Analysis of the Highlights of the 2013 General Synod

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Like Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the meeting of the 2013 General Synod was A TALE OF TWO SYNODS. Indeed, it was both the best of times and the worst of times. It was a time of significant gain, it was a time of feeling good about ourselves, it was a time of ecclesiastical foolishness, it was a time of feeling bad about ourselves, it was a time of joining together to address old issues, it was a time of healing, and it was a time of wounding.

THE BEST OF SYNOD

1. The Saga of the Erskine Bylaws Ended

Once again, Erskine College & Seminary was a central focus of General Synod. This time, however, the Erskine board was of a mind to work with the ARP Church and recognized the authority of the church over its institution.

Having written the ARP Church out of the bylaws, General Synod asked the board to write the ARP Church back into the charter at the 2011 Synod. At the 2012 meeting of Synod, confusion and division ensued when Chairman David Conner and his ad hoc committee stated in their report the writing of General Synod into the charter and/or bylaws was impossible and violated the directives of SACS. In direct opposition to this opinion, a Minority Report of trustees revealed the action was possible in that a number of nearby church colleges/universities had such wording in their charters and/or bylaws. At the time, a Synod ad hoc committee was appointed to work with the Erskine board on the matter.

In the ensuing year, Erskine College & Seminary has been placed on “warning” status by SACS; however, none of the “warning” citations referenced the relationship between Erskine and the General Synod. Indeed, after consulting SACS administrators, it was discovered the request of General Synod is not only possible but desirable.

A big word of thanks needs to be given to Erskine board Vice Chairman Bill Cain and Synod’s ad hoc committee chairman Ken Wingate. A big word of thanks also needs to be given to Erskine board Chairman David Conner who sat quietly in the back of the meeting room and did not confuse the discussion.

The motion passed overwhelming by voice vote.

At this point, according to the adopted report, Erskine College & Seminary is clearly an “agency” of the ARP Church. The ARP Church is no longer the “sponsoring” denomination of Erskine College & Seminary; Erskine College & Seminary is the educational agency of the ARP Church. “Erskine College Owned and Operated by the ARP Church” reads the sign just inside Due West. Indubitably, the sign reads correctly.

2. The Separation of the College and Seminary

Doubtlessly, Erskine Seminary is a troubled institution. Its future is uncertain. Today, no one would attempt to establish a seminary in sparsely populated and out-of-the-way Due West, South Carolina. Erskine Seminary is no longer significant in the ministerial life of the ARP Church. Because of neo-orthodox professors in the past and present (Dr. Richard Burnett), Erskine Seminary has lost theological credibility with the ARP Church. If the failed model of the past is continued, do not look for a different outcome. Both Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte and Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary are more respected in the ARP Church than Erskine Seminary. The Columbia campus of Erskine Seminary is now larger than the Due West campus. The outreach to the Methodist Church has been lost. With the opening of a graduate school of religion at Anderson College and a proposed seminary at North Greenville University, the attraction Erskine Seminary has been to local Baptists students disappears. A new day is upon Erskine Seminary, and it is a day for which Erskine Seminary is ill-prepared.

Synod’s ad hoc committee requested the Erskine board to study both the viability of a separate governing board for Erskine Theological Seminary and its relocation. Amazingly, the Reverends Ron Beard and Chuck Wilson spoke in favor of this motion, and the voice vote in favor was overwhelming and thunderous.

Nevertheless, there is a worm in the apple regarding this motion. This is not the first time a study like this has been undertaken. In the past, the answer from the board was the separation was not possible because of the cost. The answer next year will be the SAME – Erskine cannot afford such a move. The real question is this: DOES THE ARP CHURCH WANT THIS, AND ARE WE WILLING TO PAY FOR IT? That is, do we really want a seminary which is peculiarly ARP? Presently, I am told Erskine Seminary has an endowment of about 8 million dollars. Doubtlessly, the endowment needs to be carefully husbanded for the future. Therefore, if the ARP Church desires to love her seminary so that it becomes what so many have dreamed it to be, the money for the project can be raised in the ARP Church. At the end of the day, the question rests with the ARP Church and not the Erskine board. One can only hope the Erskine board puts the question back to the ARP Church where the question belongs. Then, let us hope the vote is overwhelming once again with folks ready to give and work! In the 1830s, the little ARP Church pulled off the impossible. Can we do it again?

3. The Nominees for the Erskine Board

The Nominations Committee is to be congratulated for its list of seven trustee nominees for the Erskine board. The election of these trustees occurred without a word of protest. As I count it, a faithful evangelical majority willing to uphold the mission will control the direction of Erskine College & Seminary as of July 1, 2013. As the Moderator’s ad hoc committee points out, the challenge is to continue a rigorous vetting process for trustees.

