January 25, 2006
Dear Pastor Price,
The following is a rough draft of something I am strongly thinking of posting Saturday in answer to the post of Sat. Jan. 21st, regarding accusations and entreaties. I trust you are objective enough to realize that while you might not agree with my comments, I have a real problem before the Lord holding my peace about all this. If you would be so kind as to advise, it would be appreciated.
Thank you very much
While I would rather not go this route, I don't see much real scriptural alternative. That is not to say that you don't have my apologies about all this before hand. Maybe things are going to get worse before they get better. I would hope not, but as was well put in the recent sermon on Eccl. 3:12, our joy is not based on our circumstances, but on fearing God and doing the right thing. What exactly that is of course is the question. Unfortunately we do not seem to have uniformity of mind on it and while diversity is good within limits, a few comments further might be in order.
Yes, I know, I can hear it, already. "Have you gone to your brother privately? Where’s the private entreaty like you are supposed practice in Matt. 18. re. all this dirty laundry none of us wants to hear about, etc.?" There is but one problem though, with this view of that chapter in Matthew. Reformed theology has never ever held Matt. 18 to apply to sins, offences or even items of public knowledge and record. Jesus said "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against THEE," not, if thy brother trespass against the church or the truth. There is a difference and the distinction is critical. If we miss it, we disqualify ourselves from a profitable discussion and our discernment takes a fatal hit. Which in my opinion is exactly what is going on.
That is, let's say a brother stands up in the middle of the church service and blasphemes the name of the Lord. Are you really going to go up to him privately afterwards and say "Excuse me brother, I really hate to bother you, but you know, you really hurt my feelings and offended me by what you said and if you don't apologize to me personally about it, I am going to have to get two or more witnesses to come and talk to you?" Likewise if there is pregnancy out of wedlock or public drunkenness or any other incident of public knowledge or record. The church and the truth has been offended, not just a private individual here or there.
Public sin means public confrontation and by that I don't mean a public lynching, but rather in the same forum and format an offence has been committed, admonishment and rebuke is called for, hopefully leading to repentance, public confession of the sin, restitution and restoration. But below we are not even really talking about public sin. What we are talking about is the discussion of items of public knowledge that some seem to take automatically as a public accusation of sin. But what is public knowledge, is not sin to discuss publically. I’ll grant that there are times and places that are better than others to discuss something, but to do so again per se, is not sin. Even further to exhort someone publically to private entreaty while at the same time publically accusing them of public accusations of sin without any real substantiation is a little contradictory.
But to move on, I received a post of Jan. 21 entitled "Accusation or Entreaty?" from others, in that I was inadvertently(?) left off the list, though it was addressed, I assume, to me. I read it with interest. I would respectfully note the following four items:
1.Accusations of Accusations
Of primary concern is the fact that the post three times, if not four, asserts/accuses another party of making "public accusations" and "alleging sin," in the "public remarks" of their previous posts. Yet nowhere in the same post can one find even a shred of substantiation or specification of these charges. In other words I would respectfully remind all parties involved that to publically accuse another brother of public accusations of sin without any attempt to point out the basis of the charge of sin, is itself sin, ie. slander.
In other words, while I have no problem whatsoever with anyone accusing me of sin, I would only request that if they are going to do so publically, that they would at least have the decency to specify and substantiate those charges. That would mean in the case at hand, quote those same so called "public accusations" in which I "allege sin" explicitly from my previous "public remarks" to the list. And if there is any accusation of sin, I respectfully challenge the the reader to find where it does not refer to all of us in this church, whether in office or out, not just certain individuals. As it stands, obviously I know somebody is upset with my comments, but that doesn’t necessarily help me understand why or even what they are upset about, much less prove it to be necessarily what they claim it to be, public accusation of sin.
Even further, I would be more than happy to stand an open and public trial for my “public remarks” - I will grant that they are that - in a genuine and lawful presbyterian court with a written and public record that operates on the basis of written procedure and rules implemented prior to the trial and not after. But maybe not otherwise. A court where Act 10:34 and Deut. 19:19 carry real weight: Not only is the Lord no respecter of persons, if a false witness can't prove the crime, they 'do the time,' ie. whatsoever penalty they intended for the court to inflict upon the defendant, becomes their own instead. I think that fair enough and would hope all are agreed on that.
