Wednesday, June 12, 2024

2024 General Synod, Day 2 Recap

Thank you, especially to the brethren of the Hopewell congregation, for the keen interest in how things go with our Lord's church in the ARP, and for giving yourselves to prayer for it. Since these include my own personal observations, I'm posting these summaries here, rather than on the church blog. If you'd like to try to keep up with the General Synod, you can see the Synod materials here, and watch the live streams here.

8:15a.m. Sermon and Business
We began by hearing a sermon, ostensibly from Acts 1:8. It was well-meaning and could have been preached from texts like 1Jn 4:12–16. But, focusing as it did on gospel deeds as "witness," the exposition didn't bring the weight/authority of God, in the Scripture, behind the applications. So, it ended up relying more on emotional logic and moving illustrations, and turned into something of a missionary presentation for a church plant in Spain (it ended up receiving a round of applause, which is fine for missionary presentations, thus demonstrating the point). I'm grateful for the brother and for the Lord's work through him, and I was able to receive several of his exhortations on the foundation of other passages that I could bring to bear upon my conscience, so it was spiritually profitable in that way. But it was a reminder that demonstrable exposition/exegesis needs to be the foundation of a sermon, lest it fail to come with the authority of the text itself—i.e. God's authority in that text.

Next, we heard a pretty forthright and honest report from the RPCNA delegate, telling us about the challenges they are facing. Please pray for the brethren in that dear Synod.

The next item of business was specifically scheduled for this time. Index 11 "Special Committee to Investigate Second Presbytery's Handling of Allegations Against Chuck Wilson." There were several requests to rule the report out of order. I agree that it was out of order—especially because it accused men of sin, convicted them in the "court" of a committee report, and then offered no judicial procedure but the administrative "solution" of dissolving a presbytery—without charging the individuals in their courts of original jurisdiction. It was surprising to see how the men bringing the accusations insisted that all these irregularities be ignored, including an attack upon a speaker by the acting parliamentarian, given with not only intemperate language ("stonewalling... minutiae... stinks to high heaven") but even fiery/angry manner and tone. I had never seen a parliamentarian take the podium himself and act like that.

Then there was a motion to delay action until next General Synod so that the accused could give an answer to the charges leveled against them. Shockingly, the motion was resoundingly defeated. Proverbs 18:13, 17 were read, but we all seemed to be answering before we had heard the matter and not waiting to hear the other man come and ask some questions.

When the report finally came, there was an impassioned speech from a member of the committee that argued that the accusations of sin in the report were not allegations. The speech presented a strong case, and if everything in it is true, the actions/recommendations are perhaps justified. But it seems that the committee, that was made up of judicial commissions, functioned not so much as a committee but as a judicial commission. The speech as a whole just demonstrated the need to lay allegations against multiple, specific men.

On the whole, hearing the discussion on this point drove home to me the necessity of dealing seriously and expeditiously with every single instance of every single sin. Treating sin as small or trying to conceal it or avoid dealing with it, causes sin to metastasize. It multiplies in number; it transmutes into other types of sin; it infects and transmits by leavening others. Even when there is only accusation of sin, though none was committed, it is important to deal with it seriously and promptly. This allows names to be vindicated, reconciliation to be achieved, and more wisdom and care to avoid the appearance of sin to be exercised going forward.

More than two hours of debate demonstrated that many opinions were already formed, but as someone not privy to all of the documents and data, I honestly don't know how I could come to a conclusion one way or another, based upon what was before me. There was much confusion and contention. It may well be that Second Presbytery is full of the sort of sin that prevents justice from being carried out, but the discussion/debate seemed to prove that failing to follow our church order inhibits us from coming to such a conclusion in the right way. When there are allegations of sin, they must be made to the proper court, an investigator must be appointed, an investigation conducted, and in the case an offense is concluded, a trial must be adjudicated. Just leaving accusations of sin lingering in the air neither resolves sin if there was, nor preserves the names of those who are falsely accused if there wasn't. The debate brought us all the way to lunch.

1:30p.m. Sermon and Business
After lunch, we heard a good sermon from Titus 3:12–15. It was nothing revolutionary, just a pointing out that the Lord gives us brothers in the ministry, upon whom we should lean, and whom we should value. It was useful to my mind and soul.

Next, we had a report of a fraternal delegate from the OPC. He updated us on the work of the OPC and the matters that are coming to its General Assembly this month. He closed with appropriate, encouraging exhortations.

At that point, discussion of the first recommendation of Index 11 (dissolve Second Presbytery) resumed. In the discussion, it became apparent that if the resolution passes, it will be the beginning of dealing with the issues, not the conclusion. Catawba Presbytery (which would receive officers and churches, in South Carolina, from the dissolved presbytery) delegates indicated that they intend to handle the matters seriously and conscientiously. It still bothers me that these matters came to the synod in this way, and I couldn't vote to take the action requested based upon the information I had or in the way that I had it. But the end action may well be appropriate, and I am at least encouraged that the correct subsequent/follow-up actions may indeed take place.

With that having been clarified, it basically came down to two options. In each option, it is absolutely necessary that multiple judicial trials take place. Too many men have been accused of too many sins, and in order for them to continue to minister, they will need to have their name vindicated (or, if they are guilty, they should be convicted and censured). So it came down to:
(1) General Synod dissolves Second Presbytery (which it has the right to do, for any reason, without process, in the form of government [edit, 26-Jun-24: this is what we were told on the floor; see, however, subsequent blog post). In this case, the allegations against each man must be taken to their new court of original jurisdiction.
(2) General Synod does not dissolve Second Presbytery. In this case, the allegations would have to come to Second Presbytery. Even if the cases are not justly adjudicated, they can still be appealed to the General Synod.
(C) One of the men under most accusation is now in the PCA, and his presbytery should investigate and try him in order to vindicate his name. This is the same under either option.

