Saturday, October 28, 2006

10/28/06 Elders' Response to "Public Protest and Complaint" of SPG

From: Lyndon Dohms
To: List
Sent: Saturday, October 28, 2006 7:46 PM
Subject: Session Response to "Public Protest and Complaint"

October 28, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We, as a Session, bring to you our response to the "Public Protest and Complaint" that was submitted to you by the Prince George Society (October 18, 2006). This is not a response that we approach lightly or casually. It is a response we offer (by God’s grace) in the fear of God and in sincere love for the brothers and sisters in Prince George as well as for you all. It is a faithful testimony that we bear in the presence of our Triune God and all of His creation.
"Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high" (Job 16:19).
"Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice" (Micah 6:1).

Background We find this to be especially difficult because we have shared such profitable and frequent times of fellowship and worship together with the brethren in Prince George over many years. Regular visits were made to Prince George during the years every six to seven weeks and were lengthened when the Session became busier with visits to other Societies to every ten to twelve weeks during the years . These visits to Prince George were also supplemented at different times by visits the families made to Edmonton which likewise were times of great joy and encouragement to us all. We believe our commitment to care for and shepherd the flock in Prince George was one which we took very seriously. Visits thereafter continued less frequently over the next few years as the membership increased, thus increasing visits and phone calls to others in the United States and Canada.

As has been noted in the "Public Protest and Complaint", a decisive change occurred July 2, 2004 when Pastor Price and Elder Barrow were surprised to find themselves in a very significant meeting with three brothers from the Society without any prior notice (and a meeting that began in the early hours of the morning). Pastor Price and Elder Barrow were informed (as a courtesy it was said) that the Society in Prince George desired and intended to distribute a letter to all of the Societies concerning the subject of Society Meetings as related to the document entitled "A Short Directory For Religious Societies." The general contents of the draft letter were summarized by one brother. After the summary of the letter, Pastor Price and Elder Barrow asked these brothers if this letter had any disagreement with the Addendum that the Session of the PRCE had adopted concerning "A Short Directory For Religious Societies" in 1999. The response from the brothers was that there was disagreement with the Addendum. Pastor Price and Elder Barrow counseled the brothers not to distribute this letter in a couple days as they had planned, but to at least give the Session an opportunity to review the letter and to respond to it. Apparently, the Society in Prince George initially believed it would be acceptable to distribute a letter that expressed public disagreement with the Elders contrary to the stated agreement for all members. It was ultimately agreed to defer the immediate distribution of this letter so as to give the Session some time to offer comments. It was also in that same early morning meeting that these brothers acknowledged that they did not know that Pastor Price, Elder Barrow, and Elder Dohms had been functioning as an extraordinary Session (in any judicial capacity as a Church Court) since the dissolution of the Presbytery in June 2003. Pastor Price and Elder Barrow sought to explain to the brothers by way of what they could recall from the letter that was sent to the Societies and members June 14, 2003, and by way of the exercise of ecclesiastical power in admitting members into the RPNA (GM), and in admitting and demitting members to the communion table, that they had been functioning as a lawful Church Court since the dissolution of the Presbytery in June 2003. There was no agreement reached on that point between Pastor Price, Elder Barrow, and the brothers in Prince George. That same day in the evening (Friday) we all joyfully celebrated the marital
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union of J and D D. The following day (Saturday), we all gathered for a picnic and the Session interviewed each member before coming to the Lord’s Supper (as has been our uniform practice since having adopted the Six Terms of Communion). The letter concerning Society Meetings was a pressing matter to discuss with each member from Prince George that was interviewed to come to the Lord’s Supper. It is true that the Session conditioned the coming of each member in Prince George to the Lord’s Supper upon the retraction of the letter because the Session wanted each member in Prince George to come to the Lord’s Supper, but could not in good conscience admit those who maintained a known disagreement with the stated position of the Session (as had been the steadfast position of the Session of the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton since adopting the Six Terms of Communion, and of the Presbytery known as the Reformed Presbytery in North America, and of the Session of the Reformed Presbytery in North America—General Meeting). The Session at the time of the Communion interviews also asked members in Prince George if they had read the final draft of the letter to which their individual names were affixed, and to the best of our recollection, none except the writer of the letter, had completely read the final draft that was given to the Session (although they had all apparently worked together in forming the general contents of the letter). The Session also stated that fact as another reason for those members who had not completely read the final draft to which their names were affixed to retract the letter. The Session acted consistently with principle and practice that had long been established by us in receiving members to the Lord’s Supper. The Session rejects any charge of impropriety or insinuation of abuse by the Society in Prince George in the way Communion interviews were conducted by us on that date. The actions of the Prince George Society refute their own baseless charges. If they were indeed offended by actions of the Session (prior to the administration of the Lord’s Supper) which they deemed improper or abusive, why then did they proceed to affirm at the interview for the Lord’s Supper that they had no known offenses with any of their brethren (including the Elders), and why did they proceed to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with us, and receive it from Pastor Price? The actions of the Prince George Society in this matter are clearly self refuting.
