ways of review are provided ; but the conclusions of a commission are always reviewed in hearing or inspecting its records, and in no other way. Its conclusion stands as that of the court appointing it, unless modified or reversed by that court at its review of the records of the commission ; but this conclusion, as any other decision, may be carried up to a higher court, except where the General Assembly confirms or sets aside the conclusion of a commission of itself. While it helps to prevent confusion, to reserve the term committee for only such committees as are not appointed to conclude a business, and commission for only such committees as are appointed to conclude a business, yet, if a court neglects this distinction in terms, a committee appointed by it is really a commission or not, according as it is or is not appointed to conclude a business.

AMENDMENTS:

1987 - Proposed amendment from the Ad Interim Committee on the General Assembly
[M15GA, 15-43, Exhibit "B", p. 106]
Amended 15-1.A commission differs from an ordinary committee in that while a committee is appointed to examine, consider and report, a commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business referred to it. It shall keep a full record of its proceedings, which shall be submitted to the court appointing it. If the concluding actions of the commission are approved, it shall become the action of the court and entered on its minutes. There may be no complaint or appeal from a final decision or judgment of the General Assembly. Every commission must be appointed by the court which constitutes it, except the Standing Judicial Commission of the General Assembly which shall be elected as provided in BCO 15-4.
1988 - Adopted by the 16th General Assembly of the PCA, on report of a Presbytery vote of 29 in favor, 13 against [M16GA, 16-10, Item 1, pp.. 88-90].

1993 - Overture 26 from Northeast Presbytery
[M21GA, 21-56, III, Item 19, pp. 143-144.
"Amend BCO 15-1 to Require Annual Review of Minutes of Commissions."
Whereas, under some circumstances a commission does not complete its work within a year; and
Whereas, under such circumstances the court establishing the commission may not have opportunity to review, amend, or approve the work of such a commission for a considerable time; and
Whereas, in circumstances wherein individuals wish to complain or appeal the actions of such a commission, they may not lawfully do so until the report is approved by the court, and are thus prohibited a timely redress of grievances, and
Whereas, the period for review of sessional and presbytery records is annual,
We therefore overture the General Assembly to amend BCO 15-1 by adding the following as the third sentence:
"Every commission must submit complete minutes and a report of its activities at least once annually to the court which has commissioned it."
and amending the fourth sentence of 15-1 to read:
"If the commissioning court approves actions contained therein, they shall become the actions of the court."
so that BCO 15-1 would read in its entirety:
"15-1. A commission differs from an ordinary committee in that while a committee is appointed to examine, consider and report, a commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business referred to it. It shall keep a full record of its proceedings, which shall be submitted to the court appointing it. Every commission of Presbytery or Session must submit complete minutes and a report of its activities at least once annually to the court which has commissioned it. If the commissioning court approves actions contained therein, they shall become the actions of the court. There may be no complaint or appeal from a final decision or judgment of the General Assembly. Every commission must be appointed by the court which constitutes it, except the Standing Judicial Commission of the General Assembly which shall be elected as provided in BCO 15-4."
Adopted at the January 1993 Stated Meeting of Northeast Presbytery. Attested by: /s/ Philip J. Adams, Stated Clerk.
1994 - Adopted
by the 22nd General Assembly of the PCA, following a Presbytery vote of 42 in favor, 7 against [M22GA, 22-10, Item 1, p. 52].

1996 - Recommendation from the Ad Interim Committee on Judicial Procedure,
[M24GA, 24-17, B., 4., I., pp. 73-74.]
I. BCO 15-1 and 15-5
Issue:
Decisions of the Standing Judicial Commission made final, yet with the possibility of a minority report.
Proposed amendments
1. Substitute for current BCO 15-1 the following:
"15-1. A commission differs from an ordinary committee in that while a committee is appointed to examine, consider and report, a commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business referred to it, except in the case of judicial commissions of a Presbytery appointed under BCO 15-3. A commission shall keep a full record of its proceedings, which shall be submitted to the court appointing it. Upon such submission this record shall be entered on the minutes of the court appointing, except in the case of a presbytery commission serving as a session or a judicial commission as set forth in BCO 15-3. Every commission of a Presbytery or Session must submit complete minutes and a report of its activities at least once annually to the court which commissioned it."
1997 - Adopted
by the 25th General Assembly of the PCA, following a Presbytery vote of 45 in favor, 5 against [M25GA, 25-17, Item 3, p. 116-118]

