On June 22, 2002 Covenant Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States adopted resolutions concerning the "New Perspective on Paul" and the 2002 Auburn Avenue PCA Pastor's Conference titled "A Call To Repentance". There is bound to be much debate over the issues raised by the resolutions. We can expect that some of this debate will be scholarly and serious, and some of it will be of a popular nature, designed to deflect men's attention away from the issues themselves, and to play upon the emotions with less than accurate argumentation. Most of this second variety I expect to come in defense of the errors in the teaching of the Pastor's Conference men: Steven Schlissel, Douglas Wilson, J. Steven Wilkins, and John Barach.
On July 1, P. Andrew Sandlin posted an Article on his website entitled Morecraft's Warpath: Charging Godly reformed men with heresy. This brief analysis of his opening arguments is aimed at the way he postures his response. It should also allow the reader to classify the nature of his work in terms of the two categories offered above.
The first objectionable feature of Sandlin's work is that he begs the question. The sub-title: Charging Godly Reformed Men with Heresy is exactly the point of our resolutions. The teaching of the Conference speakers is ungodly: in that it is a fundamental denial of the Gospel of Christ. The specific details mentioned in the resolutions also make clear that these men can no longer be called 'Reformed'. Mr. Sandlin calls the issues 'sensitive and complex' and says that he doesn't want to discuss them, but continues to assert throughout the essay that the men are both 'Reformed and godly Christians'. The resolutions of our Presbytery are said to be 'conservative reformed cannibalism' in light of all of this.
In terms of logical analysis this is an ad-hominem fallacy, "(r)esting a conclusion upon an appeal against (or in favor of) the person, authority, circumstances or history of someone advancing a particular thesis." (Dr. Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready CMF pg145) Claim the man is good, and so his argument must be so also. In this case, the goodness of the man is assumed, his character is 'godly and reformed', and so his teaching must be merely on some fine point of doctrine, 'sensitive and complex'. The conservative pirana are engaged in a program that has rendered them ineffective for a hundred years. This, of course, all falls apart if the teaching is ungodly and unreformed. When Stephen Schlissel denies justification by faith alone and says that "Justification by Faith makes the law the problem", he is denying 466 years of Protestant theology in the process - yet he still wants to be called 'reformed'.
The major debates of church history found errorists making these same arguments, calling themselves orthodox, couching their errors in the same or similar theological terms as the orthodox, and claiming that the defenders of the faith were 'badgering and anathematizing other good Christians' (to use Mr. Sandlin's terms):
"At the Council of Nicea, A.D. 325 the battle was waged over the key words, homoousion (being of one essence, i.e. with the Father), and homoiousion (of like essence), the semi-Arian compromise designed to give a semblance of orthodoxy while essentially destroying orthodoxy. Gibbon treated the difference between the positions with contempt...'I can not forbear reminding the reader that the difference between homoousion and homoiousion is almost invisible to the nicest theological eye.' It is impossible to dismiss this as ignorance: Gibbon knew what was at stake, and his allegiance was to statism as man's hope." (R.J. Rushdoony The Foundations of Social Order 1978 Thoburn press pg 14-15).
Athanasius also discusses the craft of the adversaries: "...Arius and his fellows revolted from the truth, and used, when they commenced this heresy, to go about with dishonest phrases which they had got together..." (Four Discourses Against the Arians Discourse I Chp 6).
The Arminians as well: "...hid their views by speaking ambiguously; but, having been admitted to the ministry, they immediately stirred up new disputes, stood for new ideas, and boasted that they had various objections against the adopted doctrine." They "...presented the views of the Reformed churches in a bad light and... slanderously fabricated many things against those views; they also... had not forthrightly revealed their own views, nor presented all the articles concerning which there were differences..." "(T)he toleration for which they pressed so much..."was to be "...the means through which they merely hoped to be able to introduce their doctrine in the Churches." (Historical Forward to the Acts of the Synod of Dordrecht, printed in The Voice of Our Fathers, Homer C. Hoeksema Reformed Free Publishing Association 1980 pgs 57, 73,86).
History teaches us therefore, that lying doctrines are propagated with lying methods. This is manifestly evident with the Arians, and with the Arminians. As to the methods of Mr. Sandlin at least at this point we can say that his arguments are the same, leaving for subsequent articles the study of the doctrines he supports.
Along this same line, the Resolutions of Presbytery are repeatedly presented as the work of Pastor Joseph Morecraft III. The article bears the title Morecraft's Warpath and his name is mentioned 38 times in approximately 32 paragraphs. This is a variation on the same fallacy. If the work of the Presbytery can be painted as the work of one man, a 'good faithful and godly Presbyterian pastor' yet one who should 'exercise greater care' and has a peculiar 'interpretation of the older Presbyterian tradition', then the work can be ignored as the ranting of a sectarian Southern Presbyterian. The same fallacious characterization works against those who voted to adopt the Resolutions. Sandlin says: "Joe is the dominant force in his church and denomination" and throughout the essay refers to 'Joe's documents', 'Joe's denomination', 'Joe and the RPCUS' 'Joe & Co.' in the 38 citations. As one of the authors & co-sponsors of the resolutions "A Call to Repentance" which are the resolutions concerning the Pastor's Conference at AAPCA, I can say that 'Joe' only heard about the resolutions when he showed up for Presbytery, never saw the resolutions until they were presented on the floor of Presbytery, and generally speaking had nothing to do with them. The resolutions were authored by three pastors, and presented and amended on the floor of Presbytery. Therefore, Andrew Sandlin's line of argument rests not only on an informal logical fallacy 'irrelevant to the truth of the proposed conclusion', but is false as to the facts of the case as well.
