Monday, August 20, 2007

8/20/07, More Non Sequiturs from Mr. NS

A Reply to Principium 1643

[links added/updated 10/15/07]

Principium 1643 (P1643) seems to be of fairly recent vintage, first showing up on the radar screen about a month ago to our knowledge. (It used to be found here, but seems to have moved here and is dated 7/8/07.) For us, it printed out at 82 pages with numerous subheadings in two sections that together sprawl almost 40,000 words. (See it here for the pagination referenced in this reply). While some have called P1643 “masterful” and “brilliant”, we are not so minded. Rather as another has said, ‘methinks the brother doth protest too much.’ That, if not the brother is too clever by half. In our opinion, P1643 is a curious, confused and disjointed document regardless if one agrees with it or not. Obviously as below, we don’t, much more we think it a mean spirited and petty diatribe on top of and besides its errors and sidestepping of the real questions at issue, but in that we are party to the controversy, the readers may judge that for themselves after wading through it, if they are up to it.

I: An Erroneous Defence of the Extraordinary Court
The first section (pp.1-52) essentially defends the extraordinary international congregational court of the “RPNA(GM)” which has presbyterial, if not synodical power, authority and jurisdiction. (This is the same extraordinary court which released its official Position Paper on Sessional Authority (PPSA), justifying its existence just over a year ago, on June 4, ‘06.) Its main argument seems to be, in that it lacks any kind of introduction or an explicit statement of its thesis, that the fixedness of officers and members are not essential to either a presbyterian court or church. This from the Form of Presbyterial Church Government found in the Westminster Standards which P1643 quotes a number of times:
“The several congregations in Jerusalem being one church, the elders of the church are mentioned as meeting together for acts of government; which proves that those several congregations were under one presbyterial government. And whether these congregations were fixed or not fixed, in regard of officers or members, it is all one as to the truth of the proposition (FPP, 1997, p.408 as quoted pp. 4, 10,11,25,47, P1643, emph. added).
Unfortunately though, this is irrelevant and a diversion from the real issue that has split the former RPNA, however endemic to the “RPNA(GM)” and its apologists the whole idea is, of asking and answering the wrong question. Rather that before the house and publicly since 11/8/06, is whether the standard historical-grammatical exegesis of Matt. 18:20 ever understands “gathered together in my name” as anything other than two or more officers actually coming together face to face in a fixed stated meeting; that the officers in a given court actually “brush shoulders” with each other, never mind the members of the church or churches over which the court has jurisdiction. It was first asked in direct reply to the query by the elders 11/4/06 (under Section 6) as to where in Scripture, disaffected brethren could find proof for a temporary extraordinary [local] session, but not a permanent extraordinary [out of town] session. Any further comments on Matt. 18:20 have not been forthcoming from the elders that we are aware of, though perhaps as the future son in law of an elder, Mr. NS’s paper should be understood as an authoritative statement of the “RPNA(GM)” position in what seems to be the standard ad hoc/tacit/extraordinary/convenient/expedient/merciful mode of operation that is typical of the organization.

The next question would be whether one can appeal to Acts 15 in regard to the synod in Jerusalem in order to defend one’s international jurisdiction as an “extraordinary” congregational court and at the same time overlook the apostolic example to personally accompany and present the synod’s decree - handwritten we suppose - to the churches and congregations under the synod’s oversight, in that there was no attempt with the PPSA in this regard. It went out by the technology of the day, email and the possibility of a public forum was promised (PPSA, p.1), but promises were all that it amounted to.

In other words, in that P1643 introduces further irrelevant theses, if not repeats the same errors of the PPSA, the P1643 is too little too late, coming as it does a year after the paper and six months after the Oath and the excommunications. The Charitable Inquiry notwithstanding, which P1643 attempts in part to refute, the errors of the PPSA still remain.

II: The Erroneous Root of the Matter
In the second half of the paper (pp.53-82), Mr. NS finds the root of the matter and controversy over the extraordinary court to be found in the public email scandal in the “RPNA(GM)” revolving around questions from the Society of Prince George (SPG) to the elders about the Public Fast Day of Jan. 21, ‘06. This a full year and a half later. At last he finally attempts to explain and exonerate himself and his affidavit, while laying the blame for that scandal on the hypocrisy, intransigence and contradiction of others. Again misrepresentation and a failure to provide the context and background of at least this writer’s correspondence and two, a charge of “habitual mockery” hobble his success to carry the day and vindicate his position.

If brevity is the soul of wit, instead of following P1643's example of, in our opinion, a wearying, mean spirited and long winded exercise in diversion and mischaracterization, we will attempt to at least keep up a pretence of the first, with what we would hope is a much clearer and succinct refutation of its extraneous and irrelevant arguments regarding the court and the origin of disagreement with it in the “RPNA(GM)”.

I:1. Irrelevant Theses, if not Repetition of Errors

P1643, if it does not invent new errors, only repeats the errors of the PPSA. Nowhere does this come to a head so blatantly than the two or three pages under the subsection entitled:

Matt 18:20 “Face to face” necessity? Physical “brushing of shoulders” necessity? Or, paradigm for discipline established extending even to ecumenical councils? Logic’s inescapable application (P1643, pp. 21-23).

