I. Opening Comments and Background
The Sound of Many Waters
As the third wave of the purge has now rippled through the former RPNA, based upon a refusal to swear the Confidential Oath to acknowledge the Session of the RPNA(GM) as a lawful court of Christ’s church, there are any number of items that provoke further comment. The atmosphere at the moment might appear restrained, if not strained and quiet after a fashion, if not also surreal and ridiculous to put it bluntly. The excommunicated now number twenty nine of approximately eighty eight communicant members. Some have called the purge stalinesque, but there have been and are no show trials. Summary “self” excommunications are the process at the moment for the church to rid itself of any un-members along with all the categorically disorderly and annoying questions regarding due process and/or the "Session" and regardless if anyone still holds to the Reformed Presbyterian terms of communion.
It's all so sweet, simple and loving, however much it just resembles a big arbitrary broom. Evidently that the terms of membership have morphed into something contradictory to the terms of communion in the three years that have ensued since the dissolution of presbytery in Jun ‘03 to the release of the Position Paper on Sessional Authority (PPSA) in June ‘06 does not seem to have occurred to those who mouth those same terms of membership so adamantly as they heap up their summary sentences of discipline and bludgeon the over burdened sheep back into line.
In all this though, a full scale formal critique of the PPSA which supposedly justifies that Session from Scripture, history and reason is still wanting. Not only that, since the remainder of the Charitable Inquiry of the PPSA seems to have been held up by the excommunication of the rest of the signatories, the following remarks on the PPSA beginning with Q.1 certainly appear to be in order, if not the entire paper DV. Beyond even that, the love for and the cause of the truth should and does compel further comment on what is a very poorly argued public position presented by a public body in the name and authority of Christ that necessarily involves the public exile of numerous individuals from the public visible church.
Yet regardless of the appeal in the PPSA to the supposed authority of Christ for its conclusions, Christ also said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (Jn. 10:47).” There are any number of serious inconsistencies and contradictions in the PPSA with the authorities it quotes with approval, the Reformed Presbyterian subordinate Standards and Scripture, if not the common rules of defining terms, valid arguments and good and necessary inference (WCF 1:6), most of which are affirmed in the PPSA as legitimate standards of reference (pp. 2,9,10,12,14). As a consequence without descending to a less than clear conscience and a debased implicit faith, the PPSA can not be owned as it is plainly written. It is that simple. The following remarks through at least Q.1 of the PPSA will spell those out.
Restructuring Promises of the Same?
Of course, any recap to all the above, begins by stating what many others have also mentioned, the PPSA of June 4, ‘06 is not what was promised or prayed for as it was announced on Jan. 1st or Mar. 29th including a forum for discussion, contra the appeal of the PPSA to Act. 15. That chapter specifically includes 15:22-32 and the apostolic example of in person public teaching and preaching the “decrees for to keep” of the council in Acts 16:4, as well as instruction by written letters which was the communication technology of the day equivalent to email. Not only that the public Response to the Prince George Society Protest and Complaint of Oct. 18 from the elders of Oct. 28, ‘06, told us that the PPSA was supposed to be an answer to the questions of the Society of PG dating back to Oct. '04.
Yet while it is possible to change horses in the middle of the stream, due process and good order also indicate the need to explicitly say so. That clearly didn’t happen all the while the paper trail/record is incontrovertible on the original call for church restructuring. It can also easily be argued that the circumstances that provoked the church restructuring in the first place have not disappeared. Which leaves a lot of people back where this all started, wondering just how did the PPSA get substituted for the church restructuring paper. Neither can it be said the current purge is the church restructuring they were promised or led to expect.
Forerunners of the Current "Restructuring"
Or can it be said? There is no denying that early on last year, a future son in law of an elder, (if current hear say is to be believed, though he was not so at that time), was tolerated in his attempt to usurp the authority of a genuine session in requiring affidavits from other communicant brethren in good standing all because the same had asked in a public forum a legitimate question in its own right: “What are the public sins to be confessed in the upcoming public fast of Jan. 21, ‘06?” In other words, the elders in the RPNA(GM) not only tolerated the impersonation of an officer of a church court in the demand for an oath, but also the brother's public harassment by this means of those in the church who had a legitimate question of the elders. (Could it be that they did not institute judicial process against the brother because they realized they had not yet explicitly established that they had a legitimate court and so began then to work on the PPSA? Or perhaps maybe they did institute judicial process, but it was just as confidential as the oath.)
When that fiasco finally fizzled down, the next public scandal revolved around the same brother and another elder favored dear brother who slammed the public email forum six months later with a host of thinly veiled accusations about others in the church who were attempting to “euthanize” the elders. Again, this was at least tacitly approved by the familiar fellowship of a visit with the two brethren in Colorado by the elder, if not the forum was closed down because of the objections to the “hypothetical analogies,” - but not the hypo analogies themselves. Again, those who didn’t fit in with the program or had questions could see how their concerns would be treated, if not by the elders, at least by those approved by the elders. This all again as a backdrop conducive to a “sincere invitation to ask questions” from the elders about the PPSA which after a four month absence of objections - to the surprise of all in light of the preceding events, we are sure - led to the PPSA being included on the items to be sworn to in the oath, which was first tendered Oct. 4, ‘06. The subsequent total refusal of the same brought about the first rash of ten excommunications a month later on Nov. 4, ‘06.
All the Same in the End?
Neither is it sufficient to say, the Society of Prince George or others did after all, refuse to swear the oath to uphold the authority of session of the RPNA(GM) which was only what our brother was attempting to zealously and illegally ascertain on his own in the beginning of the year. One, it most definitely was not the brother’s job to impersonate an officer of a court, in that we are not to do evil that good might come (Rom. 3:8). Two, the issue of the legitimacy of the session had nothing to do with the question per se the SPG raised. Three, the SPG had already asked the elders about the supposed court and the question was on the table and under discussion even before it was casually announced to the church at large by the by in the Oct. 31, ‘04 letter from the three elders in which, for the first time they sign off as “the Session of the RPNA(GM).” That closing salutation which was used then on in correspondence from the elders to the group, was about the extent of the public exposition of the topic until the PPSA in June ‘06. Four, contra the PPSA and what it says about the June 14, ‘03 letter right after the dissolution of the Reformed Presbytery on June 6th and regardless that the same ‘03 letter alludes to the “particular elderships” of the SBD 7:10, even more explicitly it says that Pastor Price can administer the sacraments based upon his ordination/office as a minister or pastor. It further cites the examples of Renwick and Cargill who served communion when there were “no formal Sessions” organized.
The Root of the Split?
As we shall see, this letter of June ‘03 appears to be the fork in the road. The PPSA goes on to develop and extrapolate from the mention in it of the “particular elderships” of the SBD 7:10 and necessarily assume the necessity, much less existence of a court as in the Session of the RPNA(GM), for the authority and basis to administer the sacraments. The disaffected and purged brethren on the other hand reserve comment on all this, if not follow up on the explicit statements of June ‘03 which appeal to ordination and office as the basis for administering the sacraments. While implicitly there was a reference to the power of jurisdiction or a court, explicitly the power of order or one's office as a pastor was affirmed as being sufficient to administer the sacraments.
In other words, it cannot be said that the trumpet gave a clear blast in June ‘03. As a consequence, we have all the confusion of the day. On the one hand the PPSA asserts the necessity and lawfulness of the Session of the RPNA(GM). On the other hand as the June ‘03 letter essentially recognizes, historically at most a temporary extraordinary session was all that was seen as necessary to administer the sacraments in the RP religious societies from Renwick’s day up to Lusk and Steele and the Reformed Presbytery of America. After all, the RPNA and now the RPNA(GM) claim to be the descending moral person and ecclesiastical heir of the RPA, in substance as well as name. Much more, the June '03 letter explicitly appeals to the power of order or the office of a pastor as being a sufficient basis to administer communion without any reference at all to even a temporary session.
Even further, how is it that now a permanent extraordinary session with members not only out of town, but in another country thousands of miles away, can through modern technology “gather together” and “self” excommunicate those who need something more than implicit faith to buy into all this after an extraordinary ecclesiastical limbo and lack of clear and plain teaching on this topic for over three years. Even if the stated position of the PPSA is assumed correct and that only for the sake of argument, the necessity to preach and teach the whole counsel of God on the controverted points has at most been honored in the breach rather than fulfilled. Negligence, if not dereliction of duty, describes the public teaching and preaching ministry of the session of the RPNA(GM) in support of its own lawfulness as a duly constituted court in Christ’s church - this particularly if it is willing to excommunicate over it - and if the PPSA is an improvement on that sad state of affairs and it unfortunately most certainly is, that still does not say much for the PPSA.
