GA Debate Squashing– a PCUS Déjà Vu?

by Reed DePace

Reflecting on how this GA went, one friend observed that in the PCA we use procedure to squash discussion. Whether that was the intention or not, from what I saw at this GA, his observation is right on the money.

I understand we need procedures to effectively function. I realize that the sheer number of commissioners at GA presents a challenge to having reasonable discussion on matters. I understand that the Rules of Assembly Operation have been compiled to make things both fair and effective for all voices. I appreciate that Roberts Rules of Order provide a means for even the strongest of opponents to disagree with one another and remain civil and committed to one another in Christian love.

Yet … it looks more and more like our polity has devolved into nothing more than crass politics. This GA had all the appearances of two parties, both with their positions mapped out ahead of time, trying to use the process to achieve their own ends. And, at least from my perspective, it didn’t look an awful lot like one side wanted to actually consider what the other side had to say. In fact, I got the distinct impression that one side came with one grand agenda item in view: squash the other side’s dissent.

As I have no first hand evidence of the plans of either side, I’ll leave my speculations at the level of appearances. Still, even at this level, things were not good at GA. I’m not imputing motives to anyone. And at the same time, I was offered little by way of explanation of motives. I’m not the most informed guy, believe it or not. And it would have helped immensely if men from the one side would have respected men like me enough to give us a clearer presentation of their reasons for proposing actions that effectively squashed the debate from the other side.

One egregious example was over a recommendation from the Nominations Committee regarding what to do in the event that a Teaching Elder and a Ruling Elder from the same Presbytery were each nominated for the same committee. The rules won’t allow both to be elected to the same committee (i.e., an effort to make sure a presbytery does not have too much influence on a committee?). The practice (precedent) of previous GA’s is to take up the election of the TE first. If he gets elected, this automatically disqualifies the RE. A recommendation (purportedly) came from the Nominating Committee to swap this order, to take up the election of the RE first.

My question is why? Why change the current practice of taking up the TE election first? I’ve gone over the Nominating Committee Minutes and I cannot find anything on this recommendation (I did not see anything in the floor minutes either). It was not a motion from this Committee, for sure.

So why the recommendation? Was the recommendation from the whole committee? If so, why did they not simply present it as an actual motion? If it was just a recommendation from some on the committee, why did they propose it? What were they thinking? Understanding their reasons for the recommendation sure would have made it easier for me to make an informed conscientious decision with my vote; something I am accountable before God to do!

Was the reason because of some appearance of unfairness to Ruling Elders? If so, then why wasn’t that voiced? More importantly, if this was the motive, then TE David Coffin’s motion (a coin toss each time) would actually have positively addressed that, securing a visible fairness. I really appreciated one brother’s perfection of Coffin’s motion, adding biblical reasoning to it. If this was the reason, then why didn’t the other side support the motion? (It was obvious from the jumbotron that they did not support his motion.)

Why the numerous “points of order,” parliamentary procedural objections from those who supported the recommendation? We spent at least an hour on this subject, mostly on parliamentary maneuvering. Would that one of them, any single one of them, had spoken to why he wanted to change the precedent, I might very well have agreed with him. But, crickets chirping …

One opinion from some was that the reason for the recommendation was nothing more than a parliamentary maneuver to stop TE Dominic Aquila from being reelected to the Standing Judicial Commission. A RE from his presbytery (Rocky Mountain) was also nominated for the SJC. Others better informed than me believe that this RE’s nomination was part of an intentional process by one side to run candidates opposed to the other side. If this precedent of voting on TE nominations first was reversed (taking the RE nomination first) and this RE was elected to the SJC, that would have effectively eliminated TE Aquila from even being able to stand for election.

In others words, the appearance is that one side wanted to change the procedure here for nothing more than a political power purpose. I’m not saying that WAS the motive. I am only saying that this is the appearance, and that the lack of explanation why IS NOT encouraging. No lecturing me on assuming the best about my brothers. I am. And I’m troubled as to why they seemed unwilling to behave in a manner that was transparent, leaving no judicious reason to question him (cf., 1Ti 3:2, Tit 1:6-7, and the qualification to be above reproach; Php 2:15, 2Pe 3:14).

Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not debating the relative merit of one side’s positions vs. the other’s. I am questioning the use of what appears to be rank political manipulation to achieve one’s ends. Any explanation as to why the desire to change the procedure would have been better than what was (not) offered. And if the appearance was reality there would have been more integrity in a frank acknowledgment that at least one reason for the change in process was to attempt to stop confessional men like TE Aquila from getting back on the SJC. At least such transparency would encourage biblically-based trust in my brothers.

As it is, I watched men push and push, for about an hour, trying all the tricks possible to secure a change in this procedure. In the end I voted for Coffin’s perfected motion, as I could see the possibility of at least the appearance of unfairness to REs (i.e., even though this was never voiced, I was willing to act on an assumption of the best). When that motion was defeated I then had no good reason to vote to change the current practice. And a majority of Commissioners saw likewise on this one. Still, an hour or so of what appeared to be nothing more than rank political maneuvering, without one offering of justification for the change, left me with the distinct impression that I was being manipulated by one side.

Two final thoughts here. First, my wife graciously joined me at this GA. She joined me for one the business sessions. She spent about an hour trying to follow what was going on with one motion. After a plethora (a mass, an overabundance, a superfluity, a whole gobbling throat-choking mouthful!) of “point of order” procedural challenges, she got hopelessly lost. To her, it looked like nothing more than political manipulation, like the worst seen in the halls of any secular governing body. I found it hard to offer a defense of my fathers and brothers for what looked like ungodly behavior.

Lastly, wasn’t one of the reasons for leaving the PCUS (UPC, PCUSA for some of us) because the other side had secured all the political (committee) power – and then used that to squash the ability of “our” side to even debate matters!? I can’t help but wonder, how was the behavior at this GA from the one side any different than that which drove our fathers all out to form the PCA in the first place? One side, rather clumsily, tried to follow the procedures to at least be heard. The other side, much more effectively (think pro-football team playing against a beer-belly team), used the same procedures to squash any reasonable discussion whatsoever.

So, given how this all went down, given the rather across the board effectiveness of one side squashing the debate from the other side, how is this any different than the political manipulation used in the PCUS? And if the rank political manipulation used there lacked any integrity, then why should we not be concerned about the sense of déjà vu now?

by Reed DePace


  1. Adam Parker said,

    June 24, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Watching this GA, I got the distinct impression that the progressives in the PCA are far cleverer parliamentarians. We conservatives just want the debate we’ve been waiting years for to finally happen.

  2. June 24, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I am sooo glad I didn’t join the PCA. Praying for you all.

  3. Mary Kathryn said,

    June 24, 2013 at 11:20 am

    It has saddened me to see how the PCA has changed in recent years. The reports from this last GA also sadden me. I grew up with my dad telling me all the exciting tales of how the PCA was formed, the reasons, the liberalism of the old church, the fights they fought and how God helped them. My childhood pastors were: Kennedy Smartt, Don Patterson, James Baird.
    Lane posted on FB: “It’s always great to be a conservative. You get to lose every important vote.” And a friend finished: “And then get lectured for being the divisive ones.” That sounds exactly, EXACTLY like what happened in the late 60’s. How could we so quickly go down the same path?

    I tell you, it’s no better elsewhere. We were in the ARP for 5 years, and the ‘power politics’ of committee and mean, mean men, is strong there as well. I expect a split to come for the PCA. We don’t need clever politicians or power-grabbers. It’s horrific to think men like that are supposed to return to their churches and be gentle shepherd of God’s people. I wish we could have an assembly of humble-hearted men who pray first, and then defer in love to each other.

  4. June 24, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Reed, I think part of the reason for the many points of order was the general ineptitude of the moderator. He often pretty clearly had no idea what he was doing. Points of order generally show up when members of the assembly have a better understanding of Robert’s Rules than does the moderator.

  5. Reed Here said,

    June 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Dr. Shaw, appreciate that point. Indeed, I don’t want to suggest that bringing up a PoO is nothing more than a tactic to stop one’s opponent. E.g., as I’ve come to expect, Dr. Coffin’s PoO seemed always to be directed at making things function properly for the benefit of all.

    What I’m concern more concerned about are the PoOs that did nothing more than stop one’s opponent from speaking to a concern. IF the person making the PoO were concerned merely by proper procedure (a valid concern) then I would expect them also offer to help their opponent, to “perfect” their procedure so that they could speak. Again, Dr. Coffin is an example of that. He tries to help the other party by suggesting a better, more correct procedural way forward, even where he may disagree with the position being taken.

    I saw little of that.

  6. didymusmartin said,

    June 24, 2013 at 4:20 pm


    This may be some info you were looking for:

  7. June 24, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    As a visitor and observer of my first GA (though I am an RE), I would offer my comments in the hopes of being a helpful voice:

    Perhaps we’ll always struggle with a representative form of church government, because everyone wants to be heard and to have input into various and important points of doctrine and practice; perhaps we’ll always struggle with a balance of worship and church business in our presbyteries and assemblies; perhaps it is a given that our sinful nature plays a greater role in our deliberations and decisions than we’d like to admit; perhaps there are factions among us, each vying for their own agenda. These are the stark possibilities that face us. They may be reality, or just perception.

    The thing I am most disturbed about is how perception may undermine the hope we should have that God is working these things out for our good. Ultimately, I think everyone agrees God is working for our good. However, it is difficult to determine at times whether we are under His judgment or whether we are under His blessing. And surely, God will work for the good of the Church in both.

    The thing that strikes me is that we may sometimes expect His blessing when we are clearly out of accord with His clear statements in Scripture, and with the ideals of our Presbyterian and Reformed tradition. How do we expect God to bless us when we do not worship Him as He has prescribed? Everyone has their own opinion on this. And many who would claim that they are not out of accord with the Standards of the Church, though it appears to most that they are, still expect His blessing. If, for instance, paedo-communion is not prescribed in the administration of the sacrament, but there are those who think it really is, how can they expect God’s blessing? This, especially in light of the fact that we know God blesses the right administration of the sacraments when we approach them by faith. It appears to me that we want to stretch the limits; we want to go beyond what we have received, when it should be clear to all that the safest place for us is in the scriptures we say we believe, and in the tradition we’ve inherited.

    If this is the status quo of conservatism spoken of last week, then I am for keeping the status quo. In fact, if the status quo is adherence to the Standards of Church, then I am not in favor of changing. If the status quo is the right preaching of the Gospel, then I am not in favor of changing. If the status quo is the right administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of godly church discipline in all her courts, then I am not in favor of changing. If the status quo is in the clear elements of worship handed down to us in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition, then I am not in favor of changing. If the church, of which I am a member and a ruling elder, who in her teaching, worship, and evangelism hold to the Reformed faith as it has come down to us, then I am not in favor of changing. If all these are status quo, then I would ask, what needs to change? In speaking with other fathers and brothers about this question of status quo and what needs to change, a consensus emerged: we all need more holiness; we all need the sanctifying Spirit of God to change us. And would that He, in His grace, grow us all into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ! But from what I have just outlined, if it is conservatism or any other named thing, what is so bad about it? What have we to fear if we continue in these things? From the sermon of this one, it would seem that conservatism is displeasing the Lord and quenching the Spirit. God forbid if this is true!

    It appears, either because of our size, or the execution of our polity, or the factious nature of opposing philosophies, we have lost our ability to reason with one another. If size, then we need to admit it and come up with a more manageable way to carry out our polity. Perhaps instead of an SJC, we direct the Presbyteries to newly formed synods. The current amount of Presbyteries could be divided into four or more synods who would be charged with hearing complaints and appeals under the oversight of the Assembly. The synods could be made up of TE and RE representatives from the Presbyteries to hear the cases. And their number would be small enough so that the court could meet at a local church instead of a rented arena. Our appeals process could also include a change of venue to another synod, if there is sentiment that the case will not be heard objectively within the region of the synod. In any case, a panel of three of the SJC, or even the whole commission of 24 would not be burdened with a final decision. For those cases that could not be decided by the synod, they would reach the full assembly. And in rare occurrences, the cases could be appealed to the assembly, or the assembly could provide oversight in cases that are deemed to be worthy of more deliberation. At least under this model, the whole assembly could be the final and binding decision. It could be argued that we would be back at the same place that made it necessary for the SJC to be formed. But I do not see any way around the fact that the full assembly needs to be the final court. And my reasons are next.

    The execution of our polity seems to be a broken system. I say this for three reasons: 1) our BCO, RAO, and RR have us bogged down in confusion. Last week was not well ordered. If we have a book of church order, it needs to help us to be orderly, and it did not, 2) our rules are so complicated that they may be keeping RE’s away from the Assembly. If RE’s do not attend the Assembly, then I would say, not only is the Church misrepresented, but so also is Christ. In the offices of Christ as prophet, priest, and king we have the offices of the Church in TE’s, RE’s and deacons. I know I just shot my argument in the foot because deacons do not take part, but is it truly a court of the church if TE’s and RE’s aren’t both present in equal numbers? For this reason a quorum is 100/100. But the ratio of 1 to 1 should be maintained as well as the numbers necessary for a quorum, and 3) the SJC is problematic as the final court of the Church.

    The reason it is problematic is twofold: Whether it is perception or reality, the SJC does not base its decisions in terms of well-formed biblical or theological arguments. Rather, the SJC decides the merits of the case based upon procedural conformity. I have firsthand knowledge of this because I was privy to a complaint in which my session was told (not by the SJC itself, but by a solicitor to the court) it could not bring a biblical or theological argument if we expected the SJC to decide in our favor. Our complaint was to be brought on procedural grounds. Again, I stress this could be perception. But if is reality, it is really disturbing. My logic sets it forward like this: WCF 1.10 says that the final authority and supreme judge of all religious controversies is the Holy Spirit speaking in the scriptures, and this is read before all present at SJC proceedings. However, if the perception is correct, the SJC does not intend to hear arguments from Scripture, but rather decides the merit on procedural issues only. Moreover, the SJC’s decision is final, it cannot be overturned or debated. The logical conclusion to this is that the Holy Spirit does not get the opportunity to speak in the scriptures about the controversies of religion in the PCA. To be fair, this is just perception. If the SJC will decide the case based upon the merit of biblical/theological arguments, then my logic breaks down. But it breaks down only to the extent that 24 of us decide the merit of the argument. I am not speaking against any father or brother on the commission. I am quite sure they are very able and honest men. But according to “…the light of nature and Christian prudence,” and the “…general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed,” I’m not sure we would see this commission as truly representative of the Church as a whole. If the SJC’s decisions were not final, but could be debated, then perhaps it would make more sense from a biblical perspective. However, it stands to reason that their decision would be final because the merits of the case could not well be determined in a court the size of our current assembly, given the time constraints we currently face.

    The second reason the SJC as the final court of the Church is problematic is because its very formation was for expedience and efficiency. Procedures or practices based on expedience and efficiency are not always problematic, but the case of the SJC it is, and here’s why I think that: the decisions based on the whole assembly are debated by the whole assembly (usually) and when the final determination is made, it is clear what the will of the Church is. We may not like the answer, we may have more forceful debate than some are comfortable with, but once the dust settles, there is a clear sentiment. And that clear sentiment lets us all know which way the wind is blowing. One side or the other of the debate will know at the end of deliberations where they stand in the PCA. Not only that, but other denominations with whom we have fraternal relations will also know where we stand. When a group of 24 of us decide something for all of us, there is endless conjecture, suspicion, uncertainty, etc. We even go to the lengths of trying to sniff out a conspiracy or hidden agenda. Additionally, the sentiment of some – that open debate is not helpful – need to really rethink that position. Open deliberation usually results in a clear statement, which means there is a side who won and a side who lost. In our post-modernism we don’t like this sort of thing. But doesn’t Paul say it is necessary in 1 Cor. 11:19? Much of what happened last week cannot be explained very well to the average church member. At least if there was clear debate on something, it would be easier to explain. When we can’t get an issue to the floor, though, clear sentiment will never be assured.

    In the end, we’re extremely flawed, and we don’t need a constitution that exacerbates our weaknesses. If our Lord Jesus wanted to bring something to the floor last week, would He have had a voice? I think we’d all agree He would have. But it does make one wonder given the complexity of our own rules constraining us. I agree with a brother that if we set aside the constitution for even a minor point because we think it is important, we’ve no constitution at all. But if our constitution is a hindrance to the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture, then we have no choice but to find a way to make it better.

  8. Greg said,

    June 24, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    The Presbyterian Journal, December 26, 1973, page 104:

    Problems remain to be solved of course: the tension between a Reformed” viewpoint and an “evangelical” viewpoint, each of which thinks the other goes too far; the tension between a regional perspective and a national perspective; lingering fears of regimentation and bureaucratic domination. We believe the Lord will continue to work out to the thankful astonishment of all.

  9. locirari said,

    June 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Kevin, you just topped my post big time! I think what you said about the status quo is spot on and your critique of the the SJC is helpful. FWIW, you can find my post on the PCA’s judicial struggles here:

  10. Howard Donahoe said,

    June 24, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Perhaps another perspective.

  11. Reed Here said,

    June 24, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Perfectly procedurally consistent. And … does not address my concerns in this post. If I might, Mr. Donahue, maybe you could work with some of the brethren concerned about the matters you address, and help them find a procedurally consistent way to address their concerns? Affirming the procedural rightness of ruling things out of order is one thing. Listening and helping your brethren be heard? That’s something I’d like to see more of. What do you think?

  12. Reed Here said,

    June 24, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    AlsoMr. Donahoe, I note your comments in the referenced piece do not address the specific example I’ve outlined here?

    What do you think? Why did the Nominating Committee make a “recommendation” to reverse long-standing practice, one for which there is no discernible problem, and for which no supportive reasoning was offered?

    I’m willing to leave alone the procedurally questionable tactic of a recommendation from a GA committee. It may be that this is completely acceptable, although rarely used. Still, I sure wish those pushing for the change offered me and others like me the respect of an explanation why.

  13. Howard Donahoe said,

    June 24, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Reed – Absolutely I would be willing to advise men on constitutional revisions (within the boundaries of what’s permitted to a sitting SJC member). During the Greenville Overtures Committee meetings, I even suggested some ideas. And it was during a nice breakfast with RE Bob Mattes on a DC layover that he suggested an idea on revising BCO 43-10 – an idea that eventually became Overture 15 from Pacific NW and was adopted by the Greenville GA and sent to the Presbyteries for a vote. And regarding handling allegations against ministers, I’ve been trying to get the PCA to revise BCO 34-1 for almost 15 years now (assumption of original jurisdiction), sponsoring overtures from Pittsburgh, Central Carolina, and Pacific NW Presbyteries. It was declined again this year (by an Overtures Committee vote of 44-41).

    I’ll refrain from commenting on the merits of the Greenville Assembly’s decision in any SJC election. But I will offer two observations. First, regardless of the debate on the voting sequence the end result was the status quo – GA voted on TEs first. (Though, I will admit to having more sympathy now for the Coffin coin-flip motion…) Second, regardless of the sequence, since there was only one floor nominee opposed to the two Committee nominees, a vote for either Rocky Mountain man would have resulted in the election of two men at the same time. If I understand correctly, if TE Aquila were elected first it would have automatically disqualified RE Nusbaum and resulted in the automatic election of RE Koerkenmeier (the only floor nominee opposed to Nusbaum). If the sequence were reversed, and RE Nusbaum was elected first, it would have automatically disqualified TE Aquila and resulted in the automatic election of TE Cannata. So, as long as the GA Commissioners understood that, I don’t suppose it mattered much what order prevailed.

    I look forward to discussing this stuff with you sometime over a “unifying beverage.”

  14. Greg said,

    June 24, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Mr. Donahoe, I am quite impressed by the working knowledge of the BCO certain individuals possess. However, one portion of the BCO which we all find of great importance was not addressed, specifically 27-3:

    “The exercise of discipline is highly important and necessary. In its proper usage discipline maintains:
    a. the glory of God,
    b. the purity of His Church,
    c. the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners. Discipline is for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7); therefore, it demands a self-examination under Scripture.

    “Its ends, so far as it involves judicial action, are the rebuke of offenses, the removal of scandal, the vindication of the honor of Christ, the promotion of the purity and general edification of the Church, and the spiritual good of offenders themselves.”

    I would be interested to know just how we ought to view these recent committee and commission actions in light of the desired end of proper discipline? Should we applaud our thoroughness of procedure and be encouraged to be more thorough next time in preparing complaints, appeals and overtures; or should we lament our failure to set aside procedure so that we could fulfill our obligations before God to both vindicate the honor of Christ and promote the purity and edification of the church by dealing with those who teach false doctrines? The answer should be quite clear.

    I do not judge the committee/commission members’ motives, but their decisions to set procedure above proper church discipline were wrong. This is not a United States Court in which procedures rule and the guilty must be exonerated on technicalities. If the Supreme Court told us we could not fence the table against an unrepentant adulterer we would not let that stop us, for we answer to God alone. But if the BCO tells us we can’t technically execute proper discipline against a false teacher who is leading the sheep astray, we are strangely convinced we must bow to our own rules! What has happened to us? Certainly we all know what happened was wrong (even though the individuals may have been trying to do what was right).

    Can anyone imagine standing before God and attempting to justify our procedurally grounded decisions in the matters of Leithart and Myers?

    While I am impressed by our technical knowledge of the BCO, I grieve at how our meticulous faithfulness to the BCO has seemingly displaced an overarching sense of duty to our Lord in matters of church discipline. May God forgive us.

  15. June 24, 2013 at 10:00 pm


    Thanks for the kind mention. We will have to do another breakfast during a future layover.

    I also thank you for your work on the overtures. I am glad that the BCO 43-10 change will go to the presbyteries. I would like to have seen the 33-1 and the 34-1 (minus the change in threshold from 2 presbyteries) changes pass as well. Perhaps next year without the threshold change.

  16. June 24, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Reed – Excellent post. Great to see you again last week!

    Kevin and Greg – Amen, brothers. Procedure makes a poor and dangerous substitute for truth.

  17. didymusmartin said,

    June 25, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    GA, as all the thw work of the body of Christ , must be liturgical [worship], Worship in both; truth and in an “orderly” spirit, as with the Father there is no confusion but peace.

  18. Reed Here said,

    June 25, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Mr. Donahoe: I appreciate the evidence of your willingness to work with your brothers on crafting overtures for future consideration. I was actually thinking of something much more different when I asked if you were willing to help a brother “perfect” as it were his effort to be heard.

    I was specifically asking for something like I’ve seen Dr. Coffin do. Often when he rises to make a Point of Order challenge he also offers a suggested correction. The result is that the brother who was just shut down was helped find the correct way to be heard.

    What I am interested in is seeing that kind of behavior, frankly, become the norm, at GA. E.g., I am always “seconding” any man who asks for it on the floor, even if I think I might disagree with him. He needs a “second” or he cannot speak further. Believing it is right to listen to my brother, I give him the required second.

    What I am asking is this, if in addition to your willingness to use proper procedure to secure the outcomes you think are best (something is perfectly appropriate), are you also willing to assist your brothers, whose opinions you might not agree with, to make sure they get heard?

    Maybe a good test-case would be the PNW Presbytery Leithart matter. Not sure if you think the decision is good or not, but assume for the sake of my example here that you think the right decision has been made. The evidence from this last GA is clear that a substantial number of your fellow elders think that the wrong decision was made. Agreeing that the wrong procedural motions should not be allowed, would you be willing to work with some of those men to find the right way to address their concerns?

  19. Timothy said,

    June 25, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m glad my church didn’t waste the money for me to attend. I’m not alone in this feeling, as at least two other TE’s have shared the same feelings with me. As long as GA continues to fall in such matters, many of the smaller churches will just bow out completely, which, seems to be OK with the larger churches.

