The Bible I read gives a strong impression that the King and Head of the Church looks none too kindly on this kind of brazen rebellion—especially when perpetrated by those who claim to be His shepherds. “It belongs to His Majesty,” reads the BCO Preface, “from His throne of glory to rule and teach the Church…”
A funny thing happened on the way to prodding my Presbytery to explain why it approved the ordination of pedophiles and homosexuals as pastors.
I am not making this up.
Not to bury the lede, I discovered that the highest court in this supposedly conservative denomination—the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) of the General Assembly—has been routinely violating the PCA Constitution and its Standards, for nearly three decades.
This is a bold and unusual claim to make. But relatively few people in the PCA have been on the strange journey that reveals this bizarre phenomenon. Not everyone travels to Australia, and accordingly, few see a black swan in the wild, or a mammal that lays eggs. But we’re not in Australia just yet; I am getting ahead of myself. Every journey, no matter how strange, needs a starting point. So let me follow the advice of Vizzini (The Princess Bride) and “go back to the beginning.”
When your correspondent was a college student (getting invaluable training from The Navigators™ college ministry), close at hand there were PCA giants roaming the earth: Frank Barker Jr. and Peter Doyle. With my Navigator buddies I studied Romans chapter by chapter, and in the process adopted the reformed perspective—long before I found out there was a word for it. Since then, I have served as an ordained Ruling Elder (RE) in the PCA for well over 30 years. As we moved about the country courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, my wife and I transferred our membership among a string of PCA churches in Arkansas, Ohio, South Carolina, Maryland and Tennessee. I have served on three church Sessions in three different states; at the Presbytery level, on two committees and a judicial commission; and at General Assembly (GA) as a commissioner from my church.
In short, I am about as loyal as one can reasonable be to the Presbyterian form of government[i] in general and to the PCA’s original philosophy of ministry in particular. For more than three decades, I have explored both the beautiful and the ugly side of the PCA. I still enjoy serving the people God loves so lavishly in this denomination.
My first experience with the ugly side of the PCA occurred while serving on a judicial commission of Chesapeake Presbytery. As a commissioner going through meeting minutes, I had discovered that a Session had ruled that a Deacon and his wife (neither of whom had I met) could not host in their home a woman in distress. Now, no PCA Session has authority over who can or can’t be hosted in a particular home. This kind of ruling is called “binding the conscience” in the PCA, and it is prohibited in explicit terms[ii]; it means this Session usurped authority no church court possesses[iii]. Although this flawed ruling was well-documented—a “clean kill,” so to speak—my fellow commissioners proceeded to ignore the finding. They offered no explanation; then they voted to keep this finding out of the report. I felt this was a dereliction of our duty to the Deacon if not to the entire Presbytery that commissioned us.
The PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO), a component of its Constitution, offers a formal way to raise such issues and get them addressed: the formal complaint (BCO 43). When I filed complaints about this dereliction of duty with the Presbytery, the Moderator responded by claiming that since I was not a member of the Presbytery I did not have grounds for filing a complaint. He cited no reference for this assertion, nor did he offer any supporting rationale or inference chain[iv]. His fiat ruling was sustained by majority vote—my first experience with what I will call The Great Presbytery Smackdown, a crude kind of internal cancel culture unique to the PCA. It’s a kind of ad hominem assault that leverages a widespread confusion about authority—a confusion we will explore in this article. If you have not seen one in person, a Smackdown looks more like something drawn from Rules for Radicals or The Prince[v] than from anything Christ Jesus said.[vi] Later I appealed my complaints to the SJC, who found that I “certainly had the right to file a complaint” but did not direct any specific corrective action for Chesapeake Presbytery.[vii]
More recently, Tennessee Valley Presbytery approved a licensure candidate who, during his oral examination, explicitly approved the ordination of homosexuals and pedophiles as pastors (Teaching Elders). Licensure is the formal authorization to preach. As one who suspected an effort to syncretize pagan “social justice” religious dogma[viii] with Christianity or practice a kind of selective antinomianism, I had a question: How does the Presbytery make this position fit with the Scriptures on the subject? As a church member within the geographical jurisdiction of this Presbytery I filed a one-page complaint.[ix]
At the time I was a PCA church member but not elected and installed on a Session, and so could not have served as a commissioner from my church. But I made sure to attend the next Presbytery meeting as a visitor; I wanted to be available either to answer questions from the floor or meet with a committee. This was my first interaction with this particular Presbytery, and I was curious whether they would refer the complaint to committee or conduct an open discussion on the issues I raised.
