Friday, December 28, 2007

12/28/07, . . . . And In Secret Have I Said Nothing

[updated through 1/2/08]
Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. John 18:20

Persecution in the Past and Elsewhere
There is no question that here in America and Canada, Christians do not face anything similiar to the Killing Times in Scotland after the Second Reformation of 1638 -51 had been overturned in church and state by the Acts Recissory of 1661. The persecution of presbyterianism
which followed the Acts resulted in the secret conventicles, armed or no, and the religious societies for prayer and fellowship that continued on to become the basis for the Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanted) Church of Scotland and Ireland. Nor does the N. American church of Christ face anything like what it faces in China or Muslim nations today. There is no need for secrecy and an underground church. Not yet anyway.

Here Today
As long as one does not preach too loudly against the politically correct idols of abortion and marital pairing of perverts or even declare the not so peaceful/
orthodox nature of genuine Islam, American presidential comments to the contrary, the Internal Revenue Service will not revoke a church's charitable tax exempt status. Neither will the district attorney or the Atheist Criminal Liberties Union charge anyone with discrimination or a "hate crime". Granted, there are exceptions to the rule. But the religious entity referred to in the previous post is not an exception.

Secrecy as a Necessary Consequence?
Nevertheless we have been told by one credible witness that the same body is switching from emailing its members and adherents to phone or face to face conversations when it comes to any public announcements in the future concerning the church. This is evidently in order to prevent their "enemies" from learning anything or even harassing said group. We don't "know" this of course, because so far only one witness has come forth. But the circumstantial evidence is not good. [We do know that as previously reported, formal dissolution of the RPNA court is being considered. It is at least alluded to in the opening paragraphs of a sermon of Dec. 23, '07 entitled "Moving the Landmarks" on Prov. 22:28, of which sermon DV we shall have more to say later.] We think the concern for secrecy is not "enemies" per se, but rather the consequence of holding to an erroneous doctrine/application of ecclesiastical government. It could be tiresome enough to openly espouse and defend - or not so openly as we shall see below - an erroneous doctrine or application without having to work a day job at the same time.   

For the Partial Record
some things are on public record. The website of the Reformed Presbytery of N. America (General Meeting) tells us that the Primary Contacts for the church are one teaching elder in Albany, New York and two ruling elders in Edmonton, Alberta. What we are not told is that these officers, 2000 mile apart and separated by an international border, are not only capable of, but actually do constitute and convene an extraordinary presbyterian congregational court or session over the phone with international/continental jurisdiction. This would be the same court that calls itself the "Session" of the Reformed Presbytery of N. America (GM).

This court came about after
the dissolution on 6/6/03 as announced 6/8/03, of the Reformed Presbytery of N. America over a disagreement about birth control. (For all we know, this Presbytery also conducted its meetings over the phone.) The constitution/existence of this session was essentially announced to members after the fact and bye the bye in a disciplinary announcement of 10/31/04. Later in the Position Paper on Sessional Authority (PPSA) of 6/4/06, its electronic essence was briefly mentioned and justified in passing (p.9).

True, the first Public Protest and Complaint on 10/18/06 regarding the imposition of the Confidential Oath to uphold that court, did in part generate the Session Response on 10/28/06. Likewise the public post of 10/31/06 also provoked the Session's Response to Recent Objections of 11/4/06. Respectively on pp.4-8 of the SR and in Q.6 of the RRO it was argued that the existence and constitution of the court was clear enough in a Letter of 6/14/03 from the three remaining elders shortly after the dissolution of the RPNA. (Yet if it was so crystal clear, why the explanations and qualifications at length after the fact? Because along with the explicit statements, the contradictions and implicit assumptions of the letter are not straight forward and clear.) But so it goes. So forth and so on.

Absent Without Reasonable Explanation
by all rights, the PPSA should also be posted publicly on the RPNA(GM) Church Writings page. After all, the Confidential Oath to uphold both the Session of the RPNA(GM) and the PPSA which justified it, states, that it is required that:

I, [name] freely and voluntarily, according to my own conscience and not being induced or compelled by any unlawful external means, by the grace of God and in the name of Jesus Christ, sincerely, in the plain and common sense of these terms, without equivocation or mental reservation, formally testify that I, [name], in no way knowingly disagree with any of the five Terms of Membership of the RPNA (GM), or any of the six Terms of Communion of the RPNA (GM) inclusive of its published position papers (namely. . . . [emph. added]

