May 31, 2011 | Comments 34
Editor’s Note: It is the practice of the Editor to use the third person when he writes. However, since the article below is in the form of a “letter,” the Editor will use the first person.
I think that the tragic character Gollum in J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings is specifically analogous to the relationship between the ARP Church and Erskine College and Seminary. Gollum was bewitched by and addicted to the evil ring of power to the point of slavery and destruction. The ring that he called “My Precious! My Precious!” was so corrupting and deadly that his humanity was transmogrified into a hideous creature that was a caricature of grotesque beastliness. The ring’s seductive power was so great that he was not able to deal with it in the only way that was sane and safe – by burning it in the fires of Mount Doom.
Like Gollum and the ring, the ARP Church for the past 50 years has been both spiritually seduced and gelded by the power of a deadly ring. Our ring is not so much Erskine College and Seminary as it is the addictive notion that the Lord Jesus Christ has called the little ARP Church to the business of a college and seminary that are LIKE the colleges and seminaries of the world and the other denominations (especially those who have forgotten God). Our dream of an evangelical and confessionally Reformed college and seminary that are second to none has gripped us in blind and stubborn devotion to the point that we have thrown ourselves and our resources into a fruitless and, I sincerely believe, sinful endeavor.
We have somehow read the Great Commission and have come up with the idea that Jesus instructed us to build a college and a seminary. We have gone so far as to identify the mission of the ARP Church with the advancement and continuance of the man-made institution of Erskine College and Seminary. We have justified our disobedience and adoration of that which we have built as our obedience in advancing the Church. We have failed to listen when Jesus said that He died for His Church, and we have somehow re-interpreted His words as “DIED FOR HIS SCHOOL” and have gone forth and dissipated our resources to erect Erskine College and Seminary as an idol of our disobedience.
Originally, our task was noble; however, as is often the case, we came to adore the thing we created rather than adoring the God who gave us the resources with which to build, and a good thing has been corrupted to the point of no return. We now fail to recognize that God has closed the door and that all our efforts are not going to reopen what God has closed. We have failed in our vigilance in watching over what God entrusted to us, and we have failed to use our courage to stand against disobedience and infidelity; therefore, God has taken from us the thing entrusted to us and given it to others. That He has handed our ring over to those who despise evangelical Christianity is ample evidence of the level of God’s judgment on the ARP Church!
My brother ministers and elders, we are all being judged by God. We have all been seduced and deformed and gelded by the ring of Erskine College and Seminary. Of all the people who have drunk from this bitter cup, I have drunk much too deeply for the last 40 years. Shame on me!
Our recent efforts are too little and too late. God cannot trust us with the task of Erskine College and Seminary. We now do not have the resources, the faith, or the courage. It is time we let go of this evil and corrupting ring before the lamp of the church is taken from the ARP Church. Indeed, as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are deformed and dying and disobedient, and still the refrain for the umpteenth time goes up for the ring: “Let’s try one more year!”
No, let us flee the evil ring!
Brothers, we have met the enemy and he is US! We have been defeated and put to flight and scattered by US!
Report on the Meeting of the Erskine Board of Trustees
The Erskine Board of Trustees met on May 19 and 20. The following are some of the highlights.
- HIGHLIGHT: It was announced to the EBOT that Erskine College and Seminary is the leader of peer institutions in campus recycling. A full 33% of campus trash is recycled through this award-winning program, called “Recycle-Mania.” I am sure the whole evangelical community in the USA and the rest of the world is gathering to Due West to learn from Erskine College and Seminary about trash.
- HIGHLIGHT: When the bylaws were presented to the EBOT, a motion was made to affix the bylaws with a preamble that would have acknowledged that the EBOT is subordinate to and under the review and control of the ARP Church. As Erskine documents and ARP Church documents clearly state, Erskine College and Seminary is an agency of the ARP Church and is owned and operated by the ARP Church. Below is a copy of the document.
Preamble to the Erskine College and Seminary Bylaws
Notwithstanding anything contained herein, the Erskine College Board of Trustees hereby acknowledges that pursuant to the ARP Church’s Book of Standards and its Manual of Authorities and Duties, it is subordinate to and is under the review and control of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. The ARP Church retains its right to appoint trustees at will notwithstanding recommendations by its Committee on Nominations and further retains its rights to remove trustees with cause and in accordance with the Manual of Authorities and Duties.