Fat chance. The first announcement of the complaint as an item on the agenda was followed, not by a motion to refer to committee, but a brief and baldly stated motion: “to deny the complaint.” In what passed for “discussion”, not one speaker discussed any point in the substance of the complaint, nor asked that the complaint be read. From previous experience I recognized the pattern; an imminent Smackdown was in the works.
The sole, single and solitary argument raised (in support of the Smackdown motion) was that the complaint was based on hearsay. The speaker (a Teaching Elder) argued that as I was not present when the Presbytery voted to approve the candidate espousing homosexual and pedophile pastors, the complaint was just hearsay. Despite the fact that such an argument is a logical fallacy[x] employing a tactfully hidden but patently false premise (and as such is prohibited by God in the Scriptures[xi]), no one pointed out its illegitimate nature. No other argument was offered. True to form, the now-familiar Presbytery Smackdown ran its predictable course. Alinsky and Machiavelli would have been proud: no Golden Rule practiced here.
The message was clear: You’re a nice guy, Mr. Acree, but Tennessee Valley Presbytery does not care to answer sticky questions that would likely expose antinomianism or a creeping syncretism of a pagan dogma with Christianity, thank you very much. We’re done with you. And the horse you rode in on.
Later I was informed by the Stated Clerk via email that the Presbytery had consulted with Dr. Roy L. Taylor on this matter of Presbyterian polity. The Stated Clerk offered an attempt at a justification for the Smackdown:
Please also note, that after consultation with the General Assembly’s Stated Clerk Emeritus, Dr. Roy Taylor, the Presbytery was advised that according to BCO 43-1 and 13-1 only members (TEs) and elected ruling elders sent as commissioners to Presbytery may file a complaint against an action of Presbytery. The court of original jurisdiction for a church member is the Session, not the Presbytery. Despite this, the Presbytery did read and discuss the content of your complaint at the most immediate stated meeting and approved a motion to deny your complaint.
While I am sure that individual members of Presbytery may have read and discussed the complaint in whatever informal groups they may care to cluster in, I am sure also that Tennessee Valley Presbytery—the formal deliberative body defined by the term “Presbytery”—never discussed the content of my complaint in any way[xii] at “the most immediate meeting.” I know this with absolute certainty because all the through their brute force Smackdown, I was sitting there with them all, listening carefully. I would have noticed. My friends and fellow Elders from my church, who were also there, would have noticed. The Stated Clerk’s assertion is demonstrably false, and so is a violation of the PCA Standards. This attempt at an explanation also includes a compound fallacy (about original jurisdiction) that we will examine in detail later in this article. But let’s put that aside—there are much bigger fish to fry.
It will help to review some important concepts. Jurisdiction is usually a well-understood concept in the United States; the term has a plain meaning that originates as early as Exodus 18, and is widely used in civil government. In the hierarchy of ecclesiastical courts that constitute the PCA, each component court is given primacy of governance over its particular jurisdiction, but the court one step up also has jurisdiction in a secondary way that might be called oversight. More specifically, a church Session has primary governance (jurisdiction) over its congregation, but the Session operates within the jurisdiction of Presbytery; likewise, a Presbytery has jurisdiction over a geographic area, but operates within the jurisdiction of the General Assembly (and its Standing Judicial Commission).
Thus, the various jurisdictions are nested in a hierarchy. The churches within the geographic bounds of a Presbytery A—its constituent churches—are held accountable to the Presbytery because their governance oversight role has been reserved for Presbytery A. That means Presbytery B can’t assert its authority over the churches in the jurisdiction of Presbytery A; in the same way, Presbytery A can’t try to govern all the other Presbyteries because that is the role reserved solely for General Assembly. But it also means that General Assembly would not normally interfere directly with Presbytery A’s governance of its constituent churches; similarly, Presbytery A would not normally interfere with a church Session’s governance of its congregation.
This plain meaning is replicated in the United States Constitution: New York’s state government can’t try to govern a town in New Jersey; and New Jersey can’t try to govern all the 50 states the way the Federal government does. And the Federal government can’t tell New Jersey to adjust their state income tax.
