Three Complaints, a Summary

When the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met last summer, how did it deal with three items on its agenda that involved how Aimee Byrd and Rachel Miller had been treated in some church circles? (The General Assembly is the broadest body in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.) A friend of mine recently asked if anyone had written a summary of the actions the assembly took regarding those items. I was not aware of such a summary, so I tried to help him by providing the following.

Introduction:

               A complaint, as the term is used in the constitution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), is not simply a gripe or objection, but rather, a written document “charging a judicatory with delinquency or error.” (Book of Discipline IX.1) A complaint is first brought to the body that the one complaining believes has erred, giving it the opportunity to make a satisfactory correction. If the complainant is not satisfied, the complaint may be appealed to the next higher judicatory.

               The Rev. Glenn D. Jerrell authored three complaints against the Presbytery of the Southeast (PSE), of which he is a member. All three dealt with actions, or failures to act, as the presbytery dealt with officers who had made sweeping, public attacks against several members of the OPC. When the presbytery denied his complaints, he appealed them to the 87th General Assembly (GA), where they were numbered Complaints 7, 8, and 9 (because the Assembly did not meet in 2020 due to the pandemic, an unusually large number of complaints were before the body).

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Reading as Rest

Reflections on Recovering the Lost art of Reading (continued, part 2)

Reading as rest? The concept may sound strange, but Leland Ryken and Glenda Mathes in Recovering the Lost Art of Reading refreshingly associate reading with the rest that God requires in the commandment that, as Jesus said, he made for mankind. “Our failures to read and read well have deprived us of an essential way to transcend our confining world of private preoccupations and worries.” (p. 30)

“[O]ur culture (including the Christian segment of it) has drifted towards reducing leisure to mere diversion and distraction” observe the authors. Not surprisingly they suggest, “Literature refreshes at deeper levels than many other leisure activities.” (p. 29)

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Reflections on Recovering the Lost art of Reading, Part 1

Is reading an art which needs recovering? I love to read. My life as a pastor is invested in both the people I serve and in books as I prepare to preach the Word and as I deal with the ideas surrounding us. When I’m on vacation, I always take along some books — usually a few more than I end up being able to read. As our children as were growing up I read aloud to them, and sometimes have the opportunity to do that with grandchildren.

Yet the pressure of deadlines can make it difficult to make the time to read. Months ago I received my copy of Recovering the Lost Art of Reading: A Quest for the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, by Leland Ryken and Glenda Faye Mathes. After opening it with anticipation, I wrote one of the authors:

[I]t is impossible to pull a book out of its shipping envelope without opening it, and opening it inevitably leads to reading. I made it through the Introduction and the first chapter, “Is Reading Lost?” before forcing myself to put it down. It is Friday afternoon. There is still work to be done….

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Walking through Judicial Process

Thinking about judicial process may strike you as soporific but imagine trying to work through church discipline without a guide! Many churches try just that. Faithful church discipline is one of the identifying marks of a church. In the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a member cannot be formally disciplined by either the pastor or the ruling elders simply accusing him of sin. Rather, a trial must take place. The Book of Discipline of the OPC provides the constitutional guidelines for conducting such a trial.

A colleague and I recently served as co-counsel, helping a session in a particularly challenging situation. Since members of the church planned to attend the trial, I tried to describe in informal, non-technical language, some of the highlights of what the book says about a trial, as judicial process can be confusing, particularly as formal charges are, thankfully, infrequent. Subsequently I expanded and modified that paper slightly. Here, in case it might be helpful or thought provoking, is a link to “Walking through Trial Procedure.”

I am well aware that the Book of Discipline is imperfect. Thought needs to be given, I believe, to improvements, particularly in the area of providing protection and care for those who have been harmed by the sins of others. And even the best book is administered by imperfect people.

Yet, I am grateful that we do have a Book of Discipline. And I am thankful for faithful officers who seek to honor the name of Christ, provide protection for those harmed, promote the purity of the church, and reclaim the sinner. Church discipline, done well, is pastoral.

Message to young parents

One of the unexpected joys of being a pastor is being asked to send out an anonymous email as follows:

Dear brothers and sisters,
Someone, no longer quite so young, asked me to sent the following to the parents of young children in the congregation, but to withhold his name. I asked, and received, permission to send it to the entire email list of the congregation. My immediate impression: the author understands God’s faithfulness to the promises (and responsibilities) of the covenant. I am grateful for his prayers.

Blessings,
John

To all the dear children of Christ’s church at Trinity that are raising young ones: you are never outside of our beloved Lord’s sight and rarely outside of our prayers. Raising young ones to the Lord is the highest calling in this life. You may not see that right now “stuck” at home all day with rambunctious children, mothers, but your warfare is not in vain. You indeed are greatly loved by God, and raising the next generation of covenant children is your life’s work-which will never end; though it will change. Do not despair you fathers who work in a job you really don’t want to do and barely pays the bills. When you go home tired from your day and have to summon up that smile and cheer for your wife: know that she feels the exact same way. Go ahead and change that diaper or discipline that child with the same joy in the Lord your wife deserves: you are are both fighting the same fight and your warfare is not in vain.    