As it is now, I and others in the audience are left to accept the charge of public and false accusations on the basis of what? Someone's mere say so? Their moral authority as an officer and elder in Christ's church? Personally I would rather not see someone squander their own good name, character and integrity, the honor of their office, as well good name and character of the session they are a member of, in a situation like this to the base end of what? Overawing and browbeating the sheep to accept an opinion and word on the basis of the same alone. I would respectfully ask if this is the behavior of a true shepherd of Christ's flock, which I would assume the party in question commendably desires to be and has amply demonstrated themselves to be in the past? The last is not in question and again, never has been and I would respectfully defy anyone before the Lord to show me where I have said so.
Consequently I might request that for the sake of someone's else's good name - not the undersigned's good name which has already been shot at dawn by order of the court of popular opinion for having the temerity to speak up - that:
A. The charge of "public accusations" of sin on my part be specified and substantiated in place of the vague generalities of the post entitled "Accusation or Entreaty?"
B. Those same charges be withdrawn and apology made for those false accusations.
With either response chosen to take place in the same forum and on the same list that the accusations of public accusations of sin were made. Even further, if, in the bowels and mercy of Christ the party responsible cannot see their way clear to do the one or the other, I would respectfully reserve the right to make further comment on all this as I see fit before the Lord.
Does the undersigned want to make an issue of this? No. A thousand times no. But for the love of the truth and the purity of the church, which many seem to ignore for the sake of the peace of the church, one does what they have to do before the Lord. After all, mark well the order in James 3:17: "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable . . .” First pure, then peaceable or better yet, not one at the expense of the other. I am not interested in a flame war, casting aspersions on any brother or heated debate etc. My conscience is clear on that as well my record, if anybody will bother to read it, instead of merely react to it.
2. Love, Sentimental or Scriptural?
Of course, the other obvious objection to my questions, comments and concerns is " How can you be so unloving, so uncharitable, so unkind, so unthoughtful, so . . . ?" Or as the post itself puts it:
Where is that love revealed in the way you have chosen to approach us? Do you have any idea what
we as Elders are presently facing? Do you care?
The reply is, that strange as it may sound to some ears, if I did not care, I would not have written at all, but if the Scriptures cannot convince us of that, nothing will. They include the following:
Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him (Lev.19:17). Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful (Prov. 27:5,6 ). Charity rejoiceth in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6), if not that those who sow in tears, shall reap with joy (Ps. 126:6).
But if this is all about love, sooner or later we have to ask, "What about love of the truth (2 Thess. 2:10)?"
3. Matt. 18 Again
After all the post asks: "Did you call or write to talk with the Session privately about your concerns before taking this public approach?" As should be abundantly clear from the posts in which supposedly a number of public accusations of sin were made, the answer is only too obvious: Yes. Numerous times. Much more that the statement of the elders on the birth control paper is a matter of their own letter of June 14, '03 or public record. And while it is not widely known, it is still a matter of public knowledge that the Society of Everson was told that there would be no paper.
As I said at that time, let it be perfectly clear. I have no problem whatsoever if the press of duties or whatever, providentially hinders the fulfillment of the promise to write a paper on birth control. My only comment is then that one is still obligated before the Lord to say so and retract the promise in the same forum and format it was made. That's all. It's called due process, good order, accountability, integrity and transparency.
Likewise the letters from the Society of Everson asking the reason for the name change from RPNA to RPNA,(GM) in the correspondence from the elders and whether our practice was going to be further conformed to the new name. These things were not done in a corner or under a rock in the dead of night even if everyone in our circles has not heard of them. In other words, in answer to the question, the respectful reply is obvious. We have already been there and done that a number of times.
These issues are public knowledge. They are well known and of a couple of years standing. There have been attempts to address them by repeated private and society entreaty directly to the elders to no real avail for whatever reason. Mark that well. I accuse no one of pre-meditated sin or deliberate malice, but merely mention the obvious. But to then call for a Public fast and it would seem, practically deny that our public situation is not possibly a cause of the Lord's controversy with us or balk at even discussing any of this, seems to me to be presumptuous, if not a little hasty and imprudent, particularly again in light of our providential circumstances. But again, if to say that, is sin, or an accusation of sin and not an observation or question, pointed or not, I still am respectfully of the opinion that one, words have no meaning and two, I am in dire need of a reasonable argument to the contrary.
4. Renwick, Religious Societies and the RP today
The post also mention Renwick and his weakness, as well as the afflictions of our office bearers, pleading mercy, love and compassion. Which is just it. We claim to honor and esteem Renwick and call and pattern ourselves after the Reformed Presbyterian religious societies, but it might seem there is no real instruction in or implementation of that form of church government in extraordinary times which arguably enabled Renwick, weak as he was, to minister to how many times the number of individuals that we now have in membership? Why is that? That is the real issue in my opinion, and I fail to see why asking the question makes it a "public accusation" which is near as I can gather seems to be the case from the post "Accusation or Entreaty?"
