Thursday, March 22, 2007

3/22/07, Sins Committed By “The Effort” And Steps To Repentance

[Cover Email]

Subject: The Sins Committed by the Effort
From: Lyndon Dohms
Date: 3/25/2007 6:45 PM
To: [Church List]

Dear Members of the RPNA (GM),

Attached are two documents from the Session.

Elder Lyndon Dohms
Clerk of Session

[with 2 docs. attached:
Sins committed by the "Effort" and the Steps to Repentance (Mar. 22, 2007) & Effort Emails ]


Sins committed by the "Effort" and the Steps to Repentance
Issued by the Session of the RPNA (GM)
March 22, 2007

Sins Committed By “The Effort”

1. The first sin committed by “The Effort” is that of acting in conspiracy against Christ-appointed Officers by intentionally withholding from the Session the existence of a secret society whose purpose was to challenge (by way of a “common concerns” paper) the judicial ruling of the Session contrary to one’s membership agreement. A conspiracy is a secret agreement between two or more persons to accomplish that which is unlawful (Genesis 37:18; 2 Samuel 15:12,31; Nehemiah 4:8) or to accomplish that which is lawful by unlawful means (Acts 5:1-11; Romans 3:8).

a. This is a violation of the Fifth Commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee (Exodus 20:12). The Larger Catechism (Question 128) elaborates further on the sin committed by those in “The Effort”: “What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors? Answer: The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government” (emphases added).

b. The membership agreement asks of each candidate (individually) and requires the following affirmative response to these questions:

“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)?”

This question assumes the Elders (individually and collectively) are faithful and lawfully called possessing the authority to govern Members by way of mutual consent and agreement under the same Terms of Communion.

“Will you make inquiries of the elders when you have questions that concern you in regard to our subordinate standards?”

This question assumes that questions of a significant concern (in regard to the doctrines and practices of the Church) will be brought by the member to the Elders (collectively). This promise is not intended to hinder profitable questions and discussions among the membership as it relates to the doctrine and practice of the Church. However, when the concerns of a member are significant, it is to the Elders (collectively) that such serious matters are to be addressed (rather than to a group of people) since Christ has given Elders to the Church to be Teachers and Governors (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-15). Certainly, matters of significant concern may be brought to an Elder (individually), but if there is no resolution to the significant concern, the member promises to bring his/her serious concern privately to the Elders (collectively).[p.1]

“Will you give the elders due opportunity to patiently and lovingly instruct you in any doubtful area?”

This question assumes it is the duty and responsibility of the member to listen patiently to the lawful instruction and counsel of the Elders (collectively) as they speak the truth in love. This duty a member promises to do in “any doubtful area” that could potentially lead to a disruption in the peace, purity, and unity of Christ’s Church. This promise intends to keep the circle very small so that serious doubts and concerns do not spread from one person to another throughout the Church causing a schism within the Church before the Elders (collectively) have had an opportunity (or opportunities) to privately address those serious doubts and concerns and before they become certain and known disagreements. The thrust of this membership promise follows that of Matthew 18:15-17 wherein the Lord would have us to keep private sins within as narrow of a circle as possible (only moving to the next stage to include more people when a member is obstinate in his/her sin). How much more the need for such principles to be in place when a member in seeking to fulfill his/her membership agreement has a significant concern (but is not convinced that a sin has been committed or an error promoted by the Elders). If this pattern is followed and the member does not believe the Elders have resolved the significant concern and the concern then becomes a known disagreement that cannot be resolved with the Elders, the member can still bear public testimony after this process is completed. Nothing is forfeited, and the process has allowed the member and the Elders to work together to bring about a peaceful resolution before many people are included in the circle (thus making resolution more difficult).

c. It can hardly be construed as lawful submission to the lawful authority of the Eldership for members not to receive “the lawful counsel” or peaceable “recommendation” of the Eldership to whom they have promised to submit (in their membership agreement) and rather to secretly meet in order to write a paper that calls into question the very lawfulness of the Session:

“Second, we recommend that you privately send questions of clarification to us which we will publicly post, and to which questions we will publicly respond (as quickly as we are able to do). Third, after your questions of clarification have been submitted and answered, we will consider (if we deem it necessary and profitable at that time) how we might formulate a plan to facilitate a forum that will lead to a profitable discussion for everyone who desires to do so” (“Position Paper and Response To [p.2] Questions Circulated About Sessional Authority Within The RPNA- GM”, p.1).

