As Presbyterians, we affirm that our form of church polity is the biblical design for Christ’s church and “essential to the perfection of the church.” That being the case, it is also essential that we do our best, in Christ, to ensure the polity of the church works as God designed it. Which means, in part, showing the world how representational government is supposed to work as we engage in the battle for the world, being fruitful and multiplying, making disciples, and exercising dominion under the reign of Jesus Christ our King.
(Read Parts I, II, and III here.)
Electing officers and approval a few decisions of the session are where the laity’s voting responsibility stops; we don’t have a vote on the issues before the various church courts. We do not vote on overtures in presbyteries or in the General Assembly. While we can bring our concerns to some extent before the church courts, we cannot vote on them.
So, this point is where the representative nature of our polity kicks into gear. In this light, we should participate in individual and group discussion and debate about the issues. This could take part in various venues. First in the home. And in home fellowship groups. In Bible studies. In Sunday School classes. In congregational meetings. And in more modern forms of communications such as newspapers, TV, radio, newspapers, and the Internet. Always, of course, while keeping the second great commandment of loving our neighbors as ourselves.
We must do this remembering that this is an integral part of the perfection of the church. We don’t just hold forth when there is something we disagree with. We do this as part of developing a deeper understanding of God’s Word, pursuing our sanctification and the sanctification of the church through informing the development of the doctrine of the church. Because of this, and because we are ruled by elders, the discussion and debate of the laity is something that church elders should incorporate in their deliberations over their understanding of Scripture.
This is important because the involvement of the laity helps ensure that the councils and courts of the PCA reflect the wisdom of the entire church since, “as a representative system, the PCA system is susceptible to being manipulated by a minority that knows the system, is willing to participate in the system, capitalizes on the most influential aspects of the system, and is willing to be involved for the long term” (Taylor, Uniqueness, 6).
This doesn’t mean I am espousing majoritarian, or congregational, rule; it is just that representative government often fails because it becomes insular are ignores or dismisses wisdom available to it from those it represents. God designed representational church government to provide for a two-way flow of accountability and wisdom for good reason.
As I have noted, the representative nature of church government is not unlike how God has designed civil government. God designed both church and civil government and officeholders in both the church and the civil government are not only elected to be where they are but are called by God to be in the positions of authority they hold.
So what do representatives in civil government do as part of their roles as officeholders? They seek input from their constituents. Of course, some seek input only to help ensure they get reelected. But they should be doing it because they are representatives in a representative form of government and they have been placed there by God to represent the people that elected them. I think this same dynamic captured in the design of the PCA’s polity. While our rulers’ first allegiance is to God (which, by the way, is also the first allegiance of all elected government officials–Christian or not), they also have a responsibility to listen to their constituents, i.e., the members of their church, as they strive for the purity, peace, unity, and edification of the Church.
Input from the laity on the general nature of the church and on specific questions before the church is part of the perfection of the church because there is wisdom to be gained through the process. That is why the PCA’s polity is representational and provides opportunities by which the elders of our church can (and do) both encourage discussion within the church and receive the wisdom to be gained through those discussions.
Sessions in the PCA and presbyteries should provide numerous opportunities for the two-way flow of wisdom with the flock. They should communicate through email and newsletters. And hold meetings in homes through the church to reach out and listen to the congregation. And hold congregational meetings. And establish committees on which members of a congregation can serve and communicate with the session. And welcome congregations to attend and speak to session meetings.