An Open Letter to the Participants at the Monday Pre-Synod Meeting at Reformation Presbyterian Church
Jul 14, 2011 | Comments 7
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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