1. Private vs. Public
As has happened previously in the discussion of lawful courts, oaths and discipline in the former RPNA, there continues to be an ongoing confusion about and lack of distinction between the power of order/office and the power of jurisdiction/court, as well as a private and personal ministry as opposed to a public and judicial ministry. (See the Second Book of Discipline 1:3 or Gillespie’s Assertion of the Church Government of Scotland, Part I:II for more on the power of order and jurisdiction).
Yet faithful is as faithful does, in that it is not the personal actions or character per se, but particularly the public preaching and teaching ministry and even more the public judicial actions that have compelled brethren at this time to question whether or not a particular pastor and his ministry, or that of other officers, is faithful.
2. Accountability and Standards
And that judgement is in the light of the Word of God. None of us stand before and ultimately answer to the court of public opinion. We all shall stand before the court of heaven and answer the Lord for what we have done in the flesh and how we have improved our time, talent and opportunities. Ministers even more so, because they minister and rule in the name of Christ and consequently their shortcomings, sins, competency and character reflect more directly on the Lord as per the quote of 1Cor.4:1-5 in the VFM. But that said and notwithstanding, the Scripture is an infallible and perspicuous word from that same court of heaven by the light of which and with a good conscience we are to not only frame our lives, but also private Christians may make a right judgement, non-judicially though it may be, about the character and competency of a minister or officers, as well as a court to which they will submit the care of their soul.
In other words, we are to judge not according to what 1 Cor.4:1-5 might appear to say [as quoted in the VFM, Dec. 25, '06] or in the sense it could be taken, if not wrested out of context, but make a right judgement (John 7:24). While we may not be able to judge the heart which God will judge on that day, we are to judge all things in light of Scripture and no one is above reproach. God is no respecter of persons or members even of presbytery, great or small. Rather presbyters are on that account, even more accountable and woe be unto those who on the basis of this passage think a man or a minister has no one to answer to simply because they are a member of the court or that God gives the keys of the kingdom in doctrine and discipline to elders, instead of the congregation, as in independency. There is no such thing as a professional immunity. When someone comes to those who are called to preach and teach in the church of Christ with a question from the word of God or the subordinate standards and historical testimony - which those same officers have taken a solemn oath to uphold - such as why the contradiction between for instance, the Position Paper on Sessional Authority (PPSA) and those sworn standards, they cannot wave the magic wand of 1Cor.4:1-5 and beg off answering or giving account.
3. The Absence of Approved Examples of Apostolic Teaching
Neither is it enough to chant the usual mantras, of “lawfully excommunications,” “lawful Church Court of the RPNA(GM),” etc. etc and cry down all that has recently revolved around the PPSA as categorically submitted in a “disorderly and sinful manner”and setting “a sinful precedent for further acts of public defiance.” That and taking “steps that have promoted further division within the Church and further public defiance for the lawful Court of this Church” as some have done. Even if those protests are out of order and the argument of necessity and extraordinary times does not apply, previous to all the complaints and questions, as noted before, the PPSA itself appeals to the apostolic example in Act 15 to support its international session. There is also much ado in the excommunication notices about the “decrees for to keep” of Act 16:4 as to the binding nature of lawful sentences from lawfully constituted presbyterian courts, which all parties are agreed to, the question being rather, the lawfulness of the particular court issuing the ecclesiastical fatwas against certain members.
Yet at the same time there has been no corresponding diligence to follow the example in Act 15:22,30-35 to publicly and in person preach, teach and expound by word of mouth the distinctive doctrines and issues contained in the PPSA. Public question and answer sessions should have been and should be taking place even now in Albany and Edmonton at the very least. This is so that if it were possible, not only the court would be established and defended publicly, but also the saints would be established in this conscience binding dogma. (That Act 15 applies to a situtation where there is a plurality of ministers or the existence of a genuine greater presbytery, would seem to be also a prima facie reason that it cannot apply to the situation in the former RPNA or justify the extraordinary session as the PPSA asserts.) Yet we are implicitly told that the absence of all this is the ministry and actions of a faithful minister, if not a faithful court? We respectfully suggest that those who think so, do not know what a faithful public ministry ought to consist of, above and entirely apart from again, the private character of the parties concerned.
