… Speaking of the Ascension...
(See the reference from the front page article)
[WHICH IS RIGHT HERE:]
"...One topic discussed at VBS is rarely treated in our churches, but it is of inestimable importance for our faith: that Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection to rule and reign over all his kingdom. It was great fun to show the children the Mount of Olives outside of ancient Jerusalem where Jesus last physically spoke with his disciples. Jesus told them to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit whom he would pour out upon them so that they would be his witnesses to the entire world.
In heaven, Jesus is now bringing every enemy under his feet; he is reconciling all things in heaven and on earth; he is preparing a place for us; he is interceding for us; he is standing in our defense as our advocate; he is sending his spirit to convict, heal, convert, and disciple the nations; and he is empowering the servants of his kingdom -- The Church!"
[NOW THE ARTICLE BEGINS:]
What does the marshal say right when the judge walks into the courtroom? "All rise! The court is now in session…!"
This is the vernacular from where the Presbyterian church derives the term for their Session. Session members of a church are not simply a Board of Directors; they are an extension of the presiding rule of the ascended Jesus Christ (Mt. 16:19)! Jesus is bodily in heaven; but by his Holy Spirit indwelling godly men, Jesus rules his kingdom by his Word, sacrament, and Spirit. (As a comparison, consider the Roman Catholic Church who claims the Pope is the "Vicar of Jesus Christ" in the world... what the Pope pronounces is what the church does and believes.)
The Presbyterian Church has among her "standards" (the official theological "governing documents" that must be both affirmed and defended by those who become Elders) a document called, The Form of Government (the others are: The Westminster Confession of Faith; The Larger & Shorter Catechisms; The Book of Discipline; and The Directory of Public Worship). The FOG famously has as an opening statement: "Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the Church." The ensuing question is, "How is Jesus' Kingship known in the church?" And again, a Presbyterian says, "When godly men are elected to the office of Elder they are able to shepherd the flock in the worship of, and obedience to, the Lord Jesus Christ."
Who gets elected to be an Elder?
In the ARP, this is a decision made by the members of an "organized" church. The members determine to whom they will submit their obedience (famously known as, "the consent of the governed"). Descriptions for elder qualifications are listed in the New Testament books of 1 Timothy, Titus, and 1 Peter. Again, elders must make public vows at their ordination and installation that they affirm and will adhere to both the Scriptures and the Standards of the denomination. If a church is not "organized" (meaning they need assistance from the Presbytery) their Presbytery will provide a "provisional session" of ordained elders and a moderator from a nearby church to provide guidance until a time when they can be organized.
How many men comprise a Session?
In the ARP, only two men are needed to function as a session of a church. There is no limit to how many may serve, but whoever does serve should meet the expected criteria outlined in the Scriptures and Standards.
What is a Session's primary role in a church?
A Session's role is to provide leadership that oversees the spiritual growth and character of the church and governs her ministries. Consulting the Scriptures again, we discern a pattern for shared ministry among a second group of servant/leaders known as Deacons (who are given primary oversight to physical needs and concerns; while Elders provide care, counsel, discipleship, and discipline for and of church members). Session members also set the agenda for the worship service, administration of the sacraments, church membership, and present ministerial students to the Presbytery. When needed, Sessions appoint a "Search Committee" to seek ministerial candidates. They also coordinate with Presbytery to certify candidates. With congregational approval, they offer "a call" to a ministerial candidate. Session members also send representatives to Presbytery and Synod meetings. Each year, they are required to call a Congregational Meeting to approve financial budgets (crafted by the Deacons) and to address concerns of the congregation.
*AMENDMENT* A Congregational Meeting must have a quorum and a clearly published agenda for the meeting. Only matters related to the published agenda may be addressed at a called Congregational Meeting. However, if a church member would like to address another item not listed on the agenda, they may introduce the new item for a vote at a future and Congregational Meeting. After a seconded motion and discussion, if the majority votes in favor of pursuing this new action, another Congregational Meeting ought be called with this new and clearly published agenda. A full week (which would include another Sunday morning meeting of church to announce the meeting -- in effect, putting a new meeting two weeks out from another Congregational Meeting) must transpire before another called meeting convenes.
How does a church member contact the Session about a concern?
Members are always encouraged to speak with Elders about any concern they have about their spiritual life, theological questions, or even a disagreement they may have about a Session decision. First of all, if a private matter can be dealt with privately, and with prayer, an Elder would be prepared to fulfill this need. Secondly, if a matter required the input of multiple parties, then the admonitions of Matthew 18 should be consulted. If a member wishes to address the entire Session, they are welcomed to do so -- simply contact the Session Clerk for a time to accomplish this need. Thirdly, in very rare instances, a call for an "Executive Session Meeting" can take place to discuss a most confidential matter. Fourthly, all Session Minutes are public records (except Executive Session Minutes) and can be requested by church members. These same Session Minutes are reviewed at Presbytery meetings. Finally, if a member still wishes to pursue recourse beyond the court of their Session, they may contact the Clerk of Presbytery to initiate a hearing with a special commission established to provide reconciliation.
What is a Minister's role on a Session?
Ministers are members of church Sessions and act as a non-voting Moderator for Session Meetings. This introduces the Presbyterian concept of "ruling" and "teaching" Elders. Ruling Elders are men who demonstrate the qualities of mature Christianity already referenced in this article. Some Ruling Elders are incredibly gifted and even go on to pursue theological degrees in order to become a minister. However, most are simply men of good character and trusted by those who have elected them to office.
As a Teaching Elder, the Minister is primarily the one who preaches each Lord's Day and provides both leadership, shepherding, and vision for the church. It is the duty of the Teaching Elder to coordinate with the Ruling Elders to develop the overall mission of the church. In the ARP (outside of "extraordinary" cases), the Minister must have an undergraduate and seminary degree. Most ministers have additional acumen in counseling, apologetics, philosophy, and church growth. They are vetted by both a church search committee and a Presbytery Committee. Candidates must preach before, and be examined by, the whole of Presbytery before they can accept a call to an ARP church. Only a congregation can elect an ARP minister, and only a congregation can release an ARP minister (hopefully, with good intentions). Ministers are members of the Presbytery and not the local church.
How often do Elders rotate?
In the ARP, this decision is left to individual churches. Some vote for "perpetual" officers while others vote for terms (usually rotating every 3 years). Both models equally provide advantages and disadvantages -- too many to elucidate here.
Who are my Elders?
Their contact information is regularly listed on the back of our Sunday Worship Folders. They are the ones who serve the Lord's Supper. They are encouraged to wait up front of the sanctuary after the service to meet and pray with any who have a spiritual need or concern.
How do I pray for my Elders?
Scripture teaches that Jesus has given the church "leaders," "for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…" Pray that we do this, together!
PS. If you have any further questions regarding the role of elders in the church, or more questions about the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, please leave a comment or question. God bless!
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