When a case that originated within the jurisdiction of a lower court is appealed to a higher court, the higher court is described as having appellate jurisdiction; it has the right to hear the appeal. But in unusual circumstances, a superior court may, temporarily but properly, take to itself the jurisdiction that would normally belong to an inferior court. For example, if Presbytery A has been found to have severely mismanaged a case within its jurisdiction, the SJC may properly take original jurisdiction—i.e., take the case away from Presbytery A and retry that case at the higher (SJC) level—as if the SJC had the normal jurisdiction at the moment the case originated. And a Presbytery can in similar fashion take original jurisdiction from one of its constituent church courts (a Session).
These processes are stipulated in the PCA Constitution, which includes the Book of Church Order (BCO). In case you aren’t familiar with the BCO, you can easily see it at https://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/BCO-2019-with-bookmarks-for-website-1.pdf. The Preface to the BCO is well worth reading. To save you time looking up what the Stated Clerk referred me to, here is BCO paragraph 43-1 in full:
43-1. A complaint is a written representation made against some act or decision of a court of the Church. It is the right of any communing member of the Church in good standing to make complaint against any action of a court to whose jurisdiction he is subject, except that no complaint is allowable in a judicial case in which an appeal is pending.
As you can see, there is no mention of a requirement to be a commissioner or a Teaching Elder in this text; those terms are conspicuously absent. Please note for later that “jurisdiction” appears in the context of “any communing member”; very different from the SJC’s restriction to “commissioners or Teaching Elders”. The only possible way to twist this wording into what the Stated Clerk sent me is to alter the meaning of “jurisdiction”, or by using some logic chain or extended syllogism. That may be why he included a statement about “original jurisdiction.” We will return to these two later. But lest we forget, the Stated Clerk also referenced BCO 13-1, which appears in a chapter entitled The Presbytery:
13-1. The Presbytery consists of all the teaching elders and churches within its bounds that have been accepted by the Presbytery. When the Presbytery meets as a court it shall comprise all teaching elders and ruling elders as elected by their Session. Each congregation is entitled to two (2) ruling elder representatives for the first 350 communing members or fraction thereof, and one additional ruling elder for each additional 500 communing members or fraction thereof.
As with 43-1, you can see that BCO 13-1 contains no requirement to be a commissioner or a Teaching Elder to have standing within in the jurisdiction of a Presbytery.
But the Stated Clerk mentioned “original jurisdiction”; what logic would make him do that, when neither of the texts in the BCO he referenced use this phrase? One possibility is that he and others are equivocating, by implying that the use of “jurisdiction” in 43-1 is the semantic equivalent of “original jurisdiction”. But confounding “jurisdiction” and “original jurisdiction” would result in some serious confusion if for consistency we tried to use the same confounding in other parts of the BCO that use these terms. This equivocation fallacy is easily exposed by reductio ad absurdum.
As we have seen, the concept of jurisdiction is rather critical to the Presbyterian form of government, whether liberal or conservative, civil or ecclesiastic. Accordingly, the term appears no less than 77 times in the BCO. We have seen that it has two distinct qualifiers (original; appellate) added to distinguish which direction one is moving (under special circumstances) among the arrangement of court jurisdictions. This is necessary because the jurisdictions of the various courts nest together in a hierarchical order. It should be no surprise that two whole chapters are devoted to the concept (Chapters 11 and 46)—which chapters are curiously missing from the Stated Clerk’s attempt at an explanation. Surely, if their view has support anywhere in the BCO at all, something in these key chapters should support their position. But alas, no mention of either chapter 11 or 46. Just thin air.
Another possibility is that they have inserted a hidden qualifier (in this case, “original”) that does not appear in the text—something I am sure in seminary they were all taught not to do. I never went to seminary, but even I learned this is illegitimate. The more subtle form is called eisegesis, and it means injecting a meaning into the text that is not actually there, by verbal sleight of hand. It is a kind of dealing falsely—with the author of the text, with the intended audience, etc.—and that is prohibited by God for His people, as we have seen earlier. It’s a clear violation of the PCA Standards.
