2007November10, Saturday

Burning Down the House to Evict a Rat?

Posted in The Church at 23:11 by Trey Austin

I am a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church in America, in which the controversy over the Federal Vision is currently raging. Now, i don’t usually comment on things like this, and as i’ve said before, i am not myself a Federal Visionist (so technically, i really don’t have a dog in this fight). Yet, it is difficult to do anything these days without this kind of thing coming up. When i was examined for membership in Westminster Presbytery, i was asked how i viewed the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision. From the reading that i’ve done, i know that they are often confused and equated, but that they are distinct, so i pointed that fact out. But beyond that, i told my presbytery that i believe that both movements or conversations (or whatever you want to call them) are asking important questions that need to be answered. Whether you agree with their answers (some of them i do; many of them i don’t), the questions they’re asking need to be taken up by the Church from the Scriptures themselves to give the Reformed Church a solid answer.

Of course, what i’m talking about is the recent decision by the Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA General Assembly that Louisiana Presbytery (PCA) did not do its proper duty to examine Steve Wilkins and determine whether there were a “strong presumption of guilt” of being out of the bounds of the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is an absolutely important decision for the SJC and for the PCA, but there are lots of things that i have a problem with on how this has proceeded. Again, my problems have nothing to do with whether i’m really in agreement with Federal Visionists. My desire is to see the Church speak with the authority Christ has endued it. That’s the way that the Church is supposed to work. My problem is that this whole procedure is un-Presbyterian and un-biblical. Most of all, my problem is that this is a controversy of religion that hasn’t itself been dealt with.

Now, i know, everyone seems to think that this is nothing new, that it’s just some old heresy resurrected, or that whether this is new or not, the Confession sufficiently deals with the issue that the Church has already spoken to the issue. That’s really the only argument that can be put forward to justify the lack of action by the PCA (or, for that matter, any other Reformed Church, because all other Reformed Churches who have made statements about the FV or NPP have all done so in light of existing doctrinal standards, most of which are at least 400 years old; no other Reformed Church has come to the controversy and made any definitive decision the way that the Synod of Dordt did: based upon the Scriptures alone).

Procedurally, the SJC has no standing to take LAP to task for finding Steve Wilkins within the bounds of the standards, except that they were presupposing his guilt to begin with. In other words, from the reasoning of the SJC, LAP was wrong to have found that Steve Wilkins was within the bounds of the Confession, because the SJC had already (informally and unofficially) decided that he is not within the bounds of the Confession. Is this proper procedure? Isn’t there supposed to be a finding of fact before acting on the fact? And all this without Steve Wilkins having the ability to face accusers, have representation, and present counter-evidence to a court of the Church. This has all been said before by many, many people, so i suppose it doesn’t need to be harped upon. The fact of the matter is, though, that this issue of living up to basic procedural standards has yet to be dealt with. If anyone argues that the decision of the study committee at the Memphis General Assembly this past summer constitutes a finding of fact, even that argument falls flat, because Wilkins, nor anyone else implicated or mentioned in the report, were not on trial, with charges presented, with the ability to face accusers, and with representation to present arguments in defense of themselves, and there were no members of that committee who could or would represent the FV side of the issue and allow those deliberating to have even counter arguments.

Of course, the main problem i have with the study committee set up at the 2006 General Assembly and the findings that it presented to the 2007 General Assembly, beyond the fact that they had a committee that did not represent the full spectrum of the PCA (divided and full of disparate factions as it is), especially the factions who are disagreed in the current controversy, is that it did not seek to determine the standing of the issues in controversy in light of God’s Word. Let me give an example of what i’m talking about.

