A Case Study in Working Hard not to Exercise Discipline
Will you adopt a study report condemning the Federal Vision? In 2007 the General Assembly of the PCA (Presbyterian Churches in America) said yes to this question and adopted a report condemning the heretical movement known as the Federal Vision. But now the more pressing question is, will you discipline the heretics who publicly teach and defend doctrines that are associated with the Federal Vision? The actions of three of the governing bodies of the PCA indicate the answer to this question is, not if we can avoid it! The Standing Judicial Commission (SJC—the ecclesiastical court that represents the PCA’s General Assembly) and two Presbyteries in the PCA have dealt with Federal Vision cases and so far have failed to deal adequately with the heresy and its proponents. It will take a few articles to examine the actions of these bodies. In this article we will examine the actions of the Siouxlands Presbytery (SLP).
Despite clear evidence that Pastors Greg Lawrence and Joshua Moon subscribe to heretical views associated with the Federal Vision, SLP has failed to discipline these men, and indeed seems to be working hard to avoid exercising discipline.
Little positive can be said about SLP’s handling of the Greg Lawrence case. In April of 2009 SLP appointed a committee to investigate Lawrence’s views. The committee reported back to SLP in September of 2009. The committee demonstrated that Lawrence is guilty of teaching heretical doctrines and recommended “that the presbytery find that there is a strong presumption of guilt that TE Lawrence is teaching contrary to the Standards in a way that strikes at the fundamentals of the system and/or the vitals of religion in its doctrine of baptism.”¹ Lawrence’s view of baptism is that God establishes His covenant with every baptized child and bestows upon every baptized child saving benefits. Recognizing that not every baptized child is eternally saved, Lawrence teaches that some baptized children lose the salvation they received at baptism. Lawrence is guilty of teaching at least three errors that contradict the confessions: 1) Grace is universal (within the covenant), 2) grace is resistible, and 3) saints can lose their salvation.²
SLP did not vote to find a strong presumption of guilt against Lawrence. Instead the SLP adopted a motion made by Joshua Moon (more on him in a moment) “to reject the report of the committee with its motion to find a strong presumption of guilt.” At this same meeting (September of 2009) the Presbytery adopted a motion made by Moon basically stating that it found nothing wrong with Lawrence’s teachings.³ In October of 2009 SLP decided it acted hastily in exonerating Lawrence and appointed a second committee to study his views. In January 2010 this second committee recommended (the vote was 6-0) SLP find a strong presumption of guilt against Lawrence. The Presbytery decided instead to postpone action and appointed a committee to instruct Lawrence (presumably about his errors). SLP met again in April of 2010 and once again did not vote on the recommendation to find a strong presumption of guilt against Lawrence and received a report from the committee appointed to instruct him. Finally, in September of 2010, SLP voted on the recommendation to find a strong presumption of guilt. Pastor Wes White explains,
The Presbytery did decide to [find a strong presumption of guilt against Lawrence and] go to trial in a somewhat unusual way. TE Joshua Moon offered a substitute motion that would have completely exonerated TE Lawrence . . . The Presbytery agreed to accept this motion as a substitute motion. Then, the question was called. . . . The substitute motion failed 13-20. The result was that the Presbytery will proceed to a trial of TE Greg Lawrence.4
That Lawrence is on trial under a strong presumption of guilt (which I have been told means he is not considered “in good standing”) is certainly a positive development. That there are members of the Presbytery who have persevered in pursuing the case despite frustrating and inexplicable delays is also an encouraging sign. Yet there are two facts about this case that indicate SLP has worked to avoid disciplining Lawrence. First, it took the Presbytery six meetings and over a year to find a strong presumption of guilt against Lawrence when it should have done this at its second meeting (in September of 2009). Second, SLP still has not condemned Lawrence’s views as heretical nor called him to repentance, though it has had ample opportunity to do so (this could have been done by the third meeting in October of 2009).
If little positive can be said about the SLP’s handling of the Lawrence case (though it is a positive thing that there are members of the Presbytery who persevere in pressing the case), there is even less to be said about its handling of Joshua Moon’s case. At the September 2009 meeting of SLP Moon defended the heretical views of Lawrence. In a speech he delivered to defend Lawrence, Moon clearly proved himself to be a proponent of the Federal Vision heresy.5 Perhaps Moon is becoming best known for his belief in the temporary forgiveness of sins. Moon, like Lawrence, believes that God gives saving benefits to all baptized children, including the forgiveness of sins. Moon admits some of these baptized children are not ultimately saved. Therefore he concludes that the forgiveness of their sins must be only temporary. Moon expressed this belief in the following statement: “We are told by the complainants that you cannot attribute forgiveness of sins to the potential reprobate. But that is clearly wrong.” According to Moon it is clearly right to teach that the reprobate do receive the forgiveness of sins.6
Now what has SLP done a year and some months after Moon’s speech to deal with his views, which are contrary to the Westminster standards and in harmony with the Federal Vision? In October 2009, when the SLP should have found a strong presumption of guilt against Moon, the SLP did the opposite and declared it found no strong presumption of guilt against Moon. In January of 2010 SLP had a second opportunity to begin the process of discipline with regard to Moon. A minister in the Presbytery brought forward a complaint against the October 2009 decision and asked the Presbytery to begin investigating Moon under a presumption of guilt; the complaint was denied and Moon remained a minister in good standing. In April the SLP had a third opportunity to deal with Moon when another minister sought to lay charges against him, but the Presbytery would not allow him to do so. To date SLP has done nothing to censure Moon and considers him an orthodox minister in good standing in the PCA.
SLP has failed to deal correctly with Moon’s views, nevertheless, the bright spot in the SLP is that there are men who will not give up in this important fight. Three of the Presbytery’s ministers brought a complaint against the Presbytery’s decisions to the General Assembly of the PCA. The General Assembly passed a report condemning Federal Vision in 2007. Surely the Standing Judicial Commission would overturn SLP’s decisions and demand Moon be investigated with a strong presumption of guilt! It didn’t . . . which will be the subject of our next article.
¹ Quote taken from: http://www.weswhite.net/2010/02/ chronological-overview-of-siouxlands/ viewed on January 11, 2011.
² Some of Lawrence’s heretical statements concerning baptism can be found at http://sjc2010-4.blogspot.com/2010/10/paneldecision-in-sjc-2010-4.html viewed on January 11, 2011. This webpage contains a document entitled “Panel Decision in SJC 2010-4.” Lawrence’s statements are found under section IV. C. of this document.
³ On the September, 2009 meeting of SLP see http://theaquilareport.com/index.php?option=comcontent&view=article&id=481:presbytery-of-the-siouxlands-exonerates-member-suspectedof-federal-vision-teaching-complaint-to-sjc-contemplated&catid=50:churches&Itemid=133 viewed on January 11, 2011.
4 Quote taken from http://www.weswhite.net/2010/09/siouxlands-presbytery-declares-strong/ viewed on January 11, 2011.
5 For the full speech see http://godshammer.wordpress.com/2010/01/29/more-federal-de-vision/ viewed on January 11, 2011.
6 Moon’s use of the word “potential” to describe a reprobate person, is confusing at best and more than likely indicates that he does not believe in sovereign reprobation as taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 3.