Without explicit mention in BCO texts for a foundation, there is another possibility: that there exists some logic chain or extended syllogism that supports their critical idea. To do that, it would have to start with authoritative BCO excerpts, and then proceed “by good and necessary inference” (i.e., sound logic that has no other possible alternative) to end up with their final argument. Each step in the logic chain would have to be clearly stated and must logically follow from the preceding statements. The final line in the chain would have to be something like “Therefore, complaints against actions of Presbytery can only be filed by either Teaching Elders who are members of that Presbytery, or by Ruling Elders commissioned to attend the meeting in which the action was completed.”
You may have noticed that their explanation offered no such logic chain. I noticed. And I suspect that many fathers and mothers who attend PCA churches in the jurisdiction of Tennessee Valley Presbytery would like to know that in the near future their children may soon be exposed to pedophiles and homosexuals wearing the (formerly) trusted title of PCA pastor. So in 2021 I filed an appeal of my complaint with the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. Such an appeal goes to “the higher court”, which in this case is also the highest court of the PCA, the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) of the General Assembly. After a bit of introduction and background for context, I explained to the SJC the process errors and logical fallacy committed by my Presbytery.
And now we come to the strange episode in which the Standing Judicial Commission violates the PCA Constitution and Standards, not to mention the vows of ordination—not just once, but repeatedly. After nearly a year, the SJC responded to my appeal, and minus the voting of the particular Officers of the Commission, it reads as follows:
This case began as an attempt by a Ruling Elder to file a BCO 43-1 Complaint with Presbytery as the original court, even though he was not a commissioner at the Presbytery meeting where the action was taken. The Officers reviewed the Complaint and recommended the Case be found Administratively Out of Order. (OMSJC 9.1.a) The Officers determined that the Case could not be put in order (OMSJC 9.2), because the Complainant was not identified in the roster of Ruling Elder Commissioners at the April 2021 meeting of the Presbytery in which the action was taken from which his Complaint arises. The Presbytery Clerk confirmed he was not a commissioner at that meeting. The Officers notified RE Acree that they were making this recommendation to the SJC. Therefore, the SJC rules the Complainant did not have standing to file a BCO 43-1 complaint with Presbytery. Presbytery should have also found his Complaint out of order and declined to adjudicate at its July 2021 meeting. See similar SJC rulings on standing in:
Case 2020-13, Benyola v. Central Florida, (M48GA, 2021, p. 817),
Case 2020-01, Benyola v. Central Florida (M48GA, 2021, p. 801),
Case 2012-08, RE Warren Jackson v. Northwest Georgia (M43GA, 2015, p. 568),
Case 2012-06, Deacon Don Bethel v. Southeast Alabama (M41GA, 2013, p. 614), and
Case 92-9b, Mr. Overman v. Eastern Carolina (M21GA, 1993, p. 223).
In reviewing the SJC ruling above, a couple of things should stand out. First, the entire SJC ruling hinges on just one critical idea: that Ruling Elders cannot complain about an action of Presbytery unless they are commissioned by their Session to attend the particular meeting when that action occurred. The key term, used twice in the SJC ruling, is “standing.” How the SJC rationally supports this position on “standing,” which as we have seen earlier has no explicit basis in the BCO, the SJC failed to provide. It is simply asserted here without support, floating on nothing.
Second, the SJC seems to be astonished and possibly annoyed at the failure of Tennessee Valley Presbytery to administratively adjudicate my complaint as Out of Order based on the SJC’s critical idea. It appears that the SJC has assumed that every Presbytery in the PCA has been officially informed about the SJC’s restriction on standing. Yet, the SJC provides no reference to any widely publicized and GA-authorized document in which a Presbytery might find an official description of this novel restriction.
Third, the only clue as to where some authoritative basis and explanation for this critical idea might be found is in the list of “similar SJC rulings on standing”. This list starts with a case in 2013 and works its way back to the minutes (page 223) of the 21st GA meeting in 1993, so it seems reasonable to expect to find an explicit motion, or at least a logic chain recorded in the 1993 minutes. Those minutes are found here: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (pcahistory.org).