1999
- Overture 10 from Pittsburgh Presbytery, "Interim Sessions," [M27GA, 27-44, III, 4, p. 162-163].
Pittsburgh Presbytery overtures General Assembly, asking that BCO 15-1 be changed as follows, by adding the language underlined and in bold, in order to clarify the difference between a Presbytery commission appointed as an interim Session, and other Presbytery commissions.
"15-1. A commission differs from an ordinary committee in that while a committee is appointed to examine, consider and report, a commission is authorized to deliberate upon and conclude the business referred to it, except in the case of judicial commissions of a Presbytery appointed under BCO 15-3. A commission shall keep a full record of its proceedings, which shall be submitted to the court appointing it. Upon such submission this record shall be entered on the minutes of the court appointing, except in the case of a presbytery commission serving as a session or a judicial commission as set forth in BCO 15-3. When a commission is appointed to serve as an interim Session, its actions are the actions of a Session, not a Presbytery. Every commission of a Presbytery or Session must submit complete minutes and a report of its activities at least once annually to the court which commissioned it."
Rationale: Unlike most Presbytery commissions, an interim Session appointed by Presbytery does not act as the Presbytery. It is commissioned by the Presbytery to have the powers and authority of a Session, not the powers and authority of a Presbytery. If there is a complaint against some act or decision of the interim Session, that complaint would first be made to the court whose act or decision is alleged to be in error - i.e., to the interim Session, not to the Presbytery. Likewise, if an interim Session renders a judgment in a judicial case, any appeal should first be filed with the Presbytery, not with the General Assembly. This was most recently stated in Judicial Case 92-10, B_____ vs. Ascension Presbytery [M21GA, 1993, p. 224]. In that case, the B_____s appealed to the Presbytery after they had been excommunicated by the Presbytery-appointed interim Session of their church. The Assembly adopted the unanimous ruling of the SJC that the case was administratively out of order since the next higher court (i.e., Ascension Presbytery) had not first heard the appeal. The additional sentence proposed in this change would make this more clear.
Adopted by the Pittsburgh Presbytery at its regular stated meeting on January 30, 1999. Attested by /s/ Lee Capper, Stated Clerk.
2000 - Adopted by the 28th General Assembly of the PCA, following a Presbytery vote of 49 in favor, 1 against. [M28GA, 28-12, Item 2, pp. 57-58].

CONSTITUTIONAL INQUIRY:
1985 - Constitutional Inquiry 5: From the Presbytery of Eastern Canada. [M13GA, Appendix I, Item 5, p. 240]
"The request for clarification out of several exceptions to the Minutes...by the Committee on Review and Control of Presbyteries....
...(E)xception #5 reads "Standing Rule 16 makes the Administration Committee a permanent commission, contra BCO 15...
...Can Presbytery allow an exception to the WCF on the part of a church officer if it deems that the exception does not undermine the system of doctrine set forth in the WCF and does not strike at the vitals of religion?....
...(E)xception #2 reads: 'Improper to add: "church history" and "the history of this denomination" to the licensure exam'. BCO 19-2 states the exam "shall be as follows", so nothing may be added.' Does the phrase...mean nothing may be added to the licensure examination?
Finally, what is the force of the Report of the Committee on Review and Control of Presbyteries?..."
ANSWER:
1. Standing Rule 16 in effect makes the Administrative Committee into a commission with unlimited powers. A commission is to be limited to specific matters committed to it (BCO 15-1). If Standing Rule 16 were to be amended to specify which matters were to be committed to it as a commission, it might be then in compliance with the BCO.
With respect to the exception to Presbytery minutes of 8/4 - 6/83 (Exception #1); the CJB points out to the Presbytery that this exception is cited by General Assembly action. The options open to Presbytery are:
a. Petition the General Assembly to rescind the exception;
b. Proceed - under protest - to re-examine the minister;
c. Comply.
2. As to Presbytery allowing an exception which does not undermine the system of doctrine as set forth in the WCF and does not strike at the vitals of religion, Presbytery may do so. The CJB does not know of any past action regarding WCF XXVII:4.
3. With respect to the exception of Presbytery minutes (8/4 - 6/83) adding "church history" and "the history of this denomination" to the licensure exam (BCO 19-2) (Exception #2), the CJB points out that the Unified Curriculum (BCO 21-4) covers these subjects (Minutes Sixth General Assembly, p. 87, item 4).
Presbytery may ask candidates any question from the Unified Curriculum (BCO 21-4). The list of subjects for examination (BCO 19-2) for licensure is complete. Additional subjects may not be added to that list. Examination in additional subjects may not be used to fail a candidate.
4. As to the force of the Report of the Committee on Review and Control of Presbyteries: CJB points out that the exceptions made by the Committee on Review and Control have been approved by the General Assembly. They are binding unless rescinded by the General Assembly. Presbytery must abide by them. Presbytery has the privilege to appeal to the General Assembly to rescind its previous action.
1985, 13-45, III, 47, p. 108. That the advice regarding Constitutional Inquiry 5 be ratified as amended. Adopted.



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I. King & Head of Church
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