Pray for this persecuted PC(USA) pastor and congregation!

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Classical Presbyterian

Puritan Board Junior
Presbytery targets peacemaking pastor

By Parker T. Williamson, The Layman, Posted Monday, April 13, 2009

DENISON, IOWA – “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Quoting Jesus’ words in Luke 12:51, the Rev. Brian Rihner braced himself for a Holy Week assault by Prospect Hill Presbytery that will probably cost him his job.

Although he has not been formally charged with any offense, Rihner learned through an email grapevine on Holy Week Monday that presbytery leaders plan to oust him from his pulpit on April 16. Back channel sources warned the Denison minister this week that he has been targeted for disturbing the peace in his congregation.
A different kind of peace

In a recent newsletter, Rihner reminded his people how the New Testament defines peace. The peace Jesus gives is peace with God the Father, he said.

Apparently, Prospect Hill Presbytery leaders have a different kind of peace in mind – the bland acceptance of denominational policies – and they are nailing Rihner for his refusal to promote it.

Rihner apparently stirred the waters in August when he wrote a report on actions taken by the denomination’s 2008 General Assembly. After specifying several General Assembly decisions, he said, “Although there are a few positive things here, you can see that this GA made some decisions that are potentially devastating for congregations that lift up the Lordship of Christ and Biblical morality.” Referring to the 2006 General Assembly’s dismissal of across-the-board sexual ethics for ordained leaders, he said, “It appears that ordaining someone who is in violation of our national standards is possible right now in the PCUSA.”
A move to move

Rihner’s session lost little time in responding to what the General Assembly had done. On August 10, it held an informal meeting to discuss the state of the denomination in the light of Scripture and the standards of Reformed faith. “Although no official vote was taken on the 10th, it was clear that the session believes the congregation could serve God better in a different Presbyterian denomination that is more Christ-centered and Biblically based,” Rihner reported in his church newsletter.

One week later, the session met and voted to call a congregational meeting on Sept. 7 for the purpose of informing the congregation of its recommendation to leave the PCUSA denomination. Rihner wrote in the newsletter, “The purpose of this meeting is not for the congregation to vote on anything yet, but to merely inform you of the issues … and allow you all the time you need to ask questions and comment … If in the Sept. 7 congregational meeting it appears a great majority of you agree with what the session is recommending, the session will again meet to call a future congregational meeting for the purposes of actually voting …”

The pastor assured his people of complete transparency in the congregation’s discovery and decision making process, including his intention to notify the presbytery “so our actions can be done in an orderly, open, respectful, and God-honoring way.”

Rihner said that although he concurred with the session’s view that the denomination has violated Scripture, the initiative for recommending a departure from the PCUSA originated with its elected leaders, not from himself as their pastor.
Calling in the troops

When news of these matters reached the offices of Prospect Hill Presbytery, its Committee on Ministry (COM) raced to the scene. On Sept. 5, the committee ordered United’s elders to cancel the congregational meeting, declaring that the congregation had no right to meet without presbytery’s approval. They also accused the session and its pastor with a failure to follow “presbytery’s process” for congregations that seek to discern their continuing relationship with the denomination.

“What process?” asked Rihner when he and four members of the session met with the COM on Sept. 9. When it turned out that the presbytery had none, the COM hurriedly came up with one, holding the congregation’s pastor and elders accountable to it retroactively.
Divide and conquer

Removing Rihner to a room where he was separated from his elders, members of the COM warned him that he was in danger of violating his ordination vows to work for peace in the church and that he could be viewed as having renounced the jurisdiction of the PCUSA.

The COM announced that it would allow the congregation to meet on Oct. 19, but only under strict conditions: no vote would be allowed, the minister would be barred from attending the meeting, and a designee of the COM would be named to moderate the affair. Members of the congregation came to that meeting loaded for bear. Several had prepared a PowerPoint presentation, specifying in detail various policies, programs and practices of denominational leaders that violate Scripture and the Reformed Confessions.

Presbytery representatives offered no refutation, but one participant argued that Presbyterians in Denison shouldn’t be so concerned over things that happen elsewhere in the denomination and that don’t affect them directly.

With no resolution in sight, the moderator declared the congregational meeting adjourned.
Heavy artillery

Following the meeting, a COM member contacted Rihner and told him to have his session invite the presbytery to send in an administrative commission to bring peace to the congregation. Rihner says the message came through loud and clear: “It will go better for you if you invite an administrative commission to come in. If you don’t, the presbytery will name one anyway, with authorization to remove the session and the pastor.”

When the session met on Nov. 20, it voted 5-3 to issue the invitation.

Presbytery met later that month and approved the formation of an administrative commission. “Does this motion include authorizing the commission to remove the session or its pastor?” Rihner asked.

“No,” replied the clerk.

Rihner requested that the clerk’s answer be included in the minutes of the meeting.
Freedom of assembly

United Presbyterian got through Christmas without incident, but in January the presbytery’s commission marched into Denison. Representatives attended each worship service and monitored all session meetings. They announced that the congregation was barred from holding “meetings of any kind” where denominational issues might be discussed.