    But I’m willing to be wrong about that.

  20. June 26, 2013 at 8:03 am


    I understand what you are saying, but the problem is that as long as the confessional folks stay away, the progressives will dominate the Assembly. Only by showing up and voting confessionally will conservatives prevail. Not a criticism, just food for thought.

  21. Howard Donahoe said,

    June 26, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Reed @ 19 – I heartily agree with your assessment of Dr. David Coffin’s helpfulness. Each year at the Assembly his wit, wisdom and exemplary demeanor sets the bar high. He is a model churchman.

    I’m willing to help brothers perfect motions, but sometimes they’re not perfectible, which was the case with several this year. One cannot really “assist a brother to be heard” if his being heard would occur in a manner contrary to the constitution.

    In the early days of the PCA, judicial cases were heard and adjudicated each year at the Assembly, after commissions were appointed for each, composed of GA Commissioners. Over time, most men found this unworkable for several reasons, including the fact it took many off the GA floor. And eventually, the PCA revised the BCO to create a Standing Judicial Commission. For a while, all SJC decisions needed to be ratified by the Assembly, via non-debatable motion to approve or disapprove, similar to what’s now required for Presbytery judicial commissions (BCO 15-3). But that changed 16 years ago when the PCA adopted the revision stipulating SJC decisions are final when they’re announced to the parties, unless one-third of the SJC members file a minority opinion. If that happened, there’d be presentations from the SJC majority and minority and then a vote to adopt one of the two non-debatable proposed decisions. This change was adopted by 98% of the Ft. Lauderdale GA in 1996, then by 90% of the Presbyteries, and then by the Colorado Springs GA in 1997. (For a fuller summary, see the SJC’s Response to CCB at the site or at

    In the case you mention, Hedman v. Pacific NW, if there’d been a 1/3 minority in the SJC, and if they chose to file a minority report (substitute motion), the Greenville GA would have had the opportunity to vote on the case. But with 17 SJC members voting, a minority report needed 6 members. The vote was 15-2, an 88% majority. (I was recused in the case.)

    Charles Hodge once said he’d just as soon have a decision made by 10 good men as by 100. I think that reasonable sentiment is incorporated in our current constitution.

  22. June 26, 2013 at 9:06 am


    I respect your opinion, but I think that it was a mistake to make the SJC an unaccountable commission. Robert’s Rules makes it clear that all committees (the commission is simply a specific type of committee) report to and hence are accountable to the assembly that creates them. The idea of an unaccountable committee is anathema to Robert’s Rules and indeed the entire concept of Presbyterianism. No man or group of men is infallible, therefore all require oversight and accountability. The SJC must be held accountable to the General Assembly. These two cases where the gospel is at stake vividly display the need for that accountability.

  23. kceasterday said,

    June 26, 2013 at 9:07 am

    Mr. Donahoe,

    I understand the principle behind the SJC, and I understand why it was formed. But what I don’t understand is why the commission is not truly representative of the churches, as not all presbyteries are represented.

    Furthermore, could you tell me if the perception I have is true? Will the SJC hear biblical/theological arguments primarily? Or, is it just to decide on procedural matters according to the BCO? Perhaps it is not so cut and dried. However, if only procedural matters are considered then how is WCF 1.10 ever fully brought to bear on matters of religious controversy?

  24. Howard Donahoe said,

    June 26, 2013 at 10:19 am

    musings @ 22 – I don’t think I necessarily defended the wisdom of the current constitutional provision on the finality of SJC decisions. I just noted the fact, which seems clear in the BCO. And the SJC is accountable, in one sense, because no judge is guaranteed reelection and can be replace at the end of his four-year term if the Assembly believes someone else should replace him. One-fourth of the SJC is up for election every year.

    easterday @ 23 – I think people sometimes forget the SJC is an appellate court, not an original court, and there are significant differences. The SJC would only try a matter de novo if it came via (1) assumption of original jurisdiction BCO 34-1 or (2) reference from a lower court BCO 41 or perhaps (3) via BCO 40-5. Regarding representation on the SJC, I suppose the PCA believed it was sufficient to have a 24-man SJC with men from 24 of the Presbyteries. And I don’t understand your reference to “WCF 1.10.” Can’t find that.

  25. Reed Here said,

    June 26, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Mr. Donahoe: I appreciate your continued interaction. If I might follow up with what I think is the core issue, your said:

    “I’m willing to help brothers perfect motions, but sometimes they’re not perfectible, which was the case with several this year. One cannot really “assist a brother to be heard” if his being heard would occur in a manner contrary to the constitution.”

    You then explain the procedural process through which the Overtures Committee took the right action vis-a-vis the Hedman vs. PNW matter (Leithart trial). I’m not arguing against proper procedure. I understood up front that our procedures effectively meant Overtures 19 and 23 were out of order.

    I’m asking something I think that is more foundational. You are willing to give time to help make sure the procedures are followed. Great. What about giving some time to help those using the wrong procedure to find the right procedure to be heard? Why not go to the brothers behind Overtures 19 and 23 and propose a better way to help them be heard? I’m not saying help them acheive their goal, just help them be heard.

    I find it at least distasteful in a denomination that is committed to the principle that the Spirit works through the deliberations of the elders – and concern for procedures is often one-sided. It is not sufficient to say the Spirit has led if all we’ve done is made sure the i’s and t’s look the right way. Don’t we ALSO need to make sure that people are given an adequate opportunity to be heard?

    And just to be clear, I think this commitment is applicable to ALL the elders of our Church. Nor am I saying one particular person or party is unwilling to recognize this. I am saying, however, that it seems to me to be increasingly true that if “we” get our way on any given issue at GA, we seem to be far too satisfied with just that result, and show little concern that our brother opposed to us did not even have a credible chance to to be heard.

  26. kceasterday said,

    June 26, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Mr. Donahoe,

    WCF 1.10 – The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

    I believe this is read before all proceedings of the SJC.

    Because this is part of our constitution, and because religious controversies come before the SJC, I would think it incumbent upon the commission to allow biblical/theological arguments. However, as you pointed out, it is an appellate court, mostly concerned with ruling on procedural grounds according to our constitution, unless it would assume original jurisdiction.

    I don’t wish to be impertinent, but if the SJC only decides according to the BCO, and not according to the WCF, then how is the whole constitution upheld? Or, are biblical/theological arguments allowed in cases where the commission assumes original jurisdiction?

    If the final and supreme judge is the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture, when does He get to speak? Only in the lower courts? If they can’t settle the controversy, how will it be settled if there is not a vehicle for reasoning together in the scriptures?

  27. Howard Donahoe said,

    June 26, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    easterday @26 – Sorry, I misunderstood your original post.
    I don’t think anyone asserts the SJC does not “allow biblical/theological arguments.” But because the SJC is an appellate court, it’s vital to understand the “standards of review” codified in our Constitution, which SJC judges vow to uphold. They’re outlined in BCO chapter 39. I suspect much of the misunderstanding of recent SJC procedures and rationale may result from a mis-appreciation of these important rules governing appellate review.

  28. June 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm


    I think that part of the problem is that the SJC in their ruling almost entirely argued from BCO 39-3.3, which was the incorrect standard. Rather, BCO 39-3.4 should have been applied because the underlying issue was conformance to the constitution of the church. That was only one of three mistakes that I cataloged with the decision. Yet, the SJC remains unaccountable to the Assembly. The unseemly political maneuvering by a handful guaranteed that the 1200-man GA would not have an opportunity even to debate the issue. Unconscionable in my opinion – very PC(USA)-ish.


  29. Howard Donahoe said,

    June 26, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    easterday@26 – And the PCA does not require WCF 1.10 to be read aloud before each hearing before an SJC Panel or the full SJC. But the PCA does require BCO Chapter 39-3 to be read aloud, in its entirety (standards of appellate review).

