42. Modes in Which the Proceedings of Lower Courts Come Under the Supervision of Higher Courts

  1. The acts and decisions of a lower court are brought under the supervision of a higher court in one or another of the following modes:
    1. Review and Control;
    2. Reference;
    3. Appeal;
    4. Complaint.
  2. When the proceedings of a lower court are before a higher court the members of the lower court shall not lose the right to sit, deliberate, and vote in the higher court, except in cases of appeal or complaint.
  3. While affirming that the Scripture is “the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined,”[1] and that the Constitution of Evangel Presbytery is “subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the infallible Word of God” (BCO 29.1), and while affirming also that this Constitution is fallible,[2] Evangel Presbytery affirms that this subordinate and fallible Constitution has been “adopted by the church” (BCO 29.1) “as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice” (BCO 32.1) and as setting forth a form of government and discipline “in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity” (BCO 23.6.c). To insure that this Constitution is not amended, violated or disregarded in judicial process, any review of the judicial proceedings of a lower court by a higher court shall be guided by the following principles:
    1. A higher court, reviewing a lower court, should limit itself to the issues raised by the parties to the case in the original (lower) court. Further, the higher court should resolve such issues by applying the Constitution of the church, as previously established through the constitutional process.
    2. A higher court should ordinarily exhibit great deference to a lower court regarding those factual matters which the lower court is more competent to determine, because of its proximity to the events in question, and because of its personal knowledge and observations of the parties and witnesses involved. Therefore, a higher court should not reverse a factual finding of a lower court, unless there is clear error on the part of the lower court.
    3. A higher court should ordinarily exhibit great deference to a lower court regarding those matters of discretion and judgment which can only be addressed by a court with familiar acquaintance of the events and parties. Such matters of discretion and judgment would include, but not be limited to: the moral character of candidates for sacred office, the appropriate censure to impose after a disciplinary trial, or judgment about the comparative credibility of conflicting witnesses. Therefore, a higher court should not reverse such a judgment by a lower court, unless there is clear error on the part of the lower court.
    4. The higher court does have the power and obligation of judicial review, which cannot be satisfied by always deferring to the findings of a lower court. Therefore, a higher court should not consider itself obliged to exhibit the same deference to a lower court when the issues being reviewed involve the interpretation of the Constitution of the Church. Regarding such issues, the higher court has the duty and authority to interpret and apply the Constitution of the Church according to its best abilities and understanding, regardless of the opinion of the lower court.

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