To repeat the obvious, everyone is agreed that the ad hoc, informal, laissez faire form of extraordinary church government we find ourselves in and under, cannot continue as is, much more that same government just might hamper our further growth, development and edification as a church of Jesus Christ. But as we go about restructuring the same, do we realize and acknowledge that we don't need more of the same? And the guaranty of that is what? Are we going to reinvent the wheel in church government or are we going to try to implement the practice of who we claim to follow and continue as the moral person? And if not the last, then why do we so adamantly claim their name and assert that presbyterian government is of divine right? It would seem to be a 9th Commandment issue instead of Matt. 18 or 1 Cor. 13 would it not? All questions again and/or observations, not accusations, however one may assert otherwise. That's all. Have things gone so far that we cannot even do that? I would hope not.
Yet if God takes care to put all the tears of his saints in a bottle on this and other matters (Ps. 56:8), that same bottle of ink is not yet empty and this pen has not yet run dry, but for the moment I shall lay it down, trusting that
I am cordially yours,
in our Lord Jesus Christ
Member of, but not speaking for the Society of Everson,Wa. of the . . . .?
From : Greg Price
To : Bob S.
Subject : My Proposed Response To Your Letter
Date : Fri, Jan 27, :42 PM
Thank you for sending your draft for me to consider. It was helpful in realizing in what area I had erred. I return the favor in submitting to you my draft which I will likely send to the list if you decide to send your letter.
I would much rather prefer at this point to put all of this on hold until the Session has had an opportunity to present a plan for restructuring. That I see as my priority at the present time. I cannot afford to engage in an ongoing debate. I simply cannot keep up. I plead with you, my dear brother, not to send your email. What you believe you need to say now can yet be said in the future (if you deem it necessary to say). I am hopeful that by God’s grace, the Lord would keep us from destroying ourselves and making a mockery of our testimony of unity among all of the Churches of Christ (perhaps that is already too late to our own shame, God knows).
Dear brother, you remain in my love, thoughts, and
Greg L. Price
January 28, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It brings me great sorrow that I must publicly defend myself when it was my very intention to take out of the public arena (in my email. dated January 21, 2006) public accusations of sin against others that rather belong before our lawful Church court. God knows I love my dear brother , Bob S., with whom I have enjoyed precious fellowship and stimulating discussions over the past several years.
However, I strongly disagree with my brother that I made false accusations against him in my email (dated January 21, 2006). I confess (and those who know me will confirm this) that I am not one who enjoys being involved in public debates. But hereunto I am now called in God’s good providence to give some response which I pray may be helpful to you all.
THE ACCUSATION AGAINST ME
My brother alleges that I have falsely accused him of making public accusations of sin and requests in his email (dated January 28, 2006) that:
“A. The charge of ‘public accusations’ of sin on my part be specified and substantiated in place of the vague generalities in the post entitled ‘Accusation or Entreaty?’
B. Those same charges be withdrawn and apology made for those false accusations.”
I willingly confess that I omitted in my email (dated January 21, 2006) explicit specifications from my brother’s public emails to substantiate what I said. This was an error on my part for which I seek the forgiveness of you all and especially of my brother. I assumed that the recent public distribution of my brother’s accusations in his emails (1. January 14, 2006--though originally sent to Mr. Brian Bernal January 12, 2006--and 2. January 20, 2006) would be fresh in the memory of all those receiving my email, and therefore considered it unnecessary. I agree with my brother that these explicit specifications should have been included in my email and for that I am truly sorry.
THE PUBLIC ACCUSATION OF SIN AGAINST OTHERS IDENTIFIED
Nevertheless, I cannot with a clear conscience before God withdraw my email (dated January 21, 2006) or apologize for having stated that my brother did in fact make public accusations of sin against others. Consider, dear brother and sisters, the following remarks in this brother’s own words. After addressing the name chosen by our lawful Session (albeit, extraordinary Session) subsequent to the dissolution of our Presbytery, that is, Reformed Presbytery in North America (General Meeting), our brother states in his email (dated January 14, 2006, emphases added):
“But is all this the end of the world? No. Not at all. Far from it. No one has left the church over it and no one should. BUT IT IS A 9TH COMMANDMENT ISSUE, a matter of frustration, as well prayer and fasting WHEN WE WON’T ADMIT IT PUBLICALLY. THAT IS WE WON’T REPENT OF OUR PUBLIC POSTURE AND PRETENCE TO BE SOMETHING WE ARE NOT WHEN IT COMES TO CHURCH GOVERNMENT (as opposed to doctrine and worship), if not at the very least our very well intended ignorance, however sincere at this late date. And if you do not think this grieves some of the saints of God [to] no end, if not to despair, if that were not ALSO SIN, sir, you respectfully know nothing at all.”
