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


  1. Reed Here said,

    August 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Excellent testimony Bob. Thanks!

  2. rcjr said,

    August 2, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    You had me until “inevitable outcome.” Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you meant but after all the peace making, and celebrating of love among the brethren at the trial, which really is quite heartening I’m hearing you conclude that the whole trial was a sham because the outcome was inevitable. Is that what you meant or am I misreading?

  3. August 2, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Hi rcjr,

    Yes, I believe that the outcome was never in doubt. After several examinations failed to find a strong presumption of guilt, I didn’t have any illusion that the trial would turn out differently. Didn’t Einstein define insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result? The SJC panel that heard the complaint against MOP’s failure to find the strong presumption had no problem finding a strong presumption of guilt. The difference, in my opinion, was the objectivity of an outside body.

    I’ve said several times over the years that it is very difficult for men to effectively discipline a friend with whom they’ve worked or played over a period of years. That’s a common human failing, not a poke at any particular body of men. After all, we’re all sinners saved by grace. I think that it’s unrealistic to put a group of men in such a position. If I remember correctly, PNWP proposed a BCO amendment this past GA that would have addressed the problem, but it was sent back for perfecting.

  4. rfwhite said,

    August 2, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Bob: You made two statements that especially caught my ey. First, you said, After several examinations failed to find a strong presumption of guilt, I didn’t have any illusion that the trial would turn out differently. Then, you said later, I’ve said several times over the years that it is very difficult for men to effectively discipline a friend with whom they’ve worked or played over a period of years. These statements raise the question of “change of venue.” Is that advisable in your opinion, and is there provision for such in the PCA rules of discipline?

  5. August 2, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    I do believe that change of venue is preferable in these situations, but there are limited options in the BCO. A presbytery can refer a case to the SJC as LAP wisely did in Wilkins’ case. That’s the cleanest approach in my opinion. Of course, two presbyteries can ask the SJC to take original jurisdiction, but I’m not aware of any cases where that has actually worked.

    I’ll have to go hunt up the PNWP overture from this year to see exactly what they proposed, but I remember it as being essentially a change of venue in cases like this, Wilkins, and Leithart where the SJC forced a trial via the complaint process. I’d like to see the SJC take original jurisdiction in all cases where a trial is forced as a result of a successful complaint against a presbytery’s failure to find a strong presumption of guilt. These cases should not be sent back to the offending presbytery for disposition, which has universally (as far as I know) produced the same result as the presbytery’s previous attempts. This simply kicks off a new complaint process, dragging the whole situation out and bleeding more precious resources from the denomination.

  6. rfwhite said,

    August 2, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Bob, the “limited options in the BCO” that you mentioned were the ones that came to my mind too. I was not aware if they had actually been described or seen as “change-of-venue provisions.” The characterizations of the SJC have tended to cast it as a court of higher rank, not as an alternative court of equal rank. Thanks.

  7. August 3, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Dr. White,

    I’m not aware that those procedures are generally though of as “change-of-venue” options, but they could be used that way if their respective trigger thresholds are met. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think that referral is the only “official” change of venue option, and that initiated by the lower court.

    “The characterizations of the SJC have tended to cast it as a court of higher rank, not as an alternative court of equal rank.”

    Thank you for that insightful comment. I hadn’t thought about it in quite that way. Change of venue to another presbytery doesn’t appear feasible to me, so bouncing to a higher court seemed preferable. One hole in my approach would be the complaint process, or lack thereof, once a case is decided by the SJC. I’m not sure that would be a fatal flaw, though. I need to think more about your comment.

  8. August 3, 2012 at 11:23 am

    This is an encouraging piece of writing, this blog post. Thanks. I was thinking of Psalm 133 when I read, included here for good measure. Peace, all. -AB

    When Brothers Dwell in Unity
    133 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
    2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
    on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
    3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
    For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

  9. rfwhite said,

    August 3, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Bob: You said, Change of venue to another presbytery doesn’t appear feasible to me … Can you clarify: do you mean it doesn’t appear feasible because the BCO makes no provisions for it or it doesn’t appear feasible because of factors other than the BCO?

  10. August 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm


    Thank you for your gracious assessment, and for bring Psalm 133. We sing that at the end of every PCA General Assembly, and for good reason.

  11. August 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Dr. White,

    Yes to both. You correctly observe that there is currently no such provision in the BCO. But then, how would it be mechanized? Who would pay for what? Who would choose the venue and how? What criteria would be used?

