Saturday, August 17, 2013

Who really won the PCA?

I have already made it plain that I think the PCA is dead.  Others are now coming to the same conclusion.  Lane makes a few excellent points about what the FV men surely did, and it helped their cause.  They did start to lay low: blogs were removed and went silent.  Whether as a strategy or as a self preservation, it is hard to say, but it did help them in the court of public opinion.  Doug Wilson was able to defend them from the outside and those who had a tendency to be less winsome than Doug stayed silent.  But that is not why they won, because they did not have total radio silence.  They still published books, maybe not as many, but they were still writing.  They got out a freschrift for Norman Shepherd, for example, that includes James Jordan, Rich Lusk, Peter Leithart, John Frame, and many others.  

Here is what I think happened.  I will use an analogy from the old west.  The PCA is a large ranching operation with a big main house.  The FV are the outlaws disturbing the herd of cattle and the anti-FV crowd goes out guns a-blazing to fend off the thieves.  They manage to chase off a few of them while taking heavy fire, and when it looks like they get a break in the action they head back to the big house, and low and behold the locks have been changed, and they are no longer welcome.  

You see Lane and I put the blame in different places.  Lane thinks the FV guys won and took over, and I think that a 3rd party took the opportunity run off the TR's (for lack of a better term) and gain complete control.  I think the "evangelical middle" as Lane refers to them has always had designs on running this denomination.  

Let me take you back to the Presbyterian Pastors Leadership Network and 2002.  They pushed Good Faith Subscription and a change in the way of GA taking original jurisdiction.  Now the change to BCO 34-1 and original jurisdiction failed, but the PPLN won.  40 Presbyteries agreed, it just was short of the 2/3rds required.  Thus the majority of the PCA thought Presbytery discipline was enough.  Couple that with the Good Faith Subscription, which in my opinion gave more wiggle room to those who disagree with the confession, and the groundwork is set.  

That lead nicely into Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together in 2006 (which is no longer on the internet but my summary is still up).  This was a clear call from many men that prosecution of others would not be tolerated.  This was not so much the FV men courting the evangelical middle, this was the establishment of the PCA saying they wanted the FV men and could do without the TR guys.  Lots of Covenant Theological Seminary men signed this document.  This is of course the same year that The Missouri Presbytery Report of FV came out, which was an attempt to split the middle, and would later serve as the basis for clearing Rev. Jeff Meyers, who was on the committee.  So, too, by the way, were Bryan Chapell, C. John Collins, and David Chapman of Covenant Seminary.  

Then comes the 2007 FV report at GA.  Now this was heralded by the TRs as a great moment, but really it meant nothing.  This is one reason it was able to get such a wide margin vote.  The groundwork had been laid that Presbyteries could let in whoever with Good Faith and that the prosecutors in trials are the bad guys.  And this report was in no way judicial so why fight it.  

This brings up the fight against Steve Wilkins in 2008.  Armed with the new FV report the TRs then went after Steve Wilkins.  Note then that this is the first time the TR's went to the judicial process against the FV men.  In 2001 when Rev. Moorecraft sounded the alarm, they discussed, held colloquiums, and fought on email lists and web sites, but this was the first major judicial test.  This was another defeat in the end for the anti-FV crowd.  Yes, Wilkins left, and yes the Louisiana Presbytery had to retry the case (because they cleared him the first time), but no judicial guilt was found against him in the end.  Just like the John Wood case about women preaching a decade earlier.  If you don't get a guilty verdict, it is really a loss.  Just because the man leaves does not make the problem go away.  This became evident then when Missouri Presbytery and Northwest Presbytery refused to discipline FV men in their bounds.  

This is about the time that the 9th Commandment issues came up as Lane mentions.  Siouxlands Presbytery was ripped apart by the factions.  TE Lawerence and TE Moon were brought up on charges and both were cleared.  This was followed by the major instigators of the charges being brought up on charges themselves.  TE Carpenter and TE White were both brought up on 9th Commandment charges and TE Keister himself was tried for unorthodoxy.  This was not so much the movement of the FV crowd as the people at home in the ranch.  It became a standard response to accusations, but I do not think that it was always leveled by those who actually hold to the FV.  

Enter into the debate now the powerful Tim Keller.  Published author, featured in magazines, and pastor of a huge church in New York City.  Keller gives a speech in June of 2010 about what is so great about the PCA.  While I disagree with a lot of Keller's historical analysis, the main point of Keller's paper/talk was to promote the idea that the PCA is a diverse body and should remain that way.  Clearly then those who are trying to get rid of a subgroup are in the wrong.  There was a lot that went into the Strategic Plan that the PCA bounced around and they did change some of it, but they still created "safe spaces" and they advanced their overall agenda of the PCA being a "big tent" denomination, a "big tent" that included the FV.  Only those who do not want a "big tent" are not welcome. 

