Sent: Saturday, November 04, 2006 8:58 PM
Subject: Session Response Nov. 4
"Session of the RPNA (GM)"
Response to Recent Objections November 4, 2006
[Pastor G. Price, Elders G.Barrow and L. Dohms]
Since objections have been raised by some about matters related to excommunication by this Court, we thought it would be helpful to write regarding the manner and matter used by this Court and to respond to these objections/questions. This is not intended to be exhaustive in its content.
1. Why have some who have left the Church not been formally excommunicated?
There are some former Members who have been excommunicated merely by virtue of their own self-excommunication subsequent to their obstinately removing themselves from membership with us. These excommunications occurred during the time in which the Session of the PRCE governed, during the time in which the Presbytery of the RPNA governed, and during the time in which the extraordinary Session of the RPNA (GM) has governed. We believe that the recognition by the Church Court of such self- excommunications is warranted from God’s Word when the apostle John says in regard those who turned away from their association with faithful Churches: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us" (1John 2:19). In the Minutes of the faithful Presbytery called the Reformed Presbytery (in the United States), June 2, 1886, it is stated that that Church Court recognized the sinful actions of unrepentant members who voluntarily dismembered themselves from the Church to be a self-excommunication concerning which the Presbytery deemed no further judicial acts to be necessary:
"That party having excommunicated themselves, no further action in their case by this Court is at present deemed necessary. ‘They went out from us . . . that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.’ ‘We wot that through ignorance’ their sympathies were misplaced to the troubling of themselves and others. But since excommunication is not penal, but disciplinary, we would still endeavor ‘in meekness to instruct those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.’" (Emphasis added)
Note here that the Reformed Presbytery did not think that notorious self- excommunication warranted a necessary, formal, and public declaration of excommunication subsequent to that event. Do our presently disaffected brethren also wish to condemn the Reformed Presbytery in the United States for not following the Scottish Books of Discipline? Will they also say that this Presbytery also failed to do their duty by not handling this process over three consecutive Sundays? Is a formal public declaration of excommunication necessary in all cases? Does Scripture command us to do so in all cases? No, the Reformed Presbytery in the United States didn’t think so, and neither do we think so, especially when self-excommunication cases are notoriously public. If the whole Church is aware of a public defection of one or more of its members, because those members were very vocal in their defection, then a public declaration only
serves to affirm and ratify what everyone already knows—that these persons have excommunicated themselves from our communion.
It is true that some of our Members who dismembered themselves were excommunicated in the past without the same degree of formality as others. In some cases, like the Reformed Presbytery in the United States (cited above), we did not use any further process. After discussing this matter in Session, we decided that although it is not scripturally necessary,to make a public declaration of excommunication in cases where people notoriously and publicly excommunicate themselves (1 John 2:19), nevertheless, for the sake of uniformity of practice, we would start doing so in each and every case so that those who are confused about the necessity of this matter would have no further reason to continually be troubled in this regard. This is now our present practice.
2. Why is the Session not following the specific order laid out in _The First Book of Discipline_ (The Seventh Head, "Of Ecclesiastical Discipline")?
The specific order laid out in the _First Book of Discipline_ is agreeable to the Word of God, and while its specific practices may be altered, and can and should be altered to suit different times and circumstances, the scriptural principles upon which these specific practices are built, remain unalterable.
David Calderwood, a notable Minister of the Church of Scotland, in his Preface to the 1621 Edition of the First and Second Books of Discipline states (emphases added):
"Item, that under the name of discipline is to be understood not only the particulars expressed in these two books, but also the acts, constitutions, and practices agreed upon and recorded in the registers of the general and provincial assemblies, presbyteries, and kirk sessions.
Thirdly, to consider the different conditions of the kirk in her infancy, in her growing, and in her ripe age, and accordingly to accommodate the discipline to practice, as the condition of the time permitted or required, and wisely to distinguish betwixt the kirk's purpose and intention in every particular, and their possibility to perform and practice, as circumstances concurred, or were contrary. As, for example, they intended resident ministers, one or more, as kirks were of largeness, with elders and deacons.
