08 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.

So, what powers might fall within the rubric of “permissive powers?” Clearly, it is a general article or catch-all clause, intended to account for the distribution of powers not specifically mentioned but necessary to the function of the congregation and to protect it from the arbitrary exercise of unauthorized power by a “governing body.”

In this regard, § G-7.0304 is instructive. At §G-7.0304a, it provides:

a. Business to be transacted at meetings of the congregation shall include the following:
( 1 ) matters related to the electing of elders, deacons, and trustees ;
( 2 ) matters related to the calling of a pastor or pastors;
( 3 ) matters related to the pastoral relationship, such as changing the call, or requesting or consenting or declining to consent to dissolution;
( 4 ) matters related to buying, mortgaging, or selling real property (G-8.0500) ;
( 5 ) matters related to the permissive powers of a congregation, such as the desire to lodge all administrative responsibility in the session, or the request to presbytery for exemption from one or more requirements because of limited size. (Emphasis added.)

Some may opine that the list is exclusive, relying on § G-7.0304b:

b . Business at congregational meetings shall be limited to the foregoing matters (1) through (5). Whenever permitted by civil law, both ecclesiastical and corporate business may be conducted at the same congregational meeting.

However, when §G-7.0304 is read as a whole, that argument must fail, if for no other reason than that the entire section is ambiguous. The inclusion of the phrases “shall include” and “such as” clearly connote that the list is not exclusive and that other business “such as” the topics set forth may properly be “include[d].” In other words, the topics listed are by way of example.

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