There is mentioned several times in the "Public Protest and Complaint" a two year period in which allegedly the Session deferred, delayed and did not respond to the concerns of the brethren in Prince George. We assume that this two year period to which they refer began July 2, 2004. The Prince George Society’s recent selective omission of pertinent information regarding that two year period of time places the worst possible construction upon the Session—a construction that we affirm (with grief) is a sinful misrepresentation of the facts. The "Public Protest and Complaint" states that after the July 2, 2004 meeting, they sent a revised letter on September 24, 2004 to which we responded on October 7, 2004 with eight pertinent questions that were raised in our own minds for the brethren to answer. From October 7, 2004 until July 6, 2005 (a period of nine months), the Session waited to hear back from the brethren in Prince George. The Session gave an initial response to the July 6 letter from the Society in Prince George on July 16, 2005. At the meeting in Edmonton (July 29-31, 2005), it was agreed that a committee from the Session would seek to meet with the brethren in Prince George in September of 2005. This we attempted to do on two separate occasions between September and December of 2005 as will be demonstrated in a moment. Subsequently, Pastor Price and Elder Dohms received an email (January 10, 2006) from the brethren in Prince George in which Pastor Price was informed that he had roughly twenty-four hours to agree to a private meeting between himself and the Society in Prince George. The letter states,
"Respectfully, the email before you will serve as our last and final (DV) private entreaty to you, specifically that Pastor Price directly and fully engage with our Society, on the items outstanding with us, initially broached July 2, 2004. This private invitation is extended until end of business day WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2006, and is time specific (detailed at the end of this letter)."
Pastor Price responded with the following email on January 11, 2006 wherein he replied that the alleged negligence on the part of the Session in meeting with the brethren in Prince George since the meeting in Edmonton (July 29-31, 2006) was a misrepresentation of the facts:
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"January 11, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I respectfully decline to come to Prince George alone in order to discuss the issues covered in your past correspondences. I believe the matters that need to be discussed should have a committee from the Session
present rather than simply one member of the Session. In any such meeting that has such serious consequences, I believe it is important to speak as a Session through an appointed committee not as one individual member of Session. That has been our understanding of what you expected and is certainly what we expected as well. The fact that we have not been able to visit you since our gathering in Edmonton (July 29-31, 2005) was regrettably beyond our control, and yet providentially appointed for us by our Sovereign God.
As you know, I had purchased tickets to come to Edmonton and to drive from Edmonton with Elder Barrow after the wedding in Everson, WA in September 2005, but I received news that my brother was diagnosed with
terminal cancer. I unexpectedly had to change my plans and flew to be with my brother in Southern California during those very trying days after he received his first treatment of chemotherapy. I then flew to Edmonton Tuesday, October 25, 2005 with the intention of driving to Prince George with Elder Barrow on Thursday, October 27. Elder Barrow had just come down with a serious case of the flu as did other members of his family. We postponed the trip for a few days hoping Elder Barrow would be well enough to travel. He was improving, but on Monday, October 31, I detected that I had a hernia and confirmed this to be the case with a doctor on Tuesday, November 1. Sitting was especially uncomfortable at best and painful at worst during that period of time. Again the trip to Prince George was postponed in God's good providence. I had surgery Monday, December 5 and for the next couple weeks was recuperating from surgery.
Toward the middle of December (I don't know the exact date), I learned of the serious nature of Elder Barrow's health. He first took a regular week of his vacation time. He was not improved at all, and we suggested he take another week to rest. Still there was no improvement. It was at that time (the last week of December 2005) that we determined Elder Barrow should take a longer period of rest for two months (which was announced January 1, 2006).
Thus, at every attempt on our part to visit Prince George after our gathering in July 2005, the road has been blocked in God's good providence--not because we did not push the door of opportunity, but because God closed the door of opportunity.
Presently, I cannot make a commitment for Elder Barrow and myself since I do not know whether his condition will improve or not. Personally, I am sorry that we have not been able to meet with you to seek to resolve the issues you have presented in your correspondence, but I know it is not because we have not earnestly and sincerely tried. I submit myself to the over-ruling providence of God.
Thus, if you believe you must reveal your grievances and concerns in a public forum, I cannot stop you. I do believe such a course of action is ill-advised and will have far serious consequences than submitting to God's good providence at the present time.
With brotherly affection,
Greg L. Price"
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After the two month leave of absence was ended for Elder Barrow and his health began to improve, and after the grave circumstances for Elder Dohms began to show some improvement (subsequent to the unexpected and devastating death of his boss and good friend), the Session (in March 2006) began to discuss and make preparations to address issues related to Sessional authority that had been raised by the Society in Prince George privately and by others publicly in the hope of confirming by both biblical and historical testimony the warrant for an extraordinary Session. This paper was made available June 4, 2006 and in the paper was stated a reasonable format to address questions of clarification to the Session and afterwards the possibility of a forum (if profitable and necessary) to discuss issues further. Not a single question was submitted by the brethren in Prince George. When considering the allegation of negligence on the Session’s part in addressing matters in their letter (July 6, 2006) and the invitation extended to discuss the very issues raised by our brethren in Prince George, it seems remarkable to us that we did not receive a question or a comment about the Session’s response to their stated concerns. This is (in our judgment) an accurate accounting of the facts that relate to their allegations of negligence and delays in responding to issues they have raised. Even if the brethren in Prince George might say that we have not responded to all of their concerns, we have made an effort in coming to them on two separate occasions and we have made an effort in responding to the most substantive issues (in our letter of July 16, 2005 and in our Position Paper on Sessional Authority June 4, 2006). Let us not forget how much of that two year period claimed by the Society of Prince George was consumed directly due to their own delays.
The Session also observes many unfounded and unsubstantiated charges of sin brought by the brethren in Prince George in their "Public Protest and Complaint" against the Session of the RPNA (GM). We would judge it to be scandalous to accuse even one Elder publicly without substantiating the charge with the necessary evidence, but to charge a lawful Minister and two lawful Elders publicly without the necessary evidence is to aggravate the scandal to a most disturbing and astonishing degree.
