I would like to receive some guidance regarding publicized information (meaning shared with the congregation) related to personal conflict. Specifically, when do matters become public to the congregation, and what level of detail is expressed?
I am also looking for guidance on the same questions, but how it relates to concerns brought to a session about a pastor, elder or deacon (church leadership) in cases where it regards sin, and also in cases where it doesn’t regard sin but does question the effectiveness of the person in his position.
Thank you for your question. It is not a simple one, having several parts to it, but I’ll try to be helpful.
Presbyterianism tries to biblically balance two realities:
The OPC having arisen in a situation where J. Gresham Machen was falsely and with evil intent accused by his presbytery in 1936 and not given a fair trial, the OPC’s Book of Discipline protects the right of the accused. Yet it also gives a procedure by which charges can be brought. In fact, if a person needs assistance in preparing charges, a session or a presbytery is required to help that person put the charges in the best order possible so that charges cannot be dismissed on technicalities. And a person bringing a charge does not have to prosecute charges himself but can ask others to assist or even take over the matter. All this is laid out in the Book of Discipline (http://www.opc.org/BCO/BD.html).
But most of us are not eager to go that route, though it is very important that the OPC (and other Presbyterian bodies) has spelled out the procedure. We don’t want to begin as adversaries but as fellow believers, and that is where you seem to be, if I am reading you right. That is wise, so then we have to ask other questions:
Finally, you write about how public information should be in certain situations. Speaking from experience that is sometimes very difficult for those responsible to make a determination about what to reveal. Often a session tries to protect innocent parties when sensitive issues come to them, say in the case of two young people who become sexually intimate. In one case, the fact that the young woman became pregnant meant that the session needed to address it, but only after there are a private dealing with the couple, a confession of sin by them, and then it was presented as a gospel lesson. The couple was married and became faithful members of the church. But suppose a young child had been molested by a older person? A session might discipline the offender but refrain from giving many details. This calls for wisdom on the part of the elders and we need to pray for them in these things.
I hope this is helpful. It is, as I said, not a simple thing, but in a church where we treasure and seek to live by the gospel, we are can talk, confront, forgive, and restore because we all come as those in need of the grace found only in Jesus Christ.
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