My Farewell to the PCA

A farewell statement from a long-time minister in the Presbyterian Church in America.

This article is now my farewell to the denomination in which I served for 43 years as teaching elder and as a candidate for the ministry from its very inception. I served in several capacities as a PCA minister—pastor of several churches; chaplain in the army reserves/army; veteran of Desert Storm; four terms on the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), the highest judicatory in the PCA; stated clerk of a presbytery; and, numerous committee chairmanships in different presbyteries. 

 

In Charity and Truth United, the Colonial Virginia Presbyterian minister Samuel Davies referred to a quote from Plato:

Whenever there arises a faithful reprover and zealous reformer of the World, he may expect to be treated like the vilest malefactor; and mankind will conspire to rid themselves of such a troublesome person.[1]

Davies reflected that when he read the above quote from Plato he immediately thought of Christ who was so mistreated by the Jews and crucified by the Romans. Yet, Davies believed that the same temperament dwells in all 0mankind, from age to age, so that every nation may justly be accused of murdering Christ just as surely as the Jews did. Jesus would have met the same fate He suffered at the hands of the Jews if He had lived in modern America or if He had ministered to a savage tribe in Africa. The desperately wicked heart of mankind is the same from age to age and from nation to nation.

Over the past several years, I have been distressed at the downfall of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the rise of heresy within the body through the Federal Vision teaching and immorality through the same-sex attraction movement. I have raised my voice in protest at what I have seen and read and heard. Three articles that I wrote last year for The Aquila Report were among the top eight most read articles for the year out of nearly 3,000 such articles. One of those articles, Vanguard Presbytery: A New Presbyterian Denomination, apparently has landed me in hot water with my former presbytery and has resulted in my withdrawal from the PCA on February 4, 2020.

This article is now my farewell to the denomination in which I served for 43 years as teaching elder and as a candidate for the ministry from its very inception. I served in several capacities as a PCA minister—pastor of several churches; chaplain in the army reserves/army; veteran of Desert Storm; four terms on the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), the highest judicatory in the PCA; stated clerk of a presbytery; and, numerous committee chairmanships in different presbyteries.

A close friend told me that the difference between socialists and communists is that socialists are communists without guns. The effect of both governments is the same, though. Both take over every segment of society and institute total control of their citizenry. I think something similar can be said about hierarchical denominations. All hierarchies are the same in the effect they produce. Some, like Catholicism before and during the Reformation, exercise control over their membership through the power of the sword. Some, like the old Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), exercise their authority by having control of the church property of congregations and the pension plans of ministers. Some, like the PCA, exercise control of ministers through threats to censure them for violating the ninth commandment whenever they exercise their freedom of speech or rights of protest.

I realize that the PCA claims to be a grassroots denomination, but that claim is not defensible from the present BCO. There are two different systems of polity within the PCA’s BCO—one for the General Assembly and the other for the lower courts. The polity of the General Assembly is hierarchical and bureaucratic. The only way the PCA can claim to be a grassroots denomination with a straight face is that there is a refusal by the General Assembly’s SJC to overturn decisions of presbyteries, except on purely procedural grounds. The PCA has boxed itself into a corner by refusing to exercise discipline on theological and moral grounds at the General Assembly level. In other areas, though, the General Assembly and its committees/commissions act in true hierarchical form. Moreover, there are a very limited number of meaningful decisions that can even be brought for a vote before the convened General Assembly.

I thought of my friend’s statement about socialism and communism when I made the decision to withdraw from the PCA on February 4, 2020 per BCO 38-3a. There were no charges pending against me or any active investigation of me at the time of my withdrawal, but I had reason to believe that the situation would be different in another week. Two different people told me that some members of the presbytery’s Executive Committee felt I was wrong in writing my article on Vanguard Presbytery. One person identified the individual who expressed that opinion as the stated clerk of presbytery. (I am purposely leaving out names in order to focus on the facts). Subsequently, I wrote a letter and sent it by email to both the incoming Moderator of my former presbytery and the stated clerk. I was more specific on names and dates. I received neither a confirmation nor a denial nor even any communication from the clerk. That concerns me because there is nothing in the Constitution of the PCA that says a minister must get permission of a committee of presbytery before writing an article about the problems in the denomination. Such a requirement would be a violation of a minister’s rights of dissent and freedom of speech. Presbytery can only speak where the Scripture speaks. Any other advice that presbytery might give is non-binding pious advice.

I am sure my former presbytery will deny that there was ever any intention to initiate any investigation of me since I withdrew before they could take any such action. I could have waited a week to see what they would do, but that would have been foolhardy in my opinion. Here are the facts of what has happened in my situation:

First, in late September of 2019, I informed the Executive Committee of my former presbytery (composed of all committee chairmen, the Moderator, and the clerk) that I would be leaving the PCA at some point due to the unbiblical issues, particularly the same-sex attraction, Side B Christianity matter. I also let them know that I was not yet leaving the PCA at that time, but I would inform them when I did so.

Second, I did not hear a single word in any format over the next four months from the Moderator, the stated clerk, or the chairman of the Ministers and Candidates Committee. If they felt that I owed them an explanation for anything, then they could seek me out. That was their responsibility. When my article on Vanguard Presbytery was posted on The Aquila Report, I still received no word from any of these men. On what basis could anyone express to the Executive Committee that I had acted wrongly when they had not come to me according to Matthew 18:15-18 and as the BCO requires of them?

