Continuing today with our journey through the Rev. R.P. Kerr’s little book, PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE, we come today to chapter 7. [erroneously labeled as Chapter VI. in our print copy.].
THE ASSEMBLIES OF THE CHURCH.
The great principle of government by representative assemblies may be applied under many different forms and names, but still remain the same. Indeed, this is the advantage which a government of principle has over one of form, allowing elasticity and adaptability to the various conditions of mankind. Neither the number nor the names of the assemblies which govern a Church are essential to its Presbyterianism.
A body of Christians isolated from the Church by any cause might organize themselves under the Presbyterian principle and elect an assembly of elders. They might call it a Session or a Consistory—which is the name used in some branches of the Presbyterian Church—or they might invent some other designation for it. They might have no other assembly; a small body would need but one. If they grew, they must have higher assemblies; continuing to increase, they would organize higher ones still, until at last they would arrive at the order of assemblies which obtains in most Presbyterian bodies, and which is as follows:
I. The SESSION, or CONSISTORY;
II. The PRESBYTERY, or CLASSIS;
III. The SYNOD, or PARTICULAR SYNOD;
IV. The GENERAL ASSEMBLY, or GENERAL SYNOD.
All these are Presbyteries, of different names, rank and powers, arranged in an ascending scale. First comes the church Session, Consistory or lowest Presbytery.
I. THE SESSION.
This body is composed of not less than two ruling elders, if there be so many, and the pastor. The number of elders is not limited, and in some congregations it is very large. The duties of the Session, in common with all other assemblies of the Church, are administrative and judicial. In spiritual things no body of men on earth have any legislative power, in the strict meaning of that term. The Bible is the only law-book of the Church. Our Books of Order and Deliverances are but interpretations of divine law, entitled to respect and obedience so long as they conform to the inspired word, and liable to change whenever change may seem best to the Church. These interpretations ought to be observed by all, unless they violate an important principle; then it is the duty of those who differ to endeavor by lawful means to have them changed.
The Session adminsters for the congregation in spiritual things, and the deacons administer in temporal affairs, subject to the review of the Session. The Book of Order of the Presbyterian Church in the United States [the body embracing mainly the Presbyterian churches in the Southern States.] gives the following summary of the duties of this body.
“The church Session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the church, for which purpose it has power to inquire into the knowledge, principles and Christian conduct of the church-members under its care; to censure those found delinquent; to see that parents do not neglect to present their children for baptism; to receive members into the communion of the church; to grant letters of dismission to other churches, which, when given to parents, shall always include the names of their baptized children; to ordain and install ruling elders and deacons on their election by the church, and to require these officers to devote themselves to their work; to examine the records of the proceedings of the deacons; to establish and control Sabbath-schools and Bible classes, with especial reference to the children of the church; to order collections for pious uses; to take oversight of the singing in the public worship of God; to assemble the people for worship when there is no minister; to concert the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the church and congregation; to observe and carry out the lawful injunctions of the higher courts; and to apppoint representatives to the Presbytery and the Synod, who shall on their return make report of their diligence.”
The church Session is required annually to send its record to the Presbytery for review.
We will visit these sections of this longish chapter next Saturday:
II. THE PRESBYTERY.
III. THE SYNOD.
IV. THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY.