Wednesday, November 01, 2006

11/1/06, Public Reply to Elders' Response to SPG's "Public Protest and Complaint"

From: Bob S
To: Pastor Greg Price; Elder Greg Barrow ; Elder Lyndon Dohms
Cc: List
Sent: Thursday, November 02, 2006 12:30 AM

Subject: Re: Session Response to "Public Protest and Complaint"

November 1, 2006

To Pastor G. Price, Elder G. Barrow, Elder L. Dohms,

Dear Beloved Brethren,
Thank you for your recent untitled letter of Oct. 28 ‘06, which was in response to the Society of Prince George’s "Public Protest and Complaint" of Oct. 18, ‘06 regarding the Confidential Oath of Oct. 4, ‘06. Although I am a member of the Wash./Vancouver Society and not the SPG, I too was served the oath. Respectfully then, a few hopefully brief, but thorough, comments might in order, regarding three of the topics in your letter. They would be:

1. Excommunication.
2. The circumstances surrounding the call for questions on the PPSA.
3. A brief survey of the "arguments from Scripture, history and reason" in the PPSA.

1. Excommunication: Orderly or Out of Order?

To the best of my knowledge, your quote in your Saturday night response (p.14) of the Order of Excommunication and of Public Repentance (1569) was the first time ever for one of your documents in our circles. Is that correct? Two, in that many people as a consequence might not know too much about this document,or your quote from the section entitled: "Offences that deserve public repentance, and 0rder to proceed thereunto," does it not go on to say immediately after your quote that:
If the offender appears not, summons ought to pass to the third time; and then in case he appears not, the church may discern the sentence to be pronounced (all emphasis added here and below, rpt. PHP, ‘93, p.18)."
It continues, does it not?
If he continues 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. . . .(p.20).
That is, through out the OE, due process of three Lord’s Days is given to proclaim a pending excommunication before it is finally executed (OE, p.20). The only exceptions are for those guilty of the most heinous capital crimes (OE, p.10). The "self excommunications" that you mention in your letter (pp.14,15) do not qualify.

It also goes on to say in the actual Form for Excommunication, regarding the excommunications that result more from obstinacy and impenitience over private sins rather than capital crimes or just public scandalous and offensive sins (the last which is again, what your letter quoted above is about), that:
Therefore, the Sunday after the third public admonition, the minister being before charged by the session of elders, shall thus signify unto the church (after the sermon) . . . (p.33).

"But lest that we should seem to usurp power over the church, or to do anything without the knowledge and consent of the whole body, for this present [time] we delay the sentence, willing, such as have anything to object in the contrary, to propose the same the next session day, or else to signify the same to some of the ministers or elders, that answer may be given thereto; and in the meantime, we will call to God for the conversion of the impenitent . . . (p.36).
The third Sunday, let the first question be proposed by the minister to the elders and deacons, concerning the submission of the obstinate, so oft admonished, as was proposed the second. If repentance is offered, let order be taken, as is said before, with a charge to the church to praise God for the conversion of that brother. If repentance is not offered, then shall the minister expone wherein the person that is to be excommunicated has offended, how oft and by whom he has been admonished, as well privately as publicly; and shall demand of the elders and deacons if it be not so: whose answer received, the minister shall ask the whole church if they think that such contempt should be suffered amongst them. And if then no man makes intercession for the obstinate, the minister shall proceed,and say. . . .(p.41).
My question would be, do we normally see excommunications whether for public or private sins, announced for three Lord’s Days in our circles or do they not seem to be more summary and immediate, if not of the supposed "self" excommunication variety of which nothing whatsoever is found in the OE? Even further, by quoting from the OE, do you intend for us to infer that you plan on following the OE and the three announcements of discipline when implementing excommunications from here on out in the near future?

Thank you for the consideration of these questions.

2. Circumstances: Extraordinary and/or Extenuating?

Also, it seems to be quite plain that one of the chief objections and theme of your letter is that there was four months given for comment and questions on the Position Paper of Sessional Authority of June 4, ‘06, in which time span no comments or complaints were made to you at all regarding this paper (pp.10,11,14,15). Consequently, for people to object now to the oath affirming the paper is a little hypocritical in your judgement.

Yet you do after all, quote Prov. 18:17 in the brief email announcing your intention Oct. 20 to respond as you did Oct 28 to the SPG complaint:

He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him."

