Tribal Congregationalism and future of the PCA

Posted by Bob Mattes

I have used the term “tribal congregationalism” several times in recent blog posts and comments. I stated the basic definition most succinctly in this post as:

The PCA [Presbyterian Church in America] has become a tribal congregationalist denomination where particular errors find toleration in specific presbyteries that remain unaccountable to the denomination as a whole.

I have been asked to expand upon that definition, hence this post.

Amongst the important elements of good leadership are empowerment and accountability. Empowerment includes the idea of delegation, wherein I assign a task or function to a person or group. When empowered, that person or group then has the tools and authority to accomplish the assigned task or function, along with clear expectations and desired outcomes.

With empowerment must also come accountability to the leader who assigned the task or function. Accountability can include things like deadlines, progress reports, specific intermediate goals, etc., as well as the actual final outcome. A good leader delegates tasks and functions, empowers those assigned to those tasks and functions with the tools and authorities necessary, provides clear expectations and desired outcomes, and holds the empowered accountable for the results.

We see these principles generally at work in the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO). We have three levels of church courts, each with specific tasks and functions assigned, specific expectations, and each empowered to carry out their tasks and functions as delineated in the BCO (BCO 1-1, 1-5, 3-2, 10-1, 10-2, 11-4). Through review and control (BCO 11-4, Chapter 40), each court is held accountable to the broader courts. That is, sessions are held accountable to presbyteries through the review of their minutes and general knowledge of their activities. Presbyteries, in turn, are held accountable via the same tools to the General Assembly. That’s Presbyterianism 101.

When that process breaks down, we have processes for church discipline (BCO Chapters 29 to 40). Individual courts hold their members accountable through investigations, counseling and, as a last resort, trials. Each court’s execution of the discipline process is reviewed by the next broader court for their fidelity to our Constitution – the Westminster Standards together with the BCO. That’s Presbyterianism 102.

Unfortunately, while the theory is sound, the execution is found lacking in the PCA these days. We created an outlier judicial commission, the SJC, which as constructed differs from the actual church courts (BCO 15-3) in that it is not directly accountable to the General Assembly (which created it) for its specific actions or decisions (BCO 15-5). Therefore, the three court structure, the courts being one (BCO 11-3), is broken in the PCA because of an unaccountable judicial commission (BCO Preliminary Principle 7).

The breakdown of the above basic leadership elements and processes that implement them has been manifest in recent decisions in the PCA. The Committee for the Review of Presbytery Records rightly called out a specific presbytery’s decision accepting officers who hold to paedocommunion (the unbiblical serving of communion to infants and toddlers in violation of 1 Cor 11:27-29; WCF 29, WSC 96, 97; WLC 168-177) to the General Assembly, but the latter decided not to hold that presbytery accountable. The General Assembly permitted, by inaction, officers that practice of intinction, which also violates the Scriptural model for communion (Mt 26:26-28; Lk 22:17-20; 1 Cor 11:23-29) as well as the Westminster Standards (WCF 29.3; WLC 169) and the BCO (58-5). The SJC gave a pass to the teaching and practice of Federal Vision errors by church officers in the Leithart and Meyers cases by choosing to decide those cases based on technicalities rather than directly addressing the underlying heresies (Mt 23:22-24).

Perhaps just as bad, progressive political parties now operate freely but in secret in the PCA, outside of any accountability to the church courts. The National Partnership and Original Vision Network seek to turn the PCA into a “broadly Reformed” denomination without defining “broadly Reformed.” Given their tolerance of intinction, paedocommunion, female deacons, etc., I think that we can guess which way they lean. I sincerely believe that the word “confessional” is used as an byword in their secret emails and meetings. Secret hearts and sorry tales will never help love grow.

The net result of this lack of accountability for officers and presbyteries tolerating, holding, teaching, and/or practicing serious errors has been the creation of a system which I call “tribal congregationalism.”

The tribes refer to presbyteries that tolerate officers holding, practicing and/or teaching specific errors within their boundaries. I witnessed first hand that seminary graduates know which presbyteries are likely to accept their paedocommunion views, for example, and in which presbyteries to avoid even attempting ordination. Federal Visionists have a very good idea of which presbyteries they shouldn’t bother transferring into (Leithart obviously isn’t as smart as some folks think he is). And so on with intinction, theistic evolution, female deacons, etc. Each erroneous officer or candidate seeks out safety in his applicable tribe. Some tribes overlap or tolerate multiple errors, others do not. Safe conversations seek out supporting tribes.