It is all there: Appeal to Matt. 18:20 and Acts 15, visible or face to face communion between officers, James Renwick, plurality of ministers and sacrifice over mercy. For that reason, we shall consider a discussion and rebuttal of the same an adequate refutation to the whole of P1643.

Irrelevant Theses
For the record again, Matt. 18 and Acts 15 are the only two Scriptural passages appealed to at length in the PPSA (pp.4-10). (But it is not and never has been the fact that this writer’s beef is that “face to face” fellowship is required of officers and members - that officers actually “brush shoulders” with every member. Although the Charitable Inquiry touched upon this, it was to the end of establishing what is the rule for the normal ordinary congregational court as found in the FPCG which the extraordinary "RPNA(GM)" court is supposed to as closely as possible follow.) Rather historically it has been understood that a church court itself is a meeting together face to face by officers and a brushing of shoulders amongst themselves. It is not that the fixedness of officers or members of a presbytery or a church that is in question, but to be redundant, the fixed nature of a stated meeting of a court- in one fixed geographic place at one fixed time by officers in person. That is the generally understood historical-grammatical reading of Matt. 18:20 where Christ says, “ For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The primary meaning is one of a religious assembly, even judicial, wherein the officers assemble together in person and in Christ’s name. While people can of course, gather together at the basketball game or over the phone, that is not the fundamental meaning and understanding of ‘synagoguing together’.

But that is exactly what the “RPNA(GM)’s” “court” cannot and does not do. And rather than resorting to the constituting of temporary local sessions by an itinerating minister, as per the Privy Kirk, James Renwick or the Reformed Presbytery of America, the “RPNA(GM)” insists upon constituting a permanent session with members that reside in two different countries thousands of miles from each other and far more than a local congregational jurisdiction on the basis of judicially unapproved modern communication technology. P1643 for its part, can only appeal to various examples in such cases that have a plurality of teaching elders and consequently a genuine greater presbytery to attempt to justify this session which is extraordinary not only in the sense of unfixed or out of town members, but also out of town, if not international jurisdiction. (As to whether the extraordinary court of the “RPNA(GM)” has stated meetings, minutes etc.- all of which should be common knowledge and should be taken in hand when the question of expediency, efficiency and competence of the “court” to fulfill its normal duties is to be answered - we find it telling that it was only after the excommunications that any kind of information related to these items was publicly released.)

Which Modern Technology: Telephones or Transportation?
P1642 goes on to argue that since modern technology enables real time communication (evidently based on our anonymous Colorado brother’s arguments, the same who seems to be circumstantially responsible for the recent Lying Lawyer episode), it is ridiculous to insist on a real time physical meeting or even an example from history that would legitimate using such recent technology. Yet the problem remains. The appeal to modern technology is one sided and biased. There is no mention at all on the other hand of the modern technology of transportation which would easily enable the same kind of presentation the council in Acts 15 thought necessary. The technology of that day, no doubt a hand written letter from the synod, was accompanied by the apostles and elders to present the decree in person to the respective churches under its oversight and to preach, teach and answer questions about it again in person. If the synod thought it important in its day, how much more today when travel is that much easier? Of this again, there is no mention in P1643, much less the PPSA. It is a not recognized, much more addressed in either - conveniently - though it is hardly the first time the issue has been raised.

Respectfully though, the elders need to get off their duffs and visit all the societies over whom they claim oversight in the PPSA to preach, teach and answer questions on it, if not at the very least Albany and Edmonton. That is, if the PPSA is such a serious synodical like document as implicitly follows from the arguments in the PPSA from Acts 15. Yet if a visit by the former RPNA elders is not looked forward to as those occasions have been in the past, the elders might have themselves in good part to blame for that. Most, if not all the societies, paid for the visits by elders in the past, so money should not be an issue. Much more the Wash. Society in Nov. ‘04 and Jan. ‘05 asked in its letters to the elders for a clarification of policy and schedule regarding the same, as in whether one trip per year per society should not be seen as too much to ask of the elders. There was no definite written response to the question from the elders, nor anything memorable from the meeting with the elders shortly thereafter, the weekend of Jan.21-23, '05. We did learn however that the birth control paper had been put on hold indefinitely and that maybe telling someone about it in the same forum and format it was first promised would be a good idea, but things went no further than that. Oh happy day.

Instead the SPG where trouble was brewing, went without any visits for two years, while an Edmonton elder, a public person and officer, can only leave town for his private birthday party in Colorado, ignoring a very public meeting all the officers had been invited to in PG the summer of 2006 all the while slandering it as just an occasion to elect maverick ruling elders. Go figure. For our part, we can remember the same elder telling us early on when we joined the church that sometimes being an officer was tough, but you just had to trust the Lord and show up to talk to people. If the SPG was a hostile audience by this time, which the elders had no desire to visit, the call of duty aside, who helped that to happen? If they were on their way out, show up as per form and move on after having done your duty.