You are all loved by us, and those of us who have gone before you know and understand.


John W. Mahaffy, PastorTrinity Presbyterian Church of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church http://trinitynewberg.org/

The Balance of Scripture

When faced with an unbiblical, or even anti-Christian, emphasis in the world around us, the church is sometimes tempted simply to move in the opposite direction. But that runs the danger of adopting an equally unbiblical approach. The church needs to be guided by Scripture. And she needs to reflect the balance of the Word of God.

In 1988 the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church received a committee report on “Women in Office.” Although a basic question that the committee was asked to study involved the qualifications for holding ordained office in the church, the report explores foundational teaching of the Word regarding the relationship of men and women. 30+ years down the road a few of the the questions the church faces have changed — somewhat. The principles of the Word remain unchanged, however.

Because the report strives to be faithful to Scripture, reflecting its balance, I find it still to be a very helpful resource. Near the beginning of the report, introducing a section on Foundational Considerations, is a helpful, balanced, reminder

Because the report strives to be faithful to Scripture, reflecting its balance, I find it still to be a very help resource. Near the beginning of the report, introducing a section on Foundational Considerations, is a helpful, balanced, reminder:

“Care must be taken in applying sound hermeneutical principles to the subject of women and church office such that the church does not adopt extracanonical norms for Christian conduct and take patterns from modern society and use them to control the interpretation of Scripture. The Bible is God’s complete and final revelation to man and in its light all disputes ought to be settled (WCF l:X.). In considering the question of women in office we need to be especially careful not to yield to the Zeitgeist of either feminism or male chauvinism which dominate our humanistic age.”

Further Thoughts on Protecting the Sheep

Last week I reflected on the responsibility of a presbytery to protect sheep who are being attacked. A number of readers expressed appreciation. I was also contacted by a half dozen or so members of the presbytery involved. A couple of them asked that I modify or take down the post. Several raised concerns and questions, wondering if I properly reflected the context of what happened.

I appreciated the conversations. Even though we may not have convinced one another, we were able to have good communication. I told the brothers that I would give prayerful consideration to their concerns. Upon reflection, while I am not persuaded that I should withdraw my post, I want to add this, both to correct some possible misunderstandings and to respond to a couple of the more major concerns raised.

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When Shepherds Allow the Sheep to Be Attacked

The calling of a shepherd, by definition, is to care for the sheep. That includes nurturing, feeding, and protecting. On occasion, if the sheep is straying, it can involve correction and discipline. But attacking or abusing the sheep violates that calling and is offensive to the Good Shepherd.

At a recent meeting of a presbytery (not my own), as was reliably reported to me, a young minister, speaking on the floor of the meeting, used the terms a “ruthless wolf” and “Jezebel” to describe a member of the denomination who was not present, a member in good standing. The presbytery meeting, as is normal in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, was open to the public.

My purpose here is not to comment further on the speaker—I don’t think I need to. He may be facing ecclesiastical charges, and I abhor doing church discipline on social media. In any case, he will be afforded due process which he fails to grant the sister whom he attacks.

What appalled me is that, although two presbyters rose to object to that language being used against a member in good standing, the presbytery allowed the speech to continue. While the speaker is accountable for his choice of words, the body as a whole bears responsibility for what it allows as acceptable ecclesiastical discourse. The terms used refer to enemies of the cross. The presbytery permitted them in an attack on a sister who is a member in good standing.

Any attack by a shepherd against the sheep is abhorrent. But when a body which is a group of shepherds allows that kind of speech, it is giving tacit approval to abuse. Addressing my fellow presbyters, this ought not to be. Not only do we need to guard our own tongues and pens (and fingers on keyboards), but we need to take responsibility for what we allow as acceptable discourse. To my brothers in the presbytery involved, I plead with you: you can do better than this.

A presbytery allowing this kind of language on the floor is not the core of the problem. Behind it lie some deep issues, including whether we value one another, male and female, as fellow images of God, and whether we are using our ecclesiastical authority to serve the flock (for which the Good Shepherd laid down his life) or to protect ourselves. Our heart issues will not be resolved by sustaining points of order. But that might be a small, but significant, first step.

Peter addresses those he calls fellow elders: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:2–4, ESV)

Gaffin on Calvin on Ezekiel

gaffinWhat is the relationship between faith and works in justification? Recently someone pointed me to this post: Faith Without Works is Dead — John Murray, which I forwarded to several people. Dr. Richard B Gaffin was reminded of something he had written some time ago. He forwarded it to me and gave me permission to post it here. If  you prefer a pdf copy, click on Calvin on Ez. 18, 17.

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Calvin on Ezekiel 18:14-17 Justification, Faith and Works

Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: [15] he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, [16] does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, [17] withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. (ESV)

A passage from Calvin’s commentary on Ezekiel 18:14-17 has the distinction of being among the last, perhaps the last, of his comments on the relationship among justification, faith and works (progressive sanctification*), having apparently been written shortly before his death in 1564. Also, it is perhaps as pointed as Continue reading