In keeping with this solemn vow, I feel duty-bound to disclose some changes to my views which have developed over the past few years, relating to the issues of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide specifically.
I submitted the following letter a couple of days ago. Please be in prayer for my family during this difficult time.
May 31, 2012
To the Clerk and Credentials Committee of the Pacific Northwest Presbytery,
In many ways this is one of the most difficult letters I have ever had to write, and I pray that it will be received in the spirit with which I intend it: one of humility and respect.
When I was ordained in this presbytery in 2004, I vowed before God that I “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” and further, that “if at any time I find myself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine I will, on my own initiative, make known to my Presbytery the change which has taken place in my views since the assumption of this ordination vow.” In keeping with this solemn vow, I feel duty-bound to disclose some changes to my views which have developed over the past few years, relating to the issues of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide specifically.
Concerning the former, I have begun to doubt whether the Bible alone can be said to be our only infallible authority for faith and practice, and despite my efforts (and those of others) to dispel these doubts, they have only become more pronounced. In my own reading of the New Testament, the believer is never instructed to consult Scripture alone in order to adjudicate disputes or determine matters of doctrine (one obvious reason for this is that the early church existed at a time when the 27-book New Testament had either not been begun, completed, or recognized as canonical). The picture the New Testament paints is one in which the ordained leadership of the visible church gathers to bind and loose in Jesus’ Name and with his authority, with the Old Testament Scriptures being called upon as witnesses to the apostles’ and elders’ message (Matt. 18:18-19; Acts 15:6-29), with no indication in Scripture that such ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura (meaning that the doctrine fails its own test). Moreover, unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the “orthodox” understanding of doctrines like the Trinity or the hypostatic union is reduced to mere fallible human opinion. I have searched long and hard, but have found no solution within the Sola Scriptura paradigm to this devastating conclusion.
Regarding Sola Fide, I have become convinced that the teaching that sinners are justified by a once-for-all declaration of acquittal on God’s part, based upon the imputation of Christ’s righteousness received by faith alone, is not reflective of the teaching of the New Testament as a whole. I have come to believe that a much more biblical paradigm for understanding the gospel—and one that has much greater explanatory value for understanding Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John—is one that sets forth the New Covenant work of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, as internally inscribing God’s law and enabling believers to exhibit love of God and neighbor, thereby fulfilling the law in order to gain their eternal inheritance (Rom. 8:1-4). While this is all accomplished entirely by God’s grace through the merits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, it is at the same time not something that occurs through the imputation of an external and alien righteousness received through faith alone. Rather, as Paul says, God’s people are justified by a faith that works through love—itself the fruit of the Spirit—and with God’s law inscribed on our hearts and minds we sow to the Spirit and reap everlasting life (Gal. 5:4-6, 14, 16, 22; 6:8).
Due to the fact that these disagreements strike at the very core of the system of doctrine set forth in our Standards, I feel that I have no other choice than to tender my resignation from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America.
I would like to express my gratitude to the godly and faithful men of the Pacific Northwest Presbytery for the eight years I have been a member of this body. My desire when I joined was to remain pastoring in Woodinville for my entire life and ministry, and it is with deep disappointment and regret that this will not be the case. My sincere hope is that the fathers, brothers, and friends I have gotten to know here will keep me in their prayers, and forgive me for any offense I may have caused during my involvement in the case against TE Leithart, as well as for any offense I may be presently causing by breaking my ordination vows.
With sadness and a heavy heart,
Jason Stellman made some further comments on the process of his thinking over the last few years.
Some Answers to Questions about the Timetable
First off, a quick word to all of you who have contacted me recently via Facebook, email, or phone: Thanks very much for the support and encouragement (especially you who have defended me publicly even while disagreeing with me). I obviously will not be able to reply to all of you, and the replies I do give will take a while, but I just want you to know that I have read your messages and am thankful for them. I realize it will take a while to clear up all of the misunderstandings, and clean up all the mess, I have caused, but I will do my best (and yes, I do hope to respond to Carl Trueman’s post soon). One of the biggest issues people have raised has to do with the timetable of events that led to my resignation. A few are under the impression that I just woke up the other day and penned my letter with little or no planning, and have asked, “Why didn’t Jason talk to anyone about this first?” So I’d like to clear the air about this.
As I mentioned in my last post, I started asking questions about Sola Scriptura in mid-2008, and about Sola Fide a little while later. When it became clear that those questions weren’t going away, I began having dialogues with trusted colleagues in the ministry. For a long time, my questions were just that: questions and not anywhere near settled changes of position. During this entire time, I did my best to ensure that my teaching, preaching, and interactions with people (public and private) were completely above board and that my adherence to the Westminster Standards was solid and unwavering.
(Yes, I include in this my prosecution of Leithart. I thought then, as I do now, that his views are out of accord with our Standards, and all who care to read the trial transcripts will see that my case against him was that his views are unconfessional.)
When it became clear to me that my own private study and limited dialogue partners were not sufficiently helping me, I approached my session and divulged to them my questions, whereupon they granted me a sabbatical to seek answers from theologians who may be able to help (I initially approached my session last December, and my sabbatical began this past March). I spent the greater part of the last three months flying around the country and spending many hours with men like Mike Horton, Ligon Duncan, and James White. During this time I was also meeting regularly with men from my session and presbytery, giving status updates on the progress of these meetings.
When my sabbatical was drawing to a close, it became clear to me that, despite all the challenging questions posed to me (and despite my not having airtight answers to all of them), Protestantism seemed no more true than it did when my sabbatical began. Therefore I tendered my resignation, and the rest you know.
I say all this knowing full well that it will do little to satisfy those who have called me a liar, a thief, and a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and that’s fine. But for those of you who have honest questions about how I have handled this whole process, I hope this will help you understand how things went down (even if you still disagree with how I have handled everything).
Lastly, I do appreciate those of you who have expressed concern for Exile Pres. For the record, its session of seven men, including a rock-solid associate pastor, has handled this with great grace and godly leadership. They all, as well as many members of the congregation, have expressed (here on my blog as well as elsewhere) their love and care for me and my family, and not a single person, whether in the church, on the session, or in the presbytery, has voiced a complaint about how I have navigated this incredibly messy situation. Yes, there is grief and sadness on their part, as well as concern and fear for me, but so far the only people who have charged me with wrongdoing are those who know absolutely nothing about the actual situation.
Now that you have the facts, you’re certainly free to think I blundered this whole thing, which I may have done. But now at least your opinion can be a better-informed one.
Again, thank you for your prayers.