Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The PCA, The SJC, and the FV

I have to comment on the discussion surrounding the Standing Judicial Commission’s (SJC) recent pronouncement against the Louisiana Presbytery and how the affects Federal Vision leader Rev. Steve Wilkins.

Just for some quick background, complaints had been made about the orthodoxy of Rev. Wilkins because of his Federal Vision. The PCA Study Committee passed a report against the Federal Vision. Rev. Wilkins was cleared twice by his own presbytery, but complaints continued from both in and out of the presbytery. The SJC has decided that Rev. Wilkins was wrongly cleared, and we await a plea of guilty or not guilty by the Louisiana Presbytery.

Now I have to say that I think Doug Wilson has a very valid point about this being a very slick system (just for clarity comparing Wilkins to Machen is wrong). Wilson has a very comical summary that really has no answer from the anti-Federal Vision side. The idea a man could be excommunicated without ever being declared guilty or being personally allowed to appear is ludicrous. Hopefully, it will not happen in such a manner. Many other ministers have begun to refer to the PCA as the un-presbyterian church in America or just putting a ? instead of the word Presbyterian. There is a shade of truth to those accusations.

However, here is where the Federal Visionists go completely wrong. They focus in two distinct areas. The first is that the SJC has never been a place where the verdict could be appealed. This is not some new invention put in place to put down Rev. Wilkins this is the system set up in the church constitution. All of this judicial process has taken place according to the way the PCA does business. Nothing has occurred that violates church law. It just turned out that Wilkins can now be defrocked without being on trial. It is hard to blame people for following the rules. These PCA ministers who now refer to their own denomination as un-presbyterian should have been complaining about the rules for years and decades. If they truly think this unpresbyterian, then why did they not complain before? The fact that only now do they complain about it shows the true nature of the complaint. It is not against the system, but rather against the outcome. They would love the inability to appeal if the verdict had gone the other way.

The second point is against Wilson himself. Are we really supposed to think he cares? His denomination accepted a man who was defrocked in the plain light of day for not only for heresy (infant communion) charges, but also for spiritual tyranny and tax fraud. This man’s ordination (despite being removed by the defrocking) was accepted. After such actions, which apparently were not the first, should we think that what the judicial processes of other denominations mean anything to Wilson or to the CREC? When viewed in this light it appears that Rev. Wilson is merely setting the stage for what he wants to happen. Regardless of outcome, The CREC will extend a spot to Rev. Wilkins and any who follow him and to their churches. All of the complaining is public relations.

So in short, I do find the judicial process in the PCA to be less than Presbyterian. No one should be excommunicated or defrocked without a hearing or trial where he is found guilty. If the PCA thinks the Louisiana Presbytery should be found guilty for not finding Wilkins guilty that really out to come after someone declares Wilkins guilty. However, the rage and arguments coming from the Federal Vision movement is contrived and fake. It would not matter what occurred they would still be complaining. They would not respect the decision of the PCA, and the CREC is the ultimate destination for all FV men.


Rick said...

Just as a thought:

If a man were defrocked by a United Methodist Church for being a Calvinist and adhering to the WCF, would your church uphold the decision and refuse to let him minister in your denomination? Remember in the CREC, infant communion is not heresy, but the norm. I don't mean this to be contentious in any way. I'm just trying to put it in perspective.

Also as far as the issues surrounding the defrocked Sproul, a group of godly men from the CREC were sent to investigate the situation and see what was up (my pastor among them). The results of their investigation were then given to another group of men from outside the CREC to review (among them was an EPC pastor that I personally respect and know to be a godly and wise man).

I haven't looked around at all the internet "evidence" on the issue or even inquired about the details from my pastor. I have no authority or responsibility in the matter. It is enough for me to know that everything is going well there now, and I pray the elders at St. Peter in Bristol will be led by God in all wisdom and godliness to the praise of Christ.

Lee said...

Thanks for commenting. You raise some interesting points.

Your point about the UMC pastor who is defrocked for holding to the Three Forms of Unity (I don’t go to a WCF church), is a good one. I have a few responses.
1. The RCUS would let this man minister if he was qualified, but we would not transfer or accept his ordination because after his defrocking, he has none. RC Sproul Jr., did not have to get ordained. Somehow his ordination was just accepted despite his defrocking.
2. If the RCUS did accept the minister in anyway that had been defrocked from the UMC, we would be saying something about the United Methodist Church by doing so. It is not a friendly thing to accept and clear those charged in other churches.
3. RC Sproul was defrocked for more than just infant communion. If that were his only problem, then I would tend to agree with you. However, tax fraud cannot be looked upon as okay by anyone, nor can spiritual tyranny.
4. Even if infant communion was the only issue it does strike at another point. Submission to authority. If one takes a vow to uphold a BCO, and then breaks that vow because he become convinced of infant communion, vow breaking is now part of the problem.