  30. Howard Donahoe said,

    June 26, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    musings @ 28 – I don’t want to debate the merits of any particular SJC decision, at least not on a blog. But regarding your assessment of the Assembly, I’ll just note that what may appear to some to be “unseemly political maneuvering” will very likely appear to others to be “appropriately abiding by the Constitution.” And I think the latter assessment is correct.
    If the PCA wants to go back to voting up-or-down every SJC decision, it has a very simple constitutional avenue to seek to do so – revise the BCO. I can even help you craft the language. But breakfast will be on you this time!

  31. Greg said,

    June 26, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    A Simple Quiz

    1. Under what authority and by whose direction are we to exercise proper church discipline?

    2. Did God grant us the freedom to use BCO Rules of Discipline in any way that might delay, disrupt or prevent the execution of (or refuse to execute) proper church discipline?

    3. What excuses, loopholes or rationalizations did God say are acceptable for delaying, disrupting, or preventing the execution of (or refusing to execute) proper church discipline?

    4. In the sight of God, can the rules of men overrule, modify, or change in any way the directive God gave us to effect proper church discipline?

    If you passed this simple quiz then please tell me, for extra credit, how it is that the Leithart and Myers matters weren’t settled years ago and still go unsettled even when sent to the SJC? And how is it that a PCA teaching elder can (1) promote paedocommunion for at least 25 years and (2) defend against false teaching charges two signers of A Joint Federal Vision Profession, men who publicly promote doctrines that are clearly out of accord with the Westminster Standards and Scripture and acknowledged to be so by the PCA (and many others)? (And how can he and the related presbytery go undisciplined–not to mention others?)

    The PCA failure to deal with the FV heresy is merely one issue of many that shame us. (Yes, I used the h-word. It’s time we again call it what it is without bowing to either worldly political correctness, disapproving looks or words, or venomous hatred for those who are deceiving the sheep and are deceived themselves.)

    So, “To Whom It May Concern”… there are many of you, please don’t quote BCO chapter and verse to me to defend the SJC and various GA committee actions in these highly problematic cases. You really don’t have to explain to me how you’ve justified your decisions on BCO technicalities; how you’ve saved the various groups from violating our “constitution”. But please, I exhort you– all of you– in the most sincere brotherly love and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us this charge to carry out proper church discipline, do this one thing–it is your duty before God: get down on your knees and explain it to God in prayer. Because if you do that you won’t be able to tell him how sorry you are that you couldn’t discipline these false teachers because of the BCO restrictions.

    May God grant us humble repentance that leads us toward vindicating his name and in purifying and edifying the church in the many issues that challenge the PCA.

  32. June 26, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Howie, RE #30,

    I plan to work an overture to require GA vote on SJC decisions, basically returning us to the original vision/intent for the GA/SJC relationship. I welcome your inputs. I’m happy to buy this time. :-)

  33. kceasterday said,

    June 26, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Mr. Donahoe, RE:29

    WCF 1.10 was read at the outset of our meeting with the panel. This is why I assumed it was read in all cases before the SJC. In any case, it is referenced in 39-3, and the SJC is supposed to affirm what WCF 1.10 teaches.

    Additionally, the constitution is subordinate to the scriptures. One would think that if there is a heretical doctrine being taught, for which a case comes before the SJC, the consitution as well as the scriptures should be brought to bear on such a decision. We are the church. If we don’t use the scriptures to decide a case, there’s not much point in calling ourselves one.

    39-3.4 – 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.

    This, to me, seems like it is only being followed when it pertains to the BCO. We heard plenty of defense of the BCO, RAO and RR last week. But as a church court, we didn’t hear any defense of the Standards in our defense of constitution. Do you acknowledge this a a constiutional problem?

  34. David Gilleran said,

    June 26, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Here are somethings which I have thought about recently with the SJC:.

    Regional appellate courts to hear cases on appeal from the presbytery level. Pick the three nearest presbyteries and assign 1 TE and 1 RE from each presbytery to hear the case.It might be that both parties would accept that verdict from their neighbors and not go to GA.

    GA must vote to assign a case to the SJC by majority vote.

    GA must vote up or down to accept or reject the verdict in each case.

    GA would allow objections or dissents to be spread upon the record. Better to blow of steam there then on a blog.

  35. Howard Donahoe said,

    June 26, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    musings @ 28 and easterday @ 33
    I’m not an attorney, but I think some of the misunderstanding about appellate review of a lower court decision in a trial may relate to the proper sequence of the application of the standards of review. BCO 39-3.2 (factual findings) certainly does not conflict with BCO 39-3.4 (constitutional interpretation). Neither “trumps” the other. But 3.2 logically comes before 3.4. The facts must first be established. Subsequent discussion on constitutional interpretation is dependent on and related to the trial court’s factual findings and whether or not the complainant demonstrates to the appellate court a “clear” error in one or more of those factual findings. I believe this is explained well in the Presbytery’s pre-hearing brief, which, along with the Record of the Case and the Complainant’s brief, can be found at:

  36. kceasterday said,

    June 26, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Mr. Donahoe, RE 35

    I don’t doubt your interpretation of how a case should be handled. I am not in your shoes and I don’t want to be. I think what everyone is getting at here is that the letter is strictly upheld, but the spirit is lacking.

    In our session meetings, we are concerned about doing things by the book. But when it comes to the spiritual aspect of what’s really going on, be it discipline or any other matter, we believe we have an obligation to bring the Bible and the Standards of the Church to bear on the case.

    If someone was teaching baptismal regeneration in our church, we wouldn’t reach for the BCO first, we would bring the scriptures to bear on the issue, as best as we can understand by our confession. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be the same for any court of the church. If you can give me good reason why it should, I’d like to hear it. It’s not that procedures don’t matter, but what is the weightier matter?

    Likewise, I can’t imagine Paul consulting any other rule of faith and practice but the Bible. Things must be set in order, but the rub here is that the order seems to be trumping the scriptures.

    But I also agree with you that we have this constitution, and that unless we uphold it, we don’t really have one.

    However, if you’re bleeding on the side of the road after an accident, do you care whether or not the Samaritan who stops to help you does everything to save your life according to procedures? If he saves you, do you care that he did life saving steps out of order? The situation before the PCA is no less life threatening and I think many of us would rather go by the life saving steps of the Bible, than by our secondary and tertiary standards.

    Will God bless our upholding the BCO above Scripture? The BCO cannot remove the cancer of error and heresy unless it happens to agree with Scripture or general rules of the Word; and then, only if men are wise enough to use it properly.

    But no matter how well the BCO is written, it is still the Spirit speaking in the Scripture that will ever address error and heresy in the correct manner. Wouldn’t you agree?

    If that is true, then how do we get there from here? We somehow have to perfect our BCO so that our appeals and complaints process allows for religious controversies to be dealt with according to the scriptures first, and the procedures, secondarily. The way it is now, I fear, undermines the spiritual mission of the Church through godly discipline.

  37. Howard Donahoe said,

    June 26, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    easterday@36 – To be honest, I think you set up a straw man. We are not faced with an “either/or” choice between Scripture and procedures and it’s a mischaracterization to allege the PCA is “upholding the BCO above Scripture.” Frankly, it sounds similar to when people accuse us Presbyterians of “upholding the Confession above Scripture.” Or when others say, “I don’t believe in theology, I believe in Scripture…”

    And what you seem to be advocating, albeit unintentionally, would result in procedural anarchy where judges could disregard long established, constitutionally enshrined, and biblically-based procedures. That, I contend, would almost surely result in things equally as unacceptable as some of the theological errors you might fear. That could result in a court, which believed it was “upholding Scripture above the BCO”, doing such things as disallowing defense counsel from calling witnesses, or prohibiting the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, or insisting the burden of proof was on the accused, or requiring a spouse to testify against her husband, or receiving testimony from someone “who is known to indulge a malignant spirit towards the accused; who is not of good character; who is himself under censure or process; who is deeply interested in any respect in the conviction of the accused; or who is known to be litigious, rash or highly imprudent,” or prohibiting the accused from taking the stand, or requiring him to do so, or convicting a man on the testimony of only one witness, or putting a woman on trial again and again and again until it got a group of judges to convict, et cetera, et cetera. Abandoning constitutional procedures would likely land us in a situation similar to Judges 21:25 – “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. “

    Finally, I must ask, since you seem confident the Presbytery erred in its acquittal, and the SJC erred in its decision on the complaint against the acquittal – Have you read the 722 page Record (which includes the 400+ page trial transcript and the trial court’s 33 page report), and the Presbytery’s 10-page Brief? And have you listened to the recording of the oral hearing before the SJC? While I don’t expect you to do so, if you plan to continue publicly critiquing a PCA Presbytery, and the highest court in the denomination, I encourage you to at least read the entire case first – especially since you apparently allege both were more interested in upholding the BCO than Scripture. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it’s the right thing to do.