So too, in ordinary times, your conclusion would be sound about people only voicing questions or objections to the PPSA after the oath affirming it, was served. Yet as per Prov. 18:17, these are, as we have been told repeatedly, extraordinary times, which means they are necessarily accompanied by extenuating circumstances, are they not? In other words, while your letter demonstrates a pretty close read and awareness of the issues and topics discussed recently on the email list, there was no substantial recognition of the following issues and circumstances in or surrounding the PPSA in our circles:

1. The PPSA is quite obviously not what was promised or prayed for - even to the point of calling a Solemn Public Day of Prayer and Fasting - without the courtesy of any explanation at all for the switch, until arguably your latest. But even if the PPSA supposedly answers the questions of the SPG, there is prior obligation to one’s promise and the need to explain to the sheep the reason for the substitution of the PPSA for a restructuring paper. Neither can we see any substantial change in circumstances now with Elder Barrow going part time, that is a real improvement over the situation at the first of the year when you first called for a restructuring paper.

2. There was a also promise made by Pastor Price two times on the email lists regarding the public fast in his "Pastoral Plea" posts, that there would be a time to talk about all this. "This" being questions about the church, courts, affidavits and our name. And it was not "maybe" or "perhaps" as per the PPSA (p.1). On 3/17/06, partially quoting his of 2/11/06, Pastor Price says:

"By way of clarification:

1. I did not intend to cut off all opportunity for further public discussion indefinitely. I qualified my plea to US all: "There will be a time to address all concerns in a way that will promote our reformation. But for the present....(it. added)""

Again, an unfulfilled promise and disappointment referring to future public discussion of issues of concern to our church.

3. Speaking of email lists and discussions, the real outstanding reason for someone to be wary of asking any questions about the PPSA in the time span allotted, stems from the two unrebuked public scandals on the email lists, the last one of which ended in the summary closure of the PRCE Forum. Dear brethren, when you allow your approved proxies and surrogates to attempt to intimidate, bully or smear any one in a public forum who has an honest question about the church, that sends a message that speaks louder than words. Louder than any ‘honest solicitation’ or request for questions on the PPSA (cp. p.11 in your letter). In other words, not only were the email posts allowed on lists which had elders as either members or moderators, the Colorado visit by an officer to fellowship with the two brethren responsible for the affidavit/hypothetical analogy incidents combined with the doctrine of tacit consent current in our circles as defined by you, the elders, makes it only too clear what is the ecclesiastically correct view in our circles.

In other words, it is to plainly strain gnats and swallow camels, for the private (?) quarrel that brought on this oath, to be at the top of the court’s docket, all the while these two scandals, much less the Colorado visit -to our Mystery Plaintiff of Jan. 26, ‘06? ?- entirely escape any public notice or censure by the "court." Not only that, if our brother from Colorado is the plaintiff, the visit from an officer of the "court" must again be seen for what it is: a gross compromise and conflict of interest.)

Yet if in the green, what of the dry (Lk.23:31)? If the approved proxies of the elders can badger and attempt to intimidate anybody who has an honest question about the church in a public forum without rebuke or censure, how much more do you think it will happen with private questions to the elders? Or better yet, how much more do you think people will think it will happen? That is what is really important, that is what the reality on the street is regarding the climate in our circles for questions, including any on the PPSA. Respectfully your Saturday letter categorically fails to address at all that reality in our circles. Consequently it can not be taken seriously as a response to the issues of the day.

4. Some of us have exhausted the channels of appeal, such as they are, in this group before even getting to the PPSA controversy. The undersigned has gone as society twice to you, the elders, regarding any number of items involving the church by letter on Nov. 28, ‘04 and Jan. 16, ‘05, receiving a letter and a visit in reply on Dec. 10, ‘04 and Jan. 22. ‘05. While a number of questions were on the table, we basically got the runaround regarding the changeover on Oct.31, ‘04 to the new name, the RPNA(GM). (See ‘05,’06 WS Correspondence). Respectfully again, the answers were so unmemorable, I brought them back up in January of this year on the list and was chided for it, if not charged with the crime by another of we know not what (see above) and subsequently abused with an affidavit by a self appointed officer of the court, i.e. a vigilante.

I also personally and immediately objected to the "Tattoos and the Word of God" paper as soon as I became aware of it a week after the sermon it was associated with was posted on the Albany CRPC web site. The reply I received from you gentlemen, was so disheartening in its evasion of the substance of my remarks that I have not bothered to respond it as I said I intended to, until now. The paper was disgraceful enough, but to beg the question and play footsie with the issue as was done in the followup to mine, did not promote my confidence in your competence and objectivity to the material question: "Is vain recreational tattooing, lawful according to the word of God?" (The reader may judge for themselves, if they care to, here: Carnal Graffiti and the Word of God). Consequently I was not in a hurry to work through the PPSA, coming shortly after TATWOG as it did in June, with its own inherent problems (of that more below), and answer the call for questions on it immediately. Besides, the PRCE Forum had not yet been euthanized and there were plenty of "hypothetical analogy" postings to look at and wade through.