The motion failed. According to multiple sources, the vote fell out in the following manner:
FOR – Dr. Boyce Wilson, Rev. Charles Evans, Mr. Steve Maye, Dr. John Basie, Dr. Jim Corbitt, Rev. Joey Donahue, Rev. David Johnston, Mrs. Judy Boyd, Dr. Fred Carr, Mr. Bobby McDonald, and Dr. Dixon Cunningham;
AGAINST – Mr. Scott Mitchell; Mr. Robert Galloway, III, Ms. Ann Marie Tribble, Mr. Joe Patrick, III, Rev. Eddie Spencer, Rev. Ray Cameron, Ms. Crosland Stuart, Mr. Jerry Clemons, Dr. Richard Taylor, Mr. David Whitesides, Ms. Jennifer Gilkison, Mr. William Cain, Dr. Larry Nycum, Ms. Lisa Senn, Rev. Andy Putnam, Ms. Ann Campbell and Mr. David Conner;
ABSENT – Dr. Randy Folks, Rev. Max Bolin, and Rev. Tim Watson.
The following asked that their vote be recorded in favor of the amendment: Rev. Chuck Evans, Dr. Fred Carr, Rev. Joey Donahue, Mr. Steve Maye, Mr. Bobby McDonald, Mrs. Judy Boyd, Mr. Dixon Cunningham, Dr. Jim Corbitt, Rev. David Johnston, and Dr. Boyce Wilson.
A motion then was made to adopt the new bylaws and the vote to adopt prevailed. Mr. Steve Maye and Mr. Bobby McDonald asked that their names be recorded in opposition to the motion that was passed.
Below are a few of my comments regarding the amendment:
- Just before Synod last year, I wrote the following article in ARPTalk, “Rodney King Evangelicals,” warning that the secularist members of the EBOT who were removed by the “Snow Synod” and then restored in the subsequent legal proceeding were going to attempt to steal Erskine College and Seminary from the ARP Church. My prediction was a year off. They have attempted and they have succeeded. We in the ARP Church do not have the will to see this overturned. At this point, it will take a Charter change that would involve the re-chartering of Erskine College and Seminary. Plainly, we DO NOT have the spiritual stamina or courage to do what it would take to bring that to pass.
- The argument that the preamble amendment would not pass muster with SACS is a red herring. The language mirrors what the EBOT has adopted in the past. The language is similar to that at Covenant College (PCA) and passed SACS’ litmus test. Indeed, the bylaws of Covenant College have been reviewed and approved by SACS with the PCA recognized as a DUE INFLUENCE. Now, with the passing of the revised bylaws, the ARP Church is identified as UNDUE INFLUENCE!
- Why are the names of Rev. Eddie Spencer, Rev. Ray Cameron, and Rev. Andy Putnam recorded in opposition to the preamble amendment? Why are they against that which would clearly reaffirm the relation that had existed between Erskine College and Seminary and the ARP Church? Have they not betrayed the ARP Church? The day of standing came, and they stood with those who have made it crystal clear that they have no use for the ARP Church. Sadly, Rev. Putnam, Moderator-elect, is one of the authors of the revised bylaws. Why did he not stand to protect the interests of the ARP Church? The day of choice came; these men chose to stand against the ARP Church! There is no other way to put it! What I write ain’t nice, but it is true! Indeed, they will say they voted their conscience; their consciences have led them to betray their church.
- These new bylaws propose a new trustee selection process yet to be ratified. The proposed Trustee Selection Manual has been distributed to EBOT members, but that manual will not be voted on until after the meeting of General Synod, and presently the policy does not exist. The bylaws now state that ONLY the EBOT has the authority to remove trustees – not the General Synod that elected them. The new bylaws also set the terms on trusteeship – a right currently held by the General Synod. At the next meeting of the EBOT all substantive authority that the General Synod has over Erskine College and Seminary will be nullified.
- Whether we ARPs are willing to look at reality and acknowledge it, the historic relationship between the ARP Church and Erskine College and Seminary is NOW severed. In my opinion, these changes in the bylaws make the General Synod’s oversight of Erskine College and Seminary so narrow and inflexible as to be meaningless words on paper. Erskine College and Seminary is no longer an agency of the ARP Church. The question that is now before us is this: Do we want to be just another DONOR to the parachurch organization called “Erskine College and Seminary” that once had an organic relationship with the ARP Church?
