Give me a Break!

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NaphtaliPress

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This was posted by Scott Reiber on the bbwarfield list and with the author's permission I got a cleaner version (the formating came out funny on warfield) and am posting it here.

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Give Me a Break!!

I know my brother Andrew Webb is well able to defend himself, but upon reading the Wilson inquisition I was completely amazed! Can he really turn a blind eye to so much in order to make these kinds of accusations? Give me a break!

In a piece entitled “Andy Webb Explains” under the topic: Auburn Avenue Stuff, Mr. D. Wilson took Andrew Webb to task for what he called an answer to a OPC pastor: “who asked why my procedural concerns about this PCA mess were being dismissed. "


What does Wilson mean when he says that "he agree with that? -- citing Webb’s summary of the issue being "basic fairness and burden of proof."

Wilson's definition of "procedural fairness" - since it has nothing to do with actual procedure -- sounds more like political correctness: We must have those who are for covenantal monism and those who subscribe to Westministerian orthodoxy for there to be “procedural fairness.”


Wilson writes: “....My threshold is much lower than that. I would have considered a study committee report procedurally fair if they had not, for example, stacked it with all opponents, nothing but opponents, opponents all the way down.”


Wilson supposes that those who were on the PCA study committee are incapable of rendering a fair and honest hearing of FV in light of Scripture. Their report must then be the result of what? Malice? Ineptitude? Wasn’t there something in his comments objecting to personal attacks?

Did Wilson really expect that the PCA would take the handful of people in the denomination who publicly espouse FV and then place an equal number of those who oppose FV? There were indeed "fair-minded and judicious men" on the PCA Committee.


Wilson: "Then Andy gives a summary of the whole Wilkins' deal..." with comments:


1. Wilson: “Wilkins is a member of Louisiana Presbytery, which has only 8 churches, and has in the past harbored other malefactors.” Webb: "For instance, Jeff Steel, former pastor of an LA Presbytery church, went on to become Father Jeffrey Steel and an assistant to N.T. Wright. Simply put, this is not a Presbytery where an attachment to the FV or NPP is considered odd." So Wilson: “Wilkins is suspect because another pastor in his Presbytery went Anglican? I wonder how many presbyteries in the PCA are suspect on this interesting basis.”


The conclusion to be drawn from the illustration is NOT that Pastor Wilkins is "suspect because another pastor of His presbytery went Anglican." The point was that LA Presbytery is not a Presbytery where "an attachment to the FV or NPP is considered odd." And yes, a Presbytery where the Westminsterian doctrine of justification was seriously questioned, but who exonerated those views on a regular basis would cause anyone with common sense to view members of such a Presbytery as suspect.

And this conclusion goes directly to the point concerning the issue at hand. This in concerns LA’s actions (or lack thereof) with regard to the PCA’s understanding of Scripture and the system of doctrine which it teaches as summarized in the WCF and with regard to its teaching elder members. Remember the language of the SJC’s initial findings, that,

"Moreover, there is at least a strong presumption that Presbytery erred in failing to condemn the views in question. Indeed, Presbytery's citation, without any caveats whatsoever, of the written and oral examinations of TE Wilkins as part of its grounds for denying the complaint of TE Jones gives the appearance that Presbytery is supportive of views such as those noted above, and it reinforces the concern that Presbytery has failed to meet its Constitutional obligations as noted above."

The evidence met the thresh-hold necessary that LA should be called before the highest court of Christ’s Church in order to explain itself. Mr. Webb’s illustration is not the ground for this call before the Court, but an illustration of a pattern of doctrine and practice which I am sure would cause any discerning elder concern.


2. Webb wrote, "Steve Wilkins own attachment to the FV is unquestionable."

Wilson notes that "FV and Auburn Ave Theology (named after Steve's church) are interchangeable, and Athanasius Press, the publishing arm of Auburn Ave, published a book entitled The Federal Vision, which had an essay by Steve in it." He then proceeds to change grounds with the common assertion of FV’ers that "opponents of the FV" do not represent it accurately.


I don't think Wilson is equivocating that Pastor Wilkins does not hold FV. I have not talked with Pastor Wilkins, but it seems that if he is not advocating the views of FV it is surely time to publicly repudiate FV.

So then we are left with the Wilson’s accusation (not proven but simply asserted) that "the opponents of the FV" do not represent it accurately: "Wilkins is FV, all right, but if FV is what some people say it is, then he is not, and neither am I."

Now it is true that as Calvinists we have all heard caricatures of ourselves and wondered whom they were talking about. I remember Jimmy Swaggart writing his erudite piece on Doctrines of Demons or something to that effect. I think it had....what?...one cited Biblical text and certainly nothing of historical theology in it.