    In the current context of Missouri Presbytery and Jeff Meyers, surely pro-FV folks would want the venue to be another FV-friendly presbytery like PNWP or Souixlands, while the prosecution would want a presbytery that upholds orthodoxy and the Standards. Who would decide? Who would want to make that decision? I just don’t see a clean path there. Upchanneling the trial to the SJC avoids these problems. But I’m not saying that upchanneling doesn’t have its own associated issues.

  12. rfwhite said,

    August 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Bob: Thanks. I agree with your observations, which raise important questions, both practical and theoretical. I’ve been told that the BCO rules of discipline reflect the legal training of their authors. Perhaps this question about “change-of-venue options” needs to be referred to others more expert than we are in BCO history and content.

  13. August 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Dr. White,

    Agreed. I will engage with some folks and pick some brains as time permits over the next few months. Thank you for helping to clarify the involved issues.

  14. Clay Johnson said,

    August 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    This is a very interesting procedural question, because in the particular circumstances in this post it is the prosecution that is claiming bias or prejudice in favor of the defense. In governmental criminal cases, ISTM, generally it is the defendant’s right to be tried in the locale where the offense was committed, and the rules allowing changes to that local favor the defense. The governmental civil rules are more balanced, but are slanted in favor of retaining venue in the court where plaintiff filed the case (i.e., a court where the underlying rules said, “Sue here if you have a beef against that guy.”)

    For example, on the federal criminal side, the prosecution is stuck with the normal rules for where a case must be brought, except “upon the defendant’s motion.” For example take Fed. R. Crim. Proc. 21(a) “For Prejudice. Upon the defendant’s motion, the court must transfer the proceeding against that defendant to another district if the court is satisfied that so great a prejudice against the defendant exists in the transferring district that the defendant cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial there.”

    In a Federal civil case “[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other [federal trial court] where it might have been brought [i.e., where the plaintiff could have sued the defendant under other rules] or to any district or division to which all parties have consented.” 28 U.S. C. 1404. This is the general rule, and there are other significant wrinkles.

    I am not saying what any new change in venue rules should be for the PCA, just noting that in the governmental courts these rules favor the venue where the underlying rules say the case may be brought in the first instance, and, in the criminal context, heavily favor the accused. I do not have any direct experience with change in venue in the context of either civil or criminal cases, so others may know more.

  15. sean said,

    August 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm


    As it regards ‘upchanneling’, can you tell me if you see a threat to presbyterian polity from the aspect of training churchmen, and potentially developing an non-presbyterian type of reliance on a central, heirarchically-organized general assembly? Or whether you would view such a reliance as non-presbyterian.

  16. Roy Kerns said,

    August 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    I suggest that the Bible implies an answer to that complaint, SJC, back to original presby rinse and repeat phenomenon.

    Mt 18 tells us to progressively involve more people. Thus God does not recommend a change of venue when approaching a professing believer about sin and that person not hearing. Instead God tells us to involve others. As witnesses. Means don’t prime them before hand with one’s own version, but bring them along to observe. Their own observations will make them involved, leading them to counsel that aims at gaining that person.

    Not at all the same thing as, say, the existing civil legal system. It has a significantly different objective in view, not aiming at restoration (which, Andrew, does not come just by singing, but by peace*making*), but at making the use of force predictable and controlled. Hence, rather than “legal training”, I recommend “pastoral knowledge” as a better qualification for figuring out how to modify the BCO to accomplish desired ends.

    The biblical pattern implies that others than the original presby ought become involved, maybe some sort of temporary, specifically tasked supplement to that presby.

  17. August 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm


    Not at all on either count. I just had a conversation with someone locally about hierarchy. It isn’t about hierarchy or level of authority, but about accountability. Accountability is very Presbyterian, because is accounts for depravity and sin even in those saved by grace.

    As Dr. White commented, there is a disconnect in the system the I tossed out off the top of my head. I need to work that out with the help of wise brothers.

  18. sean said,

    August 3, 2012 at 6:40 pm


    Thanks for the response. I guess I worry about the level of both polity experience and confessional orthodoxy going on in some presbyteries never mind in the pews. I worry about developing a reliance upon ‘those guys’ on committee or GA to work it out, at the expense of training and slogging through the issues at presbytery or even session. It seems that it’s been a surprise to many how entrenched certain views are/were at a session and presbytery level in contrast to how things were perceived at GA. Thanks for your work.

