…Over the past several years, I have been distressed at the downfall of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the rise of heresy within the body through the Federal Vision teaching and immorality through the same-sex attraction movement. I have raised my voice in protest at what I have seen and read and heard.
… This article is now my farewell to the denomination in which I served for 43 years as teaching elder and as a candidate for the ministry from its very inception. I served in several capacities as a PCA minister—pastor of several churches; chaplain in the army reserves/army; veteran of Desert Storm; four terms on the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), the highest judicatory in the PCA; stated clerk of a presbytery; and, numerous committee chairmanships in different presbyteries.
before the next meeting of his presbytery.
… The PCA has boxed itself into a corner by refusing to exercise discipline on theological and moral grounds at the General Assembly level. In other areas, though, the General Assembly and its committees/commissions act in true hierarchical form. Moreover, there are a very limited number of meaningful decisions that can even be brought for a vote before the convened General Assembly.
… There were no charges pending against me or any active investigation of me at the time of my withdrawal, but I had reason to believe that the situation would be different in another week.
… A PCA minister last year copied and shared my article, Whither the PCA? , with several members of his presbytery and was quickly accused of violating the ninth commandment by another minister. That minister then decided it would be best to transfer his credentials and his congregation into the OPC
… the Missouri Presbytery reports on TE Greg Johnson and the Session of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, have implied that those who brought the requests for investigation of these matters were perhaps guilty of breaking the ninth commandment (isn’t it interesting how often that accusation is made in an attempt to silence dissent?).
…There are people who say they are going to stay in the PCA and fight to reclaim it. Well, here is my advice. If you want to stay in the PCA and fight, make sure that you do not become a faithful reprover or zealous reformer. If you do, your presbytery and denomination will not like it. You will be persecuted. You might find your knees cut off from underneath you, figuratively speaking. The fact that homosexuality is such an issue in the PCA is an indication that the spirit of the world has already entered into this denomination. The spirit of the world does not like to be reproved and reformed. The PCA will let you stay and vote as long as you can accept the downward spiral without sounding too much of an alarm. But… the PCA does not want you to be a faithful reprover and zealous reformer.
Dewey Roberts, “My Farewell to the PCA” Aquila Report, February 13, 2020.
Indeed a courageous minister of the Gospel. Even for a peon like me who reached out to him awhile back he took time to respond. He had hoped the Vanguard initiative might bring the PCA leadership to reflect and pause their growing apostasy. He encouraged that hope in me. His comments about the weaponization (my word) of the Ninth Commandment in the PCA is very true, and something I have had to contend with even as a layman. Either confessional PCA Elders need to man-up, or the sheep will grow teeth, or the sheep will grow wings and fly elsewhere. This summer will possibly be the time.
The article Dewey Roberts wrote, ‘Vanguard Presbytery: A New Presbyterian Denomination Being Formed’ seems to disclose a departure from the 17th Century confessional, reformed standards of the WFC, WSC, and WLC. Rather than moving closer to Classic Reformed Theology, the Vanguard Presbytery is adopting Finney’s idea that men are ‘good’. Therefore the Vanguard is moving away from Classic Reformed Theology and in the wrong direction. Recovering the Biblical Doctrines of 16th Century Confessions and Catechisms clarifies the most important issues we face – our true status/condition: we are sinners. Where do we find the answer to the question: What is our only comfort in LIFE and Death? HC 1
When I see relational politics in the polity, I feel discouraged. But then I remember, all men, even Christian men – whether Pastors, Elders (teaching/ruling), Deacons, Lay – are fallible. Though this report might be accurate, it does not inform me of my right actions.
My question: How do we, as the true Church, work through issues of Church Discipline and accusations, such as, breaking the 9th Commandment, when there are groups clearly violating Biblical Standards ? It appears that ‘the secular cancer’ in the PCA GA reduces the willingness to respond according to the Standards they’ve signed.
Very true words from Dewey Roberts. As a member of a PCA church for 20 years and a Deacon for the last 5 I can very much relate. Here’s a little story explaining my experience.
The Father’s house
Brothers I believe the PCA is this house!
For years it has sheltered and fed believers with Gods word. That being said the storms of this world and the devil have caused much damage. The views of this world regarding sexuality, identity, gender, men and women roles, how we should worship, and social justice beliefs have infiltrated the PCA. As one who has taken shelter and been fed for many years the time has come for me to find a new home. I will be praying that the PCA’s overseers would once again look to the scriptures and repair the damage that has been left from the ravaging storms before it is beyond repair.
Russ, thank you for writing and posting this brief allegory, The Father’s House. Your solution was to leave the PCA. Did you move closer to Classic Reformed Theology, 16th Century – URC? Or to 17th Century Reformed Standards – OPC?
Thanks Catherine. Our family is still in transition. Living a good distance from our PCA church was the biggest factor in deciding to leave. If it wasn’t for this we may have stayed and fought longer. We have attended an Opc church a few times, which we really like and also have been attending a WELS church much closer to home.
Russ, thank you for responding regarding your family’s decisions to relocate. Moving always involves the loss of relationships; it’s painful. Though the PCA does provide a confessional standard not all elders and deacons hold to or are conformed by these sound standards.
Is the local Lutheran/WELS Church established on The Book of Concord (1580)? How does it compare to the PCA regarding confessions?
These are more involved questions and I understand if you do not respond. I have come to trust our Father who is Sovereign and reigns; He is in control of each of our lives, which amazes me. I see He glorifies Himself in us according to His Will and His Kingdom, by Grace, through Faith, in Christ Alone. Also amazing.
Anyone who’s been reviled for telling the truth immediately identifies with Roberts after reading this article. If you work in the badlands of the private sector, you can also identify the bureaucratic treatment he’s receiving. The PCA simply doesn’t have the structure to discipline rogue ministers or presbyteries. That’s why the FVers are still there years after the PCA’s ruling and why the sodomites aren’t going anywhere. It does know how to silence or marginalize good people.
