An Open Letter to the Participants at the Monday Pre-Synod Meeting at Reformation Presbyterian Church

 

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 most of us who were participants in the 2011 General Synod of the ARP Church arrived at Bonclarken discouraged and left for home encouraged. Honestly, I expected more and deeper division amongst us; however, I returned home with a renewed hope for unity and renewal in the ARP Church.

I think the unity and the renewed spirit that we saw are greatly attributable to the efforts of outgoing Moderator Steve Maye who has worked tirelessly in the last year attempting to bring us together. For example, the meeting on Monday afternoon before Synod at the Reformation Presbyterian Church (ARP) that he arranged for various folks so that we had the opportunity to talk over our differences. This meeting was cathartic and unifying. The fifty or so people who met discovered that their differences were more a matter of “how to” rather than “what to.” We were agreed that the ARP Church needs revival and renewal if the ARP Church is to remain a viable denomination, and, we agreed, I think, either that Erskine College and Seminary must faithfully and unambiguously embrace the evangelical Christian mission the ARP Church has set for its educational agency or that the historic relationship that has existed between the ARP Church and its educational agency is going to shatter – if it has not already been shattered.

There were two opening speakers. Dr. Bill Evans was the first speaker. Dr. Evans, using his recent articles from Reformation21, asserted that the ARP Church faces a problem of ecclesiology. That is, we in the ARP Church are faced with a deficient doctrine of the church. This is manifest in several ways. Presently, we lack any real coherent identity as a denomination. Historically, we were defined by praxis issues that have now faded out of ARP culture (for example, exclusive Psalm singing). Also, we are presently facing profound problems of church discipline regarding people and doctrines that have arisen out of the Erskine College and Seminary debates. Dr. Evans’ conclusion was gloomy in that (1) he did not see a clear vision for the ARP Church presently being formulated by the General Synod, and (2) he did not see the General Synod as willing to deal with the hard issues of personalities and doctrines.

The Pastor of the Greenville ARP Church, Rev. Matt Miller, was the second speaker. He spoke in terms of renewal and revival. Rev. Miller pointed out the impact of the influx of young ministers in the ARP Church, especially those who have received their training at Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte (RTS-C). He noted that these young men are in love with preaching and ARE GOOD PREACHERS. Indeed, if the preaching that we have heard in the last three or four meetings of the General Synod is an indicator of the skills of these young men, they indeed can preach! Rev. Miller also pointed out that reformation and renewal and revival are always preceded by powerful preaching. Furthermore, he contended that reformation and renewal and revival are not to be judged on whether they move incrementally or quickly; rather, the counterbalance is whether the movement is BIBLICAL.

What constitutes the beginning of reformation and renewal and revival? What is the BIBLICAL paradigm? Rev. Miller answered the question with an illustration from 2 Samuel 6 and 2 Chronicles 15. The story follows in this manner. After King David had established his kingdom and presence in Jerusalem, he ordered that the Ark of the Covenant be brought into Jerusalem. The decision was well-intentioned; however, David’s method was offensive to God. David, instead of following the Biblical instructions, ordered that the Ark of the Covenant be loaded on an ox cart and be driven into Jerusalem. The next thing that occurred demonstrated God’s displeasure with David’s method of moving the Ark of the Covenant. As the Ark of the Covenant was being transported past the threshing floor of Nacon, a man named Uzziah, seeing that the Ark of the Covenant was about to tip over, reached out to steady it, and he was immediately struck dead by God’s anger. It is recorded that King David was afraid of God and so scandalized by God’s wrath that he left the Ark of the Covenant there and in the home of Obed-Edom; however, later when David saw the blessing of God on the house of Obed-Edom because of the Ark’s presence, he then ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be brought into Jerusalem. This time, however, David consulted the Scriptures and the Ark of the Covenant was carried on polls by Levites. From this illustration, Rev. Miller surmised that if reformation and renewal and revival are to take place in the ARP Church, the Biblical paradigm must be followed – the paradigm of GOD’S WAY.

As has already been noted, Rev. Miller asserts that good preaching is the beginning for reformation and renewal and revival in a denomination. I do not think he is mistaken in his emphasis on preaching; however, I do think he may be attempting to transport the Ark of the Covenant on a cart pulled by oxen.

I love good preachers and preaching. However, the presence of good preachers and their preaching is NOT the Biblical paradigm that God calls for when He sends forth the winds of reformation and renewal and revival.

In 1930, there was no denomination in the USA that had a larger stable of “great” evangelical preachers than did the Northern Presbyterian Church. The list of the notables include the names of such giants as Clarence Macartney, J. Gresham Machen, Donald G. Barnhouse, Andrew Blackwood, Louis H. Evans, Sr., Mark Matthews, Harry Rimmer, Albert Lindsay, William B. Kirkland, Edward L. R. Elson, John Timothy Stone, Herbert S. Makeel, John Sutherland, Maitland Alexander, and John E. Kuizenga. These men could flat preach the Truth of the Bible, and still, in spite of the presence of and the preaching skills of these extraordinary preachers, the Northern Presbyterian Church went into heresy and now finally into apostasy.