If words mean anything at all, this is a statement of fact by our brother that the name of our Church reveals that “we” have sinned and need to repent of having violated the 9th Commandment and of “our” pretence in being something we are not in church government. Furthermore, “the also sin” in the last sentence likewise confirms the fact that a public accusation of sin is being made against others. I do not doubt my dear brother’s sincerity in making these statements. But, dear ones, the question to be immediately answered (and for which I am charged with sin) is not whether his accusations were sincere or even true (concerning which I am convinced they are not true and will address in a moment if you will patiently bear with me), but whether it was a public accusation of sin against others. Clearly (in my judgment), our brother was publicly accusing others of sin (even if he intended to include himself in the same accusation).
I would further substantiate this brother’s public accusation of sin against others with the following statement from his email (dated January 20, 2006, emphases added):
“But while we, for instance, adhere to the terms of communion of the RPNA--the RPNA, as the RPNA--a presbytery--has been dissolved and no longer has a stated/written constitution. Neither do we seem to even know what the RP General Meeting is. But we call ourselves by one or the other of these two names. And that only for starters. AS IF THIS ALONE, IS NOT STARTING TO TRESPASS UPON THE 9TH COMMANDMENT?”
Here once again we are “starting” to trespass the 9th Commandment. To start to do anything is to begin to do so. It may not be the most aggravated violation of the 9th Commandment that is herein asserted, but it is a violation of the 9th Commandment (even if only in its initial stages) that others are guilty of having committed.
And finally, my brother, later in the same email asks the following rhetorical question which though formally a question further confirms the need of others (beside himself) to repent of sin which he believes has been committed.
“Will we acknowledge it, MUCH LESS REPENT OF IT? That is the question.”
I judged at the time that I sent my email and do still judge that these are public accusations of sin against others from the testimony cited above. Therefore, I respectfully disagree with my brother’s statement in his email (dated January 25, 2006, emphases added):
“BUT WE ARE NOT EVEN TALKING ABOUT PUBLIC SIN. What we are talking about is the discussion of items of public knowledge that some in our circles SEEM TO TAKE AUTOMATICALLY AS A PUBLIC ACCUSATION OF SIN.”
THE PUBLIC ACCUSATION OF SIN AGAINST OTHERS REBUTTED
I would suggest there are two possibilities with regard to the alleged violation of the 9th Commandment. First, the 9th Commandment was ignorantly violated in taking the name, RPNA (General Meeting). In this case, it is assumed that those responsible for selecting the name did not know or did not have sufficient knowledge as to what a Presbytery and a General Meeting were and how they function. From this perspective, it is a less aggravated sin since it was committed without full knowledge of both a Presbytery and a General Meeting and how they function. The second possibility is that the 9th Commandment was willfully and deliberately violated in taking the name, RPNA (General Meeting). In this case, those responsible for selecting the name did know and did understand what a Presbytery and a General Meeting were and how they have historically functioned. Therefore, those responsible for selecting the name, RPNA (General Meeting) intended to deceive the members (yea the entire world) because they knew that after the dissolution of Presbytery in June 2003 that we were neither a Presbytery nor General Meeting. To make matters worse (according to this option), since it was not simply the decision of one person who intended to deceive, but the decision of three men who intended to deceive, it was a conspiracy to deceive and delude others into believing we were presently a fully functioning Presbytery and General Meeting (when in fact we were not).
Dear brothers and sisters, as I consider the two option just mentioned, IF I am guilty of having violated the 9th Commandment (as alleged), I must declare to you that I did not ignorantly do so (God is my witness). I knew full well that after the dissolution of our Presbytery that we were no longer a Presbytery. That was made clear in the email that was sent to the membership (dated June 14, 2003). I knew full well what a General Meeting was and how it historically functioned. I had studied _Faithful Contendings Displayed_ which gives the minutes of General Meetings from their establishment on December 15, 1681 to December 3, 1690, _The Minutes of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (General Meeting)_, _A Short Directory For Religious Societies_ (1772) which briefly discusses General Meetings, and various other historical works (such as _The Reformed Presbyterian Church In Scotland_ by Hutchison). IF I am guilty of having violated the 9th Commandment (as alleged) as a Church Officer, I had to have done so willfully and deliberately with the intention to deceive the membership and the world. That is IF and only IF I violated the 9th Commandment.
