Saturday, October 27, 2007

An Important Clarification

UPDATE: Pastor Hutchinson has added an important clarification to his comments at Green Baggins here, which I have appended into the body text below. And since the thread belongs to a post called “On Misrepresentation,” I would like to add that I appreciate his desire to avoid being misunderstood.

I lifted the following comments from Green Baggins (without permission, please forgive me, Lane), because I believe this is front-page stuff regarding the much-anticipated decision from the PCA’s SJC about the Louisiana Presbytery’s exoneration of Steve Wilkins in the matter of his novel doctrine.

Dr. Jeff Hutchinson, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina, points out that the question before the SJC does not address Federal Vision proper, rather, it addresses the Louisiana Presbytery’s exoneration of Steve Wilkins.

For the record, the case before the PCA’s SJC is not about Steve Wilkins’ views directly, but is most directly about the fitness of the Louisiana Presbytery in their exoneration of Steve Wilkins, if you catch that distinction. For a Presbyterian, that is the more important issue. Particular teachers and teachings come and go, but the integrity of a whole presbytery affects a whole region and culture and generation.

If one of the other Teaching Elders of Western Carolina Presbytery (my presbytery) was allowed to teach confusing, erroneous, and pastorally cruel views of Judgment Day, for example, that would be MY fault, both as an individual elder and as a member of the corporate body.

And my best self, my renewed self in Christ, my regenerate self (yes, James Jordan, the Bible plainly teaches such a thing) simply would not want to be part of a denomination (and wouldn’t recommend to my congregation that they remain in a denomination) that wouldn’t hold me and my presbytery accountable for having been asleep on the watch (or complicit, as the case may be).

And so, at this point, with this case, it is not so much the erroneous Federal Vision theology that is at issue, but the more important (and longer looming, predating the infamous Auburn Avenue conferences by years and years — just ask Bob Vincent, the former Stated Clerk of that presbytery who left for the EPC in frustration) issue of the fundamental integrity of a whole presbytery. That presbytery’s integrity has been a question before our GA for years, in other matters (a recent SJC decision overturned a grossly unbiblical excommunication the presbytery had performed at the behest of the Auburn Avenue Session; I would like to make plain that by “grossly unbiblical” I am not referring to motive or malice or anything like that, but to an unbiblical assumption of jurisdiction by the presbytery. In re-reading the record of the case in the minutes of General Assembly, the decision to assume jurisdiction over a member of a particular church does seem to have been well-intentioned, yet erroneous and unbiblical nonetheless, which is why the SJC overturned it.). The FV is just one part of the larger picture as we look to the Lord to reform and renew our denomination around the Reformed gospel, presbytery by presbytery, church by church, member by member. . . .

A few other thoughts, anticipating the line of argument that has been made countless times, together with an imagined dialogue at no extra cost.

It is certainly true that there have not yet been any JUDICIAL judgments AT THE GA LEVEL in the PCA ruling the Federal Vision as out of accord with our Standards (or “heretical,” in Lane’s technical use of the word) — but there may well have been at either the Presbytery or Session level (I was on the GA’s review of presbytery records committee for a number of years and seem to recall a relevant case or two that never needed to rise beyond the presbytery’s ruling).

Unfortunately, it is very possible, then, for both proponents AND opponents of the FV to misinterpret this fact (and misinterpret the fact that even after this particular SJC ruling we still won’t have a GA-level judicial ruling with regard to the FV proper).

It is very possible, as well, for both proponents and opponents (not to mention fence sitters) to misunderstand the current state of things in the PCA (leading proponents to crow and continue to invest their efforts in “reforming” the PCA along their lines, while perhaps leading opponents to lose heart and “wash their hands” of the PCA).

So, the lack of a GA level Judicial ruling on the FV proper aside (again, that will be the case HOWEVER the SJC rules in this particular case), what is the “current state of things”? It is obvious and as plain as the nose on your face.

The most recent issue of our denomination magazine says it plainly, in its article on the Federal Vision controversy, calling it “The Issue for Our Generation.” The article recaps this past summer’s General Assembly, saying that “the final vote was a nearly unanimous approval of the Study Committee’s report, and a rejection of the Federal Vision. . . . As a result of that study, the PCA has now officially rejected the theological concepts behind (the) Federal Vision.”

The PCA has now officially rejected the theological concepts behind the Federal Vision.

Some might say, “No they haven’t! It wasn’t official, it wasn’t a judicial ruling.”

That is true in one sense, but misses the point. You do have a nose on your face despite your protestations. There is “Official” (Judicial) and there is “official” (incredibly broad — in fact near unanimous — consensus as captured by an official vote by real flesh and blood commissioners to a real national assembly of a real denomination). Your point doesn’t change the fact that the PCA has now officially rejected the theological concepts behind the Federal Vision.

“That’s just some stupid reporter’s opinion, writing at the behest of the powers that be that control our denomination and its magazine.”

I am sorry for how upset this has made so many of you (screaming at windshields and whatnot). A pastoral aside — your level of frustration might be indicative of an “inordinate desire,” i.e. an idol in your life. But now, granting your premise for the sake of argument, why in the world would you want to stay in a denomination controlled by the stupid and corrupt? Your complaints about our characters and capacities don’t change the fact that the PCA has now officially rejected the theological concepts behind the Federal Vision.

“Well, maybe that’s the way things are now, but I have postmillenial hope in a great and sovereign God, and I have taken vows, so I’m not going anywhere, but am going to stay and fight for the reform of my beloved denomination out of love for my Savior.”

Well, you are certainly free to do that. But I believe a judicial case will eventually find you, and you will eventually be deposed from the gospel ministry. I don’t think you have any real possibility of changing us. It is pretty apparent (from your point of view) that the entrenched and stubborn no-nothings aren’t going anywhere, and aren’t going to let up on disciplining all FV officers in the PCA until the leaven has been purged. (It is also . . . interesting . . . how your “love for your Savior” directs you in the exact opposite direction of how “love for our Savior” seems to be directing us.) At any rate, your protestations not withstanding, the fact remains that the PCA has now officially rejected the theological concepts behind the Federal Vision.

To steal a phrase, “Thank you.”


Publius said...

I want to know more about this Auburn Avenue excommunication that the SJC reversed. Who, what, where, when and why?