I have stated before that i am a very fond of the Second Helvetic Confession of Faith. In fact, i believe it is a better confession than the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is more appropos, less scholastic, more plain in its language, and more fitted to ministerial application on a regional and local level. However, Bullinger, in the 2HCF, says this about the use of traditional and extra-biblical authorities to determine sound doctrine:

The Apostle Peter has said that the Holy Scriptures are not of private interpretation (2 Pet. 1:20), and thus we do not allow all possible interpretations. Nor consequently do we acknowledge as the true or genuine interpretation of the Scriptures what is called the conception of the Roman Church, that is, what the defenders of the Roman Church plainly maintain should be thrust upon all for acceptance. But we hold that the interpretation of the Scripture to be orthodox and genuine which is gleaned from the Scriptures themselves (from the nature of the language in which they were written, likewise according to the circumstances in which they were set down, and expounded in the light of and unlike passages and of many and clearer passages) and which agree with the rule of faith and love, and contributes much to the glory of God and man’s salvation.

Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures; but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures. Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement.

And in the same order also we place the decrees and canons of councils.

Wherefore we do not permit ourselves, in controversies about religion or matters of faith, to urge our case with only the opinions of the fathers or decrees of councils; much less by received customs, or by the large number of those who share the same opinion, or by the prescription of a long time. Who is the Judge? Therefore, we do not admit any other judge than God himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what to be avoided. So we do assent to the judgments of spiritual men which are drawn from the Word of God. Certainly Jeremiah and other prophets vehemently condemned the assemblies of priests which were set up against the law of God; and diligently admonished us that we should not listen to the fathers, or tread in their path who, walking in their own inventions, swerved from the law of God.

Likewise we reject human traditions, even if they be adorned with high-sounding titles, as though they were divine and apostolical, delivered to the Church by the living voice of the apostles, and, as it were, through the hands of apostolical men to succeeding bishops which, when compared with the Scriptures, disagree with them; and by their disagreement show that they are not Apostolic at all. For as the apostles did not contradict themselves in doctrine, so the apostolic men did not set forth things contrary to the apostles. On the contrary, it would be wicked to assert that the apostles by a living voice delivered anything contrary to their writings.

Paul affirms expressly that he taught the same things in all churches (I Cor. 4:17). And, again, “For we write you nothing but what you can read and understand.” (II Cor. 1:13). Also, in another place, he testifies that he and his disciples – that is, apostolic men – walked in the same way, and jointly by the same Spirit did all things (II Cor. 12:18). Moreover, the Jews in former times had the traditions of their elders; but these traditions were severely rejected by the Lord, indicating that the keeping of them hinders God’s law, and that God is worshipped in vain by such traditions (Matt. 15:1 ff.; Mark 7:1 ff).

Second Helvetic Confession of Faith, Chapter 2.

In other words, no matter how well-respected, historical, or accepted a standard is, it cannot and should not take the place of God’s Word in being the only source of truth. The only views that may properly be seen as sound and orthodox are those that come from the Scriptures themselves. And since God doesn’t contradict himself, even as he has revealed his will through the writings of the holy apostles as the foundation of the Church, if we find anywhere that any statement of the Church, any tradition of the Church, or any interpretation of an important historical Church leader, they are to be rejected. So, in the trying of religious matters, Bullinger and all the Protestants for whom he speaks admits of no other authority in trying them than God himself speaking in the Holy Scriptures.

Now, of course, this was written in response to the prevailing traditions of the Church by the Roman Church in Bullinger’s day. However, does not the same principle apply, no matter what the Church tradition, when the traditional writings and received interpretations become the basis for what the Church believes and does equal with or rather than the Scriptures? Some have said, “But the Confession is a faithful summary of Scripture.” Yes, in most places it is. However, don’t you think that the Roman authorities could have and would have said the same thing about the Greek and Latin Fathers? That they are faithful interpreters of Scripture (and are from a time closer to their writing, after all), and hence, i’m sure they would have said that they were right to follow the tradition of the Church Fathers in matters of religion. But Bullinger deals with this very issue: yes, the interpreters of the Church are good to consult, and they have their place, but they are only to be received insofar as they can be shown (and they must be shown, not assumed from the start) to agree with Scripture. More importantly, though, if all we consider is the confessional standards of the Churches to answer these controversies, their age becomes a prohibitive factor, because the Church must answer the controversies that arise in each generation, and they must, in each generation, return to the Scriptures for themselves.