Some have sought to justify their secret meetings (in “The Effort”) by arguing that the Session stated, “we recommend” (rather than “we command”) “that you privately send questions of clarification to us.” A recommendation issued by a Court is not a mere suggestion to its members, but is the appointed means to be followed by members. The PRCE Session issued an “Addendum” (1999) to be added to _A Short Directory For Religious Societies_. In the “Addendum”, the Session argues that when the Reformed Presbytery in Scotland uses the word “recommend” (in _A Short Directory For Religious Societies_) that it does not intend that every rule written in it become a universal command for all Societies in every age and circumstance (especially when there is no biblical warrant provided for the recommendation). Thus, the Session argued in the “Addendum” that our informal Societies (at the present time) are not strictly bound to follow every recommendation found in _A Short Directory For Religious Societies_, but only those that promote the edification and communion of the saints in our present circumstances. However, for the Societies that received these “recommendations” from the Reformed Presbytery of Scotland at that time and in those circumstances, it would have been to show disrespect for the lawful authority of that Court to disregard those “recommendations” and to treat them as mere suggestions or as one option among several unstated options from which the Societies could choose. The “recommendations” of the Reformed Presbytery were to be followed by the membership within the Societies at that time, and one would expect that if members decided not to follow the “recommendations” of the Reformed Presbytery to all of the Societies under their inspection that members would have consulted with the Presbytery or at least a Session rather than forming a secret meeting to write a paper that took issue with the “recommendations” of the Reformed Presbytery. When the Session of the RPNA (GM) stated “we recommend” and did not give any other alternative or any other option, it is, in our judgment, disingenuous to argue that the Session did not forbid other means of bringing questions to it (namely by means of forming a secret society called “The Effort”). The Session intended the membership within the RPNA (GM) to follow the one (and only one) stated means of addressing questions/concerns to the Session.

d. The “recommendation” issued by the Session is that which was alone authorized by the Session and is in perfect agreement with the membership agreement. If members believed that the Session was allowing (by their “recommendation”) another option (other than the one specifically stated), why meet secretly addressing areas of doubtful concern and why maintain a confidentiality in not informing the Session of their existence, their meetings, their purpose, or their minutes? Clearly, the secrecy and confidentiality maintained by “The Effort” and the means by which they selected members, and allowed only those members access to their meetings, minutes, goals, and website indicate that they did not believe the Elders would approve or that the Elders had this option in mind in their “recommendation.” Such a conclusion is patently false and contrary to reason and honesty.

e. If a wife in the Church was to share her “common concerns” about her husband’s [p.3] public views with other wives and found that a number of wives had the same “common concerns”, their forming a secret society to write a “common concerns” paper and to publish it rather than the wife coming to her husband privately would likewise be construed as a direct sin against the authority of her husband and rightly so.

2. The second sin committed by “The Effort” is that of acting in deceit and under the cloak of darkness in forming a secret society within a faithful Church of Jesus Christ. Secret societies and meetings may be warranted when a Church backslides into apostasy, when the Officers of the Church become unfaithful, obstinate, and persecutors of the faithful, and when members must secretly remove themselves from such an unfaithful Church and must necessarily band together for their own preservation (as did the Religious Societies of our forefathers). If members of the RPNA (GM) believed any of the above to warrant their secret meetings, why did they remain within the Church and not come out from it for their own preservation as did the Societies of our forefathers in the faith (Revelation 18:4). This was not done, but to the contrary, a secret society (called “The Effort”) was formed within a faithful Church of Christ which sought to justify such deceitful actions by calling their meetings “private” rather than “secret”. However, these were not mere “private” meetings such as those where a few members of the Church might gather privately to pray together or might meet privately to study the Bible together for their own edification (or such a private meeting as when one family invites another family over after worship for fellowship, but does not invite the whole Church over for fellowship). In a “private” meeting certain people are included while others excluded (just as there are “private” clubs that include some but exclude others, or “private” conversations that include certain people, but exclude others). However, in all such “private” gatherings the existence of the gathering or those included in the “private” gathering, or even the general purpose of the “private” meeting are not intentionally hidden from public view. However, a “secret” meeting is one in which the meeting itself is intentionally clandestine, the names of those included as members in the secret society are intentionally hidden from public inspection, and the contents, correspondence, goals, and minutes of the meeting are intentionally cloaked in darkness. Confidentiality is maintained by either explicit or implicit agreements as to the existence of the meeting, the membership of the group, and the purpose, contents, and minutes of the meeting. Session Meetings (contrary to the view of some) are not “secret” meetings. The Church knows that the Session exists, that it has regular meetings, and that the general purpose of the meetings is for the benefit and welfare of the Church. Minutes of the official Session Meetings are available to members. Those who desire to present a matter to the Session may even join the Session Meeting by way of a conference phone call to speak with the entire Session. There are matters that are kept confidential simply for the reason that the sins and problems of members with whom the Session is engaged are not for public scrutiny, and the Session is required as much as possible to preserve the good name of its members. There is no resemblance between the unlawful secrecy of “the Effort” and the lawful privacy of “the Session.” Such a secret society is a fundamental violation of TRUST among those who are united together in truth and love within the same faithful Church. It is to act and speak outwardly as though there is trust, like-mindedness, and loyalty to [p.4] all those who are members, but it is to betray those very same virtues among fellow members in forming such a secret society.

