Chapter V
Cases without Full Process

1. When a person comes before a judicatory as his own accuser, the judicatory may proceed to judgment without full process, determining first, what offense, if any has been committed, and, if a serious offense (cf. Chapter III, Section 7.b [6]) has been committed, what censure shall be pronounced.

Comment: This section needs to be attended to minutely; its details are quite important. There are various ways, first, that a person may “come before a judicatory as his own accuser.” Such frequently does not start with a person distinctly saying to their session, e.g., “I hereby come as my own accuser.” Instead, such a process might start with someone confessing sin to the pastor that the pastor then thinks is serious enough to warrant bringing before the session under this rubric.

This is a bit tricky here. The pastor may be counseling someone, in the course of which various sins emerge. If the party seeking counsel (though perhaps they have been required to seek counseling, which gives a different cast to the case) appears open and honest, much sin can be dealt with in the course of counsel that does not warrant being brought out of the counseling room and into the session meeting for its consideration. What should be brought out of the counseling room and into the session meeting is a matter of discretion for a wise pastor reporting to and interacting with his session.

We should be clear with parties seeking pastoral counsel in our churches that they can ordinarily expect and enjoy confidence in their pastoral counseling, acknowledging, at the same time, that the session will get a report that counseling is occurring, and a general description of the counseling will be given to the session as well. Two cases occur, however, in which those receiving counseling cannot expect such confidential treatment of all counseling matters: when the counseling discovers/uncovers sin that the counselee refuses to deal with and thus necessitates discipline, and matters need to be brought to the attention of the session; and when matters, like various sorts of abuse that are in violation of law, come to light in such counseling that demand reporting to the civil authorities—this is the other circumstance in which the situation overrides the need for or expectation of ordinary confidentiality.

So sin may emerge from counseling that needs to be dealt with by the session and constitutes an instance of someone coming forward as his own accuser. Thus, the confession of sin may occur in a purely voluntary way (e.g., in counseling, someone calls up the pastor and confesses that they have committed sin, say adultery, and the like) or be otherwise discovered (a woman may find incriminating evidence—a credit card charge or a receipt—and her husband confesses infidelity to her). All of these may be construed as instances of someone confessing sin in a way that the offender might be encouraged to come forward as his own accuser to the session, specifically under the rubric of BD 5.1.

These examples may be understood, then, as instances furnishing the grounds for someone to come as his own accuser. Take a man who is “caught” in some fashion and confesses adultery to his wife. The pastor may speak with him and ask if he is willing to “come before the judicatory as his own accuser,” basically coming before the judicatory in the confession of his sin. This is listed in the first section of a “case without full process,” because when someone confesses sin there is no need for a trial to establish guilt. Recall that the purpose of a trial is to establish the facts of the case and to apply the law of the church to the facts. In the case of someone confessing sin, or coming as his own accuser, the facts of the case are not in dispute; rather, they are stipulated. Coming as one’s own accuser means someone comes saying, “I sinned in this way,” and the judicatory may thus proceed to consider matters beyond the question of guilt, since guilt has already been acknowledged.

It is important here to note that, however a person precisely comes to appear before a judicatory as his own accuser, whatever he confesses to is what he is judicially guilty of. If someone confesses something less than he should in the eyes of the judicatory and fails or refuses to confess what the judicatory believes the evidence warrants, then the judicatory will have to charge and try him of that which the judicatory believes his confession lacks. Someone cannot confess gossiping and end up having such a confession recorded as adultery. A person may well need to be encouraged to confess all that he is guilty of, so that there is no need for a trial; otherwise, the judicatory will need to try him for anything of which they regard him guilty but for which he fails or refuses to confess.

Assuming that someone’s confession is deemed adequate, let us say it is a seventh commandment issue, the judicatory then does two things: It determines what sin, if any, has been committed, and it also determines whether such a sin is serious enough to warrant trial (as if the judicatory were conducting a BD 3.7 or 3.8 preliminary investigation). Sticking with the example of the husband confessing infidelity (say, it is sexual relations with a woman not his wife), the judicatory would determine that this is, first, a violation of the seventh commandment (with all the relevant Scripture and Standards citations) and, second, that it is indeed serious enough to warrant a trial, were one needed, in accordance with BD 3.7.b.(6).