5. It also becomes clear if one looks into it, that George Gillespie, the faithful star witness of the PPSA has some contradictory testimony to the prevailing doctrine of congregational consent to excommunications in our circles. Apart from the brief recent mention of the Order of Excommunication and Public Repentance of 1569 in your Saturday letter, in large part one has to rely on the statements attached to the most recent Excommunications of May 17 and 20,‘06. Therein, tacit ‘after the fact’ consent is automatically assumed regarding the lawfulness of an excommunication unless one speaks up. Unfortunately Gillespie seems to say something quite different.

Rather consent must be informed and before the fact (so too, the OE above). An excommunication even if lawful, if not consented to by the congregation, is to be withheld. While a single church has the power of excommunication, when only a few men qualify for elders and can help the pastor and without advice from other churches and pastors, excommunications are not to be performed. That, not to mention, his view of the 7th chapter of the Second Book of Discipline. seems to quite clearly preclude both the June 14, 2003 letter and June 4, 2006 PPSA , which assert implicitly or explicitly that the "particular eldership" referred to is a session. Gillespie rather assumes we are talking about a plurality of ministers. While his Assertion of the Government of the Kirk of Scotland is easily available online, his Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies is not, but it contains four Digressions on Church Power which speak to the question. Consequently the interested reader can find some relevant extracts here: Gillespie on Excommunication.

Conclusion

In other words, we have seen at the very least, approved attempts to suppress public discussion in our circles. We have seen the suppression of contrary evidence to the status quo on at least excommunication. We have tried the route of asking private questions, both as a society and as an individual on serious questions before the church. Suffice it to say, we were not encouraged to do so again when it came to the PPSA and questions on it. Neither respectfully, will we apologize for it. Making brick without straw is not the equitable presbyterian solution (cp. Ex. 5:16).

3. Arguments from Scripture, History and Reason: Valid or Vague, Confused and Unconvincing?

Of course, among the objections to the above, would be one that Gillespie is just an uninspired theologian and his views are not binding as Scripture or our subordinate standards. Which is just the problem. If his views are supposedly insufficient to rebut the arguments of the PPSA, whether on excommunication or not, why pray tell is he quoted so profusely in the PPSA to begin with? Obviously then, his opinion would be insufficient to establish the argument of the PPSA in the first place. But that’s to state the real dilemma with the PPSA.

In other words, while we read repeatedly in your letter of "arguments from Scripture, history and reason (pp.11,13)" the only real appeal to Scripture in the PPSA is to Matt. 18 (pp. 4,5,6,14,15,17,20,22) and Acts 15 (pp.7,8,9), as well as briefly the 6th Commandment in re. to the rule for extraordinary times (p.2) and the 9th commandment when it comes to whether the name of the Session of the RPNA(GM) is lawful (p.23). (There are a number of verses quoted at shotgun random to support the lawfulness of our current name, but more on that later.)

As far as Subordinate Standards go, only the good and necessary consequences of Westminster Confession of Faith 1:6 (p.9) and the Second Book of Discipline 7:10 make an appearance (p.13). That’s it. Rather the PPSA (p.2) largely appeals to "the testimony and judgment of Ministers primarily present at the Westminster Assembly." The ministers quoted from, on Matt. 18 and Act 15, are: George Gillespie, ten times from four different titles, the London Ministers, six times from Jus Divinum, the Westminster Assembly divines, five times from their Answer to the Independents and Samuel Rutherford and David Calderwood twice each from respectively The Due Right of Presbyteries and The True Church History of Scotland.

Yet the glaring - if not damning and devastating - omission and that which really makes one wonders (as the foreign language version of hushmail recently noted) is the complete absence of the Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery or any of the history of Renwick and the Religious Societies in the PPSA. The first is a binding judicial subordinate standard, the second flows out of the 5th Term of Communion. The only reason for this that we can surmise, is the complete absence again, in either of these two sources, of anything like the extraordinary permanent standing "session" we have now, which depending on where you are reading in PPSA Q.1, also has presbyterial and/or synodical powers and qualities (pp.6-11). This though is to presume a plurality of ministers in either case, which we do not have and which has been acknowledged ever since the June 14, 2003 letter and which the 2nd Reformation authors quoted presume in their approved examples. And the PPSA essentially ignores in Q.1.