The six "Official Papers" also found on the Church Writing webpage are then listed with the addition of the "Position Paper And Response To Questions Circulated About Sessional Authority Within The RPNA (General Meeting)" or the PPSA at the end of the list. The Confidential Oath then continues:

(A)nd I formally testify that I own the authority of the Session of the RPNA (GM) in both its extraordinary form and jurisdiction, which is presently comprised of Pastor Greg Price, Ruling Elder Greg Barrow, and Ruling Elder Lyndon Dohms, as that Presbyterian Church Court, which is both lawful and faithful to the true Covenanted testimony of Jesus Christ and is agreeable to the Scripture and to all of the Subordinate Documents [i.e. Standards - RPV] of the RPNA (GM). I further testify, in the name of Christ, that I do and will willingly submit to the Session of the RPNA (GM) (in so far as they conform to the Word of God), and that I will endeavor to conduct myself in this upcoming Court proceeding truthfully, honestly and charitably.
Again (along with Tattoos and the Word of God, which is a paper written by a RPNA Church officer of which more below) there is no mention of the PPSA on the official RPNA(GM) Church Writings webpage regardless that it is fundamental to the Session of the RPNA(GM), never mind mention of even the existence of the extraordinary Session of the RPNA(GM) in the first place. In other words, any supposed or rumoured policy of secrecy has already begun, even before implementing further measures.

Neither is it any matter to state that the webmaster is not an officer of the church or that the RPNA(GM) website is unofficial. One should be able to assume that at least the officers - if not the court of the RPNA(GM) - approved the content of the site in the first place if they really are officers and a court as the timeline shows that they are certainly willing to assert to the point of
excommunicating those who disagree or have doubts about it. (See also the standard accompanying letter to the Confidential Oath.)

The Secret Session
Nevertheless, the only thing you will find about this court, the Session of the RPNA(GM), is the brief and misleading mention on the Church Membership page at the RPNA(GM) website. Among the "Terms of Membership for The Reformed Presbytery in North America (General Meeting)," Question 4.c. asks: "Are you willing to submit yourselves to the preaching and to the elders of this church (in so far as both are agreeable to the Word of God)?" Under "Questions asked for admission to the Lord's Supper , Term #3 . . . we find:

h: Do you agree that the Elders of this church are duly called and qualified as the officers of Christ?
i: Do you agree to obey and abide by the lawful decisions and commands of the Elders of this church insofar as their decisions and commands agree with the scriptures?

In contrast to all this, the stated end of the RPNA(GM) again, is to "cry out to this generation of a thousand denominations" that it has backslidden "from the purity of doctrine, life, worship, church government, and civil government" to which the Second Reformation and our Reformed Presbyterian covenanting forefathers attained at the Westminster Assembly.

It is this purity that the RPNA (GM) endeavors, by the grace of our Lord, to once again set before the world. The same example of "real reformation; that the Lord may turn away his wrath and heavy indignation, and establish these churches and kingdoms in truth and peace (Solemn League and Covenant)".

All well and good, but in our opinion, an impossible goal to attain or even attempt, if the RPNA(GM) itself is not willing to publish and expound its own doctrine of extraordinary congregational church government as set forth in the PPSA and the existence of the "Session" of the RPNA(GM) that both might be compared to that of the Second Reformation. Again, there is no official mention at all of either the PPSA or the court it justifies on the RPNA(GM)'s own website. Why is this, even before a policy of more of the same might commence?

Hypothetical Analogies?
Further we grant that genuine presbyterian government has to be adaptable enough to oversee the swarms of believers or mission works 40, 800, 1600 miles outside of Jerusalem (i.e. Edmonton/Albany) as Principium 1643 (p.17) essentially asserts, whether P1643 is officially approved by the Session or not. This, building on Rutherford's example from Survey of a Survey of Hooker's independent church discipline. Yet we do not think that an appeal to Rutherford or the Grand Debate necessarily establishes that an extraordinary international session with synodical Acts 15 power (PPSA pp.7-10) which convenes over the phone is entirely synonymous with jus divinum presbyterianism.