The congregationalism part of the term comes from the lack of accountability outside the tribe. We nod and wink at specific presbyteries that tolerate officers who practice or teach Federal Vision, paedocommunion, intinction, female deacons, theistic evolution, et al. A majority of the commissioners at General Assembly have apparently consistently desired to avoid offending or judging deviant officers. Net result = no accountability. Specific errors thrive within the bounds of each tribe without accountability to the denomination at large. That’s what I call tribal congregationalism, and ultimately it will destroy the PCA.

Sound too drastic? Consider PCA congregants who travel or transfer around the country, which describes many in our mobile society. I have seen families bring their little toddlers up for communion, only to be refused by faithful officers who take the Scriptures seriously. Even when reached out to after the service, these families rarely return to a PCA church in a faithful presbytery, usually winding up in the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC). On the flip side, I get emails from families traveling or moving to questionable presbyteries, wanting to know which churches are faithful to our Constitution, and hence to the Scriptures since PCA officers swear that our Standards contains the system of doctrine taught in holy Scripture. Sadly, sometimes I point them to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) or Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) or other more consistent denominations because I cannot name a faithful PCA church in their area of interest. The PCA is sowing division and confusion in the wind, and will reap the whirlwind (Hos 8:7).

I hear, especially from young officers, that the PCA must reach out to and welcome the diverse cultures in our country, because we won’t survive if we don’t do so. I agree. You won’t find a more diverse cultural settings than the greater Washington D.C. area in which God planted the church in which I am honored to serve. I see first-hand every week that the gospel of Jesus Christ knows no cultural boundaries. People around the world share one overarching characteristic – they are all sinners in need of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, with the Scriptures as the only inerrant and infallible rule for faith and practice. That sentence is the most missional statement that you’ll ever see outside of Scripture itself.

That welcoming of sinners from diverse national, ethnic, economic, etc., backgrounds won’t break the PCA. Rather, by God’s grace that people-diversity will strengthen His Church. What WILL break the PCA is the diversity of theology and worship beyond the bounds of our Constitution and the regulative principle, both firmly based on Scripture, now found and growing in the PCA.

The empowerment and mutual accountability of Presbyterianism is fundamentally incompatible with tribal congregationalism. So, I’ll say it again: The PCA is sowing confusion in the wind, and will reap the whirlwind. We need to decide if the PCA will follow the church in Sardis (Rev 3:1-6) or the church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13) and act now on that decision. May God give us the wisdom to take after that faithful church in Revelation 3:7-13.

Posted by Bob Mattes

A tale of two letters

Posted by Bob Mattes

The Founding

On 7 Dec 1973, a new denomination sent A Message to All Churches of Jesus Christ Througout the World from the General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church. The NPC changed names to the Presbyterian Church in America shortly thereafter. The PCA had split from the liberal-and-becoming-worse PCUS. The Message to All Churches laid out the reasons for the split (similar to the U.S. Declaration of Independence) and served as a notice of the new denomination’s beliefs. At the top of the list stood the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and their role as “the only infallible and all-sufficient rule for faith and practice.”

Against the big-tent liberalism of the PCUS, our founders wrote:

We declare also that we believe the system of doctrine found in God’s Word to be the system known as the Reformed Faith. We are committed without reservation to the Reformed Faith as set forth in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. It is our conviction that the Reformed faith is not sectarian, but an authentic and valid expression of Biblical Christianity. [my bold]

Note the “without reservation” adherence to the Westminster Standards. There was no “good-faith” subscription in view there. The PCA has already headed down the PCUS road on this issue. More on that later.

On the subject of theological error and church discipline, our founders wrote:

Views and practices that undermine and supplant the system of doctrine or polity of a confessional Church ought never to be tolerated. A Church that will not exercise discipline will not long be able to maintain pure doctrine or godly practice.

When a denomination will not exercise discipline and its courts have become heterodox or disposed to tolerate error, the minority finds itself in the anomalous position of being submissive to a tolerant and erring majority.

Anyone watching the two most recent cases against blatant teachers of the Federal Vision errors (pdf file), both of whom are now fellows at the latest incarnation of an attempted Federal Vision seminary, knows that the PCA has already started down the PCUS road in that regard. The PCA has become a tribal congregationalist denomination where particular errors find toleration in specific presbyteries that remain unaccountable to the denomination as a whole.