Word of these problems is going to prevent the laity from seeking out PCA churches in the first place. We in the pews simply can’t go to Side ‘B’ churches – which inevitably become side ‘A’ – when homosexuals are persecuting Christians like Jack Phillips. We can’t wait around for the Transgender Revolution to engulf the PCA when the State is ordering children to gender re-assignment against their parents’ wishes. We need unity, courage, and orthodoxy, not drift with the culture as persecution comes.
I think Roberts’ treatment is a blessing in disguise. He has the experience in church government to establish a new denomination with a workable polity. Looks like we’ll be needing it soon.
Walt: The PCA does have the structure to discipline rogue ministers and presbyteries. What it lacks is the will.
Yes – which in my limited experience seems to emanate from an over-concern with hurting someone’s feelings or being charged with bearing false witness. These dual spirits hindering leaders has been palatable over the past 30 years of my PCA “journey”. <<<-I hate using this word
Whatever became of BCO 27-3? When did the SJC determine to allow technicalities to displace maintaining the honor of Christ, the purity of His Church, and the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners? As Dewey Roberts wrote, “…there is a refusal by the General Assembly’s SJC to overturn decisions of presbyteries, except on purely procedural grounds.” Yes, we have seen the SJC throw out cases against the FV teachers on purely technical grounds. It seems we are to conclude that BCO 27-3 has a priority inferior to procedure. In other words, “We’re sorry, Lord, but defending your honor simply was not possible in this case; but please note how meticulously we followed procedure.”
(ESV Matt. 23:23-24 “…For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law….”)
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.
Greg: The real question is why do professing Christins in positions of leadership no longer consider the spirit of rules in the BCO to be more important than maintaining a perverted legal system? It seems as if the wolves in our midst have found that our polity is a tool that can be used against the sheep.
How true. Where are our trained ministers, so that old ladies need to defend against doctrinal error. Here I am having to defend the judgment of synod against a proponent of the FV because the learned ministers and elders are not. In the first round an elderly couple brought charges of teaching salvation by works and faith, and final justification by works but consistory and classis could not see this as doctrinal error. Finally an appeal to Synod resulted the charge being upheld and Theo Hoekstra fled to Douglas Wilson’s CREC to avoid disciplinary action. Now he has returned to the URC, to my church, and they want to accept him into membership in spite of the fact that he has not repented of his doctrine and they are defending him, claiming he does believe in justification by grace alone, through faith alone, but we must do our part through Spirit produced works, as a response to the the gift of salvation for final acceptance with God. This is how they are confusing and equivocating the issue. So now an old lady must again defend the rulings of synod! Where are our shepherds that are supposed to defend the sheep? I take comfort in the thought that God protected Daniel in the lion’s den and he can also protect me from the wolves.
I appreciate the analogy of the “The Father’s House” and certainly agree that oversight preventing the infiltration of secular world views into the church is sadly lacking in many congregations on the part of elders and other leaders because of status quo attitudes, apathy, unwillingness to rock the boat, the assumption that the storm (if it is perceived to be a threat in the first place) will pass and things will return to normal. However, at the same time I think it should be up to every congregant to keep themselves well enough informed about scripture, the confessions, etc. so that they can spot a problem when they see it. Too many are pew sitters and by-standers who just go with the flow every Sunday.
Lutheran “synods” have gone through similar issues and problems over the years and continue to face new ones. If we divide them up the same way the P/R might be considered to be divided, the “mainliners” are the ELCA, the “sideliners” are WELS, ELC, etc., and the “borderliner” is the LCMS. The very liberal mainline ELCA is comprised of several smaller synods such as the ALC, LCA, ULC, etc., all of which had left of center (the “center” being focus on the cross, the redemptive work of Christ, and the authenticity of the scriptures that outline the golden thread of redemption) leanings from their very source. Some of those left-leanings included acceptance of lodge memberships (especially the Masons), downplaying the incarnation, the miracles, and the resurrection in favor of a view that saw Christ simply as a rebel or activist whose mission was to upset the discriminatory structure of the day in Judah. And in todays world, of course, social justice.
The LCMS, on the other hand, had traditionally supported and upheld centrist beliefs for many years, but has come under pressure in recent decades from several sources, not the least of which (and probably most destructive) was the re-instatement of pastors, who initially walked away from the LCMS during a turbulent period in the 1970’s and fled to what would eventually become the ELCA, under a “colloquy” agreement. Many of them, in turn, have been sympathetic to friends still in the ELCA. And from my experience as a former LCMS Lutheran for many years, the members of most congregations had little understanding of some of the key issues of the day and probably little concern, as well.
By this decade, the ELCA openly supported SSM and ordination of gay clergy and this decision drove some from their synod’s congregations into new start-up synods like the NALC. However, when one interviews some of those who left the mainline and discusses some of the key “centrist” issues with them, one usually always finds that they still have not changed their views much when it comes to the issues noted above – they were simply driven from the synod by what they saw as the straw the broke the camel’s back, SSM.
I pray that these same things do not take place to those in faithful P/R congregations and communions. But it’s going to take more than just dependence upon those who hold elder positions and attend general assemblies to uphold the truth.
Well said George. One thing that surprises me about the Lutheran confessional churches is their ability to stand against cultural trends considering their size. The WELS is about the size of the PCA and has stood firm on the issues I mentioned above. The LCMS, which’s often compared to the PCA, has over 2 million members. I’ve been told the reason the PCA is drifting is because of its size but this doesn’t seem to be the case in the Lutheran churches. I wonder why that is?
Could it be their view of Christ and culture? The transformationalists can say what they want about the bad effects of the Lutheran version of two kingdoms but they seem less interested in what others think of them. It’s also true that the Lutheran confessionalists aren’t much concerned about being well-liked or approved by American evangelicals. They co-exist but they aren’t much part of the Evangelical establishment. The PCA, by contrast, is much more concerned about being approved. There are segments that want to dump NAPARC and join the NAE. That says something about an orientation.
I think you hit the nail on the head Dr. Clark. TK’s view of cultural transformation seems to be embraced by a huge portion of the PCA. I ascribe to the 2 kingdom view of culture and really respect the Lutherans for maintaining a faithful presence!
