“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54).
In response to the 40-5 letter sent to the SJC by 13 ordained officers of Midway, the session majority authored a motion that attempts to respond to the letter’s content.
The motion stated: “RESOLVED, that the Midway Session hereby expresses its deep concern for the spiritual condition of the three active elders who co-signed the letter and asks that they repent from their participation in the February 14 letter and seek forgiveness where appropriate.“
The motion, approved 11-3-1, condemned the factual 40-5 letter as “deeply flawed” and “ill-informed.” It claims that the 40-5 credible report “contained both misleading impressions and inaccurate claims.” Some of the other “disturbing aspects” listed are as follows in text from the motion:
* the damage done by their actions to their working relationship with their brothers on the Midway Session, effecting a loss of confidence. * the disrespect and contempt they showed their Session by their secrecy and silence regarding their intent to publicly join their reputations to this deeply flawed and ill-informed letter. * the disrespect and judgmentalism they showed in maligning Midway's brothers and colleagues on the NWGA Presbytery, without being adequately informed. * the disrespect they showed to Midway's own representatives to NWGA Presbytery.
SEVEN POINTS OF LIGHT
Following this list of “disturbing aspects” are seven points of attempted refutation of points made by the 40-5 report.
The first point is an attempt to discredit the significance of the many former church officers who signed the letter:
1. The letter was signed by only three currently serving elders, but gives the impression to readers that a strong consensus of Midway leadership supports their concerns. No attempt was made to clarify and distinguish present from past leadership. The ambiguity enables a distorted picture of the circumstances.
This position seems to depreciate the doctrine of ordination and active participation in the life of the church. As stated in BCO 24-7, “Ordination to the offices of ruling elder or deacon is perpetual.”
The second point attempts to paint the action as out of order:
2. The letter, signed by the three actively serving elders, was a solicited attempt to marshal support for an issue that is being adjudicated by our courts. In supporting an active recruitment of signatories, the three Midway elders have fostered division among men rather than working for peace. This letter also wrongly seeks to raise new issues that have not been timely filed to be considered as complaints or that will be adjudicated in due time, inappropriately thus alleging error.
However, the session motion fails to mention, perhaps because its authors failed to understand, that only certain members have the ability to file complaints. Not every ruling elder is subject to the jurisdiction of the presbytery; ruling elders are normally only subject to the jurisdiction of their session. Only ruling elders appointed as commissioners to the presbytery meetings have standing to file complaints against presbytery action. BCO 13-1 states that “The Presbytery consists of all the teaching elders and churches within its bounds that have been accepted by the Presbytery. When the Presbytery meets as a court it shall comprise all teaching elders and ruling elders as elected by their Session.”
This is why the PCA BCO provides the option of the credible report in BCO 40-5. It provides an avenue for higher courts to hear credible reports from church members who otherwise have no means of seeking redress.
The motion’s third point imputes motive where none is stated in the original letter:
Regrettably, the letter is another means of seeking to undo an election and unseat three pastors who have been judged qualified by the Midway Session and the Northwest Georgia Presbytery. Since joining the Session, one of these was nominated and elected as Stated Clerk.
The fourth point alleges misunderstanding of presbytery protocol:
4. The letter displays ignorance of presbytery’s established protocols in commissioning pastors—regrettably, an ignorance that did not dissuade the three elders from accusing presbytery and its Credentials Committee of committing error.
“Had they acted with charity or restraint, they could have queried commission members or any pastor and been told” that the presbytery by-laws grant the Credentials committee authority to act as a commission “to approve calls between presbytery meetings.”
BCO 15-2 states that ecclesiastical commissions can ordain and install ministers. However, it mentions nothing about approving the call, which only the presbytery can do per BCO 21-1 if it “deems it for the good of the church.” The original BCO 40-5 letter alleges that “The Presbytery erred by permitting the Credentials Committee to approve multiple simultaneous calls when only the Presbytery can act on a call, thus violating BCO 21-1.” The Session’s motion did not, therefore, address the point presented by the 40-5 letter or explain how the presbytery’s by-laws, by permitting the commission to approve calls, is not contradicting the permissions granted to commissions by the BCO.
The fifth point claims more ignorance of presbytery protocols:
5. The signatories further display ignorance of presbytery protocols and a willingness to caricature in the following statement: “the Credentials committee approved the calls at a meeting starting 30 minutes before the evening service where the three pastors were installed as associates.” What the minutes actually show, however, is that the Credentials Committee chairman was authorized several days before the installation to question each pastor to ensure nothing had changed in their theological views since being received into presbytery. All commission members were aware that no candidate had any changes in their theological views. This is standard practice in our presbytery, yet, regrettably, the letter distorts and maligns presbytery committee members and their process by omitting these details. The letter even maligns the Moderator of Presbytery for doing what should have been done.  The minutes state the following: “TE Smit reported he had written confirmation from each of the three candidates there are no changes in their views since the assumption of their ordination vows in accordance with BCO 21-5.”
It is unclear to what extent the details claimed are actually detailed in the presbytery minutes or the report by the Credential Committee.
The sixth point discusses the circumstances surrounding the unannounced changing of the commission judgments:
6. The letter maligns the presbytery judicial commission called to hear the Stuart Michelson case by asserting they had changed their ruling in response to inappropriate pressure from Midway elders rather than clarifying it in the second document. Yet, the commission minutes clearly document due deliberation and a desire to clarify the original ruling, not alter it. Sadly, no signatory of the letter attempted to question the commission’s chairman or secretary, a highly suspect omission when one is criticizing the commission’s process while also appealing for decency and order in the church.
The motion does not address the fact that the commission distributed a revised decision to the presbytery that differed from the one sent to the complainant, in contradiction to the stated clerk’s promise that “Presbytery will receive the same notification later today.” No explanation of the events has yet been brought forth.
The seventh point listed in the Midway motion attempts to refute the claim that the Midway session circularized the court in the matter of a complaint related to last summer’s congregational meeting:
7. The letter accuses the Midway session of circularizing the court by distributing a motion for the presbytery clerk to add to the docket that would later be moved on the floor of presbytery.
The motion refers to BCO 15-3, stating “BCO 15-3 explicitly allows that presbytery ‘may refer … any strictly constitutional issue(s) to a study committee.'”
However, the motion sidestepped the argument raised by the 40-5, which was that “the Midway respondents sat, deliberated, and apparently voted to pass their own motion 27-11 [sic] in flagrant violation of BCO 39-2.” The Midway respondents distributed the motion to study constitutional questions after receiving the proposed judicial commission judgment. Because the study questions were so closely related to the commission’s judgment, the signers of the 40-5 evidently believed the evidence showed the respondents were violating 39-2.
Public presbytery actions were documented and sent to the higher court with a request for its review. In response, some members of the presbytery and the majority of the Midway session passed a motion calling three concerned and active ruling elders to repent.
The Session motion attempted to refute the concerns raised by the 40-5 report, but appears only to have sidestepped most of the arguments. It remains to be determined how the SJC will address this issue.
For a copy of the full motion, request from your shepherding elder a copy of the minutes from the called session meeting of March 8, 2021.