Denied their freedom of assembly, members of the congregation resorted to the mail. Over the next four weeks, a series of signed letters went to the congregation’s mailing list, each naming a Biblical truth and documenting instances in which the denomination had denied it.
Freedom of speech

Infuriated by what it deemed unPresbyterian communications, the commission fired off an email to Rihner and his clerk of session. Letters among members of the congregation are “schismatic,” it said, adding that if they continued, those who sent such letters could be denied voice and vote in any future congregational meetings.

When the presbytery held its stated meeting in February, Rihner raised a question from the floor: “Could someone tell me what are the powers of an administrative commission?” he asked. “I don’t understand,” he continued. “Can an administrative commission keep members of a congregation from writing letters to one another?”

“If the administrative commission says the letters are hindering its work, it can do so,” said the Rev. John Pehrson, the presbytery’s clerk.

In a telephone interview with The Layman, Pehrson confirmed that he made the statement. Asked what a presbytery could do to a member of a congregation who mailed such a letter, he said “I’d have to research that.”

“Could a lay person be denied voice and vote at a congregational meeting?” he was asked. “If they are judged to have renounced the jurisdiction of the church,” he said.

Pehrson declined to comment further on the case, saying “it is pretty much an internal matter.” When asked if any charges have been filed against Rihner, he said “none at this time.”

During the Feb. 19 session meeting, the administrative commission announced that it was ready to hold congregational “listening sessions” during which members could sign up to share their responses to four prescribed questions with commission members. The sessions were held on March 15 and 29. Many members participated, and again the commission received a litany of objections to denominational policies and programs.
Minister targeted

On March 29, Rihner was invited to share his “perspective” with members of the commission. He recalls that during this meeting he expressed his commitment to the essential tenets of Reformed faith, and he voiced his concern for the heavy handed and repressive treatment that had been foisted upon members of his congregation.

Aware that the PCUSA bureaucracy often blames ministers when their people get out of line, Rihner is not surprised that his job is in jeopardy. “They apparently think that there will be peace if they get me out of the way,” he says, “but what kind of peace will they achieve?”

Although Rihner’s modesty would not permit him to do so, observers of his Holy Week ordeal might discover similarities in the first Holy Week, when a man on a donkey said of institutional church leaders, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!”


Puritanboard Commissioner
What they should do as a congregation is arrange a rental facility, lock the doors, and mail the keys to the presbytery. That's probably going to be the end result after several hundred thousand dollars of attorney's fees.

Classical Presbyterian

Puritan Board Junior
These draconian tactics are being used in a handful of presbyteries in our sad, fading denomination. Several pastors have been thrown out of their pulpits and many other churches have been kicked to the curb by these fascistic presbyteries. For some reason, our mid-west presbyteries tend to be the worst at this.


Puritan Board Junior
It is a good reason for keeping the ownership of the chapel with the local congregation and the pastor pensioned through the presbytery.

He can lose that but to lose the church buildings is what happened to Machen and the good men who followed.

The wicked end up with the buildings.

You would think we would learn.

Backwoods Presbyterian

Puritanboard Amanuensis
You would think 1662 and 1843 would be remembered.

God Have Mercy...

For Christ and His Kingdom...

-----Added 4/14/2009 at 11:14:21 EST-----

Do we have the courage?



Puritan Board Doctor
This is tragic and terribly disturbing. I don't know Pastor Rihner, but please remember to pray for his family as well. This type of thing can take a severe toll on a marriage and family. Any of us that have been there can attest to that.


Puritanboard Commissioner
It is a good reason for keeping the ownership of the chapel with the local congregation

In some states, the PCUSA and ECUSA have convinced the courts to ignore the legal ownership of the property. The PCUSA asserts that it is a hierarchical body, like Rome.


Puritan Board Junior
I don't want to sound uncharitable however if he really is that suprised he should not be teaching. That denomination apostated itself so long ago and any tragedy that occurs to those who choose to stay in as oppose to stand up for the truth during one if that denominations MANY splits (two big ones with several smaller ones also happening throughout) because of a ''desire to work from within'' I just have trouble feelings sorry for. The PCUSA no longer claims to be governed by the westminster standards and for that reason in my mind they lost all claim to be reformed.


Puritanboard Commissioner
Might I just note how unimaginably difficult this situation is. The case law of the state may find the denomination "hierarchical" (hard to believe for presbyterians) as that denomination continues to decline morally, numerically and financially. Suing and litigating against its own churches- is there no attempt to model biblical peacemaking, forgiveness or reconciliation?

Yet the liberalism of the denomination promised "openness", tolerance- initially saying, we just want to focus on the gospel- not fight over doctrine. We just want to "open" to bring more people in.

Now, we see the fruit- strife, division, no concern for charity even in the household of faith, abominable immorality, women usurping almost complete ecclesiastical control, tolerance of and promotion of false religion, abandoning and demeaning the grand truths of their forefathers in the Reformed Faith. On top of that- across-the-board litigation to intimidate particular churches to not leave- not out of concern for them- but their assets!

Let this be a lesson for all of us. The confusion, division, and false promise of liberalism is ever at the door, that would exchange the submitted full counsel of the Word of God for the vain imaginations of men.


Puritan Board Sophomore
I read this article by the Layman back in April. I've been wondering what has happened since then. Any updates?
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