Previous article in this series: April 1, 2011, p. 303.
A Case Study in Working Hard Not to Exercise Discipline
This article is the third in a series of four examining the failure of three of the governing bodies of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) to discipline men guilty of teaching heretical views associated with the Federal Vision (FV) movement. This article focuses on the Missouri Presbytery’s (MOP) exoneration of Jeffrey Meyers, pastor of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church in Saint Louis, MO. The Jeffrey Meyers case is very significant.
Meyers is a leading, public proponent of the FV. He publicly identified himself as a member of the FV movement by signing a document written in 2007 entitled A Joint Federal Vision Profession,¹ but he has publicly expressed his views going back to at least 2002.
The significance of the Meyers case is also indicated by the fact that 29 members of the PCA (all but one of whom are elders or pastors) signed the “Letter of Concern” (LOC) addressed to the MOP asking for an investigation into Meyers’ views. The 29 signers of the letter not only asked for an investigation but also informed MOP there are reports that Meyers “is teaching Federal Vision theology contrary to the Standards” (LOC, p. 46).²
Problems with the Letter of Concern
Since Meyers is a well-known advocate of the FV it is not surprising the MOP investigated his views, but it is surprising that his views were investigated in response to the “Letter of Concern.” The MOP probably should have treated the LOC as both illegal and schismatic and therefore could have rejected its request to investigate the views of Jeffrey Meyers.
The LOC is schismatic because it was circulated to many members of the PCA to gain support for it, and it was published publicly before the MOP treated it. The reason it was wrong to circulate and publish the letter is that it deals with an individual. Meyers published his views publicly, therefore it is permissible for those who object to his views to bring their concerns to an ecclesiastical governing body rather than approach Meyers privately in the way of Matthew 18. However, even if a person has publicly taught heresy, it is improper for individuals in the church to work with other individuals to bring charges together. If an individual is aggrieved by the actions of another in the church, the only proper way to address that grievance is to approach the individual or to bring the matter to the church (if the matter is public). To speak with other individuals in the church in order to raise questions about another person’s character constitutes backbiting or slander that sinfully does harm to a person’s reputation and causes schism in the church.
The MOP rightly criticized the LOC and called for those who signed it to examine whether they should apologize for their actions (cf. Report of the MOP, p. 38). The MOP should have gone further and demanded an apology. It is understandable that the individuals who signed the letter have concerns about the teaching of Jeffrey Meyers, but they have the duty to bring their concerns as individuals.
Despite its legitimate concerns about the LOC, the MOP decided to investigate Meyers in the six areas the LOC said it is reported he teaches “contrary to the [Westminster] Standards.” A list of the six areas indicates the MOP was committing itself to conducting an extensive investigation. The LOC alleged that it is reported that:
1. He denies the bi-covenantal structure of the Standards.
2. He rejects the idea that Christ’s merits are imputed to us.
3. He affirms that baptism effects a saving, covenantal union with Christ.
4. He affirms that this saving union occurs with all the baptized.
5. He denies that all who are saved will ultimately end up in heaven.
6. He rejects justification by faith alone (LOC, p. 46).
The LOC provided proof for how Meyers contradicted the Standards in these six areas in a section of the letter entitled “How TE Meyers Opposes the Westminster Standards” (LOC, p. 47). This title betrays another problem with the “Letter of Concern.” The letter does not actually express concerns about Meyers’ teachings but actually charges him with the sin of contradicting the PCA’s Confession and provides evidence in support of the charges. At best a letter of concern in such an instance is inappropriate because it does not take seriously enough the sins that have been committed. A letter recording evidence a man has contradicted a church’s confession should charge the man with sin rather than merely express concern. At worst a letter purporting to be a letter of concern that actually brings charges of sin is deceitful.
Another problem with the LOC is that it is not focused enough. This is not to say the LOC does not address serious problems in Meyers’ public teaching. That Meyers “denies the bi-covenantal structure of the Standards” is a rather obscure charge, but the other five areas identified by the LOC are important areas where Meyers’ theology is heretical. Nevertheless, the LOC could have made a much briefer and stronger case against Meyers. To make an airtight case against Meyers and to root out his false teachings, only two charges are necessary: 1. Meyers contradicts the doctrine of justification by faith alone. 2. Meyers teaches a conditional doctrine of the covenant.
Meyers Contradicts the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone
The FV contradicts the heart of the gospel, the truth of justification by faith alone. This should have been charge number 1 against Meyers, not number 6. Meyers’ contradiction of justification by faith alone should have been charge number 1 because it is one of the two central issues at stake in the FV controversy, and because his public denial of this doctrine is chronologically prior to his other heretical positions cited by the LOC.