The Letter of June 14, 2003
It has been alleged in a recent email that there is a discrepancy between what is stated in the Letter of June 14, 2006 and the Position Paper of June 4, 2006 in regard to who has authority to dispense the sacraments and to perform (at least) the lesser excommunication of suspension from the Lord’s Supper. In the Letter of June 14, 2006, it states that the sacraments may be administered because Pastor Price is a lawful Minister of Jesus Christ whereas in the Position Paper of June 4, 2006, it states that the reception of the sacraments by members implies they consent to be governed by the Church Officers of the RPNA (GM) as a lawful Church Court. The question being asked is whether the authority to administer the sacraments is by virtue of Pastor Price’s Office as a Minister (per the Letter of June 14, 2003) or whether the authority to administer the sacraments is by virtue of the Session’s jurisdiction (per the Position Paper of June 4, 2006)?
We must make careful distinctions at this point. There is a delegated power from Christ in the Office of Minister (as distinguished from an Elder or a Deacon) to administer the sacraments. Only a Minister has the authority from Christ to officially administer the sacraments. This is called by theologians "the power of order". This was the meaning of what was stated in the Letter of June 14, 2003 when the Letter referenced the authority of Pastor Price to administer the sacraments. This reference to the authority of Pastor Price to administer the sacraments was not intended to teach that he should do so outside the jurisdiction of a lawful Session. In fact, in the Letter it is also noted that the Elders together with Pastor Price conducted interviews for membership and admission to the Lord’s Supper (both of which imply authority on the part of those who do so).
"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."
Furthermore, it is stated in the Letter that Elders should also work with Pastors in these extraordinary circumstances in accordance with their Office (which Office involves jurisdiction in matters of discipline and faithful worship including the sacraments):
"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."
There is no discrepancy or contradiction between Pastor Price having the power of order (from Christ) to officially administer the sacraments and the Session having the power of jurisdiction to oversee the lawful administration of the sacraments. We would turn to Mr. Gillespie to clarify this very point. After explaining the power of order and the power of jurisdiction, Mr. Gillespie discusses the distinctions between these two powers, and in the fourth point he states (in his _An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland_, p.12):
"The power of order is sometimes unlawful in the use, yet not void in itself. The power of jurisdiction, when it is unlawful in the use, it is also void in itself. If a minister do any act of jurisdiction, as to excommunicate, or absolve without his own parish, wanting also the consent of the ministry and elders of the bounds where he doth the same, such acts are void in themselves, and of no effect; BUT IF WITHOUT HIS OWN CHARGE, AND WITHOUT THE CONSENT AFORESAID [that is, without the consent of the ministry and elders just mentioned above—Session of the RPNA (GM)], HE BAPTIZE AN INFANT, OR DO ANY SUCH THING BELONGING TO THE POWER OF ORDER, THOUGH HIS ACT BE UNLAWFUL [unlawful because the act does not have the consent of the ministry or elders—Session of the RPNA (GM)], YET IS THE THING ITSELF OF FORCE [as a valid baptism—Session of the RPNA (GM)], AND THE SACRAMENT REMAINETH A TRUE SACRAMENT [valid though unlawful because it was administered outside the jurisdiction of the ministry and elders—Session of the RPNA (GM)].
Thus, Mr. Gillespie demonstrates that there is no contradiction in affirming that a Minister alone has the power of order from Christ to administer the sacraments and yet affirming that the faithful administration of the sacraments implies the jurisdiction of a lawful Church Court. Therefore, when one receives a sacrament, it implies he receives the Minister as having the power of order and receives the Church Court as having the power of jurisdiction.
Next, we believe there is ample testimony in the Letter of June 14, 2003 to demonstrate that we were an extraordinary Session with oversight over the Societies and members.
1. "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."
Note, it was merely the outward "form" of organization that was changed after the dissolution of the Presbytery and not the substance of authority. The Letter states that we were returning to a previous "state." What "state" would that be? Clearly, back to the "state" (prior to the formation of the Presbytery) in which an authoritative Session had general oversight over the Societies. In other words, we began with an authoritative Session (a lesser Presbytery) which was a common Court overseeing the Societies of various locations, and individuals of various locations. We then grew into greater common Court, which was our greater Presbytery which also authoritatively oversaw the Societies of various locations, and individuals of various locations. Upon dissolution of the greater Presbytery, we reverted back to our previous state of being a Session (lesser Presbytery) overseeing the Societies of various locations and individuals of various locations.
Note, again the language of government and rule used less than a month later (July 12, 2003) in announcing a public fast:
"Dear Brothers and Sisters under the oversight of the RPNA (General Meeting)."
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How could we be exercising oversight unless there was a government and membership?
If one desires to make an issue of the fact that the Letter of June 14, 2003 says oversight over "the Societies" rather than oversight over "the Members", the point should still not be missed that there was stated an (authoritative) oversight by an implied Session comprised of one teaching elder and two ruling elders. But later on, in the same Letter, individual "members" are specifically mentioned where it states that, "The agreement with these Elders was real and substantial and cannot be voided except by the formal separation of each member."
2. "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."
Note, it is stated that the alteration of one Elder’s beliefs, "may variously alter our outward form of government" not "remove all form of government". There is here no denial, but rather an affirmation of an outward "form of government" after the dissolution of the Presbytery.
3. "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."
Note, that the context in which "Ministers and Elders and their associated government" is used, is in reference to our own present circumstance, again indicating that the Letter addresses our present government of Church Officers which implies a Church Court.
4. "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."
Note, this clearly reveals in this Letter that the form of organization to which Pastor Price, Elder Barrow, and Elder Dohms were returning (as stated under point #1 above) was back to a "Session" (although not an ordinary Session in which all of the Officers were in one location, but an extraordinary Session in which the Officers were in different locations).
5. "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)."
Note, that what we are here doing in returning to a previous state as a Session (consisting of one Minister and two Elders) with oversight over Societies and members is not ordinary, but rather "extraordinary." Thus, this is an extraordinary Session as we have stated on many different occasions.
6. "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
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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."
