Previous article in this series: March 1, 2011, p. 257.
A Case Study in Working Hard not to Exercise Discipline
In a previous article we noted that three governing bodies of the Presbyterian Churches in America (PCA) have recently dealt with ministers accused of teaching or defending views consistent with the heresy of the Federal Vision (FV) and have refused to take decisions condemning these ministers and their views. In that article the actions of the Presbytery of the Siouxlands (SLP) were examined. This article focuses on the actions of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), which represents the General Assembly of the PCA. After SLP refused in January of 2010 to investigate Joshua Moon under a strong presumption of guilt for defending and teaching views consistent with the FV and contrary to the Westminster Standards, three SLP ministers forwarded a complaint to the SJC.¹ The SJC upheld SLP’s unjust decision, thereby not only refusing to take a stand against the deadly FV heresy, but also providing sanctuary for Joshua Moon and his erroneous views within the PCA.
Here are the relevant parts of the SJC’s decision:
II. STATEMENT OF THE ISSUES
1. With respect to certain reports concerning TE Joshua Moon, was Siouxlands Presbytery sufficiently diligent and careful in compliance with its responsibilities under BCO [Book of Church Order] 31-2?
2. With respect to certain reports concerning TE Joshua Moon, did Siouxlands Presbytery err in finding TE Moon’s testimony a satisfactory explanation concerning the reports and finding no strong presumption of guilt in TE Moon related to the reports?
IV. REASON ING AND OPINION
This complaint is brought against Siouxlands Presbytery (SLP) for its alleged failure to properly conduct and conclude a BCO 31-2 investigation into the Christian character of a member of Presbytery, TE Joshua Moon. The provision in question reads as follows:
It is the duty of all church Sessions and Presbyteries to exercise care over those subject to their authority. They shall with due diligence and great discretion demand from such persons satisfactory explanations concerning reports affecting their Christian character. This duty is more imperative when those who deem themselves aggrieved by injurious reports shall ask an investigation.
If such investigation, however originating, should result in raising a strong presumption of the guilt of the party involved, the court shall institute process, and shall appoint a prosecutor to prepare the indictment and to conduct the case.
Presbytery acted upon the overture from the session of Foothills Community Church regarding TE Moon in open session during its October called meeting. Arguably, Presbytery should have proceeded under BCO 32-2, treating the overture not as a report (BCO 31-2) but as specific charges against TE Moon. However, the Complainants did not object to presbytery’s method of proceeding before presbytery or in this complaint, so that question is not properly before us. Process against TE Moon could still be instituted by some person or persons who would undertake to make out a proper charge pursuant to BCO 32-2. Upon such a charge being laid before the Presbytery, the Presbytery must follow BCO 32-3, subject to BCO 31-8.
During presbytery’s consideration of this matter, TE Moon specifically denied that he held the heterodox views alleged by the Overture. Following his denial, Presbytery allowed, and TE Moon answered, questions for clarification and concern from the floor. After a motion to close debate Presbytery found that “having hear [sic] testimony from TE Moon, we deem TE Moon’s testimony a satisfactory explanation concerning the report and find no strong presumption of guilt in TE Moon related to the report.”
In coming to this judgment the Record shows that SLP was sufficiently diligent and careful in compliance with its responsibilities under BCO 31-2. In January of 2008 and again in July 2009 Presbytery had considered at length TE Moon’s views through the licensure and ordination processes, and thus Presbytery’s understanding of his views was recent and familiar.
In the September 2009 meeting Presbytery itself witnessed the expression of TE Moon’s views that were the subject of the FCC overture and had the same recorded in its minutes. In its consideration of the FCC overture SLP heard a direct response to the allegations from TE Moon and allowed questions from the floor.