Why did this happen? I think the answer has two parts.

FIRST, they failed to zero their preaching in on REPENTANCE. The power of preaching is not in the preacher’s oratory; the power is in the preacher’s message as the Holy Spirit gives it transformational power. That is, the preacher’s topic is set ablaze by the Spirit. This then means that the preacher has to be aware of the topic on which he is to preach. He must know the issues of his time. What was the prominent issue then? The issue then was not the Second Coming of Jesus or predestination or even something as vital as justification by faith alone apart from works of righteousness. The issue then was repentance. The ministers and congregants of the Northern Presbyterian Church needed to repent of the heresy and unbelief that they had allowed to be born and nurtured in their denominational colleges and seminaries, their agencies, their Presbyteries, and the leadership of the denomination.

The preaching of John the Baptist began with a message of repentance (Matt. 3:2). The preaching of Jesus began with a message of repentance (Matt. 4:17). Both John the Baptist and Jesus continued the preaching of repentance throughout their ministries. John the Baptist’s preaching on repentance cost him his head. Jesus preaching was no less pointed and no less painful to Him (Matt. 9:13; 11:20-21; 12:41); He was sharp in His condemnation and rebuke of sin, unbelief, unfaithfulness, and falsehood (especially false teaching and teachers). Jesus also instructed His disciples to preach repentance and directed them to preach it in the manner that He did (Mark 6:12).

The teaching of the Apostle Peter was marked by this message of repentance (Acts 2:48 and 3:19). The Apostle Paul, following suit, was bold in calling the Corinthian Church to repent of immorality and to deal with the issues of discipline (see 1 and 2 Corinthians).

Perhaps the most startling call for repentance in the New Testament is that which is found in Revelation 2:5 – “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” If one follows my interpretation that these messages to the Seven Churches are messages to the Church in every age, then one is struck with the solemn and consequential nature of repentance. This is especially true in the case of Revelation 2:5! Here and elsewhere in Jesus’ message to the Church, one gets the distinct impression that Jesus is not pleased with false teaching and false teachers in the Church, and it is no stretch to draw from this that He is also not pleased with false teaching and teachers in the educational institutions of the Church.

The SECOND part deals with what takes place after the preaching of repentance, namely, the courageous enforcement of discipline and the official actions of church courts to maintain Scriptural integrity and denominational unity.

In the Northern Presbyterian Church in the 1920s and 1930s, these preachers, by and large, were men who were NOT churchmen. They eschewed the drudgery and “nastiness” of the work of the church court – or what they called “church politics.” It was not nice or polite to point out that an old friend and schoolmate was a false teacher who had become a disciple of Satan rather than remaining a disciple of Christ. They were not willing to fight for evangelical Christianity. They were not willing to take their Christian faith to an end that demanded the courage to CONTEND for the faith. They were not willing to split the church in the name of orthodox truth so that a faithful remnant could be identified and protected and given the opportunity to flourish. They were more in love with the institutions of the Northern Presbyterian Church than they were with the Church of Jesus Christ. They bought the hellish idea that schism is worse than heresy. They loved the denomination and their places in the denomination more than they loved the God of the Bible and the Christ of the Church. Therefore, in the end, God gave the Northern Presbyterian Church and her institutions over to “blind leaders of the blind” who have run mainline Presbyterianism into the frigid iceberg of homosexuality, infidelity, atheism, unfaithfulness, apostasy, and death.

The idea that faithful preaching apart from an assiduous focus on repentance and apart from the “nasty” involvement in the ecclesiastical system of Presbyterianism and all the unpleasantness of the process of discipline is folly and ruinous! The very nature of Presbyterianism is political. Indeed, where two or three Presbyterians are gathered together in Jesus’ name, there one finds a much nuanced political system. That has been done on purpose. Our system exists so that the discipline that corrects and expels and protects can exist. Our problem in the ARP Church is that we want this without the difficult and dirty work that is required to maintain it. We whine that we do not have the stomach for politics and discipline. No, we are lazy and feckless and cowardly and disobedient! Like the preachers of the old Northern Presbyterian Church, we want the church without the cross of contending for the faith!

Now, what is the point I want to make? The point I want to make is that the focus of the message of the preacher in times such as these in the ARP Church must be repentance.

Once again, I long for reformation and renewal and revival in the ARP Church; however, a preaching that does not focus on repentance and the actions of repentance is not going to bring about reformation and renewal and revival; rather, it will leave us in the ARP Church languishing and moribund and under God’s hand of discipline as our light is being extinguished.

