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[7th General Assembly (1979), 7-23, p. 77-85.]


At 9:00 p.m. the Rev. Donald A. Dunkerley presented the report of the Ad-Interim Committee on Number of Offices carried over from the Sixth General Assembly, beginning with prayer.

The Ad-Interim Committee on the Number of Offices in the Church has been assigned the task of determining whether the office of Elder is one office or two. Do Ruling and Teaching Elders have the same office, or are they separate offices? Those who hold that Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders have two distinct offices hold to the "three-office view," that the officers in the church are Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders and Deacons. Those who hold that there is only one office of Elder hold to what is known as the "two-office view," that the officers in the church are simply Elders and Deacons.

Closely related to this question are a number of practical questions having to do with relationships between Pastors and Assistant Pastors, Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders, Teaching Elders and Licentiates.

The issues are difficult and have required much study. It began when the First General Assembly (1973) appointed an Ad-Interim Committee to Study the Question of Ruling Elders Administering the Sacraments. This committee was divided when it reported to the Second General Assembly (1974), and so that Assembly appointed an Ad-Interim Committee to Study the Question of the Number of Offices in the Church. That Committee reported to the Third General Assembly (1975), but the Assembly did not act on their report, and appointed another Ad-Interim Committee on the Number of Offices in the Church and charged it, "to include in its report exegetical defenses of both the two-office and three-office views" (3-83). This new Ad-Interim Committee gave a preliminary report to the Fourth General Assembly (1976), but indicated that it had not been able to complete its work and was appointed to continue for an additional year. That year is now up. The Church has completed four years of study on the part of three ad-interim committees, including one which lasted for two years. Two members of the present Ad-Interim Committee were also members of the second Ad-Interim Committee, thus providing continuity.

Our report will consist first of a discussion of the eldership and whether it comprises one or two offices; second, a discussion of other issues referred to our Committee; and third, a number of study papers presented as appendices to this report.

The report of this Committee to the Fourth General Assembly included "A Preliminary Study of the Two-and-Three-Office Theories," which gave biblical background and historical information on the controversies over this subject, and material on the two points of view. This paper is to be found in the Minutes of the Fourth General Assembly.

Arguments exclusively for a two-office view are to be found in the report of the previous Ad-Interim Committee in the Minutes of the Third General Assembly.

Arguments for an exclusively three-office view-point are to be found in the paper, "A Brief for Church Governors in Church Government," by Edmund P. Clowney, which is included as an appendix to this report.

Our Committee has seen a possible solution to the dilemma in a statement by the noted Southern Presbyterian theologian, Robert L. Dabney, Professor of Theology at Union Theological Seminary, Richmond, Virginia, from 1869 to 1883. Dr. Dabney; wrote an article, "Theories of the Eldership," which originally appeared in the "North; Carolina Presbyterian," September, 1860, and was republished in Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, Volume II, which was first published in 1891, and reprinted in London by the Banner of Truth Trust in 1967. In the paper, Dabney states his position thus: "There is one class of presbyters embracing two orders, the preaching elder and the ruling elder."

That statement puts Dabney on the side of the two-office view, and yet his recognition of two orders within the one class of Elder enables him to hold on to the distinctiveness of the Ministry of the Word by the Teaching Elder, which is the great virtue of the three-office view.

It must be recognized that Dabney is borrowing terminology from the field of biology when he used the words "class" and "order." Biological definitions embrace narrowing classifications such as class, order, family, genius and species. Dabney's statement about two orders of Elders should not be confused with the completely, different use of the same word in speaking of "holy orders" in the Roman Catholic priesthood.

The Committee has come to feel that the differences between two-office and three-office views may be reconciled by this analogy from biology. This analogy also helps us to clarify the confusion that exists when some speak also of Teacher and Evangelist as separate offices, which has been done in the Reformed tradition.

The following chart helped to clarify the situation for us:




When some talk about two offices in the Church, they are thinking on the level of "class." When other talk about three offices in the Church, they are thinking about the level of "order." When some talk about additional offices in the church, such as Pastor, Teacher, and Evangelist, they are thinking on the level of "family." This chart has put the subject into perspective for our Committee, and we would resolve the question of the number of offices in the words of Dabney: "There is one class of presbyters embracing two orders, the preaching elder and the ruling elder."