Having ascertained these two things (the offense and its seriousness), the judicatory shall then proceed to consider what censure shall be pronounced. First, though, the censure shall be proposed and the contemplated censure reported to the party that came as his own accuser. Some think that coming as one’s own accuser means that one has no (or has given up any) right to appeal. A right to appeal in a judicial case, however, not only applies to the verdict (guilty or not guilty) but to the proposed censure (as to its degree). Take the case of a man confessing drunkenness: the session could determine the proposed censure to be excommunication. He would have the right to appeal and to argue for a lesser censure. Coming as one’s own accuser does not mean that whatever the judicatory may propose to do by way of censure lies beyond appeal.

Note, returning to the two steps (determining the offense and its seriousness) that the judicatory engages before proposing censure, a judicatory may conceivably do things other than proceed to propose censure. There was a case in which some folks new to the OPC “confessed” to their session the sin of having a glass of wine at a wedding. After ascertaining that no drunkenness was involved, but, in this case, only a single glass of wine was consumed, the judicatory explained to them that no offense had occurred. Or perhaps someone confesses gossip, and the judicatory determines it to be an offense, but not one meriting censure. They instruct the person, who was convicted by preaching on the subject, to work with the pastor (or other counselors) to address this characteristic sin in their life and to seek to die to it and live to righteousness.

All this is to say that not all sin that one confesses to a pastor or elder warrants coming before the session for censure. If the pastor or elders (or session as a whole) is convinced that a man is taking his sin seriously and taking the steps necessary to address his sin, it may continue to work with him pastorally as it sees fit. More serious sin, and the session’s discretion and judgment in the matter is key here, may warrant coming before the session for, say, an admonition or rebuke, while the offender either continues or starts counseling with the pastor or other competent parties who can furnish progress reports to such agreed upon by the pastor/session. There is a proper flexibility here enjoyed by judicatories in engaging parties who come as their own accusers to the judicatory.

2. Erasure is an act of discipline without full process.

a. The names of members may be removed from the roll of the church by erasure according to the following provisions:

(1) When a member desires dismissal to a church of which the session cannot approve as a church of like faith and practice, nor a church which will advance his spiritual interests, and he cannot be dissuaded, it shall grant him a certificate of standing, unless the session institutes disciplinary action against him; on being informed that he has joined such a church the clerk shall erase his name from the roll and record the circumstances in its minutes.

(2) When a member of a particular church, whether or not he be charged with an offense, informs the session that he does not desire to remain in the fellowship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the efforts of the session to dissuade him from his course have failed, it shall erase his name from the roll and record the circumstances in its minutes, unless the session institutes or continues other disciplinary action against him.

(3) When a member unites with a church of another denomination without a certificate of dismission, the session may erase his name from the roll and record the circumstances in its minutes.

(4) When a member cannot be found, the session may, after two years, erase his name from the roll and record the circumstances in its minutes.

(5) When a member, without adequate reason, persists in attending a church of another denomination in preference to his own, or persistently and over an extended period of time, absents himself from the stated services of the church, his name may be erased from the roll according to the following procedures: he shall be earnestly and personally dealt with by the session. If this effort fails, he shall be notified that at a meeting of the session not less than two months later his standing shall be reviewed. The session shall inform him of the time, date, and place of this meeting and invite him to show why his name should not be erased from the roll. If satisfactory reasons are not presented, the session shall erase his name from the roll, record the circumstances in its minutes, and send notification to him.

(6) When a noncommunicant member neglects the ongoing exhortation of the session to profess faith in Christ and rejects the covenantal responsibility of submission to home or church, the session may upon prior notification erase his name from the roll.

b. The names of ministers may be removed from the roll of the presbytery by erasure according to the following provisions:

(1) When a minister, whether or not he be charged with an offense, informs the presbytery that he desires to renounce the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by abandoning his ministry and membership therein, or by declaring himself independent, or by joining another body without a regular dismission, the presbytery shall seek to dissuade him from his course, and, if these efforts fail, it shall erase his name from its roll and record the circumstances in its minutes unless the presbytery institutes or continues disciplinary action.

(2) When a minister has been absent from the meetings of presbytery for two years and the presbytery after diligent search is unable to find him, his name shall be erased from the roll.

Comment: This section has material regarding erasure that is identical with some of the material on erasure in BD 2. BD 2 deals with jurisdiction and addresses both the ways in which a judicatory may add a member and remove a member, the latter being described under BD 2.B.3.d. Reference should be made to this section in BD 2 for commentary on the erasures described in BD 5.2.a.

Since the language in both chapters is the same, one might wonder why the two different treatments of the same material: erasure of members at the sessional level. The first instance of treatment, in BD 2, is under the rubric of jurisdiction and treats the question of erasure in what may be arguably described as an administrative matter.