So, we do not automatically assume that such-and-such a source or religious authority (even Church councils, like the Westminster Assembly) is in agreement with Scripture on this or that matter of doctrinal controversy simply because they are high-sounding and well-respected, but in Bullinger’s own words, those authorities themselves “command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with [the Scriptures], and to accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement.” This is the Protestant principle: in order to be safe-guarded from any kind of ungodly devotion to tradition, in controversies over religion, we must always return to the Scriptures themselves, mediated by nothing, not simply to the writings of well-respected doctors of the Church or even the statements of councils. The Westminster Confession itself affirms this very thing: “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” (WCF 1:10).

Now, lest i be accused of just taking the FV “side” in this thing, let me say this:

If i were to be part of some PCA council (a special, extended council of the Church, representing all presbyteries, not simply a meeting of some committee that doesn’t represent the Church broadly, and not simply the General Assembly where no real debate [or willingness to engage in it] is possible), there are lots of aspects of what i have read in Wilkins that i would find troublesome and problematic from the point of view of Scripture and i’d have to vote against their being seen as sound doctrine.

For instance, in listening to his lecture at the original Auburn Avenue Pastor’s Conference, he mis-defines the origional Half-way Covenant, and so he misapplies its lessons to the current situation in the Reformed/Presbyterian Churches. He doesn’t seem to distinguish well between the ontological and epistemological ways of understanding the issues of Covenant, Union with Christ, Regeneration, and even Justification (i.e., if extreme “TR” Presbyterians are always ontological in their formulation, seeing things from God’s own perspective, from the perspective of the decrees; then Steve Wilkins and other FV folks go to the other extreme and see things only from the epistemological, from the human perspective, and the perspective of “the history of the Covenant”—both are true, but neither can be seen to the exclusion of the other without distortion of the truth. His understanding that someone can fall away from real, true union with Christ is astoundingly unbiblical and un-Reformed. I could mention more, but i won’t go on.

My point simply is that, just in the case of Wilkins, i have things i have problems with, and there are things that, i believe, should be dealt with; so do i think that, in an effort to resolve the issues, the Church should do nothing that is either unbiblical or un-Confessional—not even anyting that smacks of any kind of unfairness. To use a metaphor, if we burn down the house to get rid of a rat, we’ll soon see that it may have been better to put up with the rat for a little while longer than to violate the heart and soul of who we are to try and solve the relatively minor problem. If someone really believes that what he has expressed is so out of accord with Scripture (and this is the standard we need to return to in our accusations), he should go through the proper proceedures. Charge Wilkins himself before his presbytery; have his presbytery try him for those charges, and let the appeals process proceed as it should. Or, let’s have a Church council to try these matters by Scripture itself (not a stacked committee, but a full Reformed Council, inviting divines and doctors from all Reformed denominations, including even men from the CREC, much like Westminster itself or Dordt operated).

I am in favor of giving a good bit of latitude to presbyteries for working these things out best to fit the local and regional needs and emphases. This really is another one of the problems i have with this whole issue and the PCA as a whole. The Presbyterian Church in America has become as authoritarian and centralized as the PCUS ever was (can you honestly say that such a thing as the SJC represents balanced, republican, presbyterial government?), which was, ostensibly, one of the main reasons that the churches that withdrew from the PCUS and formed the PCA did what they did. Worse still, though, what is not centralized is no longer presbyterial, but has become congregational. In reality, the PCA has gutted almost all authority of presbyteries to do anything of any consequence. And that’s one of the things that makes me so confused about the PCA’s current actions. If Louisiana Presbytery has acted in a way that is in any way weak or ineffective in overseeing the ministry of its geographical region of the PCA, it is only the logical result of years of the PCA’s gutting presbyterial authority, exalting the power of congregations to call all the shots over what takes place locally, and the agencies of the GA usurping of the authority that properly only belongs to the presbyteries themselves.

I could go on and on about what is wrong with the PCA and how it’s affecting this injustice that the SJC is perpetuating, but i’ll stop. My only option is to continue to pray that the Lord would intervene in some way to alleviate this injustice and to quell my own conscience. I just don’t know what to do as a member of a PCA presbytery. What kind of recourse do i have? Sadly, the PCA GA has become as bloated and out of control as the Federal branch of our government.

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10 Comments »

  1. David Gray said,

    Amen! Well stated. I fail to understand why more of these people don’t grasp that how you do something is at least as important as what is to be done. We should leave “the end justifies the means” to Lenin.

  2. RBerman said,

    If someone really believes that what he has expressed is so out of accord with Scripture (and this is the standard we need to return to in our accusations), he should go through the proper proceedures. Charge Wilkins himself before his presbytery; have his presbytery try him for those charges, and let the appeals process proceed as it should.
    As best I can tell, that’s exactly what’s happening. Wilkins was accused before LAP. LAP failed to hold a proper trial and passed on a document that exonerated Wilkins. SJC, as the court of appeal, then told LAP to hold a proper trial, which they still failed to do. So now SJC has asked LAP to explain themselves. Within proper procedure, the options at this point are that LAP will finally conduct a real trial, which would include the heavy lifting of explaining how Wilkins’ views about union with Christ and the “uselessness” of the visible/invisible church distinction fall within WCF boundaries. Or LAP could defer that responsibility to GA (i.e. to SJC).

    You’ll have noted that I said the trial should determine whether Wilkins’ views fall within WCF boundaries, whereas you said that the trial should be about Scriptural boundaries. It seems to me that we have two Reformed values in tension here. One is the supremacy of Scripture. The other is the utility of subordinate standards as systematic expositions of Scripture. The FV Ad Hoc Committee decided to appeal strictly to WCF instead of to Scripture after trying the latter and realizing that the GA’s need would not be well served by a 200 page report. ((A)What does the Bible say about election? (B)What does the Confession say about election? (C)What does each various FV person (1,2,3,4) say about election? How does A compare to B, and B to C1, and C2, and C3, and C4, and A to C1, and C2, and C3, and C4? And so on for the topics of justification, and union with Christ, and perseverance.) Most of the verbiage of such a report would be toward the conclusion would be that WCF, after all, does accurately render these various doctrines of Scripture. Now, if anyone wants to challenge whether WCF accurately renders Scripture, there’s a procedure for that. And really, we ought to do use that mechanism more often, especially for doctrines like the Sabbath on which more elders have exceptions than don’t have exceptions. At the very least, WCF’s Elizabethan sentence structure poses an unnecessary obstacle to comprehension in the 21st century and would benefit from some wordsmithing.

    I have trouble imagining any scenario short of exoneration which would not generate procedural gripes from the FV side. And, to be fair, there will be procedural gripes from the anti-FV side if the final verdict is anything short of conviction. We’re talking about fallible men working with a fallible procedure. It’s reasonable to ask whether the PCA GA appeals process, including SJC, is properly structured to achieve the desired end of swift and accurate assessment of potential doctrinal deviation without getting lost in procedure or perverted by partisanship or ignorance. It’s easier to figure out what went wrong in PCUS than it is to construct a viable alternative for an organization the size of PCA.

  3. Trey Austin said,

    Trey wrote: “If someone really believes that what he has expressed is so out of accord with Scripture (and this is the standard we need to return to in our accusations), he should go through the proper proceedures. Charge Wilkins himself before his presbytery; have his presbytery try him for those charges, and let the appeals process proceed as it should.”

    RBerman responded: “As best I can tell, that’s exactly what’s happening. Wilkins was accused before LAP. LAP failed to hold a proper trial and passed on a document that exonerated Wilkins. SJC, as the court of appeal, then told LAP to hold a proper trial, which they still failed to do. So now SJC has asked LAP to explain themselves. Within proper procedure, the options at this point are that LAP will finally conduct a real trial, which would include the heavy lifting of explaining how Wilkins’ views about union with Christ and the “uselessness” of the visible/invisible church distinction fall within WCF boundaries. Or LAP could defer that responsibility to GA (i.e. to SJC).”