Neither is the mention of Renwick anything but telling against the position of P1643. (Nor is it the first time we have heard the complaint.)
I fear that some of these brethren would have kicked Renwick off his horse due to his weakened condition, rather than help him onto his horse when help was needed. In this sense (especially given specific instances of timing), our dissenting brethren have played the role of notorious political opportunists (p.23).
Note well though, the real question is never answered or the significance of Renwick’s example acknowledged. Renwick ministered to how many societies and individuals in his day on horseback, while today with modern communication and modern transportation technology, the “RPNA(GM)” is hard pressed to minister to exactly how many communicant members? According to Hutchinson’s History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (1893) upon the commencement of Renwick’s ministry in 1683 there were approximately 80 societies and 7,000 members (pg.63). That context and background is damning to the assertion above. Before the excommunications in the “RPNA(GM)”, according to our calculations from a 10/2/05 membership list, there were approximately 200 members and 90 communicants. After the excommunications, about 120 members and 50 communicants. That is the real significance of the historical record and testimony regarding James Renwick which both the PPSA and P1643 conveniently/negligently/culpably fail to mention. The appeal to his name and the supposed heartlessness of the disaffected brethren towards the officers in the “RPNA(GM)” is a specious attempt at diversion from the real issue that there is no desire to learn from the past historical record and testimony, much less implement some of those practices in order to alleviate the problems in our day flowing from a spread out people and only a few officers, much more one minister.

When it comes to the quote from Rutherford in P1643 as to how the swarms of believers 40, 80, 160 - or as below, even 1600+ miles if we were to be fair to the prevailing circumstances today - outside of Jerusalem are to be ruled, we are reminded of Zeno’s paradigm regarding Achilles and the tortoise. If the tortoise begins the race first, by the time Achilles reaches the point where the tortoise began, the tortoise has moved ahead. And by the time Achilles reaches that point, the tortoise again has moved - to the point that Achilles can never catch the tortoise. Yet we know that the Church of Scotland did not turn Scotland into one giant presbytery with Edinburgh as the center, just because it was theoretically lawful. Regional if not local presbyteries were formed because that was what was practical and expedient, much more enabled mutual and ordinary duties to be fulfilled. So too it begs the question to assume that if 40 mile outside of Jerusalem, so too 2000 miles outside of Edmonton is not necessarily too far for true presbyterian government to oversee swarms, societies, congregations and churches, in that is 1366 miles from Edmonton to Los Angeles, Ca., while Albany NY or Clemson SC are 1949 miles and 1978 respectively. This all the while the former RPNA does not even have a plurality of teaching elders to begin with, and only two ruling elders, but the historical practice of the past is shunned all the while the benefits of long distance electronic government, are touted and the name of Renwick is brandished to excuse the absence of his practice, much more fruit of his ministry.

But such seems to be the argument of P1643. There is principle and there is practical practice. The "RPNA(GM)" mistakes differences with the last for differences with the former. They are not the same thing and again, if the theoretical apologists for the extraordinary court insist on bringing up Renwick’s name, we think it fair to bring up his practice and point out how far short we seem to fall. Eighty societies versus eight, seven thousand members versus 200. For all our vaunted technology of communication and transportation, we can’t hold a candle to Renwick on or off a horse. Why is that? Is it because the dissenting brethren are the independent burr beneath the saddle blanket? We think not. Rather someone needs to reexamine their application of presbyterian principle and revise said application when the ‘newer is better’ version so palpably fails compared to the historic record of actually having scheduled visits of societies instead of relying on emails and the telephone.

As mentioned above, neither is this the first time the complaint about Renwick has been aired. And while we might not agree with every thing in the Covenant Reformation Offended, the question remains. How is it that the same “RPNA(GM)” teaching elder can appeal to historical testimony for the ongoing and ever growing position papers of the session, but none whatsoever for the court itself? We do not think hypocrisy too strong a term for this kind of picking and choosing when any apology and explanation of the rationale for waiving historical testimony for the court is essentially then left to the future son in law of an elder (or our lying lawyer friend?). The same of which considers the charge of surrogate or proxy elder to be ‘gnawing at a bone (p.61)’. So the disaffected brethren are "opportunists", eh? If anything can be said, it is that they have had some good examples to follow.

Erroneous Appeals to Convenience and Mercy
If nothing else, P1643 appeals to convenience, if not considers the dissent to the extraordinary court repeatedly to be on the order of sacrifice over mercy contra Matt. 12:7 (pp.15,19,22) if not otherwise touting mercy as being fundamental to presbyterianism and by implication the court argued for (pp.5,25,31,39,52,66,79). While the first, we think, speaks amply for itself, the second only reminds us of Samuel Johnson’s famous reply to the American colonists: “How is it that we always hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of negroes?” (That Mr. NS, a self professed southern gentleman, needs to slam the comments of an older lady in the church, Mrs. WF (p.60) when the chief object of his sarcasm, Mr. BS had already sinned profusely in the same regard, might also be seen as hypocritical, if not less than merciful.) The elders of the former RPNA not only took three years to come up with the PPSA, the church is still waiting after four years and counting for the long promised paper on birth control, the “duty” of the June 14, 03 letter from the elders to the church at large. Yet it only took the elders four months to demand the compliance of conscience to the PPSA and through it the court it attempted to justify with the imposition of the Confidential Oath and the summary “self excommunications” following a month later. This after ignoring and being in noncompliance to the apostolic example of Acts 15 which the PPSA explicitly appealed to where the apostles and elders again, accompanied the decree to present it, explain and answer questions on it. Mercy? Surely Mr. NS jests. His proposition is as preposterous as that above in appealing to the name of Renwick as an excuse to cloak the very unRenwicklike actions and government of the “RPNA(GM)”.