A review of the 21st GA Minutes shows 82 instances of “jurisdiction” (including “jurisdictional” etc.)—but not one instance redefining “jurisdiction” as hinging on meeting attendance as a commissioner. The term “standing” occurs 85 times, and one of these instances is the case cited by the SJC above (92-9b, pages 223-224). As such it appears to be the foundational case for the entire string of “similar SJC rulings” between 1993 and the present. The key paragraph in this allegedly foundational SJC ruling is:
92-9b was found not in order. Recommendation to the full Commission: that 92-9b be found not in order because of lack of standing since the complainant is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Eastern Carolina Presbytery (BCO 43-1; MSJC 6.2).
That’s it. No supporting rationale, just an assertion connecting lack of standing to some unnamed aspect of jurisdiction, presumably using some logic—but logic that is held out of view. I have looked at each of the other four cases on the SJC list of “similar rulings” as they are recorded in GA minutes; none offer anything better than this one.
As we have seen earlier, without indulging in an illegitimate eisegesis or fallacy of equivocation, the first reference (BCO 43-1) cannot logically be construed as an explicit and authoritative basis for the critical idea. That leaves “MSJC 6.2” as a possible source document.
Right. I think we can agree that an Operating Manual, which is usually just a collection of procedures, is not a sufficiently authoritative source for a governing principle wherein “jurisdiction” and “standing” are significantly altered from their plain meaning in the BCO texts. More significantly, the current SJC, in their ruling on my complaint appeal, did not cite a single paragraph in the current operating manual (the OMSJC). Taken together, these two points indicate that we can discard the citation of “MSJC 6.2” as a possible authoritative source document for the critical idea; it’s clearly irrelevant.
But let’s be generous. Perhaps the SJC’s 1993 ruling on case 92-9b was based on a motion approved by GA the previous year. A review of the previous GA meeting minutes (in 1992) shows 91 instances of “standing.” Not a single instance restricts standing with regard to filing a complaint. There are 62 instances of “jurisdiction.” Again, not a single instance restricts standing with regard to filing a complaint. As I stated earlier, I have read the GA minutes for each of the “similar rulings” on the list they provided and found nothing of substance—no explicit authorization in the BCO or motions of the GA, and no logic chains. But you don’t have to take my word for it; you can download the pdf files and use the search function yourself.
But let’s not give up; perhaps the Office of the Stated Clerk can help us locate some rationale in the form of a logic chain, perhaps in a PCA position paper. In response to my subsequent inquiries with the Office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Dr. Roy L. Taylor offered this:
“To summarize my logic.
- BCO 15-4 and 15-5 are part of the PCA Constitution.
- The process of amending the BCO was followed by the General Assembly, the approval of two-thirds of Presbyteries, and a subsequent General Assembly in accordance with BCO 26-2.
- Because BCO 15-4 and 15-5 are now part of the PCA Constitution, I do not need to provide you with motions adopted by the General Assembly or additional rationale.”
That’s it. Two paragraphs in the BCO. In case you’re wondering, BCO 15-4 starts this way:
15-4. The General Assembly shall elect a Standing Judicial Commission to which it shall commit all matters governed by the Rules of Discipline, except for the annual review of Presbytery records, which may come before the Assembly. This commission shall consist of twenty-four…
BCO 15-5 continues in the same vein, just procedures. In other words, BCO 15-4 and BCO 15-5 are descriptions of procedure, not descriptions or restrictions on standing or jurisdiction. Nowhere in this relatively short two-paragraph section will you find the slightest reference to the SJC’s critical idea. Nor will you find authorization deputed to the SJC to ignore the plain meaning or modify foundational definitions (such as “standing” and “jurisdiction”) so crucial to the presbyterian form of government. Recall that the SJC did not cite either of these paragraphs as a source in their ruling.
To summarize thus far, your correspondent found no explicit GA direction or authorization to restrict standing or modify “jurisdiction”, nor did he find any “good and necessary inference” by which such a restriction might be deduced from GA-approved motions. The SJC’s critical idea appears only in its rulings, without authoritative foundation; it floats without anchor on nothing but thin air.
That leaves one remaining possibility, as bizarre as it may seem: the SJC usurped legislative authority.[xiii] The Officers surreptitiously ignored the plain meaning of “jurisdiction” in the BCO, and without any proper authorization they made up a completely new restriction on foundational concepts (standing; jurisdiction), fabricated out of thin air, and substituted it for the plain meaning. Modifying two foundational definitions is a role restricted to legislative authority—the GA itself. In case you’re wondering, at no point in its history has the GA deputized its SJC to act with legislative authority; if the GA had, no one would bother to attend GA, because the SJC would be in complete charge.
