A Ruling Elder Pleads on Behalf of the Flock

One of the many excellent points that Lane Keister made in our recent Heidelcast interview is that at the heart of the FV controversy is the well-being and safety of the sheep. Hitherto it has too often seemed as if the under-shepherds were asleep or not guarding their flocks very diligently. Now, however, some shepherds have stepped on and confronted the problem, not only with committee reports or declarations, but with actual ecclesiastical action. Of course, in response, some have essentially called into question the very legitimacy of church discipline as an act of the church. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. We live in the late stages of modernity, in a hyper-subjectivist time, when every person is his own master and every person has his own definition of “reality” and “truth.” This late modern subjectivism is widespread and it has infected the church and it influences the way pastors think about issues such as the self-described Federal Vision movement. When subjectivists hear someone say “The FV doctrine is wrong and dangerous” their first thought is to say to themselves, “Who is parson x to say that the FV is wrong? How does he know that the FV doctrine is wrong? After all, from a certain perspective the federal visionists have some helpful things to say.”

Of course, one waits in vain to hear the latitudinarian, subjectivist types apply the same “charity” to  Reformed confessionalist case. There seems to be no perspective from which the confessionalist has anything to contribute to the resolution of the problem. Never mind the fact that the OPC, the PCA, the RCUS, the URCs, Westminster Seminary California, Mid-America Reformed Seminary, and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, have each considered the claims of the FV movement and rejected them as contrary to God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed churches. The one-sidedness of “charity” in this case should tell us all something about the warped definition of charity at work here.

Thus, it is most encouraging to read this speech, by a PCA ruling elder, made on the floor of a PCA presbytery pleading for Ruling and Teaching Elders to fulfill their sacred obligation, to recognize the stark reality before them that yes, some of their friends, some “good guys,” with whom they perhaps went to seminary have taken up views that are at odds with what we confess and that those views are even dangerous to the spiritual well-being of the sheep whom we’re called to shepherd.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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  1. 1. I read this and listened to the last Heidelcast with Dr. Clark and Rev. Lane Keister.

    2. As one outside NAPARC circles, but as a Reformed Christian, it most pleases me to see men continuuing to read, mark, learn, inwardly digest, assert, and confess our common faith. A long sentence and shorn of the feathers to say this: “Thank you.”

    3. About 2002, as I began reading NPP and some FV materials, I vowed to learn everything I could about Romans. Dozens of commentaries here and growing. “Imputation” of Christ’s righteousness “apart from the works of the law” persistently echoes between the ears. I laid some of that work aside in Romans perhaps a year ago. Back at it and so glad for the reading of St. Paul.

    4. Romans echoes in the head and soul as does the lectures of Shepherd under whom I sat for two years.

    5. Short version. Thank you for the work. Acts 20, we’d always have wolves to content with in the church. Under providence, God has dealt this hand by permission. May this be the occasion for confident “Confession of the Faith” anew and afresh.

    6. A promise without verbosity. Here it is. Short version: thank you.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    Regarding church discipline, is it allowed that an excommunicant join the Lord’s Day worship services (though barred from partaking of the sacraments)? If not, is the eldership allowed to use force in preventing attendance if the person in question vehemently insists?

    • Hi Warren,

      To my knowledge it is not Reformed practice to ban the disciplined from the assembly. They are banned from the table until they repent and demonstrate evidence of the same but the ban, as I understand it, is Anabaptist, not Reformed. We want people to attend to the preaching of the Word because that’s how sinners are convicted and how the Spirit creates faith in the elect.

      I suppose that there may be some instance in which someone should be banned from attending worship but that would be an extraordinary case — perhaps someone is threatening violence (in which case, the authorities should be notified) or his public conduct in church is such that he’s creating a disturbance or something on that order. Otherwise it would be unusual to ban someone from attending services altogether.

      • I pray that it is a rare event that someone be excommunicated but I have witnessed it, quite a while ago now (not my current church). As the person in question had left our church it was mainly for the purpose of informing us how we should care for, pray for, and treat our erring (former) sister.

        She would have been welcome in our services but was to be regarded as an unbeliever until she repented of her sin.

  3. Dr. Clark:

    The original post was working at the ecclesiastical level of High Churchmanship, if I might, and the courts of review.

    I narrow it to the local level. This thread has moved toward the issue of discipline at the local level.

    Would communicant members be instructed to treat a disciplined member as a tax gatherer and publican? What is your take on that? Not an hostile ban, but one tempered by a loving fear? Even a l9ving withdrawal? How would a Pastor and Elders work with the congregation?

    Not an easy issue, admittedly, for pastors or congregants.

  4. Once this stuff starts to pecolate and filter down it is going to wreck havoc in the lives of those to buy into it. The FV has people who are unregenerate and yet are declared to be ‘in covenant’ by virtue of water baptism and thus in possession of such redemptive benefits as Union with Christ, adoption, and the forgiveness of sins-but ( and this is one big enormous BUT ) only temporarily.This leaves us with a provisional atonement that in the end either only atones for some sins of a class of people who are not born-again and yet leaves the rest of their sins under God’s judgment or makes God guilty of double jeopardy because sins are punished twice-one in Christ and then again in those individuals. All of this stems from the FV complete overhaul of the Reformation’s understanding of Sola Fide and the sad consequences that follow.

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