14 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.

To wrap up:

A mandatory State-church is anathema to Americans. We cannot send out press gangs to force people to become members of the PC(USA), the EPC, or any other congregation or denomination. People may come and go as the Spirit moves them. If a majority of the individual members of a faith community collectively and collegially determine that they are called to move together, they have the right to do so with the property that they have purchased and maintained for that community and its ministry and mission. Cf., Genesis 12: 5. The suggestion that such a conscientious decision may be made only by individuals, rather than through a corporate decision, can only be the result of a truly bureaucratic mind.

Attempts to coerce continued membership through the use of unnecessarily bureaucratic and dilatory processes and the in terrorem effect of confiscatory “property trusts” are doomed to failure. Although parishioners are naturally emotionally tied to “their” church [building], faith and God’s call will ultimately lead faithful believers to abandon their baggage if faithfulness so requires.

The claim that power to sever relations with an entire congregation is reserved solely to the presbytery does not appear in the Book of Order. In order for such power to reside in the presbytery alone, Book of Order § G-11.0301 would have to read:

T h e presbytery is responsible for the mission and government of the church throughout its geographical district. It therefore has the sole responsibility and power
* * *
i . to divide, dismiss, or dissolve churches; . . ..

This wording is obviously unworkable when one applies it to the other 26 subparagraphs of § G-11.0301. Instead, a separate provision would be needed, for example:
a. The presbytery has the sole responsibility and power to divide, dismiss, or dissolve churches within its geographical district.
b. Dismissal is the only constitutionally permissible means for a congregation to sever its relationship with the PC(USA) and its presbytery.

Obviously, the PC(USA) has taken no such action to limit the decision to depart to the presbytery. In fact, the absence of such a clear and specific proscription led the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to recognize disaffiliation as a permissive option for a congregation. See, Presbytery of Beaver-Butler v. Middlesex, 489 A.2d 1317, 1324 (Pa. 1985) (“[t]he Constitution [of the UPCUSA] does not prohibit a congregation from disaffiliating . . .”; “when the local body voluntarily affiliated with the UPCUSA’s predecessor. . .”) (emphasis added).

In the ensuing 24 years, the PC(USA) has ignored that decision and its inherent warning and has taken no action whatsoever to remedy the absence of such a bar to disaffiliation. Until it does, the Book of Order is ambiguous and that ambiguity ought to be construed in favor of a reading of § G-7.0304a(5) to reserve to congregations a permissive power to disaffiliate.

Here endeth the lesson.


Strode said...

Thank you very much Mac, and belatedly:
Wishing you a very Happy Birthday!


Bill Crawford said...

great now you've given them ideas for a commissioner's overture to close that loop!

course then the cat would really be out of the bag.

Mac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mac said...

Rich: You are most welcome.

Bill: It is no secret. The proposed Form of Government does away with the "permissive powers" language, replacing it with G-1.0503:

"Business Proper to Congregational Meetings
Business to be transacted at meetings of the congregation
shall be limited to matters related to the following:
a. electing ruling elders, deacons, and trustees;
b. calling of a pastor, co-pastor, or associate pastor;
c. changing existing pastoral relationships, by such
means as approving or changing the terms of call,or requesting, consenting to, or declining to consent to dissolution;
d. buying, mortgaging, or selling real property;
e. deciding to lodge all administrative responsibility
in the session, or to request from presbytery an exemption
from one or more requirements because of limited size."

We surely do not want those pesky folks in the pews to think that they have any powers that don't come from Imperial Louisville.

May 14, 2008 12:44 PM