  19. Clay Johnson said,

    August 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    Re #16 – Thanks! I like these observations – maybe a certain number of TE/REs from each geographically contiguous presbytery as part of the jury? BTW, I shared the governmental legal rules not as a potential source of our rule (or its telos), but because even our rules are not exclusively biblical (e.g., Robert’s Rules) and our ecclesial and governmental legal rules are rooted in a common reliigio-cultural heritage.

  20. August 3, 2012 at 9:54 pm


    Mt 18 directly applies to private sins, as the sequence indicates. The errors in the current case were publicly taught and promulgated. Therefore, we move to the last step of the Mt 18 process, which involves taking the offender before the church. The formal BCO processes serve that purpose. They conform to and carry out our Lord’s instructions for the church. Proper church discipline is one of the marks of a true church.

    The BCO lays out procedures that, regardless of how they were originally created, aim to restore those in error through repentance. Even the best procedures, however, must be implemented by sinners saved by grace. I think that the issue discussed in this thread touches on the interface between a good process and human failings.

  21. rfwhite said,

    August 3, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    16 Roy / 20 Bob: I agree with Bob’s point about Matt 18 and the distinction of private and public, and I think we can share Roy’s belief that [the] biblical pattern implies that others than the original presby ought become involved. One factor that magnifies the need to address the issue of venue is the fact that the phenomenon of social media effectively renders the geographical boundaries of our presbyteries, well, almost a fiction.

  22. Roy Kerns said,

    August 4, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Clay #19: understand your point about using Robert’s Rules. Once heard a PCA pastor (whom I admire) chafe about Robert’s, wanting presby to be more “touchy feely.” Another pastor replied, “Are you opposed to rules of grammar also?” I think of Robert’s more like grammar than like BCO rules, tho I concede more than a little overlap.

  23. Roy Kerns said,

    August 4, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    ref’dmusings #20. Agree specific point of Mt 18 on private actions. Concur that public actions not merely a adjective difference. Also concur with your concern that case at issue has moved thru BCO process and is, well, sort of, at the last stage, or near it, or something like that.

    It’s that “well, sort of, etc” description that I think warrants looking at principles in Mt 18. I’ve in mind that we’re talking about the action of a body which is larger than the local congregation. Something parallel to what would happen if a local congregation decided they needed the assistance (read witness and subsequent counsel) of other Christians (read other congregations, or, better, read presbytery members). I’m focusing on using principles to forge presbyterian polity.

    That leads me to completely concur with your last paragraph regarding aiming at restoration, creating steps of implementation, but remaining utterly aware of limitations caused by human failings.

  24. RBerman said,

    August 7, 2012 at 9:52 am

    I’m trying to think of cases in the PCA where a presbytery sanctioned one of its own members over a doctrinal issue. The only one that comes to mind was Burke Shade in Illiana Presbytery back in the 1990s. I’d like to think that this absence of prosecutions means that the PCA is doctrinally irreproachable. I’d like to think that.

  25. Mark B. Hanson said,

    August 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    As a relatively new (5 years) PCA RE, I have watched with interest the trials of both Leithart and now Myers. My question is this: At what point do those opposing someone’s “bad theology” accept that it is not, in fact, out of bounds? Seems here like Mr. Mattes is not able to do so, even in the light of this admittedly “fair” trial (in the sense that there was no evident bias in the proceedings either for or against the prosecution).

    Is the only thing that will do getting the result desired? Do we become “venue shoppers” as sometimes happens in secular courts? If the SJC acquitted TE Myers, would that be enough? Would that restore fellowship among brothers? Watching from the sidelines, sometimes I wonder.

    Remember, one outcome of the discipline process might be an understanding by the prosecutors that what was seen as sin was not. That would be reconciliation, too.

    But the bystanders might not understand…

  26. August 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm


    Welcome to Greenbaggins! The object lesson came with the Wilkins case before the two you mentioned. In that case, Louisiana Presbytery exonerated Wilkins through the course of several investigations and associated complaints. Yet, like Leithart and Meyers, Wilkins views were clearly outside the bounds of the Standards. Also like Leithart and Meyers, Wilkins decades-long friends and colleagues declined to take the necessary action.

    Unlike Pacific Northwest or Missouri, Louisiana realized that they could not try the case to the satisfaction of the denomination. So, IAW the BCO, they referred the case to the next higher court, the SJC. The very weekend that the SJC was preparing the indictment of Wilkins, he and his church bolted for the CREC – the home denomination of Federal Vision.