a. This is a violation of the Ninth Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). This commandment requires of us sincerity, loyalty, and trustworthiness toward one another, and it forbids deceit, working under a secret cloak of darkness, and all that tends to promote or hinders or destroys mutual trust between fellow members. But a secret society that forms a membership within a faithful Church and determines who should be members of this secret society on the basis of who are likely sympathetic, who are possibly sympathetic, and who are unlikely sympathetic to its agenda, goals and purposes promotes a distrust, betrayal, and insincerity by way of deceit and secrecy among members of the same faithful Church.

b. In the covenant renewal by the Reformed Presbytery in the U.S. (1880), a brief section was devoted to how moral reform was to be promoted whether in the Church or in the State: namely, by means of the public divine ordinances appointed by God in His Word (i.e. by means of lawful officers and ecclesiastical courts, lawful magistrates and civil courts, and faithful testimony borne against the sins and errors of the age etc.). Therefore, voluntary associations organized to promote moral reform (whether secret or public) are all contrary both to scriptural testimony (which gives us only divine ordinances to promote moral reform) and to our own historical testimony as found in our Six Terms of Communion (as stated below). The following is stated in the covenant renewal of 1880 under the section entitled, “Act Of Adherence To Our Covenants: National and Solemn League; As Adapted To The Present Time”:

“III. Believing that the Son of God has been, as Mediator appointed heir of all things and invested with universal dominion; that he reigns and must reign till all his impenitent enemies be put under his feet: we pledge ourselves in reliance on divine grace to continue advocacy of his claims upon the homage and willing obedience of individual and social man, in the family, the church, and the civil commonwealth. We will maintain and urge his exclusive right to prescribe the faith and order of the church by his royal authority. We promise to inculcate and exemplify Presbyterian Church Government as alone of divine right and unalterable.”

“Believing, moreover, that civil government, originating in the will of God as Creator, has been placed by the Father under the authority of the Mediator, and that the principal objects to be promoted by this divine ordinance are the glory of its Author, the welfare of mankind, and the prosperity of the church: we engage to endeavor the reformation of the nations by testifying against all neglect or contempt of Messiah’s claims, or impious invasion of his rights by either rulers or subjects. In joyful anticipation of the universal reign of righteousness and peace on the earth, we will labor and pray for a gospel ministry and a Scriptural magistracy; testifying against all corruptions of these or substitutes for them. Persuaded of the adaptation and sufficiency of divine ordinances to effect reformation, we [p.5] will refuse to identify or incorporate with any substitutes for theses, or to cooperate with voluntary associations for moral reform, whether secret and sworn, or open and pledged, as these imply want of wisdom and beneficence in our covenant God” (_The Auchensaugh Renovation_, pp. 138,139, emphases added).

Carefully note that if both “secret and sworn” groups or “open and pledged” groups are forbidden, then any voluntary association in between those two extremes is likewise forbidden. Thus, even if “The Effort” did not require any oaths to be explicitly sworn to maintain confidentiality, it is yet condemned as a voluntary association (even if only a temporary voluntary association) that neglected the public ordinance of lawful Church Officers and Courts and maintained an implicit agreement to maintain the confidentiality of this voluntary association in as much as only certain people were invited to be in “The Effort” and only those who were members of “The Effort” knew of its existence, its meetings, its purpose, its minutes, and its website. Certainly, the divine ordinance of lawful ecclesiastical officers and the lawful Church court of the RPNA (GM) did not know of this secret voluntary association nor give its approval of the formation of such an independent voluntary association. Since “The Effort” was a voluntary group or association that was formed secretly without the knowledge or consent of the divine ordinance of lawful Officers and ecclesiastical Courts to promote moral reform within the Church (as it relates to the government of the Church), where is the biblical and historical warrant for establishing such a formal voluntary association and uniting with it? Resort to secret meetings is only warranted when it is necessary to maintain the lives and testimony of the faithful remnant. Only secret meetings (in such circumstances) are not an unlawful VOLUNTARY association, but a lawful NECESSARY association in order to fulfill the Sixth Commandment in preserving their own lives from a persecuting unfaithful Church. This was certainly not the case on the part of those who formed “The Effort” (in June-July of 2006) in order to promote moral reform in the government of the Church within the RPNA (GM).

