Thinking about judicial process may strike you as soporific but imagine trying to work through church discipline without a guide! Many churches try just that. Faithful church discipline is one of the identifying marks of a church. In the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a member cannot be formally disciplined by either the pastor or the ruling elders simply accusing him of sin. Rather, a trial must take place. The Book of Discipline of the OPC provides the constitutional guidelines for conducting such a trial.
A colleague and I recently served as co-counsel, helping a session in a particularly challenging situation. Since members of the church planned to attend the trial, I tried to describe in informal, non-technical language, some of the highlights of what the book says about a trial, as judicial process can be confusing, particularly as formal charges are, thankfully, infrequent. Subsequently I expanded and modified that paper slightly. Here, in case it might be helpful or thought provoking, is a link to “Walking through Trial Procedure.”
I am well aware that the Book of Discipline is imperfect. Thought needs to be given, I believe, to improvements, particularly in the area of providing protection and care for those who have been harmed by the sins of others. And even the best book is administered by imperfect people.
Yet, I am grateful that we do have a Book of Discipline. And I am thankful for faithful officers who seek to honor the name of Christ, provide protection for those harmed, promote the purity of the church, and reclaim the sinner. Church discipline, done well, is pastoral.