    Who was the original accusing party within Louisiana Presbytery? The account i have seen has various presbyteries sending up memorials or overtures from their own presbyteries to the General Assembly to request the SJC to require LAP to *EXAMINE* Steve Wilkins as to his conformity to the standards of the PCA. Now, the very first problem was that those individuals I(even if outside of LAP) didn’t submit an accusation directly to LAP. Nothing in the PCA constitution prevents a member of another presbytery from bringing a charge to the court of origional jurisdiction for any court member. For instance, if some member of my congregation knew that a member of another congregation in our presbytery were committing adultery, his duty would be to go to that other session and make the accusation, not to come to *OUR* session and have *US* to send an overture or memorial to our common presbytery. That would be a misapplication of the principles of Church discipline. So with these overtures to the GA about Steve Wilkins. After all, LAP can’t be shown to have abdicated their duty unless there is actually an accusation presented *TO THEM* that they refused to act upon.

    Second, as i said, the instruction of the SJC to LAP was not to *TRY* Wilkins, but to “examine” him (who could be confused at this difference in wording?), which they did, not once but twice. I didn’t like all the answers Wilkins gave in those examinations (both were either reproduced in recording or writing), but i honestly don’t think that anything he believes is in violation of the Confession’s explicit statements—even if that were the standard by which these issues should be tried, which they aren’t. The real question is whether there is a “second secondary standard” by which he’s really being tried. In other words, no matter how much Wilkins affirms his belief in what the WCF actually says, there is a “tradition of the elders” kind of interpretation, not only of the Scripture but of the Confession itself. But the simple fact was, though, that he wasn’t on trial, and LAP was never instructed to try him for any accusation of doctrinal infidelity.

  4. Trey Austin said,

    RBerman said: “You’ll have noted that I said the trial should determine whether Wilkins’ views fall within WCF boundaries, whereas you said that the trial should be about Scriptural boundaries. It seems to me that we have two Reformed values in tension here. One is the supremacy of Scripture. The other is the utility of subordinate standards as systematic expositions of Scripture. The FV Ad Hoc Committee decided to appeal strictly to WCF instead of to Scripture after trying the latter and realizing that the GA’s need would not be well served by a 200 page report. ((A)What does the Bible say about election? (B)What does the Confession say about election? (C)What does each various FV person (1,2,3,4) say about election? How does A compare to B, and B to C1, and C2, and C3, and C4, and A to C1, and C2, and C3, and C4? And so on for the topics of justification, and union with Christ, and perseverance.) Most of the verbiage of such a report would be toward the conclusion would be that WCF, after all, does accurately render these various doctrines of Scripture. Now, if anyone wants to challenge whether WCF accurately renders Scripture, there’s a procedure for that. And really, we ought to do use that mechanism more often, especially for doctrines like the Sabbath on which more elders have exceptions than don’t have exceptions. At the very least, WCF’s Elizabethan sentence structure poses an unnecessary obstacle to comprehension in the 21st century and would benefit from some wordsmithing.”

    No, i don’t *AT ALL* doubt the usefulness of the secondary standards of the Church. The question is what they are for. The answer is that they are for those outside. They explain to those outside our Church how we interpret the Scriptures on main doctrinal points. They also serve as a standard by which those coming into the Church are tried as to whether they affirm our understanding of the Scriptures. However, when controversies arise *WITHIN* the Church, the Confession is not some club to be weilded against one another. The standard by which all *CONTROVERSIES* are tried is the Scriptures and nothing else. That’s even what the WCF itself says! How much respect could the court members (who want to use the Confession against other court members) have for the Confession if they refuse to follow even that most basic point in it?

    The fact is that the FV study committee may have limited their job to the Confession, but then, maybe that’s because they chose not to “do the heavy lifting” of engaging the Scripture itself to answer these questions. And, more than that, though, the Confession doesn’t directly deal with these issues (how could they, since these issues weren’t immediate concerns for the divines almost 400 years ago?), because these are new issues that face a new generation of the Church. The only responsible option is that the courts would use the *SCRIPTURES* to determine this controversy.