  38. Horace said,

    June 26, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    So that I may make a comment here, why yes, I have read the entire trial proceedings, and all the associated docs (which probably pushes the page count close to 1k than 722).

    I find what Justice Scalia wrote applicable here as well.

    “We might have covered ourselves with honor today, by promising all sides of this debate that it was theirs to settle and that we would respect their resolution. We might have let the People decide.

    But that the majority will not do. Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better. I dissent.”

    I dissent, indeed.

  39. June 26, 2013 at 8:09 pm


    First, thanks for continuing to engage here. This is how we do things – ample opportunity for both sides to discuss. That’s exactly what about 1200 commissioners were denied at GA last week. FWIW.

    As you probably surmised, I have read the ROC. I don’t think that there’s any doubt that Leithart is a heretic and that PNWP fumbled the ball big time. One SJC member even wrote a consenting “apology” opinion questioning Leithart and getting about as close to calling him guilty as possible without using the words. Even the SJC opinion itself made sure to distance the SJC from Leithart’s aberrant theology. That’s partly what’s so galling about the decision.

    I believe that Leithart is the Norm Shepherd of the PCA. It took the OPC 9 years to finally dump Shepherd. He sat at WTS obfuscating all that time trying to hedge on his views. When he finally left as the OPC was indicting him, he started writing and clearly saying the things that he denied believing in the OPC. Sounds pretty familiar to me.

    I respectfully disagree that BCO 39-3.4 doesn’t take precedence in this case. The very wording of the SJC opinion declares that they ignored that paragraph in their decision, as does the defensive consenting opinion that tried to explain the result. You know that I have many friends on the SJC. I have discussed this case with several. I think that someone on the SJC sold the entire commission a bill of goods. That’s one danger in an unaccountable body.

    I know that we will never agree on this case. I respect your right to hold your view. Even more, I promise not to usurp your right to express your view by starting with a point of order to avoid a discussion.

  40. locirari said,

    June 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    To be honest, I think you set up a straw man. We are not faced with an “either/or” choice between Scripture and procedures and it’s a mischaracterization to allege the PCA is “upholding the BCO above Scripture.” Frankly, it sounds similar to when people accuse us Presbyterians of “upholding the Confession above Scripture.” Or when others say, “I don’t believe in theology, I believe in Scripture…”

    It’s not just “people” using this straw man. This is the problem with confessional Presbyterian opponents of the FV according to no less a Presbyterian than Dr. Leithart. I have some more reflections on confessional identity for whoever is interested:

  41. Howard Donahoe said,

    June 26, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Horace@38 – Love the Scalia quote. He’s one of my heroes. A true originalist. But the case of US v. Winsor (and DOMA) was appellate review of the constitutionality of a law. It was not appellate review of the findings of fact of a lower trial court, which is what Hedman v. Pacific NW was.

    musings@39 – When you are GA Moderator, if I ever try to bring a motion to the floor that violates the BCO, I hope you will rule it out of order promptly, even if it looks to many like you are “usurping my right to express my view.”

  42. kceasterday said,

    June 26, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    Mr. Donahoe, RE 37

    If you believe I set up a straw man, you must have thought it necessary to set up your own (as I give a hearty guffaw).

    Seriously, I have not been advocating short circuiting any trial procedures. The reason for the trial in the first place would be a clear breach of biblical principles, serious error, or grievous sin. The BCO must be followed in the procedures, but what brings the case? The Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

    If an officer of the church is caught in adultery, and the trial commences but for whatever reason, the prosecution fails to prove the case. Yet the whole church knows he’s guilty because he has admitted it to his wife who does not want to testify against him. What do we do? Procedurally, if we carry it out according to the BCO and according to civil legal proceedings upon which it is based, we find the man not guilty.

    However, the fact remains he is guilty. And in times past, it wouldn’t have mattered if proper procedure was breached, he would have been disciplined. Why? Because the Bible demands it even if the manual for discipline doesn’t. At some point, the legal proceedings must be led by the spirit of the law and not the letter. Not to discipline because of a technicality is tantamount to calling God a liar. The civil law prohibits such actions against an “innocent” person. But if we know the person is not innocent, our rules should not prohibit us from carrying out godly discipline.

    However, appellate procedures are quite another story, and that’s where it seems the letter is preferred to the spirit. I’ll say it again, it seems that way. And because it seems that way, many men are dissatisfied with the results.

    And believe it or not, I’m not even specifically talking about the Leithart case, nor am I casting dispersions on the PNWP or the SJC. All I am saying is that the final court may not be representative of the whole body, and there may need to be a change of our constitution to afford more oversight and theological debate on the floor of the Assembly.

    If men are dissatisfied with the results of last week, we shouldn’t just dismiss their concerns and say they’re not fully cognizant of all the details of the case. It should concern us enough to want to dispel all doubt. But again, the only way that may happen is for there to be open and honest discussion in the Assembly.

  43. greenbaggins said,

    June 26, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    In one respect, Leithart is very different from Shepherd. Shepherd obfuscated. Leithart has never done so. He is a remarkably clear writer. his testimony confirmed and reiterated all his non-confessional views. There was no doubt whatsoever cast upon his actual views, as if there was contradictory testimony. What he did also was “affirm the standards.” The SJC interpreted that to be counter testimony. But that judgment is contrary to the FV report of 2007 which clearly states that to affirm the standards while meaning something different by the Standards is not to affirm the standards.

  44. CD-Host said,

    June 26, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    @kceasterday #42

    If an officer of the church is caught in adultery, and the trial commences but for whatever reason, the prosecution fails to prove the case. Yet the whole church knows he’s guilty because he has admitted it to his wife who does not want to testify against him. What do we do? Procedurally, if we carry it out according to the BCO and according to civil legal proceedings upon which it is based, we find the man not guilty.

    However, the fact remains he is guilty. And in times past, it wouldn’t have mattered if proper procedure was breached, he would have been disciplined. Why? Because the Bible demands it even if the manual for discipline doesn’t. At some point, the legal proceedings must be led by the spirit of the law and not the letter. Not to discipline because of a technicality is tantamount to calling God a liar. The civil law prohibits such actions against an “innocent” person. But if we know the person is not innocent, our rules should not prohibit us from carrying out godly discipline.

    How do we “know” someone is guilty and lose a trial? What you are really saying is what should church courts do when they have strong reason to suspect stuff they can’t prove and don’t have evidence for.

    Let’s take your situation in real life.

    1) Mr. X has some sort of relationship with Ms. Y that many people think is intimate.

    2) Ms X at some point insinuated that it was intimate to other members of the court.

    3) In court Mr. X, Ms. Y and Ms X all assert that no sex took place.

    4) The witnesses from (2) above aren’t able to produce any evidence that Ms X is lying when she was mistaken

    5) No one is product any actual evidence of adultery.

    What you are saying is you convict under those circumstances. Obviously you have to convict Ms. X as well. How does your church defend that other churches should uphold their discipline when their rulings are made in contradiction to the sworn testimony without additional evidence because you think the witnesses were lying. Let’s compound it, you are dealing with a non-cooperative complaining witness (Ms. X). Most DA’s have problems making a case under those circumstances, What do you think happens if the court has a finding which Mr or Ms X can prove was false when they go to their next church?