The LOC should have noted, but did not, that Meyers contradicted the truth of justification by faith alone already back in 2002 in his exposition of the parable of the Publican and Pharisee found in Luke 18:9-14.³ Explaining Jesus’ statement that the publican went “to his house justified,” Meyers writes, “The verb justified here cannot bear the full weight of the Lutheran doctrine of Justification [by faith alone-CWS].” The doctrine that Meyers denies is applicable to the publican in this parable is the doctrine of justification, which is God’s declaration that a man is righteous on the basis, not of his own righteousness, but on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther called this righteousness an “alien” righteousness, meaning that one does not have this righteousness himself but must receive it from another, namely, Jesus Christ. Meyers argues, “This text says nothing about God ‘imputing an alien righteousness’ to the [tax collector].” Denying the publican is justified on the basis of Christ’s righteous- ness imputed to him by faith, Meyers teaches instead: “The [tax collector’s] humble plea *fulfills* the terms of the covenant. The [tax collector] is faithful to the covenant, that is ‘righteous.’ His faithfulness to the covenant *is* his righteousness. This is why Jesus sums it all up with a call to humility. The covenant is faithfully fulfilled by those who humble themselves. The humble are justified.” No Reformed or Presbyterian man should need an explanation of what is wrong with this interpretation of the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.
Meyers’ interpretation of the parable of the Publican and Pharisee is clearly and grossly heretical, and it is astounding the LOC does not refer to it in support of a charge (rather than a concern) that he contradicts justification by faith alone. It is more astounding that Jeff Meyers could get away with such gross heresy for nine years before anyone even merely expressed concern that he is denying justification by faith alone.4
Most astounding, however, is the MOP’s approval of Meyers’ teaching with regard to the doctrine of justification. Even though the LOC did not refer to Meyers’ interpretation of the parable of the Publican and Pharisee to prove he contradicts justification by faith alone, the evidence it did bring was sufficient to find him guilty of heresy. In support of its contention Meyers denies justification by faith alone the LOC refers to the 2007 Joint Federal Vision Profession which Meyers signed. The JFVP says, “We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith.” The LOC rightly recognizes that it is an error to include “loyalty or faithfulness in the instrument of justification” (LOC, p. 51). As the instrument of justification, faith is without works, and Meyers and all who signed the JFVP certainly contradict Scripture and the confessions when they teach that faith as the instrument of justification includes “loyalty” and “faithfulness.”
Rather than condemn Meyers’ denial of justification by faith alone, the MOP went to great lengths to exonerate him. The MOP concluded that when Meyers and the JFVP speak of the activity of faith they are not referring to any work that justifies man but seem “to convey the meaning of the closing phrases of [Westminster Confession of Faith] XI. 2: ‘… and is no dead faith, but worketh by love'” (MOP Report, p. 25).
It is true that the Reformed faith has always argued that faith that justifies becomes active in good works. But the Reformed faith has always been careful to distinguish between justification and sanctification. In justification, faith does not work. In justification, faith refuses to work. In justification, faith rests upon the perfect work of Christ. There may not be any talk of a “living, active, personally loyal faith” as the instrument of justification.
The fruit of justification by faith is sanctification. In sanctification, not justification, faith produces good works. The WCF in 11.2, which the MOP did not quote in full, says, ” Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.” The Confession speaks of a faith that is active, but it clearly states that faith as the instrument of justification is alone, without works. Meyers and the JFVP confuse justification and sanctification when they say, “We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith.” Even a charitable reading of this statement, which the MOP clamors for, recognizes that this is a monumental failure to distinguish between justification and sanctification. At this point in history no Reformed or Presbyterian minister should have any trouble stating the doctrine of justification by faith alone without any confusion. Either those who subscribe to the JFVP are grossly ignorant, which we will not charge them with since we are charitable, or they are guilty of deliberately confusing the doctrine of justification by faith alone and are worthy of discipline.
By approving Jeffrey Meyers’ and the JFVP’s teachings regarding justification, the MOP has approved the Federal Vision’s deadly doctrine of justification by faith and works! We will examine the second charge that should have been brought against Meyers next time.
… to be continued.
¹ This document is available on the Internet and was viewed on 2/24/2011 http://www.federal-vision.com/resources/ joint_FV_Statement.pdf
² The important documents of the Jeffrey Meyers case, including the MOP’s decisions, the questions the MOP asked Meyers, and the Letter of Concern were all viewed on 2/24/2011 at http://providencestlouis.squarespace.com/storage/MOP%20 MIC%202011%20Final%20Report.pdf I will cite the documents by title and give the page numbers as they appear on this website.
³ Meyers’ audacious interpretation of the parable was viewed on 2/24/2001 at http://www.weswhite.net/2010/12/jeffreymeyers- qualifies-his-exposition-of-the-parable-of-the-phariseeand-the-publican/
4 Two members of the Missouri Presbytery filed a complaint against the Presbytery’s decision not to investigate Meyers. In their complaint they criticize the committee that investigated Meyers for failing “to demonstrate that they wrestled with the issues involved in Meyers’ exposition of the Publican and the Pharisee.” This complaint was viewed on 2/24/2011 at http://www.weshite.net/2011/01/complaint-against-exoneration-ofte-jeffrey-meyers/