What We Believe
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July 11, 2019 Q & A

The Extent of the Session’s Authority

Question

How much authority does the session have over the member of the congregation? Can the session claim authority in every aspect of the life of the member?

Answer

Thank you for your question about the Session’s authority. The answer, at its core, is that the authority of the church (through its officers) is “ministerial and declarative.”

All church power is only ministerial and declarative, for the Holy Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. No church judicatory may presume to bind the conscience by making laws on the basis of its own authority; all its decisions should be founded upon the Word of God. “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship” (Confession of Faith, Chapter XX, Section 2). (Form of Government III.3).

That means that the church can only require what Scripture requires, or forbid what God has forbidden in His Word. It is contrary to the liberty for which Christ died to require an implicit faith or obedience to things outside of what God has declared. And the Word of God speaks to all areas of life.

Now, how does that fit into the life of the believer? As with most things in life, it begins to be a bit complicated. For example, does the Session have a right/responsibility to deal with a member about their finances? If the money is illegally obtained, or being spent on wicked things, the answer would be yes. If the question is about whether you pay for basic internet service or a high speed connection, it would be difficult to find a biblical mandate that would be relevant.

Or, if the clothing worn to worship is biblically inappropriate, something might be necessarily said. But the Session can’t tell me to get a different shirt because they don’t like my color selection.

 

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