Session Legitimacy? What You Need to Know

Is Midway’s Session illegally constituted? Why does it matter?

There has been a lot of discussion about “submission” in recent days at Midway Presbyterian Church. There has been a notable uptick in messaging from the pulpit as well as the Session asserting their need for officers of the church and members to submit. In particular, the Session passed an unconstitutional conscience-binding motion in September 2020 that declared that an officer’s “subjection to the brethren” meant that officers who disagree with the majority are subject to church discipline. As divisive as that sounds the Session appears serious since, in a seemingly systematic manner, it has now brought charges against 4 of its own members in the last year.

Great debate seems to have formed over what it means to submit to the Session in the current climate at Midway Presbyterian Church. But what if the Session calling you to submit is illegally constituted? Should you submit to an unlawful Session? What if your Session is ignoring lawful rulings of the higher courts of the PCA and penalizing men for exercising their rights and duties as church officers?

Consider the disputed election of July 2020 (which the Northwest Georgia Presbytery has ruled was unconstitutionally handled) added three Associate Pastors as voting members on the Midway Session.  Unlike Ruling Elders, these voters never need to be re-elected. Even while their voting status was challenged in the church courts, these Associate Pastor voters have participated in a number of consequential activities which include:

  • Presiding as moderator over, and voting to dismiss, multiple complaints in which their status to sit as members of the court was being disputed.
  • Voting to indict Ruling Elder Philip Dudt and then participating in an all night secret trial to convict. RE Dudt’s supposed crime was related to the disputed election that seated these Associate Pastors as voters.
  • Associate Pastor Harrington serving as Clerk of Session – this role being reserved for a member of the court only. He adopted this role and has served in this capacity under circumstances that are apparently illegitimate, his election as an Associate Pastor having been challenged and shown to be unconstitutional.
  • Voting to charge Ruling Elder James Scott (the former Clerk of Session for five decades).
  • Voting to charge Ruling Elder Clay David.
  • Voting to charge Ruling Elder Don Barnett.

Imagine the administrative complication that has been caused by allowing men to serve as voters on a Session that the higher courts are signaling were not actually elected lawfully. The Clerk of Midway’s Session would then be ineligible to be the Clerk, and every vote taken by Assistant Pastors voting as Associates would be unlawful. The legitimacy of every Session vote for over a year is in question at Midway Presbyterian Church – and that includes the self-destructive false charges brought against 4 duly elected Ruling Elders who disagreed with a false majority.

Midway members, know that your Session is illegally constituted, and through an abuse of church discipline by the majority, it is continuing to transform into something other than what you elected it to be.

Why Didn’t Someone Try to Stop this from Happening?

If you are a Midway member, ask yourself how your leadership has allowed this to happen. Why didn’t anyone speak up? It turns out that some of your leaders did speak up, and they just so happen to be the ones who have been charged and suspended from their duties to man.

“But they were not in submission” you might say — reflect on the table below and ask yourself how honest men (especially Ruling Elders elected to safeguard the purity and peace of the church) could stand by and watch the church spin into disarray and not speak up as the Session of which they are a part has this many alleged or proven violations levied against in the space of a year?

Alleged Violation at MidwayStatus
BCO 15-3Pending at the SJC
BCO 20-2*Presbytery Judicial Commission ruled 4 times that this was violated
Presbytery ruled that this was violated
Pending at the SJC
BCO 20-4*Presbytery Judicial Commission ruled 4 times that this was violated
Presbytery ruled that this was violated
Pending at the SJC
BCO 20-5Presbytery Judicial Commission ruled 3 times that this was violated
Pending at the SJC
BCO 20-6*Presbytery Judicial Commission ruled that this was violated
Presbytery ruled that this was violated
Pending at the SJC
BCO 20-7Pending at the SJC
BCO 20-8Pending at the SJC
BCO 21-1Pending at the SJC
BCO 24-3Pending at the SJC
BCO 25-1Pending at the SJC
BCO 25-3Pending at the SJC
BCO 39-2Pending at the SJC
BCO 43-2*Presbytery Judicial Commission ruled 4 times that this was violated
Presbytery ruled that this was violated
Pending at the SJC
BCO 43-9Pending at the SJC
* denotes a Judicial Fact SJC: Standing Judicial Commission (the PCA’s highest court)

Submission to Christ Alone

This is why you are not called to submit to the dictates of sinful men, but to Christ only. Christ can never be unlawfully constituted. Christ cannot be at odds with Himself. Christ is not a house divided against itself. It is also why members should pay attention to their Presbyterian form of church government and study it to ensure that what is happening at Midway doesn’t ever happen again. The Senior Pastor as moderator and currently seated Parliamentarian of the Presbytery should surely have known better and should have never allowed this to happen — the list of alleged violations under review being perhaps unprecedented in PCA history. 

Be reminded of Preliminary Principle 1 in the PCA Book of Church Order which says:

“God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from any doctrines or commandments of men (a) which are in any respect contrary to the Word of God, or (b) which, in regard to matters of faith and worship, are not governed by the Word of God. Therefore, the rights of private judgment in all matters that respect religion are universal and inalienable“

PCA Book of Church Order (BCO), Preliminary Principle 1

Such words are wise and Biblical. They are also words that every officer at Midway is bound to uphold by oath.

What Can You Do?

It is an emotional time for Midway members. There is anger, damaged reputations, and tension. It is uncomfortable, but all members have taken a vow to study the purity and peace of the church. What are you going to do if your Session continues to be found to have erred? What if your pastoral staff is wrong? What if you were deceived?

Pray for discernment. Where Christ and His spirit are there is truth and light. He that is able to keep you from stumbling is also able to reveal the truth to you. Ask Him.