Please read that open message as it provides an anchor for the PCA as it considers its future. As the philosopher Santayana wisely observed: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The PCA is showing that it is not immune from that wisdom.

The Revision

A small group of 18 teaching elders who were around during the founding of the PCA in 1973 recently signed a letter (pdf file) to the new generation. I want to be clear up front that I respect these 18 elders for their sacrifices for, and contributions to, the church of Jesus Christ over many years. Nothing that follows is meant to reflect negatively on that respect. Nonetheless, my respect for them does not negate my critical thinking on the matters that they publicly present.

Early in the letter, the 18 signers endorse “good-faith subscription”:

Several years ago, after lengthy discussion, we affirmed “good faith” subscription which was a declaration of our commitment to love and respect each other and affirm doctrinal orthodoxy without becoming too broad or too narrow in the way we embrace our confessional standards.

So, since our 1973 founding, the PCA has “progressed” from “committed without reservation” to our Standards, to a “good faith subscription” approach that has opened the PCA’s door to paedocommunion, intinction, female pseudo-officers, Federal Vision, theistic evolution (e.g., Biologos), et al, all of which depart from the Scriptures and the Standards.

After observing that some think that the PCA is too strict and narrow while others think that the PCA is too broad, the 18 opine that:

…these differences of opinion reflect a healthy breadth of views and perspectives that produces an ever present need for love and mutual respect. It does, however, present the PCA with the need for our leadership to always be searching for the center so that unity might be maintained and our mission might be accomplished.

With all due respect to the 18 signers of this letter, that argument represents a significant departure from the vision laid out by the bulk of our founders in the Message to all Churches in 1973.

Keep in mind that only 18 men who were present at our founding signed this letter. Although many founders have gone to be with the Lord, many remain and did not sign the letter. Dr. Morton Smith comes immediately to mind for one. As our first Stated Clerk he had his finger on the pulse of the initial direction of the PCA. Dr. Smith’s How Thy Gold Has Become Din provided a PCA manifesto in the months leading up to the separation. Please read Dr. Morton’s address at the link.

Connections

While I do not believe that the positions from the new letter accurately reflect the consensus of the bulk of elders who founded the PCA in 1973, and hope that I have demonstrated this from original documents, I do believe that the letter agrees well with the more recent Original Vision Network started by TEs Paul Kooistra and Larry Hoop. While I appreciate the contributions that these men have made to PCA missions, their network steers us back to the PCUS “big tent.” For instance, they revised our founders’ words in the Message to All Churches to a vision that would now have us believe that our founders wanted:

a denomination committed to a broadly Reformed theological position, steering clear of both a formless evangelicalism with sketchy theological commitments and a narrow sectarianism that could consume our energies building a theological fortress;

Please go back and read the Message to All Churches and see if you can find a vision for a “broadly Reformed theological position.” Go ahead, I’ll wait. Back? Couldn’t find it? That’s because “committed without reservation to the Reformed Faith as set forth in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms” doesn’t describe a “broadly Reformed theological position.” The latter represents a slide back to towards the old PCUS “big tent.” If the founders had really wanted a big tent, they would have stayed in the PCUS committed “to love and respect each other.” Instead, our founders left an apostate denomination that trampled on both the Scriptures and the Standards.

Conclusion

The Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics – the chief weapons buyer for the U.S. Department of Defense – has a great sign on his door. It reads: “In God we trust, all others bring data.” The point being that opinions are nice, but we need to see the data on which one based those opinions.

So, when I read the letter by the 18 elders, the first thing that I did was hunt up the original Message to All Churches and read it to see if the two documents were consistent. That’s what everyone should do whenever any assertion is made from history. History is best learned from original sources, not commentators decades or centuries later.

In this case, the recent letter by the 18 elders seems more in line with the revisionist and euphemistically-named Original Vision Network than the bulk of the PCA founders’ intent in 1973. The original vision is readily available for all to read in the Message to All Churches and Dr. Smith’s How Thy Gold Has Become Din. Please take the time to acquaint yourselves with these documents if you have not already done so.