Any review of legislation reveals that it is chock full of definitions—legal definitions—to be used by attorneys and judges as they apply the force of enacted law to particular cases. Legislators routinely fabricate definitions for terms like Sole Proprietorship and Limited Liability Corporation; if they didn’t no one would be able to understand what they were talking about, much less how to apply their laws once enacted. The Book of Church Order is another example of legislation, with definitions embedded throughout. These legislative definitions supply us with the plain meaning of the terms.
An illustration might help. If a civil judge, in the process of adjudicating a case involving a Sole Proprietorship or a Limited Liability Corporation, modified the definition of either of these terms with his own restriction, say to exclude blacks or Hispanics, or to include only the owners of pickup trucks, we know with crystal clarity and absolute certainty that this judge has ignored the plain meaning of the legal text. In modifying a definition in the legislation he has “legislated from the bench” (usurped legislative authority). He has committed a professional foul for which he may properly be impeached.
Since the GA officially deputized the SCJ with judicial authority only, usurping legislative authority is a clear violation of the PCA Constitution and Standards, not to mention a violation of the respective Officer’s oaths of ordination[xiv]. Their eisegesis on the Book of Church Order, among other logical fallacies that comprise a deceptive attempt to give these rulings an appearance of legitimacy, is also a violation of God’s explicit commands. In short, all of the cited list of SJC rulings that employ the SJC-fabricated restriction are illegitimate, and the current SJC Officers, by continuing an illegitimate practice (as they did with my appeal), are equally as guilty as the SJC was in 1993 of violating both the Constitution and the Standards.
I think it’s obvious that the Presbytery Smackdown practice is the natural result of the unconstitutional SJC Smackdown practice that began in 1993. One large-scale negative effect is to discourage PCA Elders from working through issues in their own Presbytery with careful, diligent statesmanship. The threat of a Smackdown is too great to invest the effort. The Smackdown means that instead of getting proper discussion in a Presbytery, critical issues get polarized in unofficial caucuses such as the Gospel Reformation Network and the National Partnership. The PCA loses to a significant degree the great benefit of an entire intermediate level of polity discourse. Another effect is to discourage Presbyterian officers from learning the arduous but noble work of statesmanship in His Church; brute force thuggery precludes the fine art of statecraft.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Presbyterians love committees, so surely there is some committee of the GA whose job it is to catch these things.” If there is, it would probably be the Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB). But you have to realize that, aside from the occasional Presbytery Smackdown, the culture of Southern Church-ianity[xv] is passive. Many don’t like confrontation in any form. Many church officers can’t conceive that God routinely uses unpleasant things like conflict to construct His transcendent good for the benefit of His Beloved. Many more do not know how to file a complaint. In practice, that means that those who make this journey, the people with the temerity to file a complaint against a whole Presbytery will face a steep climb and possibly social castigation, labelled as “contentious” or “angry”.
Then there is the art and science of writing up a sound complaint and a proper appeal; few are trained or equipped with these skills of statecraft. Such intrepid statesmen of deep conviction and skill are few and far between, and so this kind of complaint—and its corresponding illegitimate SJC response—are relatively rare. So the CCB may be completely unaware of this brazen, if intermittent, arrogation of legislative power, simply because it might only rarely (if ever) come to their attention.
I have made some striking charges against the SJC and my Presbytery in this article, and I am fully prepared to face an ecclesiastic court on countercharges of libel.[xvi] Consider this public rebuke[xvii] an open invitation for any of the SJC Officers and various Stated Clerks I mentioned to respond in an equally public forum. I am concerned for the welfare of my fellow officers, but more for the future welfare of children in Tennessee Valley Presbytery. I don’t think it wise to allow any surreptitious monkeying around with foundational concepts like jurisdiction or standing. Especially when used to beat down an honest question from a fellow servant of Christ. But I really don’t think it wise to expose minors and young adults to male homosexuals and pedophiles who are awarded a title of public trust. The Boy Scouts went this way. So did the Roman Catholic Church. I don’t think it wise, either for Sessions or Presbyteries or Standing Commissions, to traffic in false premises and logical fallacies.
o “Let us not fear the opposition of men; every great movement in the Church from Paul down to modern times has been criticized on the ground that it promoted censoriousness and intolerance and disputing. Of course the gospel of Christ, in a world of sin and doubt will cause disputing; and if does not cause disputing and arouse bitter opposition, that is a fairly sure sign that it is not being faithfully proclaimed.”
o “In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.”
o “It is impossible to be a true soldier of Jesus Christ and not fight.”
