In a letter dated January 22, 2021 and mailed to the members of Midway Presbyterian Church, the Session disclosed that there exist “honest differences” among members regarding their conduct the congregational meeting last July.
It has been alleged via multiple complaints that, because of irregularities in the operation of that meeting, Midway’s three Assistant Pastors were elevated to the status of Associate Pastors through means that violated the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO).
The full content of the letter states:
Dear Midway Brothers and Sisters,
It is our desire to give forthright and prompt communication.
As you may know, honest differences regarding this summer’s congregational meeting have resulted in several judicial actions involving Midway that have been elevated to the Northwest Georgia Presbytery (NWGP).
Two Complaints have been filed against the Session’s recommendation that the pastoral relations of Pastors Harrington, Barry, and Knox be changed to Associate Pastors and aspects of the congregational meeting that approved that action. Later, our Presbytery appropriately installed these pastors as Associates, which is an act that cannot be annulled.
A Presbytery Commission had an initial hearing, but the whole Presbytery later recognized sufficient constitutional questions related to adjudication of these cases. It suspended further actions on either of the cases above until the constitutional questions are studied and resolved by another committee. Presbytery also approved, without negative vote, a proposed amendment to the PCA Book of Church Order, which would make explicit that the procedure we followed is appropriate for the elevation of pastors from Assistant to Associate.
There is also an appeal before Presbytery by Elder Phil Dudt in response to the November 11th trial in which the Midway Session found that Elder Dudt had violated his ordination vows and thereupon suspended him without censure from the functions of office.
We assure you that your Pastors and Elders are committed to the truth, repenting when we are in error, and submitting to rightful authorities. We further assure you that we are committed to the peace and health of our church and the continued ministry of the Gospel. We ask that each of you join us in praying for the Lord to work purity and peace among us.
From the Session
This letter might seem to be a reasonable communication to those who are unaware of what has been transpiring in the last six months at Midway Presbyterian Church. Informed readers, however, may think this letter to be full of hypocrisy.
REJECTING THE LAWFUL AUTHORITY OF THE HIGHER COURT
First, an act of installing pastors unconstitutionally is one that not only can be annulled by the higher courts, but one that must be if so determined. Presbyteries have the authority to enforce this action since their responsibilities include the installation and removal of pastors when necessary. The BCO defines the powers of Presbyteries in the PCA in Chapter 13-9 which states (in part):
“The Presbytery has power to receive and issue [Editor’s note: “Issue” means “settling the issue of the case.”] appeals, complaints, and references brought before it in an orderly manner. In cases in which the Session cannot exercise its authority, it shall have power to assume original jurisdiction. It has power:
a. To receive under its care candidates for the ministry; to examine and license candidates for the holy ministry; to receive, dismiss, ordain, install, remove and judge ministers;
b. To review the records of church Sessions, redress whatever they may have done contrary to order and take effectual care that they observe the Constitution of the Church;
c. To establish the pastoral relation and to dissolve it at the request of one or both of the parties, or where the interest of religion imperatively demands it;
d. To set apart evangelists to their proper work; to require ministers to devote themselves diligently to their sacred calling and to censure the delinquent;
e. To see that the lawful injunctions of the higher courts are obeyed;
f. To condemn erroneous opinions which injure the purity or peace of the Church; to visit churches for the purpose of inquiring into and redressing the evils that may have arisen in them; to unite or divide churches, at the request of the members thereof; to form and receive new churches; to take special oversight of churches without pastors; to dissolve churches; to dismiss churches with their consent”
Readers unfamiliar with the BCO may be surprised at the scope of authority given to a Presbytery to resolve disputes and enforce the constitution of the PCA.
The majority in control of the Session of Midway Presbyterian Church seems to either 1) not acknowledge the authority of the Presbytery to which they are subject as defined in the constitution, 2) be unaware of what the constitution states about the Presbytery’s authority, or 3) could be attempting to convince its members that the issue has been settled when in actuality, since the Presbytery has not rendered a final decision on the matter, it appears it has not been.
The authority defined above is also seen in Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) precedents.
FEIGNING IGNORANCE OR JUST A BAD MEMORY?
The SJC is the highest judicial entity in the PCA. Decision 95-4 (see pages 184-186) was one such decision that may be interesting to Midway-affiliated readers. It was authored in part by current Midway Senior Pastor David Hall alongside Roy Taylor (the former clerk of the PCA) and in it, the SJC asserted the authority to see a pastoral election overturned.
Perhaps most stunning statement in the Session’s letter is their commitment to “truth” and “repenting when we are in error, and submitting to rightful authorities”. What the letter does not tell readers is that a judicial commission of the Northwest Georgia Presbytery ruled against Midway’s Session on the matter in question shortly before authoring this letter.
In that preliminary judgement, the Session was found to have improperly conducted the congregational meeting and the election procedures in which the three pastors were elected. The judgment determined the Session violated multiple sections of BCO 20. Further, they called on the Session to apologize to the congregation of Midway. The judicial commission referred to Midway Session actions as “muting the congregation’s constitutionally given voice” and a “maneuver to control congregational input” in selecting their leaders, among other things.
This is not the first time that the majority in control of the Session apparently suppressed judicial information it found unfavorable. SJC decision 2019-03 (see pages 338-339) seems to be one such instance. Even though years have passed, how many sitting in Midway’s pews are aware that Midway was cited for unconstitutionally handling officer nominations in the church?
The Session’s letter also omits the detail that some of its own members, after receiving the commission’s judgment, proposed a self-interested motion to refer the matter to a study committee. By tampering with the judicial process in this way, they were successful in stalling the judicial commission’s judgment from being adopted at the next NWGP meeting.
Time will tell whether this unconstitutional act will stand since the constitution forbids in BCO 39-2 such a motion from being brought to the floor by the subjects of a judicial matter. It states that “in cases of appeal or complaint” involving the lower court, members of the lower court lose the right “to sit, deliberate and vote in the higher court.”
Since the Session’s proposed motion was distributed to the presbytery, whose members ordinarily would have been soon voting on the judicial commissions judgment, the Session action also appears to violate the prohibition on circularizing the courts (BCO 43-2) in matters of complaint.
It is unclear at this time what actions the courts of the church may take to correct these points or if anyone will challenge these obvious missteps.