Saturday, March 10, 2007

3/10/07, "For Your Consideration" - A Response to Yet One More Excommunication In the Former RPNA

Subject: For your consideration

Dear Brethren,

Yesterday I learned that Mr. Price, Mr. Barrow, and Mr. Dohms sent a notice of my excommunication. (I learned this secondhand, since their email did not reach me directly.) While it is the job of elders to pronounce an excommunication, it is the job of the people to execute the sentence. As a result, an important decision is now before you. If I was lawfully cast out, then your duty is to treat me as a heathen and a publican. But if I was not lawfully cast out, then you would be partaking of the elders' sin by treating me in such a manner. It is important therefore for you to be able to answer the question one way or the other with a clear and informed conscience. This point is argued well by Samuel Rutherford, one of the Scottish commissioners to the Westminster Assembly:

"If the people be to execute the sentence of excommunication, that they cannot in faith repute the excommunicated man, as a Heathen and a Publican, and eschew his company, except they be assured in conscience, that he is lawfully cast out: now how shall they have this assurance? The Elders say, he is lawfully cast out, and the cast out man saith, no, but he is wronged." [Samuel Rutherford, Due Right of Presbyteries, p. 40]

This is precisely the case in which we find ourselves: The elders say that I have been cast out lawfully, whereas I believe that I have been wronged. My purpose in writing to you is not to submit my case to the "court of public opinion" as a disorderly body, but rather to inform you all as to my case, so that you may be able to judge properly with informed consciences. I would like to remind you that your Christian duty is not simply to obey the elders without question, shunning my company simply because they said that you should do so. Rather, you have a duty to test their actions and prove them to be correct. If at any time you find them to be in error, then it is your duty to warn and admonish them. Again, Rutherford:

"Conclusion. The members of the visible Church are not mere Lictors [ancient Roman officers] and Executioners of the sentences of the Eldership, 1. Because they are to observe, warn, watch over the manners of their fellow members and to teach, exhort, and admonish one another; and are guilty, if they be deficient in that, 2. Because by the Law of charity, as they are brethren under one head Christ, they are to warn and admonish their Rulers." [Samuel Rutherford, Due Right of Presbyteries, p. 41]

Where is this principle taught in Scripture? The Apostle Paul says that we are to "prove all things; hold[ing] fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21), which we cannot do without an informed conscience. As brethren in the Lord we should be "submitting [ourselves] one to another in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21) without distinction, thus requiring elders to submit unto the laymen as brethren, even as all the members are to submit unto them as elders. This principle is reiterated in another passage: "Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" (I Pet. 5:5).

It seems to me that for any excommunication to be lawful, several propositions must be true:
* The elders who perform the excommunication must themselves be faithful men.
* Those elders must form an ecclesiastical court with the power to excommunicate.
* That court must have jurisdiction over the person excommunicated.
* The excommunicated person must have sinned a sin worthy of excommunication.
* That person must have remained obstinate despite being given the opportunity to repent.
* The ecclesiastical court must have followed the proper procedure in carrying out the excommunication.

In the coming weeks it is my intention to provide you with some information to help ascertain the truth of these statements. These six general statements will be taken up in reverse order, broken down into more specific questions to make the subject matter (hopefully) more digestable. Please keep in mind that if *any* of these propositions is false, then the men performing the excommunication have acted unjustly. Only if *all* of them are true is the excommunication lawful. Thus, as you weigh the evidence I would ask you to consider whether it is possible that a single chink in the edifice exists, since that is all that is needed to nullify the sentence against me.

No doubt many of you already consider me guilty, while many others of you consider me innocent. My request is that you carefully test both sides so that you may come to an informed decision, rather than jumping to hasty conclusions. As we shall see, many of my arguments will apply equally to the cases of other brethren who have been cast out of this church, particularly those who were excommunicated in recent months. Nevertheless, I shall focus primarily upon my own case simply because it is the one that I know best.

Whether you agree with my reasoning to follow, I ask that those of you under the jurisdiction of these men please never forget that your elders need accountability. They, like all of us, are sons of Adam, and therefore they are capable of falling into grievous sin. When and if such a day comes (if it has not already), who will restore them to the truth if no one is willing to question their doctrines, practices, and decisions, and to confront them with that truth?

Your brother,

P.S. If any of you would prefer not to receive any further emails from me on this subject, please let me know, and I will remove your name from the list.