— John Gresham Machen
The Bible I read gives a strong impression that the King and Head of the Church[xviii] looks none too kindly on this kind of brazen rebellion—especially when perpetrated by those who claim to be His shepherds. “It belongs to His Majesty,” reads the BCO Preface, “from His throne of glory to rule and teach the Church…” His Majesty has spoken rather bluntly about His views, and on several occasions. His descriptions of the outcome for the perpetrators are always memorable, terse and stark. Not to mention unpleasant.
But perhaps my fellow PCA Elders have forgotten, among other important things like their ordination vows, that It belongs to His Majesty. Perhaps they have forgotten that His Majesty is coming back. That when He does come back He will judge every word.
Until He appears, I predict that some PCA Ruling Elders will be dodging accountability with “Hey, I did not attend the meeting in question as a commissioner, so according to the PCA I’m not under your jurisdiction.” And I predict that parents and their lawyers will be lining up to file suit, not just against churches of Tennessee Valley Presbytery but against the whole of the PCA (the deep pocket) now that the SJC has made the denomination arguably complicit and equally culpable—for materially aiding the sexual molestation of their minor children.
Easy money; like shooting fish in a barrel. Just ask the Scouts.
J. Lance Acree is in his 33rd year of service as a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. He researches preventable human error and lives with his wife of 41 years in Clinton, Tennessee.
[i] If you are not familiar with the presbyterian form of church government, it has been hammered out over four and a half centuries as a systematic application of scripture, beginning primarily among Scottish churches in the 1560s.
[ii] Preface to the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO), Preliminary Principles, item 7; and BCO 11-2
[iii] BCO 7-3
[iv] For an example of an inference chain relating to standing, see the Minutes of the 21st General Assembly, page 188-189; a Presbytery supplied its well-constructed logic chain for all to see.
[v] See the chapter “Of Means and Ends” in Saul D. Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971), or Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince.
[vi] To the contrary, see Christ’s command in Matt 20:25-28 / Mark 10:42-45.
[vii] In obedience to Christ’s command to “tell it to the church” (Matt 18) I published this experience in a booklet: Practicing the Truth: A Post Mortem.
[viii] See Carpenter, W. (2021). Woke Religion: Unmasking the False Gospel of Social Justice. Ambassador Int’l.
[ix] BCO 43
[x] The implied question of who might have been an eyewitness is a distracting deception; we all know that it’s highly probable every officer on the attendance roster was an eyewitness to the event in question.
[xi] See Leviticus 19:11.
[xii] Commissioners present tell me that the content of my complaint was not discussed during Executive Session.
[xiii] Example of a legal analysis of legislating from the bench: “By allowing a court to order restitution, for the first time, after the ninety-day deadline has lapsed, the Court has essentially deleted a provision from the MVRA and replaced it with its own judicially created provision, ignoring the plain meaning of the statute as explicitly embodied in § 3664(d)(5), and thereby legislating from the bench.” Sisemore, A. J. (2012). Straying from the Written Path: How the Supreme Court Eviscerated the Plain Meaning of the MVRA’s Ninety-Day Deadline Provision and Legislated from the Bench in Dolan v. United States. Oklahoma Law Review, 64(2), 211–233.
[xiv] For one example: Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?
[xv] Church-ianity is where orthodoxy is strong but orthopraxis is weak; selective antinomianism is the order of the day. These churches are about Christ but not of Him; He stands outside the door and knocks, because His Lordship is being systematically ignored. Churches where obedience to Christ is both preached and practiced are full of Christ-ians; these are churches of Christ. I make this distinction because of a trend among PCA churches of de-emphasizing simple obedience to Christ.
[xvi] Amusingly, such a charge would rely on the plain meaning of jurisdiction, instead of the SJC’s distortion that requires my prior attendance as a commissioner at a specific meeting.
[xvii] In Matt 18, “tell it to the church” clearly means a public rebuke.
[xviii] Preface to the PCA Book of Church Order