    And even for the individuals I’m hard pressed to see any advantage. If a man is willing to stone cold lie to the session over and over and over, and have his wife and his mistress conspire with each other to do the same then I ask: what kind of pastoral relationship do you think you have anymore with him? This family has decided you’re and the church are a hostile and they are treating you as such. Whatever warm relationship used to exist with the church is now gone. The PCA doesn’t have an effective shunning system like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Amish, why would you think discipline would be effective? And even if you don’t care I’m not sure how you can possible have restoration. How are you going to ever tell whether Mr. X and Ms. Y are still sleeping together now that everyone is lying?

    Not that I’m a member of the PCA but if pastors are going to have the authority to override the actual evidence presented at trial in discipline cases why bother with trials at all? The trial system is one of the PCA’s strengths. Your discipline is well regarded by other churches, why toss that away in favor of a type of discipline that cults, the shepherding movement… champion?

  45. June 27, 2013 at 12:07 am

    […] Church in America and serves as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, Alabama. This article first appeared on Green Baggins and is used with […]

  46. kceasterday said,

    June 27, 2013 at 8:20 am

    CD-Host, RE 44

    Hehe, all analogies break down. I didn’t have a real case in mind, it was hypothetical. I was trying to point out that our judicial system has the potential of being procedurally correct, but coming to the wrong biblical conclusion. If it happens in civil courts, I can imagine it happens in church courts. There may be bias, or whatever the case. We do err.

    But do we err on the side of the Bible or are we more comfortable with the BCO. Mr. Donahoe thinks this is a false dichotomy. But I would say it comports with Paul’s talking about the letter and the spirit in 2 Cor. 3:6. If there were a tertium quid, Paul didn’t mention one. I guess it could be lawlessness as Mr. Donahoe suggests. We all have to stay between those two ditches of antinomianism and legalism. The spirit seems to be the middle way.

    However, becoming lawyerly about the discipline of the church may be frought with danger. If we are lawyers by profession, it might be even more detrimental (no offense to those on the SJC who are or were lawyers). We may tend to treat legal proceedings like the world does, and I don’t believe that was God’s design for church discipline. Civil legal proceedings do not have the spirit of gentleness as the primary motivator (Gal 6:1).

    We need to be careful because the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were lawyers. I am not calling anyone a Pharisee. But we need to see that we all have the potential.

    And for those of you who haven’t noticed, I’ve tried to be careful to use the word “may” and “seems”. I’m not saying “is” nor am I thinking it. I simply believe the courts and our constititution might be improved if we allow more oversight, and open debate, because the result of last week makes us look like we’ve exonerated one who is guilty of heretical teaching.

    And for those who may still yet believe that there is no dichotomy between procedural correctness and biblical wrongness, look at the trial of J. Gresham Machen.

  47. Mark Grasso said,

    June 27, 2013 at 11:17 am

    I believe we have gotten to the place where both the process and the outcomes (of both the SJC and the GA) are not Biblical. Perhaps the only good outcome this time around is that some people are beginning to notice. However, the problem remains that we are a small minority.

  48. CD-Host said,

    June 27, 2013 at 6:19 pm


    FWIW I would seriously suggest before you advocate for discarding the rules and applying the bible directly you spend some time with denominations that came out of the Shepherding movement and make sure you get a good idea of what you are asking for. They have what you want, well respected men apply biblical principles without all the bureaucracy. And the abuses are absolutely off the charts.

    You would trade 50 Leithart exonerations for the problems those churches have with discipline.

    Here is a good quote from a man for all seasons:

    WILLIAM ROPER: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

    SIR THOMAS MORE: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

    ROPER: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

    MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

    Of course there is irony here that the movie depicts the shift away from the rule of law. In the scene above More is powerful and the wicked man (Rich) is begging More for help. Later as the rule of law fades Roper sees the Devil turn around and in the new environment designed to facilitate the good by removing the law’s checks on power the truly wicked men easily triumph over the good ones.


    I have much stronger opinions about your adultery hypothetical than the actual case. I see Leithart as much more a question of PCA policy than biblical. Everyone agrees he would be fine in CREC, and CREC is a Presbyterian denomination it just isn’t the PCA. For all the heat either Leithart preaches CREC doctrine inside the PCA to people drawn to his theology or he and his church becomes part of CREC and he preaches CREC doctrine outside the PCA to mostly the same people.

    Getting into the case… The GA passed an FV resolution which at the least was extremely uncharitable in its descriptions of FV and at the most deliberately mischaracterized FV. IMHO that was the original sin that created the problem. I think the PCA should have had a neutral fact finding report and opened with that before creating a condemning report. Collect facts then draw conclusions, they didn’t do that. Because this resolution is damaged when confronted with a real case the issues are more complex than they should be.

    The question is now a classic heresy question:
    X asserts he believes A
    X asserts he believes B
    X asserts he sees no conflict between A and B
    P, a prosecutor, argues that A and B do conflict
    The court needs to determine whether X really believes B

    Had the FV resolution been a finding of fact than (A) would or would not have been banned and this whole case would be a lot simpler.

    A weak initial case was filed against Leithart. That weak initial case gave North West Presbytery an out to not either enforce an unjust resolution or openly defy the GA. The prosecution after the initial filing did a good job, the defense rebutted enough to keep the out open. The core issues of the case weren’t really addressed so no one is satisfied.

    To be honest I don’t really see the moral issue. This strikes me as more of a pragmatic question. Does the PCA want to be a narrow Presbyterian denomination or does the PCA want to be the primary evangelical Presbyterian denomination. It can’t be both. This is how denominations decide these things.

  49. locirari said,

    June 27, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Does the PCA want to be a narrow Presbyterian denomination or does the PCA want to be the primary evangelical Presbyterian denomination.

    I think the PCA is already out of the running for “the primary evangelical Presbyterian denomination.” The contenders are more like the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the new ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (they just split off from the mainline Presbyterian Church) and the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Hey, the first two even have evangelical in their names. Tough to beat that, pragmatically.

  50. kceasterday said,

    June 27, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    CD-host, RE 48

    I’m sorry, but I haven’t been advocating discarding the rules. I’ve been advocating perfecting them to allow for more oversight and helpful debate.

    But in the end, we’re a church. If we don’t exercise godly discpline according the the scriptures, primaritly and our own rules secondarily, then we shouldn’t call ourselves a church.

  51. Greg said,

    June 27, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    kceasterday, RE 50

    Exactly! I’m amazed how a couple of posters have jumped from (1) our insistence that we keep the focus on proper church discipline and not allow the BCO to inhibit or prohibit such discipline, to (2) suggesting we actually may be advocating a complete abandonment of the Rules of Discipline. Then based on these leaps unsubstantiated conclusions are drawn that we may then have procedural anarchy and that every man will simply do that which is right in his own eyes.

    And all this while I’ve never seen any of them address the substantive concerns, objections, and questions which I’ve set forth in most basic of terms in posts 14 and 31. Some of them are:

    From 14: “Should we applaud our thoroughness of procedure and be encouraged to be more thorough next time in preparing complaints, appeals and overtures; or should we lament our failure to set aside procedure so that we could fulfill our obligations before God to both vindicate the honor of Christ and promote the purity and edification of the church by dealing with those who teach false doctrines?”

    And, “Can anyone imagine standing before God and attempting to justify our procedurally grounded decisions in the matters of Leithart and Myers?”

    31: see questions 1-4 in post 31.

    And another question: Which of you who are defending the way the procedures were used are grieved that SJC et al action/inaction allows Leithart and Myers to continue teaching FV doctrine as PCA ordained pastors?

    And yet another question: On what constitutional basis do Leithart and Myers continue to teach FV doctrine as PCA teaching elders? The PCA has already found the FV to be out of accord with the Standards. I’m assuming there must be some BCO loophole, as it were.

    Let us not become distracted by procedure to the peril of obedience to God in maintaining proper church discipline. We have absolutely no authority from God to allow technicalities to keep us from our charge. This is the issue. No one here is arguing for no procedure, but from the other side of this debate we see no one arguing that our charge must not be hindered, obstructed or delayed by procedure. We have seen the consequences in actuality– not something imagined or leaped to by wild postulations– what devotion to procedure at the expense of proper church discipline does: those teaching FV doctrine continue to do so as PCA ordained pastors.