Russ – who said the LCMS isn’t drifting. What I experienced over the decades was that the LCMS was split – pretty much down the middle. There are those congregations who are very faithful to scripture (as they read it) and their confessions. They also maintain a standard liturgy and are wary of including too much contemporary music in their services and try to stick to their hymnals. Then, there are those who are the exact opposite who have not only done away with much of their liturgy, fully embraced a contemporary style of worship, have pastors who preach weakly about law and gospel in favor of “felt needs.”
Further, their congregations are vertically organized into districts headed by bishops (who used to be called “district presidents” until a few decades ago), some of whom are antagonistic to congregations if they bring them issues that fly in the face of progressive ideals and goals.
Their national conventions (what the P/R call synod) are often bogged down by the excessive by-laws that were put into place over the years by the progressives in order to keep their opinions active and allowing them to get away with things contrary to the standards of the church.
All may look great from the outside, but there are internal problems the public doesn’t see.
George, I certainly didn’t mean to say the LCMS isn’t drifting or that everything is hunky-dory. The LCMS seems similar to the PCA. I think you describe the state of the LCMS very accurately. As we looked at churches in our area the things you described seem quite obvious in the LCMS. That is why we tried the WELS. I was just trying to say that size of denomination shouldn’t necessarily be giving the blame for cultural drift.
Russ – I see what you mean, but I’m not too sure about that. Seems like the 7 Sisters of mainline protestantism are all larger denominations. Most of the very faithful (to scripture) and confessional, be they P/R or Lutheran, are smaller (WELS, ELS, etc. or NAPARC). Those in between are the ones who seem to be drifting. Large as LCMS might be, it’s dwarfed by the ELCA. I assume the same thing applies to the PCA vs. PCUSA. There’s something about size that seems to lead to corruption. A good example on a localized level is the megachurch. Dr. Clark did a good job of covering that aspect in a recent podcast. I’m beginning to get the sense that things may get to the point where people will begin to cluster together in house churches again. And even those can be troublesome – one only has to look at how things often go in “small groups.”
“I . . . certainly agree that oversight preventing the infiltration of secular world views into the church is sadly lacking in many congregations on the part of elders and other leaders because of status quo attitudes, apathy, unwillingness to rock the boat, the assumption that the storm (if it is perceived to be a threat in the first place) will pass and things will return to normal. However, at the same time I think it should be up to every congregant to keep themselves well enough informed about scripture, the confessions, etc. so that they can spot a problem when they see it. Too many are pew sitters and by-standers who just go with the flow every Sunday.’
I appreciate the question you raise; it helps me focus the topic: ‘who is responsible for the condition our Church is in?’ The scary answer in my world is: ‘Me.’ I realize from our conversations that I must study, laboring to recover CR Theology, Piety and Practice because I believe it informs me of the ‘right’ relationship our Father has established with us. We are His Creation. We are not our own but have been ransomed, bought with a price.
This informs me. Therefore, I am compelled to live this out in relationship to His adopted sons and talk about it. Though discipline is frightening, I must count the cost. I am not my own and find practical courage in Daniel in the lion’s den, Gideon leading a very small band to fight an army, Joshua marching around Jericho, etc. Though An old woman, I need to confess my cowardice to God, pray for His Wisdom and Will in my communication, and then communicate the Doctrinal Truth I see in Scripture. If I am disciplined with an identification of sin, then I need to pray that I see my own sin and repent. But if I have not sinned then I need to persevere in relationship to His True Church, His adopted sons. I love His True Church, I am devoted to His True Church here and forever. As for me and my house, this is not a temporary relationship our Father called me in to as a lay person. He is Sovereign. He knows our hearts. He protects me. He is my Shield and my Righteousness. I see the tiny battles in front of me that rage against me in my heart and mind. May I turn to Him, our Refuge for Strength and Boldness. I am grateful for our thoughtful conversations. We are blessed by Him to love His True Church.
Catherine, thank you those are very encouraging words. Yes, your devotion to the Church is very lovely. But we are coming to a point when you cannot count on the institutional church to be the true church. See Belgic 29. The marks of the true church are the pure preaching of the gospel, the right administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline to protect the sheep from false teachers. Many churches, even Reformed churches are coming up short. What do we do when that happens? Do we just go along with their false teaching? Doesn’t that make it a false church when the marks of the true church are missing?
I appreciate your understanding, devotion and faithfulness to His true Church and the ordinary means He provides, the preaching of the Gospel, administration of the Sacraments, and Church discipline. I see He protects His Church through us. Is your effort of calling for Church discipline regarding TH informing, inspiring and uniting His Church?
I am praying your devotion to His true Church stirs the hearts of others to see the distinctions of His Justification. I pray the laity is united by The Spirit to see this Gospel distinction in the true Church. Luther says Justification is the hinge pin – we are saved by Grace alone, through Faith alone, to believe Christ’s obedience of Faith (Righteousness) justifies us. I pray daily for you and His people, as you lay down your life for His Church. Our communications in the HB informs me of the treasured blessing and effort He established for us in Church discipline. I pray He opens the eyes even of TH to see and confess his error and predacious sin.
Catherine, I as I have been involved with this struggle, pretty much for the last twenty years, I have often thought of Luther who said he was grateful to the papists who drove him to become a reasonably good theologian. The FV have driven me to become a reasonably good Christian because it has been like an assignment that has driven me study the Word of God.
Hi George: If you think someone with the influence of TE Dewey Roberts had problems in the PCA, try being a lay person. We have almost no say in anything. We can vote to call a pastor and we can vote to remove a pastor (which is practically impossible), that’s it. If a lay person “rocks the boat” with scriptural truth, he is liable to find himself the subject of church discipline as TE Robertson almost did. So the leadership has closed off all avenues of redress except the ability to vote with one’s feet.
I totally agree. I wonder how the leaders of the PCA will be able to help the flock navigate persecution if they can’t stand up for any of their principles? What if they don’t have any principles? If they’re not faithful in these smaller things, how much less the bigger things, like leading us during times of persecution? Why should we trust them? The first and second century church fathers were tough, weren’t they?
