Original jurisdiction in relation to Ministers of the Gospel pertains exclusively to the Presbytery, and in relation to other church members to the Session, unless the Session shall be unable to try the person or persons accused, in which case the Presbytery shall have the right of jurisdiction.
It is the duty of all church Sessions and Presbyteries to exercise care over those subject to their authority; and they shall, with due diligence and great discretion, demand from such persons satisfactory explanations concerning reports regarding their Christian character. This duty is more imperative when those who deem themselves aggrieved by injurious reports shall request an investigation. If such investigation, however originating, should result in raising a strong presumption of the guilt of the party involved, the court shall institute process, and shall appoint a prosecutor to prepare the indictment and to conduct the case. This prosecutor shall be a member of the court, except that, in a case before the Session, he may be any communing member of the same congregation with the accused.
The original and only parties in a case of process are the accuser and the accused. The accuser is always Evangel Presbytery, whose honor and purity are to be maintained. The prosecutor, whether voluntary or appointed, is always the representative of the Church, and as such has all its rights in the case. In appellate courts the parties are known as appellant and appellee.
Every indictment shall begin: “In the name of Evangel Presbytery” and shall conclude, “against the peace, unity and purity of the Church, and the honor and majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ as the King and Head thereof.” In every case the Church is the injured and accusing party, against the accused.
An injured party shall not become a prosecutor of personal offenses without having tried the means of reconciliation and of reclaiming the offender, required by Christ: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.”
A church court, however, may judicially investigate personal offenses as if general, when the interests of religion seem to demand it. So, also, those to whom private offenses are known cannot become prosecutors, without having previously endeavored to remove the scandal by private means.
When the offense is general, the cause may be conducted either by any person appearing as prosecutor, or by a prosecutor appointed by the court.
When the prosecution is instituted by the court, the previous steps required by our Lord in the case of personal offenses are not necessary. There are many cases, however, in which it will promote the interests of religion to send a committee to converse in a private manner with the offender, and endeavor to bring him to a sense of his guilt, before instituting actual process.
Great caution ought to be exercised in receiving accusations from any person who is known to indulge a malignant spirit towards the accused; who is not of good character; who is himself under censure or process; who is deeply interested in any respect in the conviction of the accused; or who is known to be litigious, rash, or highly imprudent.
Every voluntary prosecutor shall be previously warned, that if he fail to show probable cause of the charges, he must himself be censured as a slanderer of the brethren, in proportion to the malignity or rashness manifested in the prosecution.
When a member of a church court is under process, all his official functions may be suspended, at its discretion; but this shall never be done in the way of censure.
In the discussion of all questions arising when a member of a church court is under process, the accused shall exercise the rights of defendant only, not of judge.