    All of us in these matters have a duty before God to see that the name of Christ is vindicated, that the purity and general edification of the Church is promoted, and that we seek the spiritual good of the offenders. We are to seek “proper church discipline” and that is the end of the Rules of Discipline — not pristine procedure. We must not and cannot turn aside from our charge simply to avoid a procedural conflict. When we allow the BCO or RRO to keep us from executing proper church discipline, defending such use of the BCO or RRO by stating these are “long established, constitutionally enshrined, and biblically-based procedures” rings quite hollow. Once again I ask if any would dare thank God for our procedural perfection while at the same time acknowledging to him we’ve done so at the expense of proper church discipline?

  52. locirari said,

    June 27, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    kceasterday and Greg,

    I agree with much of what you say. Sadly, I think that the Rayburn interpretation has either swayed many PCA men or at least many have adopted it as their justification for letting the FV slide. Here’s a quote from Dr. Rayburn’s testimony in the Meyer Trial transcript, part 2, pp 88-90:

    I think the report is misunderstood.
    First of all, of course, it’s a report. That’s all it
    is. It has no judicial standing. It has no
    confessional standing in the church, but more than
    that the impression that we were given in the midst of
    our trial was that somehow or another that the report
    in and of itself settled the matter. […]
    So more than that, the assignment of
    the committee was to identify those things which
    strike at the vitals or out of accord with the
    fundamentals with the system, which the report, in
    fact, did not do. At no point did it actually
    identify anything as striking at the fundamentals of
    the system. And then, of course, you only have the
    declarations being a unanimous result of the
    deliberations of the committee.
    And as I understand it, those
    declarations also are understood quite differently by
    different people because they’re not — they’re not

  53. Greg said,

    June 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I don’t suppose we’ve ever had a committee define (unanimously or otherwise) the meaning of “is” have we? But then even if we had it might be subject to diverse interpretation– and in any event not binding. But then being elevated to the level of the BCO (the Directory for Worship, for example; you know, the three (of seventeen) chapters that are supposed to be truly binding for which some have been granting exceptions) doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, does it?

    Also, one might wonder if it isn’t true that some TE’s have used the internet as that “safe place” some had lobbied for in 2010. When one is called to answer for doctrinal comments made on blogs, one merely states that what was written was not meant to be understood in “confessional” terms.

    While some FV sympathizers have interacted within blogs, some have chosen to avoid them altogether, prompting, for some reason, this interchange from the Maltese Falcon to come to mind:

    GUTMAN: Well, sir, here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding.
    You’re a close-mouthed man?
    SPADE: (shakes his head) I like to talk.
    GUTMAN (exclaims delightedly) Better and better. I distrust a close-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking’s something you can’t do judiciously unless you keep in practice.

    Yes, here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding! And less equivocating.

  54. CD-Host said,

    June 30, 2013 at 10:29 am

    @Greg #51 —

    (2) suggesting we actually may be advocating a complete abandonment of the Rules of Discipline. … or should we lament our failure to set aside procedure so that we could fulfill our obligations before God

    I think that’s pretty clear cut. There are 4 possible cases:

    Procedure produces the right result and putting it aside would produce the wrong one. Everyone agrees on what to do here.

    There are two more easy cases:
    Procedure produces the right result and putting it aside would too.

    Procedure produces the wrong result and putting it aside would too.

    In both cases everyone stands with procedure. The question, the only question is what to do in the case of:

    Procedure produces the wrong result and putting it aside would produce the right one.

    Standing for procedure is standing for procedure in this case. If the court is gong to be empowered to ignore the rules when they don’t agree with the outcome the rules would produce there are no rules.

    what devotion to procedure at the expense of proper church discipline does: those teaching FV doctrine continue to do so as PCA ordained pastors.

    Peter Leithart was tried on a complaint and found not guilty. The devotion is to the fact that defendants should have the right to be exonerated.

    Everything after that has been one side lawyering to try and create a verdict of automatic guilt and the other side lawyering to prevent any further consideration of the evidence. But the core procedural question is whether it is acceptable for a court to examine the evidence by the prosecution and find it wanting? The right of the court to find for the defendant I think is a rather important procedure and one with biblical support to boot.

    The prosecution argued that Peter Leithart did not believe statements in the WCF which in sworn testimony Leithart upheld. The prosecution argued that Leithart held views that in sworn testimony he denied. The original court in the end did not believe the prosecution’s case.

    I’m about as neutral as someone could possibly be and I don’t find all the prosecution’s theories plausible. I think they stretched too much in many places went beyond the evidence. I have no personal feelings for Leithart. I can see how someone facing a case this aggressive could find for the defense. I raised this point on the new appeal that on several of the charges I think are unprovable or false and that is likely damaging. I think the verdict was reasonable, not necessarily I would personally have given but reasonable.

    And your argument is you don’t like the verdict so it should be ignored. Yes. That really and truly is making an argument for dispensing with procedure in any meaningful sense all together.

  55. Greg said,

    June 30, 2013 at 10:01 pm


    Let’s just cut to your conclusion and save each of us a lot of time. No where did I argue that the verdict should be ignored because I disliked it. That grossly misrepresents what I’ve argued. Yes, I disagree (to put it mildly) with the PNWP’s decision, but no where have I argued it should be ignored. Efforts were made to get the SJC to hear the case in March and (put it however you will) they refused on technical grounds. My argument is that proper church discipline must not be infringed upon by man made rules; go back and read my posts. No one is arguing for anarchy. No one is arguing for “improper” church discipline. This IS certainly an exceptional case (along with Myers) as the very gospel itself is under attack by FV doctrines. No one has asked that he be declared guilty automatically. Rather we have asked the SJC on appeal (and other forms now) to take up the Leithart (and Myers) case(s). We are now asking for SJC to assume original jurisdiction.

    You have misrepresented my argument and the result is an exaggerated and improper conclusion.

  56. June 30, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    […] 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 […]

  57. June 30, 2013 at 11:18 pm

    […] 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 […]

  58. CD-Host said,

    July 1, 2013 at 8:05 am

    @Greg #55

    I don’t see where I’ve missed anything. You have been quite clear that PNWP’s verdict is unacceptable. You don’t have any evidence that the trial was improper other than you don’t like the verdict. The SJC did hear the case and found that PNWP conducted a proper trial. In your mind the PNWP trial was obviously improper because it arrived at the wrong verdict so therefore the SJC verdict was improper. You’ve been crystal clear that “not guilty” does not in your mind constitute an acceptable outcome but rather is “man made rules” overriding “proper church discipline”.

    I understand you don’t like your views being stripped of pretense but those are the views you are expressing. I’m not failing to read or understand you are writing. You are failing to read and understand implications of what you are writing.

    Courts either have the right to exonerate defendants and find that the prosecution failed to prove their case, or they don’t. There is nothing man made about those rules vs. any other rules. Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Psalms, Proverbs… consistently speak positively about the rule of law. They demand human structures are created for the administration of justice so that trials can be conducted. The PCA did what it was biblically ordered to do. The prosecution choose to overcharge, and BTW continues to overcharge. The prosecution made a strategic choice and one that they lost on.

    Edward Snowden being charged with espionage rather than unauthorized communication of national defense information is another example in the news. It is entirely possible that if Snowden is ever brought to trial he might be found not guilty because of the espionage indictment when he very might have been found guilty of unauthorized communication. And if that is what happens that doesn’t mean that Snowden wasn’t given a fair trial or there was a failure of justice. Snowden did not commit espionage and Peter Leithart does not preach full on Catholic Baptismal Regeneration.

  59. Greg said,

    July 1, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    “I don’t see where I’ve missed anything.” That I agree with fully. As I’m quite content with the clarity with which I’ve expressed my views, I see no reason to defend them further– and won’t.

  60. Jon Barlow said,

    July 1, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    “And have you listened to the recording of the oral hearing before the SJC?”

    Where can we hear this?

  61. July 4, 2013 at 12:06 am

    […] 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 […]

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