In my judgment, a most important consideration has been totally absent from this discussion and should have been carefully considered before making public accusations of sin against others. While the name of God certainly represents who He is because there are no historical entities prior to Him nor others previous to Him who lawfully hold that name. He is the one and only God. He is the original. There is none before Him and there is none after Him. However, that is not necessarily the case when we choose names as human beings. When we give the name of a relative to a child, we are not saying that there is a one to one identity on the part of that child to that relative. We are saying that in some respect we are honoring the memory of that relative for various reasons in calling the child by that name. The name of God is absolutely unique in that respect for He is not named after anyone. However, we may call a person or a Church by a name and not intend a direct one to one identity to the forbearer of that name. There may be many circumstantial differences that exist between the present person or Church and the historical one after whom the name was chosen. In the present discussion, dear brothers and sisters, if you are willing to acknowledge that your Elders are not so forgetful or self-contradictory as to think that in using the name, RPNA, we were calling ourselves a Presbytery even after Presbytery was dissolved , then perhaps there might be another reason why we identified ourselves as the Reformed PRESBYTERY In North America. We called ourselves the Reformed PRESBYTERY In North America because we were substantially the same moral person as we were previous to the dissolution of Presbytery because we have the same Terms of Communion now as we had then. There is a moral continuity among those ecclesiastical bodies that share the same Terms of Communion. Yes, we are circumstantially different, but we are substantially and morally the same. If, for example, we decided to call ourselves the Church of Scotland (Protesters), would we be in violation of the 9th Commandment simply because we were not circumstantially identical to the government of the Church at that time? I believe we could morally do so as long as we had in substance the same Terms of Communion. If fact, this is what we actually do believe even though we have not adopted the name, Church of Scotland (Protesters). I submit to you that to so call ourselves by historical forefathers as to the moral person of our Terms of Communion is NOT a violation of the 9th Commandment. To the contrary, it is keeping the 9th Commandment. For we are bound not only to honor the good name of our brethren at the present time, we are also bound by the 9th Commandment to honor the good name of our brethren and their Churches that have preceded us. This we have sought to do in selecting the name, Reformed PRESBYTERY In North America.
It is in the same vein that the name, General Meeting ,was chosen. We recognized that we did not have a fully functioning General Meeting at the time. The name, General Meeting, was not chosen in order to deceive anyone. But was chosen to morally identify with the faithful General Meetings that were historically established for it was recognized that we shared the same Terms of Communion in substance with those General Meetings. As with some of those General Meetings that did not have a functioning Presbytery, we found ourselves in a similar circumstance in that regard. However, we did have a functioning Church Court after the dissolution of Presbytery which continued to exercise the keys of the kingdom (by way of admission of members, administration of baptisms, inclusion and exclusion from the Lord’s Supper, administration of Church discipline even to the point of excommunication, and calling of fasts). In its study of Extraordinary Ordination, the Session has also received much encouragement throughout the Church to proceed with even that significant act of ordination (which ordinarily falls within the jurisdiction of an ordinary Presbytery).
Historically, there has been no inconsistency at all in having a General Meeting of commissioners from Societies at the same time as lawful Church Courts (whether Session, Presbyteries, or a Synod). This too, was recognized in selecting the name, General Meeting. A General Meeting could function in the same Church with a lawful Church Court (even with a Session as in our case). Since the Session of the PRCE in 1999 commended (in its _Addendum_) to those under its oversight the reading and study of _A Short Directory For Religious Societies_ (where explicit though brief mention is made of General Meetings), we saw now contradiction at all in Societies establishing a General Meeting when they believed it to be profitable for them. I do not understand it to be the role or responsibility of the Church Court to establish a General Meeting (to be a help, yes, but not to require or demand it), but for Societies to do so when they are ready. If then by including in the name of the Church, General Meeting, there was no intention to represent ourselves as presently having a fully functioning General Meeting, how can that be a violation of the 9th Commandment? It may be the case that some of you would have preferred to use the name, RPNA, only when we reconstituted as a Presbytery, and that’s fine if that is your preference. It may be the case that some of you would have preferred to use the name, General Meeting, only when we established a fully functioning General Meeting, and that’s fine too if that is your preference. But, dear ones, I submit to you that it is NOT a violation of the 9th Commandment to use those names by way of morally identifying with our ecclesiastical forefathers in having the same Terms of Communion (though recognizing the circumstantial differences between us and them).
