Polity And Peace: Do Church Officers Have An Obligation To Comply?

There is more to becoming an officer than the laying on of hands by the elders — vows are the other essential part of officer-making. All officers vow that they approve of the polity of the PCA, that they will be subject to the courts of the Church (their brethren), and that they will strive for the purity, peace, unity, and edification of the church as a whole, which is to say the wider (not just local) Church. Therefore, these vows seem to require a scrupulous adherence to the rules, terms, and processes described in the PCA’s BCO, assuming that the written, stated law of the Church is the law of the Church. Such adherence is uncontroversially essential to the purity, peace, and unity of the Church, to say nothing of trust and true harmony among co-laborers in gospel ministry. Rule benders in organizations often joke that it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission when supposed exigency “requires” non-compliance. But if forgiveness is required (due to actual offense), should not repentance (and new obedience) also be required, especially when that organization is a church with agreed-upon standards (the written law code of the church)?

But the law of what’s allowed is a thing. We all know that the posted speed limits on state and federal highways are honored more in breach than by strict obedience. Everyone knows what the “real” speed limit is, at least until flashing blue lights in the rearview mirror suggest otherwise and bring the driver back to the reality of the written law and the posted speed limit. Highway patrolmen are needed to more or less keep order on our roadways. In the church, there are no police per se. In fact, even Presbyterian churches pretty much run on an honor system. The review and control of presbyteries via review of records is mostly review, advise, and suggest, if that. Minor issues are often covered in love. Much patience is shown in more serious offenses. Major offenses are usually dealt with, but slowly, with much empathy, and with great deference to lower courts.

Moral issues of officers generally get more attention than process and polity peccadilloes. But what about when someone says, “We’re not following the rules because a lot of people don’t follow the rules, and we don’t think you’re going to stop us”? What about when the seeming law of what’s allowed begins to damage the fabric of our polity? Read More»

Brad Isbell | “The Church’s Two Laws” | February 28, 2023


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  1. Brad: Where do we go to find honorable men who take their vows of ordination as a solemn responsibility rather than obstacles to be overcome? Are their peers who do not discipline them in a timely manner any less guilty? We talk about things moving slowly in our polity not being a bad thing but isn’t the maxim true that “justice delayed is justice denied”? I submit Greg Johnson/Memorial Presbyterian as Exhibit A.

  2. Excellent article, thank you Brad! The “law of what’s allowed” is certainly something I worry about with the presbytery my church is a part of (PCA in central NC), where at least one church has a “women leadership team” thing going on and the whole non-ordained deaconess thing as well, and it doesn’t seem to be an issue (speaking as a layman who has been to presbytery a couple times as a guest). I’m fairly new to the PCA (not even a year at this point) but seeing things like this dampens my spirits a bit about the purity of the denomination and it’s commitment to the BCO and the Standards (or lack thereof).

  3. To be brief about it, it seems to me that the “good faith subscription” addition was the hinge of a door which can no longer be closed. I’ll liken it to the modern secular mindset that “everyone gets a trophy”, just in the PCA church.
    Is the PCA doomed? Great question. I’ll let you know after I meet with an OPC pastor this weekend.

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