Dissolution of Pastoral Relation for Assistant Pastor - PCA BCO 23-1

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shoe

Puritan Board Freshman
BCO 22-4 says:
The relationship of the associate pastor to the church is determined
by the congregation. The relationship of the assistant pastor to the church is
determined by the Session. The dissolution of the relationship of both is
governed by the provision of BCO 23.

BCO 23-1 says:
When any minister shall tender the resignation of his pastoral charge
to his Presbytery, the Presbytery shall cite the church to appear by its
commissioners, to show cause why the Presbytery should or should not
accept the resignation.

So, in the case of an assistant pastor, how should I understand the reference to "church" in 23-1? Is the congregation where an assistant pastor serves required to appear (presumably, via her RE commissioners) before presbytery to give cause for accepting the resignation, even though the congregation didn't actually extend or dissolve the call in the first place? That seems strange. On the other hand, does "church" refer only to the Session who extended and dissolved the call? If so, who is authorized to represent the Session? As I understand it, TEs can only represent themselves at presbytery, and Sessions don't have any representation, per se, though member churches do, through their RE representatives (BCO 13-1).
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
You also need to make reference to 20-1 (the 'church' initiates the call).

Is the congregation where an assistant pastor serves required to appear (presumably, via her RE commissioners) before presbytery to give cause for accepting the resignation,

And no, no one is required to appear if they desire the resignation to be accepted:

"If the church fails to appear ... his resignation shall be accepted and the pastoral relation dissolved."
 

shoe

Puritan Board Freshman
You also need to make reference to 20-1 (the 'church' initiates the call).

In the case of the assistant pastor, my understanding is that the call is not initiated by the church, but by the session. See how only the Session is addressed and charged in 21-6 and 21-7, rather than the congregation.

Is the congregation where an assistant pastor serves required to appear (presumably, via her RE commissioners) before presbytery to give cause for accepting the resignation,

And no, no one is required to appear if they desire the resignation to be accepted:

"If the church fails to appear ... his resignation shall be accepted and the pastoral relation dissolved."

Sorry, I guess I intended to ask a slightly more narrow question: Given that BCO 23-1 requires Presbytery to cite the church to appear ("the Presbytery shall cite the church to appear by its commissioners") and given that BCO 22-4 explicitly says that BCO 23 governs the dissolution of the relation with *assistant* pastors, how should Presbyteries satisfy the requirement of BCO 23-1 with respect to assistant pastors?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
A Session of the church IS the church. It's not the whole church, not even a "sampling" of the congregation over which it presides. But, just as the church (or a local church) is present whenever it is called together--in spite of some member who may not be present--the church is present at the meeting of Session. My sense is that your sharp distinction between church (ala congregation) and session is a source of confusion.

The church is NOT "gathered" in a single Christian, but it is "where two or three are gathered together." But note also: such is a formal gathering under authority, under a discipline. In an attenuated sense, a single Christian may be said to represent the church; just as two brothers-in-Christ bumping into one another on a street may be in a sense said to represent the church; or, that an actual fellowship of believers met intentionally for a picnic or a Bible study may be said in further degree to represent their corporate identity as the church.

But if we care about what words mean, the church cannot be divided from its government, its administration. And so, the administration can often be referred to meaningfully as the church itself; inasmuch as when it meets, it is a formal gathering (and usually an announced, public meeting), with discipline.

There is another current idea, that the only church-governance that "counts" is Christ-as-my-Head. If that were true, then "me -n- Jesus" makes two: ergo, church. This view is indicative of the prevalent lone-ranger Christianity that pervades the church-world outside of the hierarchical churches (cheifly Rome and EO). The view of the Reformed, along with other mostly magisterial-Reformation churches, is somewhere in between them (the hierarchical churches teach that ecclesiastic administration and "the Religious" ARE the church per se, and the laity are second-class consumers). We do not, as a rule, accept the notion that the "body" of Christ can function or barely exist without the discipline of organization, which includes lines of authority.

Jesus' comment about "two or three" is even given in the context of church-discipline, Mt.18:20. The "two or three" Jesus is specifically referring to are leaders, elders, soon-to-be apostles of his church; and by extension, his ordinary future shepherds. His being "in the midst of them" is, in context, for the purpose of passing judgment, approving (or disapproving, if rebellious) their decisions.


This is a kind of "windbaggy" way of saying "the church" that is summoned to appear by its commissioners (PCA BCO 23-1) is certainly nothing other than the calling Session, in the case of the assistant pastor. It is not a case of "extended" language or terminology, as in "we know what you mean" type words; no, but a Session is a vital expression of THE church, even a (local) church. A local church's commissioner to Presbytery is not simply a "representative" of an "electorate," of the members who called him to office. He represents the lower judicatory as such, even as he also stands up for the laity (as does the ministry).

Having been ordained in the PCA (as an assistant pastor, too) I know the doctrine of the PCA and OPC is basically the same on this subject. I have the OPC's BCO in electronic form, and can access it and paste from it, hence this quote:

From OPC FG 12.2
These assemblies [higher/lower] are not separate and independent, but they have a mutual relation and every act of jurisdiction is the act of the whole church performed by it through the appropriate body.
 