- HIGHLIGHT: The EBOT did not unambiguously support President David Norman in his denial of Dr. Jay Hering’s application for tenure. The argument for not backing President Norman that was presented was that the current tenure process has not been adopted by the EBOT. It seems that the previous tenure process dates back to 1976/77 and in 2009 former President Randy Ruble changed the policy and sent the changes to Chairman Scott Mitchell for review by the EBOT and adoption. Chairman Scott Mitchell claims that he did not get Dr. Ruble’s memo. Whatever the case, the recent changes separated the tenure process into a college protocol and a seminary protocol. It seems that many changes were unilaterally implemented at the seminary under the leadership of former Executive Vice President H. Neely Gaston, who seems to have made-it-up-out-of-thin-air as he went along. Due diligence was not done by either the Seminary Committee or the EBOT during the Reign of Disaster under Drs. Ruble and Gaston. Ultimately, as Trustee Eddie Spenser expressed it, tenure is an Executive decision. Indeed, it is in the province of the President to grant or deny tenure for whatever reasons. Shockingly and shamefully, Dr. Hering appeared before the EBOT with his lawyer, Mr. Brown Parkinson, a member of the Greenville ARP Church. So that no one misunderstands, at Erskine College and Seminary, the denial of tenure is not the equivalent of being dismissed. Erskine does not have an “up or out” policy. Despite the denial of tenure, Dr. Hering would still retain his job. The present issue does not speak regarding Dr. Hering’s employment; rather, it speaks volumes regarding the EBOT’s failure to unambiguously support the President that they voted unanimously to hire as President last year. Frankly, this action by the EBOT is not about the realities at Erskine College and Seminary; rather, this is about the strained political relationship between the EBOT and the ARP Church.
- HIGHLIGHTS: The situation at Erskine Seminary is a disaster from stem to stern. There is no other way to put it! (1) According to multiple sources, the ATS audit is not going well. There are going to be many citations. Probation regarding accreditation is a looming possibility. (2) Many, many changes in the catalogue and in procedures were implemented unilaterally by former Vice President H. Neely Gaston apart from the Seminary Committee’s oversight. For example, the catalogue revision below is found in the 2010/11 catalogue. This revision was inserted without EBOT review. The statement speaks regarding denominational relationships.
While Erskine Theological Seminary is the seminary of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and has educated many ARP students of theology in preparation for the ministry, our students come from a wide variety of denominations. These denominations include (among others) the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Assemblies of God, and other free-church bodies. The University Senate of the United Methodist Church has approved Erskine Seminary as an appropriate institution for its ministerial candidates to study, provided that they were enrolled at Erskine prior to July 1, 2007, and remain enrolled continuously until the completion of the degree. United Methodist students who enroll at Erskine after this time may do a portion of their study at Erskine and may then transfer to a United Methodist seminary to complete their education.
What a stirring affirmation of the ARP Church by the now gone Dr. H. Neely Gaston! Now, consider the following from the 2002/03 catalogue regarding the relationship between the seminary and the ARP Church. This statement was reviewed by the EBOT. The contrast in the two statements is conspicuous.
Erskine Theological Seminary is owned and operated by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and seeks, under the direction of a Board of Trustees appointed by the denomination, to serve the Church in the field of graduate theological education. The Seminary, while maintaining its integrity as an educational institution, fully subscribes to the confessional standards of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. In particular, this means that the Seminary holds the Holy Scripture to be the Word of God, given by inspiration of God, to be the only perfect rule of faith and practice. Whereas the Seminary further holds that the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself, it sets forth the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms as the best concise theological expression of the truth therein. Erskine Seminary is, therefore, strongly committed to the Biblical and Reformed understanding of Christian faith.
The discrepancies between what was and what is are many. I have just looked at the Erskine Seminary catalogue. Depending on how one counts, there are fourteen or fifteen fulltime faculty members. Only five are ARP ministers. When I was on the EBOT, a motion was made and passed that mandated that a full one-half of the faculty members had to be ARP ministers. What of the self-proclaimed conscientious oversight of Erskine Seminary by the Seminary Committee and the EBOT? In what universe has one-third now become one-half? For at least seven years, Erskine Seminary has been in violation of the EBOT policy.
(4) At the spring graduation this year, there were 22 MDivs and 19 DMins. The number of students attending and the number of students graduating, especially in the MDiv program, simply do not correlate with the inflated numbers of attendees that have been given by administrators in recent years to the General Synod. (5) In spite of another motion to affirm inerrancy for new administrators and new faculty members, past issues have not been addressed and the continuing presence of Dr. Richard Burnett is troubling. Why is there not an investigation of his blatant attacks on the ARP Church’s position of inerrancy? (6) The following motion is very troubling: “The [Seminary] Committee requests that the Chair of the Board appoint an ad hoc committee and its chairperson to review and report back to the full Board when ready regarding all matters pertaining to certain communication recently signed by various faculty members relating to the ARP Church statement of faith required of all faculty members.” Well, what does that mean? That’s a blast at the “Good Friday Statement.” I thought that academic freedom was honored at Erskine Seminary as a hallmark. Dr. Richard Burnett can attack the position of the ARP Church and elicit nothing more than a yawn from the administration and the EBOT; however, faithful men who are willing to stand with the ARP Church are investigated! Shame!! No wonder a mountain of financial woes now stands threateningly astride Erskine Seminary!!