And then, of course, there are the secret groups that seem to have won the day at GA.  The National Partnership was created this year with the express purpose of using the GA to further the "health" of churches.  The email sent out was sent by Rev. George Robertson, I believe another author of the Missouri Report on the FV.  Don't forget the behind the scenes working to prevent debate about the SJC ruling on Leithart, and changing the rules to make sure certain people are not on the SJC that happened this year.  It was not pretty, and it was not done by FVers alone.  No, this was done by others: the power brokers.  

So to summarize, I think the PCA has been systematically undermined by a group of power brokers who have worked hard to make the PCA a big tent, and those who are against that idea are the ones that have to go.  Ultimately, the PCA was not won by the FV.  And the group that now controls the PCA wants the FV and does not want the TR guys.  If I were guessing why, I would assume it was because the FV guys are more likely to have a "cultural" impact than the doctrinalists, and of course, a lot of these guys have a cult following and publish often.  Name recognition can not be underestimated.  Dr. Aquila and Dr. Pipa may be known in some PCA circles, but Doug Wilson and the Credenda Agenda are known by people even outside the PCA.  And it also happens that many of the TR guys are down south, which is often considered embarrassing, which may help shed light on why Steve Wilkins can be chased out, but the other FV guys are all safe.  

So I think Lane has great insights into what the FV has been up to and how they did avoid trouble.  But I think he understates how the "middle" was actually working against the TRs, and has for some time.  The middle is the group that actually won the PCA.  


James Frank Solís said...

Just about how the PCUSA was taken over by liberals. It's always those wimps in the middle whining, "Golly gee, can't we all get along?"

Rachel Miller said...

Hi Lee,

I'm the News Editor for the Aquila Report. We'd like to reprint your article. Would you be willing to give us permission?

Rachel Miller

Lee said...

Sure Rachel. Go ahead and reprint it.

Anonymous said...

Were you once in the PCA? You seem keen on thinking about PCA issues. What do you think of the OPC? I see that you are RCUS and that you believe you are the only faithful Reformed witness in your area. How did you choose "St. John's" Reformed Church. as a name? This sounds like an R.C. practice of having a patron Saint for your congregation. Do you have an historic liturgy? If so, what is the source?

Jeremy said...

Thanks Lee, great post

As Ben Shaw states here, the PCA from its inception, has always been about pragmatism - about different factions attempting to get along. The end was near once the tent ceased to be the Westminster Standards, as you pointed out regarding good faith subscription, and instead became something nebulous where the bounds of orthodoxy are now defined by the PCA Living Magistrate (er, I mean "National Partnership").

As Bob Mattes (PCA RE, aka reformedmusings) states here, "Inevitably, if the PCA splits or “merely” sheds its confessional wing, it will be because of a lack of leadership, faithfulness, and courage by those who remain."

Lee said...

Yes, I was in the PCA for some time before joining the RCUS. I like the OPC just fine. Ie personally prefer the Three Forms, which is why I am in the RCUS. I don't think we are the only Reformed witness in the area as there is a nice OPC church, Faith OPC in town as well.

As for the name St. John's, it has been around longer than I have. The congregation started meeting in a Latvian Lutheran church before they could afford their own building, and it was St. John's. They became known then as St. John's, and when they got their own building it made sense to keep the name. The RCUS is German Reformed denomination and we follow the old Palatinate Liturgy.

Thanks for the links. Good articles both.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Lee, This is a bit off topic, so please bear with me... I had never heard of the RCUS before and I'm very excited to have found your blog! I recently joined an independent Swiss/German reformed church. It had belonged to the UCC (for 50 years!)but left due to their liberal theology in 2005. We are now working our way back to our reformed heritage (E&R). I sent a link to the RCUS to one of our church leaders as it appears we have much in common.
Thanks for your faithful service to our Lord Jesus Christ! I pray he continues to bless you and your church.
In Christ Alone, Angela Wittman, Waterloo, IL

Lee said...

Great to hear from you! The RCUS goes back to the colonial times as the German Reformed Church. Much of it went liberal in the 1840s to the 1900's. And in 1940 the vast majority of the denomination merged with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod to form the E&R church! That denomination a decade or so later merged with some congregational churches to form the UCC. So your ultimate reformed heritage is probably the RCUS!
I pray the Lord blesses you and your church.

Dr. Paul Elliott said...