Third, the reports that came to me from friends in latter January 2020 were probably not official communications to me from the Executive Committee. Neither friend told me that they were asked to communicate with me on behalf of the Executive Committee or the stated clerk or the chairman of any committee. Friends simply reported to me what they had heard from being in the conference call meeting.

Fourth, one friend who was in the Executive Committee conference call meeting telephoned to tell me that I needed to talk to the clerk who reportedly felt that I had acted wrongly by not keeping the presbytery informed of what I was doing. In my defense, I would point out that I have been as open as I possibly can be. I have not acted in secret.

Fifth, the incoming Moderator invited me to meet him for breakfast that same week—which I did. He told me that some people on the Executive Committee felt I should have gotten permission from the Ministers and Candidates Committee before writing my article for The Aquila Report about Vanguard Presbytery. He suggested that maybe I could resolve the matter by writing a letter after the fact to reveal my heart. I appreciate my friend, but that advice seemed strange to me. Why would I need to assure the court of anything concerning my heart since I was a minister in good standing against whom there was no investigation or charges pending? We are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

Sixth, I nonetheless wrote a letter to both the incoming Moderator and the stated clerk explaining that I had exercised the convictions of my conscience in writing my articles against which there is no jurisdiction by any human court. I heard nothing from the stated clerk and still have not. Not a single word. Not a telephone call. Not an email. Nothing. In that silence, neither did I get any assurance that presbytery was not considering an investigation of me. With the next meeting of presbytery to be held on February 10-11, 2020, I did not feel that I could wait to find out what would happen. The past is often prologue. The silence for the past four months naturally made me concerned. I made my decision based on the above facts that I knew.

The PCUS and the PCA

When the PCA was being formed, the PCUS never prevented the ministers and elders who were part of the 40 man Steering Committee to form the new denomination from doing what they were planning. To my knowledge, no minister was disciplined or threatened with discipline by the PCUS for involvement with the development of the new denomination. The Steering Committee for the PCA did not have their meetings under the cloak of darkness. Everything was out in the bright light of day—just as I have acted and as my article on Vanguard Presbytery illustrates. The PCA has acted with less grace towards dissenters than even the PCUS did. Isn’t that sad? Here are some facts to consider:

First, A PCA minister last year copied and shared my article, Whither the PCA? , with several members of his presbytery and was quickly accused of violating the ninth commandment by another minister. That minister then decided it would be best to transfer his credentials and his congregation into the OPC before the next meeting of his presbytery.

Second, the Missouri Presbytery reports on TE Greg Johnson and the Session of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, have implied that those who brought the requests for investigation of these matters were perhaps guilty of breaking the ninth commandment (isn’t it interesting how often that accusation is made in an attempt to silence dissent?).

Third, a concurring opinion written by a SJC member in the Nashville Presbytery same-sex attraction case of 2016 before the Standing Judicial Commission sounded a warning that such complainants could be found guilty of slander if they failed to prove their case. Complainants are not supposed to be subject to discipline according to the PCA’s BCO.

Fourth, TE Andy Webb faced similar accusations in his presbytery before he and his church finally decided to transfer into the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). I could give other examples, but my point is made.

There are people who say they are going to stay in the PCA and fight to reclaim it. Well, here is my advice. If you want to stay in the PCA and fight, make sure that you do not become a faithful reprover or zealous reformer. If you do, your presbytery and denomination will not like it. You will be persecuted. You might find your knees cut off from underneath you, figuratively speaking. The fact that homosexuality is such an issue in the PCA is an indication that the spirit of the world has already entered into this denomination. The spirit of the world does not like to be reproved and reformed. The PCA will let you stay and vote as long as you can accept the downward spiral without sounding too much of an alarm. But… the PCA does not want you to be a faithful reprover and zealous reformer.

Thus, I warn you who want to stay and fight to be very vigilant. Do not confuse compromise with fighting. Do not confuse peace with purity. Do not confuse silence with protest. Do not confuse protecting yourself with waging warfare for Christ. Do not confuse the smiles of others with the approval of God. Do not confuse a silenced conscience with a clear conscience. Do not shrink from the battle and take no counsel with your fears.

The Church of the Lord Jesus is at a critical crossroads at this time in the history of our nation. You are standing at the crossroads. Do not assume that all roads will lead to the same place. If you cannot stand up for Christ now, then when will you be ready to do so? If you are not willing to forsake all for Christ now when the issues are so clear, then when will you be ready to do so? This is not a time for weak-willed men who worry more about how well their nests are feathered or their retirement funds. This is a time for men who are willing to renounce all for the privilege of following Christ and going outside the camp to be with him. This is a time to answer the call of God: “‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord, ‘and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17, 18).

So, farewell PCA. I hope you heed the words of Christ to the church at Ephesus: “Therefore remember from where you have fallen and do the deeds you did at first” (Revelation 2:5). I fear you will not remember from where you have fallen. I fear you will continue to compromise one truth after another. I fear you will be like faithless Israel and unrepentant Judah. I fear that you will not recognize the time of your visitation from Christ, but I would love for you to prove me wrong. Farewell, my former denomination. Farewell, my friends in the PCA.

Dewey Roberts is Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL.