09 May 2008


Note: The posts in this series are the opinion of the author.They do not reflect, nor should they be construed to reflect, the opinions or positions of Cozen O'Connor, Forks of the Brandywine Presbyterian Church, the New Wineskins Association of Churches, or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Boiled down to basics, the congregation reserves the power of self-government, including the right to organize itself, so that, at the local level, its witness and ministry is most effective. Among the powers expressly reserved to the congregation are:

- election of officers of the local congregation (elders, deacons, and trustees),

- calling a pastor or pastors, matters related to the relationship between the pastor and the congregation, such as changing the terms of call, or requesting or consenting or declining to consent to dissolution,

- matters related to major financial impacts on the congregation, such as buying, mortgaging, or selling real property, and

- organization of its local, internal governance, such as lodging all administrative responsibility in the session, or requesting exemption from one or more requirements because of limited size.

Self-government has always been a hallmark of American presbyterianism. As part of their self-governance, congregations, voluntarily give, and through their elected elders, collect and spend the tithes and offerings in order to further their mission and ministry. They do so free from any legal or constitutional power in presbyteries, synods, or general assemblies to tax them or to otherwise confiscate their funds.

In most cases, they purchased and continue to maintain the property that is central to their local ministry and mission through the gifts, tithes and offerings of their local congregations. Congregations alone elect the elders who will lead them and call the pastors who will be their shepherds. Leadership of the local church is not imposed from on high by bishops, cardinals or other hierarchies.

It follows then that the permissive powers of the congregation must include those which protect the congregation from governmental, political, and bureaucratic tyranny.

More tomorrow.

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