MNY Presbytery Officially Accuses Dominic Aquila of Breaking the 9th Commandment; RMP Exonerates Him [Updated, 9:33 p.m. MDT]

Posted by Wes White

This spring, Dr. Dominic Aquila, former moderator of the PCA General Assembly and President of New Geneva Theological Seminary, published an article on The Aquila Report by Rev. John Otis entitled “Discerning Roman Catholic Tendencies Among Professing Reformed Churches.”  In this article, Otis took criticized Dr. Craig Higgins, a teaching elder in Metro New York Presbytery, and pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Rye, NY, for what he alleged were “Roman Catholic tendencies.”

Otis was concerned about TE Higgins’ advocacy of the practice of Lent and Ash Wednesday; his advocacy of a return to bishops; his suggestion that the Bishop of Rome would be the proper presiding bishop of a worldwide ecumenical council (as long as his authority was not greater than the ecumenical council, including rejecting papal infallibility); asserting that the church could “move beyond” the debate over baptismal regeneration by the renewal of a rich, instrumental baptismal theology; that Higgins was in agreement with the idea that by baptism one is made an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven; and Higgins’ view that baptism is ordinarily necessary for salvation, among other things.

Metro New York Presbytery responded to this article at their May 8, 2010 meeting.  They responded by unanimously voting to send a letter to Rocky Mountain Presbytery (the court with jurisdiction over TE Aquila) accusing TE Dominic Aquila of breaking the 9th commandment and a lack of love because he published this article.  “The article The article by Mr. Otis is not merely a critical interaction with Pastor Higgins’ views (which would be appropriate), but is an attack on his character and calls into question the appropriateness of his stature as a pastor in our denomination” (See the full letter below).

At its September Stated Meeting, At its September Stated Meeting, RMP heard a committee report that recommended exoneration.  RMP voted today to accept the committee’s recommendation and thus exonerate Dr. Aquila of the charges raised by Metro New York Presbytery.  [Updated, 9:27 p.m. MDT] RMP voted unanimously to exonerate Dr. Aquila.

Metropolitan New York Presbytery
Presbyterian Church in America
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city. . . Pray to the Lord for it” (Jeremiah 29:7).

May 19, 2010

Rev. Kevin Allen
Stated Clerk,
Rocky Mountain Presbytery
4055 South Nonchalant Circle
Colorado Springs, CO 80917

Dear Rev. Allen,

At our recent Presbytery meeting on May 8, 2010, we approved sending the enclosed letter formed by our Shepherding Team to your Presbytery. Thank you for your consideration on this matter.

Metropolitan New York Presbytery
Presbyterian Church in America
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city. . . Pray to the Lord for it” (Jeremiah 29:7).

May 19,2010

Dear Brothers of the Rocky Mountain Presbytery,

We trust this finds you all well and your churches flourishing in the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus.

We are writing because one of your presbyters, Dominic Aquila, publishes a website entitled “The Aquila Report” (www.theaquilareport.com) in which we believe he allows one of the brothers in our presbytery, Craig Higgins, to be slandered. We believe this is very serious failure to uphold the ordination vows that ask us to strive for the purity and peace of the church. We believe it is a violation of the ninth commandment and also of the call to love one another.

In the article published on TB Aquila’s website, Pastor Higgins, a teaching elder in good standing is called “a very dangerous man” and “theologically incompetent.” Moreover, we believe the paper was not charitable because it misrepresents Mr. Higgins views. The article was written by John M. Otis and TB Aquila posted it on March 16,2010 (http://theaquilareport.cornlindex.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=l 685:discerning-roman-catholic-tendencies-among-professing-reformedchurches&catid=79:commentary&Itemid=l37). We believe it is completely inappropriate of Dominic Aquila to publish this article and that he should be held accountable for doing so.

A number of individuals have written to TE Aquila about this matter and have received the following response from him: Thank you for your comments on John Otis’s commentary. Otis was assessing and critiquing the public views of Craig Higgins, a common practice when any author presents his views in writing for public consumption. While there were challenges to Higgins’s written views, the assessment was not a hit piece or character assassination. When any of us takes a position on an issue we can expect critiques from those who take a contrary position; it is a challenge to ideas the person presented not the person as an individual. I know that I have received both accolades and brickbats from my publicly stated positions; I appreciate the former and squirm with the latter, but if I stick my neck out I have to be willing to stand under scrutiny, both good and bad.