Under this heading, I propose to discuss the manner in which sin should be addressed (in particular) by fellow members of the same Church wherein exists a lawful Church Court.
I agree with my brother that Matthew 18 FORMALLY and EXPLICITLY addresses the manner in which private sins committed between brethren ought to handled. However, I would also submit that Matthew 18 likewise teaches GENERAL principles which ought to be applied in various circumstances.
We ought always to keep accusations of sin as narrow as possible--both to protect our own reputation as well as that of others. Thus, before making accusations (whether privately or publicly,) we should be as certain as we can that we know a sin has clearly been committed.
If our brother has drawn a conclusion that we have violated the 9th Commandment because there is not a one to one circumstantial identity between our name and the explicit practice of our faithful forefathers, I would submit he has not considered the issue carefully enough before making public accusations of sin against others.
We ought to recognize that a Church Court is given by Christ to preserve the peace, purity, and unity of Christ’s Church. Thus, to sidestep a faithful and lawful Church Court and to make accusations of sin public before placing it on the agenda of that Court is to act independently.
If our brother has brought public accusations of sin against others into the court of popular opinion before bringing those accusations into the Court of Jesus Christ in order to obtain justice, I would submit he has on that point abandoned Presbyterian polity.
1 TIMOTHY 5:19,20
I would submit another passage of Scripture as instructive to us all particularly in addressing the alleged sins of an Elder, or of Elders, or of the whole Session: 1 Timothy 5:19,20:
“Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
Again, I would list principles to be drawn from this commandment of Christ as it relates to accusations of sin.
Accusations of sin (whether private or public) ought not to be received (and therefore ought not to be given) by a single individual. To do so is to violate the plain teaching of this commandment. I suppose the matter of Paul censuring Peter publicly (rather than privately) might be brought up as an exception to the rule (Galatians 2). That is precisely the point: It is an exception. Paul was an apostle. The very gospel of salvation apart from works of the law was at stake in Peter’s example of dissimulation. Perhaps a more ordinary example in following the rule rather than the exception would be the example of Aquila and Priscilla who chose to instruct that great preacher Apollos privately rather than doing so publicly (Acts 18).
Our brother (in this particular case) came as a single witness and brought public accusations of sin against not only members of the congregation, but against the lawful Court of Jesus Christ. In the two emails that I specifically cited above in the section entitled “The Public Accusation Of Sin Against Others Identified,” the name of our brother appears alone at the end of the email. For example, in the email (dated January 14, 2006 but sent to Mr. Brian Bernal January 12, 2006), it is signed,
(Member of, but not speaking for the Everson, Wa. Society)”
Likewise, in the email (dated January 20, 2006), it is signed,
Member of, but not speaking for the Everson, Wa. Society of the . . . . ?”
If anyone might object that a public accusation of sin is the only way to gain a fair hearing since the Session itself is that which (to the greater degree) is being accused of sin, that is simply to scandalize a lawful Court of Jesus Christ and to prejudice the Court even before hearing the case and the witnesses.
If anyone might further object that there is no present court of appeal, therefore, one cannot bring an accusation of sin (private or public) against the Session, the same thing may happen against the supreme Church Court in any Church. For example, if someone believed the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (in the year 1648) had violated the 9th Commandment, would it be lawful for that single person to publicly accuse the General Assembly of sin against others simply because there was no court of appeal above the General Assembly? If that were the case, one could forever make public accusations of sin against the Session (in our case) or against the highest Court in any faithful Church and there would be no sin in doing so. That is certainly not what 1 Timothy 5:19,20 is teaching.
If anyone might finally object that our brother (along with other brothers and sisters in the Washington Society) did bring accusations of public sin to the Session in the form of their email correspondence (dated November 28, 2004 and January 16, 2005), I would simply deny that the Session was ever accused of publicly violating the 9th Commandment. The brethren from the Washington Society did indeed ask whether the change of our name from RPNA to RPNA (General Meeting) indicated a corresponding change to the historical practice of past General Meetings. Now that is a good question, but it is far from an accusation of sin. No accusation of sin in violating the 9th Commandment was ever brought to the Session by our brother until he made it public in his email to the list of members. If that is not the case, I would gladly be corrected. It is one thing to answer a question (once or twice), it is another thing to hear a specific accusation of sin. I do not recall any reference to sin in violation of the 9th Commandment as it relates to the change in the name of the Church being addressed (by our brothers and sisters in the Washington Society ) in either their written correspondence or in our personal visit with them at that time. The c ommandment of God as found in 1 Timothy 5:19,20 forbids any single person from making accusations of sin against an Elder, and if against one Elder how much more against a Court of Elders?
