This denomination (along with a number of others) has recently studied a subject matter referred to as the ‘Federal Vision‘, largely condemned it, and now is in the process of seeking to apply these findings to those pastors and elders in their denomination they believe to be holding these aberrant views. There is of course nothing wrong with carefully studying an issue, deciding that it is outside the pale of a particular confessional heritage, and then judiciously applying those findings to particular people, circumstances, etc. The problem comes when an issue is NOT carefully studied, the so-called proponents of said teaching are not contacted or asked for clarification, a report full of ambiguities and bizarre conclusions which does not accurately describe said teachings of said proponents is passed in the name of ‘justification by faith’, and then certain Mohicans in the denomination get out their war paint and tomahawks and go after these so-called proponents having already decided what they believe, how false, bad, and horrible it is, and whooping at the top of their lungs with fingers in their ears demand that they recant or leave.
In typical Presbyterian polity, the presbytery is the body that holds ministers accountable for their teachings. On this particular issue, one of the ministers under scrutiny is Pastor Steve Wilkins from Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana. The Louisiana Presbytery has been asked on TWO occasions to examine Pastor Wilkins, and TWICE the presbytery has not found him guilty of any aberrant views contrary to the Confession (WCF). The first time another presbytery sent an overture requesting the examination, and the LA Presbytery voluntarily complied. When that exam yielded a not-guilty verdict, an appeal was made to the Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA (their highest court of appeal), and the SJC asked the LA Presbytery to conduct another examination on the grounds that the first exam was not sufficiently documented and did not carefully follow the proper procedures. The LA Presbytery complied with this SJC directive, re-examined Pastor Wilkins, and again found that there was “no strong presumption of guilt” in the teachings of Pastor Wilkins.
Now this re-examination report, meticulously documented and complying with all the proper PCA procedures was just fine except that the LA Presbytery did not come up with the correct answer. Now, the SJC has ordered the LA Presbytery to appear in court to answer the charge that they did not do their job properly in examining Pastor Wilkins. That is, because there is a “strong presumption of guilt” with regard to the teachings of Pastor Wilkins, they have not been diligent in preserving the peace and purity of the church. In other words, while there has been no trial of Pastor Wilkins, the SJC is proceeding to take matters into their own hands. What is so unfortunate (and sub-biblical) in this situation is the fact that these proceedings are beginning with the presumption of guilt.
If you have not already seen the recent volley of posts by Douglas Wilson, they are well worth checking out. Beginning here, just start working your way through the posts that follow.
One final comment with regard to why I/you should even care about all this. I have never been a member of a PCA church, but my wife grew up in the PCA, we both attended and graduated from a PCA sponsored Christian School, and I have many good friends in that denomination. In general, all Christians should be concerned about the ‘goings-ons’ of our brothers and sisters, we ought to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. In this case, we have brothers and sisters who are near-kinsmen in Christendom, Reformed Presbyterians who claim a similar heritage, similar confessional standards, and a like-mindedness on many significant issues facing the Christian Church today. If the PCA goes through with this trial, and in whatever clinically sterilized, moved, seconded and passed sort of way they come up with, they actually force Pastor Wilkins and/or his presbytery out of the PCA without an actual hearing and fair trail (which is virtually impossible now), a great travesty will have passed for justice. All Christians should be concerned about this sort of miscarriage of justice, but all Presbyterians should be particularly concerned about this sort of fiasco. Secondly, as Wilson suggests, it is important to point out the injustice as it is happening for the benefit of not only those involved but also everyone else watching this happen and/or letting this happen. Finally, Pastor Wilkins and many of the saints at AAPC are my friends, and it is apparent that there are far too few people out there, especially in the PCA who are willing to actually associate with these brothers, even when it is a matter of requiring simple justice.