4. RUF Ministry Authorized at Newberry College

The ARP Church has authorized a new RUF ministry at Newberry College, Newberry, South Carolina. One of the bright spots in the ARP Church is the RUF (“The Barn”) ministry at Erskine which is led by Rev. Paul Patrick. The candidate for the Newberry ministry is the Reverend Seth Starkey. Presently, he is the Assistant Pastor at Second Presbyterian Church (PCA), Greenville, South Carolina. Mr. Starkey is a singularly impressive young man.

A graduate of Newberry College, the Reverend Jody Gaston said he has been praying for fifteen years for such a ministry on the campus of Newberry College. The motion passed overwhelmingly.

5. The New Moderator

For the second year, the General Synod has chosen a Moderator from outside of the Carolinas. The new Moderator is Mr. Larry Littlejohn, an elder in our church in French Camp, Mississippi. A layman, Mr. Littlejohn is a teacher and administrator at the French Camp Academy. Mr. Littlejohn was elected by acclamation. He nominated Reverend Lee Shelnutt as his Vice Moderator. Of course, Mr. Shelnutt was elected by acclamation. Mr. Shelnut is the pastor of the Huntersville ARP Church, Huntersville, North Carolina.

6. When Is It Biblically Acceptable for Christians to Sue Each Other in the Civil Court?

The Reverend Mark Miller moved to study the knotty issue of Christians suing each other in civil court and the motion carried. Particularly, the question goes back to the 2010 “Snow” Synod when elders Richard Taylor, Parker Young, and Reverend James Hering participated in civil actions to overturn the work of the “Snow” Synod.

7. New Book of Discipline

Over the years, the quip has been the ARP Church could not deal with a disciplinary case because our Book of Discipline was so convoluted and contradictory a case could not be adjudicated. Years ago when I was fresh out of seminary, an old minister friend explained to me our Book of Discipline was designed to make sure discipline cases were not conducted. Finally, a workable Book of Discipline is before us. A word of thanks is due to the members of the revision committee.

THE WORST OF SYNOD

8. Special Committee on Strategic Planning

The Special Committee on Strategic Planning ended “not with a bang but with a whimper.” We sent these folks to the ocean to bring back water and they came back with sand saying the ocean was dry. We were asked to implement their findings. That is difficult. Last year, after three years of study, the Chairman informed Synod the committee had no strategic plan. Nothing new was presented this year. There is no plan to implement.

9. The Report of the Ecclesiastical Commission on Judiciary Affairs

In order for all of us to be protected, those charged with the prosecution and/or appeal of ecclesiastical matters must bend over backward to be seen as fair in the prosecution of an unpopular matter. This is clearly not true in the ARP Church!

The two maters before the Ecclesiastical Commission were from Second Presbytery. Both cases involved the 2010 “Snow” Synod. That is, both Reverend Jay Hering and Mr. Richard Taylor of Second Presbytery had taken legal actions against the ARP Church in Civil Court.

With the exceptions of Reverends Tim Phillips and Rick Barnes, the members of the Ecclesiastical Commission disgraced themselves. This is a harsh assessment of the Ecclesiastical Commission, and I have come to this assessment for the following reasons:

  • Chairman David W. Smith’s report to Synod was only three short paragraphs. The first paragraph introduced the members of the Commission. Then, in two very short paragraphs of only 121 words, two matters which have been before General Synod were summarily dismissed with no attempt to demonstrate due process or transparency. At this point, the most humorous episode of the 2013 Synod occurred. Mr. Eric Ruschky, a former federal prosecuting attorney, went to the mic and introduced himself to Mr. Smith and asked him what his profession was. When Mr. Smith said he was a lawyer, Mr. Ruschky acknowledged he was also a lawyer. Mr. Ruschky wanted to know why Mr. Smith and his Commission (which has numerous attorneys on it) had foregone due diligence. Mr. Smith said the Commission had met two times by phone conference and had not met with any of the parties involved. Mr. Ruschky noted the only attempt at due diligence was the “Dissenting Opinion” which was authored by the Reverends Tim Phillips and Rick Barnes. Mr. Smith was so shaken by the conversation he addressed Synod’s Moderator Jeff Kingswood as “your Honor.” Mr. Kingswood said this was the first time he had been addressed as a judge. Mr. Smith must not be a trial lawyer.
  • Commission members Doug Jones and Terry Wallace did not recuse themselves from these cases. They did not inform the Commission members of their prejudice with regard to these cases. Both men were involved in the Parker Young Case in First Presbytery. Mr. Young also took legal action against the ARP Church in matters regarding the “Snow” Synod. Unlike Second Presbytery, First Presbytery ruled such an action constituted a violation of ordination vows. At the time, Mr. Young was an elder in the Pinecrest ARP Church. Mr. Wallace is an elder in the Pincecrest Church. At the time, Reverend Jones was serving the Pinecrest congregation as Interim Pastor. Reverend Jones wrote the defense of Mr. Young which failed before the presbytery. Furthermore, there is considerable tension between Rev. Jones and one of the signers of the two cases before the Commission. The Book of Discipline states the principle in this manner: “In its investigation, the committee (or the court) is to exercise great caution when charges rest chiefly on the testimony of persons who are or have been at enmity with the accused” (BOD. V.5.(a)). In a phone conversation with Reverend Jones, he threatened to sue Reverend Chuck Wilson if he made it public he was the author of the Pinecrest Sesson’s defense of Mr. Young. This is a shameful chapter in the ecclesiastical affairs of the ARP Church. Once must go elsewhere to find transparency and a fair hearing in the courts of the church.
  • One wonders if the members of the Ecclesiastical Commission even read the defense of Mr. Richard Taylor by the Session of the Greenville ARP Church. Central to the Session’s defense of Mr. Taylor is the argument of sincerity. The Session wrote: “That Dr. Taylor, as a trustee, truly believed that the action taken by the General Synod with respect to the attempted removal of certain trustees would be detrimental to the welfare of Erskine College and Seminary, and also believed that no other options were available to him and the other plaintiffs.” This defense is relativistic nonsense. This is an insult to us for we call ourselves conservative and confessional Presbyterian. We undo ourselves in this. The Minority Report or “Dissenting Opinion” (see below for a copy) was defeated and the report was adopted by a very narrow vote. Well, I suppose we are willing to live with this. If so, you who voted for sustaining the report of the Ecclesiastical Commission do not complain and wonder why the hard and truthful words of ARPTalk are not challenged and Chuck Wilson is not flogged in front of the Bonclarken sign for not being nice. I assure you Chuck Wilson truly believes the actions he takes and the words he writes in revealing truth, identifying falsehood, error, ineptness, and exposing the perpetrators of such, and his calling for reformation and repentance are done in love of God and Christ’s church as expressed in the ARP Church, and he also believes there is no other viable option left to him at this time but the prophetic voice. In conclusion, it is the nature of man to forget, but it is the nature of God to remember. It is the nature of man to cover a matter, but it is the nature of God to uncover. It the nature of man to go on to a new thing, but it is the nature of God to go back and judge a thing. God helps us if this is true! Presently, we are in a divided mess. The action First Presbytery forbids is sanctioned in Second Presbytery. If a psychiatrist were evaluating us, she would prescribe meds for us and forbid us to use forks lest we put out our other eye. Many are saying peace has been brought; I say fear has been wrought. We are now living in ecclesiastical anarchy. We are now living in the land of the Judges where every man does right in his own eyes.

INDEX 24A

DISSENTING OPINION

2013 

General Synod’s Ecclesiastical Commission on Judiciary Affairs (ECJA) met twice by conference call to consider two complaints against Second Presbytery. The first of these conference calls was held on January 31, 2013 and considered a complaint against Second Presbytery with regard to the session of the Greenville ARP Church and their handling of a matter involving ruling elder Dr. Richard Taylor. This complaint came to the ECJA by virtue of an adopted recommendation of a Moderator’s Committee on Complaints during the 2012 meeting of General Synod (see 2012 Minutes of Synod, p. 505: “That Complaint 1 (Complaint against Second Presbytery) be referred to the standing Ecclesiastical Commission on Judiciary Affairs”). The second conference call was held on February 14, 2013 and dealt with the actions of Second Presbytery on October 12, 2010 concerning Dr. James Hering, a member of Second Presbytery. This case was referred to the ECJA at the 2011 meeting of General Synod (see 2011 Minutes of Synod, p. 150: “A Complaint from Second Presbytery was referred to the Ecclesiastical Commission on Judiciary Affairs for study and adjudication.”) The end result of both of these meetings was that the actions of Second Presbytery were deemed not to be irregular or unjust; therefore, both cases were dismissed by the ECJA.