Increasingly, people are pulling up stakes and moving near better churches as Russ is doing.
I don’t think that your reasoning follows. I’m not saying that it would be easy for a layman to complain against the action of a session or a presbytery but BCO 34.3 says “If anyone knows a minister to be guilty of a private offense warn him in private. But if the offense be persisted in, or become public, he should bring it to the attention of some other minister of the Presbytery.”
BCO 43-1 says, “…it is the right of any communing member of the Church in good standing to make complaint against any action of a court to whose jurisdiction he is subject…”.
The laity can affect the direction of the PCA if they will.
Church discipline that addresses immorality and stealing seem obvious but are there other actionable items, such as gossip, teaching non-confessional authors in a confessional Church, or being lenient with people committed to FV? Mortification of Spin did a podcast on Church discipline last week which was helpful in terms of how to protect innocent Christians in delicate situations. They are planing to discuss actions/sins that qualify for Church discipline. Coming from an Arminian group, often ‘disciples’ made decisions that resulted in some form of ‘discipling’ – ‘church discipline. I was always watching for the ‘boot to fall’.
Thank you Catherine. Good points.
Sorry. This should be under next segment, to Dr. Clark’s answer to Steve
Dr. Clark: There are a lot of good things in the BCO. But it is the leadership who has the prerogative to enforce its provisions or ignore them. If I bring a complaint against any level of leadership they can just dismiss it. If they bring an action against me, they have the power of excommunication which is no small thing. TE Roberts was acutely aware of all the points you made and he left the PCA before being falsely charged of violating the ninth commandment. PCA polity has been neutered or weaponized to keep the sheep in line. TE Roberts and TE Webb worked diligently to change the course of the PCA to no avail. I intend to wait to see what happens at this year’s GA before deciding what to do.
Practically, laity, who do not draw their livelihood from the church, have an advantage. Ministers may be afraid to bring charges for fear of losing their job or their ability to get a call. Laity don’t face that pressure. If a layperson is unjustly prosecuted he can, typically, “go across the street,” to, e.g., the OPC. Just document the injustice and all should be well.
I agree that excommunication is no small thing but it takes a while to get to the final stage of discipline. That it might go badly and one might be treated unjustly is no reason to forego any attempt at correcting the church. This says, in effect, the church is irreformable. The PCA is not Rome. This isn’t the 16th century. Church discipline should be tried before it’s abandoned.
Wow! That really puts things into perspective for me. It’s not really up to the denominational leadership, or anyone else, but up to the laity what kind of church they are going to have and keep. You cannot fight a battle of one against the rest of the people in the church. If the people have decided that covenant moralism (FV), or LBGQT is the right way to go, you are on a suicidal mission to oppose it. It’s not a matter of doctrinal correctness but what the people want. If the people are indifferent to their Reformed Standards, they just won’t care if the standards are being ignored. Never really thought of it that way.
Dr. Clark and beloved saints,
Thank you for the HB, an environment in which I have considered our realities (challenges and blessings) of being in His body – worshiping Him and loving Him and others. Our exchanges have built me up in Him. I have benefited from taking in the experiences, thinking, decisions He uses to mature our trust in Him. You have helped clarify my identify in Christ in His family. I am a lay person – a chosen sojourner – here to serve His Church with my hands and feet. And I love to serve, to pray, and I am learning to forgive.
In our process of communicating in the HB, it is clear to me I need to know more about the hearts and convictions of His beloved Church, to not give up meeting together. I believe we are here to encourage one another and all the more as we see The Day Approaching. And so I need to understand what captures the hearts of others and share what I love most – studying His Word, memorizing the HB and Scripture proofs, praying, singing, and studying Classic Reformed Theology.
Thank you. We are blessed He has called us to Himself in His Church.
Sola Deo Gloria
As someone who has walked the thin line and been charged for flagging recalcitrant pastors, the notions put forth above are nice on paper, but don’t work in the PCA. If one like me makes and issue, then is put down, and then raised the volume and the documentation, the put down is more fierce. I have recently proposed to my Session, after being silenced on the sodomy subject (told not to use the word Sodomy because its offensive and doesn’t deal with desire only – wrong) is that our church should take some time to explicitly educate the congregation in a class setting about the Biblical basis for genders, sex, desire, etc. In my almost 50 years of church life I have never heard a single lesson or sermon on the Biblical Birds and Bees. And certainly nothing about sodomy and transgender. So, when the Rainbow Train comes to the GA this year, most will climb aboard because they don’t have a good reason from Scripture to say STOP, and there will be plenty of free whiskey and pizza. In God’s sovereignty this is all going to work out, but I do see His judgement in much of what is happening in the PCA, broader evangelicalism, and beyond. I think we may be driven into house churches, if not by persecution, then by disgust.
I hear you! I have decided to take one last kick at the can, figuratively, before I join them.
I appreciate the difficulty of trying to be faithful in the church. I’ve been threatened, in a variety of ways, too. Nevertheless, Christ calls us to fidelity.
May we say definitively that “they don’t work”? I agree that the system is not favorable to the concerned laity. It’s like the secular legal system. You need a lawyer, as it were, a minister who is willing to represent you, who knows the law, i.e., the BCO and the precedents and who knows who to present a case.
The system can work, but we need to learn how it works and how to proceed. It favors the informed, the prepared, and the willing.
Thanks. There are two strands to this. First: a problem at one’s local church. Second: a problem at the presbytery/denominational level. This second is of most concern to sheep like me. Would a pastor “represent” a concerned layman at presbytery on an issue that a pastor would not otherwise pursue? The elephant in my room is TE Johnson and the giving over if our society and our church to sodomy. If a pastor isn’t willing to confront the issue on his own concern why would he do so on my concern? have you ever represented a concerned parishioner taking on the larger church? If so, your fan base would probably be interested. I would.