Dr. George W. Knight, III, of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, met with our Committee and shared with us his view, "there is one office of Elder with two functions." We find this remarkably similar to Dabney's view of one office with two orders. Someone has nicknamed this "the two-and-a-half-office view." We asked Dr. Knight to prepare a paper on his position, and that paper is presented as an appendix to this report. It contains some material which was presented in the report of the previous Ad-Interim Committee to the Third General Assembly, but it also contains a considerable amount of new material. (See Appendix A.)

A Teaching Elder on this Committee, Donald A. Dunkerley, has prepared a paper, "Ministers of the Word," which defines the distinctiveness of the Ministry of the Word by those ordained as Teaching Elders. Although Dunkerley's paper maintains the emphasis on the distinctiveness of the Ministry of the Word that has been the principle of the three-office view, Dunkerley agrees with the two-office view as defined by Dabney or Knight. His paper is presented as an appendix to our report. (See Appendix B.)

A Ruling Elder in this Committee, the Chairman, Judge Robert H. Kirksey, has written a paper on the order of Ruling Elder, which is also presented as an appendix to this report. (See Appendix C.)

It is important to note that in reaching the final conclusion and recommendation, two overriding factors were given high importance. One: that the Bible is not a detailed textbook of church government and that any polity must of necessity seek to allow for some diversity of views while maintaining unity in the Church; and two: that since church government is largely based in the requirement that God has sovereignly set forth to maintain good order and discipline in all things, the conclusions reached set forth in the Committee's view the best possible order and discipline for the Presbyterian Church in America today.

It is our hope that those who study the reports to previous General Assemblies and the study papers appended to this report will agree with the following recommendations:

Recommendation No. 1:
That the General Assembly affirm that the Scriptures teach that in addition to the fundamental office of all believers, there are also special perpetual classes of office in the Church, Elder and Deacon; and that there are within the class of Elder two orders, Teaching Elder and Ruling Elder. Adopted

Recommendation No. 2:
That the General Assembly encourage each Presbytery and Session to conduct training workshops for Elders and Deacons, stressing the areas of Scriptural requirements for the office; knowledge of the Westminster Standards and the Book of Church Order; and practical matters of application of shepherding the flock. Adopted

Recommendation No. 3:
That the General Assembly calls the attention of each Session to the provisions of the BCO (25, 1-4) relative to procedures for the nomination and election of men to the Ruling Eldership and to the Diaconate, and encourage them to seek every possible way of ensuring that only those who are qualified and trained serve in these offices in the future. Adopted

Recommendation No. 4:
That the General Assembly reaffirm the historic Presbyterian position expressed in LC 158, that none should preach the Gospel but those who are called and gifted of God; and therefore only those men who are properly ordained or licensed may preach in the pulpits of the PCA; and that Ruling Elders be allowed and encouraged to renew the historic practice of exhorting the people of God (See Rec. No. 5, paragraph D.). Adopted

Recommendation No. 5:

(Note: The BCO has been amended to reflect this position.)



Overture No. 11 to the First General Assembly, is still before this Assembly awaiting answer (See page 49 for complete text of overture). It is to be noted that this overture stems from a time when a church was required to have a presbytery-appointed Teaching Elder as moderator of the Session, which is no longer true in the PCA. This was the principle reason stated for submission of the overture. Now a church without a Pastor may have its Session moderated by one of its own Elders.

The overture, if adopted, would reverse the present situation that a congregation, in calling a pastor, is also electing him as moderator of Session, and a Presbytery, in installing a pastor, is also installing him as moderator of Session. It would provide that the pastor of a church might serve as a member of Session while the Session elects a Ruling Elder from its midst to serve as moderator.

Our Committee prefers the present situation for several reasons:

1. The one example that we have in Scripture of the proceedings of a church court, the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, indicates that this court was presided over by James, a Teaching Elder.

2. The general practice of Christian churches from the time of the apostles until today is that local church courts are presided over by their ministers. Abandonment of the practice would not only mean giving up a practice which has proven beneficial for hundreds of years, but would put us out of step with other Christian Churches including, particularly, those of the Presbyterian and Reformed family of churches.

3. Church courts above the Session level seek to express parity with a numerical balance of Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders. On the Session level there is usually only one, or at most a few, Teaching Elders to a much larger number of Ruling Elders. It helps to preserve parity by giving the moderatorship to one of the minority of Teaching Elders.