In closing, I again want to be clear that I respect these 18 elders for their contributions to the church of Jesus Christ over many years. That said, I am not prone to hero worship, so although their work and sacrifices earn them a hearing by other elders like myself and the denomination at large, it does not earn them automatic agreement without the original historical context being considered. In this case, I find that the original documentation does not support their thesis.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Part 2 of the interview with one of the prosecutors in Meyers’ Federal Vision Trial

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. R. Scott Clark has posted Part 2 of his excellent interview of TE M. Jay Bennett on the TE Meyers’ Federal Vision trial. In case you missed Part 1, you can find it here. As you might expect, the two flow together.

Part 2 delves a bit more into the unseemly manoeuvring by TE Meyers and his friends in Missouri Presbytery (MOP) to limit the prosecution’s ability to function in accordance with the PCA Book of Church Order. The actions explained by TE Bennett severely hampered the prosecution, whilst providing easy avenues for the defense to “run out the clock”. The transcripts make the tactics obvious even after the fact. Given the magnitude of the issues at stake, the prosecution should have been given both adequate time to prepare and present its case. It was not.

I commented in this post about my involvement as a prosecution witness in the case. In light of TE Bennett’s comments on his cross-examination of TE Meyers, I need to point out that I was not present for that cross because I had to catch my flight home. So, I want to make it clear that my previous post should take nothing away from TE Bennett’s observations about his cross-examination of TE Meyers.

So, where does all this leave us in the PCA? Certainly, there are presbyteries like Missouri, Pacific Northwest, Siouxlands, and perhaps a few others in which faithful officers cannot recommend churches to inquirers without personally knowing individual pastors who are orthodox and confessional. It also means that transferees from said presbyteries must be carefully examined in detail for their views. We saw that with Lusk when he tried to transfer to Evangel Presbytery a few years ago, and Leithart most recently. Though Leithart has not yet been examined, his work out of bounds teaching Federal Vision doctrine in Evangel’s geographic area has been rejected in accordance with the BCO. Faithful presbyteries must be on the watch and guard their flocks from FV wolves.

Dr. Clark’s excellent post on the parallels between Federal Visionists today and Arminians in the Reformed church centuries ago captures this watchfulness issue well. While the Federal Visionists deny on one hand that they hold aberrant views, they openly teach them outside of the view of the PCA courts. Although Meyers, Leithart, et al, remain “in good standing” in the PCA just as James Arminius did in the Dutch church in his day, they would not and should not be welcome in many if not most pulpits in the PCA or should they be permitted to spread their poison at General Assembly seminars. If confessional elders would not invite Arminius or Pelagius into their pulpits, then how could they in faithfulness to their vows invite a Federal Visionist? They cannot.

Confessional, orthodox Reformed elders in the PCA must stay diligent and informed in these trying times until we can change the BCO to correct these recent travesties. In the meantime, although we cannot at this moment directly treat the cancer in some presbyteries, we can and must contain the disease.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Great interview with one of the prosecutors in Meyers’ Federal Vision Trial

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. R. Scott Clark, church historian, pastor, and Westminster Seminary California professor, interviewed Rev. M. Jay Bennett for the Heidelcast. Jay was the lead prosecutor for the TE Jeff Meyers’ Federal Vision trial in Missouri Presbytery. The interview comes in two parts, with the second part slated for next week. In the first part that’s posted now, Dr. Clark covers Teaching Elder Bennett’s background, a bit of Federal Vision (FV) background, and the timeline leading up to the Meyers trial. The latter provides some insight into how the discipline process in the PCA proceeds. As usual, Dr. Clark conducts an informative and engaging interview which I highly recommend. Scott and Jay discuss a few anomalies in the case history, but so far haven’t mentioned the big one in my opinion.

In the trial record of case, on page 872, you see that Missouri Presbytery (MOP) was basically pushing TE Bennett out of the presbytery, which would, of course, make him unable to complain against the decision in the Meyers case. In the end, MOP succeeded and the PCA Standing Judicial Commission apparently let MOP get away with this ploy without even reading the record of the case. The bigger story is that MOP had kept men like TE Mark Horne, another Federal Visionist like Meyers, without call for over 3 years. Yet, TE Bennett, who opposes the unreformed FV, was being bounced almost immediately. The politics is pretty clear when looking at the bigger picture.