We find this response to be without repentance and completely inadequate. The article by Mr. Otis is not merely a critical interaction with Pastor Higgins’ views (which would be appropriate), but is an attack on his character and calls into question the appropriateness of his stature as a pastor in our denomination. It is our strong conviction that TE Aquila should not only remove the article and print a retraction but also apologize to Craig Higgins and ask for his forgiveness. We believe that the publishing of that article dishonors Christ and violates the unity of the body.

We respectfully implore you to take action. We await your reply.

In partnership for the gospel,

Metropolitan New York Presbytery

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22 Comments

  1. September 30, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Well it’s nice to see that I’m in such good company.

  2. Tim Phillips said,

    September 30, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Sigh. Craig Higgins was my RUF campus minister when I was in college. This breaks my heart every time I see/hear/read about it.

  3. Rachel said,

    September 30, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Most excellent news!

  4. David Gray said,

    September 30, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    I wonder when the SJC will slam their Rocky Mountain brethren…

  5. September 30, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    David,

    What do you mean?

    -Brian

  6. David Gray said,

    September 30, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Well history has shown we can’t just accept a presbytery clearing one of their own at face value. Right?

  7. September 30, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    David,

    Sometimes we can. Sometimes we can’t.

    If some dissident RMP member want’s to complain to the SJC, that is his right, of course. And I would support him in the exercise of those rights.

    B

  8. grit said,

    October 1, 2010 at 6:19 am

    Some have suggested that court dialog is perhaps the best way to conduct theological debate or scrutiny, as the safest established places of civil conversation. While I eminently value our church courts and the guidance and protections in discipline they usually oath (but at which they sometimes fail), surely our conversations, even of theology and things that delve into the heart of Christianity reach beyond such common trial as we’ve witnessed of late. Where is the art of substantive yet civil rhetoric in our Internet Age? I know our forefathers have likewise engaged in theological diatribe. It’s at the very least a hallmark of Presbyterianism on a par with the Christian mark of love, this dual-edged sword of purity and peace, of justice and mercy. It just seems to me that we’ve emphatically blurred all the definitions of meanness, and that perhaps this medium of instant impersonal communication has exacerbated our court system to excess.

    I agree that Otis’ (of the RPCUS) “Discerning Roman Catholic Tendencies Among Professing Reformed Churches” is essentially an anti-Higgins (of the PCA) piece under editorial supervision of Dominic Aquila (of the PCA). Perhaps as such a personal piece it ought to have been better titled as such and initially sent to it’s subject, Craig Higgins; but as much an action of rights as is all the court drama, I can’t help but assess that perhaps there are better things for our courts to be doing, or perhaps better ways of doing them? I side with Scripture (and as one who accepts the book of James) that there are worthy avenues of holy conversation that don’t involve eviscerating our beloved brethren, but all this talk of 9th Commandment leads me to wantonly wonder how it wound up # 9 instead of #1. How we talk to and about one another greatly matters, and I assess that we largely and historically fail in its proper efficacy, especially for confessionally Reformed theologians who ought to know and practice better. I begin to wag and lower my head as a participant in some television ‘reality’ show hyped up for ratings among the Reformed.

    Oh, there is theological substance beyond the essence of Christian marksmanship. Otis’ editorial is adequately summed up at the end, listing Higgins’ errors, the discussion of which is important. To take on simply the first and briefest element, Holy Days beyond a Lord’s Day Christian Sabbath, are we really intent to convey that all Reformed celebrators of Christmas are to be consigned to a Papal Hell? I’ll shamelessly admit to blogging about it and trust I won’t wind up in court over the matter, while equally recommending that ardent and impassioned dialog continue to be engaged among we Reformed, and imploring our courts to diligently guide on the heart of the matter, rather than sideline the substance into personal bickering.

    – grit

  9. Mason said,

    October 1, 2010 at 9:04 am

    I’m surprised the Metro NY Presbytery sent this letter, but am glad they did. The article by Otis was poorly written, poorly researched, and included clear, direct personal attacks on TE Higgins. Dr. Aquila’s response to complaints about the article was indeed inadequate: at the very least he should have repudiated the personal attacks on TE Higgins while supporting the theological critique.

    That said, I hope and believe this will end the matter. I would be surprised if this ruling is appealed to the SJC…

  10. October 1, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Grit,

    I have no idea where Otis stands on Christmas celebrations, but I don’t think you are accurately representing his concerns. Lent was a particularly irksome practice to many of the Reformed because Rome bound up the consciences of the people by telling them that repentance was mostly about one season of the year, and eating certain foods was sinful and avoiding those foods was somehow meritorious towards salvation. But setting all of that aside, Otis didn’t write the article after reading Higgins’ views on Lent, though he didn’t like them.

