No rationale matters if it violates the church constitution and turns into heresy…
Whenever a PCA church session speaks of any action, belief, or method being “Biblical,” what they must mean is “Biblical, as interpreted by our constitution.”
The Midway session majority under David Hall’s leadership uses words like “Biblical.” It is clear from their actions, words, and deeds that what they mean is not “Biblical, as interpreted by our constitution,” but “Biblical, as we interpret it.”
This is evident from the recent “Clerk’s Statement on Removing Members” document posted to the “Midway Special” section of the church website that was shared with some, but not all, Midway members in advance of the upcoming congregational meeting.
This document is no doubt an attempted response to the Midway Guardian’s reporting on the Session’s recent and rapid (and most likely unconstitutional) removal of members from the roll who signed the petition to call the meeting to discuss and vote on the dissolution of TE David Hall’s pastoral relationship with the church.
The Clerk’s Errors
Clerk Harrington’s document proclaims to be a “statement by Midway’s Clerk of Session” that is “provided for your information and describes the rationale for removing members from the church rolls.”
The first things to note in the Clerk’s document are his factual errors.
Clerk Harrington writes: “People are removed regularly by the Session. Recently, Midway had a backlog of non-participating members to attend to since COVID prevented us from updating our rolls for over two years.“
This statement is false and, because the Clerk does have all the facts at his fingertips as documented in session minutes, it must be seen as an intentional deception of members who don’t know the facts.
The Session Minutes of October 2021 show that the Session began an effort to purge the church rolls starting three days after voting to indict elders David, Barnett, and Scott (which occurred at the Session meeting on 9/20). This is less than two years since COVID began in March of 2020.
Those minutes state: “The following members (based on the circulated notice of 9/23), and any others added by e vote by Nov. 1, having not regularly attended worship for over a year, are hereby removed from the rolls unless they resume regular worship promptly, and schedule a meeting with the Session before the end of the year to affirm their intention to keep their membership vows.” A list of nine individual and family names followed.
Another Clerk Deception
Then, the Clerk states further: “The Session has been removing those in question starting March 30, 2022. We did not know at that time who was on any petition seeking to remove Pastor Hall.”
As was just shown, the Session started deleting people from the rolls at least 6 months sooner than Harrington claims–right after they initiated the trials. RE Wes Richardson warned the Session that indicting these men would stir up severe trouble in the church (even though he ultimately signed the indictments as a witness against the three elders). The session majority was aware of the petition’s existence by at least January.
It is not a great logical leap to conclude that the session promptly began taking preemptive action against at least some members they knew would be upset to learn they indicted the three ruling elders–sons and daughters of persecuted men, close friends, and long-time associates. But they would not learn who exactly signed the petition until it was submitted in June of 2022, at which point they could focus and target names for removal like a jungle sniper.
Rationale That Conflicts with the Constitution
Perhaps a more serious matter is realizing that Clerk Harrington’s “rationale” conflicts with the church constitution–or what should more appropriately be called biblical standards.
Member vow #4 at Midway says “Do you promise to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?”
Harrington’s first “rationale” bullet for removing members states that the Midway session will remove people “if it has been one or more years with no regular attendance (customarily at least half the time) or giving. In some cases, it has been several years.”
No matter how reasonable that sounds, it is a direct violation of the PCA constitution. The session’s rationale cannot contradict the prescribed constitutional process.
The Book of Church Order does not state that a session can delete someone from the rolls after a year of irregular attendance or giving.
Instead it requires that “When a member of a particular church has willfully neglected the church for a period of one year…then the Session…shall remind the member, if possible both in person and in writing, of the declarations and promises by which he entered into a solemn covenant with God and His Church (BCO 57-5, nos. 3-5), and warn him that, if he persists, his name shall be erased from the roll.”
Then: “If after diligently pursuing such pastoral discipline, and after further inquiry and due delay, the Session is of the judgment that the member will not fulfill his membership obligations in this or any other branch of the Visible Church (cf. BCO 2-2), then the Session shall erase his name from the roll. This erasure is an act of pastoral discipline (BCO 27-1a) without process. The Session shall notify the person, if possible, whose name has been removed.”
Even after a member has willfully neglected membership for a year, then the session cannot delete him from the roll until 1) they continued to diligently pursue the member, 2) further inquiry, 3) due delay, and 4) determining the member will not join a different church.
PCA Constitution Recognizes Thousands of Years of Biblical Interpretation
The BCO establishes a threshold for beginning the discussion of roll removal: a year of willful neglect. People do not attend regularly for a number of reasons.
This is an old issue the church has recognized for thousands of years. The annual Passover was the biggest of all Old Testament festivals, and the Old Testament provided an alternate “make up” date so that any member who was unclean or traveling could attend (Num. 9:10-11).
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul declared the authority for enforcing special days, including observing a dedicated day of worship, has moved to the individual (Rom. 14:5-7). Many churches and denominations have recognized this historically by offering alternative days of worship to accommodate people whose occupations require them to consistently work on Sundays.
The PCA Book of Church Order codifies this principle in BCO 38-4 by setting the criteria that willful neglect for a year is grounds for starting the discussion to remove a member from the roll. The Session cannot assume; it must investigate.
Midway Session Majority Turns to Simony
Clerk Harrington’s arbitrary standards of regular attendance of “at least half the time” or regular giving are at odds with the PCA constitution. These are not legitimate membership requirements. The session cannot, to the extent that it wants to be biblical and not pharisaical, impose giving requirements to establish church membership.
In fact, this is simony: selling access to the sacraments for money.
The offer of salvation in Jesus Christ is a free gift from God to all who accept it, and that means access to baptism and the Lord’s Supper are free and not governed by any kind of minimum giving requirement. God’s salvation is not for sale. Unlike the Midway session majority’s position promoted in Harrington’s statement, God does not discriminate against the poor.
The Midway session majority has become heretical to the extent that they really believe and enforce Harrington’s statement that regular giving is a membership requirement.
The clerk’s letter says: “Further, we invite any person who may have been unable regularly (not merely occasionally) to ‘support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability,’ as the fourth membership vow says, to rejoin us at a later time or seek to rejoin in a new members class which will begin in August 2022. Our doors are open for any who genuinely wish to be present and participate regularly.”
Again, as already shown, the BCO does not establish “regular, not merely occasional” attendance as a membership requirement.
The membership vow enjoins members to support the church to the best of their ability. The question naturally arises: What if occasionally attending worship and supporting the church is the best of my ability?
This may sound like the session’s logic is self-contradictory. But from the perspective of authoritarianism, it is not. Clerk Harrington just declared that he and the session will determine what they think is the best of your ability. If you thought the constitution locates this authority primarily within the realm of Christian liberty, Harrington just corrected you.
If you signed a petition to discuss and vote on the removal of David Hall as senior pastor, then the record shows that they have determined you are not supporting the church to the best of your ability.