Item, doctors of divinity for schools, assemblies general, provincial, weekly meetings for the interpretation of the scripture, which afterward at Edinburgh the 7th day of July 1579 were judged to be a presbytery; and they abhorred anarchy, oligarchy, and hierarchy; but with great pains and frequent meetings were abuses condemned and order established; so that for lack of ordinary ministers planted, and in that respect lack of lawful assemblies, they were forced occasionally to use superintendents, and visitors of countries: who afterward in the general assembly held at Edinburgh the 4th of August 1590, when presbyteries were well and orderly constituted, were declared neither to be necessary, nor expedient."
We would encourage those under our inspection to read these Books of Discipline, and also to consider carefully whether we ought to read these documents in such a narrow way as to require absolute compliance in all specific details.
What shall we do when we read in the Church of Scotland’s, _The Order of Excommunication_ which states, in the case of a man who is publicly repenting for the crime of murder that:
"the murderer man stand three several Sundays in a public place before the church door, bare-footed, and bare-headed, clad in a base and abject apparel, having the same weapon which he used in the murder, or the like, bloody in his hand…." ("The Order To Receive The Excommunicate Again To Repentance And Society Of the Faithful", _The Order Of Excommunication_, p. 452, David Laing, The Works of John Knox. Spelling changes have been made where deemed helpful).
Now, while we agree that the principle of public repentance is taught in Scripture, is it necessary for us in 2006, to follow every one of these specific directions to the letter? We trust the reader will recognize that our "principles" must agree with our Books of Discipline whereas many judgment calls must be made in regard to the application of specifics to our particular situation, time and circumstances.
Next, we would note that the _First Book of Discipline_ itself, in its section on excommunication, qualifies itself to be alterable in specifics where it states:
"As the order of excommunication and proceeding to the same ought to be grave and slow, so, being once pronounced against any person, of what estate and condition that ever they be, it must be kept with all severity. For laws made and not kept engenders contempt of virtue and brings in confusion and liberty to sin. And therefore this order we think expedient to be observed before and after excommunication."
Note the word "expedient"—which means, doing that which is proper and appropriate under the circumstances. The writers of this section did not say that their specific directions for Church discipline were unalterable in every age, case, and circumstance, but rather that the whole section on excommunication which follows is a combination of scriptural principle mixed with elements of "expediency". To some degree, at least, judgments would have to be made according to particular circumstances.
We urge you to be very wary of those who read, and understand this section otherwise, and turn the alterable expediencies of one age into an unalterable rule for all ages and circumstances. For example—does the Word of God mandate for all ages and times that every excommunication "must" be publicly announced on three consecutive Sundays? If so, where is that found in Scripture? We are not saying that this "expedient" is not "one" expedient way to proceed when processing an excommunication, however, to make it an unalterable rule, irregardless of the state of the Church, time, or circumstance, without specific direction to do so from the Word of God, is to elevate mere changeable expediencies into unalterable laws. This we believe is not right or wise, nor is it the way we believe the framers of these documents intended that their directions were to be read, understood or followed.
Westminster Confession of Faith 1:6 states:
"The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed" (emphasis added).
Clearly true Presbyterian government is based upon a mixture of scripture principles and application of principles to various circumstances. Both are important, and we must not interpret those Subordinate documents that include details of circumstance in such a way as to make every circumstance as binding as the Word of God itself lest we fall into legalism (and bind the conscience by the mere word of man).
In addition to realizing that matters of circumstance (even in Subordinate documents from faithful Churches of the past) are not unalterable, but were stated to be expedient at that time and in those circumstances, _it is important to note some specifics about _The Order of Excommunication. The First Book of Discipline_ was written in 1560 whereas _The Order of Excommunication_ was written in 1569. The fact that _The Order of Excommunication_ was written after _The First Book of Discipline_ ought to alert us to the possibility of some procedural changes (rather than simply being a duplication of everything that is found in _The First Book of Discipline_). If all procedures in excommunication were unalterably presented in _The First Book of Discipline_, there would have been no need for _The Form of Excommunication_. One of those procedural changes that we submit is found in _The Form of Excommunication_ is the procedure used against those who commit public and notorious sins that are slanderous and offensive to the Church.
We have cited below the entire section found in the _The Order of Excommunication__ (1569) entitled, "Offences That Deserve Public Repentance, And Order To Proceed Thereintil." The older spelling of words has been revised to comport with modern rules of spelling for easier reading. Paragraphs have also been numbered for convenience sake.