It is the view of this Dissenting Opinion that the actions of the ECJA are troubling in a number of areas:

  • The Report of the ECJA as submitted to General Synod is far too brief in what it reports. There was much discussion and debate during the two conference calls, which is not reflected in the report. Furthermore, these are not simple matters, as they touch on the correct interpretation of Holy Scripture (in particular, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8); the ordination vows of elders and ministers, and the area of church discipline (the latter which was widely considered to be a mark of the true church in several Reformation-era confessional documents). In addition, it should be noted that the lawsuit filed against General Synod in 2010 – the underlying event that precipitated the complaints – ended up costing Synod roughly $100,000 in legal fees.
  • There seemed to be some confusion on the part of some of members of the commission about exactly what the ECJA was being asked to do in each case and how to do this in an ecclesiastical fashion. For instance, sections of the Book of Discipline with regard to complaints were referenced (specifically, BoD X.E. “Complaints”). However, on multiple occasions during the meetings, language of the secular courts was used by members of the commission, in that the complaints against Second Presbytery were deemed to be a “collateral attack” by those making the complaint. Also, in the first meeting, the lack of a legal “precedent” in the ARP Church was stressed by one member of the commission. Because of this, this member of the commission had researched cases in the Presbyterian Church (USA) for guidance. Two cases were mentioned during this meeting, but without much specific detail. When the minutes of this meeting were emailed to members of the commission, there were also two attachments included – documents of the two PC(USA) cases that were referenced (because of the length of these documents, they have not been included as attachments to this report, but they may be accessed electronically at the following links: http://tinyurl.com/bl5hzye and http://tinyurl.com/cz47734) Both of these “precedents” were rather notorious cases in the PC(USA): the first dealt with a feminist theology conference where paganism was openly promoted; the second dealt with the ordination of a homosexual minister. Both of the cases were dismissed by the PC(USA) equivalent of the ECJA on irrelevant technicalities and therefore should not be considered as possibilities for “precedents.”
  • There may, in fact, have been a similar case in the ARP Church that was not considered for purposes of precedent or direction. In the lawsuit filed by Dr. Taylor, which was one of the underlying reasons for the complaint involving the session of the Greenville ARP Church, one of the co-filers of the lawsuit was Dr. Parker Young, a member of First Presbytery and a ruling elder at the Pinecrest ARP Church. First Presbytery did eventually assume original jurisdiction in the case of Dr. Young and was pursuing a course of church discipline against him (these events are chronicled in the Spring, Summer, and Fall 2011 minutes of First Presbytery). The similarity in these cases was never mentioned during the meetings of the ECJA, even though at least two member of the commission were closely involved in this case in First Presbytery (see below).
  • At the end of the second conference call, when it was announced that a minority report (i.e., dissenting opinion) of the ECJA would be presented to Synod, one of the members of the ECJA responded by attempting to defend the action of presbyters taking ecclesiastical matters to secular courts. In particular the following argument was made:

It is generally agreed among Biblical scholars that the First Letter to the Corinthians was written as early as AD 52 or probably no later than AD 58 while Paul was in Ephesus. This means that Paul wrote this letter several years before he attempted to persuade the Jews in Jerusalem that he was a Jew following the revealed will of God in preaching to the Gentiles. We read in Acts 23:9ff and in Acts 25:2-3 that the religious leaders of the Jews banded together with an oath to kill Paul. Specifically, Acts 25:2-3 says, “Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him [Festus] against Paul; and they petitioned him, asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem – while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.” See also Acts 25:9-12, “Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?” Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go.” When Paul realized that Festus would take him back to Jerusalem, try him, and possibly turn him over to the Jews [sic] he was not willing to risk being tried by them (an ecclesiastical court), so he appealed to Caesar (a civil court). This occurred around AD 62-64, for we know that several of his epistles from Rome were written around AD 63-65. If Paul, after writing 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, felt that he must appeal to a civil court, then obviously he felt that there had to be exceptions to the rule about never going to civil court with matters that normally would have been tried by an ecclesiastical court.

Leaving aside the fact that the “ecclesiastical court” mentioned in the example cited above was Jewish and therefore not a Christian one (and therefore not technically “ecclesiastical”, i.e. pertaining to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ), it should be noted that this statement was given by ECJA member Rev. Doug Jones, and appears to be identical to a paragraph contained in a response submitted by the Pinecrest ARP Church session in defense of Dr. Parker Young (see Minutes of First Presbytery, March 8, 2011, Appendix B, pp. 33-34). According to the minutes of First Presbytery, Mr. Jones was serving as the supply pastor of the Pinecrest ARP Church. It would seem reasonable to conclude, therefore, that Mr. Jones would have knowledge of the case involving Dr. Young. In addition, Mr. Terry Wallace, another member of ECJA, was serving as a member of the Pinecrest session at the time; his name appears as one of the signers of the response of the Pinecrest session (see the March 8, 2011 Minutes, p. 40). It should also be noted that this response by the Pinecrest session was found by the presbytery to be “inadequate and insufficient,” leading the presbytery to assume original jurisdiction and appoint an ecclesiastical commission to adjudicate the case against Dr. Young. None of these events were mentioned during either meeting of the ECJA, and neither Mr. Jones nor Mr. Wallace recused himself. The matter only came to the attention of the minority because of Mr. Jones’ statements quoted above.

