A Bible-Presbyterian Session

Dear BPCWA worshipper, We will have our Annual Congregational Meeting in September. This also marks the year when our Triennial Elections to Session will be held. Though the BP government may be familiar to many, new people joining us and even some existing members may not be very clear about this subject. For this purpose, I conducted a church study series last year on “The Bible-Presbyterian Church Government”. The videos for this series are available online on our YouTube channel at bpcwa.org.au/youtube. However, as we have our elections this year, I will briefly summarise relevant points in today’s pastoral as a refresher to everyone, as well as explain a little more about BPCWA’s Session.

Requirements for every Session member. Every Session member must commit fully to their membership vows. This means that every Session member must personally believe in, fully embrace with personal convictions, and have practices consistent with the Reformed Bible-Presbyterian faith, including Biblical Separation (Constitution 13.1.3). They must attend our Sunday Worship Services and prayer meetings regularly (13.1.2). Why should they attend prayer meetings? Will that cause them to come for the wrong reason? No, it will not. Firstly, we only choose those who have been regularly attending prayer meetings i.e., they have been coming because they wanted to, not because they hoped that they would be asked to stand for office by doing so. Secondly, they must have been and will continue to be examples. It goes without saying that the Session member must satisfy the requirements of 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 (13.1). Regarding commitment, every Session member must “be willing to participate wholeheartedly in the ministry of the Church, with the Pastor, and to devote time, talents and resources in such ministry which shall include serving in the various departments of the Church” (13.1.4). These are the minimum requirements expected of every Session member. We will see more details in the weeks to come. Every single one must pull their weight. No one should expect to serve in a church Session thinking it is about doing the minimum while holding on to a position and title. Being a Session member is about convictions, commitment, and consecration.

Office of the Board of Elders. As seen in Acts 15, the New Testament church was governed not just by one man, but by “Apostles and elders” (Acts 15:4). Hence, the oversight of a Presbyterian church is the responsibility of the elders of the church as overseers (Acts 20:28). This word “oversight” comes from the Greek word episkopos (variously translated as overseers or bishop in the New Testament e.g., Titus 1:7). It refers to a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done are done rightly and in a position of authority responsible for the care for the church and her people. This care would cover the doctrinal, spiritual, and administrative care of the church. It is therefore important to note that decisions in BPCWA are not made by the vote of the whole Session (unless otherwise delegated by the Board of Elders) but by the consensus (i.e., 100% agreement) of the Board of Elders (17.5). Since the Bible refers to the church being run by a group or council of people, a Presbyterian church should not be governed by only one elder. To follow the Biblical model as closely as possible while we do not have our own ruling elders, we have seconded Rev Cheng to join me to make up the BPCWA Board of Elders (12.5, 15.5). Being an ordained Minister, we have indicated in our bulletin that he is the Associate Pastor. Should BPCWA have her own ruling elder one day, then he would simply be termed “elder”. So, while a ruling elder would have joint oversight of the church with the pastor (who is also an elder), the pastor has the additional duty of teaching and preaching the Word of God in the church as the pastor is called to the fulltime ministry of both teaching and church oversight. In short, the pastor performs the functions of both the teaching elder and ruling elder, working with the other ruling elders in the BOE to rule the church. In the Session, “the Pastor shall be the Moderator of the Church Session, except for prudential reasons, when the Board of Elders shall appoint one of its Elders as Chairman of a particular meeting” (14.7). “The Pastor shall be the ex-officio member and advisor of all committees connected with the Church” (14.6).

Office of deacons. Though deacons are not leaders in the church with decision-making authority, they fill the needed role of those who “serve tables”. The inception of this role is seen in Acts 6:1-4 when the Apostles appointed men to attend to certain day-to-day affairs and operations of the church. This office was eventually formalised to that in 1Timothy 3:8-13 with the title of deacon. Since many operational matters are needed in the church, the spiritual oversight of the church would otherwise be neglected if elders had to attend to every operational matter. Hence, deacons fill the critical need for the church to have responsible people handle the processes and implementation of certain projects or ministries for the church. Deacons are people who have proven that they can effectively organise, execute plans, and are dependable workers in the church. They must be reliable people who can be trusted to serve tables even when no one is around to see them work. But it must always be emphasized that none should serve only when a deacon title is dangled before their eyes. Deacons play the important role of going into the details, evaluating alternatives, drawing out plans, proposing, and presenting the most feasible solution with their evaluation of the pros and cons and why the other options are not as viable. This saves a lot of time for the Board of Elders who need not be bogged down with gathering all this information for themselves. With the proposals evaluated, the BOE can then make the final informed decision. These decisions are then executed by the deacons for the church. Deacons must have the gift of service (in Rom 12:7 and 1Cor 16:15 called “ministry”) to be able to perform their offices well. Also, not all deacons are gifted to be elders, since “every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that” (1Cor 7:7).  Being a deacon is not an automatic path to becoming an elder in time. Abiding in the areas of gifts that God has intended for each person is where the person is most useful to God.

As you can see from God’s good plan, the offices within the Session are important for the governance of the church. Knowing this, all members must attend the ACM to keep abreast of the matters of the church. However, only members in good standing may vote. While some churches have their ACM meetings on Saturday, we have traditionally held ours on Sunday thus far, so there is no reason for members in good standing to absent themselves. It is the Lord’s Day, and the church is God’s institution by which He extends His kingdom locally and globally. Every member must have a loving concern for the well-being of the church and that it is governed according to God’s principles and for His purposes alone. God has been gracious to give us peace and stability in BPCWA, but we cannot assume that it will always be so. Our history has taught us the importance of having people of BP convictions serving in a BP church. Hence, the right people elected to the Session is crucial for the church to function as it should. Simply installing people to have a semblance of a Session is not the way to do things and it will affect the work and the peace in God’s church. Hence, I hope that you will read this and the upcoming pastorals in preparation for the Triennial Elections. As we have been praying for several months now, let us keep it in our prayers that God will keep BPCWA strong to stand for His Word and the testimony of Jesus Christ our Lord!  

Yours in our Lord’s service,