- HIGHLIGHT: (1) The rising Senior Class at the college is reported at 85. The FTE is 540, which means there is an average of 135 per class. At the time of the EBOT meeting there were 139 high school students who have paid their deposits. It is reported that the goal is for 200 this Fall. Freshmen student recruiting between now and the start of the Fall Semester is not easy. Obviously, the good students have already made their choices. Now begins the “buying” of sub-par students to fill out the student body. (2) There is a debt of $11,500,000 that will have to be refinanced soon. (3) The new budget is austere. Positions are going to be eliminated. Employee’s benefits are going to be reduced drastically. Tuition is going to be increased and that will make it more difficult to recruit students. Positions are going to be eliminated. The following story illustrates the serious nature of the difficulties that are now upon Erskine College and Seminary. I was at the Spring meeting of the alums. Trustee Lisa Senn reported that $2,400,000 was needed to balance the Scholarship Fund. At that time, $1,900,000 had been received and $500,000 in gifts was needed before July 1. Whether that money comes in our not, Erskine College and Seminary are in deep financial distress. Any talk of a balanced budget this year as though the crisis has past is whistling-in-the-dark-of-midnight-on-a-stroll-through-a-haunted-graveyard. Apart from the late Rev. Tommy Wilson’s good form to die and leave Erskine College and Seminary with about $600,000 and apart from the $500,000 that the ARP Church pumped out this year, the situation at Erskine College and Seminary would be the financial equivalent of the disaster of an earthquake and a tsunami. And this is only the beginning of woes!
- HIGHLIGHT: A most Gollum-like thing took place when the departing Chairman of the EBOT gave his final remarks. With tears in his eyes and trembling voice, Mr. Mitchell apologized to the EBOT for the actions of the “Snow Synod” in which the General Synod of the ARP Church attempted to stand up to an incompetent EBOT and a corrupt administration and save Erskine College and Seminary. He then had the audacity to say that it was his hope that the 2011 General Synod would apologize to the EBOT. Even after the EBOT passed bylaws of divorcement. Gollum-like, does he also bite the heads off of live fish!?
1. Is the relationship between the ARP Church and Erskine College and Seminary now ended?
Actually, the relationship between the ARP Church and Erskine College and Seminary ended in 1976/77 when the EBOT stood the General Synod down. It has taken us a long time to get to the place where we are able to acknowledge reality. With the “Snow Synod” and the failure of the General Synod to withstand the legal fight last year, the story simply needed some time to run its course. We in the ARP Church are too spiritually gelded to withstand the evangelistic secularism and infidelity that is now the driving force at Erskine College and Seminary. We have failed to act decisively to deal with those who teach falsehood and who hold the ARP Church in contempt.
2. What should be the course of the ARP Church regarding Erskine College and Seminary?
The motion that should be made at General Synod is this: “Mr. Moderator, I move that the 2011 General Synod direct the Moderator to appoint an Ecclesiastical Commission of eleven (11) members to do all that is necessary ecclesiastically and legally to separate the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church from Erskine College and Seminary, Inc.”