In this section of the book, BD 5, erasure is treated as an act of discipline without full process, which is to say that erasure under this rubric is akin to a light form of excommunication. Since comment has already been made on this under BD 2, here let me only note further, in my opinion, that a session that seeks to make clear that it sees the particular erasure in question as a form of discipline, should treat that erasure under this rubric in BD 5 rather than the jurisdictional rubric in BD 2.

One might well ask whether treating erasure under two different headings, one dealing with jurisdiction, as does BD 2 (arguably, in context, an administrative approach to erasure), and the other treating erasure as an act of discipline without full process, as does BD 5 (which means it is clearly judicial and not merely administrative), is purposeful and meaningful. In other words, does the treatment of the same thing under two different rubrics mean that judicatories can variously regard erasure? Can it be viewed in some cases as an administrative act and in others as a judicial act?

Or is it just a matter of treating it in BD 2 under jurisdiction (because jurisdiction is at issue in erasure) and then treating it under acts of discipline without full process in BD 5 because it is an act of discipline in any and all cases? This is a matter that has been and remains controverted. It is this commentator’s view that the judicatory is given discretion in the case for the way that it views erasure, allowing the judicatory to treat some cases more lightly (under BD 2) and other cases more strenuously (under BD 5). One supposes that the debate will continue, and judicatories will employ which rubric they regard as most fitting in the given case.

Now we turn to consider erasure for ministerial members, a matter that is not treated by BD 2, perhaps strengthening the argument that this sort of erasure (in BD 5) is always viewed as an act of discipline, but perhaps all sorts (for regular members of the church) are not. As for erasure of members of presbytery, in other words, ministerial members, erasures are strictly an act of discipline, and they can occur in two instances.

The second cited instance of erasure (BD 5.2.b.2) makes for easier comment: concerning a minister who has not been to presbytery for two years, the presbytery, having made diligent search but being unable to locate him, shall erase his name from the roll. This provision has become increasingly unused, since the time in which we now live makes it possible to locate parties more readily than ever. In the past, persons might more readily simply disappear—not as much now in the internet age in which search for missing parties is made easier. Nonetheless, this provision remains and is to be used in the rare case of not being able to find a ministerial member of presbytery who no longer attends.

The other, more common, case is when a minister, whether charged with an offense or not, tells the presbytery (usually in writing) that he desires and intends to renounce the jurisdiction of the OPC. There are three circumstances given in which such a situation might be envisioned to occur. First, a minister may inform the presbytery that he has, or intends to, abandon his ministry and membership in the OPC. Second, a minister may tell his presbytery that he wishes to declare himself independent and no longer under the jurisdiction of the OPC. Third, a ministerial member of a presbytery may inform them that he has joined (or intends to join) another body without a regular dismission from his presbytery.

In all these cases, the presbytery shall seek to dissuade the minister in view from renouncing the jurisdiction of the OPC. This would commonly involve appointing a committee to meet with him, perhaps asking him to come to presbytery—whatever course the presbytery thinks might make him think better of his desire to leave the OPC. Men come to such conclusions for a variety of reasons: some are chagrined with the OPC (or Presbyterianism); others have come to incompatible positions—such as rejecting infant baptism or becoming Roman Catholic.

If the efforts to dissuade him from leaving fail—as they, sadly, commonly do—the presbytery has two options. It can erase him from the roll and record the circumstances of such erasure in its minutes (and report this action to the broader church). Or it can institute or continue the process of discipline if it thinks that such is warranted in the case. The action to be taken here is up to the discretion of the presbytery. It is most common in such cases for the presbytery to erase the minister, record the circumstances in the minutes, and report its actions to the wider church.

Alan D. Strange is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as professor of church history and theological librarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana, and is associate pastor of First Orthodox Presbyterian Church of South Holland, Illinois. Ordained Servant Online, June/July, 2023. A list of available installments in this series appears here.

Publication Information

Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
827 Chestnut St.
Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

Electronic mail: reynolds.1@opc.org

Submissions, Style Guide, and Citations


Editorial Policies

Copyright information

Ordained Servant: June–July 2023


Also in this issue

Two Paths to Happiness, and Why Only One Can Lead to a Happy End

The Voice of the Good Shepherd: God’s Medium: Tongues of Fire, Chapter 5 [1]

Getting to Know Your Pastor: Letters to a Younger Ruling Elder, No. 6

Secular Insight on Happiness: A Review Article

Muddying the Baptismal Waters? A Review Article

The Holy Spirit by Robert Letham


Sonnet LXXII

Download PDFDownload MobiDownload ePubArchive


+1 215 830 0900

Contact Form

Find a Church