II. The PPSA in light of Scripture, History and Reason
Yet as mentioned, instead of the proposal for restructuring, the PPSA is largely concerned to defend the lawfulness and constitutionality of the current ecclesiastical government in the former RPNA or what is now called the RPNA(General Meeting) - the lawfulness of its name being only one of the four questions proposed and answered in the PPSA. In other words, the essential or driving question the PPSA addresses is whether or not the Session of the RPNA(GM) is a lawfully constituted and lawfully named extraordinary presbyterian church court. The PPSA of course, answers in the affirmative and the following, if it is not already clearly apparent, most decidedly in the negative.
The PPSA attempts to answer this question "from Scripture, and from the testimony and judgment of Ministers primarily present at the Westminster Assembly (p.2).” Here too though, the PPSA might seem less than adequate. Its eggs are largely in the two baskets of Matt.18 (at least nine mentions on pp. 4,5,6,14,15,17,20,22) and Acts 15 (pp.7,8,9), though there is a brief introductory mention of the 6th commandment regarding extraordinary times (p.2) and the 9th commandment regarding the lawfulness of the RPNA(GM)’s name in Q.4, as well a shotgun smattering of verses in the same section (pp.23,28). In other words, Matt. 18 and Act 15 are the focus of the paper. The permanent extraordinary session of the RPNA(GM) will stand or fall accordingly.
2. The Subordinate Standards
Of the subordinate standards, the tried and true historic and constitutionally binding statements as to how or what the Scripture is understood to actually say - as opposed to the vague and generic “I believe the Bible” whatever that means - there is only brief mention of the good and necessary consequence of WCF 1:6 (p.9) and Chapt. 7:10 of the Second Book of Discipline (or SBD p.13). In other words, not only does the PPSA only briefly mention one of the Scottish Formularies and one of the Westminster Formularies which is bad enough - if the PPSA is such a stalwart and faithful statement of orthodox doctrine, there ought to be numerous references to the subordinate standards - there is no mention at all of the Reformed Presbyterian Formularies, whether the Informatory Vindication (which is approbated in the Act, Declaration and Testimony as a faithful document), the Judicial Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery in America or even the Shorter Directory for Religious Societies.
Instead of the subordinate standards and RP historical testimony, the PPSA (pp.11,2) quotes from the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology (DSCH&T), regarding the “Privy Kirk," which actually preceded the Scottish Reformation and its Formularies, which along with an appeal to the SBD 7:10, is all that the PPSA will submit for approved historical examples. While there is no doubt we suppose, that the DSCH&T will eventually be accorded the same scholarly respect that the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church receives as a single volume reference source, that the DSCH&T can blatantly replace any real appeal to the subordinate standards, particularly the RP Formularies, is a substantial detraction to the PPSA’s credibility. That is to say, for a church court to appeal in a position paper to a unconstitutional source such as the DSCH&T to “approve” the historical example of the Privy Kirk to support itself in opposition to and studied ignorance of the RP historical testimony to the contrary is both amateurish and censurable.
3. Faithful Witnesses and Expert Testimony
Even further, as above, the weight of the paper is the testimony of certain divines who attended the Westminster Assembly. George Gillespie is chief, being quoted ten times with two quotes duplicated, while Rutherford and Calderwood, a contemporary of the Assembly, are quoted twice apiece. The Westminster divines’ Reply to the Independents in the Grand Debate is quoted five times and the London Ministers’ Jus Divinum is quoted six times, with one passage quoted three times. As we shall see though, all of this, along with the absence of the RP subordinate standards, only means that the expert witness and testimony of the Westminster divines will be appealed to selectively, if not misconstrued and incorrectly applied to the question and situation before us that the PPSA is attempting to justify.
4. Reasonable Arguments
When it comes to reason or logic, the PPSA is a puzzlement. There is a marked lack of and interest in the definition of terms which regardless if intended or not, makes the PPSA appear to be taking advantage of the ambiguity in terms. (There is quite a bit made of the fact that a session is a lesser presbytery, but as the Grand Debate(p.8) put it: “we argue not for names, but things".) Even further the PPSA explicitly considers its arguments to be of good and necessary consequence from Scripture and further asserts it has not seen any conclusive arguments to the contrary (pp.9,10). The reply to this and which the following will attempt to copiously demonstrate, is that the argumentation in the PPSA is often confused or invalid and non sequiturs or erroneous conclusions largely abound.