As in civil/secular courts, a person must have standing to initiate a process, but yes, when a layman is being charged or making a complaint against a court or making an appeal, he is entitled to counsel. A minister is, in my view, obligated to help a layman make the best case possible regardless of whether one agrees with it. I should think that a concerned layman would not have much difficulty should he wish to pursue a complaint against Revoice type doctrine and practice.
Matters get to GA usually on appeal, with the exception that (as we’ve seen) two presbyteries petition GA to become the court of original jurisdiction.
The laity can keep the PCA (or OP or URC) if they want to do.
I am unclear on how this impacts on my case regarding Theo Hoekstra. If the consistory does not abide by synod’s original ruling, am I able to access counsel to represent my case to classis and possibly synod? The minister of my church left a few months ago. Who would represent me?
I was a little unclear. A person would need counsel in the case they were being charged. A lay person needs the advice and help of a minister (or well informed, experienced ruling elder).
Here is the process:
1. Member learns of a problem, e.g., a potentially serious doctrinal or procedural error.
2. Member asks those involved (per Matt 18).
3. Assuming that the principals involved really are committing a serious doctrinal and/or procedural error, the member sends a complaint to the body of original jurisdiction, In this case that would be the consistory (or session).
A complaint is in three parts:
3.3 is where complaints usually fail. A complaint has to ask the body to do something they can and may do. If the complaint (or appeal) fails to do this, the body has no action to take and will declare the complaint out of order.
To be successful, the complaint/appeal must itself be clear and the grounds clear and well grounded in Scripture, confession, church order, or synodical decisions/precedent as appropriate.
If a lay member or a ruling elder or even if another minister asks for such help from a minister/RE in a classis (e.g., a neighboring consistory), I think a minister/RE is obligated to grant such help.
P&R churches are not independent. We are bound together in denominations and/or federations. The decisions we take corporately do have some authority.
Does this help?
Yes this is helpful, thank you Dr. Clark.
This is what I have done so far. I have written to the consistory that I have obtained a copy of the the minutes and ruling of synod that found Theo Hoekstra’s sermon, “The Lion Won’t Bite the Innocent,” is not in accord with the Reformed Standards Heidelberg 59-62, Belgic 20-23, and that it is the responsibility of consistory to suppress the theology expressed in the sermon, and to bring any divergent views into conformity with the rule of synod.
I suggested that to document whether Theo Hoekstra abides by synod or is still defiant of the synod’s findings and rulings, they might document his responses by going through the minutes with him and asking him to give an unqualified yes or no to the points and rulings. I said two members of the consistory should be present and that, if possible, I would also like to be present.
I said I have learned that when consistory does not abide by the rulings of synod, a member should appeal to a higher authority, classis and ultimately synod and that I had decided to pursue this as complainant, if the consistory does not comply with synod’s rulings. I said I hope this will not be necessary.
I said my reason for this decision is the importance of the the doctrine of justification in the righteousness of Christ alone, which is the hinge on which the church stands or falls because if we trust in anything but the righteousness of Christ alone we cannot be saved. It is not the gospel because it makes Christ only half a Savior. Belgic 22 and 23
I said that Theo Hoekstra is right to say that we are saved by a living, active faith that works, but those works are simply fruit and evidence of our faith, they do not contribute to our right standing before God. Theo Hoekstra is in error to add our works to faith as instrument in salvation. It confuses the way of salvation and leads people to look to their works instead of to Christ alone. That is why Scripture tells us to avoid fellowship with them. Rom. 16:17, 2John 1:7-11, Col. 2:8, 2Tim. 6:35. Theo Hoekstra has had 16 years to abide by synod’s ruling. I closed with Titus 3:10. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition.
So I suppose I wait for their response now, and if they ignore or dismiss my concerns, I would ask a minister from a neighboring church to act as my council?
I appreciate this summary and your faithfulness in this matter.
You refer to the person in question as “Rev.” In what capacity is he seeking admission to your congregation, as a member or as a minister? Has he appeared for Classis for a colloquium doctum (a learned conversation), in order to be received as a minister or as a candidate for the ministry in the URCs?
Your request for a hearing of some sort, with a written record, is reasonable and sound. No judicial process can proceed without establishing the issue clearly.
The process can take a while since the assemblies do not meet very often (e.g., consistory meets monthly).
Should they refuse your request, to get answers to these questions, then you might have grounds for an appeal to classis, the broader (note that the URCs speak of broader and narrower assemblies rather than higher/lower) assembly.
As far as I know he is seeking admission as a member. He has become very influential and popular in the church, going out if his way to be helpful with advice and in practical ways too. In the absence of a minister, our minister suddenly left a few months ago, he has become a source of theological information which he is eager to share. My fear is that his winsome appeal is to bring his FV theology back into this church. If he had agreed to Synod, it would have been very easy to just say so. He has told me he has been wrongly accused and that he still believes the same things as before, that it is necessary to do our part because we will appear at the final judgment and be judged on the basis, not only on our faith but also on our faithfulness in doing good works. After all, that is only reasonable.
Thanks for the kind words Catherine. This is the second time I have had this battle. The first time was with John Barach and his supporters. They very nearly hijacked the church for good. I tried to reach out to ministers in neighboring churches then, but they just ignored me. When Hoekstra was charged and the URC came out with the nine points Barach and a Hoekstra fled to Wilson’s CREC. I guess they thought some kind of discipline would actually be used against them. I too was very optimistic that this would rid the denomination of the FV. I was totally shocked when Theo Hoekstra brazenly returned to my church over a year ago and that he was not even repentant of what he had been teaching, maintaining that he had been wrongly charged and that his doctrine is right. How can this be? You would think that in a Reformed church they would at least get justification right. An elder accuses me of being divisive, and just misunderstanding Hoekstra. “He believes in justification by grace through faith but if he says we have to do our part, it is not even that we do it, but we are enabled by the Holy Spirit.” So what’s wrong with that? (And besides Hoekstra is such a nice, helpful man, especially since our pastor has left!) Of course that is what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. You would think Reformed church officers would know better. I am so tired of being the pariah. Why does the denomination not exercise discipline? What is the good of the nine points and judgments of synod when FV proponents can get away with thumbing their noses at our Standards? It is like the Reformed churches have a cancer and they are doing nothing about it. My church is not the only one being influenced by FV theology. It is a growing problem and lack of discipline of false teachers will only allow it to grow. If Hoekstra had been called out from the pulpit when he first showed up, and the congregation had been warned about him maybe this wouldn’t have happened, but our minister insisted that he didn’t want a controversy and then he suddenly left, claiming he had an unspecified illness that was later described as PTS.