" 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 no 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. If the offender compeir
[appear—Session] not, summons ought to pass to the third time; and then in case he compeir not, the Church may discern the sentence to be pronounced."
In paragraph 1, the treatment of public scandalous sins by the Court is noted. The order to follow involves citing the offender to appear before the Court to be proved to be in sin, accused, and called to repentance. If there is no repentance, the Court "may proceed to Excommunication, as after shall be declared." There are no steps stated in this paragraph (dealing with public scandalous sins) in which any mention is made of admonitions on three consecutive Lord’s Days.
" Others be less heinous, and yet deserve admonition, as wanton and vain words, uncomely gestures, negligence in hearing the preachings or abstaining from the Lord’s Table where it is publicly ministrated, suspicion of avarice or of pride, superfluity or riotousness of hair or raiment: these, we say, and such others, that of the world are not regarded, deserve admonitions amongst the members of Christ’s body: Firstly, secretly, by one of two of those that first espy the offence, which if the person suspected hear, and give declaration of amendment, then there needs no father process."
" But if he contemn and despise admonitions, then should the former admonisaries [those bringing the admonition—Session] take to themselves two or three faithful and honest witnesses, in whose presence the suspected offender should be admonished, and the causes of their suspicion declared; to whom if then he give signification of repentance, and promise of amendment, they may cut off all farther accusation: But and if he obstinately contemn both the said admonitions, then ought the first and second brethren to signify the matter to the Ministers and Elders in their Session, who ought to call the offender, and, before the complainers, accuse him as well of the crime, as of the contempt of the admonition. If then he acknowledge his offence, and be willing to satisfy the brethren before offended, and the Session then present, there needs no farther publication of the offence."
In paragraphs 2-3, there is noted the Matthew 18 process to follow for less heinous sins that are committed privately. If a lack of repentance continues on the part of the offender, accusations are finally brought before the Church Court.
" But if he declare himself inobedient [disobedient—Session] to the Session, then without delay the next Sunday ought the crime, and the order of admonitions passed before, be publicly declared to the Church, and the person (without specification of his name) be admonished to satisfy in public that which he refused to do in secret: And that for the first. If he offers himself to the Church before the next Sunday, the discretion of the Ministry may take order, as may satisfy as well the private persons that first were offended, as the Church, declaring the repentance and submission of that brother, that before appeared stubborn and incorrigible."
Paragraph 4 continues to describe the process to be followed with those offenders who have been brought before the Church Court by way of the Matthew 18 process. This is especially clear from the fact that the offender’s sin which has been tried before the Court
in private has not yet been made public to the whole Church because in the first public admonition on the next Sunday the offender’s name is not to be specified. These appear then to be the steps to follow for offenders who have been brought through the Matthew 18 process, but not those who have committed public scandalous sins concerning which everyone would already be familiar and already know the name of the offender.
" But and if he abide the second public admonition, when that his name shall be expressed, and his offences and stubbornness declared, then can no satisfaction be received but in public; yea, it may not be received before that he have humbly required the same of the Ministry and Session of the Church in their appointed Assembly."
Paragraph 5 notes that once the offender’s name is made public in the second public admonition that his repentance must also be public
" If he continue stubborn, then the third Sunday ought he to be charged publicly to satisfy the Church for his offence and contempt, under the pain of Excommunication; the Order whereof shall after be declared. And thus a small offence or slander may justly deserve Excommunication, by reason of the contempt and disobedience of the offender. If the offender show himself penitent between the first admonition and the second, and satisfy the Ministry of the Church, and the brethren that were before offended in their Assembly, then it may suffice that the Minister, at commandment of the Session, declare the next Sunday (without compeiring or expressing of the person) his repentance and submission in these or other words:
 It was signified unto you before, dearly beloved, that one certain brother (or brethren) was noted by one or two, appeared lightly to regard the same; and therefore was he and his offence notified unto the Ministry in their Assembly, who, according to their duty and charge, accused him of the same; and not finding in him such obedience as the profession of one Christian requires, fearing that such offences and stubbornness should engender contempt, and infect others, they were compelled to notify unto you the crime and the proceedings of the Session, minding to have sought the uttermost remedy in case the offender had continued obstinate. But seeing that it has pleased God to mollify [soften—Session] the heart of our brother, whose name we need not to express, so that he hath not only acknowledged his offence, but also has fully satisfied the brethren that first were offended, and us the Ministry, and has promised to abstain from all appearance of such evil, as whereof he was suspected and admonished, we have no just cause to proceed to any farther extremity, but rather to glorify God for the submission of our brother, and unfeignedly pray unto him, that in the like case we and every one of us give the like obedience."