Even further, it must be clearly stated that the burden of proof is on the PPSA to establish its court - not for those who disagree to necessarily have an alternative of their own - if there is not one already in the RP historical testimony of general meetings, correspondents and societies no matter how diligently it is ignored. Those who innovate or at the least are unable to find much explicit support in Scripture, the subordinate standards and history as seems to be the case in the PPSA, are not on equal level with those standards, nor do those who disagree with their arguments and conclusions need to do more than demonstrate for one that there are other possible scriptural and confessional solutions to the problem one is seeking to address. Again, a reasonable doubt that the PPSA solution is the only possible solution is all that is necessary to refuse what has been essentially demanded of it by the recent loyalty or allegiance oaths: implicit and unquestioning faith.
Petitio Principi Sessional Authority
Some would also quarrel with the PPSA for begging the question, i.e. assuming what needs to be proved, that the Session of the RPNA(GM) is lawful, right at the outset of the paper. While we grant that is the case, we consider the concept of a legal fiction or zero as the name of a - or the - number for “nothing” to be useful and also grant for the sake of argument the use of the term the “Session of the RPNA(GM)” in the discussion of the PPSA without at all denying that the PPSA is guilty of “petitio principi” or persistently assuming what needs to be proved as it haphazardly argues its case from first to last that the Session of the RPNA(GM) is both lawfully constituted and named.
III. The Three Missing Pieces to the Church Government Puzzle of the PPSA
Along with all of the above, it has to be also said that the PPSA fails to lay the necessary groundwork for decisively determining the answer to the questions of the constitutionality and name of the court known as the Session of the RPNA(GM). There is no introductory background or perspective really given. There is only a few brief paragraphs by way of introduction and then the PPSA jumps right into the four questions into which it is divided, with Questions 1 through 3 dealing with the constitution of the court and Question 4, the name of the court along with two appendixes listing various dates when the sacraments were administered, members received and excommunications adjudicated supposedly by the court in question. As a result of this shallow opening, again the PPSA only seems to be trading on the ignorance of its audience in its assertions supporting the lawfulness of the Session of the RPNA(GM).
That which is left entirely out of the picture would be:
1. A brief and positive presentation of just what exactly “jus divinum” or “divine right” presbyterian church government consists of - the essence of it - so that one has something to compare to the extraordinary court the PPSA will argue for.
2. Any real discussion or presentation beyond brief mention of the rule for extraordinary times, even that which most often is recognized in the Westminster’s Form of Presbyterial Church Government. As a consequence one might think that sincere and pragmatic necessity overrules all.
3. Any real or substantial interaction with the Reformed Presbyterian subordinate standards or historical testimony, which is the approved practice and application of the accepted doctrine. As we shall see, arguably our historical circumstances largely and substantially match those of our past with few to no ministers and members spread out over a wide distance, irrespective of the PPSA’s silver bullet of modern communication technology or even airplanes instead of horses. That might seem to make the practice of the Reformed Presbytery and the religious societies in the past extremely relevant, but there is no mention at all of the Informatory Vindication, the Short Directory for Religious Societies or even the Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery, much more the practice from Renwick’s day on of general meetings, correspondence and societies in the PPSA. That absence is one of the chief scandals of the PPSA.
Again, how one understands these topics - or doesn’t, due to the lack of mention in the PPSA of them - determines in large part, how one will answer the questions the PPSA raises. While one might object negatively to its invalid arguments and erroneous conclusions, the PPSA leaves the positive solution totally out of the picture. This, we repeat, is for the obvious reason, that it is contrary to the PPSA's arguments justifying the Session of the RPNA(GM).
1. Presbyterian Government in Ordinary Times
The London Ministers as much say, in the title to their book, Jus Divinum, that presbyterian church government is by divine right. The alternative would be that it is merely indifferent or “adiaphora” which is how Lutheranism or Anglicanism treats the subject. Still, God is not God, if he is not sovereign and as sovereign he has installed the Lord Jesus Christ as the Prophet, Priest and King of his Church. Not only is the way of our salvation, what we must believe or doctrine and how we must worship the very same triune God of our salvation ordained and by divine inspiration and right, so too, the way in which Zion is ruled, the discipline and government of the church, is also ordained and of divine right. It is not an indifferent or ad hoc affair. We may not install, appoint or become ecclesiastical presidents, premiers, prelates or presbyters as we please.