    Leithart elected to fight all the way to the SJC with their cases. Meyers will likely have that decision to make before too long.

    All this goes back to what I said in earlier comments above. We are all sinners saved by grace. We all have our failings. Church courts exist for exactly this reason. Failures to take appropriate action in lower courts are subject to complaint, review and control. That’s the Presbyterian system.

    I am reminded that a very persuasive Pelagius had the backing of a majority of church leaders for decades until Augustine eventually prevailed with the true gospel. Personality and/or a silver tongue are no guarantees of orthodoxy.

  27. Jeff Meyers said,

    August 7, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    Re #26. Is it possible that my views are not “clearly outside the bounds of the Standards”? And that the prosecution failed to convince the presbytery that they were?

    There was “no failure to take action” when accusations from outside of the presbytery came in the form of a letter two years ago. There were two full investigations. The investigative committees were far from stacked with my friends. There were seminary professors and elders with whom I’ve had very little, if any interaction over the years. I didn’t hoodwink the presbytery with my endearing personality and silver tongue. I possess neither.

    Can you even entertain the possibility that the accusations against me were false? We just went back and forth with dozens of comments about the false accusation that I add “personal loyalty” to faith. The indictment got it wrong. The prosecution failed even to give the JFVS a careful reading using the rudiments of proper English grammar. That’s just one example of the kinds of basic errors made by my accusers.

    Where in the record of the trial did I do a head fake with my personality or silver tongue to divert the court from the real issues?

  28. August 7, 2012 at 10:01 pm


    Good questions, but I have an early meeting so can only get to one tonight.

    You asked:

    Where in the record of the trial did I do a head fake with my personality or silver tongue to divert the court from the real issues?

    You did not do so in the trial, and I apologize if I was unclear. The comment in question was made about Pelagius, who was known for both and was the sole subject of that paragraph. I was using Pelagius to show how heterodoxy can prevail for a period, even popularly.

    In a broader sense, you have a presbytery full of friends. There’s nothing wrong with that on either side. In fact, something would be seriously wrong if you didn’t. I just think that it’s unrealistic, perhaps even cruel, to expect a close-knit group to convict one of their own. That’s been my point in this thread of comments, along with possible ways to prevent putting folks in that position. PNWP put forth an overture this last GA to address exactly this problem, but it needed perfecting. I’m hoping to work with them to do so and represent it at Greenville.

    In my opinion, it would have been better and certainly cleaner had MOP referred your case to the SJC. Instead, until the SJC rules, questions will continue and your reputation will not be cleared. Right or wrong depending on your point of view, that’s just the plain truth that you can see for yourself. As I indicated above, Wilkins is the model here.

  29. David Schweissing said,

    August 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Mr. Mattes-

    If I may ask, are there factors that lead you to believe presbyteries are unable to discipline “one of their own” other than your disagreement with the outcome of the Leithart and Meyers trials? I am wondering because, as a TE, I have not witnessed the sort of “close-knit group” in my experience that you repeatedly describe. Not as a seminary student in St. Louis in the late ’90’s, in Nashville as a candidate, in (ironically) the Pacific Northwest where I was ordained, or here in Pittsburgh.

    Now, please don’t misunderstand: this is not to say that I don’t have friends and good relationships within my presbytery experience – far from it! I’ve just never gotten the sense that my fellow elders would hesitate to carry out discipline if necessary; in fact, I’ve seen it done. Granted, I have only been ordained for ten years, so perhaps my experience is limited. Does experience in your own presbytery (Potomac, I believe?) also lead you to this conclusion?

    David Schweissing
    Pittsburgh Presbytery

  30. Richard said,

    August 8, 2012 at 5:09 am

    As an interested outsider; are you arguing that the verdict handed down by elders who were judging the case came about because they are FV-sympathisers themselves or because the prosecution failed to make their case, or something else altogether?

  31. Clay Johnson said,

    August 8, 2012 at 10:07 am

    @Richard: The concern seems to be that a group of elders with whom an elder under examination has ministered many years will find it difficult to “effectively discipline” (Comment 3) their brother under examination because of personal loyalty and friendship.

    On the other hand, this seeming limitation of the Presbyterian system may rather be a “feature” built into the system intended to increase the likelihood of appropriate accountability and (sometimes) necessary repentance, reconciliation, and restoration.