In contrast to the absence of the Minutes of the RP and Renwick and the Societies, the PPSA in Q.1 touts the example of the Privy Kirk referenced in the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology. But the first is to retrograde and backslide to even before the First Reformation (pp.11,12). The second is not even a judicially binding RP subordinate Standard now or any time soon. The only other supposed historical example mentioned is the SBD 7:10 in which Gillespie again disagrees with the PPSA conclusion (pp.12,13) in his Dispute (NP, p.380, Works, SW, I:178, see again Extracts from Gillespie). Rather a permanent standing session is assumed in the PPSA and asserted in it also for the June 14, 2003 letter (pp. 12-14). Yet we know from RP history that an itinerating minister like Renwick or Steele would constitute a temporary session instead of the permanent PPSA solution. See the RP Minutes of April, 1842 and Oct. 1842 for an example of a temporary session that organized a congregation in Mercer, Pennsylvania, ordained another elder, provided three Sabbaths’ preaching and administered the Lord's supper.

But this example or the like, of historical precedent and binding historical testimony (i.e. the positive and negative exposition of the application of doctrine in practice) is totally missing from the PPSA. Whether implicitly in the June 14, 2003 letter or explicitly in the June 4, 2006 PPSA, the historical alternative and example of a temporary session is never admitted and that of a extraordinary permanent standing session like what we have now, is categorically assumed and presumed in the relentless drive to legitimize it. Why is it that the PPSA totally fails to defend its thesis regarding the lawfulness of the Session of the RPNA(GM) from a constitutional and covenanted basis? As a consequence, how can the PPSA be affirmed by a church that claims a Reformed Presbyterian covenanter heritage, if not that it is the faithful continuing moral person with the same terms of communion of the RP of Steele and Lusk?

As for arguments from reason, it is a total non sequitur, i.e. it does not follow logically, to argue from the statement of the London Ministers and George Gillespie that if a minimum of two officers from one "particular congregation" or "that church where the offense riseth" are sufficient to exercise discipline, i.e. excommunicate, so too this means a minimum of two officers from two very different congregations can administer discipline as per the PPSA in Q.1 (pp.4-6). The conclusion regarding two congregations is not contained in the premise. The London Ministers and Gillespie are talking about a ordinary session, not an extraordinary one which the PPSA is attempting to establish. And as this argument is but one of the early links of a cobbled together chain of arguments, does it not pretty much undercut all that follows behind it? That, without mentioning the two congregations in which the necessary quorum for a "court" are drawn from, are not even neighboring, but thousands of miles away in two different countries. So much for the neighboring congregations of SBD 7:10.

Neither will virtual reality overcome time and space to the point that we shall attend on public worship and accept and administer the sacraments by way of personal avatars and simulacrums. Technology can only supplement, it cannot substitute, for a personal presence and ministry, whether as officers or people in fulfilling ministerial and congregational, moral and social duties one to another. But even if the argument in the PPSA (p.9) that "in this day of the Internet, and modern phone communications," distance has been destroyed and we can transcend time and space to the point we can surmount the scandal of the physical definition and constraint of particular local single congregations and particular single elderships with resident local elders, will we not know it by the fruit?

How many lawfully constituted courts does anybody know of that have no publically stated meetings, no publically and readily available minutes or publically stated or available rules of process and procedure, with this court case being an example at hand? If I may be excused, I know of none. In my previous experience in P&R churches, such was not the case. Your statement in your letter that you "can (and do) meet regularly as a Session (p.9)," is certainly news to me. Of course, respectfully it is clearly not on par with the statement in the PPSA which declares in Appendix B that since " clearly authoritative power is being exercised by the Church Court of the RPNA (General Meeting)" in " an authoritative act. . . . exercised just three weeks after the dissolution of Presbytery" it must be "a lawful court of Christ (pp.33,13)." Am I mad, or was this not done in a corner (Acts 26:26)? Yet I understand that no man might declare himself a minister or an elder on his own say so. Likewise a court.

As for how many lawful and competent courts would supposedly constitute themselves implicitly in a letter like that of June 14, 2003 and then only explicitly state it three years later in the PPSA as if it is were not the job of those who are called to teach, to spell out such implications and necessary consequences right from the start, the possibility of any answer to that question was laid to rest - if not laid waste - by the post last night from our brother from South Carolina.