Even further, since Christ is the head and king of his church, presbyterianism is opposed to erastianism where the civil magistrate is the head of the church, as well the papacy, where the pope as the infallible (a blasphemous appropriation of a divine attribute) bishop of bishop rules all of Christendom. So the First Reformation and the Scottish National Covenant (1580). The Second Reformation in the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) Article Two explicitly opposed prelacy or church government by bishops in the plural, as opposed to the Roman singular. Further in the Renewal of the the SL&C 1648 the First Head denies albeit briefly, independency and anabaptism as well as erastianism. The power of church government does not reside in prelatic bishops nor is it given to the congregation or membership at large as in democratic congregationalism. Rather it is given to the officers who are ordained teaching and ruling elders not bishops, contra again prelacy and baptistic independency.
There is also a plurality of elders in the local congregation, who constitute a session made up of at least a minister who presents Christ's Word in sermon and sacraments to the church and a ruling elder representing the people or hearers of the Word, as well as ordinarily there is also a plurality of higher graded courts, from the congregational through the presbyterial to the provincial, synodical/national and ecumenical/international. In short, presbyterianism is the middle ground between popery/prelacy and congregationalism, between the dictatorship of the one or a few and democracy or rule by the mob. It resolves the age old philosophical tension between the one and the many, authority and representation in its resemblance to an ecclesiastical republic where there is grass roots representation in the election of representative ruling elders from local congregations and higher graded courts with a constitution and process for handling questions of doctrine and issues of discipline, along with ordained and called ministers who not only rules in the church courts, but also labors in the teaching, preaching and catechising of the Word of God to the congregations.
Ruling Elders and Higher Courts
Yet it is particularly these last two distinctives as emphasized by George Gillespie in his Assertion of the Church Government of Scotland, ruling elders and graded courts that concern us and the PPSA. (Gillespie is the star witness of the PPSA being quoted ten times, the Assertion four times.) That is, the Church of Scotland was nothing, if it was not presbyterian and Gillespie says in the preface that “in these two things” - the ruling elder and the authority of their presbyteries and synods - “did their great strength lie.” This is important because if these two distinctives of representative and resident ruling elders along with higher graded courts, are the defining characteristics of presbyterianism, much less divine right presbyterianism, the merits of the PPSA come more into focus as to whether it a faithful statement and argument for the extraordinary court it supports. The PPSA will again speak to these distinctives primarily in Q. 1 through Q.3, while Q.4 concerns the lawfulness of the name of the Session of the RPNA(GM).
2. The Ordinary Rule for Extraordinary Times
As for the end of this government and its presbyterian distinctives, Gillespie also says “They who are set over us in the Church have no power given them of Christ which is not for edifying. (Dispute English Popish Ceremonies, NP, p.416).” So too the London Ministers say, “The end or scope intended by Christ in instituting, and to be aimed at by Christ's officers in executing of church government in dispensing the word, sacrament, censures, and all ordinances of Christ, is . . . . the edifying of the Church of Christ (Jus Divinum, rpt. 1995, p.67, emph. in original).” That said though, what is to be done when the ordinary order and government cannot be had, if God is not a God of confusion, but of order, just as he also is a God of edification?
The PPSA only briefly and explicitly mentions the rule for extraordinary times, referring to the Sixth commandment and the need for and right of self preservation, though the whole PPSA is premised on the existence of extraordinary times and a need for an extraordinary church court because an ordinary one is not available. The question comes down to what are the “lawful means” that may be used to support an extraordinary church court such as the PPSA argues for in the Session of the RPNA(GM). It might be helpful then, to look at the rule for extraordinary ordination in the Westminster Form of Presbyterial Church Government (FPCG). It reads: “In extraordinary cases, something extraordinary may be done, until a settled order may be had, yet keeping as near as possibly may be to the rule (West. Confession of Faith, 1997, FP. Publ. p. 412).” Granted the statement as such, has to do specifically with ordination, but it has generally been taken as a statement of the general rule and it acknowledges that presbyterian church government in principle can adapt to its circumstances.
