Friday, May 29, 2015
Review of Presbytery Records
Since I have posted a number of things from RPR this week, some have had questions about what we are and what we do. So here goes, in a somewhat idealized fashion.
The PCA is a connectional denomination, which means that churches are mutually responsible to one another. The way that is expressed in Presbyterian government is in church courts (which are not the same as civil or criminal courts). At the lowest level is the session, which is the ruling body of the local church, made up of the minister (Teaching Elder, TE) and Ruling Elders (REs). Over the churches in a particular geographical location is the presbytery, made up of TEs and REs from the sessions of the churches in that region. Above the presbyteries (of which there are 82 in the PCA) is the General Assembly (GA), which is the national body, and which meets annually in a gathering made up of TEs and REs from the churches. Each court above the session is to exercise “review and control” (R&C) over the courts below it. So the presbytery exercises R&C over the local churches, and the GA exercises R&C over the presbyteries. What that means is that the presbytery is to review the actions of the various local sessions every year to make sure that everything is being done decently and in order (1 Cor 14:40 is the “life verse” of Presbyterianism). Additionally, every year the GA is to review the actions of the presbyteries, toward the same end.
Presbyteries are responsible for such things as the examination of men for ordination as ministers, taking men training for the ministry under care and oversight, overseeing pastors and their relationships with their churches, and similar matters. Each year, each presbytery is to submit its minutes to the GA for review to make sure that everything that has been done is not only something that should have been done, but also that it has been done in the proper manner. That review is carried out by the Committee for the Review of Presbytery Records. The RPR is made up of one representative from each presbytery. It meets at the denominational headquarters in Atlanta about a month (although this year it was only two weeks) before the annual meeting of the GA. Before that meeting, all of the presbytery records are distributed to the members of the RPR. Usually, each member receives 2-3 sets of minutes to review, and is given guidelines for that review. This is referred to as a first reading. Each set of presbytery records is given two first readings, by RPR members who are not members of that presbytery. These first readings are done before the actually meeting of RPR.
Then, at the meeting of RPR, the minutes are reviewed again by teams of two, looking particularly at matters noted by the first readers (again, no member of RPR may review the work of his own presbytery). In any of these readings, anything improper that has been done (such as approving an inadequately trained man for ordination) is flagged as an “exception of substance.” Anything that has been done in an improper fashion is flagged as an “exception of form.” Once this “second reading” has been done, all the results are compiled in a master list in alphabetical order by presbytery. The RPR then goes through this master list, discussing each exception and evaluating its correctness. The exceptions of substance are compiled into the final report of the committee that goes to GA, where it is discussed and voted on. Exceptions of form are sent back to the presbyteries for their education. Any exceptions of substance that are approved at GA are sent back to the presbyteries for a formal response to the next year’s GA. Those responses are also reviewed by RPR and are flagged as either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” For the latter, the presbytery must offer a better explanation and defense of what was done.
That is in brief the work of RPR. As someone once said, Catholics go to purgatory; Presbyterians go to RPR. Or, it takes a special kind of crazy to actually enjoy the work of RPR.