PCA Indictment of Louisiana Presbytery

Posted by Bob Mattes

I posted the indictment itself over on my blog. I did this to keep the documentation separated from Lane and his blog. However, I think that discussing it here would be within bounds. I have not discussed any of this with Lane as that would be inappropriate.

The indictment brings essentially two charges. These should not surprise anyone as they were the findings in the Standing Judicial Commission’s (SJC) case summaries here and here. This is a landmark case in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the likes of which one nobody wanted to see but one which has become absolutely necessary for the peace and purity of the church. As such, the SJC is being absolutely scrupulous with its procedures, following their guidance to the finest detail.

The first charge starts out:

Louisiana Presbytery failed properly to handle TE Wilkins’s differences (some of which are evidenced in the Appendix)
to determine whether or not his views are out of accord at key
points with the system of doctrine summarized in the Confessional
Standards, which are “standard expositions of the teachings of
Scripture in relation to both faith and practice,” and as such has
failed adequately to protect the peace and purity of the Church.
Please note that the term “differences” as used above does not
assume pre-adjudication of the case. The term “differences” is
being used as defined by RAO 16-3(e)(5).

What exactly does RAO 16-3(e)(5) say?

5) Minutes of presbytery relating to examinations must list all
specific requirements and trials for licensure and/or
ordination which have been accomplished, including that
each candidate being examined for ordination was required
to “state the specific instances in which he may differ with
the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in any of their
statements and/or propositions” (BCO 21-4). This does not
mean that a separate vote on each item must be recorded.
Presbytery minutes shall record ministers’ and ministerial
candidates’ stated differences with our Standards in the
following manner. Each presbytery shall record whether:
a) the candidate stated that he had no differences; or
b) the court judged the stated difference(s) to be merely
semantic; or
c) the court judged the stated difference(s) to be more than
semantic, but “not out of accord with any fundamental of
our system of doctrine” (BCO 21-4); or
d) the court judged the stated difference(s) to be “out of
accord,” that is, “hostile to the system” or “strik[ing] at
the vitals of religion” (BCO 21-4).

Rather than follow this explicit guidance, Louisiana Presbytery (LAP) chose to instead rule concerning TE Wilkins’s views: “Thus far, no one has brought forth evidence demonstrating that TE Wilkins has actively denied the system of doctrine.” As the PCA prosecutor points out in the indictment and anyone with the ability to read can see, this is not the standard for evaluating or classifying views, not resembling any of the four choices in RAO 16-3(e)(5). That’s like taking a multiple choice test with possible answers ‘a’ through ‘d’ and marking the answer as ‘e’.

Therefore, the indictment says:

Louisiana Presbytery was required to investigate these
differences and classify them under RAO 16-3(e)(5). Louisiana Presbytery failed to comply with this requirement.

That’s simple and straightforward, not to mention obvious to anyone watching the proceedings thus far.

Of course, this first charge indicates that TE Wilkins has differences with the Standards. That takes us to the second charge, which starts:

Louisiana Presbytery failed to find a strong presumption
of guilt that some of the views of TE Wilkins were out of
conformity with the Constitution, and thus was derelict in its duty
under BCO 13-9, 40-4, and 40-5, and has thereby caused much
unresolved pastoral confusion and harm.

TE Wilkins’s views, as articulated in the Record of the Case
in 2007-8 and in the following examples, clearly constitute a
strong presumption of guilt that his views are out of accord with
the Constitution and require a fair and impartial court to proceed
to trial.

We’ve discussed the phrase “strong presumption of guilt” ad nauseum on this blog, mine, and elsewhere, so I won’t get into that again. These statements in the indictment are followed by over three pages of quotes from TE Wilkins writings and examinations to back up this point–that he has differences with the Constitutional Standards. Further, the indictment contains a 14-page Appendix consisting almost entirely of quotes from TE Wilkins contrasted with both the Westminster Standards and Scripture.

This case does not suffer from a shortage of evidence concerning TE Wilkins’ views. I suspect that the reason the appendix is only 14 pages is because of the limited time to get the indictment proofed and then sent to LAP to meet the plea and possible trial deadlines. Wilkins answers to the questions from the Central Carolina Presbytery Memorial alone runs about 29 pages when pasted into OpenOffice.org Writer. That doesn’t count the book essays, papers, Sunday school lessons, etc.

The underlying theological issues won’t surprise regular blog readers, as they have all been dealt with in one way or another on a number of blogs, including this one. I’m sure we’ll see the reruns coming soon.

Of course, TE Wilkins isn’t on trial here, Louisiana Presbytery will be if they plead “not guilty.” However, it is LAP’s incorrect handling of TE Wilkins’ examination at the core of this case, which naturally involves his views in a major way. TE Wilkins doesn’t have to be on trial for his views to play a major role in the case.

I find the Amends in the indictment particularly interesting:

Louisiana Presbytery, by neglecting its duties to handle
properly TE Wilkins differences and by not finding a strong
presumption of guilt on the part of TE Wilkins, and thus either
embracing his views or refusing even to being open to considering
his guilt therein, has evidenced its refusal to deal with the views
of TE Wilkins that differ from the Confessional Standards and
Scripture; thereby creating an impasse that can only be resolved by
Louisiana Presbytery either repenting (and showing its repentance
by bringing TE Wilkins to trial in a fair and impartial way or by
referring the matter pursuant to BCO 41), or failing which, having
the ecclesiastical connection between Louisiana Presbytery and the
Presbyterian Church in America dissolved by the General Assembly,
with the geographical bounds of neighboring presbyteries being
expanded to cover the geographical area of Louisiana Presbytery,
with said neighboring presbyteries, after due examination of elders
and deliberation, being responsible for receiving any elders and
churches desiring to be reunited with the Presbyterian Church in
America.

The first interesting point is that they only see two possible reasons for LAP’s failure to deal with TE Wilkins’ examination correctly: 1) that LAP either embraces TE Wilkins’ views; or 2) LAP refuses even to being open to considering his guilt therein. Neither of these are good for a body that is responsible for overseeing teaching elders under its care.

As you can read, LAP has two options open to it:

1. LAP can repent of its errors and demonstrate this by conducting a fair and impartial trial of TE Wilkins; or

2. LAP can leave the PCA with the churches that agree with TE Wilkins’ errors.

That’s pretty strong stuff. Of course, TE Wilkins tried and failed about eight years ago to get Louisiana Presbytery to leave the PCA. Interesting turn of events.

According to the Citation, LAP has until February 1, 2008 to decide what it wants to do. If it opts for a trial, that will happen starting March 5, 2008. It will be interesting to see what they decide.

I can already hear the Federal Vision spin machine cranking up. The beauty is that all the Federal Vision spin counts for less than nothing. Providentially, the PCA has an established orderly and just process that doesn’t bend to the spin, rants, or “peculiar talents” of Federal Visionist bloggers, nor is it intimidated by them. Just the facts, ma’am.

Posted by Bob Mattes