We further respectfully suggest that this ignorance is also likely to continue, once again because of that self same public ministry. It has not taught the whole counsel of God on the matter, at least publicly, (regardless if it has been taught house to house privately) and is therefore guilty of blood. To those that think that simply scandalous to say so, we ask just how do they gloss Act 20:20 - 27 to read?
And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, . . . Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.The church of Jesus Christ does not exist in order that we may play an orderly game of musical chairs. Neither is it a social club or an ecclesiastical sandbox. There are serious matters at stake and studiously avoiding them is not an option by a faithful ministry. On the contrary a free and full discussion and exposition of the issue is called for.
If complaint is made that Acts 20 only refers to the gospel narrowly considered, what of 2 Tim. 3:16 & 17 wherein we are told Scripture equips a minister unto all good works? Even the good work of an elder or bishop in Titus 1:9,11 of holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he might be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers - and stop the mouths of the church government naysayers? That we have not seen, though excommunications have flourished and multiplied with perhaps no end in sight (all will have to take the oath in the end or should, if the elders are consistent, no?) Meanwhile a four month cutoff for asking questions about the PPSA is rather a weak alibi as we approach a four year wait for a statement on birth control as promised in June ‘03 upon dissolution of presbytery by the officers in question. To whom much is given, much is required and woe be unto them if they require more from the sheep than they are willing themselves to do.
4. Faithful Ministers According to Our Vindicated Officers
After all, we can still remember a conversation with Pastor Price and Elder Barrow when they were visiting Everson in the fall of ‘98. Pastor Price quoted from the The Fourth Head of the First Book of Discipline, “Concerning Ministers and Their Lawful Election” in regard to a faithful minister:
And last, let them understand that it is alike to have no minister at all, and to have an idol in the place of a true minister; yea and in some cases, it is worse. For those that are utterly destitute of ministers will be diligent to search for them; but those that have a vain shadow do commonly, without further care, content themselves with the same, and so they remain continually deceived, thinking that they have a minister, when in very deed they have none.Not only are those who have been excommunicated now destitute of a minister, we all have been destitute for much longer than that, of a minister who will preach on and speak to the point now in question. Yet the same officer(s) and court are more than willing to excommunicate people on the matter and that promptly. This is faithfulness? Or a shadow thereof? Again, between June 14, ‘03 and June 4, ‘06, as well as after, there has been no real substantial public teaching or preaching on the subject, although the elders began signing their letters as the “Session of the RPNA(GM) on Oct. 31, ‘04. Neither did the Prince George Society or the Washington Society receive any substantial answer to their private questions on the matter at that time. As in one, ‘Why the name change from the RPNA to the RPNA(GM)? Is it only nominal or will there be an implementation of a general meeting in practice?’ Yet when brethren could not and would not sign an oath accepting the PPSA and the court justified therein - the “Session of the RPNA(GM),” - they were subsequently “self” excommunicated. This was done on the basis of “public contempt of the common order of the church,” without any opportunity, other than in the court of public opinion, to defend and clear their name and that before, the public order of the church had really been properly, explicitly and publicly established. (It was after all, extraordinarily, as in implicitly, constituted.) This is the fruit and ministry of a true pastor or elder? Or but an idol in its place? Yet if the RPNA(GM) is a nominal general meeting - and it clearly is - perhaps nominal officers are to go with.
That is to say, regardless of a someone's personal sincerity, we may make an estimation of their public ministry for good or ill and stand by it now and answer for it then. If anyone objects to that, then they at the least simply don’t understand the bare minimum regarding liberty of conscience and private judgment. In other words again, a faithful minister/ministry is not judged solely on the basis of personal sincerity, in that many Mormons or Muslims are also sincere. Rather we have an objective standard in the word, as well the subordinate standards that declare authoritatively and specifically just how the Scripture is to be understood (in marked contrast to the popular vague and general generic affirmation that somebody “believes the Bible” whatever that means), that along with sincerity, establish the bar by which to measure and answer the question. We are to consider a man (or men’s) doctrine publicly published and preached and/or the lack thereof in this instance, along with the judicial decisions, as well and besides one’s personal character, diligence and professed sincerity, however commendable or no that is.
