Saturday, June 14, 2003

6/14/03, Elders' Remarks after the Dissolution of the Reformed Presbytery of NA,

(See also the Letter of 10/31/06 Re. An Implicit Extraordinary Session? and the 6/14/03 Letter on Dissolution of Presbytery)

From: Greg Barrow
To: [List]
Sent: Saturday, June 14, 2003 5:17 PM
Subject: Letter from Greg Price, Greg Barrow, and Lyndon Dohms

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When differences in doctrine and practice arise between brethren, and especially when they arise between Presbyters, it is the duty of all to deal with these differences with true biblical love and God honoring actions. True love to God and faithfulness to His cause demands, at times, that we express our love by sharp rebukes, and clear testimony of truth. The purpose of such is not to harm or to take vengeance upon another brother, but rather to reclaim him from the error of his way and to preserve the pure testimony of the church from a dangerous error or a promoter of error, in order that we might all walk with a clear conscience before God and transmit a faithful testimony safely to our posterity.

Accordingly, we share the sentiments of our faithful forefathers when they say:

To speak thus publicly against those who may be the precious sons of Zion, is a painful duty. That charity, however, which rejoiceth in the truth, requires of Christ's witnesses that they censure and rebuke, in a way competent to them, those of the household of faith whom they see and know to be in a course of error or of sin; Is. 58:l; Tit. 1:13 (Act Declaration and Testimony, Supplement to Part 3, Section IV).

Sadly it is now our solemn duty to testify against the error of Derek Edwards who has openly maintained an error in both doctrine and practice regarding the use of contraception.

The letter announcing the lamentable separation of Derek Edwards from the remaining three Elders was approved by each of us. Thus, by his own approval, Derek Edwards, has in this letter, summarized the position he holds--openly maintaining (by his evident disagreement with us) that his position is correct and our position is sinful.

1. We conversely are duty bound to solemnly testify that Derek Edwards' position, as stated in that letter, is contrary to Scripture, and that because of his stated error in doctrine and practice, he ought "not" to be countenanced or received by the Societies as a faithful Minister of Jesus Christ until such time as he repents and is restored to communion with us.

2. Derek Edwards would likewise maintain that we are unfaithful Ministers or Elders because we have adopted a doctrine and practice that he believes is contrary to Scripture. If disagreement over this specific doctrine and practice was serious enough to dissolve the Presbytery, it must be serious enough to view one another as unfaithful Ministers and Elders as it relates to that issue.

In the coming days and weeks, it is our intention to provide those under our oversight with a written defense of the birth control position which we have publicly maintained for as long as we have been united together as Covenanters, along with a written refutation of Derek Edwards errors in this matter. This, of course, will take some time to prepare, and we pray that patience will be exercised by all so as to promote the truth and encourage us in this duty [italics added].

The main purpose of this communication, other than that of making a testimony against the position and ministry of Derek Edwards, is to answer a question which has been asked by some in the various Societies -- Has the dissolution of the Presbytery fundamentally changed the membership status of those persons who were under its oversight?

In short, we maintain that the dissolution of Presbytery does not change the agreement that each of the members made at the time they became members. Our unity is in the truth of Scripture, and it is in our stated doctrine and practice as summarized in our six terms of communion.

Changing the "form" of organization from a Presbytery back into a state in which one teaching elder and two ruling Elders have the general oversight over the Societies does not alter our membership commitments or change the status of those who have already passed our communion examinations. Those who were formerly members we still consider to be members and those who were allowed to come to the communion table can still do so.

We do not believe that the error of one man (which consequently led to the dissolution of Presbytery) make null and void all of our membership agreements, and our mutually expressed unity in the truth with their mutual duties. If we maintain that one Pastor's defection from the truth can void other real agreements, then our whole visible unity is based "not" upon the truth, but hangs merely upon unknown future circumstances or the alteration of one Elder's beliefs, which may variously alter our outward form of government.

We maintain that even if "all" the Pastors and Elders were suddenly killed, disorganizing the Societies one degree further, yet the union of the Societies (which is based upon our six terms of communion) would remain intact and our covenanted testimony would remain the same. In such an event, it would be incumbent upon those remaining alive to maintain the same unity under the same terms of communion. Ministers and Elders and their associated government are given by God for the well being of the church and even their total removal does not mean that all of a sudden the covenanted remnant are without principles or visible unity in the truth.

A short history of the formation of our Societies will illustrate this fact.

Subsequent, to agreeing upon our six terms of communion, Pastor Greg Price, Elder Greg Barrow, and Elder Lyndon Dohms, formed the Session of the Church in Edmonton and in that context and under those terms of communion many members voluntarily joined with us in order to promote the cause of Christ and uphold our mutual covenanted testimony. The agreement with these Elders was real and substantial and cannot be voided except by the formal separation of each member.

During the next few years we conducted interviews for both membership and admission to communion, and it was our joy to receive most of those who now make up our present membership in that context. During these years, as birth control cases came before us, we were unanimously agreed that we held to a position which allowed of no exceptions to the rule--no cases that were presented to us warranted the use of contraception. Although we did maintain that we were always open to examining hard cases, it was openly and forthrightly maintained by the Elders that we presently knew of no exception where the use of contraception was lawful.