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Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
how should Presbyteries satisfy the requirement of BCO 23-1 with respect to assistant pastors?

A letter from the Clerk of the Presbytery to the Clerk of the Session. I'd recommend certified mail, but that isn't required, and fax or email would probably work, if an acknowledgment was received.

I don't think the Handbook directly addresses your issue, but conclusions can be drawn from it. (And it probably needs to be updated when resources allow). http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/2013-Clerks-Handbook.pdf

Are you looking for recommendations for best practices, or the minimum requirements. Because ideally, the assistant pastor would have kept the session in the loop as to his plans, and the communication from the presbytery wouldn't be a surprise.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Bruce is correct.

A single commissioner (RE) from the Church would represent the Church under the provisions.
 

shoe

Puritan Board Freshman
Edward, thank you for that link. Even if it doesn't address this issue directly, I suspect it will be useful for other questions I may have.

Bruce, thank you for your thorough response. I do appreciate that the Session is not merely a representative of the church, but the church itself assembled as a court. Do I understand correctly, that you are saying that when a Session calls an assistant pastor, in some sense, it is the congregation who is calling that pastor? I'm not sure I'm fully convinced by such a close equation of Session and congregation, though, because TEs are members of the Session, but not of the congregation. Perhaps I was incorrectly thinking of REs representing the congregation, rather than representing the Session, because I figured that any member of the Session (including TEs) should be eligible to represent the Session, but TEs are not eligible as commissioners to Presbytery (being already members themselves). Perhaps this is a false premise, and REs are eligible to represent Session/church by some virtue other than simply being a member of the congregation (like simply being an RE).

In any case, I think my doubt was not so much between whether it was the Session or the congregation who was being cited, but rather between whether this representation was the same in kind as that of an exclusively RE commissioner from the lower court, or some other representation for which a TE would be eligible.

Rich is very clearly of the opinion that it's one and the same representation (thank you, Rich), which leads to my conclusion that presbytery cannot fulfill its obligation under BCO 23-1 by citing a TE as a supposed representative of the Session which is dissolving the pastoral relation.

If I'm off-track, please correct me.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Do I understand correctly, that you are saying that when a Session calls an assistant pastor, in some sense, it is the congregation who is calling that pastor?
No, because the Session is not the congregation, but each of those entities is an exhibit of the church. Again, I think I'm hearing you treat "church" and "congregation" as synonyms when they are not, strictly speaking.

The church calls its ministers to service by any of the following. Congregations extend calls. Presbyteries recognize calls and ordain men, and sometimes extend calls themselves (Presbytery being not the church but the governmental body of the church at one step higher in conception than the local church). G.A. committees extend calls for the whole. Each of these calling entities are church-exhibits. Besides calls to missionary service, I have seen Presbyteries recognize or acknowledge as calls positions of service as professors (teachers) of theology or religion in educational institutions, both college and seminary. A denomination's BCO will set the parameters of what may be legitimately termed a "call" for an ordained or ordainable man. In the PCA, the Session can call for itself because it is the governing correlate to the Presbytery, but at the lower level of administration.

The PCA assistant pastor is (I believe) conceived mainly as a staff-position. In OPC polity, there are no Sessional calls, where such a body calls in lieu of a congregation's. Not simply because I was first called and ordained in the PCA as an assistant pastor, but certainly with that experience in mind, I appreciate the basic logic of it. As an assistant pastor, I had only the authority around the local congregation that a visiting pastor or stated supply would also have, by dint of the office. The people had not called me, but the Session; and my principal duty was to fulfill the role they asked of me.

I think there was evidence that in the time I served my first call I earned from the ordinary members more than a "caretaker's" or "hired hand's" respect. With the experience behind me, I'm thankful for the avenue God brought me into his service; but it was not the path I would have chosen. Pastor-parishioner relationships are somewhat ambiguous when the membership has not been party to the call. I let my ministry do the talking, not my title.


As to your last comment, I think it is correct. Installation of a pastor requires three concurrences, three Amens: the calling body, the Presbytery, and the man. If a man wishes to resign, his departure must be concurred by two of the three. The calling body (church) is summoned to Presbytery to provide their side of the story. Are they happy to let this man go, who once accepted their call? Presbytery is not obligated to side with the minister. But if the church does not appear, then they are assumed to consent to the departure. Now, any objection Presbytery might have is opposed 2 parties-to-1. It seems to me a TE would not ordinarily be an appropriate commissioner for representing the church (the Session, in the case of the assistant pastor).
 

shoe

Puritan Board Freshman
Bruce, thank you very much for that clarification. I think you've correctly identified the source of my confusion, and it's much clearer now. With this clarity, it's pretty obvious that "the church" in BCO 23-1 means the church as exhibited in whatever body issued the call to the pastor, be that congregation, Session, or even Presbytery. This also clarifies the reason why the representative must be an RE - not because only REs represent the congregation, but because RE commissioners are the representation of the Session in the higher court.

Thank you for your patient explanation.
 
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