While your assertion concerning the laity being able to “keep” the PCA is technically true, the reality of the situation is that to attempt to do so generally renders one a pariah. In the mid-aughts, when the FV movement was splitting PCA churches and dividing Sessions, I witnessed two churches in a particular Presbytery (of which I was a member at the time) relegate to obscurity lay members who sounded a warning.
One of these people was a friend of mine and I watched as he was accused of violating the ninth commandment (the favorite of TEs and REs trying to silence opposition) and causing harm to the cause of Christ in fomenting dissension and disunity. Although he had the “official” recourse of appeal up the BCO ladder all the way to GA if he chose, the ordeal at the local level caused no small amount of heartbreak and stress for him and his family. His name was destroyed, his family was ostracized, and though he was never brought up on official charges or disciplined according to the Scriptures or BCO (indeed, there was no apparent evidence he could have or should have been disciplined – he was merely calling out error that had arisen with the FV teachings of certain REs) he felt as if he was no longer welcome in a church that had been his home for over ten years. He and his family eventually found their way to the OPC. As someone who supported him, my family and I were soon to follow.
The second case was very similar to the first, however, I witnessed it as it played out in debate among a Session and did not personally know the lay member that well. However, the same pattern took place: accusations of violating the ninth commandment, accusations of disrupting the peace of the church, and a failure to approach matters “decently and in order.” Again, this person tried to do just that – following the order outlined in the BCO, appealing to his Session and then to the Presbytery, where he was summarily dismissed. I do not know what happened to him or his family, but I doubt they are in the PCA at this point.
Once the FV was “dealt with” at the 2007 GA (and in following study committees, etc.), all of these things seemed moot and most people forgot them. But they were not moot – they were destructive and, in watching the course of the PCA at this point (of which I am no longer a part) they seem to be indicative of the direction the denomination as a whole is taking.
Yes, the ideal is for the laity to use their collective voice to call their shepherds back to faithfulness and godly service. Unfortunately, the reality of those who have done so is too often heartbreak and disillusionment. I fear I must agree with Bob, that the power held by the TEs in the PCA is such that to challenge that power is to invite personal destruction. I suppose some may accuse me of cowardice, as I chose to leave the PCA rather than subject my family to the abuse I witnessed by speaking up, and they may be right. But sometimes, when faced with the choice of guarding the purity of a local body or guarding the spiritual health and well being of a family, we choose that which seems best at the time. And finding another church was far easier than trying to help my wife and children recover from all the pain and hurt that I knew would come from trying to fight from within.
I’ll reply serially:
Yes but that happens to ministers and elders too. Laity have the disadvantage of not knowing the system but the advantage of having less at stake, in some respects. If a minister/TE becomes a pariah, he might lose his job. If a lay person does, he finds a new congregation.
I feel for this fellow. Over the years I’ve heard from (via email/DMs/phone calls) from people in the same situation as your friend. Indeed, it’s one of the things that keeps the HB going.
As Ben Franklin said, “it’s a Republic if you can keep it.” We might same the same of our NAPARC churches. They are confessional, if we can keep them. At the end of the day, it’s not up the elders and ministers (REs & TEs) to preserve NAPARC denoms. It’s up to the laity. If the laity demand orthodoxy, they will get orthodoxy. Denoms only go bad, ultimately, in America because the laity let it happen.
It there are no people (laity), then there are no churches. If they stop funding bad churches, then (apart from endowments and the like) churches close. If laity vote with their feet, churches close. If they laity pay attention, speak up, make use of the vehicles available to them, they might be able to keep their orthodox NAPARC church.
In this case, someone should have filed charges. It’s when this stuff comes out, into the light of day that things begin to be addressed.
I realize that the machinery can work against laity but it’s a kind of warfare. One wave goes over the top of the trench and then another. The machine gunners can’t get them all. Eventually one gets through.
The problem is that it was never actually dealt with judicially, only “in thesi.” This is the great failure thus far in the PCA, the failure to discipline any actual FVists. I think I know of one case and that was before it was called the FV (Burke Shade, now in the CREC I think).
Again, having been on the receiving end, I sympathize but what choice do we have?
I’m sorry for what you suffered. It’s real. I understand. I don’t judge those who leave. It’s a judgment call, a matter of wisdom. What I’m talking about here is general policy. What, at this stage of things, should people do if they want to preserve the PCA?
“What, at this stage of things, should people do if they want to preserve the PCA?”
I think that preservation, if that is the goal, requires laity and a fair number of REs to go “Knox” on the denomination. Gentleness, winsomeness, unity, care and concern, nuanced approaches, all are tools of failure. They don’t work, they won’t work, and I am not sure God even intended us to keep His Bride pure this way. I have suggested to our REs that they go to the GA with pitchforks and torches, call out ‘blasphemy’ loudly when blasphemy is spoken at the mic. Stop with the stupid study commissions, Gather the like-minded and storm the citadel. No? Don’t want to do this? Find it odious and unwholesome? Well then, sit down, shut up and learn to like sodomy, and ordained women, and ordains sodomy women. The enemy will not stop until he is absolutely mortified, and as Owen will tell you that is an absolute activity.
Thank you for that gut-wrenching testimony. I have found that being reviled for telling the truth is one of the most disorienting and demoralizing experiences I’ve had.
I think it’s as important to interview your TE and elders before you join a church as it is for them to interview you. What kind of men are they? Do they address your concerns? Do they seem like they have backbones? Will they look out for you?