    Higgins’ view that we ought to have bishops and the Pope ought to be Primus Inter Pares among the bishops is frankly weird for a presbyterian. Even in the PCUSA when they were having dialogues about union with the liberal episcopal denominations, they refused to give much on the bishop issue because the corollary of that issue is always ordination by the laying on of hands by a bishop who “qualifies” because of apostolic succession. Thus every presbyterian would have to be reordained by a bishop and tacity admit that his (or her) previous ordination was invalid. But he didn’t write the article after reading these views, either.

    The bulk of the article is a discussion about Higgins’ view of baptism and its implications for the doctrine of justification and the visible/invisible church distinction. It was only after reading those and seeing how Higgins is actively proseletyzing those views as a member of the board of Westminster and in his own presbytery that Otis wrote the article.

    Kindest Regards,
    Brian

  11. greenbaggins said,

    October 1, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Brian, Higgins is no longer on the board of WTS.

  12. October 1, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I have also read all the materials, and don’t think Otis’s piece was all that accurate or fairly written. But neither is this letter from MNY. Have we become so balkanized in the PCA that we simply stick up for our own without actually dealing with the ideas involved? All there is is assertion by MNY, no proof that the article is unfair. And yet they want RMP to do all the work of investigating and trying Mr. Aquila. Just lazy.

    So does MNY really want to say that they are fine with one of their members advocating for BISHOPS? (Read the actual Touchstone article; he does — he says it is perfectly compatible with presbyterianism.) Did Mr. Higgins register this exception with his presbytery, cf. BCO 3,7,8, etc? Or is MNY’s idea that we just accept the BCO as a good idea, but not something to be “approved (as) in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity,” as our vows put it? And if so, did Review of Presbytery Records just miss this one? It’s all very strange, and one would think MNY would do a little work themselves before just throwing 9th Commandment charges around.

  13. TurretinFan said,

    October 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    MNY is faced with a variety of issues, including this one, the women deacons one that doesn’t seem to die, and theistic evolution. I hope they will handle their issues so that the GA doesn’t have to get involved.

  14. grit said,

    October 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Brian, et al,

    I’m long-winded, I know. Thank you for your kindness. You are correct that I have not “accurately” represented Otis’ concerns, though I would have preferred the word “adequately”. By accepting your term, I do not find that I have falsely presented what Otis indeed conveys, but that “accurately” may entail a sense of thoroughness it was not my intent to vet. You far more adequately summarise Otis’ concerns and article. However, Otis’ article of criticism and warning against Higgins he introduces by valuing a listing of Reformed confessions, none of which were inclusive of Lent, but some of which were inclusive of a Church Calendar beyond exclusive Sunday worship. Celebrating Lent without “biblical mandate” is Otis’ first charge in his assault against the “foremost” of “Romish tendencies” in placing “man made traditions on a par with Scripture” or even as “supplement” to the sufficiency of sola Scriptura. He charges Higgins with unduly honouring “centuries of traditional wisdom of the church”. Otis admonishes,

    “If we are good Presbyterians, whose consciences should be bound to Scripture alone, then why should we be deemed wise to follow a tradition that Romanism has practiced? Being in the PCA, Higgins deems the Westminster Standards as his constitutional standards; hence, talk about holy days and weeks other than the weekly Sabbath are not Confessional.”

    That, of course, leaves out Christmas and Easter along with Lent, as particularly “Romish”, elements outside of a regulative view of worship, contrary to sola Scriptura, and AGAINST the Westminster Standards. Now, for sure, the Westminster Directory of Publick Worship takes a Puritanical aversion to Holy Days beyond Sunday, but the standards of PCA oath are not so clear and stringent as many may wish they were. I agree with Otis in non-observance of Lent and Christmas and Easter, but not his rationale, and not his accusations in this regard, which might be levelled against the predominance of PCA members and pastors, many of whom especially celebrate Christmas and Easter.

    The Order of Dordrecht was inclusive of Christmas, Good Friday, Pasch or Easter, Ascension Day, and Whitsunday or Pentecost; and the Second Helvetic Confession adds Christ’s Circumcision to their Calendar of Holy Days. That we may have inherited elements from Rome and still find some paltry or good measure of common ground and even value there does not automatically warrant a castigation in public ridicule, though I don’t know any man who isn’t “a very dangerous man”. Roman Catholicism sought to unduly bind consciences on every Holy Day, Sunday included; and as especially on Christmas and Easter as Lent. Christmas goes without exact mention by Otis, and Lent clearly was not the impetus of Otis’ assault.