Our actual practice was consistent with our position. Consequently, at least three families (and probably more) either did not join the church or else they left the church because of the position we maintained and practiced on the use of birth control.

Thus, even though our present circumstance demands that we, in writing, become much more explicit regarding our position, [italics added] it is undeniable that our position and practice clearly demonstrated our belief regarding the use of contraception. It is undeniable that at all times prior to the formation of the Presbytery we maintained the same position and practice regarding the use of contraception that we now maintain.

When the Presbytery was formed we continued to bring people into membership under the same six terms of communion. We also continued to maintain our same position on birth control and mentioned this in numerous, if not most, membership and communicant interviews. Whether Derek Edwards was aware of this or not, we do not know, as he was very rarely practically involved in the actual process of interviewing. Nevertheless, it is a fact that our birth control position was openly mentioned and defended in these interviews, and we received no objection from Derek Edwards regarding the doctrine and practice we presented as the position of the church. Consequently, we do not believe that the defection of one man (Derek Edwards) necessarily makes each of these membership agreements null and void. Our position was both stated and maintained exactly as it was prior to the formation of Presbytery.

Now, we are providentially placed into a situation where we do not have an organized Presbytery, and we do not "yet" have an organized Session--although we still have the same three Elders who originally brought people into membership from Edmonton, who formed the majority of the Presbytery, and who continue to maintain their original contraception position and practice.

What then can we do without a regularly organized Session?

In such extraordinary situations we must consider carefully what must be done to organize and edify the covenanted remnant in consistency with Scripture and in accordance with the testimony of our covenanted ancestors who sadly found themselves in similar circumstances.

Here we would note that we must carefully distinguish between our intention, (e.g. what "ought" to be done in an ordinary and more settled state of the church), and our ability to perform (e.g. what "can possibly" be done in an extraordinary, and less settled state of the church). Where it is possible to do things in an ordinary manner, that is what we intend to do, and where it is not possible, we intend to do all that we can to bring the church into that state in the future (endeavoring at all times to keep as close as possible to the rule).

Because of the irregular state of the church at the outset of the Reformation, the Scottish Church was likewise forced by circumstance to operate, for a time, in an extraordinary manner. Sometimes adjacent congregations were ruled by a joint session, composed of elders from a plurality of congregations.

In that regard, the Second Book of Discipline, Chapter 7, Section 10, states:

"The first kind and sort of assemblies [the local Eldership--GB] , although they are within particular congregations, yet they exercise the power, authority, and jurisdiction of the kirk with mutual consent, and therefore bear sometimes the name of the kirk. When we speak of the elders of the particular congregations, we mean not that every particular parish can, or may, have their own particular elderships, especially to landward; but we think three or four, more or fewer, particular kirks may have one eldership common to them all, to judge their ecclesiastical causes. Albeit this is meet, that some of the elders be chosen out of every particular congregation, to concur with the rest of their brethren in the common assembly, and to take up the delations of offences within their own kirks, and bring them to the assembly. This we gather from the practice of the primitive kirk, where elders, or colleges of seniors, were constituted in cities and famous places."

Likewise we must now do that which is expedient for the edification of the body, until such time as the Lord grants that we can return to a more settled and ordinary method of governing the church.

We would also affirm that according to Scripture and in agreement with clear historical testimony, we have both the right and the duty (even without a regularly organized Session) to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper and to administer baptism among our present Societies for the simple reason that Pastor Price as a minister of the Visible Church-- may and ought to perform all of his duties as a Pastor.

As we look to the past for guidance, we see that James Renwick and Donald Cargill celebrated the Lord's Supper with the scattered remnant-- even in a state wherein there were no formal Sessions.

For these faithful ministers of the past to preach and celebrate communion in that extraordinary and disorganized context implies that they clearly understood they had the Scriptural authority from God to proceed in this manner-- the right as Pastors of Christ's Visible Church to admit or refuse people from coming to the communion table.

To admit or demit persons from the communion table, they, like us, used the six terms of communion, and all who refused to own the same terms in doctrine or practice would be barred from celebrating the Lord's Supper.

From this example we may extract these necessary conclusions.

1. Without a regularly organized Session they:
a. Interviewed people to ascertain whether there was positive agreement in their six terms of communion and whether there was negative agreement on all known points of doctrine and practice.

b. Exercised ecclesiastical discipline (at least up to the lesser excommunication) since they, as the Ministers of Christ, had the right and duty to refuse and bar people from the Lord's Supper, who for reasons of either ignorance or scandal did not qualify to participate.

Even though the flock was scattered into a relatively disorganized stated, they adopted the wise measure of meeting in organized Societies into which formal membership was granted by agreement to the six terms of communion.

Where and when Elders were present they assisted in all ways appropriate to their office, and together, under these disorganized circumstances, the Pastors and Elders did all that they could to promote godliness, declare and defend the truth, maintain discipline, and promote the faithful worship of God.

This is what we believe we also must do in these current circumstances. It is our desire and our joy to continue to serve you in this capacity as called Elders of the flock of Jesus Christ. May the Lord continue to grant His merciful grace in the midst of the tribulations of his little flock.

A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the LORD will hasten it in his time (Isaiah 60:22).

Greg Price
Greg Barrow
Lyndon Dohms