In paragraph 6, it is stated that if the offender does not repent after the admonition on the third Lord’s Day he is to be charged publicly to repent under the pain of excommunication. Is it not clear that the procedure to follow under paragraph 1 (in regard to public scandalous sins that are a stumbling block to many) is that the offender is immediately cited to appear before the Session to hear accusations brought against him by the Session for his public sins, and if there is no repentance in that meeting that
excommunication may directly be pursued by the Court? Are not the steps to follow under paragraphs 2-7 (in regard to private sins that are less heinous and that follow the Matthew 18 process) several in number? Paragraphs 6-7 demonstrate that these several steps on three consecutive Lord’s Days do not refer to public scandalous sins (that are mentioned under paragraph 1), but rather refer to private sins that are less heinous and that follow the process found in Matthew 18. For we read in paragraph 6, "And thus a SMALL OFFENCE OR SLANDER may justly deserve Excommunication, by reason of the contempt and disobedience of the offender." This could hardly be said of a public scandalous sin. Furthermore, we note in paragraph 6, "If the offender show himself penitent between the first admonition and the second, and satisfy the Ministry of the Church, AND THE BRETHREN THAT WERE BEFORE OFFENDED in their Assembly…." Here again the first and second admonitions are used only in the context of private sins that involved brethren who brought those matters by way of Matthew 18 before the Court. Moreover, it is stated in paragraph 7, "It was signified unto you before, dearly beloved, that ONE BROTHER (OR BRETHREN) WAS NOTED BY ONE OR TWO, appeared lightly to regard the same…." The case in view here is not one of a public scandalous nature as explained in paragraph 1 above, but one of a private less heinous nature in which the steps of Matthew 18 are followed (where one or two bring accusation against a brother or brethren). Finally, in paragraph 7, let it be observed what is stated, "But seeing that it has pleased God to mollify [soften—Session] the heart of our brother, WHOSE NAME WE NEED NOT TO EXPRESS…." Here once again, it is made evident that the admonitions on consecutive Lord’s Days are specifically tied to those whose offence is private and less heinous rather than to those whose offence is public and scandalous in nature. For the name of this brother who would previously not repent of his sin is still not publicly known after the first public admonition which would not have been the case if he had committed public and slanderous sin that scandalized many.
Therefore, when we come to "The Form Of Excommunication" later on in _The Order Of Excommunication_, we must recognize that there were two different ways cited to proceed with the excommunications of offenders: one for offenders in public scandalous sins and one for offenders in private less heinous sins. By way of introduction to "The Form Of Excommunication" which was used by the Church of Scotland at the formal excommunication of offenders, it is stated:
"After that all admonitions, both private and public, be past, as before is said, then must the Church proceed to Excommunication, if the offender be obstinate. The Sunday, therefore, after the third public admonition, the Minister being before charged by the Session or Elders, shall thus signify unto the Church after the sermon:"
It would appear from the previous distinctions found in paragraphs 1-7 under the heading, "Offences That Deserve Public Repentance, And Order To Proceed Thereintil", that after those admonitions (whether private or public ) as are appropriate to the sins committed (whether public and scandalous sins or private and less heinous sins) have been administered (whether in one step before the Session due to the public and scandalous nature of the sin or whether in a number of steps including three public admonitions due
to the private and less heinous nature of the sin), if the offender refuses to repent, then the excommunication is to be formally declared to the whole Church. In the very section that presented the procedure to use in addressing public scandalous sins and private less heinous sins, admonishment on three consecutive Lord’s Days is only mentioned in association with private less heinous sins that follow Matthew 18 and that eventually lead to excommunication due to impenitence. We believe this is a fair and honest reading of this document. We do not believe that even the Scripture warrants treating all unrepentant offenders in exactly the same way by way of procedure. This is the very difference that Scripture itself makes between the procedures involved in excommunication given by the Lord in Matthew 18 (for private and less heinous offences) and the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 (for public and scandalous offences). This is the reason why the apostle Paul states that the public scandal that was found in the Church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 5) needed to be proceeded against without any unnecessary delay. Certainly, contempt for the public Order of the Church or for the Ordinance of Christ within a lawful Church Court is not the same sin as incest, and yet to show contempt for lawful authority in the Church is equally obnoxious to God (see Numbers 16:1ff) and equally leavening in its effect throughout the Church.