5. Further Contradictions between June ‘03 and June ‘06
From the top again, the June 14, 2003 letter - which granted, does allude to the particular elderships of the Second Book of Discipline 7:10 (which are not extraordinary courts, much more Gillespie, the star witness of the PPSA, and Calderwood, can be shown to consider them greater presbyteries with a plurality of ministers) - even more plainly and explicitly says that Pastor Price can administer the sacraments because of his office as a pastor, not because he is a member of a court, extraordinary or not. It also explicitly mentions Renwick and Cargill who admitted people to the Lord’s Supper as pastors and upon the doctrinal basis of the six terms of communion even at a time when there were no formal sessions in existence.
Yet fast forward to the June 4, 2006 PPSA and we are told that receiving the sacraments means we have implicitly recognized the validity of the permanent international session/court of the RPNA(GM) (pp.13,21), instead of merely acknowledging the faithful office of the pastor administering them on the basis of the six terms of communion. These are two very different things. Still, as a consequence oaths have been served and brethren excommunicated because they cannot in good conscience swallow this contradiction and confusion between June ‘03 and June ‘06 and accept the PPSA and the court it justifies. We ask anyone with eyes, if oaths and excommunications are a faithful way to resolve this contradiction and problem, that discipline and denial are the way of moderation, equity and faithfulness in answering the genuine questions of the flock? Is excommunicating brethren from the visible church because they will not bow the knee and submit by oath to the PPSA and its extraordinary international session, which contradicts not only the June 14, ‘03 letter, but also the historical testimony (doctrine and practice) of Renwick and the Reformed Presbytery, of whom we profess to be the faithful continuing moral person, the work and action of a faithful court, minister and ministry? Pray tell, do tell. We think not.
Further more, we understand that faithful ministers in Reformed Presbyterian churches swear to uphold those same subordinate standards and historical testimony that Renwick and the Reformed Presbytery did, which same standards and historical testimony do not uphold the permanent extraordinary international sessions the PPSA attempts to justify. (If the essence of a session is that of a local congregational court, technology notwithstanding, an extraordinary session can not be constituted or be “in session” when the necessary number of officers needed for a quorum are out of town, long distance phone calls to the contrary.) As should be obvious then and as a consequence, there is no real historical testimony referenced in the PPSA, much more the PPSA is an unfaithful document when judged in the light of the RP historical testimony.
Likewise ministers and courts who publicly profess to uphold both the PPSA and the historical testimony are unfaithful ministers and courts, if not that they are seriously confused. Likewise those who buy into the PPSA, which only demonstrates a shallow discernment and an immature and mistaken judgement that more and more in light of the circumstances seems to be the endemic hallmark and fruit of the preaching and teaching ministry in this church. But that is the responsibility not only of the pulpit, but the ruling elders who are to oversee and supervise the pulpit, particularly if everybody is what they claim to be, a genuine presbyterian session and the RPNA(GM) is but one big congregation. Has that been done?
Respectfully, the answer to the question of what is a faithful minister and ministry in our circumstances is only too painfully clear and has been said before, until there is repentance and restitution made for these public decisions, we can only answer in the negative to the question before the house: Are the officers, whether ministers or ruling elders of the extraordinary permanent international session of the RPNA(GM) faithful? Answer: No, they are not faithful in their capacity as a court in their power of jurisdiction and if they will not promote the truth in all this in their capacity and power of order/office as ministers and ruling elders, then they must also be judged as unfaithful in that regard, whatever their respective merits as private individuals are to their family or the community. That is the sad and sorry state of affairs as things stand now about which so many seem to be confused and deceived.
Still faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Open rebuke is better than secret love ( Prov. 27:4,5). Paul asks the Galatians, “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth (Gal. 4:16)?” After the second wave of excommunications last Saturday night, Dec. 23rd, the total disciplined so far came to twenty [four] out of an approximate total of eighty eight communicant members. The third wave of oaths went out the evening of Dec. 24th with a response due next Wed. Jan. 3rd. The question then, might seem to be will 2 Chronicles 18:16 be the epitaph for this church, where “all Israel [is] scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd?” That, if not Jeremiah 50:6:
My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace?Or will it be Ezekiel 34:6?
My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.We think the answer Scripturally self evident.