Having complied with its responsibilities under BCO 31-2, did SLP then err in finding TE Moon’s testimony a satisfactory explanation, in finding no strong presumption of guilt? This Court is bound to rule on this question according to the standards of review set forth in BCO 39-3:
A higher court should ordinarily exhibit great deference to a lower court regarding those matters of discretion and judgment which can only be addressed by a court with familiar acquaintance of the events and parties. Such matters of discretion and judgment would include, but not be limited to: the moral character of candidates for sacred office, the appropriate censure to impose after a disciplinary trial, or judgment about the comparative credibility of conflicting witnesses. Therefore, a higher court should not reverse such a judgment by a lower court, unless there is clear error on the part of the lower court.
Complainants hold that TE Moon’s defense of certain views of TE Lawrence, as views within the permissible latitude afforded by the PCA’s standard for subscription, implies that TE Moon shares in the alleged errors of TE Lawrence. But this is a non sequitur. It may be illustrated as follows: it is widely held that paedo-communion is a permissible minority view within the PCA, but it does not follow that all who consider it permissible, hold to the position of paedocommunion.
Complainants hold that certain views expressed by TE Moon, capable of a heterodox interpretation, must be so interpreted. But this violates the judgment of charity, that if a view can be interpreted in an orthodox fashion, it ought to be so interpreted until one is forced to do otherwise.
Complainants hold that certain of TE Moon’s views imply heterodox doctrines, and therefore impute those doctrines to TE Moon. But this is a non sequitur as well. One cannot properly impute implications that are drawn from a position to a person who expressly denies the implication.
Against this reasoning stand TE Moon’s express and specific denials of the heterodoxy alleged in the Overture, and his affirmations of orthodoxy. The only question, then, is with respect to TE Moon’s credibility. The Standing Judicial Commission must defer to Presbytery’s judgment, unless there is a finding of “clear error” (BCO 39-3(3)). Nothing in the Record supports such a finding. Presbytery exercised its jurisdiction with respect to the theological questions at issue. In fact, Presbytery had previously adopted a statement condemning the very heterodox doctrines alleged to be found in TE Moon’s statements. Presbytery found TE Moon’s defense of his views to be credible. One may suspect that TE Moon is guilty; one may even be privately persuaded that he is guilty; but apart from a showing of clear error on the part of SLP in the Record, this Court must defer to the judgment of Presbytery (http://sjc2010-4.blospot.com viewed on 12/21/2010).
The SJC based its decision to uphold the SLP decision not to investigate Moon by first sweeping away most of the issues raised by the complaint by claiming the complaint is based upon faulty logic and assumptions that are uncharitable to Moon. Ironically, upon careful examination it is plain the SJC’s decision is based upon faulty logic and is uncharitable towards the men who wrote the complaint.
The SJC dismisses two of the complaint’s arguments as “non-sequitur[s].” This is a technical way of saying the evidence used by the complaint does not prove Joshua Moon is guilty of holding unorthodox views. However, the SJC’s attempt to dismiss the arguments of the complaint fails, because in both instances where it charges the complaint with a non-sequitur, the SJC is guilty of setting up a straw man, which is the technical way of saying the SJC destroyed arguments that were not made by the complaint and failed to deal with the complaint’s actual arguments.
The first straw man the SJC sets up has to do with Moon’s defense of the heretical views of Pastor Greg Lawrence (cf. the previous article in this series). According to the SJC, the complaint wrongly concludes Moon “shares” Lawrence’s views because he defended Lawrence. The complaint does not make such an argument, and it is unbecoming of the SJC so uncharitably to charge the writers of the complaint with making such an argument. The complaint actually makes two other very valid arguments with regard to Moon’s defense of Lawrence.
First, it argues Moon agrees with at least one of Lawrence’s erroneous views because in his defense of Lawrence, Moon himself said he agreed with it. The complaint quotes Moon saying, “The fact is, what TE Lawrence says on baptism is held in various ways and with various nuances by a lot of people in our PCA: …myself included.”
