Posted by David Gadbois
Being the only non-PCA contributor to the blog (Gary Johnson excepted, although he was ordained PCA) my interest in the polity side side of the Federal Vision issue is marginal. I am grateful, however, to those in the PCA who are knowledgeable about this issue who have taken the time to explain these rather technical and often obscure matters to folks like me. This includes the recent posts that Andy Webb has made available, both on the Puritan Board and the Warfield listserve; specifically “The Case of the Missing Kamikaze Presbyters” that Bob Mattes commended to your reading in the last post, in response to Doug Wilson’s latest blog posts on the polity issues. I found it both illuminating and convincing.
Since the Puritan Board and the Warfield list don’t get as diverse (or voluminous) traffic that this site gets, I contacted Andy for his permission to post his article, in its entirety, on Green Bagginses. He granted permission, so I am posting this here on his behalf.
The Case of the Missing Kamikaze Presbyters
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Failing anything really new coming up, this will probably be my last reply to Doug Wilson concerning the procedure being followed by the SJC regarding Louisiana Presbytery’s failure to indict Steve Wilkins. The only reason I’m making these replies in the first place is in an attempt to clarify some of the more serious misconceptions being generated by FV advocates regarding the process. To whatever degree I can do that, I’ll be happy.
I should note though that most of these misconceptions could be addressed simply by reading the SJC decisions themselves at: PCA SJC Decision – Complaint Against Louisiana Presbytery « Reformed Musings and PCA SJC Decision – Central Carolina Memorial « Reformed Musings . Some of the statements in the comments on Wilson’s Blog and Mablog website for instance, make it abundantly clear that some people are criticizing decisions that they haven’t even read. I don’t know whether this is being done on the presumption that because Wilkins and LA Presby are right, anything the SJC wrote cannot possibly be true or whether its because the decisions are so lengthy.
Anyway speaking of length, I apologize in advance for the length of this in advance, but I want to try to do three things:
1 – Answer Doug Wilson’s Latest Complaint “The Case of the Missing Charges”
2 – Show that Doug’s Complaint also fails in that the procedure he is attacking is essentially THE SAME PROCEDURE LA PRESBYTERY AND AUBURN AVENUE PCA HAVE USED IN THE PAST (specifically regarding the John Woods case).
I wish there was some way to put a stop to the serious impugning of the motives and character assassination of the entire SJC, but there’s no way to do that.
[If you don’t have much time and want to read the real pot calling the kettle black stuff, you may skip to point 2 below]
1) I have already indicated that there were two formal attempts made from within LA Presbytery, as far back as October 19,2002 to begin an investigation into the beliefs of Steve Wilkins. Both of these requests were met with considerable hostility on the floor of Presbytery by Steve Wilkins and his supporters, who form the majority in that tiny Presbytery. Additionally, not only were requests received from people within the Presbytery to begin an investigation, but one year prior to sending their memorial to the SJC in 2006 Central Carolina sent a communication to LA Presbytery listing their concerns with the published theological statements of Steve Wilkins and Auburn Avenue PCA and making the following formal request:
“Therefore be it resolved that the Central Carolina Presbytery requests that Louisiana Presbytery begin an official investigation into the teachings of AAPC in order to determine whether charges ought to be brought against her senior pastor (BCO 31-2) and whether any advice ought to be given to the session.”
This was in addition to a letter sent by former friends of Wilkins in the PCA explaining their concerns with his current theology at length and asking that he withdraw from the PCA for the sake of the purity and peace of the church. This is in addition to the times when Wilkins was publicly confronted by men like Joey Pipa in 2003 and told he was in error. The idea circulated by men like Mark Horne, that Wilkins has never been “told to his face” that he was teaching erroneous doctrines is not true, I was at the Auburn Avenue conference in 2003 when that was done. It’s been done both personally and in print many, many, times at this point.
In any event it was only after LA Presbytery issued a report in 2005 exonerating Steve Wilkins, which most felt was a failure to uphold the constitution of the PCA given both the evidence in print and his own answers that CCP unanimously voted to follow up by sending a memorial to the SJC pointing out the serious delinquency on the part of LA Presbytery in this matter.
Now as to why no charges were pressed from within the Presbytery by the men who later complained or dissented against Wilkins exoneration, I cannot answer for them, but I can well understand their decision. The ordinary means of bringing charges against someone for serious doctrinal error is not to draw up specifications and submit charges oneself but per 31-1 and 31-2 for the presbytery, upon receiving a report or a request, to begin an investigation. The majority in the presbytery had already shown its hostility to such requests, and indicated its substantial agreement with TE Wilkins. For someone in the minority to move forward to make a case as a voluntary prosecutor themselves, when their almost assured failure to win the case would have caused them to be censured (note not charged – but censured) as a slanderer of the brethren (per BCO 31-9) would have been extremely foolish. What would have been the point of such a trial in LA Presbytery, when the majority there had already repeatedly indicated they approved of Steve Wilkins theology? This is why I titled the post The Case of the Missing Kamikaze Presbyters; while theoretically possible, any attempt to personally bring charges in would have been irregular and doomed from the start to crash and burn.