There is a process implied in 1 Timothy 5:19,20 where the Elder, Elders, or Court shall hear the accusations brought against them (if they cannot be resolved privately) in their judicial capacity rather than in a public forum. If public accusations of sin and error can be brought against a lawful Church Court whenever a public judgment or decision is made, then all we have is a free-for-all. All order vanishes. Authority is undermined. The Church of Christ is divided one against another. That is the way of Independency, but not the way of Presbyterianism. That is why in our membership interview, one will find such questions:
“Will you make inquiries of the elders when you have questions that concern you in regard to our subordinate standards?”
“Will you give the elders due opportunity to patiently and lovingly instruct you in any doubtful area?”
Now if in a doubtful area a candidate promises to come to the Elders, how much more so in an area wherein a member believes the Session has sinned in violating the 9th Commandment? If our brother was unsatisfied with the answers he received from us, it was his obligation to bring before us in our judicial capacity his accusation of sin against our violation of the 9th Commandment before bringing it before others.
I checked back to see where my brother’s name was first left off of the list which I simply copied. If I am wrong here, I apologize. But it seems to me, the first time that my brother’s name is not included on the list is in an email from our brother himself (dated January 14, 2006).
As to the papers on Birth Control and Ordination, I know that was within the last couple months that the matter of completing the paper on Birth Control was discussed within the Session. If the Session does not intend to issue that paper, I am not aware of it myself. As for the paper on Ordination, much research has gone into the preliminary stages (as occurred with the papers written on Headcoverings and the Common Cup in which it took a few years to complete the research and writing of those papers).
I believe the Session has sought to implement some of the suggestions of good order by various brethren in making sermons available on the Albany website, in having structured meetings, and in recording minutes for these meetings.
I apologize again to you all for the length of this letter. I had a lot of ground to cover. I do pray for my dear brother that he might find this defense helpful in understanding where I believe he erred, where I believe I erred, and where I believe I did not err. My sincere hope and prayer is for the peace, purity, and unity of Christ’s Church.
With brotherly affection for you all,
Greg L. Price
From: Bob S.
To: Pastor Greg Price
Sent: Sunday, March 12, :39 PM
Subject: Re: My Proposed Response To Your Letter
Dear Pastor Price,
My apologies for taking so long to get back to you in regard to the rough draft of your proposed response 1/27/06 to my request 1/25/06 for clarification regarding the "public accusations of sin" in yours of 1/21/06.
I would say at the outset:
1. My comments were never intended to challenge or question the lawful authority of the elders of this church, but only rather to ask some pointed questions and make some possible observations in the light of our past and the upcoming solemn public fast.
2. If there was any accusation of sin it was to obviously included me, as well the whole church, not just the office bearers and was in regard to sincere and well meant ignorance rather than wilful deceit and malice.
3. In light of the fallibility of all parties involved in this discussion, much more the confusion that still revolves around the distinction between public and private sins and their respective relation to a solemn public fast, it is no wonder that misunderstanding still exist on both sides of the fence.
Thank you also for ackowledging that you left out the specification of sin in your comments of 1/21/06.
Yet the root of the matter as I see it, is found in the following comments:
"If, for example, we decided to call ourselves the Church of Scotland (Protesters), would we be in violation of the 9th Commandment simply because we were not circumstantially identical to the government of the Church at that time? I believe we could morally do so as long as we had in substance the same Terms of Communion. If fact, this is what we actually do believe even though we have not adopted the name, Church of Scotland (Protesters). . .
It may be the case that some of you would have preferred to use the name, RPNA, only when we reconstituted as a Presbytery, and that’s fine if that is your preference. It may be the case that some of you would have preferred to use the name, General Meeting, only when we established a fully functioning General Meeting, and thats fine too if that is your preference. But, dear ones, I submit to you that it is NOT a violation of the 9th Commandment to use those names by way of morally identifying with our ecclesiastical forefathers in having the same Terms of Communion (though recognizing the circumstantial differences between us and them)."
