Should Exceptions to Our Standards|
Be Preached or Taught in the PCA?
Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, VA
Upon their examination for
entrance into a PCA presbytery men have the opportunity to state whether or not they take
exception to any part of our doctrinal standards (The Westminster Confession of Faith, the
Shorter Catechism, the Larger Catechism, and our Book of Church Order).
If the man has exceptions the presbytery then votes as to whether or not the position is
an exception. Let us assume that it is. Another name for these exceptions is errors. A
presbytery that votes a position to be an exception is stating by its majority vote that
the TE is in error in that point of his doctrine. Should the individual be allowed to
teach that exception in his local ministry?
1. Answer to Questions in Personal Resolution 5, Ninth General Assembly, on "Confessional Subscription"
Fairly early in her history, the PCA has taken very seriously both the matter of the powers of the court of original jurisdiction and the matter of careful consideration being given to exceptions men may take to our Standards. Part of the answer given to Personal Resolution 5 reads:
2. Answer to Constitutional Inquiry # 5, Fourteenth General Assembly
The previously cited answer (#1 above) says that Presbyteries should be carefully considerate in allowing exceptions to our Standards. This one speaks with respect to the right and responsibility of Presbyteries to allow or disallow the teaching of such exceptions, depending upon the determination of a given Presbytery as to whether or not such teaching would serve to disturb the peace and purity of the churches within its bounds.
3. Answer of Eighteenth General Assembly to a Reference from the Stony Point Church Session
This reference asks whether Presbytery has authority to restrict a Teaching Elder in his teaching and preaching. For our purposes, the germane portion of the answer to this reference states:
It should be noted that this answer of the General Assembly acknowledges that Presbyteries have authority to restrict the teaching of their member TEs. Further, with the words, " which the presbytery is convinced may be harmful ," the answer makes clear, contrary to the contention of the complainants, that such restriction need not be imposed only against actual teaching and preaching which have been done in a manner so as to disturb the peace and purity of the Church. Presbytery has authority to restrict any teaching that it deems may have detrimental effect upon the churches under its care.
4. Case 91-4
In this case, a TE complained against the action of James River Presbytery in the Presbyterys prohibiting him from preaching and teaching his views on prophecy and tongues. The Complaint was not sustained by the General Assembly in any of its parts. As part of the reasoning for the Complaint being denied, the Standing Judicial Commission expressed (and the Assembly approved) the following:
And the following:
These citations from Case 91-4 clearly state that Presbytery has power both to determine what views may be harmful to the welfare of the churches under its care, and to restrict the teaching of those views.
5. Case 92-9a
This case, in which a Complaint against the action of Eastern Carolina Presbytery having licensed a candidate who, among other alleged deficiencies, held exceptional views on creation and the flood, is quite applicable also. In that case, the complainants asked the Assembly to rule that their Presbytery erred in so licensing the candidate. The Complaint was not sustained. Pertinent to our case are the following citations from the reasoning and opinion of the court:
It should be noted in this opinion, approved by the General Assembly, that Eastern Carolina Presbytery is commended for their taking steps which, " guarded the purity of the church by ordering him not to teach publicly on such views ." Such commendation is repeated in the following citation from the opinion:
Finally, in a concurring opinion of case 92-9a, which concurring opinion was likewise approved by the General Assembly, we find the following expressed:
6. Case 94-1
In this case, wherein yet another candidate expressed questionable views on creation and the flood in his examination before Calvary Presbytery, a Complaint was filed which alleged that Presbytery erred in its sustaining of the candidates examination. The Complaint further alleged that Presbytery erred by its ruling the Complaint out of order when it came to be heard by Presbytery at its 22 January 1994 Stated Meeting. The Assembly ruled, by approving the judgment of the Standing Judicial Commission in this case, that Calvary Presbytery had erred in its ruling the Complaint out of order, and, consequently not hearing it. Thus, the Complaint was deemed not properly before the SJC, and accordingly was, " remanded back to the Presbytery to be heard in keeping with BCO 43-2 and 43-10." (M23GA, p. 130).
Research into the final outcome of that remanded Complaint reveals an instructive pattern for other Presbyteries wherein controversial matters are contended. The summary points which hereafter are cited are drawn from the Minutes of the October 1995 Stated Meeting of Calvary Presbytery.
At its 22 July 1995 Stated Meeting, Calvary Presbytery adopted a motion to postpone until the October meeting of Presbytery the hearing of the Complaint. Additionally, an Ad Hoc Committee was formed "to facilitate a discussion concerning the matter, and bring a recommendation to the October meeting of Calvary Presbytery." (Appendix 2-B)
At the October meeting of Calvary Presbytery, the Ad Hoc Committee reported, and presented a proposed resolution, which was adopted by the Presbytery. The proposed resolution may be found in its entirety in the October 1995 Minutes of Calvary Presbytery, Appendix 2-D. Here we cite in part:
The Minutes of Calvary Presbytery further reflect that at the passing of the above cited resolution, the complainants withdrew their Complaint.
The point of our citing this case and its resolution is to indicate that yet again we find an example of a Presbytery restricting the preaching and teaching of one of its members. As a result of this, no Complaint or Dissent was filed in that Presbytery, nor did the General Assembly, through its Committee on Review of Presbytery Minutes, in any way discountenance this action by citing it as an exception.
This is a far different and better method than allowing exceptions to be taught from the pulpit or by other means and then having to deal with resulting controversy.
Exceptions are not to be treated lightly. They are exceptions and thus errant views opposing what our standards have stated as scriptural teaching.