37. Special Rules Pertaining to Process against a Minister

  1. Process against a Minister shall be entered before the Presbytery of which he is a member.
  2. As no Minister ought, on account of his office, to be screened in his sin, or slightly censured, so scandalous charges ought not to be received against him on slight grounds.
  3. If anyone knows a Minister to be guilty of a private offense, he should warn him in private. But if the offense be persisted in, or become public, he should bring the case to the attention of some other Minister of the Presbytery for his advice.
  4. When a minister accused of an offense is found contumacious, he shall be immediately suspended from the sacraments and his office for his contumacy. Record shall be made of the fact and of the charges under which he was arraigned, and the censure shall be made public. The censure shall in no case be removed until the offender has not only repented of his contumacy, but has also given satisfaction in relation to the charges against him.

    If after further endeavor by the court to bring the accused to a sense of his guilt, he persists in his contumacy, he shall be deposed and excommunicated from the Church.

  5. Heresy and schism may be of such a nature as to warrant deposition; but errors ought to be carefully considered, whether they strike at the vitals of religion, and are industriously spread, or whether they arise from the weakness of the human understanding, and are not likely to do much injury.
  6. If the Presbytery finds on trial that the matter complained of amounts to no more than such acts of infirmity as may be amended, so that little or nothing remains to hinder the Minister’s usefulness, it shall take all prudent measures to remove the scandal.
  7. When a Minister, pending a trial, shall make confession, if the matter be base, flagitious, and of a disqualifying nature, however penitent he may appear to the satisfaction of all, the court shall, without delay, impose definite suspension or depose him from the ministry.
  8. A Minister under indefinite suspension from his office or deposed for scandalous conduct shall not be restored, even on the deepest sorrow for his sin, until he shall exhibit for a considerable time such an eminently exemplary, humble, and edifying walk and testimony as shall heal the wound made by his scandal. A deposed Minister shall in no case be restored until it shall appear that the general sentiment of the Church is strongly in his favor, and demands his restoration; and then only by the court inflicting the censure, or with its consent. The removal of deposition requires a three-fourths (3/4) vote of the court inflicting the censure, or a three-fourths (3/4) vote of the court to which the majority of the original court delegates that authority.
  9. When a Minister is deposed his pastoral relation shall be dissolved; but when he is suspended from office, it shall be left to the discretion of the Presbytery whether the censure shall include the dissolution of the pastoral relation.
  10. Whenever a Minister of the Gospel shall habitually fail to be engaged in the regular discharge of his official functions, it shall be the duty of the Presbytery, at a stated meeting, to inquire into the cause of such dereliction, and if necessary, to institute judicial proceedings against him for breach of his covenant engagement. If it shall appear that his neglect proceeds only from his lack of acceptance by the church (i.e., the people do not accept him), Presbytery may, upon the same principle upon which it withdraws license from a licentiate for want of evidence of the divine call, divest him of his office without censure, even against his will, a majority of two-thirds being necessary for this purpose.

    In such a case, the Clerk shall, under the order of the Presbytery, forthwith deliver to the individual concerned a written notice that, at the next stated meeting, the question of his being so dealt with is to be considered. This notice shall distinctly state the grounds for this proceeding. The party thus notified shall be heard in his own defense; and if the decision pass against him he may appeal, as if he had been tried after the usual forms.

    This principle may apply, with any necessary changes, to Ruling Elders and Deacons.

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