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?
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.
"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.
The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.
At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those people who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)
The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.
While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.
You will receive an answer by e-mail. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two (2) weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.
Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been editedall personal references are removed, Scripture references or from some source may be added, and sometimes portions are expandedto make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.