Note, this citation is taken from the Second Book of Discipline, Chapter 7, Section 10, and was cited to demonstrate that even our Scottish forefathers allowed for Sessions that were more extraordinary. The only reason that this citation was placed here was because we viewed ourselves as an extraordinary Session in a similar manner as the Sessions mentioned in the Second Book of Discipline. Even if one believes there is no correspondence between the Sessions mentioned in the Second Book of Discipline and our own extraordinary Session, in all fairness, why would we have cited that example if we were not communicating to all of the Societies and members that we were a Session in some extraordinary sense?
7. "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."
Note, that our prayer was that we might return to a "more settled and ordinary method of governing the church". We used the comparative "more" to indicate that we were presently "governing the church", but we prayed for a "more" settled and ordinary method of governing the church.
8. In light of the above statements from the Letter, it is only fair to interpret such statements in the Letter as not having "an organized Session" or being without "a regularly organized Session" as meaning we do not presently have an "ordinary" Session in one location. A fair reading of the Letter would not have us contradicting ourselves continually throughout the Letter as to whether we were an extraordinary Session or not.
9. We have also noted the objection from some that they did not give their positive consent to be united in membership to any entity after the dissolution of the Presbytery. We explained in our Letter of June 14, 2003 that the membership of those under the inspection of the Presbytery of the RPNA did not cease with the dissolution of the Presbytery but continued. Though the outward form of government had changed in returning to a previous form of government (namely, a Session, albeit an extraordinary Session), the membership agreement of all members remained the same under the same Terms of Communion. We wonder why we have not heard the same argument presented to us in regard to the formation of the RPNA on August 5, 2000? Those who were previously members of the PRCE were recognized as members of the RPNA according to their continued tacit consent by virtue of their original membership agreement to the same Terms of Communion. There was explicit written discussion in the Letter of June 14, 2003 about the continued membership of those who had been members in the RPNA, but no explicit written discussion in the Deed of Constitution of the RPNA about the continued membership of those who had been members in the PRCE. We were consistently following the same principles of membership and membership agreements that had been made in both cases. Those who would argue they were members of the RPNA, but not of the RPNA (GM) are those who are inconsistent in their principles and practice. They accepted membership in the RPNA by their continued tacit consent, but now declare they were not members of the RPNA (GM) because they did not give their positive consent. How can these brethren say that they did not tacitly consent to the government of the RPNA (GM) when they represented themselves to us and others "as members", received our ministry, and actively participated in the ordinances of Christ, especially at the reception of the Lord’s Supper? Their actions clearly indicate their tacit consent, but somehow they would have us to understand that this tacit consent with active participation as members in the ordinances of Christ is not actually an indication of their positive consent to our government and oversight. This position, in our judgment, is not consistent, reasonable, or equitable dealing with us, or the other members of our Church.
10. Thus, we maintain that the Letter of June 14, 2003 accurately describes the authority of the Session (albeit an extraordinary Session), and it also reveals that those who were previously members under the inspection of
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the Presbytery of the RPNA remained members under the inspection of the Session of the RPNA (GM). The fact that the specific name of the entity (RPNA—GM) was not given in the Letter of June 14, 2003 (even though the specific name was privately used by June 28, 2003 in an ecclesiastical divorce found in the appendix to the Position Paper on Sessional Authority and was publicly used in the Announcement of the Fast on July 12, 2003) does not alter the fact that it was clearly stated in our letter that the oversight of the Session continued, the previous memberships continued, the communicant members continued to be recognized as communicant members, and our Terms of Communion were the same. These facts describe accurately our continuation as a lawful Church Court with oversight over our Societies and members.
The Oath The Oath that was sent to the Society in Prince George was essentially reaffirming what every member under the inspection of this Session must affirm and did affirm when joining with us initially: (1) submission to its lawful authority as the Ordinance of Christ, and (2) reception of the Terms of Membership and the Terms of Communion (including all judicial acts and position papers) without any known disagreement. These two points were fundamental to membership in the PRCE (beginning in 1996). These two points were fundamental to membership in the RPNA when we were a greater Presbytery . Furthermore, these two points did not cease with the dissolution of our greater Presbytery, but are presently fundamental to membership in the RPNA (GM) as was made clear in the letter (June 14, 2003) that was sent to the Societies and members after the dissolution of the Presbytery wherein it asks and answers questions related toboth membership and government.
We ask:
"Has the dissolution of the Presbytery fundamentally changed the membership status of those persons who were under its oversight?"
We respond:
"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 maintain that our brethren in Prince George (and it appears many others) have clearly and significantly altered their principles in regard to Church membership, and in regard to their principles of Church government, and we wonder when this change actually occurred and why it took this oath to bring their significantly altered position to light. It is evident that the principles of our recent Position Paper on Sessional Authority were at least practically adopted by the Prince George members approximately 10 years ago, when they extraordinarily covenanted with, and submitted to the rule of an Edmonton Session of Elders (not a Prince George Session). They did not protest at the time of their initial membership, nor did they protest when they were ruled by an extraordinary international Presbytery made up of Pastor Price, Pastor Edwards, Greg Barrow, Lyndon Dohms and David Hart. Are they now saying that their membership with us, even during all that time, was sinful as well? It is difficult to tell, since they have not revealed to us their positive position in any discernable way. Now that we have reverted back to a Session (albeit extraordinary), what has changed? One change since they covenanted with us initially is that Pastor Price has moved somewhat farther away from Prince George. However, we are still the same three elders to which they originally made promises. We can still communicate
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with one another just as easily as we could when we were together in Edmonton. We still can (and do) meet regularly as a Session. It remains to be seen what Scriptural argument they might devise to justify their current position—whatever that might be. To date we hear much criticism of what we, as a Session, positively believe, but what do these disaffected brethren actually believe? Those who appear to be siding with them should take a long, hard look at what they are "not" saying, for they are "not" saying, in any discernable fashion, where they positively stand.