  • If the majority report of the ECJA is adopted, it has the potential to create, at the very least, a measure of disunity with the Synod as to how matters of church discipline are handled by the church courts. In both First Presbytery and Second Presbytery, almost identical cases were considered, but with completely different results. If one presbytery considers the actions of a session to be inadequate and assumes original jurisdiction while another does not, this creates confusion in handling such cases in the future. Furthermore, the majority report of the ECJA has the potential to establish some sort of precedent within the Synod – in essence, the decision of one presbytery is supported, over and against the actions of another presbytery. Would adopting the majority report effectively “undo” in some way the actions of First Presbytery? In the view of the minority, such a scenario has not been carefully considered by the ECJA, and therefore extreme wisdom should be exercised by the Synod in these matters. In part, this is not the fault of the majority of the ECJA, but rests with two members who did not adequately report these matters to the rest of the commission.
  • It is uncertain as to whether the ECJA actually followed the directives of General Synod in the case involving Dr. Hering. The complaint was referred to the ECJA “for study and adjudication.” Since the case was dismissed without any contact or consultation with any of the parties in the case, it is very difficult to see how “adjudication” took place.
  • In the opinion of the minority, the merits of each of the two cases were not properly considered. When the issue of lawsuits within the church was mentioned during discussions, it was repeatedly stated that the ECJA was not to discuss the charges against Dr. Taylor and Dr. Hering, but only whether Second Presbytery had acted in an unjust or irregular manner. It is very difficult to ascertain whether an action was irregular or unjust if the underlying cases could not be discussed. It was suggested at various times that the different parties in the cases could be met with and interviewed, but these suggestions were not acted upon by the commission. According to BoD X.D.9 (cf. X.E.5), “when a higher court has decided that an appeal is in order and that it should be considered by the court,” one of the procedures to be followed is the “hearing of the parties.” This did not take place in either of the complaints given to the ECJA for its consideration.
  • The minority disputes the conclusions of the majority that the actions of Second Presbytery were not irregular or unjust. In the case of Dr. Taylor, none of the documents given to the ECJA indicate that church discipline in any form was ever considered, either by the Greenville ARP Church session or by Second Presbytery. For example, the language of “admonition” or “exhortation” does not occur in the documents given to the ECJA. In the opinion of the minority, it is not clear as to how two issues concerning Dr. Taylor were dealt with by either the session or the presbytery. In particular, the following ordination vow would seem to be an important consideration: “(6) Do you promise to submit in the spirit of love to the authority of the session and to the higher courts of the Church?” If this was not addressed in a disciplinary manner by either the session or presbytery, it is very difficult to see how the presbytery did not act in an irregular manner.
  • In the case of Dr. Hering, there does seem to be the indication that some procedures of church discipline were undertaken by the presbytery, specifically the Minister and His Work Committee (MHWC). In a report from MHWC, it is acknowledged that Dr. Hering was admonished by the committee (see Minutes of Second Presbytery, March 8, 2011, pp. 28-29). This was an encouraging action by the committee of the presbytery, and it does seem to indicate that there was an acknowledgment of wrongdoing on the part of Dr. Herring, since the language of church discipline (“admonished”) is used. Specifically, this report states:

“Further, some brothers have asked what counsel MHWC gave to Mr. Hering that was mentioned in but not spelled out in the Fall [2010] report. Along with other counsel, MHWC admonished Mr. Hering that we believe he should not have attempted to take the matter to civil court; we counseled him that he should have let the providence of God play out through the decision of the body (Synod) and that if he wished to appeal it should have done so through the courts of the church; and we asked him to reconsider his actions in light of our counsel.”

What is missing, however, is any indication of how Dr. Hering responded to the admonishment, whether further steps of church discipline (e.g., exhortation) were undertaken, whether Dr. Hering had complied with the committee’s request to reconsider his actions, etc. If there was no follow through on the part of the committee or the presbytery, this would seem to be irregular. A motion was made and seconded during the February 14th meeting of the ECJA: “That the Ecclesiastical Commission on Judiciary Affairs recommend to Second Presbytery to revisit the admonishment of Mr. Herring, if necessary, and to determine if Mr. Hering has reconsidered his paper on 1 Corinthians 6.” This motion was defeated by the ECJA.