I do want to point out that I am not relying on ‘internet evidence’. I am simply going on the fact that RC Jr and his elders plead guilty to these charges. So, I am just taking RC Jr., at his word.

As for the CREC commission, that just goes to my point. It does not matter what happens to Rev. Wilkins. A commission can simply clear him and bring him into the CREC. What is the point of Wilson making a big fuss?

Wes White said...

Lee, after reading your blog, I did some study on this issue, and I am not sure why you would say that there is a shade of truth in us being "unpresbyterian" on the issue of the trial of the Louisiana Presbytery, though I would hardly say that we are "perfectly presbyterian" in all that we do.

What specifically do you think is wrong about what the SJC has done?

Here is my view of it. The SJC is charging the Louisiana Presbytery with not maintaining the purity and peace of the Church because they did not bring to trial a case that should have gone to trial.

I do not see how Steve Wilkins could be defrocked without a trial. Either the Louisiana Presbytery will have to conduct a trial, or the SJC will end up taking original jurisdiction and then trying him. This is just the first step that must take place to that end. If the Louisiana Presbytery is found innocent in the charges, then it will go no further. It seems to me that quite a bit of caution is being exercised here and that this is, in fact, very presbyterian!

One of the problems that I see is the wording of "strong presumption of guilt." All this means is that there is good reason to go to trial. For example, a charge against me that I was denying justification by faith alone could not be brought to trial. There would be no "strong presumption of guilt." In this case, the SJC has said that there is good reason to think that there is good reason to bring Steve Wilkins to trial.

Lee said...


Thanks for the comment. It was my understanding that if the Louisiana Presbytery was found guilty that act defrocked Rev. Wilkins. Particularly I found that a ‘shade unpresbyterian’. I freely bow to your superior knowledge of the procedures. If Rev. Wilkins would be tried before being defrocked then the vast majority of my objection goes away. However, if the SJC assumes original jurisdiction and then defrocks him, would Rev. Wilkins have a place to appeal? Having an ability to appeal is a vital aspect of Presbyterianism. My two main concerns are that Rev. Wilkins have a trial directly about his guilt or innocence, which you have addressed, and that he have the right to appeal any decision.

I do not have any problems with what the SJC has done so far. They have followed the rules. I just wish that the rules were a little more straightforward.

And as a side note, you guys are big enough of a denomination now that you should have Synods over presbyteries and below the GA. I really think that this situation would have been easier if Synods existed. Plus it provides one more layer of security of appeal, which as you stated caution is very Presbyterian.

Anyway, I hope that clears up what I meant, and you have cleared up the procedures for me. As long as Rev. Wilkins gets a direct trial and has a chance to appeal it, I will have no complaints and no reasonable man should. As long as those things happen, I freely withdraw the charge of unpresbyterian.

Andy Gilman said...

Hi Lee,

As I first read your post, I was intending to challenge your statement about the "shade of truth" in the FV accusations, but then read the comments and saw that Wes White had already done that! I don't see any truth in that accusation, or in your claim that there needs to be an opportunity for appeal. The existing PCA procedures provided an opportunity for the LAP to either properly try the case, or to petition the GA to assume jurisdiction and properly try the case. If a lower court refuses to do what is constitutionally required of it, then it is not "un-presbyterian" for the higher court to assume jurisdiction, even if that means the person being tried has no opportunity to appeal the decision.

Lee said...


Wes did correct some of my misunderstanding on the polity. I am glad to hear that no one will be defrocked without a trial specifically about them. This does take a lot away from the claims of the FV men.

As for the right of appeal, you and I may have to disagree on that one. I do think the right of appeal is fundamental. In the past people were even able to appeal from one GA (or whatever the highest court was) to the next. By past, I mean in the original set up of the Presbyterian church of America in 1700's. I am not sure if that is still possible or not. The appeal from a lower court to a higher one is essential, in my own opinion, as we are to error on the side of caution. It is a historic aspect of Presbyterianism that sets it apart from the other forms of Church government.

Anyway, thanks for your comment. I can always use more people setting me straight.

Andy Gilman said...

Hi Lee,

Is it your opinion then, that if it is to be truly Presbyterian, the General Assembly can never possess original jurisdiction in any case? That it can only possess appellate jurisdiction?

A right to an appeal is important when a lower court rules on a matter, but when the highest court rules, it should not be surprising that there is no right to an appeal.

Lee said...

I don't think GA should possess original jurisdiction except in rare circumstances. I guess I am thinking mainly of foreign missionaries. A case like that one seems to me to be a possible instance of GA original jurisdiction.

I agree that it is not surprising when the highest court rules that there is no right to an appeal. What is surprising is that if the highest court rules before any lower courts rule. When that happens it says something about where the power lies in a denomination.

Again, I hope this works out as Wes suggests that if a guilty verdict is returned, it will force a trial on the lower court level first. That to me would satisfy all calls for fairness.