These are pretty tough things to know beforehand. Perhaps we should start visiting churches for much longer before we decide to join, or at least ask the elders’ opinions on some hot-button topics of the day such as human sexuality and ontology, complementarianism, homosexual marriage, etc. Maybe it’s wise to ask them some hypotheticals about what they’d do in certain situations or historical exmples of how they handled situtations, to wit, can they give examples of situations where a church member brought theological errors to them and what did they do?
“… The modern liberals, on the other hand, say that Jesus is God not because they think high of Jesus, but because they think desperately low of God … In order to maintain themselves in the evangelical churches and quiet the fears of their conservative associates, the liberals resort constantly to a double use of language. A young man, for example, has received disquieting reports of the unorthodoxy of a prominent preacher. Interrogating the preacher as to his belief, he receives a reassuring reply. “You may tell everyone,” says the liberal preacher in effect, “that I believe that Jesus is God.” The inquirer goes away much impressed.
It may well be doubted, however, whether the assertion, “I believe that Jesus is God,” or the like, on the lips of liberal preachers, is strictly truthful. The liberal preacher attaches indeed a real meaning to the words, and that meaning is very dear to his heart. He really does believe that “Jesus is God.” But the trouble is that he attaches to the words a different meaning from that which is attached to them by the simple-minded person to whom he is speaking. He offends, therefore, against the fundamental principle of truthfulness in language. According to that fundamental principle, language is truthful, not when the meaning attached to the words by the speaker, but when the meaning intended to be produced in the mind of the particular person addressed, is in accordance with the facts. Thus the truthfulness of the assertion, “I believe that Jesus is God,” depends upon the audience that is addressed. If the audience is composed of theologically trained persons, who will attach the same meaning to the word “God” as that which the speaker attaches to it, then the language is truthful. But if the audience is composed of old-fashioned Christians, who have never attached anything but the old meaning to the word “God” (the meaning which appears in the first verse of Genesis), then the language is untruthful. And in the latter case, not all the pious motives in the world will make the utterance right. Christian ethics do not abrogate common honesty; no possible desire of edifying the Church and of avoiding offence can excuse a lie…”
Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Liberalism,” 1923.
Excellent points, George. They redefine words so they mean something entirely different. It’s like the frog in the pot of water on the stove. He doesn’t realize he is being cooked alive until it is too late. Many people in the pews do not even realize what is being put over on them because they hear orthodox language, and assume it means what they understand it to mean. By redefining the terms, the wolves are changing the theology.
The FV are masters of this. We saw this in the interview of Douglas Wilson by James White. Oh yes, I believe in justification by grace alone through faith alone. But what they mean is that faith must be a faith that produces works and those works will be judged on the basis of our faithfulness in doing our part on the last day. It just amazes me how easily my church has fallen for that line, so they fail to see how they have been duped into abandoning justification by grace alone, though faith alone, and in Christ alone. This being the default wisdom of the natural man. That is why false teaching is so successful and why the shepherds need to be vigilant in warning the sheep.
Now I understand the work you have been prepared and called to address as a mature lay woman in our URC. I will pray daily that you forgive others, and grow in patience and trust that our Father’s Kingdom and His Will are being done, on earth as it is in Heaven, through His Spirit in you.
The references you sited in our Harmonized Confessions help focus my attention on the relevant doctrinal standards. Also I value the posted communication between you and Dr. Clark; I did not know the process, the guidance, or the provisions already established. Having each of these steps is beneficial. Thank you for posting them and the structure of your process. I believe His Spirit has opened your eyes, as He did with Deborah, to discern the battlefield, and to fit you with His Spiritual Weapons, His Protection (shield), and even His Victory in the battle.
The discussion on this thread as it drifted from one man’s plight against the odds in his presbytery to a discussion about the future of the church, what it may have to look like, and what it might take for the faithful to cling together got me thinking.
More than forty years ago the prescient Howard Rheingold founded a loosely connected network of people interested in exchanging ideas called The WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link for those too young to remember). As he witnessed the deployment of personal computers, the digitization and expansion of broadband communications networks, and software servers in web hosting centers that would enable rapid interexchange of messages, he went on from there to predict that in the near future “virtual communities” (a term he coined) would begin to emerge that would allow “connectedness” in a way never before possible.
Well, here we are. Virtual communities have been around for quite a while now in the form of what has come to be called “social media” (a term coined mainly by the media itself) such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. Even blogs such as this one may be defined similarly since it represents an open forum for the interexchange of ideas and reports concerning theological issues.
While we may not like the idea, it may very well be that the “church” itself will at some point have to cluster together in such communities in order to survive. I realize that this is not the preferred face-to-face way that things originated in the early church and existed down through the millennia, but we live in different times and we may have to morph a bit in order to adjust. We now have audio/visual apps such as Skype, FaceTime, etc. available that allow for excellent personal communication, something unheard of just a few short years ago.
Until such a dark day in the future when the InfoStazi forbids the church from meeting even in such a manner, it may just become the way we have carry on our business.
I have just had such a eureka moment. Ephesians 5:27. Christ will present the Church to Himself a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle. Christ purifies the Church. It is not up to us, as individuals, to keep the church pure. God uses false teaching to show who is approved. If the the institutional church leaders and the laity do not care about obedience to God’s Word, if they just can’t be bothered to search out and compare what they are being taught, in their institutional church, to the Word of God, they will simply have an apostate, false church and reap the rewards of God’s anger at them for following their own way instead of the Word of God. They will become more and more confused and go into a spiritual Babylonian captivity because that is how God brings them to repentance, and purifies his bride. The command is to avoid the unclean thing, the false teaching that has taken over. No, you can’t go against the flow, but you can obey God.
This helps me, ‘ Ephesians 5:27. Christ will present the Church to Himself a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle. Christ purifies the Church. It is not up to us, as individuals, to keep the church pure. God uses false teaching to show who is approved.’
This reminds me of how His Spirit works in us, who believe, to uncover and lay bare our sin. He instructs us to confess and repent and trust His forgiveness. Hebrews 4:12-13.