4. The Teaching Elder is a member of Presbytery and has been installed by Presbytery, and his role as moderator helps to strengthen the connection with Presbytery that is an essential part of the Presbyterian system.

5. When the Teaching Elder serves as moderator of the local church's governing body, the connection between the government of the local church and the teaching of the Word of God is emphasized. Should the Teaching Elder cease to serve as moderator, there is a danger that in some places he would be regarded as the hired administrative secretary of the church Session rather than an officer of the Session. Courts above the Session level have many Minister members, but none of them is especially installed as Minister of the Word to that court, so the situation is analogous to a church without a Minister in which either a Ruling Elder or Teaching Elder can moderate.

Therefore your Committee makes the following recommendation:

Recommendation No. 6:
That the General Assembly answer Overture No. 11 to the First General Assembly from the McIlwain Memorial Presbyterian Church, Pensacola, Florida, in the negative. Adopted


This is one of the issues in which there has been consistent agreement by all the Committees. A paper by a Teaching Elder on the Committee, Chaplain Don K. Clements, which speaks to some of the central Biblical issues involved in the question is included in the Appendix. (See Appendix D.) We respectfully recommend the following be adopted:

Recommendation No. 7:
That the General Assembly answer Overture No. 4 to the Second General Assembly from the First Presbyterian Church, Belzoni, Mississippi as follows:
1. In answer to request number one, we would affirm that the ordination of Elders is to a particular order within the class of Elders, either Teaching Elder or Ruling Elder. Both orders of Elder include certain functions which are listed in Scripture, among which we find: exhortation (Titus 1:9); convincing the gainsayers (Titus 1:9); keeping out heresy (Titus 1: 9-11 and Acts 20: 29-31); feeding the flock (Acts 20:28 and I Peter 5:2); speaking the Word of God (Hebrews 13:7); exercising government (Hebrews 13:7, 17); oversight of the congregation (Hebrews 13:17); praying for the sick (James 5:14); and others. In addition, the order of Teaching Elder includes the additional functions of the public preaching of the Word (Acts 26:16-18; Romans 10:14; Romans 15:16; I Cor. 4:1); and administering the Sacraments (John 1:33, I Cor. 11:23): plus such things required in the contemporary pattern of church life and custom as performing marriage ceremonies and officiating at funerals.

2. In answer to Request No. 2, we would again affirm that ordination is to a particular order within the class of Elders. However, since the class of Elder includes various functions, not limited to the pastorate, we would affirm that it is proper for a Teaching Elder to serve in and to be ordained upon satisfactory evidence of a call to such teaching functions as the following: Missionary, Evangelist, Chaplain (military or institutional), Church Executive or Administrator, Seminary Professor, Teacher of Bible or Religion in college, university, or Christian school.

3. In answer to Request No. 3, since both historically and by definition, the concept of parity does not refer to equality of numbers but rather equality of condition, rank, and value, and, therefore, since the office of Elder is not limited to the pastorate; therefore the current practice of the church to permit Teaching Elders other than full-time Pastors to serve on committees of the higher courts and to have franchise in those courts is in keeping with the concept of parity.

4. In answer to Request No. 4, we would affirm that all unordained personnel, both men and women, such as, administrative assistants, directors of Christian Education, secretaries, music directors, youth workers, teachers in the local church school, Session-operated Christian Day Schools, or employees or appointees of one of the Committees of the General Assembly or other court of the Church shall be approved by, and are under the jurisdiction of, the Court of the church or committee by which they are employed, and under the ecclesiastical discipline of their local church. The appropriate examination, certification, and regulation of their work shall be determined and administered by the court or committee under which they will be working. In the case of a committee employee or appointee, the type of examination, certification, and regulation will be subject to the approval of the court of jurisdiction.