To be totally up front, I signed the original letter of concern mentioned in the interview and was a witness for the prosecution in the Meyers case, flying to St. Louis on my own nickle (i.e., at no cost to MOP) for the trial. I worked with Jay on my testimony, and found him a fair, honorable, and confessional teaching elder who deeply loves the Reformed Faith and understood the unconfessional nuances in the Federal Vision. The PCA owes TE Bennett a great debt of gratitude for standing firmly for the gospel in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Don’t miss part 1 of the interview, and check back next week for part 2. And you could benefit greatly by following Dr. Clark’s Heidelblog as many of us do.

I would be remiss without adding that Jeff Meyers, after being acquitted by MOP, now teaches with all the FV heavyweights at an FV school. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Unjust Weights and the 41st PCA General Assembly

By Bob Mattes

You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin:I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. – Lev 19:36

Unequal weights and unequal measures
are both alike an abomination to the LORD. – Pro 20:10

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,
and false scales are not good. – Pro 20:23

The 41st PCA General Assembly was quite a spectacle. The bulk of the business flowed routinely, and later quickly as we recovered from being over one-half of a day behind at one point. A few issues tied up the commissioners for an inordinate amount of time to cause the schedule digressions. I will only discuss two of these issues in this post. Probably more in a follow-on.

Two particular issues of contention follow from violation of the Scripture quotes above, and I’ll explain how. I’ve written before about the National Partnership, a secret (sorry, confidential) political party started last year in the PCA. I wrote my thoughts on that abomination here, where along with TE Kenneth Pierce I called it sinful. TE Andy Webb’s thoughts can be found here. The pleas of many against this sinful, secret political party went unheeded, and the poison flower bloomed during this GA.

It started in earnest during the PCA Nominations Committee meeting before the GA as documented at the Aquila Report. I also verified the events independently. Part of the plan, which came to the GA floor along with the Nomination Committee report, was to have the moderator change the voting order for some candidates on the fly from that historically used.

The proposed change to the order of voting for candidates for the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) had one purpose – to defeat a candidate that the National Partnership conspired to replace by carefully arranging candidates and changing the voting order on the fly. They did not win the voting change they desired, but we debated it for a long time. The committee never provided any substantial reason for the change, which seems strange, especially given the length of the debate. I argued on the floor against any arbitrary changes in voting procedure which robbed presbyteries of predictable expectations when nominating candidates to the Assembly. That position eventually prevailed.

The fact that the National Partnership’s Chicago-style politics failed to hold sway doesn’t remove the odiousness of their attempt to fix voting outcomes by changing the rules on the fly. Such political maneuvering has no place in the body of Christ.

The second issue arose from the Overtures Committee (OC). Chapter 15 of the Rules of Assembly Order (RAO) clearly state that the OC makes their recommendations to the General Assembly (RAO 15-8 and 15-8a). The plain meaning as used elsewhere in the BCO and RAO holds that the “General Assembly” means the entire collection of commissioners.

On two overtures, one each concerning the Leithart and Meyers Federal Vision trials, the OC violated RAO 15-8 and 15-8a by making what amounted to a point of order directly to the moderator, thereby bypassing the Assembly. The moderator took the point of order well. I challenged the chair over that deviation from the RAO both times, but did not prevail. When challenging the chair, one can only state the underlying rules, not argue the case. My challenge failed on both attempts, largely I believe because a majority of the roughly 1,200 commissioners largely did not understand that their right to debate and even their votes were being stolen by a handful of commissioners in a slick political maneuver for which I cannot find a PCA precedent.

This Chicago-style approach has been the hallmark of liberals/progressives in the PCUS, PCUSA, and now PC(USA) as TE Reed DePace pointed out. It’s how they avoided meaningful debates and votes, thereby bypassed orthodox church officers to bring about women elders, homosexual elders, etc. Eventually, the orthodox officers and members started leaving, providing the liberals a Pyrrhic victory as their formerly God-honoring denomination became more and more apostate.

Acts 15 provides significant guidance on how to conduct our Assembly, from which I believe that our BCO and RAO largely take their cues. The apostles and early believers debated openly until everyone was heard. No secret political parties, no bypassing debate, no stolen votes. The just treatment instruction of Lev 19:36 was honored.

There are no Scriptures that directly address voting itself. That just wasn’t a feature of the ancient world. However, the idea of ensuring just treatment is enshrined throughout. The Scriptures at the top of this post show God declaring the use of unjust balances and weights an abomination. The use of unjust weights destroyed trust in the underlying economic system of trade upon which the ancient world depended. These abominations cheated people out of their rightful due. They stole the buyer’s God-granted capital.

