02 May 2008


Note: The posts in this series are the opinion of the author.They do not reflect, nor should they be construed to reflect, the opinions or positions of Cozen O'Connor, Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, the New Wineskins Association of Churches, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

As I will discuss later, the various “governing bodies” (session, presbytery, synod, and General Assembly) of the PC(USA) are constitutionally fashioned to have limited powers. Although referred to in the current Book of Order as “governing bodies;” traditional presbyterianism has always deemed its elected representative bodies, from the session through the General Assembly, to be judicatories or courts as opposed to legislatures. See, e.g., the ambiguous statement of Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly in amicus brief filed in the United States Supreme Court in Full Gospel Tabernacle, et al. v. Community School District 27, et al.(U.S. Supreme Court, No. 98-1714; May 26, 1999)(“ The General Assembly does not claim to speak for all Presbyterians, nor are its deliverances and policy statements binding on the membership of the Presbyterian Church. The General Assembly is the highest legislative and interpretive body of the denomination, and the final point of decision in all disputes. As such, its statements are considered worthy of the respect and prayerful consideration of all the denomination's members.” (emphasis added).)

The Kirkpatrick affidavit, repeated in numerous cases in which the PC(USA) filed "friend of the court" briefs, also undercuts the recent claim by Louisville that the PC(USA) is a hierarchical church. The statements of a legislature are mandatory, not simply “worthy of the respect and prayerful consideration.” You can bet that Pope Benedict, the head of a real hierarchical church, would never sign such a statement.

In fact, the Form of Government Task Force created by the 217th General Assembly has proposed that that term “governing bodies” be replaced by the word “councils” in the proposed new Form of Government.

Finally, the assertion by the bureaucracy that denominational polity does not provide any right to disaffiliate, that no such authority is given to a congregation, and that no such authority is delegated to the session, actually presents the foundation for the conclusion that such a power is therefore reserved to the congregation under the scheme of limited powers.

So, before we look at the powers of the congregation, we must consider the limited powers of judicatories/governing bodies/councils.

Stay tuned.

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