In other words, since we have the same terms of communion as the Church of Scotland (Protesters), it really makes no difference whether we or the elders call ourselves/themselves the RPNA, the RPNA(GM) or even the CoS(P).
It seems to me that there are three comments that categorically follow from this non sequitur.
1. Names are to distinguish, not confuse, much less the third term of communion regards jus divinum church government. That is, our namesake in the faith, the RP/RP(GM) in light of this term, changed their name according to whether or not they actually had a plurality of ministers, ie. a presbytery or no.
2. On the basis of this reasoning - that having the same terms of communion is the only material thing necessary in our name - we suppose the Washington Society could change its name to the General Meeting of the Reformed Presbytery of the Church of Scotland (Protesters) and nobody could complain, however confused in fact they might really be. Which is exactly what it is: confusion.
3. That the elders are aware of this reasoning and justification for the name changes is one thing, it is entirely another thing for the members of the congregation including the undersigned. That same could not be said. Consequently, any "public accusations of sin," on the part of the undersigned, even sin committed in well intended ignorance, would clearly and only apply to the congregation, and NOT to the elders, which should be enough said.
In other words, there are four options, not two, in the proposed response, to consider regarding the name changes. The elders did/didn’t know and the congregation did/didn’t know. If the last, which seems to me to be the obvious one - the one I know most about - any and all "accusations of sin" would again only apply to the congregation and NOT the elders. The congregation is essentially in well meant ignorance regarding who or what we are.
That, not to mention if the name changes can even be defended on the basis proposed in the response which I would respectfully, but absolutely deny. Rather I would think that this line of reasoning regarding the justification or explanation of the name of the church needs to be repudiated at the earliest possible instance. It respectfully, cannot stand the weight of reasonable examination.
Also if the intention to do something is the material aspect of the actions in question, the response asks:
"If then by including in the name of the Church, General Meeting, there was no intention to represent ourselves as presently having a fully functioning General Meeting, how can that be a violation of the 9th Commandment?"
It would seem to me that this in principle leaves the door open for the question that if there was no intention to accuse the elders of deliberate and wilful sin in my remarks, questions and observations in my previous posts, how then can the same remarks, questions and observations be a violation of the 9th commandment, ie. public accusations of sin?
As for "starting" to sin, it could just as well mean "having the appearance" of sin, which while not sin, is still something we are to avoid. No more.
Also, though as somewhat of an aside, my following statement was totally misread:
"And if you do not think this grieves some of the saints of God [to] no end, if not to despair, if that were not also sin, sir, you respectfully know nothing at all."
The proposed response replies by saying:
" Furthermore, "the also sin" in the last sentence likewise confirms the fact that a public accusation of sin is being made against others."
All that the last sentence of mine refers to is the frustration and consequent temptation on the part of some, myself included, to despair regarding the condition of our church today and the only too obvious misunderstandings that prevails regarding discussing it - a case in point being obviously at hand. But in that despair is sin, we/I - NOT the elders or Mr. Bernal - may not do that, much more that if Mr. Bernal presumes to accuse, if not insinuate, that those who speak out as did the SPG or myself, do so from motives of malice, self promotion and glee, he only and sadly betrays his ignorance of the real situation.
As regards the section on Matthew 18 and 1 Timothy 5:19,20 from the proposed response, the main problem as I see it is with Principle #1 of 1 Tim. 5:19,20. The difference between Peter and Apollos was that of sin vs. ignorance. Even further, what is a matter of public knowledge is a matter of public knowledge. When the elders are on public record there is nothing to prevent a mere solitary individual from coming to them and registering his dissent/protest/appeal against that item of public knowledge that said individual considers to be erroneous, mistaken or contrary the Scripture. Nothing at all. But if this principle is true, Athanasius and Luther were out of order. They were both individuals who opposed the majority/status quo.
In conclusion, again I respectfully deny:
1.That the third option regarding the ignorance about our name on the part of the congregation was ever considered. The congregation is left in the dark on the whole justification for our name, never mind the changes and much more that our practice differs substantially from those who we claim to follow in the correlation of name and absence or presence of presbytery. Rather it is a direct contradiction of their practice and is without any straightforward acknowledgement, never mind cogent justification.
2.That the charge of public accusation of sin as defined by the letter’s own statement about intention is sustained.
3. That we have a clear Scriptural understanding in our circles of public vs. private sin, of public and private persons, public and private admonishment of sin, much more that only a number of individuals may disagree, protest or appeal the public statements of public officers acting in their official capacity, but never an individual.
Thank you very much,
cordially in Christ
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
January 25, 2006