Similarly, taking away PCA commissioners’ ability to debate and vote on issues in accordance with our RAO procedures destroys their trust in the underlying ecclesiastical system. Attempting to fix a vote’s outcome by changing voting order on the fly similarly erodes that same trust. Like unjust weights and balances, unjust political maneuvering should not be named amongst God’s people. Supporting and voting within established rules must be accepted and supported by all officers of God’s church. If one feels that the rules should be changed, then honestly and openly submit the appropriate overtures upon which we can all debate and vote. Chicago-style politics robs commissioners of their debate and votes, just like unjust balances and weights robbed buyers in the ancient world – through deceit.

So, I’m encouraging all who participated in the secret schemes of the National Partnership – and anyone else – to defraud GA commissioners of their ability to debate and vote in accordance with RAO practices and procedures to repent of their sin. Repent of cheating your brothers in a way that parallels that which God calls an abomination – an epithet reserved for the most egregious sins in God’s eyes. Mere participants should repent to their brothers, REs their sessions, and TEs to their presbyteries as appropriate. The leaders of these movements – they know who they are and so do we – should have the courage to repent publicly.

The original National Partnership invitation email contained this observation” “One thing that has made the PCA a healthy denomination is the willingness to be ruled by Scripture.” Time, then, to eschew Chicago-style political maneuvering, pony up to what Scripture describes as an abomination and repent, or be named amongst the hypocrites.

By Bob Mattes

General comments on the TE Meyers trial

Posted by Bob Mattes

My intent was to write a series of posts about the trial once the Missouri Presbytery (MOP) released the trial transcripts. Providentially, I haven’t had time to follow-up in a timely manner. Also, the discussion on the previous post announcing the record release has proven fruitful and that took time.

When I was preparing to travel to St. Louis as a witness for the prosecution, I did not expect to be well received. MOP had already given a pass to TE Meyers several times, and I had no expectation that a trial would turn out any differently. I certainly didn’t go expecting to win a popularity contest.

In fact, I fully expected and was fully prepared to be “Keistered”. I coined that term to commemorate TE Lane Keister, owner of this blog, and the shameful treatment to which he was subjected in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery trial of TE Peter Leithart. Frankly, Lane was treated like a pagan invader rather than an ordained officer of the church. Shameful doesn’t really cover that travesty.

With that background, I am pleased to thank the bulk of the elders of Missouri Presbytery for their gracious reception. A number of elders readily extended the right hand of fellowship. I met a number of wonderful men, and was invited to break bread and share interesting conversation with a dear fellow elder. I’m not saying that they were happy for my reason for being there, but they overcame that unpleasant circumstance to show the love of Christ.

I would be remiss if I did not note the wonderful food prepared by the ladies of the church to support the trial. Well done and much appreciated.

Missouri Presbytery conducted the trial itself in an exemplary manner. Although I think that the time-limit rules, the rush to trial, and a few other pre-trial issues hurt the cause of seeking the truth (more on that in another post), I found the actual trial execution both fair and impartial. Moderator TE Bob Stuart, parliamentarian Steve Estock, clerk Dave Stain, etc., all performed their duties evenhandedly, showing no discernible deference.

The defense team, REs David Yates and Jon Barlow, also treated me with respect. Although I question the appropriateness of some of the defense tactics used in an ecclesiastic setting, at no time did they treat me with anything approaching disrespect. I very much appreciate that. Both defenders extended the right hand of fellowship, and I did the same to TE Meyers.

I also want to say how nice it was to see Dr. Will Barker, who testified for the defense. We see each other from time to time around the PCA, but not often – certainly not often enough. He and I had a delightful conversation while waiting to testify and then later during a break. I wish that we had opportunity to do that more often, and under more pleasant circumstances.

Overall, although I disagree with the inevitable outcome, I appreciate the godly decorum which pervaded the trial. It proved quite unlike the Leithart trial or even the last Wilkins examination, and I am personally grateful for that.

So Missouri Presbytery, thank you for your kind reception and gracious fellowship. May God continue to bless you and your ministries in the gospel.

Posted by Bob Mattes

TE Jeffrey Meyers trial transcripts available

Posted by Bob Mattes

The transcripts for TE Jeffrey Meyers trial in Missouri Presbytery, PCA, can be downloaded from this link. There’s a lot of reading there. I haven’t been through the transcripts yet. I’ll obviously have more to say as time goes on.