In other words, P1643 is correct in its appeal to the gospel of Matthew, but its chapter and verse references are wrong. Instead of Matt. 12:7, they should read, Matt. 7:1-5:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
That, if not Matt. 23:23,24:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
After all, does not the Scripture say, that not many should be teachers for they will be held to a higher accountability (Jm. 3:1)? But what is being required by the “RPNA(GM)” of its members and waived by its officers? Any semblance of being willing to abide by the same constraints that are required of the members? We may wait three years for an explanation of where we are at in church government and four years and counting for the promised birth control paper. They will only wait four months before binding consciences to the PPSA and five to “self excommunicate” those who can’t swallow it. Go figure.

I:2. Too Little, Too Late

Even if P1643 actually does prove its case at this late date, it is too little, too late, coming as it does again more than a year after the original statement of the PPSA, June 4, ‘06. Timeliness is a virtue and part of the due order, process and rule that an extraordinary church court is supposed to hold to as close as possible. But the PPSA, one, has not proven its thesis and on the face of it, is demonstrably and fundamentally flawed in its appeals to Scripture, history and reason. Two, the elders have already and unfortunately committed themselves to the PPSA’s errors by imposing the Confidential Oath and then excommunicating members on noncompliance to that oath beginning on Nov. 18, ‘06. Lawful oaths cannot be sworn to erroneous propositions and papers, even if the same attempt to uphold and support what for the sake of discussion might be a true court.

Consider the following arguments in the PPSA:

In Q.1. we are told that the officers of a congregation “alone in an island” who cannot meet with other officers may appropriate presbyterial powers over things that concern that congregation alone (pp.2-4). True enough, but that has nothing necessarily to do with a “congregation” alone in the N. American continent - whose officers cannot even meet together amongst themselves - never mind with other officers, but who wish to assume presbyterial, if not synodical power over matters pertaining to said continental “congregation”. The proposition is a non sequitur. It does not logically follow.

Again, that Christ in Matt. 18:20 (pp.4-6) sets the quorum for a lawful church court at two or three who are “gathered together in my name” does not guarantee the same of those who are not gathered together in one place in a stated fixed meeting. It is a non sequitur. It does not necessarily follow. If it does, much more in the way of exposition and explanation is needed and that has not been forthcoming. And while it is a given that the Grand Debate and Acts 15 have many things to say about church courts higher than congregational sessions, that does not mean that a extraordinary international congregational court has synodical or presbyterial power or jurisdiction just because it asserts it. Much more the necessary plurality of teaching elders is wanting in the “RPNA(GM)” which is a necessary constituent of a presbytery, the first seat of presbyterial government, as we all have implicitly known since June 8, ‘03 when the “RPNA(GM)” elders informed us that the Reformed Presbytery in North America (RPNA) had been dissolved due to the disagreement and subsequent separation amongst the presbytery over birth control. (If this is not approved historical testimony, however recent, what exactly is it?) George Gillespie though, tells us the same thing in his Assertion of the Church Government of Scotland (Part II: Chapt.3).

The subsequent appeal of the PPSA to the Second Book of Discipline 7:10 in Q.1 (pp.12,13) is also not only erroneous, it is confounded by its own appeal later in Q.2 (p.19) to the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, which is quoted authoritatively as saying the “particular elderships” of the SBD 7:10 were implemented in the establishing of 13 model presbyteries - not sessions - three years after the SBD was written in 1578. Greater presbyteries that is, common not congregational courts.

But whether the Second Book of Discipline 7:10 in the PPSA (or the Form of Presbyterial Church Government in P1643) somehow the salient distinction or what is essentially the undistributed middle term in its argument never gets mentioned. The SBD 7:10 says it is meet that “some of the elders be chosen out of every particular congregation” to belong to the “particular eldership” it proposes. The FPCG speaks of “many elders” over the many congregations of the church of Ephesus (p.408). But the “RPNA(GM)” only has two ruling elders in Edmonton and one teaching elder in Albany. One might think though from the SBD or the FPCG, the approved authorities in the PPSA and P1643, that at least a few more ruling elders might be in order. After all, these are the documents appealed to in their arguments. But like the appeal to Acts 15 (pp.7-9), any real distinction that might upset the applecart is ignored and a less than thorough, if not dishonest analysis of the question takes place. If not again that the fallacy of the undistributed middle term plagues P1643 as it does the PPSA. Historic and authoritative documents are cited, which no one disagrees with, but when it comes to the application or conclusion to be gathered from the quote, the necessary and corresponding point of similarity with the situation at hand is missing or ignored.