Next, it is stated by the brethren in Prince George that the problem with the Oath is that the Oath imposed by the Session entrapped them because the Session knew they could not swear it.
We testify before God that we did not know with certainty that the brethren in Prince George would refuse the Oath since they had not communicated their thoughts to us about the Position Paper on Sessional Authority even though they were invited to do so by the Session. We affirm, however, that even if a lawful authority knows that one cannot conscientiously swear an Oath that is lawful, it is still not unlawful to impose such an Oath when necessary (especially after the very matter objected to has been carefully explained by arguments from Scripture, history, and reason with sincere invitations to ask questions). Consider the Solemn League and Covenant. Consider especially how this faithful covenant was imposed within the kingdom of Scotland by lawful authority. Did that lawful covenant "entrap" those people who could not conscientiously swear it? Did not the lawful authorities at that time "know" that certain people would not and could not swear the Solemn League and Covenant? Was it then sinful for them to impose that lawful covenant upon the people? Frankly, we are astounded that those who call themselves Covenanters would raise such an objection. Such an objection was precisely that found in the mouths of those of sectarian and independent persuasion. It is not entrapment to enforce that which is biblically sound and morally good. Consider the objections offered by those who believed the Solemn League and Covenant would entrap those who could not conscientiously swear it and the answers to those objections by Mr. Gillespie ("Miscellany Questions—Chapter XVI").
Objection 1 states that no Covenant (or Oath for that matter) ought to be imposed upon men contrary to their conscience:
"The covenant ought not to be compulsory but free. Good things grow evil when men’s consciences are thereunto forced."
To which Mr. Gillespie replies:
"1. An ordinance enjoining the taking of it under a certain penalty were no other compulsion than was used by king Josiah [in 2 Chronicles 34:32, 33—Session] and others [king Asa in 2 Chronicles 15:12,13—RPNA (GM)], yea by this present parliament upon their own members, and upon ministers to be ordained, as is evident by the passages above expressed…. 2. It is no tyranny over men’s consciences to punish a great and scandalous sin (such as the refusing and opposing of the covenant, or a dividing from it), although the offender in his conscience believe it to be no sin [not to take it—Session], yea, peradventure, believe it to be a duty [not to take it—Session, otherwise it had been tyranny over the conscience to punish those who killed the apostles, because they thought they were doing God good service, John xvi.2,3…."
Thus, the imposition of a lawful Oath is not tyrannical even when a severe penalty is threatened and executed against any who refuse to take it.
Objection 4 states that those who are forced to take a Covenant (or Oath) sacrifice their liberty of conscience:
"The army which hath served us so faithfully, and regained our liberties shall by this ordinance [covenant—Session] lose their own greatest liberty, which is the liberty of their consciences."
To which Mr. Gillespie responds:
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"If an ordinance, imposing the taking of the covenant under a considerable penalty, be to the army scandalum acceptum [a scandal taken—Session], the not passing of such an ordinance will be scandalum datum [a scandal given—Session] to the city of London, and to many thousands of the godly and well-affected of the kingdom, both ministers and people, who have faithfully adhered to and served the parliament, and will still hazard their lives and fortunes in pursuance of the ends of the covenant; yea, a horrible scandal to the reformed churches abroad, whose hearts were once comforted and raised up to expect better things."
In other words, it is not only the consciences of those who take offence at the Oath that is imposed upon them that must be considered, but also the consciences of those who impose the Oath as a lawful Court of Christ (who would by consequence deny the Key of government given to them by Christ if they allowed members to refuse an Oath that acknowledges the lawfulness of the Court and reaffirms their membership agreement) as well as the consciences of those members that would be denied a hearing before the Court of Christ against the private sins of brethren that had passed through the stages of Matthew 18 or against the public sins of brethren. It is not the conscience of man that determines whether an Oath should be taken or signed—it is lawfulness of the Oath on the basis of God’s Word that determines whether an Oath should be taken or signed. In the particular Oath that has been imposed by the Session, the substance of that Oath has been defended positively from Scripture, history and reason. We ask, who is practicing an implicit faith? To date, no positive position from Scripture or no refutation of the Session’s Position Paper has been submitted as warrant for refusing the Oath. Who has offered a positive position from Scripture? We have clearly given our biblical reasoning in our Position Paper, but sadly, this is not the case for our brothers and sisters who have rejected the lawful oath imposed upon them. Let the reader carefully judge this point when the subject of implicit faith is raised in this present controversy.
It is not the conscience of a person or the understanding of the person that determines the lawfulness of an Oath, but rather the agreeableness of the Oath to the Word of God that determines whether the Oath is lawful or not. Mr. Rutherford argued against the Arminians and Libertines who made their conscience and their understanding the rule by which to judge what was lawful (and we would add by inference whether an Oath is lawful or not).
"The Arminians tell us, Though the word of God, of itself, and by it self, have power to oblige, yet it actually obligeth no man, except it be understood, and so is believed to be understood, after we use all possible diligence and prudence, for no man is obliged to follow the true sense of the word against his conscience, although it [his conscience—Session] be erroneous; but we think the word of God is both the farrest and nearest, and the only obliging rule, and that the dytement [inditement—Session] of the conscience doth neither bind potentially nor actually, but is a mere reporter…." (_A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty Of Conscience_, pp. 133,134).
The Session fully agrees that matters related to the conscience should not be arbitrarily imposed nor should a lawful Church Court simply demand obedience without Scripture and reason. However, when Scripture, history and reason have been given to support the lawfulness of the authority they have previously exercised and currently exercise, it is not unlawful to impose an Oath affirming the lawfulness of that authority (as confessed in one’s membership agreement) before proceeding to deliver charges in a judicial case.
