Monday, February 26, 2007

2/26/07, Further Remarks on the PPSA: Part 1

"A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste"
- Unless You are a Faithful Member
in Good Standing in the RPNA(GM)

[revised 3/3/'07]

The following remarks, written in the spirit of the long standing (since 1972) United Negro College Fund slogan, may be considered a continuation of the previous Further Remarks on the PPSA: An Introduction. It could also be said, in light of the recent email exchange on all this, that an alternative title might be "An Open Letter to the Philosophically Inclined Brethren Amongst Us – As in Logical." Hence, instead of being further remarks on Question 1 of the Position Paper on Sessional Authority, the topic and theme of "reason" or "logic" as it pertains to the document is up for discussion. The thesis is obvious: that the venerable ad campaign slogan above is applicable to all those who can swallow the Position Paper on Sessional Authority which so blatantly tramples on the light of natural reason, as well the Confidential Oath of loyalty which upholds it.

In other words, as we have impatiently awaited the exposé which is not an exposé, of a conspiracy which was not a conspiracy, regarding questions about a session which is not a session from our philosophically inclined brethren as indicated in the recent email exchange, all the mental agitation did us good. We came up with a few more questions for all parties concerned whenever they get around to it. No rush though, first things first, we suppose, including any outstanding excommunications and sundry other tidying up around the ecclesiastical house, all the while the elephant under the living room rug is diligently avoided, manure and all.

Reasonable Preliminaries
Of course some preliminary comments are in order for those who would stumble at any criticism of the PPSA upon the basis of reason or logic, all the while the PPSA purports to be a document based in and upon Scripture. The problem is though, the PPSA itself will claim that its arguments are based upon the good and necessary consequences of Scripture:
We would ask those who would affirm that we do "not" have Scriptural warrant to proceed as an extraordinary international Session to produce "Scriptural warrant" for their prohibitions, and we would ask them to argue from good and necessary inferences from Scripture (as we have done). We would note that thus far, in the arguments we have seen and heard, Scriptural argument has been sadly lacking-- even to the point of being non-existent. Unless we see argumentation from Scripture that clearly and conclusively demonstrates that what we have proved above is in error, and it is proved that we do not have warrant and authority from Christ to proceed as a lawful Court, it is our intention to continue to proceed as a Court, as Christ gives us strength (pp.9,10, emph. added).
The respectful reply is that the burden of proof is rather on the PPSA in the first place to prove its arguments, instead of merely asserting that it has done so and then try to shift that burden to any who would disagree with the PPSA and the same assertions masquerading as conclusions, which in itself is a fallacious argument/tactic. For that matter, as we shall see, the arguments of the PPSA are not strictly or formally of good and necessary inferences but are rather largely informal arguments from or by analogy or comparison, if not with a great deal of equivocation and ambiguity thrown in for good measure.

While the PPSAdoes not mention it, the reference to good and necessary consequence is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapt. 1:6 on Holy Scripture, in regard to establishing the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture:
VI. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men (2 Tim.3:15-17, Gal.1:8,9, 2 Thess.2:2, emph. added.)
Even further, the Form of Presbyterial Church Government includes in its Directory for Ordination, nine Rules for Examination. The second says that:
That the party examined . . . . shall be examined touching his skill in the original tongues, and his trial to be made by reading the Hebrew and Greek Testaments, and rendering some portion of some into Latin; and if he be defective in them, enquiry shall be made more strictly after his other learning, and whether he hath skill in logick and philosophy (WCF, 1645, rpt. 1997, FPP, p.413, emph. added).
One might suppose that this is because logic is "the science of necessary inference" and consequently is indispensable to discerning the good and necessary consequences of Scripture. No logic, no understanding of the good and necessary inferences of Scripture, much more no logic, no understanding of good and necessary inference period, even before one thinks of trying to deduce something from Scripture. But this is exactly the problem with the PPSA. If logic is science of necessary inference, reason is the ability to argue and in both cases the PPSA falls between the stools.

All this not to mention that we are told both Christ and Paul repeatedly argued and reasoned with the Jews in the synagogues (Matt. 21:25, Mk. 12:28, Acts 17:2, 18:4,19, 24:25). One of many examples would be where our Lord takes two propositions the Pharisees agree with and draws a conclusion that hitherto had seemed to escape them, as well as stopped their mouths in their objections to his ministry. One, it is lawful to rescue your livestock on the Sabbath and two, a man is more valuable than an animal. Hence it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath (Lk. 13:10-17). Consequently if we have a problem with logic or reason, we have a problem with Christ, his ministry and his word, if not also reality.

Gillespie’s Extraordinary Island
The first instance out of the gate is the appeal to the statements by the London Ministers, Gillespie and Rutherford regarding a congregation alone in an island, which example somehow morphs into a justification for a congregational court or session to also be the appropriate court to oversee a number of societies, families and individuals alone in the island of the N. American continent. The PPSA says (p.4) in conclusion to three quotes on what a congregation alone in an island, province or nation may do:
Note, as Rutherford correctly states, a Congregation, or a body of professing Christians who share a common membership (such as the RPNA--General Meeting), do "not" transgress any rule of Christ when it exercises "entire" power of Church censures within itself (when such a Congregation cannot associate with other Churches).
Now, there is no denying that the London Ministers, Gillespie and Rutherford all say a congregation that cannot associate with other congregations, may exercise entire power of censure within its own bounds, which power is normally reserved to a true greater presbytery with a plurality of ministers and congregations. But neither Rutherford nor his statement "correctly states," infers or implies the same, much less anything about "a body of professing Christians who share a common membership (such as the RPNA--General Meeting)."