For those who see all this regarding ruling elders as incipient independentism/congregationalism, that charge must necessarily include the likes of George Gillespie. While Gillespie is the most quoted author in the PPSA, and his Assertion his most quoted work, somehow quotes like the below do not make it into the PPSA. For its part, P1643 quotes Samuel Rutherford at length and pretty much ignores Gillespie. Perhaps with good reason. Gillespie clearly saw ruling elders as representative of the hearers and integral parts of a court, as did the SBD 7:10 and the FPCG. Gillespie says in Assertion of the Church Government of Scotland:
But how is the presbytery called the church, and why?. . . . Fourthly, Pastors and elders, as they are the ministers of Jesus Christ, so are they the ministers and servants of his spouse the church, 2 Cor. 4.5. From that which hath been said, we may draw our argument in this form: Whatsoever courts do {18.a.} represent the church, these are made up of ruling as well as teaching elders.

But presbyteries, and all assemblies of the church, are courts which represent the church, therefore &c. The proposition is proved thus: Whatsoever courts represent hearers as well as teachers, and the people as well as the ministry, these are made up of ruling as well as teaching elders (all emph. added).

But whatsoever courts do represent the church, these represent hearers as well as teachers, &c. It is plain enough that the church cannot be represented, except the hearers of the word, which are the far greatest part of the church, be represented. By the ministers of the word they cannot be represented more than the burghs can be represented in parliament by the noblemen, or by the commissioners of shires; therefore, by some of their own kind must they be represented, that is, by such as are hearers, and not preachers. Now some hearers cannot represent all the rest, except they have a calling and commission thereto; and who can those be but ruling elders? (Part I: Chapt. IV.)
Ruling elders indeed, “some who are chosen out of every particular congregation” to meet in the common particular eldership according to the SBD 7:10, which elderships were true greater presbyteries and not lesser presbyteries or sessions according to the DSCH&T, which the PPSA itself insists on quoting. But while both the PPSA and P1643 appeal to SBD 7:10 in support of the “RPNA(GM)’s” extraordinary lesser presbytery, the salient dots are not connected between what the SBD actually says and what prevails in the “RPNA(GM)”, two ruling elders in Edmonton and one teaching elder in Albany. There is not even a quorum for an extraordinary (greater) presbytery and a few more ruling elders might seem to be in order however much, it escapes the attention of the PPSA or P1643.

As for the quote regarding the ten congregations in Jerusalem with twenty officers taken from the Grand Debate (PPSA, p.10; P1643, pp.4,48), one might assume, even with unfixed officers that there are proportionately at least two officers per congregation (See G.Gillespie’s argument for proportion and geometry in Assertion of the Church Government of Scotland, Part II: Chapt. IX). The “RPNA(GM)” arguably had three officers for arguably eight congregations or societies, or at least used to (Edmonton, Albany, Pr. George, Wash., S. Cal., S. Carolina, St. Louis and Michigan.) In short, the material cited assumes a plurality of at least teaching elders, if not also ruling elders, but the “RPNA(GM)” has neither on either account. Yet everything that applies to a presbytery ipso facto by its very nature must apply to the “RPNA(GM)”. Go figure. This is essentially to compare crab apples to cranberries and condemn as rebellious and independent those who demur from saying that they taste the same.

When it comes to Q.3 (p.21) and the assertion that by accepting the sacraments administered by the RPNA(GM) officers one is tacitly acknowledging their “court”, the alternative explanation, like that regarding the Privy Kirk is overlooked in Q.1 (p.11,12). Historically in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, temporary sessions constituted locally with out of town officers have been considered adequate to administer the sacraments and adjudicate issues of discipline. The most recent example is found in the judicial Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery of America - which the RPNA(GM) considers itself to be the continuing moral person and namesake of - regarding the presbyterial committee’s visit to Mercer County, Pennsylvania, May 19-28, 1842. (See also the preceding April 1842 Minutes for the request from Mercer County and appointment of a committee to look into the matter.) If the “RPNA(GM)” is not content to follow suit and must break precedent here, it might seem to follow that explicit public announcement to one and all in the church that the extraordinary “Session” is permanent and out of town is in order. That didn’t happen until three years after the dissolution of presbytery in the release of the PPSA on June 4, 2006. But in the mean time, one could very possibly go with the flow and accept the sacraments in good conscience from the one pastor in the former RPNA in that all parties acknowledge the officers are officers, which, when gathered together in one place, historically at least have been able to lawfully constitute a court if necessary. Whether it is the same as the one asserted in the PPSA is a different story, whatever the PPSA retroactively claims for the elders and the administration of the sacraments. Again, that there are even possible historically faithful and orthodox alternative explanations or understandings entirely escapes the PPSA and P1643. Biased though we are, that still seems like incompetence to us.