Next, the matter of an Overture has been mentioned as the Presbyterian way. The Session has no problem with such a method as long as it is understood that when a lawful Church Court (to whom is given the Keys of the Kingdom) deliberates, debates, and determines what is taught in Scripture and supports it with testimony from Scripture, history and reason, it is not offering to the people a mere opinion of the Court—rather the Court is submitting to the people its judgment and gives a period of time to answer questions or to explain its position. If the Court has erred in some way, this also provides occasion to show the court where it has erred. But if members desire to demonstrate an error by the Court, a positive position argued from Scripture must be presented and refutation of the Court’s position from Scripture must likewise be presented. To act as though a lawful Church Court must first receive permission from its members before it can determine what is faithful and
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true would be to invest the membership with the Keys of the Kingdom and the Elders with simply a rubber stamp approval. To affirm that a lawful Church Court must first overture the membership in order to receive permission to rule in various cases is the precise position of those who espouse "independent" principles of Church government. Christ has endowed His Officers with authority to teach and to rule. Every member has his/her right to exercise a private judgment, but only a private judgment that can be defended from Scripture. For Scripture and not conscience is the rule of private judgment.
When the Reformed Presbytery speaks of the Overture as a just and lawful process to follow, it is speaking against the backdrop of the Synod of the RPCNA backsliding from its stated Constitution and Terms of Communion as well as departing from such good and acceptable practices as lining out the Psalms, and forsaking the practice of occasional hearing and voluntary associations without providing biblical argument for these departures. To infer that we, as a Session, have either backslidden from our previous Terms of Communion or have departed from our previous practice is simply not true. The Position Paper on Sessional Authority was not defending an innovation, but was reaffirming what had been previously practiced and acknowledged as lawful by all since 1996 (the lawful authority of a Session over those who consent by membership from even distant locations). Furthermore, we, as a Session, did submit a Position Paper on Sessional Authority that was argued from Scripture, history and reason. In Presbyterianism, authoritative teaching and authoritative government (in other words, the Keys of the Kingdom) belong to the Officers of Christ and not to the members of the Church. It is the duty of the members to give their consent (whether explicit or implicit) to that which is faithfully argued from Scripture. And if there is disagreement with the Officers of the Church, it is the duty of the members to defend their own position from Scripture and to refute the position of the Church Court from Scripture. Otherwise, they (and those who follow them) are simply practicing an implicit faith.
Next, justice in hearing and determining judicial cases that are brought before the Church Court cannot be indefinitely delayed while we wait for months or possibly years for a member to swear the very Oath that summarizes and reaffirms his/her membership agreement. Even if the Oath was not imposed by the Session, the same argument that would free one from taking the Oath (i.e. doubts as to the lawfulness of the Session) would also free one from any judicial process that might bring one before the Church Court. One could exempt himself/herself from judicial process indefinitely by simply doubting the lawfulness of the Church Court. This would be a travesty of justice to any who believed he/she had been injured by another member in the Church. If the Session should acquiesce to this argument after having taken the formal steps to explain from Scripture, history, and reason the lawful reception of the Key of jurisdiction it has received from Christ to bind and to loose, it would deny itself and would prove to be unfaithful to Christ who graciously endowed the Court with the Keys of the Kingdom.
Next, it has been stated that the lawfulness of the Church Court in the Oath is the very matter to be proved from Scripture (in other words, we are begging the question). The Session has offered sufficient proof and evidence (in its judgment) as to the lawfulness of its authority from Scripture, history and reason. The Session has not heard any argumentation from Scripture coming from any who have been given the Oath or from anyone else (either offering another position or refuting the position of Session). How is the Session begging the question in the Oath when it has offered substantiation of its lawful authority from Scripture, history and reason?
Next, some have argued that enough time was not given to consider the Position Paper. Some will think that six months is not enough time. Some will think that a year is not enough time. Some will think that two years is not enough time. In the Session’s judgment, four months was sufficient time to at least raise questions or concerns. It is evident to the Session that during these four months there has been sufficient time for certain groups of people to discuss amongst themselves various questions and concerns about the Session’s Position Paper, and apparently sufficient time to now have a public forum to discuss these issues, but why have these questions and concerns not been brought to the very Session who honestly solicited them? It has been suggested that the forty year period of toleration of certain ceremonial practices by Christian Jews (between the death of Christ and the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.) may provide an illustration of the kind of patience
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we likewise as a Session ought to show toward these brethren whose consciences are offended by the Oath. Matters of the ceremonial law that were tolerated for a time were not moral, but circumstantial (not sinful in themselves, but indifferent), and weak consciences of brethren were allowed to use that which was indifferent by God’s special revelation for that particular time. The lawful authority of Officers and the lawfulness of a Church Court are neither circumstantial nor indifferent and cannot (in our judgment) be likened to that which is circumstantial and indifferent. It would be like saying that the lawful authority of a husband in the rule of his home could be denied for months and years. If the husband demonstrates by biblical argument that he has lawful authority in the home, unless the wife can show from Scripture that such is not the case (and do it quickly), she must submit. And if she questions his lawful authority, she may be called by a Church Court to take an Oath to own her husband’s authority in order to end and settle the dispute. Authority from God is not indifferent, it is moral. Therefore, toleration of that which is morally evil is a sinful toleration and not to be compared to a toleration of brethren with a weak conscience in a period of transition.
Next, there would have been no need to impose an Oath at this time if charges had not been brought before the Court. It was the matter of charges brought to the Court in an orderly manner that placed the Oath before those who received it. Even if the Oath had not been imposed by the Court, those who apparently could not submit to the Church Court as being lawful would yet have found themselves in the same situation once the charges were delivered to them by the Church Court since they would have then had to deny the lawful authority of the Court to rule in the charges brought against them. And again we ask, shall we suspend justice indefinitely because one cannot in good conscience submit to the lawful authority of a Court that has demonstrated its lawful authority from Scripture, history and reason and has not been refuted from Scripture?