I want to turn now to Andrew Sandlin's second section: Due process? His program of arguing against the men offering the resolutions, instead of against the questions raised in them comes to focus in the question of due process.
Sandlin poses these rhetorical questions:
1) Were the defendants granted due process in the church courts?
2) Were they allowed to answer their accusers' questions before suffering obloquy?
3) What about the requirements in Matthew 18 first to confront an erring brother privately?
This he answers, claiming that any such dire accusations against them should first occur in private and before witnesses, citing 1Tim 5:19. The clear implication is that the men of Presbytery are acting unbiblically in offering the resolutions. All of this he maintains while claiming to be 'not an expert in presbyterian polity'. The claim about Presbyterianism I am ready to grant him, but will still insist he present the Bible and the Reformed faith correctly:
"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all..." Gal 2:11-14
This text in Galatians 2 concerns sin which is public in nature on the part of those in the teaching ministry of the church. The Apostle Peter himself, with others, gave heed in practice to the Judaizing heresy. The Apostle Paul witnesses the error, and makes a public display of that error, in the presence of the very ones who have been scandalized by it. Verse 14 makes clear that the arraignment of Peter is public in nature when it says: "I said unto Peter before them all..."
The Bible teaches us to handle our differences in a responsible way, and in a forthright manner between man and man. This is the importance of Matthew 18:15-18, which teaches that private sins are to be handled in private discussions without bringing other men into questions except when they can not be resolved. Leviticus 19:18 in discussing love, deals with the attitude of man to man in terms of disagreements that have been settled. The clear teaching is that private disagreements stay private, and only are exposed to a broadening circle of witnesses in order to reach resolution. As long as there is repentance and faith they are kept carefully proscribed.
However, the text in Galatians is something quite different. By Peter's actions he had created a witness in the church that would destroy the truth of the Gospel. The actions began in public, and so the rebuke occurred publicly, so that the ones scandalized by the actions, had a clear and public witness to that fact, and could witness the process of discussion and repentance.
Calvin comments on this fact: "This example instructs us, that those who have sinned publicly must be publicly chastised, so far as concerns the church. The intention is, that their sin may not, by remaining unpunished, form a dangerous example; and Paul elsewhere (1Tim 5:20) lays down this rule expressly, to be observed in the case of elders, 'Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear;' because the station which they hold renders their example more pernicious." (Calvin's Commentaries at Gal 2:14 Vol 21:pg64)
Andrew Sandlin should know this. Let us not allow him to hide behind his Baptist and Independent background, claiming ignorance of Presbyterian polity. It is a question of the proper procedure in Scripture of confronting false teaching that is being publicly spread. The proper procedure is that of publicly opposing that teaching, and of making a public remonstrance against it. This is the point of our resolutions.
The first question he raised: Were the defendants granted due process in church courts? Is also the point of the resolutions. The Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States (RPCUS) is not the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), we have no authority judicially to try cases concerning PCA pastors or men of other denominations, or even power to compel them to appear. Our resolutions specifically called upon the courts of those churches to institute process against the men - thus giving them their day in court. Mr. Sandlin surely read that in the resolutions. He may object that we have ourselves rendered a judgment upon them. Yes, we have heard them ourselves in their taped presentations and have no further need of witnesses. They might again say: 'but we thought we had couched our doctrines in language sufficiently ambiguous as to keep the question of our orthodoxy open' - we didn't see it that way.
When our resolutions declare that the teaching "involves a fundamental denial of the essence of the Christian Gospel in the denial of justification by faith alone", this is a clarion call to all who love the gospel of Christ that these teachings must be opposed. The teaching of these men denies justification by faith alone. The questions involved are not, therefore, questions of fact - as to what they believe. It is a question of law - does the Bible teach justification by faith alone? That is a question we consider settled.
Lastly, I want to take a minute on Mr. Sandlin's other retort: were they allowed to answer their accusers questions? Though the propagation of their teaching is a public matter, and the resolutions of our Presbytery are likewise public, there has been private discussion with the men, by those of us who know them personally. Pastor Henry Johnson, another co-sponsor of the resolutions had spoken personally to both Mr. Wilkins & Mr. Schlissel. In his first conversation with Wilkins, he discussed our intent publicly to oppose their teaching prior to our meeting. I have another friend close to Douglas Wilson, who is in the process of discussing his concerns as well. The men are fully aware of what they are doing and the doctrinal course they are steering. It is only a question of how long the reformed churches will allow them to teach within their jurisdictions, and how long the Christian public will accept their teaching as 'Reformed' or 'Christian'. The intent of our resolutions is to end both of these.
Northland Reformed Church
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