Should any session who receives a complaint become defensive and risk harming the personal relationships of those under its care?
As BCO 27 upholds, Christ’s power given into the hands of a Session is to be used for the building up and edification of His people, not for destruction. BCO 27-4 reminds us that this power is to be “exercised as under a dispensation of mercy and not of wrath” and that “in this it acts the part of a tender mother, correcting her children for their good, that every one of them may be presented faultless in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
Over the past months and years, the majority controlling the Session have arguably not sought this tenderness when it came to handling and addressing those that dissent with the majority opinion, formally complain, or provide credible reports to the courts of the denomination. They instead claim and act as if disagreeing with a lawful session constitutes sin.
This is justified by claiming a position of authority that well exceeds what God has instituted. This misunderstanding has led to mistreatment and accusations against numerous complainants, the indictment and conviction of a ruling elder, and a passed motion to study how to charge three other ruling elders.
Other congregants who have expressed disagreement with the majority of the Session have been asked to leave the church. These actions are not those of a tender mother seeking to correct her children. These actions are seeking to discredit, disenfranchise, and ultimately chase away dissenters. Instead of viewing the counsel and dissent of multiple men, both ordained and non-ordained, as loving rebuke, the majority in control of the Session would rather fight to maintain control at the expense of the purity, peace, and unity of the church.
JUDICIAL SUPPORT FOR CLAIMS OF UNCHARITABLE SESSION ATTITUDE
A judicial commission of the Northwest Georgia Presbytery has already ruled in the case of one complaint that the July 2020 congregational meeting was not properly handled, and that the complainant was not received with “pastoral sympathy and basic friendliness.”
It was also noted by the Presbytery that “[t]his muting of the congregation’s constitutionally given voice is a theme in the actions of the session.”
The majority in control of the Session has been shown to be more interested in furthering and defending the majority opinion than honoring the congregation’s voice and constitutional rights.
So you might ask, is it sinful to call out the errors of your ordained leaders? Does not Hebrews 13:17 say to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account?”
Certainly yes; however we must avoid cherry picking verses to make a point without taking into account the whole counsel of scripture. There are countless examples where the people suffered for the sins of their leaders. The Bible tells us that 70,000 people perished because of David’s call for a census to bolster his pride. People were consumed for Aaron’s sin of the golden calf. Isaiah 9:16 clearly states “for those who guide this people have been leading them astray, and those who are guided by them are swallowed up.”
There is danger in allowing leaders to stray, even if it is a comparatively small issue. If leaders cannot be faithful in the small things, then how can we trust they will hold the line on the critical issues of doctrine and truth?
NOT UNDER COMPULSION, BUT WILLINGLY
When a communicant member joins a PCA church, they take vow #5 which asks “[d]o you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the Church, and promise to study its purity and peace?” Note that this vow does not say to blindly submit to the church government in all things. It does not indicate that we are to follow wherever the church leaders so command. Our church confessional standards do not require that we obey unlawful orders by any authority.
The origins of this vow are rooted in 1 Peter 5:1-4 which says “[s]o I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” The government to which we are called to submit is one of shepherding, oversight, and Godly example. This Government is to be exercised without a domineering attitude and not for shameful gain, which certainly has not been the case of late with respect to anyone that dissents with the majority opinion of the Session.
The Elders of the church, as shepherds, are themselves called to submit themselves to the headship of Christ as the Great Shepherd. The submission of the congregation is not forced under a sense of unquestioning compulsion, but is instead driven by a desire to seek God’s care and sanctification through the prescribed means that He has established.
The Elders are to look to the spiritual well-being of their flock’s souls and are to point to Christ. In so doing, it should be the delight and joy of a communicant member to submit to that guidance and watch care. Hebrews 13 reminds us to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” It should therefore be the duty of a communicant member to ensure that the leaders maintain an upright way of life that can be a model worthy of imitation.
ORIGINAL SIN AFFECTS ALL MEN
The church and its leaders consist of fallen, errant, and wayward men. Only by the Holy Spirit can anyone seek to emulate Christ, whether that be a layman or an Elder. Wayward church leaders across the world have fallen into sin and scandal. These sins always harm God’s church and give the world a reason to mock God. It is therefore key that Godly men be put in leadership and remain Godly once there.
Public rebuke of church leaders is therefore sometimes necessary to retain purity. Such rebuke is Biblical as 1 Timothy 5:20 upholds when it says “But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.”
Reproof must of course also follow the Biblical prescription, however it is clearly Biblical and no session should persecute those who do so. Might it benefit the Session of Midway to look introspectively when a dissent arises instead of immediately becoming defensive and seeking to eradicate the dissenter?
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Midway Guardian.