The brethren from Prince George have also alleged against the Session that standard principles of due process and of justice have been sinfully denied them by not identifying the plaintiff or the charges brought against them. By not signing the oath and thus excommunicating themselves from the RPNA (GM), these brethren have denied themselves due process. To affirm first by Oath submission to the Court that shall deliver the charges and try the case and reception of the Terms of Membership and the Terms of Communion (a mere affirmation of one’s membership agreement) is not a denial of justice. If one thinks this to be the case, please demonstrate this from Scripture. As a lawful Court we must determine first that the persons filing the charges, and the persons being charged are within our jurisdiction, and presently willing to own and submit to our jurisdiction. If the persons filing the charges or the persons being charged disown the jurisdiction of our Court, what is the point of proceeding with that particular case? If instead, either those doing the charging, or those being charged excommunicate themselves from our jurisdiction, then that self excommunication becomes the essential matter with which we have to deal. Once jurisdiction is determined, and all parties own the jurisdiction of the Court, then the Session would make known the accuser and the accusations to those being charged with sin by the accuser. The defendants would then have their day in Court to face their accuser and to defend themselves against his/her accusations. But why should the accuser and his accusations be revealed to any one who does not intend to submit to judicial process before the Court in answering his/her accuser? Good order is kept, first by determining jurisdiction, then by revealing the charges and the accusers, and then by hearing arguments, and judging the case. If this is not good order, then again we ask whoever disagrees with this procedure to please demonstrate what is sinful about this order. Furthermore, to presume that the Session would not, after determining jurisdiction, reveal the charges and the plaintiffs to the defendants is a sinful presumption. In effect, it is to prematurely pronounce the Session to be guilty of sin without any proof whatsoever. How does the Society of Prince George know that we would not reveal the accusations and plaintiff’s to them? What could they possibly offer as proof to establish that we were not intending to do so, or would not actually do so? This in our judgment is sinful presumption on their part.
Finally, we would comment on the objection that the Oath cannot be taken because there has not yet been a paper on the subject of birth control issued (as was sincerely intended by the Session in the Letter of June 14, 2003 and still is intended though now deferred for over three years). It is argued that to take the Oath would be to practice an implicit faith since the paper on the subject of birth control has not yet been submitted. The Session’s position on this subject has been discussed at membership interviews, in private conversations, and in
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public conversations. Scriptural principles, history and reason have been used to defend the Session’s position against the use of contraception. The Session has always made clear that although it does not know of a specific circumstance in which contraception would be permissible, it is, nevertheless, open to hearing actual cases and judging them case by case from the principles of God’s Word. We agree that a Position Paper on the subject would be helpful. There is a draft of a paper that has been submitted. We simply have not had time to review, revise, or rework it in recent months due to the heavy work load. We do hope to finish this project, but with one full-time Officer now, we can make no promises as to when it might be available. Although this paper would be helpful, one cannot make it necessary to swearing the Oath. For it is not the written explanation of God’s Word that binds our conscience, it is the Word of God itself (whether spoken or written) that binds the conscience. Although every specific situation that may involve contraception has not been discussed by the Session (and will not likely be documented in a paper on the subject), the general position based upon biblical principles, history and reason has been submitted to the membership. If the oral (spoken) position of the Session is biblical, then it is just as binding as that which is written. The General Meeting of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (1888) made the following statement concerning the use of contraception:
"We believe that uncleanness, in all its polluting and debasing forms, is increasing. We fear that many, who are members of the Church, employ means to prevent offspring, using the marriage bed to gratify their lusts, destroying their own lives, and bringing on themselves the wrath of a holy God."
It is significant that these same men were a year earlier a Presbytery while David Steele was still living. It cannot be reasonably supposed that from 1887 to 1888 these men suddenly became convinced that the use of contraception was sinful, destroyed lives, and brought upon those who used it the wrath of a holy God. We have not seen the Reformed Presbytery’s Position Paper against the use of contraception (because we do not believe one was ever written), and yet it seems reasonable to suppose from what is said in 1888 that if in 1887 a candidate for membership confessed to using contraception, he/she would have been corrected by scriptural arguments (whether spoken or written) and denied membership (barring repentance), and if in 1887 a member confessed to using contraception, he/she would have been corrected by scriptural arguments (whether spoken or written) and censured by the Presbytery (barring repentance). We advocate that our Terms of Communion should be as clear and explicit as reasonably possible, and thus they are summarized in six terms. However, it is simply not practically possible, nor is it necessary to write a Position Paper on a multitude of moral questions (whether it be birth control, many other areas of medical ethics, or a multitude of current Sabbath issues, etc.) in order for a Church Court to rule on a particular question. To reason that a Church Court cannot rule without a Position Paper is not only an unscriptural position, but it also puts the court in a practically impossible position. Consider a case where one person in our communion says to another, "I am practicing birth control simply because I can’t afford any children right now." The other person in our communion says back, "Then I believe you are murdering your posterity." Offence is taken and given from both sides, and the case is ultimately brought before the Church Court. Shall the Church Court say, "Well, we have not written a Position Paper on this, and even though we believe that the Word of God says that birth control is a violation of the sixth commandment, nevertheless, without a Position Paper we will not judge this case—now both of you must come to the communion table together"? The problem is obvious. A judgment must be made in real cases, whether we have written a position paper or not. All that is necessary is that the Scripture itself be correctly applied (whether by mouth or by pen) to rule faithfully. And when the principles of God’s Word are correctly applied to the prohibition of contraception, it is not implicit faith to embrace it as a Term of Communion even if it is only articulated by word of mouth. We must distinguish between what is helpful and what is necessary. It is helpful to have a written record of what the Scripture teaches, but it is not necessary to do so in order for a Church Court to rule faithfully on moral questions.
