Engaged Presbyters are Essential to Properly Functioning Church Courts

Whether by ignorance or dereliction, when presbyters fail, the local church suffers…

It is a dark time for Midway Presbyterian Church, and by extension, the Northwest Georgia Presbytery. To the average member of the church, they may have little understanding of the local presbytery or how it functions. Many of them may not have considered its important role in the life of their local church. Perhaps they think it is little more than a distant collection of churches for which they have no personal connection or interest.

In this age of misused church discipline at Midway, appeals, complaints, and alleged manipulation of higher courts – church members should be more interested than ever in their presbytery.

What is a Presbytery supposed to do?

The presbytery is not a loose confederation of churches that are geolocated by some agreed upon boundary. Rather it is the higher court that God has established in a Biblically compliant and properly functioning Presbyterian system of church government. The Book of Church Order (BCO) defines a presbytery in BCO chapter 13. In this chapter readers will discover that presbyteries hold the membership of the pastors of the churches, manage membership of particular churches within its bounds, examine candidates for ministry, handle appeals, complaints, and references that come before it, and keep and examine the records of local churches. Most relevant to Midway Presbyterian Church at this time is presbytery’s defined responsibilities to:

  1. 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;”
  2. 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;”
  3. To see that the lawful injunctions of the higher courts are obeyed;”
  4. 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;”

These are some important responsibilities. The presbytery rightfully has a lot of power to aid those injured by abuses in the local church, to enforce the constitution of the church, and to hear and resolve complaints and appeals. The SJC has recently, with regard to Midway Presbyterian Church specifically, reminded the Northwest Georgia Presbytery of their duty to perform these functions.

What if presbyters in a Presbytery neglect their duties?

Sadly there is a trend in the PCA that shows dwindling Ruling Elder participation in this important arm of Presbyterian church government. The Northwest Georgia Presbytery is no exception. There are too many presbyters (members of presbytery) across the offices of Teaching and Ruling Elder that are not engaged in what is happening. Even if they are physically present, they are not fulfilling their duties. The Christian Observer, an old Southern Presbyterian publication, discussed this problem in 1877:

This obligation to attend Presbytery is as binding on our consciences as the very existence of a Presbytery is essential, for whatever will justify habitual absence in any one, will justify the same in every one, and this would terminate the Presbytery’s existence at once. Dear brethren, if it seem to you unimportant, whether you go to Presbytery or not, and if, on this account, you are seldom there, reflect seriously that your course tends to the very destruction of a court appointed by your divine Master, and essential to the success of His cause among you.

Consider your solemn promise to God: “I accept the office of ruling elder or pastor and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof.” One of the most important of these duties, is to have your church statedly represented in Presbytery. My brother elder, how can you, in view of the above promise, as a godly and an honest man, be careless about having your church duly represented?    Dear brethren, your promise to discharge such duties, given to God and the Church, is just as sacred and as binding as human language can well make it. When next you feel inclined to shirk your duty and remain at home from your Presbytery, just take your ordination vows, and having read them, ask God whether He will bless their disregard to your soul’s peace and your life’s usefulness.

Does any one answer us, “I am too busy to attend the courts of the Church.” We desire to suggest whether, with equal pertinence, business engagement may not be pleaded in offset of the duty to preach or to pray? My dear brother, if too busy to perform the duties, you ought not to occupy the place of preacher or elder.

Presbyters in the Northwest Georgia Presbytery may well be physically present, but how often have they unknowingly upheld unlawful convictions – the product of misused church discipline at Midway Presbyterian Church? Can every presbyter honestly say they read the entirety of the RE Dudt appeal before voting to uphold it, or did they look around the room and vote with the crowd? It would be a discouraging statistic on discernment indeed if one were to believe that a body of ordained men as large as the Northwest Georgia Presbytery could rubber stamp what an SJC Panel has identified as an errant, unjust, sinful, and unconstitutional in a recent ruling… it seems more likely that members of the Northwest Georgia Presbytery responsible for fairly and Biblically handling the issues arising before it from Midway are simply not reading or studying the matters before them.

If you are a presbyter in the Northwest Georgia Presbytery, before you accept allegations and hearsay that certain members of the church at Midway are just mere troublemakers who cannot submit to their Session, can you honestly say you have read the entirety of the appeals, complaints, and most prominently, the 40-5 credible report that outlines alleged abuses of your court?

Even now, the Northwest Georgia Presbytery is actively engaged in an investigation of “disorder and contention” at Midway Presbyterian Church. Can members of the local church who are burdened heavily under the weight of spiritual abuse at the local church count on you to read the relevant material and judge with right judgment? Will you take the time to do so? Will you take the time to observe the prayer gatherings at Midway that take place each time there is an unlawful, prejudicial, secret trial held at the church? Will you not come hear the hearts of the congregants under your care that are hurting? Will you not come see the abuse of power at Midway Presbyterian Church for yourself? Will you believe the dismissive reports of Senior Pastor David Hall at presbytery, or will you visit and see for yourself the man who is actively celebrating the division of his church?