That is because as Gillespie puts it:
"If there be many [churches] far distant one from another so their pastors and elders cannot ordinarily meet together, then may a particular congregation do many things by itself alone, which it ought not to do where there are adjacent neighbouring congregations, together with which it may and should have a common presbytery (Assertion, II:II, PPSAp.3).
In other words, the argument of the PPSA essentially runs:
The session of one congregation alone in an island,
which cannot ordinarily meet with other officers to form a greater presbytery,
therefore may then do many things which are ordinarily reserved to a genuine greater presbytery.

But the officers of the RPNA(GM) session cannot ordinarily meet with other officers from other churches.

Therefore the officers of the RPNA(GM) too may do many things which are ordinarily reserved to a genuine greater presbytery.
There are any number of things wrong with this argument. First and foremost is the distinction – which the PPSA must leave out or give it up from the outset – that the officers of the church alone in the island can ordinarily meet together amongst themselves, though they cannot ordinarily meet with the officers of other churches. But the officers of the RPNA(GM) one, are not officers of one congregation to begin with and two, cannot even ordinarily meet with themselves, never mind the officers of other churches. Three, the primary reason the elders of the RPNA(GM) cannot meet with other officers from other churches is doctrine, not distance. Go figure.

Rather the argument with all the necessary terms and qualifications should read:
The officers of the session of one local congregation alone in an island,
which can ordinarily meet together amongst themselves,
but which cannot ordinarily meet with other officers - because of distance,
to form a greater presbytery,
therefore may then do many things which are ordinarily reserved to a genuine greater presbytery.
But the officers of the session of the RPNA(GM) alone in the island of the N. American continent,
cannot even ordinarily meet together amongst themselves - because of distance
(- never mind that they cannot meet ordinarily with other church officers because of doctrine).

Therefore they may not do many things which are ordinarily reserved to a a genuine greater presbytery,
(- if not also a genuine local congregational session, unless they want to actually gather together in person in one place and constitute an extraordinary temporary session).
In other words, that which predicates an ordinary local congregational court of taking on extraordinary powers is that which actually describes the essence of the extraordinary court argued for in the PPSA: it’s officers cannot ordinarily meet together because they are out of town and separated by many thousands of miles, as well an international border. This is confusion, if not technically what is known as the fallacy of the undistributed middle term. What is of essence and definition for the first congregation – that officers of its ordinary local congregational court can ordinarily meet together amongst themselves – is entirely absent from the second example, the officers/extraordinary court of the RPNA(GM). Needless to say, this is not an argument from good and necessary inference, but rather an example of wishful thinking and attempting to gloss over the problem by stating it informally, analogically and ambiguously. True, the PPSA will go on to essentially appeal to internet technology and the divine right of phone government (p.9) to resolve these contradictions, but that is yet to come.

Confusion About the Quorums, Courts and Congregations
Practice makes perfect though and the PPSA will again attempt to put the same fallacy, along with essentially the same exact undistributed middle term, over on its audience in exposition of Matt. 18: 15-20. This passage of Scripture with the subsequent erroneous exposition is fundamental to the argument of the PPSA for its extraordinary court (pp.4-6). Other than Act 15, it is the chief passage expounded in the PPSA to justify the Session of the RPNA(GM) as lawful. Unfortunately to this end, Matt. 18:20 specifically is pretty much ignored: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (emph. added)." The PPSA will concentrate on the "two or three" and ignore "gathered together" in the verse.

Again, no one quarrels with two or three officers as being sufficient to exercise discipline. Gillespie will say "if there were but two church officers in a church (where no more could be had) they are to exercise discipline and it shall not be in vain. . . There must be an agreement of two church officers at least, otherwise the sentence shall be null (Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, Sprinkle, pp. 194, 195, PPSA p.6). But both Gillespie and the London Ministers as explicitly quoted in the PPSA, repeatedly qualify their comments by referring distinctly to a "particular congregation" twice, to "that church where the offense riseth" or "a church" when they speak of the necessity of at least two officers being present or "gathered together" in order to lawfully execute discipline. In other words, they are talking about two officers gathered together in one place, if not also from and in one and the same local congregation as being sufficient for discipline.

But that is not the same as two or more officers from two or more congregations or societies in the RPNA(GM) which is essentially the argument of the PPSA. The officers which make up its extraordinary session are from two very different localities and do not ordinarily gather together in either Edmonton or Albany, never mind some other locality. In other words, the argument of the PPSA essentially runs:

According to Matt. 18 wherever there are two or more officers there is a lawful court of Christ.
But the Session of the RPNA(GM) has two or more officers.
Therefore it is a lawful court of Christ.