Dear Pastor Lee,

Thank you for an excellent insight. Permit me to add this (and my apologies if you've already said it and I missed it)...

There are strong parallels between the present-day PCA and the PCUSA of the early 20th century, with Keller as the new Fosdick. The PCA, like the USA church before it, has become a denomination increasingly focused on “saving” people by bettering their moral, psychological, and material circumstances, far more than the redemption of their souls from the wrath of God.

That has become the de facto definition of "missional," and that is why the “TRs” are expendable, in the view of those who have stretched the tent stakes so far from Scripture.

It is but a short distance from the PCA’s present state to more blatant forms of liberalism, and unless there is a miracle of repentance by the work of the Holy Spirit, those darker things are surely coming.

Sincerely in Christ,
Rev. Paul M. Elliott, Ph.D.
TeachingTheWord Ministries

Hugh McCann said...

The Rev. Keister asked, "So how did the FV win the PCA?"

Answered 8+ years ago:

This failure of the critics to defend the Gospel properly seems to stem from two causes: misguided loyalty to the Neolegalists, and ignorance of what the Bible teaches. One critic describes his relationship to the Neolegalists in these words: “I speak/write with nothing but the deepest affection and appreciation for each of the men who will be attending the colloquium.” Nothing but affection and appreciation? How about a little skepticism, if not suspicion? How about a little of Paul’s willingness to speak sharply to Peter? Or, perhaps more to the point, a little of Paul’s zeal in cursing false teachers?

…Why does this PCA pastor fail to defend the faith? “Because I value these brothers
[James Jordan, Leithart, Schlissel, Wilson, Wilkins, Lusk, & Barach] so highly, it is very difficult for me to write a disagreeable word against them.” Not only does he value them too highly, he values the Gospel too little. This critic allowed his personal relationships to cloud his judgment for twenty years, and he is still doing so. That is one reason this heresy has spread so widely in the churches.

Another reason this heresy has spread so widely is this critic’s (as well as others’) ignorance of what the Bible teaches on these matters. Even after this critic quotes James Jordan explicitly denying regeneration, he says “James Jordan’s humility and scholarship are both beyond question…. I have no intention of assaulting Jordan, but I would like to humbly point out several areas of advice or disagreement where he could (perhaps) hone his arguments.”

Contrast these words with those of Paul when he confronted Peter “to his face before them all,” merely for hypocrisy. Peter was a much greater man than James Jordan, and his error was less serious than James Jordan’s. This pastor’s response is pathetic – and sinful. It is thinking like this that has allowed these heresies to spread and flourish in the churches.

~ 'Why Heretics Win Battles' by John Robbins ~

Anonymous said...

WOW, I love your Liturgy!!!
It has a VERY high view of the visible church and is bold about the efficacy of the sacraments, especially baptism!
Question? How is the view expressed in the prayers and discussion of baptism here at odds with Leithart et, al.?



What efficacy is attributed to the sacramental mystery* may be best seen from the prayer which immediately precedes the sacramental act, together with the one that immediately follows. The first will show in what state the child is regarded as being before its baptism, what it is believed to need, and what is expected and desired in its behalf in the “mystery of baptism.” The prayer is as follows:—

“O Almighty, everlasting God, who, according to Thy strict judgment, didst punish the unbelieving and impenitent world by the Flood, but in Thy great mercy didst save believing Xoah: and didst overthrow Pharaoh with all his host in the Eed Sea; but didst lead Thy people Israel through on dry ground: whereby this Baptism was prefigured; through Thy boundless mercy, we beseech Thee, look graciously upon this, Thy child; by Thy Holy Spirit engraft it into Thy Son Jesus Christ, that it may be buried with Him in His death, also arise with Him in a new life, in which following Him daily it may cheerfully bear its cross, cleave to Him with a true faith, a steadfast hope, and fervent charity, that for Thy sake it may gladly forsake this life, which at best is nothing but a death, and appear at the last day without terror before the judgment-seat of Christ Thy Sou; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, who with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, liveth and reigneth forever. Amen.”

3What they regarded as the state of the child after the sacramental mystery had been accomplished in its behalf, and what they believed was bestowed on it and confirmed to it through and in Holy Baptism, may be seen from the prayer immediately following upon the act of Baptism. It runs thus:—

“Almighty, merciful God and Father, we render Thee praise and thanks, that, through the blood of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, Thou hast forgiven us and our children all our sins, and through Thy Holy Spirit hast received us as members of Thine only-begotten Son, and thus also as Thy children, and hast sealed and confirmed to us all this| by Holy Baptism; we also beseech Thee, through the same Thy beloved Son, that Thou wouldst at all times govern this child by Thy Holy Spirit, that it may be brought up in a Christian and godly way, and grow and increase in the Lord Jesus Christ, that it may confess Thy Fatherly goodness and mercy which Thou hast shown to it and us all, live in all righteousness under our only Teacher, King, and High- Priest Jesus Christ, valiantly war against and prevail over sin, the devil, and his entire kingdom,* and exalt and praise Thee, and Thy Son Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Ghost, the only true God, forever. Amen.”