However, surely Wilson by such a charge is not trying to tell us that the PCA Committee is simply reacting to an unrecognizable caricature of FV? Are we to think that Dr. Guy Waters in his books simply misrepresents these views? Or Dr. R. Scott Clark and the entire Westminster Seminary West faculty has gotten it wrong?

Yes, I know, I know.....Webb wasn’t really talking about all the important historical, theological, exegetical work which has been done concerning FV, Auburn Avenue Theology, New Perspective. So then neither for that matter is Wilson’s comment relevant to the case at all: "if FV is what some people say it is, then he is not, and neither am I." The issues at hand do not involve what some people say, but rather the case involves the propositions set forth by Pastor Wilkins and the actions of LA Presbytery. Of course this is exactly what the PCA SJC had before it and what it has acted on thus far to examine these matters in light of the PCA constitution.


3. Wilson thinks it astonishing that Webb wrote, "Despite the size of the Presbytery attempts have been made to bring charges against Wilkins by members of the presbytery. These attempts have never produced a trial because the Presbytery has consistently refused to do so."

In response Wilson simply redefines the situation: "I did not know, for example, that charges can only be filed if Presbytery allows it. Or let's suppose another suppose. Let us assume that the men who objected to Wilkins did file charges properly, and the Presbytery, in defiance of the BCO, refused to act. So why wasn't Louisiana Presbytery brought up short on charges for that? Excuse me. How is this possible? Is Andy making an accusation here that Louisiana "consistently refused" to act on charges properly submitted? Is he able to prove this? Is he able to bring charges? If Louisiana really did something like this, that really would be actionable."


Did you catch the only "proper" action to take? Some who objected in the LA Presbytery must file charges. Then if LA Presbytery simply failed or refused to act, then and only then it would be OK for the General Assembly to take action. If you follow Webb's history "Louisiana really did something like this" which is the issue at hand.

When Pastor Wilkins made his views known to LA Presbytery and LA Presbytery exonerated him, what course is to be followed? Shall those members who see this to be in error bring charges before LA Presbytery in order that the same exoneration, the same action may against take place once again? If it happens again are they stuck in the same loop? This is nonsense.

The court in the PCA having original jurisdiction over ministers is the Presbytery. In this case Presbytery has acted. If men who are members of that court or the wider courts of the PCA have a problem with the actions of LA Presbytery in terms of fidelity to their own vows, the purity of Christ's Church, the good of souls, and the great glory of Christ, then what provision is there for them to deal with LA Presbytery? In Acts 15-16, the Spirit teaches us that appeal to a wider, higher, more representative court of the Church is what we are to do. In the PCA a "complaint" concerning the LA Presbytery is the machinery by which that action is brought before the wider, higher, more representative Church.


4. Wilson has no comment on Webb’s: "In January 2005 Central Carolina Presbytery asked Louisiana to examine Wilkins' formally, which they did, deciding that there "was nothing chargeable in Wilkins' views."

Wilson refuses to grasp that this is the logical chain of events which leads to the situation described in #3 and eventually to their being brought before the SJC.


5. Wilson cites Webb: "Given that no action against Wilkins was available from within the LA Presbytery, several Presbyteries determined . . ." Wilson finds Webb's statement of fact to be incredible: "No action against Wilkins was available from within."


Wilson again redefines the history in terms of his assumption that the only proper action was that charges be filed by individuals in Louisiana Presbytery for a trial there. And he has a good time making fun of Webb’s assertion. But the substance of Webb’s assertion is true to historical fact. No action was available to deal with what were viewed by a minority of LA Presbytery elders as errors in the theology of Pastor Wilkins. Now these members of the LA court who disagreed could have simply voted against the LA Presbytery decision to exonerate Pastor Wilkins. They could have had their negative votes registered in the minutes to relieve their consciences against the LA Presbytery decision to exonerate Pastor Wilkins. They could have taken the step of writing a dissent, protest, or objection to be recorded in the minutes against the LA Presbytery decision to exonerate Pastor Wilkins. But these measures would have left the decision to exonerate Pastor Wilkins in place. So where does that leave one with regard to LA Presbytery? As a court they have spoken and exonerated Pastor Wilkins and as Webb clearly and plainly and accurately asserts this means that for those who objected, "No action was available" from within the LA Court than that which has already been given.

Is this Webb’s "curious circumlocution?? Not at all.


6. Wilson writes: "Although one appeal from the outside presbyteries was rejected, another one based on BCO 40-5 was taken up. This memorial charged that Louisiana was guilty of "important delinquency and/or grossly unconstitutional proceedings." This is how Louisiana first found itself having to answer to the SJC. Another Presbytery asserted that they had done wrong, and the SJC considered it."


