Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Here’s Presbyterian & Reformed News’ follow-up article to this one and, as before, ironies abound. I’ll simply note two: First, just a three years after this meeting, Drs. Morton Smith and Joseph Pipa participated in the Auburn Avenue Colloquium, contributing chapters to the “cons” side of the debate in Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision. And second, given its current trajectory, it appears that no one can accuse the PCA of “displaying a blatant lack of church discipline.” From the September–October 2000 issue of P & R News:

Louisiana Presbytery Considers the State of the PCA
Pineville, Louisiana (August 12, 2000). Louisiana Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) held a special meeting today to consider the state of the denomination. The meeting was in response to an overture from Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church, Monroe, Louisiana, whose Session has become increasingly alarmed about the direction of the PCA.

The purpose of the meeting was simply discussion and the airing of perspectives, with no action to be taken. The two keynote speakers were the Rev. Dr. Morton H. Smith, current Moderator of the PCA General Assembly and the original Stated Clerk; and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Pipa, President of Greenville (S.C.) Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Dr. Smith’s presentation, “How Did We Get Where We Are?” gave an overview of American Presbyterian history. He began with a reading of Ezekiel 37:15–28, and applied the passage, which deals with false shepherds of the flock.

The veteran churchman, who is Dean of Faculty at Greenville Seminary, also made reference to Thomas McCrie, the late eighteenth-century Scotsman who argued that church division results in great punishment by God prior to any re-unification.

Unlike some scholars, Dr. Smith draws a sharp distinction between the Old Side/New Side division of 1741, and the Old School/New School division almost a century later. The former, he believes, was over methodology, as well as an evangelistic concern for a converted ministry — a concern which he and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition share. On the other hand, the 1837 division was definitely doctrinally driven, with the New School being open to various non-Reformed views of salvation.

Dr. Smith noted that although the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1900 was basically sound and committed to Old School principles, a determined thirty-year effort by Ernest Trice Thompson, beginning in the 1930s, to liberalize the denomination succeeded.

Dr. Pipa’s topic was “When Is It Appropriate to Leave?” Using the standard three marks of the church, he stated that a true church can become an apostate church if it denies foundational truths, does not properly administer the sacraments, or displays a blatant lack of church discipline.

President Pipa also maintained that there may be two other occasions when it is appropriate to leave a church, even if it is not apostate. One is if staying would cause a person to sin. (Dr. Pipa applied this point by saying that if presbyteries successfully kept out a man holding to the calendar-day view of creation, “It would be time to leave.”) The other is if a church was hindering edification, faith, and love.

Citing the English Puritans as examples, Dr. Pipa urged patience in the reform of the church. He also encouraged reform from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. Grass roots reform, he suggested, consists of using the pulpit, the press, and personal influence.

After lunch, there was a question and answer time with both men. Following that, the presbyters who had gathered discussed the matter. Well over 50 people were in attendance, including men from at least five other presbyteries. The official church press was present, as the Rev. Don Clements represented PCANEWS.COM.

Tapes of the addresses are available. Those interested may send $10.00 to Louisiana Presbytery, c/o the Rev. Dr. Jim Jones, Stated Clerk, 1605 Melvin Lane, Lake Charles, LA 70605.


Publius said...

I can accuse the PCA of displaying a blatant lack of church discipline. They quit requiring confessional subscription. You have spent much time in Reformed churches, have you?