    Graver warnings were aired by Reformed pastors, shepherds, when Holy Days beyond the Lord’s Day first gained ground in American Presbyterian practice, and I agree that Otis is wise to give fair warning in sensitivity to these and many other concerns regarding “Roman Catholic tendencies among professing Reformed churches”. Still, love of the brethren and being of an ecumenical spirit, while historically problematic for conservative Presbyterianism, needs to be as ardently engaged as kicking wolves in the teeth, if wolves and not errant sheep or shepherds we may be found to be. In truth, when veins start popping and blood starts gushing it’s often difficult to discern friend from foe and sheep from wolf. Proper examination and discernment is one thing, even heart-felt difference of opinion and perspective, but far too common assignation to excommunication and the ranks of daemons is Scripturally out of bounds (not that any involved have gone that far). I saw this at what might be thought the start of the Federal Vision (FV) movement, in the Clark / Van Til controversy, and it just gets uglier with the passing of years. I’m no friend to the FV, but I would count both Clark and Van Til as friends and brothers, and with an understanding toward all due examination and caution, I think Otis and Higgins and Aquila deserve the benefit of a doubt as well, and far more effort toward understanding and reconciliation outside the courts.

    – grit

  15. Ron Henzel said,

    October 2, 2010 at 6:34 am

    I see that Craig Higgins’ Avant guard has returned.

  16. Jeff Cagle said,

    October 3, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    I have an open question for all that is not directly related to the Higgins affair.

    Otis says this:

    We should observe from Calvin that water baptism only serves our faith and is only a token and proof of our cleansing. The water has no efficacy in any respect; it cannot be said to be the cause of salvation. Hence, it must never be said to be a co-instrument with faith in our salvation.

    I read out of this a desire to deny any efficacy to baptism, and a desire to deny that “baptism saves” in any sense, even a sacramental sense.

    Is this a common belief in the PCA?

  17. October 3, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Jeff:

    Just to clarify, John M. Otis isn’t in the PCA. He transferred from the PCA to the RPCUS twenty years ago, in January, 1990.

    So, while you can certainly ask that question of the PCA, it’s at least anachronistic to ask it with reference to what Otis said in this recent article.

    As to whether it is a common belief in the PCA, I don’t know how anyone could give you an authoritative answer. A few people might chime in here on one side or the other of that question and it would tell us nothing. On the other hand, if you wanted to pursue a D.Min. degree, you have the makings of a good survey question, assuming you could get an adequate number of responses from across the breadth of the denomination.

  18. Jeff Cagle said,

    October 3, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Wayne: Good points. I withdraw the question.

  19. October 3, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Jeff,

    Just looking at the context of Otis’ statements. He is saying that it is not causal in relation to saving someone out of a state of sin and misery. It does not effect justification but confirms it. It does not create faith but confirms it. It is not effectual at all in regenerating anyone.

    In this, I would wish that every Presbyterian minister would agree since this is exactly what the Westminster Standards teach.

    However, sadly I think that there are all too many who do believe that baptism justifies us.

  20. Jeff Cagle said,

    October 5, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    J. Weslianus,

    I would probably fall into the category of those who think that

    “baptism justifies us”

    is a proper way of expressing the sacramental efficacy of baptism. NOT, not at all, that the *action* of baptism creates saving faith, nor that it regenerates, nor that our justification is tied in any way to the moment of baptism.

    But rather, that the promises that are signed and sealed in baptism — that God washes away our sins, are that He pours out His Spirit on us — take effect at the moment of faith. And the Confession teaches us (27.2 and 28.6) that we are to attribute the effect, justification, to the sacrament, baptism.

    As a formal syllogism:

    (1) Baptism signs remission of sins (WCoF 28.1)
    (2) When the thing signed takes place, it is to be attributed to the sacrament (27.2).
    (3) Therefore, remission of sins is to be attributed to the sacrament of baptism.

    To the extent that I’ve been able to grasp the Reformed understanding of the sacraments, it appears to me that Calvin and Ursinus in particular took this view.

    So while I join you (and Otis) in specifying that baptism is not a converting ordinance, and that we should not regard the baptized as undoubtedly regenerate, I think we should regard baptism as conveying justification inasmuch as we received the promised sealed thereby, through faith.

    Thoughts?

  21. Chris said,

    July 19, 2013 at 1:50 am

    Well now that the National Partnership has gotten him off the SJC, they are probably somewhat contented now.

  22. July 21, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Chris,

    Probably so, but they failed to change the balance of the SJC as a whole, and also failed at the vote fixing that they attempted. I’m sure that the secret political party has more destructive plans to turn the PCA into the PCUS/PC(USA) outside of the oversight of the church at large. Lack of accountability and the cowardice of anonymity enables all sorts of mayhem.


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