Of all the questions before this Committee, this one has provided the most discussion in the Church and the most division among brothers. It was the lengthy discussion of the minority report on the floor of the Second General Assembly which brought the initial formation of this special Ad-Interim Committee. Papers included in the Appendix to this report, (Majority and Minority Reports of the Ad-Interim Committee to the Second General Assembly and "Ministers of the Word," by Donald A. Dunkerley), present some of the basic issues involved. Your Committee finds that there is one overriding factor which forces us to the conclusion that we have reached that only Teaching Elders should be allowed to administer the Sacraments in the PCA. And that factor is the clear prohibition of any other performing these tasks by our Confessional Standards. The Confession of Faith, Chapter 27, Section IV, states: "There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained." In addition, Larger Catechism Question No. 176 states: "The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper agree, in that the author of both is God; the spiritual part of both is Christ and His benefits; both are seals of the same covenant; are to be dispensed by ministers of the gospel, and by none other." If the PCA were to make the major change of allowing Ruling Elders to administer the Sacraments, it would be necessary that major changes be made to our Confessional Standards. While the Standards must never be set above the Scriptures as the rule of faith and practice, yet we have certainly given strong testimony to their lasting quality and trueness to the Scriptures, and changes should only be made when there is clear and overwhelming evidence, biblically, that they are wrong. We find no such evidence in the case of administration of the Sacraments. The administration of the Sacraments, by its very nature, is a proclamation of the Word of God by example, and as practiced consistently throughout most of Reformed Church history, should only be done in conjunction with the preaching of the Word. The continuation of this practice is necessary to continue good order in the Church.

In response to the question raised by the motion from the floor at the First General Assembly concerning the administration of the Sacraments by the Ruling Elders (see Minutes of the First General Assembly, 1-39, p. 34), your Committee would recommend the following:

Recommendation No. 8:

That the General Assembly affirm that in keeping with the Confessional Standards of the Church, only properly ordained Teaching Elders may administer the Sacraments. Adopted


Stemming from this discussion of the administration of the Sacraments, the entire question of the nature and purpose of licensure arose. There is little in writing specifically on the history of licensure, and only dedicated searching of writers and church historical documents can shed much light on the subject. By implication, the Westminster Standards, "Directories for Public and Family Worship," and "Form of Church Government indicate that there is a definite need and reason for the testing of the gifts of a man who may be called to preach. This testing period has developed into the current practice of licensure, whereby the Presbytery puts an official stamp on the man as he tests his gifts prior to ordination. Various Presbyterian communions in the United States utilize licensure in different ways. Some require a minimum period prior to ordination with no waivers granted. Others nearly ignore it by completing both the requirements for licensure and ordination at the same time. Even within the PCA, there is a difference in practice between the various Presbyteries at this time. In keeping with the stress on ordaining only those men who are truly gifted and called to preach to serve as Teaching Elders in the Church, it is imperative that licensure be utilized to the fullest degree possible. This Committee does not feel it has been mandated to make broad changes in the nature of licensure especially to the extent of setting a required period. However, we do believe there is a great need for study and discussion on this issue in the Church, and we would call upon local Sessions, Presbyteries, and other committees to examine this matter closely, with a view to the possibility of bringing an overture to a subsequent General Assembly, thus maintaining the practice of effecting additional change from the grassroots and not simply from the top down.

At the same time, it is felt that the practice of licensing men who are not in a period of testing their gifts leading toward ordination should be discontinued. If preaching is to be limited only to those who are gifted and called to that function, then licensure must be limited to those who are seeking ordination and are testing their gifts and calling. Therefore, your Committee makes the following recommendations in this category.

Recommendation No. 9:
That the General Assembly affirm that the purpose of licensure is to test for a definite period of time the gifts and calling of men seeking ordination in the PCA, and that the practice of licensing Ruling Elders not seeking to become Teaching Elders be discontinued. Adopted

Recommendation No. 10:
That the General Assembly give initial approval to the following change to the Book of Church Order, submit it to various Presbyteries for their approval, and resubmit it to the 1978 General Assembly for final approval and inclusion in the Book of Church Order:

Delete Section 20-2 and renumber the following sections accordingly. Adopted

It is the sincere hope of your Committee that the recommendations we have made above are in keeping with the teaching of Scripture and the will of God for the Church at this time. We earnestly desire that the General Assembly come to a decision on these matters and finally dismiss this Committee. May God grant us all a blessing: r for having pursued the study of these issues, and through it all may our eyes be lifted up to see Jesus Christ, the King and Head of His Church.

(Clerk's Note: The papers referred to as being appended to this report are found in the Minutes of the Fifth General Assembly, where this report was first printed.)

The previous question on the report as a whole was moved and carried, and the full report was adopted as amended.

On motion the Assembly voted to amend the Rules for Assembly Operation, 11, by adding following the word "sermon" the words "or exhortation."