As for the assertion in Q.4 (p.24) that a name of a church or congregation only indicate one’s agreement with particular terms of communion, to the exclusion of governmental and geographic distinctives, it is unfortunately pathetic, if not also hilarious. Any society, much less individual in or out of the RPNA(GM) who holds to the Reformed Presbyterian Terms of Communion reductio ad absurdum, reduced to absurdity is consequently able to call themselves the “Session of the RPNA(GM)” just as well, if not more than the so called session itself. This is confusion, as well a non sequitur. Names are to distinguish even amongst those with the same terms of communion. If not, all we are left with is equivocation and a desire to nominally cover up what in substance is supposed to be a congregational court, but which actually is a presbytery, if not a synod. But that is exactly what seems to be afoot. A nominal congregational session, extraordinary or not - a lesser presbytery - for starters is given synodical power and international jurisdiction without a plurality of teaching elders in the name of presbyterial government, if not an actual presbytery, ie. a greater presbytery.

But again non sequiturs and confusion are not anything that even a lawful authority can lawfully command others to swear and bind their consciences to, even in defense of a true proposition, which for the sake of discussion we will grant might be a possibility with the court argued for in the PPSA. In other words, while the extraordinary “Session of the RPNA(GM)” might be a lawful court, if it is not highly doubtful, the PPSA has not even begun to prove it lawful, but is itself a monument to the abuse of Scripture, history and reason, at least in what it leaves out, if not also in what it contains. Very real and plausible historical alternatives are overlooked or ignored in the rush to judgement. This is after all, hardly the first time, the church of Christ has found itself in similar circumstances. But those parallels from Renwick’s day to the Reformed Presbytery in America are unmentioned or as in the Privy Kirk, misinterpreted. Yet if we are willing to excommunicate over these distinctions, the absence of mention is inexcusable.

II:1. Misrepresentations
Again, not to be too long, in the second section of P1643, Mr. NS thinks that the roots of the quarrel with the extraordinary court are to be found in the public email discussion which ensued after the SPG asked what were the public sins that were to be confessed on such a public fast day. In that Mr. NS misquotes or misrepresents Mr. BS’s comments and since the undersigned is the party in question, it might plausibly be concluded that we might have something to say about the matter.

1. On Jan. 9, '06 the PGS asked two question of the elders and the first regarding the public sins to be confessed, was the thrust in length and emphasis in their correspondence, consisting as it did of - as Mr. BS told Mr. NS publicly Feb. 10, '06 - “a page and a half out of a total of three pages vs. two paragraphs or a third of a page on restructuring, church government.” This, contra Mr. NS’s assertion in P1643 that the church government was the core and central issue and that Mr. BS was in "perfect agreement" with him on that (pp.61,62). Granted church government and restructuring was part of the mix, but a public fast day is in regard to public sins, not private sins and it essentially remains an unanswered question to this day as what are the public sins to be confessed at such a day then and now in the “RPNA(GM)”. Rather again, P1643 is too little, too late coming as it does a year and a half after this incident in attempting for the first time to spell out specifically what Mr. NS found objectionable in the SPG’s request, but which he could not and would not do when requested at the time. Yet we were supposed to implicitly trust his judgement and acquiesce in his demand of an affidavit from the SPG affirming the following questions:
1. Do you explicitly, fully, and cheerfully own the present extension of ecclesiastical government (known as the RPNA) as a lawful, faithful, and judicial court of Christ Jesus – agreeable to Biblical/Historical Presbyterian Church-government -- extending its authority over you in matters of morals, and good order, or not? Yes or no.
2. Do you own Mr. BS’s questions, assertions, and/or reasonings as having any basis or legitimacy? Yes or no.
3. If so, would you be willing to sign an affidavit to this effect (re: 1 or 2)? Yes or no (Mr. NS to list on Jan. 1, '07 as quoted in P1643, p.63).
In that we had been in a state of ecclesiastical limbo land regarding church government with only the confusing statement of June 14, ‘03 from the remaining elders, which affirmed a couple of different things at the same time to go on, neither could Mr. NS at the time correctly summarize the SPG’s concerns and comments - at the very least in our opinion - nor did he attempt to do so regarding Mr. BS’s own “very definite public statements”, but begged off anyway on Jan, 30, '06, one could not be sure what one was signing an affidavit to or for and the wisest thing to do, was to turn it down. The members of the SPG were not under censure and were allowed to the communion table at the Edmonton conference in 2005 so unless Mr. NS can present some compelling reasons otherwise, one is just as free to turn down his affidavit as he insists he is to present it. Mr. NS of course, will think otherwise, but again a year and a half is a long time to wait for someone to explain themself, if it is all so easy, obvious and readily apparent to the unjaundiced eye. At the time he was not half so forthcoming as we find him in P1643. We trust though, he will be just as patient waiting for us to sign his affidavit, as we have been waiting for his explanation a full year and a half later. Somehow we don’t think that will happen, but what do we know?