  • Finally, the opening paragraph of the Book of Discipline includes this statement: “The purpose of discipline is to bring about the reconciliation of man to God and man to man and to engage the people of God in the ministry of reconciliation, and to promote the peace, purity, and edification of the Church.” Because church discipline was not adequately pursued in these cases, the opportunity for repentance and reconciliation for Dr. Taylor and Dr. Hering is lacking. If they have indeed sinned and have not been confronted in their sin, then there is a negligence of oversight. To deprive a presbyter the opportunity for repentance and reconciliation through the actions of a church court would therefore seem, at the very least, to be an unjust action.

Therefore, this Dissenting Report of the Ecclesiastical Commission of Judiciary Affairs makes the following recommendations:

  1. Whereas BoD X.D.9 was not followed and members of the ECJA did not recuse themselves, that the Moderator of General Synod appoint an ecclesiastical commission to adjudicate the complaint against Second Presbytery involving the Greenville ARP Church session and report back to the 2014 meeting of General Synod, and that this commission be composed of nine (9) members, five (5) of whom shall be teaching elders, four (4) of whom shall be ruling elders, with none of its membership consisting of members of either First or Second Presbytery.
  2. That the complaint against Second Presbytery involving Dr. James Hering be sustained and that Second Presbytery be instructed to continue the process of discipline begun by the MHWC in Fall 2010 and mentioned its Spring 2011 report to Second Presbytery.
  3. That General Synod refer to the Committee on Theological and Social Concerns the question as to whether it is justifiable for Christians to take other Christians to the secular courts.

Submitted,

Rev. Tim Phillips, Pastor

Midlane Park Presbyterian Church

Member, ECJA

 

Rev. Rick Barnes

Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church

Member, ECJA


10. The Report of the Board of Stewardship

We were informed 95 congregations last year did not contribute to the Denominational Ministry Fund. For the second year, the members of the Board of Stewardship recommended an exclusionary policy regarding these congregations, that is, “Members from those churches choosing not to make any contribution to the DMF will not be eligible to serve on Synod’s Boards and Committees, or hold any other leadership position.” One wonders what Chairman David Sides and his committee members were thinking. Thankfully, the recommendation was overwhelmingly defeated. Such a motion is not a balm of healing. Many congregations do not give out of protest. As a denomination we are divided and failing. The members of the Board of Stewardship should be asking why a third of our congregations are not giving and attempting to address those issues. Indeed, why would anyone want to give to the ministry of the ARP Church? In many ways, to give is to enable our continuing failures. I am waiting for someone to challenge us with a God-sized vision. Do the members of the Board of Stewardship not realize people no longer give out of a sense of loyalty or because of a threat? The Bible says where there is no vision, the people perish (Prov. 29.18). Where there is no vision, the people do not give is another way of saying the truth of Proverbs 29.18.

As was said in the beginning, the 2013 General Synod was a tale of two Synods – one good and the other not so good. Many said they felt good about Synod; others walked away disappointed. I walked away with mixed feelings. I was happy we were able to finish the work this year; however, I think we did it in a superficial manner. We really did not debate or discuss or address important issues which are before us. As a friend said to me after Synod: “I love the ARP Church, but I love the ARP Church as a father loves an emotionally difficult child. What am I going to with her? I do not have the option of walking away from her.”

These are my thoughts,

signature

Charles W. Wilson

Share This:
Facebook Twitter Email Plusone Linkedin Pintrest

Filed Under: Newsletter

RSSComments (6)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Chuck Wilson says:

    Further Analysis

    From Rev. Scott Robar:

    Chuck, well-written as usual.

    I find it hypocritcal that some want to study whether Christians should sue each other or not. What will we study next? Perhaps it will be whether fornication is justified when one feels that that is his best option.

    What do you think of Synod asking First Presbytery to reconsider the discipline done by Covenant of Grace ARP and approved of by First Presbytery?

    Taking the two things together it seems that a little over half of Synod has no stomach for discipline. That is obviously better than we’ve had, and the trajectory is very heartening. Also, as you said, the new Book of Discipline should be helpful.

    Scott

    New Covenant ARP

    http://www.ncarp.org – see our video!


    Response from Rev. Wilson:

    Dear Mr. Scott Robar,

    Thank you for your comments.

    First, I think the call for the study on the appropriateness of Christians suing each other in the civil court is timely. It is regrettable this study was not undertaken a couple of years ago. Back in 2010/11, I attempted to get Rev. Matt Miller to join me in asking Synod for such a study. However, a better question is this: foregoing the ARP Church’s appellant system, is it ever justifiable for an elder or minister to defy a Presbytery or Synod’s decision by taking the matter to the civil court for redress? Isn’t there a question in our ordination vows about complying with the decisions of our courts?

    Second, with regard to your question about the Complaint of Mr. Danny Wyatt against First Presbytery (and Covenant of Grace ARP Church), thank you for bringing this to my attention. As I re-read my analysis of the 2013 Synod meeting, I see I overlooked this important matter.