The FPCG will go on in the last section of the Directory for ordination to outline what is to be done in extraordinary times when there were no presbyteries in London to ordain ministers for the people, concluding the first of four sections by saying that “some godly ministers. . . . who, being associated, may ordain ministers for the city and the vicinity, keeping as near to the ordinary rules fore-mentioned as possibly they may; and let this association be for no other intent or purpose, but only for the work of ordination.” That is to say, the exception for extraordinary times is not a carte blanche and the sky’s the limit kind of an affair. As much as possible, the ordinary is maintained and the extraordinary is limited and restrained as much as possible. The ministers were enjoined to only ordain, nothing else. To be sure without a presbytery, other things were also lacking, but there was no permanent ongoing presbytery. They came together for one purpose and one only, to meet the need for ordained ministers.
Now, if the Westminster divines in their FPCG did not know something about extraordinary times and what is permissible, who would? And while they did not have the advantage of modern communication technology, they did have plurality of ministers, even an assembly of some sort, to address more authoritatively issues like those raised in the PPSA. But did they do as our permanent extraordinary session has done? No. Why not? Is it not one thing to occasionally come together for a pressing case of discipline or arguably to administer the sacraments and entirely another to have a permanent extraordinary local court which is not local? We think something could be said regarding this arrangement in the light of the rule for extraordinary times, moreover that as we shall see, practically speaking many times this extraordinary session leaves much to be desired in what it manages to uphold of the ordinary rule for a local congregational court such as a session is. But the respective merits of those arguments in the PPSA will be addressed as they come up in order.
For that matter, James Renwick, one of the most well known ministers associated with the Reformed Presbyterian General Meeting and who had to be ordained overseas in Holland due to the broken state of the Scotch church in his day, said in general a Church in a broken and disturbed state is to follow the ordinary rule as much as possible and support those rules by the extraordinary measures not so common in the ordinary settled state of the Church. In the Informatory Vindication (1687) written a the request of the United Societies, he says,
We distinguish between a Church in a Reformed & settled state, & confirmed with the Constitutions of General Assemblies, & the Civil sanction of Acts of Parliament; And a Church in a broken and disturbed state: In the former, abuses & disorder can be orderly redressed & removed by Church judicatories, but not so in the latter; Wherefore the most Lawful, expedient, & conducible mean, for maintaining the attained unto Reformation, is to be followed in the time of such confusions & disturbances, & that is (as we think) abstraction & withdrawing from such disorders in Ministers, which we cannot otherwise get rectified (“Head IV:III.)In other words again, we see a recognition in the Reformed Presbyterian Formularies that what one may not or normally does not do, in ordinary times when all goes well and there is no need to, in extraordinary times when those normal means are not available, there are lawful exceptions to meet the need in the way of presbyterian church government. Again, in light of the Westminster FPCG, that does not mean anything goes, nor did the rules for extraordinary way of ordination allow for a permanent association and presbytery, but only an occasional court for one thing only, ordination.
An historical example from the Scottish Formularies for an extraordinary measures in extraordinary times while working for the whole ordinary rule eventually would be the office of superintendent in the Fifth head of the First Book of Discipline. In 1560, before presbyteries were set up, but there were kirk sessions in existence, the General Assembly delegated men to supervise and plant kirks till that day sessions and presbyteries could do the whole job. Likewise Gillespie and others admit that in the ancient church, what was accomplished with a presbytery, in Scotland was done by a presbytery and sessions. Gillespie also will say “When the ministry of the church fails or is wanting, Christian people have power to exercise that act of ordination which is necessary to the making of a minister (Dispute, rpt. NP,1993, pp.357,355). In other words, there are exceptions to the rule as noted in the rule itself and even approved examples from presbyterian church history on how extraordinary circumstances and the corresponding needs are met in a presbyterian jus divinum context. We turn next to an even more particular example which is very similar to the circumstances the former RPNA finds itself, but which is decidedly contrary to the PPSA solution to the problem.
3. Historical Testimony/Precedent of the Reformed Presbytery
As mentioned before, one of the possible prima facia grounds that would prejudice one against accepting the solution the PPSA proposes - that of a permanent extraordinary court with officers from two non contiguous congregations from two nations that depending on which section of Q.1 you are reading, seems to operate as either a session, presbytery or an international synod - is the lack of known historical precedent. As for the touted example of the Privy Kirk in the PPSA (p.11), in that it may be and is debatable, exactly what the Privy Kirk did in the brief interlude before the Scottish Reformation, we do know for a certainty that the Reformed Presbyterian Religious Societies from Renwick’s time till Lusk and Steele did not implement the PPSA solution, just as the London presbytery did not. Our subordinate standards, particularly the Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery our namesake give quite the contrary example to the PPSA.