It is time for the ARP Church to let go of the ring that Erskine College and Seminary has been and continues to be to the denomination. If we do not, the divide that separates us is going to widen and destroy the ARP Church. The denominational agencies are already being impacted negatively. Giving to the Denominational Ministry Fund (DMF) is down. Giving is down not just because of economic stress or because of our lack of generosity, but because so many of us are not going to violate our consciences and give to a fund that supports a college and seminary that does not belong to us and stands in opposition to what we believe about the Gospel. The dilemma that many of us find ourselves in is described in the following manner: 25% of all that we give goes to the DMF to make it possible to oversee and promote all our agencies, 25% of all that we give to the DMF goes to advance the cause of church planting and renewal, 25% of all that we give to the DMF goes to support the preaching of the Gospel to the world, and 25% of all that we give to the DMF goes to support Erskine College and Seminary. At Erskine College there are professors who preach infidelity and a faculty that votes “No Confidence” in the actions of the General Synod of the ARP Church, and at Erskine Seminary one professor openly attacks and publicly derides the position of the ARP Church on the Bible, another raises his hand to sue the ARP Church in civil court, and, when given the opportunity to sign a document of support of the ARP Church’s position of inerrancy, the majority of the faculty members choose to ignore it. When Jesus asks me about my stewardship of money and I tell Him that I was 75% faithful in my giving, I fear that He is going to inform me that 75% in giving to faithful causes and 25% in giving to support those who promote the cause of infidelity and anti-Christ and theological heresy is 100% disobedience on my part. A crisis is coming! I tell you a crisis is already upon us! Indeed, the division in the ARP Church over Erskine College and Seminary is going to devastate our legitimate agencies because so many of us will not give to that which upholds infidelity and theological error. Without substantive changes, the language stating that Erskine College and Seminary is now going to be “faithful moving forward” is nonsense and silly! For the sake of my conscience, I can no longer give to Erskine College and Seminary or to a DMF that gives to Erskine College and Seminary. I have not been parsimonious. Since 2004/5, my wife and I have sacrificially given nearly $22,000 to Erskine College and Seminary. At this point, I cannot give to support that which I think is evil. I will no longer give to a college that harbors infidelity in the name of academic freedom and countenances flagrant attacks on the evangelical Christian faith in the classroom, and I will no longer give to a seminary that stands theologically out-of-step with the ARP Church. This is not an issue of generosity; it is a matter of faithfulness to the God of the Bible and the Standards of the ARP Church which I swore to uphold when I was ordained in May of 1976. At Erskine College and Seminary, the leadership and majority of the EBOT want nothing to do with the theological ethos of the ARP Church; therefore, they do not need any of the money of God’s people in the ARP Church. Let them have quail until it comes out of their nostrils!
I call on all faithful ARPs who love the Lord Jesus and His coming to withhold their money from Erskine College and Seminary.
I call on faithful pastors to instruct their congregations and Sessions that support of the DMF is support of that which is both anti-ARP Church and anti-Christ.
3. Can Erskine College and Seminary not be reformed by incremental measures through political compromise?
The hope that Erskine College and Seminary can be saved by incremental measures and compromise with heresy is – and has always been – a false hope. Sadly, because of that deceptive hope, the ARP Church has devolved from confessional to CONFUSED! Nowhere in the Bible does God command us to reform by means of incremental measures that allow infidelity to continue and prosper. The commands are to put away the false gods and to put away the destructive practices and ways of sin and error. God does not call us to acts of political compromise with infidelity as an act of faithfulness. We have gone forth with faith in our efforts expecting God to bless us. The problem is that God has not gone with us. Trust in efforts that God does not enjoin is DISOBEDIENCE and REBELLION. God commands: PUT THE EVIL AWAY FROM YOU! We have dwelt too long in the tents of wickedness!
4. Why is the ARP Church so impotent?
In a recent conversation with Moderator-elect Andy Putnam regarding the lawsuit last year, he said that we ARPs were fortunate that a class action suit was not filed against the General Synod because the only thing of value that the General Synod holds is the ministers’ retirement fund. Rev. Putnam is correct in a number of ways. One, the retirement fund is held in trust for retired ARP ministers and other employees, and it and probably everything on earth can be attacked in a class action suit; however, the probability of such an attack succeeding is highly unlikely. Two, he is right in his fear. We ARPs have demonstrated that we fear legal actions. We fear! We fear! As the Bible says, the fearful man fears when no one chases him.
5. What is going to happen to President David Norman?
At the moment, the EBOT needs Dr. Norman in order to get through the SACS reaccrediting process. That will take 12 to 18 months. During that time, the financial crisis will continue and recruitment of students will languish. Unfortunately, these woes are not of Dr. Norman’s making; however, he will be saddled with them! At that point, the “long knives” on the EBOT will go after Dr. Norman. There is nothing the General Synod can do to protect him. Remember, the General Synod is now UNDUE INFLUENCE. The path of attack on Dr. Norman is already being prepared on the Facebook site of the secular alums.
As I conclude, I will change my analogy from Gollum to a refrain that is found throughout First and Second Kings: “Nevertheless, the high places were not removed.” Kings Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Azariah were “good kings” who sought to obey God in Jerusalem; however, they did not remove the high places. For all the good these kings did in Jerusalem, they did not deal with the “high places,” and ultimately the “high places” and the idolatry allowed there spread and brought down God’s fierce judgment on Judah. The inner “Jerusalem” of the General Synod for the ARP Church is secure. I do not know of any Presbyterian denomination in the USA that has better theological documents than we do. “The high places” for the ARP Church is Erskine College and Seminary. The infidelity and idolatry (fundamentalistic secularism) are bringing God’s judgment on us. Like Joseph, we should be running from the seductress. Unlike Joseph, we continue in the tent and the embrace of the seductress in the comfort of the high places – Erskine College and Seminary!
These are my thoughts,
Charles W. Wilson
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