PCA Commission: There Should Be A Presumption of Guilt

The Standing Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church in America ruled that the Missouri Presbytery erred when it failed to find a

strong presumption of guilt that [Teaching Elder] Jeffrey Meyers holds views contrary to the Westminster Standards (BCO 34-5) when it conducted its…investigation of his views and writings.

The commission is appointed to act on behalf of the entire General Assembly of the PCA. The case came to it as a complaint against the Presbytery. The vote was 14-1. Three members recused themselves and 6 members were absent.

This case began in 2004 when the Missouri Presbytery began investigating the Federal Vision theology (hereafter FV). In June, 2007 the PCA rejected the Federal Vision theology root and branch in a series of 9 declarations. GA approved give recommendations regarding the FV. Later that summer supporters of the FV published a “Joint Federal Vision Profession” to which Myers was a signatory.

In March, 2010 the Missouri Presbytery received a “letter of concern” signed by 29 PCA elders calling attention to the fact that Myers was teaching FV doctrine, which is contrary to the Westminster Standards, and asking for an investigation into the matter. An investigation began the next month and the committee reported that they found insufficient evidence to find a “strong presumption of guilt.” Two members complained against the action of presbytery and the body formed a committee to investigate the complaint. In April of 2011 presbytery voted to deny the complaint. This prompted a complaint by ten elders (five teaching and five ruling) against the ruling that there was “insufficient evidence to raise a presumption of guilt” regarding Myers’ teaching of the FV. The SJC heard the matter in October, 2011.

While the matter was pending before the SJC, the Missouri Presbytery conducted a trial of Rev Myers in April, 2012. He was acquitted on five charges. Therefore, the SJC says, “any further action on this Case is moot.”

Though I have read it, I am not expert in the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO). This ruling seems to be a slap on the wrist but I cannot tell if it this ruling is a procedural or substantive slap on the wrist (or both) nor do I know whether an appeal of the April, 2012 Missouri Presbytery verdict is possible or forthcoming. I did not see anything in chapter 43 that would forbid a complaint against such a decision except the filing deadline has passed.

The will of the PCA General Assembly in 2007 was clear. Thus far, two of the signatories of the 2007 FV Profession have faced trials and both have been acquitted. In 2007 the PCA SJC ruled that the Louisiana Presbytery erred in not finding a “strong presumption of guilt” in the case of the Rev Steve Wilkins, a signatory to the Joint FV Profession, who removed himself and his congregation to the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches. Several of the other signatories are not in the PCA and thus beyond the discipline of orthodox Reformed church assemblies. There was another FV-related matter in the Siouxlands Presbytery (2010) as a result of  which the SJC ruled that there was no strong presumption of guilt.

It seems that where regional bodies have attempted to bring to bear the judgment of the higher and broader assemblies regarding the FV success has been limited. We may ask why this is and what it means. The logic here seems to be clear:

1. Proponents of the FV produced a statement
2. TE X signed the FV statement
3. Ergo TE X is a proponent of the FV

The PCA GA has declared the FV contradictory of the standards. Therefore, the teaching of TE X must be outside the standards. Somewhere, however, the process breaks down. Church assemblies and courts are messy and imperfect but the recent history of the judicial phase of the FV controversy does raise interesting questions.

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  1. Could it be that individual congregations, after examing an elder (TE X), are deciding that FV theology (or at least the majority of it) is not actually contrary to the Westminster Standards, and so are actually disagreeing with the 2007 GA?

  2. No I don’t believe that’s how it works (or rather, it’s not supposed to work that way). I’m sort of wondering out loud here. When the congregation says that an elder is “aquitted”, does that mean the elder doesn’t actually teach FV, or that the congregation has decided that FV is OK, even if not by name.

  3. Good article, Scott. A timely complaint was filed with the SJC against the Missouri Presbytery April 2012 verdict. As far as I know, the SJC hasn’t dealt with that complaint yet. I am praying that the SJC decision upon which you reported indicates good news relative to the latest complaint.

    BTW, good to see you blogging again!

  4. Has any church historian done any work yet comparing the Auburn Agreement (and signers) with the Joint FV Declaration (and signers)?

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