“Should an officer feel compelled to communicate publicly his dissatisfaction with or any opposition to a decision or action of the Session, he should first resign his office so as to not violate his Vow #5.”
So reads Section 4 of the motion introduced by RE Tally at the September 21 stated session meeting. The session on Monday passed this motion 11-3 with 2 abstentions declaring that any officer who speaks out against Session action or decisions should first resign before doing so. Otherwise, “unless seasonably and publicly repented of,” doing so “could result in dissolution of the official relationship between the officer and the church pursuant to the provisions of the Book of Church Order.”
In plain terms, what the Session majority means is that the Session is threatening to initiate church discipline against any officers who publicly dissent to its policies, decisions, or actions “unless he finds such decision to be either heretical or in violation of the Book of Church Order.”
The Constitutionality of this action is in doubt.
First, did not the Sanhedrin also issue a similar gag order to Peter and John in an attempt to keep the public in the dark about Jesus? “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye” (Acts 4:19). It is concerning that the Session would attempt to restrict the liberty and conscience of its members to exercise their duties and obligations to those whom have placed them in office.
Second, the motion as worded sets up a logical fallacy with the false dichotomy it presents. The two categories exempt from such action (heresy and BCO violations), while laudable, are not the only two categories worthy of consideration. At least a third category is possible, such as policy decisions that are neither heresy nor a BCO violation but which would be of concern to the congregation. This is especially true if the actions prompt the members to call a congregational meeting to address the issue as afforded them by the church constitution (BCO 25-2).
Third, offenses must be proven from Scripture. BCO 29-1 states, “An offense, the proper object of judicial process, is anything in the doctrines or practice of a Church member professing faith in Christ which is contrary to the Word of God…Nothing, therefore, ought to be considered by any court as an offense, or admitted as a matter of accusation, which cannot be proved to be such from Scripture.” Nowhere in this motion has the Session attempted to prove from Scripture that a church officer who issues a public communication to those members to whom he is responsible by virtue of his delegated representative authority is an offense.
In July, two elders issued public communications to a significant portion of the congregation announcing their disagreement with the proposal to elect three associate pastors.
Was this motion a pretext to formal charges? If so, its ex post facto nature should be of concern to all church members. Not even this nation’s civil government permits laws to be issued after-the-fact that criminalize prior actions of individuals which were not criminal at the time. The US Constitution strictly forbids the passing of any ex post facto law by any federal or state government (Article 1, Sections 9 and 10). Such attempts have historically been recognized as tools used by governments to silence dissension and opposition.
The entirety of the motion as passed is included below:
WHEREAS, public dissent of Midway officers to matters decided by the Session of Midway Church has resulted in disunity; and WHEREAS there has been confusion and apparent disagreement about the application of Officer Vow #5 (BCO 24-6) to such public dissent; NOW, THEREFORE, the Session of Midway Presbyterian Church does hereby declare and adopt the following interpretation and application of Officer Vows #5 and #6: 1. RESOLVED, that the words, “subjection to the brethren” in Vow #5 means that each ordained officer will respect, obey and prayerfully seek to find agreement and personal contentment with all decisions of the Session unless he finds such decision to be either heretical or in violation of the Book of Church Order. 2. RESOLVED, that should a church officer in good conscience find either heresy or constitutional violation in any decision or action of the Session, it is his duty to make complaint to the Session under BCO Chapter 43 and pursue same as he deems in the best interest of the Body of Christ solely within the procedures set forth in BCO Chapter 43. Further, following Officer Vows #5 and #6, the officer should not publicly comment upon the issues presented in the Complaint, as same are solely within the purview of the church courts. To expose the congregation to such issues can only serve to bring disunity and conflict. 3. Should a church officer feel compelled to communicate publicly his dissatisfaction with or any opposition to a decision or action of the Session, he should first resign his office so as not to violate his Vow #5. 4. Transgression of the foregoing by any ordained active officer of Midway may be deemed a violation of ordination vows and, unless seasonably and publicly repented of, could result in dissolution of the official relationship between the officer and the church pursuant to the provisions of the Book of Church Order. 5. Any church officer who has transgressed the preceding interpretation of Vows #5 and #6 is called upon to repent of such conduct.