Thank you. I praise God for you and how He continues to use you in my life. You have challenged my thinking and theology, to inform and edify (disciple) me, displaying His Faithfulness to His Church for His Glory.
Catherine, not long after I came to faith, I read in Luther, I believe it was in his commentary on Galatians, or maybe Romans, something that I took to heart, as being almost like a fairy tale, too good to be true, but I desperately stake my eternal life on it because I know that I am nothing but this poor wicked harlot:
Here this rich and divine bridegroom, Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with his goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by Him. And she has that righteousness of Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all his is mine and all mine (my sins) is His.
So when the FV challenges this as a false hope by claiming that we must do our part, it is like they are denying the validity of my wonderful, incredible, spiritual wedding! That I am simply deluded. Then I turn, in desperation, to the Bible as my marriage certificate, to prove them wrong because I have nothing to contribute as my part.
Yes, this was already prophesied, which fore-shshallowed the Messiah, toward the end of the book of Hosea.
Amen and Amen.
This afternoon, I’m studying John Fesko’s Commentary on Romans 4: 1-8 – JUSTIFICATION – the only hinge of all Biblical doctrine (Luther and Calvin) and it is the worthy hill; like Deborah, take your stand, see the victory belongs to our Lord.
You proclaim JUSTIFICATION.
You do not deny His Name or His Work; you proclaim IT and His Name.
Remember the story of Deborah! The designated leaders were afraid (lacked faith in The Strength of the LORD).
I am continuing to pray for you and His Cause in your URC.
I praise God; He prepared you, like Esther, for such a time as this.
Sole Deo Gloria
Also, Angela, I pray He increases your faith by giving you rest and comfort, and the spiritual blessings of patience, kindness, goodness, love, joy, peace, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
In Christ, by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, we are justified.
It is a type of the Gospel. Hosea is a type of Christ, who on God’s command marries Gomer a wicked prostitute who is a type of Israel and the Church. Instead of being faithful, she is wickedly idolatrous, practicing Baal worship, and unfaithful to him, but his love is unconditional, and after a period of chastening, he buys her back from slavery even then. It shows how God loves His people unconditionally, in spite of their sin and unfaithfulness that they might respond to him in gratitude, through faithfulness, as opposed to faithfulness to gain God’s acceptance.
Yes Catherine, I need your prayers. This is an absolute tragedy, even for Theo Hoekstra. The Bible demands that we shun false teachers so that they may be brought to repentance. I am considered a pariah, and unloving because I tell them they should avoid him. Accepting him without repentance not only allows a false gospel to invade the church, but it is unloving to Theo Hoekstra who is only confirmed in his error by such acceptance.
I am sorry. I had not realized the details of the battle you are facing. I confess, I am naive regarding these challenges you are facing but not about praying for courage among the laity as the Spirit convicts people regarding the tragedy of Theo Hoekstra and his real need: Salvation by Grace Alone through Faith Alone in Christ’s Obedience of Faith, our Justification by God from God.
I have just been notified that my consistory will meet with me this Wednesday! Please pray for me.
Thank you for this update. To our Father be the Glory.
Our communication over the past week has put many things into perspective regarding being in and devoted to His true Church, and therefore trusting our Father in Church discipline.. All I could do was groan for our URC, for you, for the Elders, and Theo Hoekstra, and pray for ’the pastor’ who will lead and protect our Father’s flock.
Because my prayers seemed empty, small and powerless, I began studying Wilhelmus a Brakel’s commentary on our Lord’s Prayer. The cost of your efforts exposed how much I depend on myself in prayer; I am grateful. A Brakel’s book exposed my sin – I do not glorify our Father in prayer as Paul and Silas did when they were thrown in the Philippian jail, Acts 16. They glorified our Father in prayers and hymns (Psalms) inside the inner prison.
I praise our Father for His Glory displayed through you.
I praise our Father for the love He gives you for His Church, that He is Glorified in it.
I praise our Father that in every detail we all see His Glory in your meeting with your consistory.
Revelation 4:11 “Worthy are You, our LORD and God to receive Glory and Honor and Power, for You created all things, and by Your Will they existed and were created.”
Thanks for this, Catherine. I am counting on prayer and God’s sword of the Spirit, the Word, as it is written in the Bible and summarized in our Reformed Standards. Here is another quote from Luther about reliance on the Word:
I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friend Philip of Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I DID NOTHING: THE WORD DID IT ALL…I DID NOTHING: I LEFT IT TO THE WORD.
Also Paul’s words in Ephesians 6: 10-18
10. Finally be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. 11. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the Devil’s schemes….18. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
I am praying and requesting our Lord’s favor cover you and His Glory be displayed before, during, and after the Wednesday meeting.
Thanks, battle buddy!
I guess the comment about the meeting got mixed.
I removed the comment to protect the process and you. I sent an explanation to your email inbox.
In your inbox you should also find a reference to URCNA counsel.
Dr. Clark: That’s one thing I hate about presbyterian polity. Transparency is the first casualty in almost every proceeding. I for one support Angela Werner’s judgment in wanting to tell us how her concerns were handled. Is the truth that damaging? Anyway, your website, your rules.
Public discussions can be reported and discussed publicly but some discussions, e.g., those in consistory, are confidential for a reason. Court cases are public but discussions in camera (in chambers) with the judge are private for a reason. People must be free to say what they think so that decision makers can make the best judgment possible. The Reformed Churches are not radically democratic.
I am most grateful to Angela for her faithfulness. I have learned much from her—it was she who alerted me to what John Piper is saying about future justification through sanctity and good works. It’s for her sake that the report was removed, so that the process isn’t corrupted and her enthusiasm for the truth isn’t misconstrued.
The goal is the Reformation of the church—semper Reformanda, which means, recovering the Reformed confession. That process is slow and sometimes difficult but we should do what we can to advance and not retard it.
Bob, I am very grateful for Dr. Clark’s help and for removing my comment as a way of protecting me from those who might use any information against my case. Already there are positive changes happening. When it is all over, hopefully we can tell more about how it happened. I appreciate your support and prayers.