c. When Judas secretly conspired with the Jewish leaders under the cloak of darkness, there was not only a betrayal of Christ, but also a betrayal of TRUST with all of the Disciples of Christ before whom he was insincere and deceitful. A conspiracy (as defined above) is not only a sin because it is committed against lawful authority, but is also a sin because it promotes the betrayal of TRUST by deceitful means between fellow members of the same body who are pledged to the same faithful Terms of Communion.

3. The third sin committed by “The Effort” is that of covenant-breaking. For when a candidate for membership solemnly promises to bring to the Elders (privately and individually) his/her doubtful areas of concern and then as a member does not do so, but rather forms a secret society with other members in order to promote as a group (whether privately or even worse publicly) doubtful areas of concern, the original membership agreement has been grossly violated. Note again the promises that candidates for membership make at their membership interview (review under the first sin committed above the explanation of these membership promises).[p.6]

“Will you make inquiries of the elders when you have questions that concern you in regard to our subordinate standards?”

“Will you give the elders due opportunity to patiently and lovingly instruct you in any doubtful area?”

a. This is a violation of the Ninth Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). The Larger Catechism summarizes the Scripture as forbidding the “breach of lawful promises” (Question 145). One group of sinners specifically mentioned in Romans 1:31 are identified as those who are “covenantbreakers”. Likewise, men in the last days are characterized as being “trucebreakers” (2 Timothy 3:3). This commandment requires of us the keeping of lawful agreements. Specifically, in the present circumstances, this commandment requires members (privately and individually) to honor one’s membership agreement to bring matters of doubtful concern to the Elders (collectively) so as to give the Elders an opportunity to patiently and lovingly instruct a member in the truth by way of their lawful Office or to dissuade a member from error by way of their lawful Office in order that the peace, purity, and unity of Christ’s Church might be preserved. Without an affirmative response to this part of the membership agreement, no membership relationship would have ever been formed in the first place.

b. Unless the membership agreement can be shown to be unlawful or no longer binding for some good and lawful reason, then to violate it is sinful (Psalm 15:4). If the membership agreement is not lawful or is no longer binding, why conduct oneself under the false pretense that one is a member of the RPNA (GM)? Why not simply declare oneself not to be a member (due to the alleged unlawful membership agreement)? If, however, the membership agreement is lawful and binding (as all members in good standing must conscientiously maintain and be willing to profess at any time-even under oath), then such a secret society was unlawful for it contradicted one’s membership agreement by having members promote their significant and doubtful areas of concern to a secret group first (before a peaceful resolution might be achieved with the Elders) and then to bring their areas of doubtful concern to the Elders (collectively as a group either privately or even worse publicly).

4. The fourth sin committed by “The Effort” is that of schism and division within the Church of Christ. For the manner used in forming a secret society divided the members of the Church one from another into a secret “membership” of those who shared common concerns and common disagreements from those who did not share the same concerns and disagreements. This was divisive and promoted schism within the Church rather than unity within the Church. As stated above, this secret society formed its “membership” based upon those who were sympathetic (or who might be covertly persuaded into sympathy) as opposed to those who were likely unsympathetic with those common concerns or common disagreements. It claimed to [p.7] have retained its secrecy in order not to stumble those who were in their opinion either “weak” or “hostile.” This is not the biblical way to deal with members in the same Church who we deem to be either weak or hostile toward us or our views. The peaceable approach to preserving the peace, purity, and unity of Christ’s Church was stated by the Session in the introductory paragraph of its Paper on Session Authority:

“Second, we recommend that you privately send questions of clarification to us which we will publicly post, and to which questions we will publicly respond (as quickly as we are able to do). Third, after your questions of clarification have been submitted and answered, we will consider (if we deem it necessary and profitable at that time) how we might formulate a plan to facilitate a forum that will lead to a profitable discussion for everyone who desires to do so” (“Position Paper and Response To Questions Circulated About Sessional Authority Within The RPNA-GM”, p.1).