3. Should a lawful Church Court proceed to excommunication if many within the Church will not consent to it?
Mr. Gillespie (in _Assertion Of The Government Of The Church Of Scotland_, The Second Part, Chapter One) states that in cases where the Church will not consent to an excommunication, and divisions within the Church would likely occur, a Church Court with the power of jurisdiction is not to exercise the same. We make the following distinction. It is one thing to temporarily withhold the power of jurisdiction by a Church Court in excommunicating those when order within the Church would yet be maintained, and another thing to entirely deny the lawful exercise of the Keys of the Kingdom to the Court, (which is what our disaffected brethren maintain). When all government and jurisdiction in the Church is denied to the Court by some who have been considered members and yet who will not even reaffirm their membership agreement (thus unlawfully denuding the Court of lawful authority to rule on behalf of Christ over its members), there really is nothing left for the Court to do but to formally declare what the Members have demonstrated by their refusal to reaffirm their membership agreement when lawfully called to do so: to ratify that they have removed themselves from membership. If one was to send an email to the Session that he is not a Member of the RPNA (GM) and does not recognize the Session of the RPNA (GM) and has known disagreement with some of the Terms of Communion of the RPNA (GM), but continued to act as though he was a Member by his association with other Members and by his refusal to remove himself formally from membership, the Session believes it would be absurd to continue to treat such a one as a Member. The Session in excommunicating such a one would only be formally doing what such a one has already stated in writing. Likewise, if brothers and sisters refuse to reaffirm their membership agreement, refuse (without supplying scriptural evidence) to acknowledge the lawful jurisdiction of the Session (which has supplied scriptural testimony), and refuse (without supplying scriptural evidence) to testify that they have no known disagreement with the Terms of
Communion of this Church (which the Session has supplied with scriptural testimony), then the Session formally acknowledges in excommunication what these brothers and sisters have done by way of excommunicating themselves in refusing to reaffirm their membership agreement. Until we see Mr. Gillespie or any other divine wrestle with this specific issue, we will not concede that Mr. Gillespie would have responded that all such disaffected brethren should simply be treated and viewed as Members in good standing merely because there is a group of people in the church who disagree with an excommunication. Such a position would logically lead to anarchy and every man doing what he believes to be right in his own eyes. It would remove all lawful discipline in the Church and the Key of jurisdiction out of the hand of this lawful Church Court. Supremely, this would be to deny the crown rights of the Lord Jesus Christ over His Church. By simply denying the government of the Court, and by merely getting a group of people to object to a particular excommunication, so called Members could sin at will, with impunity. We ask, does this make sense to you? It does not make sense to us. Nor can we see how this would be consistent with our duties and callings as Elders. Such a position would not merely delay an act of jurisdiction, but would deny it altogether which Mr. Gillespie clearly did not intend to teach. Such a position would condemn the judgment brought by God against Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who did not explicitly deny the government and jurisdiction of God invested in Moses and Aaron, but simply wanted to spread the government and jurisdiction of God around a little more evenly (Numbers 16:1ff). We simply do not believe that Mr. Gillespie would have voluntarily allowed his lawful authority from Christ to be stripped from him and the Courts in which he ruled in order to prevent a division within the Church. There is no evidence (of which we are aware) that given the same circumstances in which we now find ourselves that Mr. Gillespie would have treated those who denied all jurisdiction to Christ’s Court as Members in good standing (and especially without any biblical testimony to support their claims).