There is much of which we need to repent; however, central to our focus must be Erskine College and Seminary. In the last 40 years we have demonstrated incompetence and sinful tolerance of unbelief and unfaithfulness. We have allowed intellectual and theological betrayal of the Church and of Christ in the name of academic freedom

The situation that now exists in the ARP Church regarding Erskine is the making of our own hands.”

If we want reformation and renewal and revival in the ARP Church, we must have good preachers proclaiming a message of repentance against the abuses of sin and unbelief at Erskine College and Seminary that have been tolerated by the ARP Church. That must be accompanied by the recovery of churchmanship in the courts of the ARP Church.

It is very late in the day. I doubt that we ARPs have the strength or the resources or the resolve to deal with Erskine College and Seminary. We need to let go of Erskine College and Seminary and run from them, for they are so corrupting and evil to us that we cannot attend to them without doing great violence to the church. Instead of waiting to be found out by God as Achan and his family were (Josh. 7), we need to dig up and let go of and expel the “accursed thing” before the judgment of Jesus finds us and puts out our flickering light.

These are my thoughts,

Charles W. Wilson

 

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  1. Daniel Stephens says:

    To be fair, I don’t think the lack of emphasis on repentance is a problem in just the ARP church; it seems to be woven into American Christianity as a whole. It is part of the culture in which we live. Exhortation to repentance requires telling somebody they are wrong. It isn’t that they are incomplete, but morally culpable. Nobody likes to be told that they are wrong. This shines forth in our consumer driven culture. What do the commercials say? You are wrong if you don’t buy this shampoo? No. You are deficient if you don’t buy this shampoo. The church has picked up on this soft message. We are told that our lives are incomplete without Jesus. Instead of preaching Christ and him crucified, we preach humanity and it improved. We manage to make congenial the rock of offense.

    We often don’t consciously make this turn; it happens subtly as we are influenced ever so slightly over time by our culture. For instance, I made an evangelism tract for a class this past semester. I was careful to be as welcoming, winsome, and understandable as I could while retaining scriptural ways of laying out salvation. I talked about the fall, sin, Jesus’ atoning work, and our resting in him–all following the framework of Romans 5. But what did I forget? Repentance! Mea culpa, mea culpa.

    All of that to say, I don’t think it is a particularly ARP problem nor is it usually something that we consciously decide to omit. However, that does not excuse the Christian. If anything, it should make us more vigilant in watching our thoughts and take extra care to see them conform to scripture.

    I get the sense that the repentance of which I speak may be slightly different than the repentance in the above letter. Are ministers to tell their congregations to repent of Erskine College and Seminary? Do ministers need to practice what they preach and repent of their sins and sloth regarding Erskine? I think there are a number of ways to interpret the letter; some clarification may help.

     
  2. Dear Mr. Daniel Stephens,

    Well said! That’s a good start. Now, let me give you an assignment: finish the essay/sermon on repentance and let’s post it in ARPTalk as an article.

    Daniel, you are correct. The repentance of which I was speaking is narrower and much more specific.

    Obviously, my target is the ARP Church and the relationship that the ARP Church has had with Erskine. My premise is this: before the ARP Church can see real numerical growth and healing and renewal and revival, there must first be a call for repentance from the preachers of the ARP Church regarding our long history of sinful and the multiple sins we have committed regarding Erskine. The following is a short list of three of our sins.

    1. We are now experiencing the results of the sin of elitism that we have allowed to grow in the ARP Church. It is the elitism of both ARPism and Erskinism. It’s a form of xenophobia and parochialism that goes something like this: “I resent all these new people who have come into the ARP Church and taken over and who have no family ties to our historic families. Don’t these new people know that they’re not supposed to change anything? Don’t they know that their only responsibility is to give their money so that we can maintain the status quo as we define it? Don’t these new people know that we’re the first-class ARPs and they’re the second-class ARPs? They don’t know their place! And how dare these new people point out that something is dreadfully wrong with Erskine? Just because Erskine hasn’t grown or prospered or been faithful to its stated mission as a Christina college in the last 40 years is no reason to say that something is wrong at Erskine! Just because it’s almost impossible to find an ARP on the faculty or the staff is no reason to say that Erskine has lost its ARP identification.

    We preachers in the ARP Church have failed to condemn ARPism and Erskinism as idolatry. Such attitudes as those are antithetical to the teaching of the Bible. This is a resting on something other that justification by faith alone in the merits of Jesus Christ. Yes, it is a rejection of 1 John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.”