Again, according to the doctrine that distance is no deterrent to jus divinum presbyterianism - it is not, but extraordinary congregational courts/sessions are not presbyteries - and even the North American Union aside, what if there were but one elder apiece in Mexico, the US and Canada? What about the existing minister in New Zealand another hemisphere away? What if one ruling elder/officer of the court was employed as an astronaut working on the Russian Space Station for six months out of the year? What if one elder was Chinese and lived in China? Would the deacons hook up a live electronic video feed with AV's Babelfish doing the translating for the court? After all, one's personal presence is a mere circumstance and communication/deliberation the essence and being of a court according to the (official/unofficial?) explanation of Principium 1643 (pp.36-9. Here, P1643 is evidently referring to and quoting the "silver bullet" argument of another pseudo Perry Masonic brother.) Yet to ask in our opinion, is to answer our digression. In the negative.

Historical Testimony, Logical Fallacies and Self Appointed Apostles?
Regardless of the context of the the term "congregation" in Scripture, whether that of Corinth or Israel and equivocal arguments ignoring context in the PPSA (pp.3-5), we are also told that I Cor. 5 is relevant to the question surrounding the Session of the RPNA(GM). That is, just as:

"the Apostle Paul served as a member of a Church Court from a distance (1 Corinthians 5) and could use the technology of that day to call a meeting of the Church Court and to be present with them in spirit (by way of his letter) so we as a Session can call a meeting and be present by voice (by way of a telephone)."

Compare this to David Dickson, the Scotch covenanting author of the very first commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, who says, in his Exposition of Paul's Epistle's (1659) on 1 Cor. 5:3-6:

For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed . . .

Argum. 3 Because now besides that ordinary power which you have in the Ecclesiasctical Senate, viz. you are instructed and obliged also by an extraordinary power to excommunicate him; for truly you have my mind, or spirit, judgement, opinion and authority concerning that wicked person, (as much in my absence as if I was present:) Therefore when you are gathered together, being fortified by this Apostolic Epistle, (in which the spirit, or mind, or opinion of mee an Apostle is contained) . . .

Paul as an apostle can infallibly instruct and direct at long distance an ordinary church court in Corinth as much as if he were present in person. His spoken word and written epistle again had infallible apostolic authority. Can the Session of the RPNA(GM) claim the same authority and ability in regard to instructing a court or convening and participating in it at a distance?

Or are we rather talking about the fallacy of the excluded middle term again, which seems to be endemic to much of the arguments and positions of the former RPNA, which specific term in this case is divine apostolic appointment and position, much more that Paul was no member of the Corinthian court per se? To ask is to answer. The synod of Acts 15 in its uninspired deliberations, although apostles were present, is an approved example for ordinary presbyterian government and officers today. Yet the action, authority and indeed the 1 Cor. epistle itself of Paul was apostolic and extraordinary, as in divinely inspired, appointed and directed. This, as opposed to the Corinthian court itself, which was an ordinary uninspired court. Consequently Paul's example in holy writ is not necessarily an approved example for an extraordinary self appointed and uninspired session to follow today.

Moreover, Paul's letter might technically be considered correspondence or a proxy ballot by the Corinthian court, if not the authoritative instruction by a higher court to a lower. Paul's apostolic authority aside, it does not necessarily follow that because Paul could by apostolic authority infallibly instruct the court by the communication technology of that day, that the RPNA(GM) Session can convene and conduct/participate in a court by the communication technology of today. In other words, while it is possible that the Session of the RPNA(GM) is a lawful church court, in all this we still have yet to see it reasonably demonstrated from Scripture, history and reason, never mind the absence of a forthright policy of communication.

Other Motives for Secrecy
But to continue. Control might also be the reason for a policy of secrecy. Phone calls or private conversations can be hard to nail down. There is not necessarily a record unless you record them or follow up with an email. It's far easier to keep people in the dark. Consider for example, a phone conversation of 1/9/05 and the email of
1/12/05 following it up as it relates again to the promise in the Letter of 6/14/03 from the former RPNA officers to produce a certain birth control paper - which is still essentially invisible/nonexistent to the best of our knowledge some four years later.

After all, disagreement over birth control was THE issue that led to the dissolution of the presbytery of the RPNA, which in turn provoked the remaining elders of the former RPNA to convene the extraordinary session of the RPNA(GM) over the phone in the first place. If there had been no disagreement over BC, there quite possibly would have been no extraordinary Session of the RPNA(GM) (though in light of all this, further questions might arise in regard to the exact ordinary or extraordinary nature of that presbytery. At the time though, ignorance was blissful negligence on our part.) But again, some how we got to a place that come Oct. 4, '06 members were required to swear a confidential oath to affirm that extraordinary court as it was justified four months earlier in the Position Paper on Sessional Authority of June 4, '06. Yet the previous promise by the elders of June 14, '03 of three years earlier to officially clarify the church's position on birth control, which had caused the special court in the first place, had already as above, been put on permanent and unannounced hold. Enemies of the court? How about equity?