Related to this issue is that of the right of consent by the Members of the Church. We believe God has given the authority to teach and to govern in His Church to His lawfully called Officers (1 Corinthians 12:28) while the right of consent abides with the Members of the Church (1 Thessalonians 5:21). That consent of the people must always be informed by the Word of God whether it be a before-consent (like that of the brethren in Acts 6:3 who sought ought candidates to serve as Deacons) or an after-consent (like that of the brethren in Acts 16:4 who consented to the decrees delivered to them to keep after the Apostles and Elders in their Synod in Jerusalem had already determined the matter). Whether that consent by the people is explicit or implicit, whether it is a before-consent or an after-consent, it is to be a consent that is based upon the Scripture (as was true of the Bereans in Acts 17:11). And if the people do not consent, they must not simply dissent due to tradition, antiquity, or the mere words of men, they must dissent on the basis of God’s Word to which alone our conscience is bound (James 4:12; 1 Corinthians 7:23).
It has been asserted by some that all excommunications ought to be presented to the people for their consent before they are executed by the Church Officers.
Speaking of the case of the incestuous man in 1 Cor. 5, George Gillespie states:
"Moreover, albeit the Apostle wrote to the whole church of Corinth to deliver the incestuous man to Satan, because the matter could not be otherwise done, but only in the name and with the consent of that whole church, yet he never meant that the common promiscuous multitude should by their sufferages and voices, examine and judge that cause. But, says Calvin, (in his comment on 1Cor. 5:4—Session). Because the multitude, unless it is governed by council, never does anything moderately or gravely, there was ordained in the ancient church (meaning the Apostolic Church) a presbytery; that is, a company of elders which, by the consent of all, the first judgment and examination of things; from it the matter was carried to the people, but being already determined before (English Popish Ceremonies, George Gillespie, p. 377, Naphtali Press, Emphasis added).
Next, we distinguish between cases that follow the process of Matthew 18 (wherein accusations by one member are brought against another member) and cases that are openly scandalous and heinous and follow the words of Paul to proceed directly to excommunication (1 Corinthians 5:3-5), between cases wherein one retains his membership and cases wherein one rejects his membership entirely.
In cases that are publicly scandalous (such as the incest in 1 Corinthians 5), there is no denial of consent by the people as noted above by both John Calvin and George Gillespie—the Session (according to the consent of the Congregation to their lawful Eldership and rule according to their Terms of Communion) makes the first judgment and determination of the case, and then, that determination is carried to the people for an after-consent (whether explicit or tacit).. In cases wherein one removes himself from membership by word or pen, or removes himself from membership by refusing to reaffirm his membership by Oath when called to do so by a lawful Court, the excommunication by the Court is merely formalizing what was done by the person himself who removed himself from membership.
We do not believe that notorious public scandals wherein the Court accuses and judges unrepentant offenders, or self-excommunications wherein one removes himself from membership, require the same process that would be followed with one who retains his membership and submits to the Court (whether he be plaintiff or defendant). When, for example,_The Order of Excommunication_(1569), gives a procedure to follow for public scandalous offenders who refuse to repent, it does not require the same process of public admonishment on three consecutive Lord’s Day as with excommunications that follow the procedure found in Matthew 18. We do not believe that either Scripture or faithful Subordinate documents require a before-consent to all decisions and excommunications by a faithful Church Court. Clearly, an informed scriptural consent of the people is necessary (whether a before-consent or an after-consent—whether explicit or tacit), but a before-consent of the people is not necessary.
4. Can authoritative positions in a Church be faithfully established and used in cases of discipline from one or two verses of Scripture alone?
The full authority of God resides in one verse of Scripture (let alone two or three). One hundred verses of Scripture have no more divine authority than one verse of Scripture. There are not degrees of authority within God’s nature or person. It is all or nothing. It is all of God’s authority or it is none of God’s authority.
"Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him" (Proverbs 30:5).
"And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:4) .
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" 2 Timothy 3:16.
The Lord Jesus Christ defended the resurrection of the dead from a mere inference drawn from the Word of God spoken from the burning bush: "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Matthew 22:32).
Paul defended the duty of Members to supply the material needs of Ministers from a mere inference drawn from a single verse of Scripture from the Old Testament:
"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer [is] worthy of his reward" (1 Timothy 5:17,18).
_The Westminster Confession of Faith_ (1:6) grounds our duty to glorify and obey God not only upon the explicit precepts of Scripture, but also upon the good and necessary inferences drawn from Scripture:
"The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture."