Conclusion We affirm again our sincere love in the bonds of Christ for the brethren in Prince George and for the other members who have had this lawful Oath imposed upon them at this time. We do not despise them or seek
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personal vengeance against them. In fact, our hearts are broken as we consider the joyous fellowship we have enjoyed in days gone by (and do desire and hope for that same fellowship in days to come). We now hear the cry of many to have a public forum in order to discuss the lawfulness of the Session or the Position Paper on Sessional Authority. The Session on June 4, 2006 offered to all the members (including those in Prince George) a fair and reasonable format in which to address questions and left open, at that time, the possibility of a forum in which the Position Paper might be further discussed. Sadly, the brethren in Prince George did not accept our invitation, and now formal charges of sin against them have brought the matter of the Oath and their denial of the lawful authority of our Church Court to the forefront.
The Session realizes the consequences of formally ratifying the self excommunication of those who have refused to sign the Oath. Yes, with much pain and sorrow, we know it may mean that the Church could split over this matter and that possibly our Pastor may not be able to continue to regularly preach to us God’s Word due to having to supplement his income by some other means. But we do not believe such a division can lawfully be laid to our charge as we have presented arguments from Scripture, history and reason to confirm the lawfulness of the Session of the RPNA (GM). Presently, nothing has been submitted from Scripture to confirm the view of these brethren, nor to refute the Position Paper on Sessional Authority. Our consciences are bound by the testimony of God’s Word as presented in the Position Paper. But how can the consciences of these brethren be allegedly bound when scriptural arguments have not even been offered for their positive position or for their refutation of the Session’s position? God alone is lord of the conscience. Again, we humbly ask, who is exercising an implicit faith?
We too will make available to any who request it our correspondence that we have had with the brethren in Prince George since July 2, 2004. We ask for your patience as it may take a while to put all of the correspondence together.
We have a very important question to ask our brethren in Prince George and hope to receive a straight and immediate answer to it.
Have you, our brethren in Prince George, (whether individually or collectively) been in communication with Pastor Derek Edwards since the dissolution of the Presbytery of the RPNA and discussed with him a possible or actual pastoral relationship?
Although we will not reveal the reason at this time for this question, we believe we have good reason to ask it.
We have sought (in the fear of God and out of love for our brethren) to respond to the false and sinful allegations presented against us as a lawful Church Court. God is our witness. We plead with our brethren from the bottom of our hearts to repent of their sin in refusing to own and submit to this lawful Court of Jesus Christ. Since we cannot deny our own authority from Christ, and have determined that refusal to take this lawful Oath that we have required is in fact a notorious public act of self excommunication and sinful separation, we must next (with grief and sorrow) proceed to judicially and formally ratify these evident acts of self excommunication even as we are instructed to do in the Order of Excommunication of the Church of Scotland (1569, emphases added):
"Such offences as fall not under the Civil sword, and yet are slanderous and offensive in the Church, deserve public Repentance: and of these some are more heinous than others—fornication, drunkenness used, swearing cursed speaking, chiding, fighting, brawling, AND COMMON CONTEMPT OF THE ORDER OF THE CHURCH, breaking of the Sabbath, and such like, ought to be in person suffered: But the slander being known, the offender should be called before the Ministry, his crime proven, accused, rebuked, and he commanded publicly to satisfy the Church; which if the offender refuse, they may proceed to Excommunication, as after shall be declared."
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For any to argue that a lawful Church Court cannot both formally accuse one of sin and formally judge the sin that has been committed as a matter of due process is to accuse the faithful Church of Scotland of sin and travesty of justice (and we believe it is to accuse all faithful Church Courts and Civil Courts that have practiced this very principle throughout history). For contempt against a lawful Church Court (which would certainly fall under the category of "common contempt of the order of the Church" as found in the citation above from the "Order of Excommunication") can be brought as a lawful accusation against an individual by the very Court that has been held in contempt, and that same lawful Court can then proceed to correct, rebuke, and censure barring repentance. In the words above found in the "Order of Excommunication", there is no mention at all of any other accusers than the Court itself. There is no mention that the specific Court whose order (or authority) has been held in contempt must pass the case on to another Court to adjudicate. To the contrary, that same Court is to cite the offender to appear before it, to prove to him his crime, to ACCUSE him, rebuke him and to Judge him if he refuses to repent. This is universally recognized jurisprudence. If a lawful Church Court can accuse and judge an individual that shows contempt for the authority of Christ over His Church, then certainly that same Church Court can accuse and judge an individual that shows contempt for the authority of Christ graciously invested by Him in that lawful Court as formal ambassadors and representatives of Jesus Christ (Matthew 18:18-20; John 20:23).
We fervently plead with these brethren to repent of their sin in refusing to submit to a lawful Church Court as presented in the Position Paper on Sessional Authority. We testify that for us to treat these lawful Oaths as nonbinding would be to deny our Offices as lawful and our Court as lawful. This we cannot do without incurring the anger of Christ, the Head of the Church, who has graciously endowed us with these Offices. This is not only a time for these brethren to carefully consider the path they shall walk, but for all of you to do the same. How can you lawfully, before God, excommunicate yourselves by separating from this Church knowing you have neither offered a positive biblical position in opposition to that of the Session, nor offered any biblical refutation of the Session’s position? Remember, dear members, that your conscience is bound by Scripture. Where is the Scripture to support your position or to refute the Session’s position?
God be merciful to us all,
The Session of the Reformed Presbytery in North America (General Meeting)
Pastor Greg L. Price
Elder Greg Barrow
Elder Lyndon Dohms

A reply can be found here.