Yet this is again the fallacy of the undistributed middle term. The extraordinary session of the RPNA(GM) – which has two or more officers, that no one denies – does not gather together in one place as per Matt. 18:20. Go figure. The argument in light of the qualifications and distinctions the London Ministers and Gillespie make, is better framed as:

Whenever two or more officers gather together in one place, congregation or church, there a lawful court of Christ is in session.
But the two or more officers of the RPNA(GM)’s court do not normally gather together in one place.
Therefore the RPNA(GM)’s court is not lawfully in session
(unless it too, gathers together in one place).

In other words, to compare the two or more gathered together locally to the two or more in the session of the RPNA(GM) who are – as we shall see – supposedly gathered together over the phone is more like comparing apples to avocados. They are not the same thing.

Nevertheless, the PPSA triumphantly, but irrelevantly concludes regarding its quotes from the London Ministers and George Gillespie that:
The two citations above speak so clearly to the point in question that little further commentary is deemed necessary. By this Scripture proof (Matthew 18:15-19), we see that Christ has given warrant to even as few as two or three lawfully called Elders to "bind and loose" which means that even if the court of Christ is very small (where no more faithful Elders can be had) we have, in His Name, as His Officers, been given by Christ the Mediator, the authority to exercise all the acts of ecclesiastical power competent to our office and jurisdiction (p.6).
Rather it is has nothing logically to do with Matt. 18, particularly Matt. 18:20 (which it does not include in all the boasting and shouting): "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Rather we are inclined to assert with the king of Israel to Benhadad. "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off (1K. 20:11)."

A Further Digression
Regarding the Distinctions Between Ministers and Elders

It must also be mentioned, because the PPSA neglects to do exactly that, that the London Ministers and Gillespie are not talking about just any two officers, such as two elders or two ministers. The reason this is important is because not only are ruling elders one of the two distinctives of presbyterian church government, but Gillespie says further, that both a pastor and a ruling elder or a minister of Christ and a representative of the people are necessary to make up a quorum for a court. It would not be enough to just have ruling elders or just ministers:
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 (emph. added, Assertion of the Ch. Govt. of Scotland, I:IV “The Second Argument [for Ruling Elders] Taken from Matt. 18:17")?
Without ruling elders, a court does not represent the hearers in the church, much more the church and therefore is not a lawful court. To the same end, Alexander Henderson, another influential churchman and who along with Baillie, Rutherford and Gillespie made up the Scottish contingent of theologians to the Westminster Assembly, though the PPSA does not mention him at all, in his Government and Order of the Church of Scotland (1641) agrees with this and says "The particular eldership or Church session consisteth of one or more ministers and of Elders so many in number as the proportion of the Congregation doth require, who ordinarily do meet once in the week (it. added, 1641, p.36)." In other words, if in extraordinary times a minimum of two officers in one congregation is sufficient for a lawful session, Gillespie and Henderson would also insist that this also means one pastor and one elder.

In other words, two elders or two ministers do not a lawful presbyterian session make, extraordinary times or no because either the representative of Christ is not present, or the representative of the hearers is not present. And in that an extraordinary court has to uphold the essence of the ordinary court in representation, the principle being: "In extraordinary cases, something extraordinary may be done, until a settled order may be had, yet keeping as near as possibly may be to the rule," an extraordinary session has to have both an elder and a minister present to uphold this aspect of a ordinary session in that there is a bare minimum without which there is no court. Consequently, according to the approved witnesses in the PPSA of the London Ministers and George Gillespie, it is obvious that the RPNA(GM) doesn’t have the minimum number of officers in one single particular congregation in order to form a session even in extraordinary times, never mind ordinary, whether Albany or Edmonton. We grant again, that there is enough officers plus one, a minister and two ruling elders, to come together in either locality, if not another location, in an extraordinary/temporary local session as is demonstrated numerous times in RP history, but that is not what the PPSA seems to be arguing for.

Again, the solution from the RP historical precedent and testimony is when there is not a quorum at the local congregational level for a regular session, that a visiting minister may constitute a temporary session with a local ruling elder or elders when he comes to town in order to not only administer sacraments, but also discipline, as well conduct worship. In this way the local and representative nature and essence of a session is upheld in extraordinary times. For an instance of this, see the Minutes of the Reformed Presbytery for Oct. 5, 1842.

Of this though, whether in principle or practice, there is no mention in the PPSA as mentioned previously in Section III:3 of the Intro to Further Remarks on the PPSA. Again, the fact of that absence gives lie to the closing comments of the PPSA:
In conclusion, when we represent ourselves as The Reformed Presbytery in North America (General Meeting), we are, in our judgment, accurately describing what we are. We realize that no name is perfectly descriptive, though we believe that our name adequately and honestly describes what we are, while maintaining historical continuity with the honorable testimony of those faithful Church Courts of the Reformed Presbytery which preceded us (p.29).
Rather the PPSA does no more than ignore, if not also suppress the "honorable testimony" of the "faithful Church Courts of the Reformed Presbytery" which preceded it. But this is to bear false witness, i.e. break the 9th Commandment.

(to be continued DV)