A Coerced Testimony
True, there was a brief mention of the testimony of the General Meeting of the RPA in 1888 on birth control in the RPNA(GM) Session Response of Oct. 28, '06 (pp.12,13). (
Likewise the SR (pp.8,9) is the first mention that the session met at all, much more regularly. As for the minutes of said session meetings, never mind place and time for these phone sessions, there has been no mention publicly ever made to our knowledge.) But this was not a full and free announcement that the BC paper had been put on hold. Rather it was only a reaction to charges and questions centered on the
Confidential Oath and the Position Paper on church government. In other words, it was essentially coerced by the general turmoil and events in the church. It was not necessarily a desire to promote or recognize any accountability by those responsible, whether as individual officers or a court. The common and ordinary decency to inform anyone that - for whatever reason - a paper would not be forthcoming, never happened until the negligence and stonewalling couldn't cut it any more.

Of the Utmost Importance and Error
But evidently there was time to write something as important as Tattoos and the Word of God? Unfortunately nobody had promised in writing to write this paper, because then we might assume it would never have been written. Based on its merits, in our opinion, that is exactly what should have happened, but didn't. For some reason it also remains absent from the list of "Papers by RPNA Church Officers". Further, no man if he would enlighten us on carnal graffitti, should put it in a secret place or under a bushel basket (cp. Lk.11:33). This gem is only found as untitled PDF file on the Albany CRPC's Sermons of 2006 webpage for 4/30/06. Again by all rights, just like the PPSA, it belongs on the Church Writings page, only filed under the "Papers by RPNA Church Officers" heading. Yet again like the PPSA, it is absent from the same without any, much more, reasonable explanation.

Censurable by and Answerable to?
Consequently, we might disagree with an argument for secrecy because of the "enemies" of such a court. Instead we again assert that the ad hoc and off the record policy for communication that this court demonstrates and practices, does not promote the equity, edification, forthrightness or accountability that any genuine court of Christ's church owes Christ's church, much more the Lord Jesus Christ himself and his honor. It might also further prejudice the question of whether the Session of the RPNA(GM) is even a lawful court to begin with. Yet even before the arguments justifying the court from Scripture, history and reason are examined,
at the least the policy is unacceptable and worthy of censure. But that's just it. The Session of the RPNA(GM) answers to no one, regardless of good and sincere intentions, if that is indeed what they are.

The Handwriting on the Wall
To confer again with John 18:20:

Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.
Again, this has not been the policy of the court in the past, never mind any new policy. Consequently, we think Paul's question in Gal. 4:16 to the point, "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth"? That, if not the sentence of Dan. 5:25: "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin". The Session of the RPNA(GM) hast been weighed in the balance and found wanting. A policy and practice of secrecy or negligence in forthrightly declaring its own basis and justification as a court in Christ's church is not only inadequate to carry the day, it also needs to be reprobated in the ecclesiastical entity represented and defended in the PPSA or the more recent (official/unofficial?) P1643. Even further, a formal dissolution and a retraction of its recent judicial rulings would also be in very good order. Of course, based on precedent, neither would ever be publicly announced, but one can still hope.

Yet a few more words and we will have done.

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Matthew 7:17-20

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10
That word not only goes for those who were excommunicated from the RPNA(GM) for having reservations or questions about its court and refusing to comply with the oath that upheld it, but also those who excommunicated them and further those who tolerated or approved those excommunications. Before the Lord, we don't think it is a secret who all the parties are, where they stand and perhaps even why, whatever those on the outside know or care.

While we think there is much to be commended in the Second Reformation, the Solemn League and Covenant and the Westminster Standards, all of which the RPNA(GM) tells us it is its purpose to promote, the hush-hush constitution and consolidation of the RPNA(GM)'s Session and the nature in which it is convened gives distinct lie to that end in our opinion. Neither do we think an attempt such as this, to determine or even expose the truth a bad thing, much more that it should be kept a secret, whatever the opinion and practice of the Session of the RPNA(GM) is to the contrary. Rather again, a formal dissolution of the court AND a dissolution of its recent judicial rulings i.e. excommunications AND a public announcement to those ends would be very much in good and short order.