    It’s all kind of a subset of the “two dogs fighting” meme regarding a believer’s nature(s) – one dog or two? The way one looks at this issue may depend, in part, on whether one is looking through the eyes of the “sinful nature” dog or the “redeemed nature” dog.

    Assuming for the sake of discussion that the concern is the “problem” rather than the “point,” one possible way to slightly readjust the balance would be to allow one or both sides of a case to request the participation of (a few) elders from geographically contiguous presbyteries as jurors.

    Historically, I suspect that this tendency of the system has been viewed as a feature rather than a defect–i.e., that in the Presbyterian system a “jury of peers” writ-narrow is thought to be a Biblical expression of discipline most likely to lead to the sought after repentance and reconciliation where necessary. However you look at it, it is an important balance to try to strike.

  32. Clay Johnson said,

    August 8, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I should have been clearer: The concern does not seem to be one of intentionally choosing friendship and personal history over truth, but one that the nature of friendship and personal loyalty is such that the truth can be clouded and more difficult to discern for the judging elders.

  33. Jeff Meyers said,

    August 8, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Re #28. Bob wrote:

    In a broader sense, you have a presbytery full of friends. There’s nothing wrong with that on either side. In fact, something would be seriously wrong if you didn’t. I just think that it’s unrealistic, perhaps even cruel, to expect a close-knit group to convict one of their own. That’s been my point in this thread of comments, along with possible ways to prevent putting folks in that position.

    I’m not sure that it’s accurate to say that I am in “a presbytery full of friends.” But I’ll leave that alone for now. The real question is: exactly where in the record of the trial did I espouse heresy or anything that strikes at the vitals of religion or is contrary to the system of doctrine taught in our standards? Whatever one may think about the qualifications of the jury, at what point in the trial did their starry-eyed friendship with me lead to this alleged epic failure.

  34. August 8, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    David, RE #29,

    On your first paragraph, please see my comments number 3 especially and maybe 5 above. On your second paragraph, we can do theoreticals all day long, but data talks and history is clear on this one.

  35. August 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Richard, RE #30,

    Something else altogether. Please see comment #3.

  36. August 8, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Clay, RE #32,

    Very well said.

    PNWP’s Overture 18 addressed this very issue, but it needed more work. I’m hoping that we will see an improved version in Greenville.

  37. August 8, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Jeff, RE #33,

    The real question is: exactly where in the record of the trial did I espouse heresy or anything that strikes at the vitals of religion or is contrary to the system of doctrine taught in our standards?

    That’s a good and fair question, but the answer won’t fit on a bumper sticker. I am planning to elaborate on those issues individually in follow-on posts as I have time.

    Whatever one may think about the qualifications of the jury,

    I have not questioned the qualifications of the jury. My comment #3 was not about qualifications, but rather concerned universal human nature.

    I don’t have a huge amount of time for blogging, so it will take time to get through the theological issues.

  38. Mark Kim (Grace Toronto) said,

    August 8, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    Okay, I’ll put my humble two cents worth here:

    Heresy: Saving Faith = Obedience to the law.

    Orthodoxy: Saving faith results in obedience to the law.

    I think once we get this cleared out of the way we can differentiate which ministers in the PCA espouse heresy and which are within confessional bounds.

    But, then again, what do I know (I’m just a guy finishing up his doctorate in systematic theology).

  39. Richard said,

    August 9, 2012 at 4:56 am

    Thanks Clay and Bob; I presume that within the Presbyterian model there is provision for those prosecuting/defending to seek the review of a higher ecclesiatical court? Would this not provide the independence that you seek?

  40. David Schweissing said,

    August 9, 2012 at 11:11 am

    Bob, re: #34

    My question was whether there were other factors (“data”) that lead you to your conclusion other than the two recent trials. I’m not sure how comment #3 addresses this. As to my second paragraph, I’m unclear as to what “theoreticals” I was putting forth.

    I do thank you for taking the time to respond.

  41. August 9, 2012 at 6:25 pm


    Actually, no, it would not. In cases like PNWP and MOP, this only happens after the trial has already occurred. The higher court can only review the record of the case, and then generally only if a complaint is filed against the trial. Only Louisiana referred their case to the SJC after several iterations of complaints. So, Presbyteries still incur the cost and resources of a trial who’s outcome is predetermined. Einstein once observed that: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

  42. August 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    David, RE #40,

    In addition to the three recent cases, I offer observations from experience as a commander and senior military officer, as well as other relevant life experience in and out of the church. I’ve seen exceptions, but they were rare indeed.