Likewise if the PPSA is really correct regarding the existence of a extraordinary standing session June 14, 2003 and the "court" was on top of its game, the June 14, 2003 letter by all rights, should have been an announcement of D. Edwards’s excommunication. It was not. The only thing mentioned in it and that quite properly was the lesser excommunication, which a temporary local session historically and properly has been quite capable of administering rather than the alternative extraordinary permanent session of the PPSA. After all, the burden of proof is on the PPSA to demonstrate that its arguments are Scriptural and by good and necessary consequence, not those who read it (pp.9,10). Neither is it ordinarily the place for the people to instruct their officers in that this Saturday letter complains that a positive position was never forthcoming from the SPG and therefore implicit faith is being practiced (pp.8,10,11,15).

As regards the name of the church in Q.4 of the PPSA, this is not the first time that I have addressed the erroneous argument that having the same terms of communion as the RP and the RP(GM) and the CoS(P), is an adequate basis for having the name we do. As I stated in Correspondence of Mar. 18,’06 to Pastor Price, reductio ad absurdum - to reduce the argument to absurdity:

"On the basis of this reasoning - that having the same terms of communion is the only material thing necessary in our name - we suppose the Washington Society could change its name to the General Meeting of the Reformed Presbytery of the Church of Scotland (Protesters) and nobody could complain, however confused in fact they might really be. Which is exactly what it is: confusion."

For that matter, what’s there to stop the now Washington/Vancouver Society from calling itself the Session of the RPNA(GM)? Nothing at all. Names are to distinguish, not confuse or disguise, even among those that have the very same terms of communion.

In other words, how encouraging do you think it is, before the PPSA comes out, to rebut a prima facie ridiculous on the face of it argument like the ToC argument for our church name and then to see it again offered in all seriousness in the PPSA? It tempts one to ask with Pilate, just what is the truth? Or would that be the "essence" or the "well being" of truth?

Now of course, perhaps the email never arrived. Or perhaps one was too busy to read it. That’s fine, but yet regardless, to see an argument of this caliber seriously offered in the main support of our church name is to devastate one’s confidence in the competence of the PPSA to address the questions before it. If not that, the PPSA’s credibility still takes a serious hit. Consequently when the call for questions on the PPSA is made, two things come to mind. One, this question has already been asked and no attention was paid to it; two, chances are somebody is not going to like it being asked it again. That is the real dilemma. That is the status quo around here.

Conclusion

Of course, I suppose that could be said for this whole letter. Yet I trust anyone can discern for himself fact from fiction and truth from error. At the very least there still remain some very large unanswered questions and concerns about the PPSA and the oath, as well this Saturday letter defending both. I trust you can at least appreciate that, even if you will not agree that our excommunications are disorderly and unlawful, the circumstances surrounding the absence of questions on the PPSA in the allotted time frame are both extraordinary and extenuating, while the arguments from Scripture, history and reason in the PPSA are vague, unconvincing, confused and compromised, if not that the absence of any subordinate RP standards in support is devastating to its thesis that we have a lawfully constituted and lawfully named extraordinary permanent standing presbyterian church court among us.

Yet as BB Warfield said, when asked about the possible future of the old Northern Presbyterian Church, which after his death went on to apostatize with the Auburn Affirmation, "you can’t split rotten wood," Likewise again, the arguments for the PPSA are hardly sound and as a consequence the oath cannot stand either. So too, it would seem, the extraordinary and unprecedented Session of the RPNA(GM) in light of our constitutional and covenanted past. You of course, may choose this day what the outcome will be and know full well that there will be blood on your head if you balk at the truth and the "court" insists on having its way and justifying itself at the expense of the people of God and their rights, liberties and consciences.

That is, if jus divinum or divine right presbyterian church government is primarily unto edification, not excommunication, what is expedient is the ministry of the word and its exercise in pastoral oversight and elder visitation first and foremost, with discipline only as the last resort. But in our spread out circumstances we are reduced to sermon readings or recordings for the first and hardly expect the second (again being told in January you were already stretched to the breaking point. We cannot see how things have gotten better, even if the PPSA got substituted for the restructuring proposal). It is particularly aggravating though, that we can definitely count on the last, as in discipline and excommunication.

But again, jus divinum or divine right presbyterian church government is primarily unto edification, not excommunication. That only will I swear to and not the other way around.

Thank you very much,

cordially in our Lord Jesus Christ,
Bob Suden
Washington/Vancouver Society