Denise Sproul is at home with the Lord

Posted by Bob Mattes

Ligonier’s site has a brief statement posted here.

I’ve been following this situation for a while on R.C. Jr.’s blog and praying. For those that don’t know, Denise, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr.’s dear wife and mother of their children, was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent extensive treatment. It seemed back in April that she might beat the disease. However, earlier this month the situation wasn’t looking good. I used R.C., Jr.’s post, Terminal, in my Sunday school class just last week as an example of how we can face extreme adversity in life by the power of the Spirit and with full confidence in our Father’s plan for us. R.C. Jr. closed that post with this paragraph:

It is a good and proper thing that I should, and you as well if you are willing, pray that God would make Denise well, that He would allow us to grow old together. It is, however, a better thing to pray that I would be a faithful husband to my love, and a faithful father to the children He has blessed us with. It is less important that He believe me and my conviction, that the kingdom would be better with her here. It is more important that I believe Him and His promise that the gates of hell will not prevail (Matthew 16:18), and that He who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 6:10). This train is bound for glory.

R.C. Jr. has commented on this blog from time to time. He and his entire family need our prayers as they travel a very difficult road in the coming days, weeks, and months. May our faithful God grant them all His peace and strength for the journey.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Thoughts on Siouxlands Presbytery vs. TE Lawrence

Posted by Bob Mattes

Let me start by stating clearly that I’m sure that the men who tried TE Lawrence in Siouxlands Presbytery are godly, Reformed men trying to do a good job. My comments should never be taken as critical of these men’s honor or theology, although I think that they widely missed the mark in the trial outcome. Surely a complaint is inevitable, and rightly so.

That said, I’ve read the public documents available on the Siouxlands case against TE Greg Lawrence, such as the Case Against TE Lawrence, TE Lawrence’s Plea, Defense Brief, Report of the Investigative Committee, and Report of the Committee to Instruct TE Lawrence. Many thanks to Steve Carr for making those available. While I cannot cover them all in any detail in this post, I found some interesting trends.

First of all,the judicial commission felt that TE Lawrence had clarified or corrected his views through the successive investigative committee interactions and the trial. However, I see no evidence anywhere that TE Lawrence had recanted any view nor repented of any error. As far as I can tell, he never renounced his paper on covenants, any sermon, or any statement that he made. Some of them have been really disturbing errors, such as (from the prosecution’s brief):

Q: So, does that happen [that is, the receiving of certain saving benefits] to everyone who’s baptized with water?

GL: At least in some measure, those benefits are granted to those who are baptized….

So TE Lawrence says that some measure of saving benefits are granted to baptized reprobates -  a rare moment of clarity. And this:

Q: So you would be happy saying that someone who eventually falls away can be united to Christ’s death and resurrection?

GL: Yes.

Wow! And this one:

The fundamental difference between the decretally elect and the non-decretally elect is that the non-decretally elect are not decretally elect.

Taking God’s word at face value, it is possible for a person chosen for temporary membership in the covenant to have their sins forgiven and yet to fall away from the grace of God (Galatians 5.4). We are to view and treat members of the covenant as justified. But this forgiveness and other blessings are not identical for the regenerate (unto life eternal) and those who are not regenerate and do not persevere in God’s covenant.

I’ve blogged on the error of temporary forgiveness in this post. So,how do these “other blessings” differ qualitatively from those given to the elect? I didn’t see the answer to those critical questions.

Looking at the defense document, I found that it mainly offered red herrings, misdirection, and obfuscation. For example, on the 5th and 6th pages, the defense tries to appeal to supposed minority or lesser views at the Westminster Assembly to support their case. News flash – law is decided by what the majority actually passes. We see this in our public laws passed by Congress as well as appellate and Supreme Court decisions. While the minority dissents or opinions may be interesting at times, they are NEVER binding. The Standards are part of the PCA constitution as written, period. To paraphrase former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld – you go to court with the Standards that you have, not the Standards that you wish you had. That should have been a major defense FAIL.

Typical for Federal Vision, the defense takes Scripture targeted for the elect and tries to apply them to the reprobate in the visible church. This is especially disturbing with TE Lawrence’s use of the term “new life” in relation to the reprobates in the visible church. In Scripture (e.g., Rom 6:4 and 7:6), this terminology is only used relative to the elect. FV always claims to be “more Scriptural”, but again we see the hypocrisy of FV. You can read about the fallacy of that argument in previous discussions on this site about the lens of the Confession here and here.