In 1842 the Reformed Presbytery of America in Ohio was requested by some leaving the same ecclesiastical body the RPA had roots in, to organize a congregation in Mercer, Pennsylvania, ordain another elder, provide for three Sabbaths’ preaching and administer the Lord's supper. The request was on February 9th, the court heard it on April 11th and the October minutes tell us that the committee of one minister and two ruling elders met in May with the group. They heard and cleared one ruling elder, a Mr. McElroy, who had been disciplined while in the Old Light Synod, who then joined the court and then heard other cases of discipline. Finishing those,
“the Session agreed that a candidate for the office of ruling elder be now elected; and that the sacrament of the Lord's supper be dispensed on the last Sabbath of May. Mr. Hugh Rainey was unanimously chosen, and on the 27th of May, (the day of humiliation preparatory to the sacramental solemnity) he was examined, approved and publicly set apart to the office of ruling elder.In other words Mr. Rainey and the other local elder Mr. McElroy, never became members of an extraordinary permanent standing court, whether denominated a presbytery or session. When a minister arrived in town, the temporary session was constituted, heard cases, examined for communion and oversaw the administration of the same. Rev. Steele and the two ruling elders from the Reformed Presbytery left town after the above account and reported on all this at the presbytery meeting in the fall of 1842. The next time we ever read of either of these two men is regarding Mr. Rainey in the Minutes of 1886 where his absence is noted and his regrets mentioned at the same (June 2, 1886). At the very least what we have here, do we not, is an approved instance and alternative to the solution of the PPSA wherein standing permanent sessions are instituted?
On the 28th of the same month the session again met, augmented by the co-operation of Mr. Rainey (it. added, Minutes of the RP, Oct. 5, 1842).
Contra the testimony of the DSCH&T on the Privy Kirk, our judicial subordinate standards in the Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery tell a quite different tale. (While we grant that the RP of that day had a plurality of ministers, which we do not and have not had since June 6, 2003, we fail to see the material relevance.) The RP instituted sessions on the spot with local representative ruling elders in residence or appointed them with the assistance of visiting or itinerating ministers who then moved on after the session was disbanded. The complete and total absence of mention of this in the PPSA in light of the historical testimony of the Reformed Presbytery and the oaths of office taken by the officers responsible for the PPSA to that testimony would seem to be enough to justify the charge of incompetency to the question, if not dereliction of duty, as well sustain the charge and obtain a conviction. Yet even before the historical testimony, the arguments of the PPSA are inadequate in the light of reason and Scripture, which that much more condemns the competency, if not legitimacy, of the court responsible for the PPSA.
As the purge in the former RPNA continues on the basis of a loyalty oath acknowledging the lawfulness of the Session of the RPNA(GM) and the PPSA which supports it, a full and formal critique is warranted of the PPSA at the least for the love and sake of the truth. Neither is the PPSA a proposal for church restructuring as was promised, nor can the excommunications be understood to be likewise, though the roots of the disagreement on church government can be traced to earlier events in the church. Neither has the climate in the church been conducive to the asking of and discussing of questions due to the open toleration of the affidavit and analogy scandals by the elders in the church. That SPG or others would not sign an affidavit was immaterial to the discussion at that time in Jan. ‘06 or the current loyalty oath. Besides the issue of the constitutionality of the court was already on the table for discussion after the June ‘03 letter upon dissolution of presbytery by the SPG and others without any substantial answer until the PPSA of June ‘06.
Consequently the PPSA itself can and should be critiqued on the basis of its own appeal to the Scripture, the subordinate standards, history and reason. Even further, that the PPSA fails to mention or properly introduce the fundamentals of divine right presbyterianism, the ordinary rule for extraordinary times and the RP historical testimony and precedent for extraordinary times such as we now have in the RP societies, means that it ultimately fails to adequately equip its readers to reasonably understand and judge the merits of the case argued for in the PPSA. It is this last which we shall turn to next as found in Q.1 of the PPSA.