    The issue is preicsely, though, whether the Confession is comprehensive in answering all these issues. Your scenario of all the verbiage, if done properly, would soon find what the FV advocates often point out: the Scriptures, in dealing with election, plainly put forth a corporate aspect that the Confession is altogether silent in dealing with. If that’s true (and it is to anyone who doesn’t have an axe to grind against the FV), then their election language that is corporate in nature is not unbiblical, and it is completely neutral with regard to the Confession, which doesn’t deal with corporate election at all. The same thing is true with “final justification” (i.e., vindication), which the committee was irresponsible in conflating with initial justification. Here again, the Confession is completely silent (except the Catechisms’ statements about being “openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment”) on these issues in terms of “justification,” but Scripture is not.

    The question is not whether the WCF is proper as a secondary standard. The question is whether it is sufficient to answer every doctrinal issue that arises. It is not, and true Protestants would not want it try and do a job that was intended only for the Scriptures.

    But i ask you, why would anyone, in the current circumstances, even *THINK* to suggest changing the Confession, when the Confession is *THE STANDARD* by which the truth is now tried? If the Confession is truth itself, and anyone who differs from it in anything more than quibbling with language is being accused of *HERESY*, then it certainly follows that a person who would like to see it reworded or rewritten would be automatically accused of failing to be in conformity to it! In other words, the Church has created a catch-22 by their over-reliance upon the Confession: the Confession is the standard by which all disagreements over religion in our Church are tried, and one must hold to the Confession’s affirmations in order to be seen as orthodox; but if you disagree with the Confession itself so that you wish to see it reworded or rewritten, you are, by definition, out of accord with the Confession, and so liable to being viewed as unorthodox.

  5. RBerman said,

    That’s a reasonable idea that if Presbytery X has a problem with Wilkins’ doctrine, they should first communicate their request for an investigation to the Session of Wilkins’ church, then to Wilkins’ Presbytery, before sending a memorial to the GA about the matter. I’m not familiar with any sections of BCO which describe those first two steps or mandate them, but it doesn’t make them wrong, and there’s something to be said for them.

    As for exactly what SJC asked LAP to do, it seems like there are several things that could have been asked. Perhaps it would have been better if SJC had demanded a “trial” instead of an “examination.” At any rate, I’m sympathetic to SJC’s view that Wilkins’ examination answers should have been the object of a more thoughtful written analysis by his Presbytery, since as you recognize, those answers appear to contain at least denigration of central points of WCF, even if couched in a claim of adherence to WCF.

  6. Trey Austin said,

    RBerman wrote: “I have trouble imagining any scenario short of exoneration which would not generate procedural gripes from the FV side. And, to be fair, there will be procedural gripes from the anti-FV side if the final verdict is anything short of conviction. We’re talking about fallible men working with a fallible procedure. It’s reasonable to ask whether the PCA GA appeals process, including SJC, is properly structured to achieve the desired end of swift and accurate assessment of potential doctrinal deviation without getting lost in procedure or perverted by partisanship or ignorance. It’s easier to figure out what went wrong in PCUS than it is to construct a viable alternative for an organization the size of PCA.”

    If that comment about “procedural gripes from the FV side” is intended to imply that i am on that “side,” you couldn’t be more wrong. I am, i believe, an observer, who can see both sides of the issue, and i’m trying to be fair-minded and biblical. But then again, this is the attitude that is seen from the anti-FV crowd (the ones who have already held the heresy trial in their imagination, and have fantasies about being modern-day Luthers), that if you don’t walk the party line and spout the disparaging rhetoric in just the right way, you’re accused of being in league with the heretics.

    The problems i have with the PCA are miriad. (In fact, the PCA, in spite of the fact that it currently holds my credentials, is not my denomination of choice; i took a charge in the PCA as a member of the ARP Church, because the Lord called me to this congregation.) The very existence of the SJC, without any ability to appeal their decisions, is outrageous. Absolutely, there is room to criticize. But i don’t think that it is as hard to figure out a way to fix it as you claim. The difficulty is to find a way to fix it that will win the favor of the denominational elite who pull the strings and hold all the power so that it can reach the point of being considered as a viable option. And, too, it will also have to pass muster with the congregationalist elders in the local churches.