In the end, I couldn't vote to support the motion to dissolve the presbytery, but I was thankful to conclude that (a) we were not taking judicial action, and (b) judicial action seems still to be coming.

One thing I am sad to say about this debate is that I have never spent so much time during a floor debate praying for the Lord to enable those who are speaking to control their spirits. This was sad for me as an ARP, since I spent 15 years attending PCA General Assemblies and was told that I was coming into a more irenic body, when I was transferring into the ARP. 

After over three hours, total, in the debate, the motion to dissolve Second Presbytery passed overwhelmingly. In a simple majority vote of one General Synod, with no other required process and no required reasoning, a 224 year old presbytery was summarily dissolved.

Immediately, someone offered a motion to ask the forgiveness of those whose shepherding care had been disregarded in the handling of the allegations against Chuck Wilson. This passed without debate, and (as far as I could tell) unanimously.

Before any of the other eight motions from Index 11 could be considered, the court heard a motion to form a committee for figuring out where to make new boundaries and how to divide assets. That motion confused matters, because it conflicted with committee recommendations 2–7. It failed.

Subsequent motions passed, redrawing presbytery boundaries to include all of South Carolina in Catawba Presbytery and include all of Georgia in Tennessee-Alabama presbytery; and to encourage ministers to transfer credentials to their new geographical presbyteries. This means that several men will be transferring into Tennessee-Alabama (which they have to do by September 1), and needing not only to be examined and admitted, but to have their name cleared (possibly by trial) in the matters that led to the dissolution of Second Presbytery.

There was some question how/when funds would be distributed. A motion was introduced to appoint a commission to disburse funds, restricting spending of the assets to current obligations of Second Presbytery and requiring other spending recommendations to be brought to the 2025 General Synod. This motion passed. The next motion gave that commission power also to oversee transfers of churches and ministers. 

The last motion that came out of Index 11 establishes a committee for reviewing the Book of Discipline and Form of Government. That certainly seemed necessary after this year. It passed unanimously.

Just before breaking for supper, we received greetings from the URCNA delegate. He reported on various things they are doing, including a unanimous committee report concluding that "virtual" assembly for worship is not biblical worship assembly and another unanimous committee report that "sexual identity" or misuse of pronouns is a sin against God's Word and design.

6:30p.m. Special Music, Sermon, Business
The special music was some children's camp songs by the Camp Joy camp for those with special needs. Campers from 16 and up, counselors from 15 and up. It was sweet.

We then heard an excellent sermon from Matthew 3–4 on answering our fear (or all other wrong emotion) in ministry with the truth, from God's Word, that He is with us, that He is the I AM, and that He is our Maker. The interaction with God in His Word was very profitable to my soul. 

After the sermon, before we moved on to new business, a motion was made to ask the special committee on the work of the office of deacon to make both majority and minority reports with the end goal of adopting it as the official position of the ARP Church. The motion was resoundingly defeated. Interestingly, the study committee was not dismissed or dissolved, so the committee continues to stand/exist.

The Interchurch Relations Committee brought recommendations to enter into full fraternal relations with the ARP in Mexico (IPAR) and hear their delegates. This passed unanimously, and their delegation greeted and addressed us in Spanish with a translator. They gave us some of their history, letting us know how their church was birthed out of ARP mission work in the 19th century. They now have eight presbyteries in two synods, and a fifty year old seminary, and were sure to give God and His sovereign mercy all of the honor for this. 

We recognized a fraternal delegate from the Lithuanian Evangelical Reformed Church, appointed delegates to various NAPARC assemblies and synods, and prayed for a church that we no longer have fraternal relations with (the EPC, due to women's ordination) and for churches that are meeting at the same time and to whom we were not able to send a delegate (PCA, RPCNA). 

We then received an address from a representative from the ARP Church in Pakistan (which ARP missionaries started in 1906). He let us know of the severe persecution that they are suffering, including brutal torture, murder, and arson. He asked that we pray against ordination of women (the larger Presbyterian denomination there has begun doing so), against prosperity gospel, for the church planting work in Lahore, and for the establishing of an ARP Pakistan theological school.

The Bonclarken Board reported, and though I love Bonclarken could not vote to take an "Easter" offering (since it violates WCF 21) for the camp. The committee on conferences had previously reported, and the information about the Family Bible Conference at Bonclarken was particularly encouraging. So, I was able to vote for the recommendation that sessions and presbyteries encourage attendance at "various" conferences at Bonclarken, especially with respect to FBC.

World Witness presented on sponsoring Christian school students in Pakistan, on the Christian hospital in Pakistan, and a media clip of various world missionaries. The presentation capitalized on the moderator's theme to present denominational/synodical missions. Of course, holding to WCF 31, I would like to see mission work not done by a highly centrally funded/administered agency with an extremely well paid director, but by presbyteries, sending ordained ministers who are personally supported by the people of those presbyteries. The stats sounded good, but I have not been encouraged by the doctrine that I have heard out of various missionaries of our synod, or the rise of professional missionaries rather than ordained minister missionaries. It seems quite obvious that this puts me in an extreme minority in the synod. Still, there was much to pray for in the report—especially since so many of our missionaries do not have the benefits of a Presbyterian ecclesiology of missions. Indeed, there were too many works reported upon to list them all here. At the time of writing, the report as a whole is available here.

This all took us fifteen minutes past quitting time for the day, which means that there will be a day 3, Lord-willing!

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