  43. Clay Johnson said,

    August 10, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Bob, re 41,

    I am a little confused by the “predetermined outcome” aspects of the concerns you express above. It is hard for me to see how a “predetermined outcome” could be consistent with a the members of a court fully and faithfully executing their duties. Yet, apart from a few pre-trial quibbles, you seem to believe the trial to be fair and impartial.

    If a trial is complete in its scope, conducted in a fair and impartial manner, and the members of the court fully and faithfully executed their duties by rendering a verdict on the evidence, then that is what we want. Isn’t it?

    The system is purposely designed to give benefits of any doubt to the accused (presumably not out of parallelism with Western legal culture but based in Scripture and structured in order to give due weight to every minister’s ordination and oath). For example, 31-8 (advising caution in receiving accusations from suspicious characters who exhibit bias against the accused, malignant spirits, or litigiousness), 34-5 (advising careful weighing of errors and whether they strike at the vitals of religion or arise from weakness of human understanding), 35-1 (accused may not be compelled to testify against himself, but accuser required to testify on demand of accused), 35-3 (requiring the testimony of more than one witness or other corroboration), 39-3.2 (requiring deference to lower courts by higher courts and declaring them “more competent” to determine factual matters to which they are proximate because of their personal knowledge), and 39-3.3 (requiring deference to lower courts by higher courts in matters of discretion and judgment including the moral character of candidates for
    sacred office, the appropriate censure to impose after a disciplinary
    trial, and judgment about the comparative credibility of conflicting

    It is possible that a court is wrong on the “law” – applied the wrong scriptural standards or interpretation to the facts – something correctable on appeal. It is also possible that a court errs in its conclusions about the facts – the evidence itself – though appellate courts are rightly loathe to overturn such failures except in cases of “clear error.” BCO 39-3.2

    Do you think that in matters of potential doctrinal error, that the system itself (requiring a trial of an accused TE by his presbytery), cannot help but produce an “inevitable” or “predetermined outcome,” because of the intrinsic nature of relationship between members of church courts and the accused? If so, do you have any ideas about an appropriate systemic reform to address the problem?

  44. August 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm


    Thank you for your thoughts. Please be careful about putting words in my mouth that I did not use. I chose my words carefully in both the original post and follow-on comments with good reason. In reading through #43 several times, I don’t see any questions that I have not addressed already. I stand by the exact words that I have already written.

    One addition to your narrative through the BCO. You stopped short of BCO 39-3.4, which is the correct and operant paragraph for these Federal Vision trials:

    The higher court does have the power and obligation of judicial review, which cannot be satisfied by always deferring to the findings of a lower court. Therefore, a higher court should not consider itself obliged to exhibit the same deference to a lower court when the issues being reviewed involve the interpretation of the Constitution of the Church. Regarding such issues, the higher court has the duty and authority to interpret and apply the Constitution of the Church according to its best abilities and understanding, regardless of the opinion of the lower court.

    Various deviations from the Constitution of the Church are the core issue in all these trials.

  45. Clay Johnson said,

    August 11, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    I really appreciate your answer Bob. I tried very hard not to put any words in your mouth, and I am sorry if it appeared that I did. I was really trying to see if, in your opinion, the “predetermined” or “inevitable” outcome of the trial was caused by systemic procedural flaws (so you think the PCA ought to change the procedure and do it another way) in addition to doctrinal errors (about which your position is clear). It sounds like your answer to my first question in the last paragraph of 43 is “No.” That is, you don’t believe that the procedural system itself is so flawed that it should be changed, even if it is “very difficult for men to effectively discipline a friend with whom they’ve worked or played over a period of years.” Please tell me if I’ve read you wrong.

    BCO 39-3.4 is not an example of the provisions designed to give benefits of any doubt to the accused that I was listing, but boy is it an important provision for any higher court of review to have the authority it needs. All the men who have to honor all the subparts of 39-3 really need our prayer!

  46. September 18, 2012 at 3:16 am

    You did a fine job, Bob. By the way, Van Dixhorn’s thesis is available for $15 at


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  47. September 18, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Thank you, Patrick, for your kind words. I’ll check TREN out.

  48. December 14, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    […] commented in this post about my involvement as a prosecution witness in the case. In light of TE Bennett’s comments […]

  49. December 14, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    […] commented in this post about my involvement as a prosecution witness in the case. In light of TE Bennett’s comments […]

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