2. P1643 also quotes out of context my remark - Mr. BS - that:
“It assumes a court exists when that is exactly the bone of contention between the SPG and the elders ever since July 2, 2004 ( pp.69,74)”.
This from an email to list of Oct. 24, '06. This to support again his assertion that questioning the court was of the essence of the SPG request for clarification of the public sins to be confessed in the public fast of Jan. 21 and that I concurred with this opinion. Rather the comment is from mine following the oath of Oct. 4th, much more the release of some of the correspondence between the elders and the SPG by the SPG earlier that same day, Oct. 24th. But in Jan. '06, when the public email discussion took place surrounding the Fast day and Mr. NS's affidavit - which is the relevant time frame - while I knew there was a discussion between the elders and the SPG, I was not privy to the correspondence or the confidence of elders. This as distinct from some who were not members of the SPG or an elder themselves, but seem to have been privy to that information, even Mr. NS himself. This at least, from a public email from Mrs. CG on Feb. 10, '06 to Mr. NS, (which is the same day teaching elder GP requested the close of the discussion.):
The elders are also aware that for almost two years now we, as a society, have had some questions and concerns before them, some of which have to do with the nature of our ecclesiastical government. You knew this in part I know, from a conversation you and I had shortly after the elders were here in Prince George the summer of 2004, when you told me some of the things you had been told about us by one of the elders (emph. added).
And if there was one thing that the SPG complained of in their correspondence and afterward, was the absence of confidentiality to the point that supposedly upon the visit of 2005 to the Edmonton summer meeting, young people from an officer’s family in Edmonton were asking the young people in PG why the SPG disagreement with the elders. As to how they knew or were supposed to know anything maybe the elders, if not Mr. NS can tell us. Perhaps he had family confidences even long before he was engaged to the elder’s daughter. After all, I remember only too well our conversation over breakfast at a local diner the Monday following the last elder visitation to the Wash. Society (Jan. 24,'05). In the presence of the teaching elder and another member of the Wash. Society, the ruling elder informed us that Mr. NS was a good friend and confidant of his, upon whom he bounced off any number of ideas. All well and good, we suppose, not personally having the pleasure of Mr. NS’s acquaintance ourselves even at this late date, but judicial confidences are another matter. Which is to say, perhaps Mr. NS might understand the circumstantial evidence that drives the statements or questions regarding ‘proxy’ or ‘surrogate elder’ that have surfaced in the public discussion of all this inside and out of the bounds of the former RPNA.

Yet my concerns in January ‘06 as voiced publicly a number of times (on the 10th, 14th and the 20th - go here for the complete record from Jan 1 to Mar 29, '06), were to the church at large and questioned why we were called/called ourselves a General Meeting when there was in fact no General Meeting (and still isn’t today), not the existence of a session per se, though I mentioned the absence of a presbytery as the elders themselves told us in theirs of June 8 and June 14, ‘03. To quote my comments ten months later in October regarding the just released SPC correspondence in order to supposedly demonstrate my duplicity in all this and my agreement with Mr. NS’s presuppositions and suspicions of January hardly follows, if not that it is duplicitous itself. It is also a non sequitur, however late it appears at this date in P1643 in his rehearsal/rehabilitation of his position and misrepresentation of others in the Jan ‘06 discussion.

3. Mr. NS in P1643 will also make much of my comment, “ But not to nitpick, I really could care less about the name ultimately. What matters is the substance." of Jan. 14, '06, as well others in regard to what kind of government we had in the former RPNA previous to the email discussion up until the tendering of the Confidential Oath of Oct. 4, '06 (pp. 21, 72-74). Evidently that I acknowledge that the officers are officers and can form some kind of court, means that I acknowledge whatever court is asserted for and by these officers. They are not however, the same thing. Rather Mr. NS is guilty of yet another non sequitur in P1643.

In that the Answer of the Assembly to the Dissenting Brethren says “We inquire not after names, but things (p.8, Grand Debate), and in that there had been and still is no substantial teaching on the substance of presbyterian church government in the "RPNA(GM)", much more we have been told officially (as well as privately) that ecclesiastically names only indicate one’s conformity to some set terms of communion, regardless of governmental or geographic distinctions, one still does well to ask as was eventually asked. Just what kind of government or court do we have in the "RPNA(GM)" since we know we do not have a presbytery or a general meeting? Nor is the former session of the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton still in existence due to the removal on the teaching elder to Albany, NY. Ah, but after the fact, it turns out we do have a such a session and not just when all officers are in town, whether Albany or Edmonton, by the power of electronic technology to reincarnate all things. So it might seem according to the PPSA (p.9).

Yet particularly irksome in all this, in what we suppose is supposed to be a thorough look at the constituent parts of presbyterian church government in P1643 is the complete absence again of any mention of the necessity of a plurality of teaching elders in order to form a presbytery. We do however have the very approved historical testimony of the June 8, ‘03 letter notifying one and all that upon the separation of one teaching elder over birth control, the Reformed Presbytery of North America is dissolved. And why would this constituent factor be ignored other than incompetence or to add to the overall confusion? We don't know. It would seem to be easier for the extraordinary court to call itself a ‘session’, even an extraordinary congregational court, all the while claiming if not presuming presbyterial, if not synodical authority and jurisdiction. Semantic sophistry indeed. Rather equivocation and a refusal to really define terms appears to be of the very essence of the court and any and all apologies for it, P1643 included.