a. This is a violation of the Sixth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). If this commandment prohibits that which tends to the unlawful destruction or harm brought against one’s own body or that of another, how much more it forbids that which tends to the harm, division, and schism brought against the visible body of Christ. If the physical body of an individual cannot be unlawfully harmed, then certainly the visible body of Christ cannot be harmed by schism in dividing it into secret societies among members of the same Church holding to the same Terms of Communion. If this is permitted as lawful, the Church would be perpetually riddled with divisive secret societies forming around various agendas. If public division and schism within the Church are sinful (1 Corinthians 1:10), secret divisions within the Church must likewise be accounted as sinful and unlawful.

b. We have no doubt that the those involved in “The Effort” would have considered it divisive and schismatic to their purposes and designs if several secret societies had formed (with their own secret membership, agendas, meetings, minutes, and websites) within “The Effort” due to various differences or agendas maintained secretly by its members. If what “The Effort” did was not divisive and schismatic within a faithful Church, then if there were hypothetically twenty members within “The Effort”, and ten of those members formed a secret society within a secret society, that should not be construed as being divisive. And if from the ten members that had formed a secret society within a secret society, five others formed another secret society with its own membership, agenda, meetings, minutes, and website, that likewise should not be construed as being divisive. How can such division be construed as promoting unity? Is it not obvious that if secret societies do not promote unity within a secret society, how much more a secret society will not promote unity (but rather schism and division) within a faithful Church of Jesus Christ?

c. Various biblical texts prohibit persons and activities that promote a sinful division and schism within the Church of Christ.

“These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud lp.8] look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19, emphases added).

“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17).

“That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Corinthians 12:25).

d. In the closing paragraph of _The Directory For Family Worship_, there is the explicit disapproval and condemnation of all meetings (whether secret, private, or public) that tend to promote division and schism within the Church of Christ.

“The drift and scope of all these Directions is no other, but that, upon the one part, the power and practice of godliness, amongst all the ministers and members of this kirk, according to their several places and vocations, may be cherished and advanced, and all impiety and mocking of religious exercises suppressed: and upon the other part, that, under the name and pretext of religious exercises, no such meetings or practices be allowed, as are apt to breed error, scandal, schism, contempt, or misregard of the publick ordinances and ministers, or neglect of the duties of particular callings, or such other evils as are the works, not of the Spirit, but of the flesh, and are contrary to truth and peace” (emphases added).

The Session judges that “The Effort” was a secret voluntary association that was scandalous, that promoted schism and division within the Church, and that disregarded the public divine ordinance of lawful Church government in promoting its hidden agenda. As the Directory states, there may have been a “name” and “pretext” of “religious exercises” performed by those who were members of “The Effort”, but such meetings are forbidden because they promote division within the Church (especially when a lawful and peaceable way of addressing questions and concerns to the Session privately has already been given to the membership to follow).

We, as a Session, do not sit in judgment upon the motives and intentions of all who were members of “The Effort” (except when and where sinful motives and intentions were explicitly stated within their own internal correspondence some of which we now have in our possession and have attached to this paper). However, we do judge the actions and the consequences of all who were members of “The Effort” to be sinful and contrary to both scriptural testimony and historical testimony.

The sins mentioned above are to be understood as merely listing general classes of sins and are in no way to be construed as an exhaustive list of sins wherein we judge the members of “the Effort” to be guilty. If we were to produce an exhaustive list of sins committed by those within “the Effort”, based upon the sins forbidden in the Ten Commandments (as delineated in our Larger Catechism), it would alone (without any [p.9] additional commentary), in our judgment, fill many pages. The summary list which we have provided above is intended to demonstrate the extremely serious degree and extent of sin into which our brothers and sisters of “The Effort” have fallen, however, it is our prayer that at some point in the future they will carefully consider and repent of not only these classes of sins, but also that they would carefully reflect upon and truly repent of the many particular sins which fall within each of these general classes.

Steps To Repentance For Those Involved In “The Effort”

The Session judges the following three steps to be necessary steps in expressing due repentance by those who were members of “The Effort.”
1. Confess and repent of these sins before God as offences against Him first and foremost seeking His forgiveness.
2. Confess and repent of these sins before the Session as offences against God’s lawful Officers seeking their forgiveness.
3. Publicly confess and repent of these sins before the whole Church as offences against all of the members seeking their forgiveness and specifically testify against “the Effort” as being unlawful for the reasons stated above. [p.10]

A reply may be found here.