    2. We are now experiencing the results of the sin of wanting the praise of the academic world over the praise of our God. Much is made on the Alumni for Erskine (AFE) and the Alumni for an Independent Erskine (AFIE) Facebook sites about “academic accreditation,” “academic freed,” “freedom of speech,” “scientific inquiry,” and “our acceptance by our peer institutions” and very little about missional integrity and faithfulness to Christ. As a former professor once confessed to me: “If I were to acknowledge that I held to the inerrancy of the Bible, my colleagues at Union, Columbia, and Candler would not take me seriously as a theologian.” How is it that we have missed that such an attitude is an affront to the Jesus of the NT who asks: “Do you love me more than these?” Indeed, such attitudes have merit in the First ARP Church of Hell but not in the Church of the First Born.

    We preachers in the ARP Church have not condemned such attitudes and called on our people to repent of them. We have said that it was inconvenient for our careers to do so and justified OUR disobedience in some silly manner.

    3. We ARPs have failed to cast, promote, and maintain a full-orbed Biblical view of a Christ-centered college at Erskine. The dream of those who founded Erskine and the dream of those who still cling to the founders’ Christian faith and who still love and have a sacred vision for Erskine is a dream that sees Erskine growing in numbers rather than shrinking, expanding in Christian influence rather than contracting, “the preeminent Christian Liberal Arts college in the Southeast” instead of a college that is no longer categorized as “Liberal Arts,” a place where Christian faith is nurtured by the professors and not attacked and ridiculed, a place where non-Christian are being brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ by faculty, staff, and, of course, the chaplain, and a place that brags both of the number of young people who are going into medicine and Christian service. Sadly, instead of producing young people who know how to “contend for the faith,” if the Facebook conversations are any indication, we have produced alums who know how to attack the evangelical Christian faith. In case I haven’t been clear: we have countenanced infidelity in the classroom and unfaithfulness in the administration and sent our students away empty of Christ. For these sorts of sins, God brought down the Babylonians on Israel! Do you wonder what God has in store for us?

    Where is the voice of the preacher in the ARP Church crying out against ours sin? Where is the call for repentance? What we hear now is: “Erskine is going to be Christian going forward!” Well, has anyone talked that over with God?! Doesn’t the Bible speak of confession before there is renewal?

    I wonder why the ministers in the ARP Church have been either slow or unwilling to speak. Would anyone like to hazard a guess?

    Regards,

    Chuck Wilson
    ARPTalk

     
  3. Bryan Bult says:

    Chuck, thank you for your thought provoking take on the Monday pre-synod meeting. Like you, I left encouraged as well.

    I wanted to point out something that I couldn’t help noticing at the meeting. You mentioned that Rev. Miller pointed to the influx of good young preachers in the ARP, “especially those trained at Reformed Theological Seminary- Charlotte” as a reason to be excited about being ARP. While many of these young men are indeed RTS graduates, five of them (almost half of the total number he cited) are Erskine Seminary graduates.

    I would fully agree that my RTS-trained brothers are gifted and skilled expositors of the Word. I have been convicted and encouraged by messages they have preached at synod. What is worth noting, however, is that Erskine Seminary is also producing good preachers who are making an impact through the denomination.

    My prayer is that God will raise up more! Where the whole counsel of God is faithfully preached, it will include the call to repentance.

     
  4. Matt Miller says:

    Bryan,

    You are correct that several of the preachers I mentioned are graduates of Erskine Theological Seminary. It was during the Q&A that followed that a participant asked me why the majority of the young preachers I mentioned were graduates of RTS-Charlotte (I hadn’t mentioned their seminaries, except maybe in reference to one of them), and I answered that if the majority were RTS-Charlotte graduates, there were also several whom I mentioned that were ETS graduates — and that most of those took their preaching classes under the late Dr. Jack Heinsohn, who evidently had quite a fruitful teaching ministry in that position.

    Chuck’s summary of my talk was very charitable, and I’m grateful for that. I would point out that the kind of preaching that brings biblical reformation must be something more than “good preaching”; it must be “preaching that boldly proclaims the whole counsel of God” and is done not by those who love to preach, but by those who love the Word of God and draw their strength from its promises! D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his Preaching & Preachers, confides that he’d gladly walk across the street to hear almost anyone preach other than have to listen to himself. Good preachers don’t always “love preaching”, but they love the Word of God (and the LORD of the Covenant revealed in the whole of His Word — that is, in every word of His Word!) and such love and conviction inevitably shines through their preaching.

    I’ve just emailed Chuck my address from that very encouraging Pre-Synod Meeting at Reformation ARP. He’s welcome to put it out there.

    Continue to pray, Bryan, as you have been, that the Lord will raise up yet more men, young and old, who preach faithfully the whole counsel of God, including the call to repentance. And let us all pray for hearts that a fertile soil for the reception of His Word.

     
  5. Tim Phillips says:

    As someone who was also trained at ETS (and under the teaching of Dr. Heinsohn), I appreciate both of your comments. I will second the comments of my brother (and fellow alumnus) Bryan — give us many more faithful preachers of the word!

     

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