This situation is precisely what the review and control safeguards and things like appeals, dissents, complaints, protests, memorials were created for. It is these measures that allow a concerned minority to essentially call for help from the rest of the denomination, or for another Presbytery to call the attention of the higher court to a serious delinquency outside of their jurisdiction. This is exactly what happened.
Ultimately we must remember that Presbyterian polity is not a suicide pact, it is neither right nor safe nor just that 13 men in one presbytery should have the power to protect the teaching and promotion of doctrines that 90% of the denomination deem to be erroneous. This is not a “taking away of anyone’s FREEDOM” as J. Gresham Machen pointed out: “The fact often seems to be forgotten that the Presbyterian Church is a purely voluntary organization; no one is required to enter into its service. If a man cannot accept the belief of the Church, there are other ecclesiastical bodies in which he can find a place. The belief of the Presbyterian Church is plainly set forth in the Confession of Faith, and the Church will never afford any warmth of communion or engage with any real vigor in her work until her ministers are in whole-hearted agreement with that belief.” The proper solution to the current situation can never be that the church must tolerate the teaching of what the overwhelming majority deem to be unscriptural and unconfessional merely because they can produce a bare majority of support in a tiny Presbytery. What indeed is the point of staying in a denomination where on any given Sunday, many men in that same denomination are teaching the polar opposite of your beliefs and warning their flocks that what you believe regarding the sacraments and soteriology is heretical. Is that communion?
Look even if you think the error is theirs and not yours, why not follow the advice of given by Steve Wilkins regarding the PCA that since “there is little prospect, humanly speaking, of this troublesome drift away from our standards reversing itself” that it is time for “peaceably withdrawing from the PCA as a presbytery in order that we might continue to serve the Lord in fidelity to His Word” One wonders why he wants to stay in a denomination he dismissed 7 years ago with the following statement: “the denomination is unreformable. There seems to be no concern to interact on the biblical issues by those who oppose the more traditional, reformed positions. We have been working to bring about reform for 23 years and things have only gotten worse.”
2) Speaking of calling a higher court’s attention to a serious delinquency, when TVP failed to investigate and indict John Wood for allowing a woman to preach in the evening service of his church, Louisiana Presbytery, AAPC, and Steve Wilkins did not merely shrug and say “Ah well, that’s their right, we are after all a grass roots denomination, and if TVP doesn’t think its an error, it mustn’t be.”
Instead they went ballistic at what they viewed to be a serious delinquency on the part of that presbytery, speaking on the record regarding this and other “departures” Wilkins himself said that the PCA “has begun tolerating serious doctrinal departures from the truth of Scripture as contained in its constitutional Reformed standards; specifically on the issues of creation, the Apostolic gifts and the role of women in the church, which errors will inevitably lead to others.” Accordingly, LA Presbytery sent a communication to TVP (which is the virtual duplicate of CCPs communication incidently) asking:
“Therefore Be It Resolved that the Louisiana Presbytery urge the Tennessee Valley Presbytery to consider it their duty to uphold BCO 40-4, and NOT “to neglect to perform their duty, by which neglect heretical opinions or corrupt practices may be allowed to gain ground;” we therefore encourage the TVP to act upon this with Biblical and Confessional integrity.”
Later the LA Presbytery made an overture for, you guessed it, the ASSEMBLY TO ASSUME ORIGINAL JURISDICTION AND DIRECT THE SJC TO PROCEED WITH A CASE AGAINST TE WOOD!
Where was the call for only proceeding on the basis of charges from TVP back then? Where the outrage at calls for discipline from outside the presbytery, where the declarations that calls to the SJC to assume original jurisdiction where part of “judicial bum’s rush.” Then it was ok, because “That was them. This is us we’re talking about.”
Finally, I would close by simply pleading with people to actually read the SJC decisions. Any objective reading would indicate that LA Presbytery had sufficient evidence and reason to at least indict Steve Wilkins, let me cite just a few passages showing the sound reasoning behind this:
“In case 2007-8, the Standing Judicial Commission found that the record supported a probable finding that Louisiana Presbytery erred, and thereby violated BCO 13-9.f, 40-4, and 40-5, when it failed to find a strong presumption of guilt that the views of TE Steve TE Wilkins were out of conformity with the Constitutional standards. As such, the SJC continues to conclude that there is a strong presumption that Presbytery has not met its Constitutional responsibilities, and thus has not adequately protected the peace and purity of the Church (see Part I of this opinion). For these reasons the concerns raised by the Memorial from Central Carolina Presbytery continue to be before us.
it must be stressed that what is before the SJC is not allegations against TE Wilkins per se. Rather, what is before the SJC is whether Louisiana Presbytery has dealt adequately and constitutionally with those views. The conclusion of case 2007-8 is that there is a reasonable presumption that Presbytery has not so done
The deep division in LAP over TE Wilkins examination (13 to sustain; 8 to not sustain) reflected the need to refer the matter to the General Assembly.
b. In the examination, TE Wilkins redefined biblical and Confessional terms before giving his assent to the teachings of Scripture and The Westminster Standards. TE Wilkins maintains that the Bible and The Westminster Standards teach differing doctrines.
c. In his examination, TE Wilkins displayed serious variances with The Westminster Standards in the areas of election, perseverance and apostasy, the doctrine of the visible/invisible church, assurance and baptism (ROC 2007-8; p.16).”
Pastor Andy Webb