    It should not, however, be in the hands of a little over two dozen men, half of whom have no formal theological training, to try these issues. We need a real council composed of pastors and doctors from various points of view to make a definitive decision from Scripture itself. That’s the only thing that can be the basis for moving forward.

  7. RBerman said,

    I wasn’t assuming which side you were on, Trey. I recognized your concerns about Wilkins in the original blog posting, and I concur. I was just hypothesizing that the “losing” side (whichever side that turns out to be) will likely point to procedural irregularities as evidence of bias against their side. I expect there to be procedural irregularities, and poor judgment calls too. I hope they don’t impact the outcome (whatever it may be) too much. This simply isn’t an area of church governance with which the PCA has a wealth of experience on which to draw.

  8. Trey Austin said,

    RBerman wrote: “That’s a reasonable idea that if Presbytery X has a problem with Wilkins’ doctrine, they should first communicate their request for an investigation to the Session of Wilkins’ church, then to Wilkins’ Presbytery, before sending a memorial to the GA about the matter. I’m not familiar with any sections of BCO which describe those first two steps or mandate them, but it doesn’t make them wrong, and there’s something to be said for them.”

    Well, that’s part of the difficulty. That’s a particular way of reading the BCO that assumes that the BCO gives comprehensive instructions about everything. In actuality, all BCOs of the various Churches give guidelines and specify what must take place in certain circumstances, but do not give instructions for every circumstance, but trust sessions and presbyteries to know Scripture well enough to apply the principles therein to other circumstances not specifically laid out.

    RBerman wrote: “As for exactly what SJC asked LAP to do, it seems like there are several things that could have been asked. Perhaps it would have been better if SJC had demanded a “trial” instead of an “examination.” At any rate, I’m sympathetic to SJC’s view that Wilkins’ examination answers should have been the object of a more thoughtful written analysis by his Presbytery, since as you recognize, those answers appear to contain at least denigration of central points of WCF, even if couched in a claim of adherence to WCF.”

    Listen, Rick, the SJC said what it said. It can’t go back now, after the fact, and say that what LAP did in response to what it specifically said wasn’t good enough. It is absolutely wrong for them to find fault with them for doing precisely what they were instructed to do. Nowhere did the SJC instruct them to interact in writing with Wilkins’s answers. Nowhere did the SJC instruct them to conduct a trial with full process. What they instructed them to do was examine him and determine whether his views were within the boundaries of the Confession. They did precisely that. The problem seems only to be that the SJC doesn’t like the answer that they gave and are now throwing up all kinds of specious and extraneous issues that weren’t part of the origional instructions to criticize the presbytery over their decision, when the only issue they seem to have is that they didn’t just go ahead and find Wilkins guilty, as though there were a trail, but without due process.

    It’s hard to accuse FVers of complaining about process no matter what happens, when the Anti-FVers complain when their pre-determined outcome doesn’t come about the way that they want it.

  9. RBerman said,

    “It’s hard to accuse FVers of complaining about process no matter what happens, when the Anti-FVers complain when their pre-determined outcome doesn’t come about the way that they want it.”

    I agree. I wasn’t so much complaining that people will complain about procedure, as acknowledging that there will always be something about which one can reasonably complain. The “winning side” will tend to overlook the procedural problems because they got what they wanted anyway. The “losing side” might become fixated on the procedural errors. It falls to history to understand the significance of the errors, and the final judgment itself.

  10. Al said,

    Well written as usual Trey. It seems to me that the SJC is hitting the LAP with procedural clubs in order to achieve a predetermined result. (I have a mental image of Steve Wilkins as a baby seal for some reason.) This may simply be how it appears but, there ought to be an attempt to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

    There has been too much gleeful rejoicing over what is happening to a minister of the gospel in good standing with the church. One Anti-FV site went to press on the SJC matter with the words” “…I wanted to get the good news out quickly.” It is stuff like that, which saddens me.

    al sends


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