Second, the complaint argues Moon is worthy of censure even if he doesn’t share Lawrence’s views because it is wrong for an officebearer in the PCA even to defend views that are contrary to the Westminster Standards. The complaint quotes the PCA’s Book of Church Order (13-9), which says Presbyteries (and presumably individual officebearers) have the duty to “condemn erroneous opinions and practices which tend to injure the peace, purity, or progress of the church.” Instead of agreeing with this argument and stressing the absolute necessity of officebearers refuting all errors, the SJC seems to suggest an officebearer can defend any teaching, so long as he himself does not agree with the teaching and it is “widely held” that such a teaching is “a permissible minority view within the PCA.” The SJC’s argument here is not only wrong, but extremely dangerous, because an argument might be made in favor of the FV because it is “widely held… to be a permissible minority view in the PCA.”
The second straw man the SJC sets up has to do with Moon’s own statements. According to the SJC the complaint argues that “views…capable of a heterodox interpretation, must be so interpreted.” Again this is uncharitable on the part of the SJC because the complaint simply does not make such an inane argument. The SJC decision leaves the impression the complaint made an argument about statements that may be interpreted as teaching heterodoxy in general. But the complaint focuses on specific statements of Moon. And the complaint does not assume the statements are heterodox simply because they are capable of a heterodox interpretation, but instead the complaint explains why some of Moon’s specific statements can only be interpreted as contradicting the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Here is a sample of how the complaint actually argued this point:
What TE Moon has made abundantly clear is that he believes that the language of the reformed tradition can be used in more than one sense. He therefore sees nothing inappropriate with using confessional terms in ways that are not confessional. For example, he will say that “(true) adoption, (true) redemption, and (true) sanctification are the properties of the invisible church alone.” But at the same time, he has asserted a willingness to also use such terms “in something less than or other than the strictest sense—or use them in some other regard than speaking of election and reprobation” (ROC, p. 72, Lines 9-10). As a result he remains more than willing to speak in a way that would ascribe saving benefits in some sense to those who would be reprobate.
This is seen to be true in that TE Moon sees nothing wrong with “attributing to all the baptized some form of union, adoption, new life, and forgiveness.” He says speaking in this way is “speaking the language of our tradition and of our Scriptures…” (ROC, pages 82 and 94). TE Moon also has said that all children of believers regardless of their own faith can be spoken of as having “union with Christ [and are] partakers of his righteousness” (ROC, pp. 79 and 91).
The complaint’s argument is that the Westminster Standards limit adoption, redemption, sanctification, union, new life, and forgiveness to the elect alone and do not attribute these things to the reprobate. Further, the complaint argues that Moon admits he is not using these terms as they are used in the Standards when he attributes them in some way to the reprobate. The complaint argues, rightly so, that Moon is wrong in thinking he can affirm that these things only apply to the elect in the way they are used in the Standards but can also affirm that they can “in some sense” be attributed to the reprobate. By attributing these things to the reprobate in any way at all, the complaint correctly concludes, Moon is contradicting the Westminster Standards. The complaint carefully and persuasively deals with Moon’s views and did not “violate the judgment of charity.”
In light of the arguments actually made by the complaint, the SLP clearly erred in deciding not to investigate Joshua Moon, which means the SJC should have overturned the SLP’s decision and instructed the Presbytery to conduct an investigation.
How serious is the SJC’s decision not to instruct the SLP to investigate Moon? It may seem this decision is not very serious because the SJC did not say Moon’s views were orthodox but merely said the evidence given did not prove they are heterodox. However, although the SJC did not explicitly exonerate Moon, it must be remembered the SJC was told that Moon has said that saving benefits are given temporarily to the reprobate, and the SJC determined this was not clear evidence of heterodoxy. In other words, officebearers in the PCA have been told by the SJC they may defend and may also teach that the reprobate receive forgiveness of sins, adoption, union with Christ, etc.; and if ever they are charged with error for teaching such things, they may rest easy knowing it will be declared they are not guilty of teaching “clear error.”
The SJC failed to discipline a teacher of the FV heresy. Worse, it has provided sanctuary for him and his error. Next time we will consider the actions of the Missouri Presbytery with regard to Pastor Jeff Meyers.
¹ The complaint was viewed athttp://www.sjc2010-4.blogspot. com on 12/21/2010.