Another disturbing trend apparently missed by Siouxlands is that many if not most of TE Lawrence’s formal written and some verbal responses either didn’t directly address the question asked, or his answers included key qualification that he didn’t explain. I’m surprised that Siouxlands didn’t press until they received direct answers to their direct questions. This wasn’t a freshman seminary exercise, but a serious examination of an experienced teaching elder. I’m surprised that the judicial commission seemed to miss this entirely.

The fact that the Siouxlands instructional committee limited the discussion to terms as used in the Standards left a planet-sized hole open for TE Lawrence to duck through. FV’s specialty is redefining Confessional terms to fit their aberrant theology. With that burden lifted, even Wilkins could have passed the questioning with a straight face. It looks to me like the instructional committee’s sole result was to show TE Lawrence how to get through the trial, though I’m sure that was unintentional. I didn’t see anything recanted in there.

As the PCA’s Ad Interim Study Committee on FV, NPP, and AAT correctly stated, FV is a parallel soteriology. So it occurred to me that the mythical benefits offered to baptized reprobates in FV are parallel benefits – same names, less filling, like the beer commercial. I think that may be where TE Lawrence is going with his “social benefits of the Spirit.” It’s just another obfuscation using different words. But here’s what TE Lawrence had to say about benefits to both the elect and reprobates in the visible church, again misapplying the Scriptural term “new life”:

Baptism itself is an entrance into new life….This new life that is wrought through me, Jesus is saying, through My life, death, and resurrection will be poured out – this new life, which on a grand scale is the fulfillment in the midst of history of the promises of God is applied individually in baptism to you.  One must be born again by water and Spirit, born into the kingdom of God.

So apparently reprobates are born again into the kingdom of God? How did that get by the judicial commission? Again, these statements have never been retracted by TE Lawrence.

The instructional committee dealt with this gem from TE Lawrence’s sermon on Romans 6:

In baptism we are united to Christ and as such the benefits that He has wrought have been applied to us…. Paul says in baptism you have been united to Christ, the new Adam, in such a way that you identify with him in his death and you identify with him in his new life and resurrection, so that you, people of God, have new life. You have been united to Christ and His benefits, therefore, are for you. And this is wrought in baptism, Paul says. It is a matter of status that we walk in newness of life.

The instructional committee understood that TE Lawrence applied this to all who are baptized into the visible church. The committee found it problematic. Why did the judicial commission give it a pass?

It’s sad that another of these cases will drag a Presbytery through inevitable complaints, wasting time and resources that could go towards the Great Commission. Maybe the real goal of FV is to bankrupt and wear out orthodox, Reformed denominations. I believe that I warned about that back in 2007. My, how far we’ve come.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Does God practice temporary forgiveness?

Posted by Bob Mattes

I read Dr. Rob Rayburn’s letter to the PCA Standing Judicial Committee with some interest. I was curious to see how a church officer defends someone who holds virtually identical views to a man who was a hair’s breath from indictment a short time ago before fleeing the denomination. I found the read, though, greatly disappointing and even disturbing. I found the theological arguments to be more like blind assertions, and support was entirely lacking when Rayburn seemed to be making assertions about particular Scriptural texts.

I found the assertion that God forgives temporarily particularly disturbing, and that will be the subject of this post. Rayburn:

Justification – whatever else it is – is the forgiveness of sins. It is perfectly obvious that there is such a thing as temporary forgiveness because the Bible says there is (cf. Num. 14:20 with 1 Cor. 10:5; Ezekiel 16:1-14; Matthew 18:32-34; etc.). Whether we are entirely satisfied with Dr. Leithart’s effort to incorporate this biblical material into the larger picture of the way of divine grace, the fact is, temporary forgiveness is a biblical datum.

I’ll deal with his view of justification in another post. The assertion above, made without support, is that temporary forgiveness is perfectly obvious in the Bible – a given. Really? I’ve never seen it, and neither did Calvin, the Westminster Divines, or any other orthodox Reformed scholar I can find.

Let’s look at the Scriptures cited, starting with the most challenging. Matthew 18:32-34 (ESV) says: Read the rest of this entry »

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