It must be the desire of all Christians, but especially those who are charged with shepherding Christ's sheep to be on the lookout for God’s people. Thus the PCA BCO 40-5:

"When any court having appellate jurisdiction shall be advised, either by the records of the court next below or by memorial, either with or without protest, or by any other satisfactory method, of any important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceeding of such court, the first step shall be to cite the court alleged to have offended to appear by representative or in writing, at a specified time and place and to show what it has done or failed to do in the case in question."

The whole point of course is that like what is found in Acts 15, 16, the Church was able to reform herself by addressing issues of doctrine and practice in the light of God’s Word. The concern of other elders charged by Christ to feed His sheep within LA Presbytery with the concurrence of their brothers in various Presbyteries brought this issue in a Scriptural way before the wider Church.


7. Webb writes: "The SJC determined that our memorial was in order, and that LA Presbytery had erred both in the methodology of their investigation and in their decision to exonerate Wilkins."

In response Wilson interprets that various actions in this way: "Emphasis there is mine....Notice that all these are inquiries, investigations, reinvestigations, sets of questions, and so forth. No trial yet."


Wilson simply refuses to see that LA Presbytery refused on the basis of their examination to proceed to rebuke or censure or even find the probability that Pastor Wilkin’s views were questionable or struck at the articles and doctrines of the Confession. This action of LA Presbytery can only mean that they found his views in keeping with his ordination vows and the Confession. Yet across the Church, Presbyteries are finding FV to be so repugnant to Scripture and our Confession that they are repudiating it. This same conclusion was reached overwhelmingly at the highest court of the Church.

This situation brings us back again to #3 & #5 above.


8. Wilson writes: "Louisiana examined Wilkins again and exonerated him a second time (Is that the word we want, exonerated" He is not on trial). The vote was 13 to 8, and 7 of the dissenting votes filed a complaint with the SJC."


Though Wilson won’t see it, was not Pastor Wilkins on trial? He stood before a Court of the Church of Jesus Christ having jurisdiction over him and asserted and defended the theology which he teaches and preaches. What is the nature of a theological/doctrinal trial if not an examination of one's views with regard to standard exposition of the Scripture by a competent authority having jurisdiction.



9. Wilson writes: "In the meantime, the GA assembly[?] overwhelmingly approved a study report which condemned what they considered to be FV theology......."


Again we note the unsubstantiated but common accusation that yet another group of elders, theologians, court of the Church of Jesus Christ, has "condemned what they considered to be FV theology." [emphasis mine] They all, in Wilson"s opinion, seem to be incompetent to understand the standard Confessional classical teaching of the Reformation in the areas under consideration or the writings of FV theology. And thus he opines that they certainly cannot compare the two. So it would appear that Wilson’s accusation is that the Study Report as well as the General Assembly is completely incompetent, deluded by a stacked committee and the star power of R. C. Sproul. If the purveyors of FV have not yet been able to express themselves clearly on the article of Justification and related issues by now it seems to more than beg the question as to where the problem of clear expression lies.

Wilson makes it a badge of a stacked committee and gross unfairness that there was no minority report from the GA Study Committee. Why was there no minority report? There was no minority report. Why must this be a sign of injustice? Anything less than a hung jury is one-sided injustice; a lynch mob! If there is a unanimous theological report it cannot be because there is agreement as to what Scripture teaches, but rather there must be some injustice?

It is not necessarily such a sign though Wilson writes:

"The runaway train aspect of this whole affair is summed up nicely by R.C. Sproul's statement on why there was no minority report, why it was okay for the committee to be stacked. You don't put the defendants on a jury, it appears. Right, but it was a study committee, not a jury. And if it were a jury, you don't put avowed opponents of the accused on a jury any more than you put friends, employees, or cousins of the accused on a jury. Either way you go with it, that was all screwed up. If a study committee, why no minority report? If a jury, why were adversaries of the accused allowed on it?”


Again Wilson"s fondness for mixing categories is apparent. The PCA Study Committee was not trying a person or persons, but examining a theological system in light of the Church’s understanding of those elements as set forth in the Confession. Should the Church not appoint elders whom she understands to be gifted, educated, and qualified to deal with particular issues of doctrine and practice? And shall the Church having read the books, blogs, papers, listened to the lectures of FV, somehow blindfold her eyes or place names in a hat? Are we supposed to ignore our Lord’s commanded duty to testify to the truth, feed and care for the sheep, all in the name of some kind of blind view of these issues? To simply ignore Christ’s commission which lies upon us as Elders in His Church in the name of some kind of egalitarian neutrality would have been worse than "screwed up." It would have been disobedient. FV theology/doctrine was under scrutiny and examination in the Study Committee as it has been for years by the Church in general through exegetical-historical books, papers, lectures.