For anyone to lead the people of God to doubt that the faithful exposition of two passages of Scripture (in defending extraordinary Sessional authority) is not sufficient to ground their faith in the infallible and authoritative testimony of God slanders the Lord God Himself who has given us His Word.
5. Can the authority of extraordinary Sessions in exercising the Key of jurisdiction be evidenced in any of our Subordinate documents?
In a recent public email, a case for temporary extraordinary Sessions was made from the Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery in the U.S. (April and October of 1842). If such a temporary Session is extraordinary, is it invested with the Key of jurisdiction? How could it be otherwise in light of what Christ says in Matthew 18:18-20: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye
shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Certainly, the Reformed Presbytery in the U.S. recognized Christ’s authority of jurisdiction invested in this temporary extraordinary Session as well.
The issue we hear from some is that an extraordinary Session that is temporary is lawful, but an extraordinary Session that is permanent is unlawful. Where is such a distinction found in Scripture—that an extraordinary Session that is temporary is lawful, but an extraordinary Session that is permanent is unlawful? We have not seen in the comments of our disaffected brethren such a distinction explained by Scripture or reason.
What we do find in Scripture is that two or three lawfully called Church Officers who meet in the name of Christ (whether it be ordinary or extraordinary, whether it be temporary or permanent) have the power to bind and to loose even to the point of excommunication (Matthew 18:18-20). We submit that whatever our disaffected brethren might use from the Scripture to approve temporary extraordinary Sessions, that same Scripture would likewise approve permanent extraordinary Sessions (unless of course the Scripture limits such extraordinary Sessions to those that are merely temporary). Once we grant that temporary extraordinary Sessions have the Keys of the Kingdom, we cannot limit authority to only those who can meet face to face or to only those that meet temporarily and then dissolve (unless this can be proved from Scripture, which, to date, no one has made known to us).
Furthermore, the fact that extraordinary Sessions met temporarily in such circumstances (as we find in the Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery of the U.S.) does not make unlawful (that is, sinful) extraordinary Sessions that are permanent. If an extraordinary Session met twice in one year and dissolved itself both times, would it be lawful? What if an extraordinary Session met ten times in one year and dissolved itself each time or one hundred times and dissolved itself each time? Would it be lawful? How would that be essentially and morally different from an extraordinary Session that met one hundred times in one year and did not dissolve itself after each meeting? It is not the mere precedent of our godly and faithful forefathers alone that makes something lawful or not. It is God’s Word that determines what is lawful or not. Thus, we wait to hear from our disaffected brethren where in God’s Law a temporary extraordinary Session is lawful, but an permanent extraordinary Session is unlawful. This we do not believe they could ever prove from the Word of God.
6. Doesn’t the Letter of June 14, 2003 demonstrate that there is no lawful Session in the RPNA (GM) to which to submit?
Since this objection has been adequately answered (in our judgement) from the Session’s Letter of October 28, 2006 (with the correction submitted on October 29, 2006), we only address this matter briefly. One particular objection is founded upon the following section of the Letter of June 14, 2003 (emphases added):
"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."
It is asked, "Using the plain and common sense of the words, can a reader be expected to infer that we do not have a Presbytery but we do have a Session?"
What we intended to communicate (as we noted in our Letter of October 28 (29), 2006 is that after the dissolution of the Presbytery of the RPNA, we were no longer an ordinary organized Presbytery and we are not yet an ordinary organized Session (as we previously had been when Pastor Price, Elder Barrow, and Elder Dohms were all in the same location in Edmonton). What we did not deny was that we were an extraordinary Session. This we made clear in our Letter of June 14, 2003 when we stated:
"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" (Letter of October 28 (29), 2006, "Letter of June 14, 2003).
If the explanation of the Session above is denied, we ask others to tell us what our language of changing "back" to what we previously were could possibly mean in the plain and common sense of the words and from a consideration of the history of the PRCE, RPNA, and RPNA (GM)? We want to know from our brethren what ALL of the excerpts from our Letter of June 14, 2003 that we cited and explained in our Letter of October 28 (29), 2006 mean in the plain and common sense of the words if they choose to disagree with the Session who wrote the document in the first place.
"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" (Letter of October 28 (29), 2006, "Letter of June 14, 2003).
A reply can be found here.