Biblical Authority: The Ecclesiastical Courts
I am a Presbyterian minister. Having served in the courts of the church now for 14 years, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that Proverb s 29:25 speaks to every presbyter:
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.[i]
Presbyteries in my denomination have the following charge given to them by our constitution:
“It is the duty of the presbytery to maintain a faithful supervision over all the congregations within its bounds and to provide for presbyterial visitation, to guard against any teaching contrary to sound doctrine and any corruption of the worship of God, and to institute presbyterial discipline when necessary.”[ii]
The need to “guard against any teaching contrary to sound doctrine and any corruption of the worship of God” is the regular business of Presbytery each time it meets to conduct business. Presbytery:
- examines students under care related to their soundness in the faith and their ability to articulate it.
- debates papers proposing changes to doctrine and practice.
- adjudicates discipline cases, sometimes involving the holding, or promulgation, of positions contrary to the adopted doctrines of the church.
To borrowing a phrase taken out of context:
Who is sufficient for these things?[iii]
The question needs to be asked by every Presbyter: What happens when the courts of the church function well? Although a much larger list could be developed, consider four things:
- The truth of the gospel is preserved. Thus:
- The people of God are preserved from the damage incurred by the applications of false teaching.[ix] They will “no longer be children, tossed to and from by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”[x]
- The people of God are equipped for every good work.[xi] Thus, God receives the praise due His name.[xii]
- Unity is achieved and enjoyed.[xiii]
The work of Presbytery is essential work to the work of gospel faithfulness!
The importance of the work of the presbytery cannot be overstated. As individual presbyters, men must solemnly commit to personal submission to the authority of the scriptures. Personal friendships, potential ecclesiastical advantages, a desire to be seen as “reasonable” or “loving & encouraging to students under care”, all must be subordinated to a commitment to serve the King of the Church, the LORD Jesus Christ, and by doing this presbyters imitate the great shepherd, who laid down his life for the church. The church is the precious bride of Christ. Personal ambition, comfort, or pride have no place in the thinking of the Presbyter. Rather, a desire to ensure the good of the people of God entrusted by the great Shepherd to our care must rule our thinking and actions. This desire will come only as Presbyters are individually submitted to the authority of the scripture. In turn, the authority of the scriptures will rule collectively as presbyters meet together in constituted court.
Recognizing that the fear of man is a snare and that this snare will, in the context of presbytery decisions, result in harm to the people of God, I have determined to endeavor to speak and vote my conscience without consideration of what my fellow Presbyters think of me. Do I do this perfectly? Regrettably, I do not. So, with Paul, I repent and then forgetting about what lies behind, I press on to the goal…[xiv] My prayer is the my fellow presbyters in all Presbyterian denominations will do the same.
People of God, those who read this but are not presbyters, PRAY for your Teaching and Ruling elders. The work of Presbytery is essential and demanding. Pray for them to be submitted to the authority of the scriptures. It will be for your own well being!
Martin B. Blocki has served since 2003 as the Associate Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA since 2002. He is a counselor at the Biblical Counseling Institute in Pittsburgh. Rev. Blocki graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington (BME), Arizona State University (MM), and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (MDiv). Martin and his wife, Kathy, have two married sons, one daughter, and two grandchildren.
[i] Proverbs 29:25
[ii] Directory for Church Government, Chapter 6, Paragraph 10. The Constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
[iii] 2 Corinthians 2:16
[iv] Romans 10:17
[v] Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:12
[vi] John 8:32
[vii] Romans 12:2
[viii] Jeremiah 31:33
[ix] Titus 1:11, Acts 20:29
[x] Ephesians 4:14
[xi] 2 Timothy 3:17, Ephesians 4:12
[xii] 1 Peter 2:12, 2 Corinthians 9:13
[xiii] Ephesians 4:13
[xiv] Philippians 3:12, 14