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Act 14, 1846 (XIV) – Declaratory Act anent Election of Office-Bearers. 1st June 1846.

In conformity with the Report and Interim Act transmitted to Presbyteries for their opinion by the last and preceding Assemblies, on the subject of the Election of Office-bearers, said Report and Interim Act having been approved of by a majority of Presbyteries—

THE General Assembly declare, that it is not necessary or expedient at present to frame a minute and detailed directory for regulating the Election of Office-Bearers ; that the Church should be satisfied with a recognition of general principles, and the adoption of one or two general rules ; and that reliance should be placed, in the mean time, upon the spirit which seems generally to actuate both the judicatories and congregations of the Church, for avoiding the necessity of judicially determining some points on which a diversity of opinion might exist, and yet securing general harmony in the appointment of Office-Bearers, and the peace and welfare of congregations.

The Assembly declare that the principle has been already recognised, and should be fully and fairly acted on, that ” it appertaineth to the people, and to every several congregation,” that is, to the members of the congregation in full communion with the Church, ” to elect their Minister ;” and they farther declare, that it is a principle of Presbyterian Church Government, that the whole proceedings of a congregation connected with the appointment of a Minister should be conducted under Presbyterial superintendence, and that, while this principle requires that the actual election and call of a Minister by the congregation should take place in the presence and under the moderation of the Presbytery, or a Committee of that body, it likewise implies that no public meeting of a congregation should be held to take any steps connected with the choice of a minister, unless some member of Presbytery be present to preside at it.

It is also declared, that Presbyteries, on whom devolves the duty of supplying the pulpit during the vacancy, ought to use their endeavour to secure to vacant congregations an opportunity of hearing such Probationers as they may wish to hear ; and the provision with regard to this in the Directory of 1649 should, as far as possible, be acted on. That provision is, ” When any place of the Ministry in a congregation is vacant, it is incumbent to the Presbytery, with all diligence, to send one of their number to preach to that congregation, who in his doctrine is to represent to them the necessity of providing the place with a qualified Pastor, and to exhort them to fervent prayer and supplication to the Lord, that He would send them a pastor according to his own heart : As also he is to signify that the Presbytery, out of their care of that flock, will send unto them preachers whom they may hear ; and if they have a desire to hear any other, they will endeavour to procure them an hearing of that person or persons, upon the suit of the Elders to the Presbytery.”

The General Assembly are of opinion, that the present circumstances and necessities of the Church greatly confirm the propriety of what is in itself a good rule, and well fitted to promote the peace and edification of congregations, viz. that, in general, a Presbytery should not proceed to moderate in a call until they have ground to believe that the congregation are, on the whole, very much of one mind as to the person whom they mean to choose. There is satisfactory evidence that this was the plan usually followed by the church under the Revolution Settlement, as well as in earlier times. But this system can be expected to succeed, and to work well, only if the Church Courts act fairly upon the great principle, that ” it appertaineth to the people, and to every several congregation to elect their ministers,” and, in the execution of the functions which undoubtedly belong to them, such as supplying the vacant pulpit, and moderating in a call, shew a reasonable regard to the inclinations and convenience of congregations : and if congregations, on the other hand, are influenced in all the steps they take in regard to the choice of a minister, by a deep sense of the solemnity and importance of the duty they are called upon to discharge, by the habitual recollection that it is from Christ alone they can get duly qualified and useful pastors, and by a sincere determination that all things shall be ” done decently and in order,” and that the utmost care shall be taken to avoid caballing, party spirit, and division. If congregations would proceed, in all the steps connected with the choice of a minister, under the influence of these convictions and resolutions, the Assembly confidently hope that elections would, in general, be harmonious, if not unanimous ; that there would be no occasion for a formal vote, and that not only would useful and acceptable pastors be chosen, but that the members of congregations, instead of being alienated from each other by divisions and contentions, and all the evils of unholy partizanship, would, by their meetings together for prayer and consultation in regard to the choice of a pastor, be more closely united in the bonds of Christian affection. With the foregoing statement of principles and general rules, the Assembly would express their earnest hope that these may be acted on by all par-ties, in such a spirit as not only to render a directory unnecessary, but to promote the general peace of the Church, and the best interests of congregations.
It is finally declared, that the election of Elders and Deacons should be conducted upon the same general principles as the election of Ministers, subject to such modifications as the nature of the case, and the practice and circumstances of the congregation, may suggest.

The General Assembly appoint this Act to be read from the pulpit, on every occasion of the intimation of a vacancy in the pastoral charge