    Two things which continue to divide us are the lack of trust and transparency among us. The manner in which the Commission dealt with this disciplinary matter does nothing to heal our wounds of a lack of trust and transparency.

    Regardless of how I feel as to the merits of the case, I was appalled at the manner in which the case was adjudicated by the Commission. According to the Commission’s report and Chairman Clint Davis’ remarks to Synod, the Commission interviewed Danny Wyatt and Clerk Tom Patterson of First Presbytery. However, to represent First Presbytery on this matter, Reverends Vaughn Hathaway and Paul Mulner (then Pastor of the Covenant of Grace ARP Church) were elected by the presbytery – not Clerk Tom Patterson. Incredibly, the official representatives of First Presbytery were NEVER interviewed or allowed to appear before the Commission. Incredibly, no one from the Session was interviewed or allowed to appear before the Commission. Why would the Commission ignore the elected and official representatives of First Presbytery and involve Clerk Tom Patterson? Was this disrespect for the OFFICIAL representatives of First Presbytery? In my opinion, it appears to be! In my opinion, the Commission was acting like a Star Chamber Court. When Chairman Clint Davis was questioned at Synod as to why Reverends Hathaway and Mulner and representatives of the Session of the Covenant of Grace Church were not interviewed, he shrugged the question off, saying something like the following: “This is the way we did it. If you don’t like it, vote against the report!” Well, thank you, Mr. Davis. You have left our wounds bleeding and festering.

    Once again, regardless of how I feel as to the merits of the case, the manner in which this case was dealt with is appalling. In my opinion, there were no efforts to assure the appearance of trustworthiness and transparency. Indeed, in my opinion, due diligence was not attempted.

    If the Commission had also interviewed the elected representatives of First Presbytery and representatives of the Session of the Covenant of Grace Church, would the Commission have reached a different conclusion? This we will never know, and it doesn’t really matter. In these affairs (and especially now), the most important thing is the appearance of trustworthiness and transparency. At this point, does anyone in the ARP Church really trust or respect our appellate system? I don’t, and about half of General Synod agrees with me. The slim majority presently controlling the floor of Synod is not going to deal with the sticky business of a judicial case. Therefore, there is no justice in the General Synod of the ARP Church. The wounds of a lack trust and transparency are still open and bleeding and with no hope of a balm of healing. And isn’t there something in the Bible about the lack of justice and the absence of God’s blessing?

    Sadly, the Commission has opened itself to charges of ineptness and suspicions of prejudice. Indeed, was there a hidden agenda? Would it have taken an inordinate amount of time for the members of the Commission to appear trustworthy and transparent? As it is, about half of us don’t trust the actions of the Commission.

    Frankly, if I were a member of First Presbytery, I would make the following motion: “I move that the Clerk of Presbytery compose and send a letter to Mr. Clint Davis and the members of the Commission and to the Clerk of General Synod thanking the Commission and Synod for their opinion and the waste of their time.” If I were a member of the Session of the Covenant of Grace Church, I would make this motion: “I move that the Clerk of Session compose and send a letter to Mr. Clint Davis and the members of the Commission and to the Clerk of General Synod thanking the Commission and Synod for their opinion and the waste of their time.” What can the Commission do? What can Synod do? Trust and transparency have been lost! Without these, what holds us together?

    Finally, the new Book of Discipline looks good. However, are we willing to use it? I don’t think our presbyteries or the General Synod are willing to use it. The trust and transparency to use it are absent from us.

    Regards,

    Chuck Wilson

    ARPTalk

  2. Tony Locke says:

    “Reverend James Hering participated in civil actions to overturn the work of the “Snow” Synod.”

    That’s not true, and since I think you know that isn’t true, I feel more like calling it a lie.

    It is unfair to include Dr. Hering’s name in this list as he did not have equal legal standing in the suit. In truth, the courts of South Carolina have no record of his inclusion in those events. He may have had a desire in his heart to participate, but God protected him from his own indiscretions by removing the earlier lawsuit before he could add his name to it.

    And, I know I am beating a dead horse here, but the legal action was necessary for clarification regarding the rights of a non-profit in organic relationship to another non-profit that they chartered within the State of South Carolina.

    I like to say it like this only to make a point: that Synod took itself to court decades earlier to separate from themselves a new legal entity called Erskine College and Seminary. That secular court created a new legal entity governed by the laws of South Carolina, not the Church.

    When a legal disagreement between the two entities arose regarding the application of South Carolina law, only the secular courts had the right to rule. The decisions by the ARP Church at Snow Synod was good enough for me, but others needed the secular decision-makers to say the same thing.