.

10. Webb: "This last October, the SJC approved the complaints against Louisiana, and have indicted Louisiana to appear and explain itself. We are all now waiting to see how that turns out."


Wilson aptly shows that he is missing the forrest for the trees: ".....now we return to the original question, the one that Andy was replying to. Andy made all these points without interacting at all with the points I have been raising. So here they come again....

"But first, let us by-pass the mysterious failure of charges to appear from within Louisiana. Let us wonder no more about it. Let us pretend that that didn't happen, and let us pretend that the PCA really is dealing with an anomalous situation, where charges from within are impossible, and yet something absolutely must be done. A big pretend, but let's do it, shall we? After all, we can put out of our minds the fact that seven members of the Louisiana Presbytery were able to file a complaint with the SJC, but somehow their ability to file charges from within the Presbytery was beyond their ken. Look, I am not asking you to believe it. Let's just pretend that we are okay with how the SJC got this mess on their agenda."

"Now, given this, the questions I have been raising are basic, and Andy's claim that the PCA has been moving at glacial speeds does nothing whatever to answer my concerns. Glacially slow injustice is still injustice. So here are my questions again."


Wilson ignores the whole matter of LA Presbytery responsibility to examine and take oversight of the ministers laboring within their bounds. He has this one kind of tree of justice that he must see or there no forrest! Unless the members objecting to FV in LA Presbytery make out charges there has been no just hearing of the FV views propounded at Auburn Avenue as Wilson tells us over and over. So no matter how many times LA has examined Pastor Wilkins and he has written and spoken to LA Presbytery and they have examined his views, these somehow still do not count for a just hearing of the man’s theology/views. Thus the PCA, those who brought the complaint, the SJC, etc, etc, are all unfair and unjust.

Injustice? How many more times must LA Presbytery be afforded an examination of the man and his views before it can be considered just? Was he restricted in the expression of his views? Was he simply dismissed before being able to defend himself? Not at all. Rather LA Presbytery has exonerated him. [“Rev. Steve Wilkins be publicly exonerated by Louisiana Presbytery and declared to be faithful to the Confessional standards of the PCA.”] And exonerated is the right word both in terms of the PCA GA instructions and in terms of our ordination vows. Upon my reading "glacial" pace has not been a matter of repeated injustice, but has been an expression of the PCA bending over backwards and going around the world to allow careful, judicious, just hearing concerning the very important issues at stake.

The fact that Pastor Wilkins has presented his views to LA Presbytery as the court of original jurisdiction makes Wilson’s one note argument hollow. For myself I could wish that General Assembly had assumed original jurisdiction and dealt with the issue long ago. However the Church has decided to deal with this issue by dealing with the Presbytery. Must they follow Wilson’s line to be "just"? Not at all.


Wilson: "Will Louisiana be charged with failure to indict Wilkins, or failure to convict Wilkins?

"If the former, then a full trial for Wilkins, not Louisiana, will have to be held in some venue, and Wilkins will have to go into that trial with the full presumption of innocence, right? I am asking Andy here. Right?

If the latter, if the charge is a failure to convict Wilkins, then how can this be sustained when Wilkins has not yet had his day in court? And when every setting where he has been able to answer questions (not in a trial setting) has been dismissed? So when will the SJC arrange for a trial for Wilkins, with the full presumption of innocence, so that they can then charge Louisiana with a failure to convict him?"


Of course the problem with Wilson’s entire argument here is that FV proponents have written and lectured extensively to promote their theology. Pastor Wilkins has also presented his views (see Case 2007-8). Wilson’s mischaracterization of the entire matter as unjust, as if unheard and misunderstood Pastor Wilkins in particular and FV in general is being railroaded out by the incompetent, star-gazed, and mislead without fair hearing and opportunity for defense is extremely far from reality. The FV views, the theology in question, has been studied and found errant by the highest court in Christ’s Church. But a majority of the LA Presbytery has sustained the examination of a FV proponent as orthodox and not in conflict with Westminster and elder’s ordination vows to that Confession. The complaint was sustained and now LA Presbytery and Pastor Wilkins face a very serious situation with the amends of the Central Carolina Memorial still standing before the SJC on March 8, AD 2008.


I suppose it is necessary to address the “attacks from Moscow” but they seem to be without understanding or any kind of Scriptural foundation.


In the service of Christ the King,


Scott Reiber
 
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