Yes, the Westminster divines used “presbytery” and “consistory” in both the lesser and greater sense; a local congregational court and the larger common court made up of local courts. But the commonly understood and popular sense of the words nowadays has changed from those days. Which leads to the question. Just who is stuck in the past and on previous historical testimony to the point that they can’t operate on today’s terms? The words have their popular meaning and no amount of special pleading or obfuscation for instance, can make the RP of the "RPNA(GM)" really refer to a “lesser presbytery (PPSA, p. 25)”. If such wishes were horses, presbyterian beggars would win the Preakness, if not the Irish Sweepstakes. Still we suppose, Mr. NS would do well to call himself the “Session of the RPNA(GM)” if not the Reformed Presbyterian Church, at which point we might have to take his utterances in P1643 more seriously and having synodical judicial authority if one takes the arguments in Q1 and Q4 in the PPSA and follows them to their logical conclusion.

II:2. Habitual Mockery

In a paragraph of infantile, over the top and abusive rhetoric (p.82), 'mercifully' brief as it might be and coming as it does at the very bitter end of Mr. NS’s tour de force, P1643 closes by asserting that those who oppose the extraordinary and nominal session with international, ie. synodical jurisdiction, are guilty of “habitual mockery” and we might also suppose, flippant slander. For our part, we must say that the arguments for the “Session of the RPNA(GM)” are slipshod and ridiculous, if not irrelevant and that the mere pointed mention of this is to court the charge of the same for those of little discernment and even less patience. (Again the Case of the Lying Lawyer is entirely in its own category and speaks only too eloquently of the integrity and character of those who approved, if not tacitly consented to the incident, if not were directly responsible for the fraudulent emails essentially defending the same extraordinary court again.) Yet apart from the Proverbial comment on replying to foolishness according to its folly, the 9th Commandment has something to say about an extraordinary international session with presbyterial and synodical power, authority and jurisdiction over a number of congregations, not just one. As in you may not call it a extraordinary congregational court. At the very least it is an extraordinary (greater) presbytery. But we will wait long and hard for the PPSA or P1643 to admit the obvious all the while it castigates and characterizes those who oppose them as independents.

Yet somehow, the next to last statement from P1643's “Habitual Mockery” is:
They are notorious pragmatists – adopting any form that will work well to suit their own ends (p.82).
Indeed and it would behoove the convenient pseudo presbytery of the "RPNA(GM)"to heal itself. Likewise the sycophants, special pleaders and blind defenders of the same.

Or as the Act, Declaration, and Testimony referred to by its sections in Term 5 of the "RPNA(GM)" Terms of Ecclesiastical Communion says:
They [Reformed Presbytery] further reject and condemn that sectarian principle and tenet, whether in former or latter times maintained, that a kirk session, or particular congregational eldership, is vested with equal ecclesiastical power and authority, with any superior judicatory, and is neither subordinate nor accountable to them (in the Lord) in their determinations. (pp. 197-198).
But evidently the “Session of the RPNA(GM)” is not a “ kirk session, or particular congregational eldership.” Now if only the PPSA or P1643 would forthrightly admit it, those who oppose these documents, the mindset and the extraordinary court they attempt to justify, could find something to agree on with the authors of these two papers.

As it stands though, P1643 with its sour tone and abstract, nitpicking, theoretical and irrelevant theses, is a failure and only a wearying diversion from the real questions revolving around the extraordinary court of the former RPNA. It is hard to have presbyterial government, much more even an extraordinary presbytery, without a plurality of ministers in the first place and with a court that does not ordinarily and intentionally have a fixed meeting where its own officers can attend face to face and brush shoulders with each other. As for those who might have business with the court, good luck. There were no real publicly stated meetings of it, when we were still a member.

This not to mention:

That historical testimony applies only when it does and not when it doesn’t according to the convenience of the situation and mercy is a one way street, if not a railroad job, presbyterian or no.

That modern communication technology is of the essence of the court, but modern transportation technology is out of order and inadmissable as evidence in the same court.

That members must tacitly, if not explicitly bind their conscience to the PPSA and we suppose P1643, but the elders are free to disagree amongst themselves on any number of items except birth control. Don’t look soon for any explicit testimony clarifying that matter though, much more for all practical purposes, a tacit/ignorant consent trumps an informed and conscious consent.

That the court is presbyterian and any criticism or question of it, is independent/schismatic.

That according to the jus divinum presbyterian principle of scriptural exegesis and merciful judicial equity, four months to swear an oath in regard to the PPSA for the membership is tantamount to four years and counting for the “duty” of producing a birth control paper from the officers as opposed to the prophetic day/year hermeneutic in Daniel.

Go figure. So it goes these days and it is not encouraging. P1643 is essentially just that much more of the same old sophistry and question begging, that we have seen before. Consequently we cannot recommend that it be taken seriously or synodically on the issues at hand in the former RPNA .