Complaints, charges, and convictions involving the Session have led to an investigation…
At the Northwest Georgia Presbytery’s (NWGP) stated meeting on January 15, 2022, a newly formed commission was given the charge of investigating Midway Presbyterian Church and attempting to shepherd those involved.
This meeting was not dissimilar from other recent meetings of the presbytery where judicial actions involving Midway’s Session dominated the agenda. The presbytery’s clerk reviewed communications received on the agenda and shared (among other administrative matters not of a judicial nature) that:
- SJC case 2021-01, Michelson v. NWGP has been ruled out of order. It is not known why, but presumably this is because the presbytery took action last year to combine it to another complaint that is also before the SJC.
- SJC case 2021-02, Mr. Tippins v. NWGP has been referred to the PCA General Assembly’s “Review of Presbytery Records” (RPR) committee to determine if there was “gross disorder and unconstitutionality” at previous meetings of NWGP. This case is the “40-5 credible report” that has resulted in the charging and suspension of 3 members of Midway’s session for exercising their constitutional right of submitting a credible report to higher courts for consideration.
- SJC case 2021-12, Michelson brothers v. NWGP was announced to be currently before an SJC panel for consideration.
- SJC case 2021-13, Dudt Appeal was announced to also be currently before an SJC panel for consideration.
- Three new complaints against the actions of Midway’s Session related to ongoing secret trials against multiple Ruling Elders at the church.
It is unlikely that many presbyteries or single churches across the PCA have often had this many judicial actions before the highest court of the denomination at the same time. What seems sure, however, is that the ongoing division at Midway, which in the past the church’s Senior Pastor David Hall has laughed off as a joke, is apparently not funny anymore to the court.
Following a motion at the inclination of the NWGP moderator to combine the three new complaints arising from Midway, several motions came before the court involving the upheaval at Midway specifically.
Investigating the “Disorder” and “Contention”
One presbyter moved that NWGP appoint its existing shepherding committee to act as a judicial commission to hear the new complaints from Midway. There was much debate about whether such an action was possible, with some on the court expressing that the objectives of a shepherding committee and the objectives of a judicial commission are incompatible and were referred to by one presbyter as “inconsistent functions” and another as ”a constitutional conflict.”
A substitute motion was made that the NWGP hear the complaints as an entire court at a special called meeting at some point in the future. The rationale provided was that Midway was referred to as the “presbytery’s flagship church” and because there had been so much disorder arising from there, that the whole presbytery must learn what is happening there so that they can serve by helping to solve the problems. This motion was defeated.
Another substitute motion was made that “because of the ongoing disagreements, disorder, and apparent contentiousness in the Session of Midway PCA, and between the Session and certain members of the church”, that the presbytery “appoint the shepherding committee as a commission to investigate Midway church” in accordance with BCO 13-9 and 15-2. It was further specified that the commission’s investigation progress should be reported to the court at each stated meeting and shall conclude its work no later than the summer of 2023.
Readers may find it interesting that BCO 13 outlines the presbytery’s authority to investigate churches, and BCO 15 specifies that they can use a commission to do so. See the relevant excerpts from the BCO below:
BCO 13-9 The Presbytery has power to receive and issue* 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; g. To devise measures for the enlargement of the Church within its bounds; in general, to order whatever pertains to the spiritual welfare of the churches under its care; h. And, finally, to propose to the Assembly such measures as may be of common advantage to the Church at large. BCO 15-2 Among the matters that may be properly executed by commissions are the taking of the testimony in judicial cases, the ordination of ministers, the installation of ministers, the visitation of portions of the church affected with disorder, and the organization of new churches.
In response to this motion, the presbytery’s shepherding committee conferred and concluded at the end of the meeting to accept an appointment as a judicial commission. It was not clear how the commission intends to functionally separate its two roles. The end of the meeting was closed by a member of the shepherding committee exhorting those involved in disputes at Midway to put aside pride.
While it may be encouraging to see the local presbytery apparently taking its role seriously to investigate disorder and ensure that Midway is complying with the church’s constitution, what readers of The Midway Guardian want to know is: what took so long?