    The suit was not for damages, rather it was a simple injunction for the secular court to interpret their own laws, the same laws that Synod asked to govern between the two legal entities.

    This does NOT fall into the 1 Corinthians 6 passage. Synod should have kept their big boy panties on, kept their mouths shut, and let the courts rule. We would have had a lot less drama if we had responded differently.

    All this is old ground and I won’t respond to people commenting on this comment unless the conversation trends toward a redemptive disposition.

    God has healed us. He has worked good for what was intended as evil.

    Praise His name.

    • Mark Wright says:

      Concerning Mr. Hering –
      Mr. Hering did submit a document that was stamped by the courthouse. It was not officially accepted due to lateness, so it was not on the record. But the court did receive it and stamp it.

      Mr. Hering had more than a mere desire in his heart to participate in the lawsuit. He made an attempt to participate and said he would have done so again if he had the opportunity. He had no regrets over his attempt though he was admonished by a committee of Second Presbytery.

      Legal action was not necessary for clarification. Legal consultation concerning state laws would have been a perfectly legitimate option, which could have been done while keeping the case within our own courts. No appeal was made through the courts of the church. It is not true that there was no other option. The option of appeal within our own church courts along with outside consultation was never tried.

      God has not healed us because discipline was not upheld and men were not given the opportunity to confess their sins and repent, thus being restored to fellowship with their brethren. Men sinned against their brothers and reconciliation did not take place because sin was not confessed.

      • Dear Mr. Mark Wright,

        Thanks for the comment.

        I believe our memories of the events are similar.

        Regards,

        Chuck Wilson
        ARPTalk

      • Ken Huff says:

        Those in the ARP seemingly pride themselves in believing in the inherency of Scripture, yet we don’t obey the Scriptures in matters of discipline. We are foolish to believe God will bless the ARP especially Second Presbytery if we do not discipline leader/elders or pastors in these matters. The Scripture holds these men to a high standard. Hering and Taylor should be disciplined plain and simple. It’s not a matter of interpretation. It is punishing rebellion to the Scripture and the Church for the sake of restoring brothers through the grace of the Gospel.

    • Dear Mr. Tony Locke,

      I wrote something “not true”? I told a “lie”? I am “unfair”? How so? Read what is written! Of course, Hering and others participated in legal actions against the ARP Church. What were the charges about at the March, 2011, meeting of Second Presbytery? He even admitted his participation, didn’t he? Here are the words from the report of the MHWC: “Further, some brothers have asked what counsel MHWC gave to Mr. Hering that was mentioned in but not spelled out in the Fall [2010] report. Along with other counsel, MHWC admonished Mr. Hering that we believe he should not have attempted to take the matter to civil court; we counseled him that he should have let the providence of God play out through the decision of the body (Synod) and that if he wished to appeal it should have done so through the courts of the church; and we asked him to reconsider his actions in light of our counsel.”

      If you feel like calling me a “liar,” have at it! I am sure I will get over it in about . . . Tony, what was I talking about??

      What does “legal status” have to do with this? What do the records of the court have to do with this? Hering acknowledged what he did! And didn’t he first deny it, but when a member of the court brought out the requisite document, didn’t he then acknowledge he did? BTW, I just hung up with someone who was on the MHWC at the time.

      Please, be aware there is a major flaw in your reasoning. When the Synod sued itself years ago to get a legal opinion, it was a friendly action. Friends were working together. Friends had gotten together and agreed the only way to protect the church in the future was to get a legal ruling. Hering and others were not acting as friends of the General Synod. In the courtroom in Newberry, the contempt of Taylor and Young was clearly evident – and I was there to witness it. And when Hering met with the Session of the Unity Church, it was clear he has chosen his friends over his church – and I was there too.

      Your assumption of “God has healed us” is incorrect. You may feel such, but I can assure you not all of us feel as you feel.

      On this, you are spot on: this is a dead issue in Second Presbytery and First Presbytery. In First Presbytery, the actions you defend are rebuked. In Second Presbytery, the actions you defend are sanctioned – and we now live by the sacred law of sincerity.

      Shame on you for writing the following: “I won’t respond to people commenting on this comment unless the conversation trends toward a redemptive disposition.” One, this is cowardly; you post and run. Two, if you want to post on ARPTalk or not post of ARPTalk, that’s your business – and we welcome and encourage your posts. Three, I am the one in charge of ARPTalk, and I set the boundaries. Four, ARPTalk is not a place for the faint of heart. Finally, it is high arrogance for you to say you are the arbitrator of what “trends toward a redemptive disposition” and what does not trend “toward a redemptive disposition.”

      With all due respect,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

Leave a Reply (Please note: Anonynomous Comments Are Not Posted)