In this prayer the fact is recognized that through Baptism the child has received the forgiveness of sin, has been received as a member of Christ, made the child of God; all of which has been sealed and confirmed to it by Holy Baptism. Standing thus in the grace of Christ, it is asked, not that it may be brought into, but that it may be brought up in, a Christian and godly way; not that it may be united with Him, but that it may “grow and increase in the Lord Jesus Christ.” And so on, in all the rest of the prayer, it is assumed that the child stands now in grace, from which vantage-ground it is to “confess God’s fatherly goodness and mercy,” live righteously under the benefits of Christ’s prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices, war successfully against, and overcome, all its enemies, and exalt and praise God forever.

Anonymous said...

my source for my post

Anonymous said...

Anom: I think you are referring to the "Unierte Kirchen"-- not sure what this is called in English, but it is a union of the two Landeskirchen- state churches-- in Germany, the Ev Reformed and the Ev Lutheran. This denomination is NOT reformed, and would have nothing in common with NAPARC churches in N. America. Germany's state churches (Landeskirchen) are Reformed/Unierte/Luthern. ANd then the RCC, but it is not a Landeskirche, it is centrally controlled by the pope from Rome.

Anonymous said...

I just sent my post but it shows "Anonymous" like the previous person who posted.
Anyway, Unierte has Lutheran theology, so if that is what you believe, I think you would not like the RCUS. It is not Lutheran or Unierte, it is reformed. And unlike the Dutch Ref churches, the RCUS holds to presbyterial government and does not believe in the autonomy of the congregation.

OPCmember said...

I am an OPC member and the original "anonymous" who asked about liturgy. Did I get the right Palatinate litugy? I like what I found and it comports very well with the new OPC Directory for Public Worship:In our baptism, the Lord puts his name on us, claims us as his own, and summons us to assume the obligations of the covenant. He calls us to believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, to renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh, and to walk humbly with our God in devotion to his commandments.

(4) Exhortation to the Members of the Congregation to Improve Their Baptism

Then the minister may exhort the congregation in these or like words:

As solemn vows have been made before you, and baptism is now to be administered, you who are baptized will do well to take this occasion to reflect on your own baptism. Christ has put his name and claim on you. He calls you to be repentant for your sins against your covenant God, to confess your faith before men, and to live in newness of life to God, who sealed his covenant with you by the blood of his own Son.

(5) Prayer

Thereupon the minister shall pray for the presence and blessing of the triune God, that the grace signified and sealed by baptism may be abundantly realized.

(6) The Baptism

Then, calling the person by name, he shall baptize him with water, without any other ceremony, saying:

[Name of person], I baptize you into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

(7) The Covenant Commitment of the Congregation

It is appropriate that the minister exhort the congregation in these or like words:

As [name] is baptized into Christ and becomes a member of his visible church, the whole congregation is obligated to receive (him/her). For "we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body," and therefore are members of one another. Christ claims this child as his own and calls you to serve (him/her) in love. Therefore, you ought to commit yourself before God to assist [name] in (his/her) Christian nurture by godly example, prayer, and encouragement in our most precious faith and in the fellowship of believers.

Jeremy said...

For whatever its worth, the RCUS Directory of Worship on Holy Baptism can be found at

Anonymous said...

OPC member and Jeremy: There is one big difference: The OPC and the RCUS recognize the baptized baby to be a member of the visible church, but the Unierte Ref+Lutheran Union believes like the Lutherans in baptismal regeneration. This is why lots of Ref Germans and Lutheran Germans emigrated to the USA so they could go back to their Ref and Lutheran churches to escape the Unierte churches. It was a forced union. It is interesting that many of these reformed people were in the 20th century absorbed into the apostate UCC.

Anonymous said...

OPC Member: You ask if it was odds with Leithart. No, because it teaches Lutheran baptismal regeneration. And I don't think Leithart recognizes the visible/invisible church distinction as does the OPC and RCUS. But as I wrote before, this Prussion government forced union between the Ref and Lutheran churches turned ref churches into churches that hold to baptismal regeneration.

OPCmember said...

Thanks for the helps clarify. I do see the distinction between the two. I will take some time exploring the RCUS forms.