Why can’t the Midway Session submit to its “Fathers and Brothers”?
If organized by topic, the theme of submission has been an extraordinarily common topic coming from the pulpit at Midway Presbyterian Church recently. You, the members of the church, are reminded relentlessly of the trust you owe your elders and this belief must translate to submission. In reality, whether it is the blind submission to the majority the Session has mandated through its unconstitutional and unbiblical resolution on officer vows (which an SJC Panel has struck down) or the general submission they say is required by congregants – the real submission called for in the Bible is submission to Christ. Members are not called to submit to individual elders in their membership vows, but to the government and discipline of the church. All should submit to their church leadership to the degree that they point them back to Christ – anything less is not Biblical submission, it is tyranny.
All this preaching on submission and yet Midway Presbyterian Church’s Session’s record on submitting to higher courts is pathetic. The Session delayed to disclose and attempted to suppress an SJC ruling against them in case 2019-03, they influenced the presbytery to prevent a judgment against themselves from being codified in January of 2021, they attempted to delay submission to an unfavorable presbytery ruling through a formal objection to the General Assembly regarding SJC case 2021-12 – just to name a few. Most recently, they have communicated with the congregation about additional recent SJC decisions. Regarding SJC case 2021-12, they insist no compliance is required on their part despite the fact that presbytery is actively investigating their behavior on that matter and may conclude that they are in need of correction. Further, regarding SJC 2021-13’s proposed decision which exonerated RE Dudt of the Session’s false charges, they insist that the presbytery will request a re-hearing of the case while there is no available evidence whatsoever that the presbytery is considering taking such action. Is the Session speaking on behalf of a higher court? The Midway Guardian can find no evidence of the presbytery calling a special meeting in the last few days to take up the issue.
The Session can declare its intent to submit to rulings against them all day long, but actions speak louder than words. These are men who chronically cannot be wrong when simple apologies would go very far to restoring trust in their leadership.
“Fathers and Brothers”
The endearing term of mutual respect “Fathers and Brothers” is one that is heard on the floor of the PCA General Assembly and presbyteries everywhere. This term is one that elders use that signifies mutual submission and respect for their equals and the wisdom of the other men around them in the court.
It would appear that the Session does not believe their “Fathers and Brothers” at the Northwest Georgia Presbytery that again and again concluded that Midway’s leadership was out of line and owed their congregation apologies were worth listening to, let alone submitting to.
It would appear now that an SJC Panel has exposed the baseless unbiblical charges brought against RE Dudt by the Session, that they are grasping at every excuse to not simply repent and submit to their “Fathers and Brothers” on the highest court of the denomination. Either the Session and Pastoral staff at the church believe these men are their “Fathers and Brothers” or they simply have adopted the term because that’s the protocol – no belief in their fellow elders’ judgment is required. Once again this characterizes men who chronically cannot be wrong when simple apologies would go very far to restoring trust in their leadership.
Practice What You Preach
Midway Associate Pastor TE David Barry’s words about rejecting the voice of higher authorities from a sermon on June 6, 2021 may be a little haunting on this point. In this sermon from I Corinthians, TE Barry decries the Corinthian church’s behavior of pushing back against the Apostle Paul’s authority saying:
“…as an apostle and as the spiritual father of these Corinthian believers, he has been acting like the authority in their lives that he is, the Corinthians had been asking Paul questions and he answered, and they didn’t like his answer. Regarding feasts with the sexual immoral and other issues they did not like the answer that their pastor gave them and it seems that they are pushing back against his authority.”TE David Barry, 06-06-21, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHWxHG7JHVE
TE Barry spent time in this sermon series outlining the need too submit to the authority of Paul and often related to this submission generally as extending also to pastors. It would not be a stretch to presume that he was referring thematically to the ongoing pressure at the time on REs Clay David, James Scott, and Don Barnett who were being called to repent for their participation in the 40-5 credible report for which the Session would later charge and suspend them. The Session took great offense to the credible report which outlined questionable procedures at the local presbytery as well as Senior Pastor David Hall’s written false attestations about pastoral calls.
TE Barry went expounded further:
“The Corinthians have decided to dig in their heels on this issue. They argued in chapter 8 that they had, I’ll put it in air quotes, they had “Knowledge” they said. In other words they were convinced in their own minds that they were right and that Paul was wrong in this particular matter of meat sacrificed to idols. And so, because they were right and because Paul was wrong, they had every right to disobey him and the counsel he gave them as an apostle, and as pastor, and as father. And then to give themselves a just little bit more cover to do what they wanted to do, they did what every unsubmissive person does. They tried to undercut Paul’s authority to command them in the first place…..
….And this was Casuistry – plain and simple, if you don’t know the term, that means using any argument rather than searching for the truth. That’s what they were doing. But the point is, Paul was an apostle. Paul was responsible for their spiritual well-being. God himself had given him that authority on the Damascus road when the Lord Jesus appeared to him like Paul mentions in verse 1. And so for Paul, to not respond would be to abdicate the role God had given him, it would have been breaking the 5th commandment for Paul to not honor God who gave him this responsibility. And so you have to feel for the man. Paul is put in the awkward scenario of defending his own authority.”TE David Barry, 06-06-21, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHWxHG7JHVE
A little application from this sermon might be instructive for the Session in light of the SJC Panel decision exonerating RE Dudt. Is the Session “using any argument rather than searching for truth”? Despite what they say, the Session’s actions of resistance suppose that the SJC does not have authority over them and they are, in demanding a rehearing of the RE Dudt case, pushing back against those who have been given responsibility for their “spiritual well-being” in the Presbyterian system of church government. Will they “honor God” who gave them that responsibility and submit?
TE Barry went on in his sermon series to express that submission to the higher authority is how one expresses their “love” for others. Is the Session trustingly loving their “Fathers and Brothers” at the SJC who found them to be in very great error? Are they rejecting Godly leadership?
Of love and submission TE Barry also said:
“You know sometimes Christians resent Godliness in other Christians. Even a church can reject Godly leadership. We might say especially the church can reject Godly leadership. We all know that sneaking realization that our leaders’ feet are made of clay and we see their flaws and we see their errors. But we need to be very careful, we learn from 1 Corinthians 9, lest we make the mistake that the Corinthians were making. The Corinthians were smart people. They were extremely knowledgeable Christians. And they were wrong. And they were wrong because they missed the all important difference between knowledge on the one hand and love on the other. That was their mistake we read that in 1 Corinthians 8.”TE David Barry, 06-06-21, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHWxHG7JHVE
It is clear that TE Barry and the Sesson believed that the signing of the credible report by their fellow elders was not loving – so much so that they drew up charges of slander that are currently being prosecuted. TE Barry may have meant to apply the rejection he referred to those elders, but now many months later, his words may have a more salient application… has the Session, as “extremely knowledgeable Christians,” “missed the all important difference between knowledge” and love?
Submitting to one another may be one expression of love, but the expression of love most needed at this time in the life of Midway Presbyterian Church is repentance. Prosecutor RE Keesee, Moderator and Senior Pastor David Hall, TEs David Barry and Marc Harrington, and the entire Session that voted to convict their brother RE Philip Dudt with false charges in the name of Christ Jesus are in much need of repentance. Rather than pushing back against the judgment of their “Fathers and Brothers” and divisively pressuring the presbytery for a rehearing of the case, is it not time for them to practice what they preach and submit to the decision, repent, and begin to heal a congregation that’s unity has been shattered by their behavior?