THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA
AND THIS PARTICULAR PASTOR –
A Review in Principle
of the author's action of separation in 1998 from this body,
which through one, speaks to many
and exhibits some of the chief issues
which, like thunder clouds, do not go away through looking down.
After over 30 years in good standing
with this body, with grief but with duty
to the Lord paramount, one leaves what now has added to the accepted
word of God, the Bible, authorising what it does not show.
It is not to condemn the body, but the doctrine
that this step is taken, nor can one find any way in all conscience now to stay
for to authorise what is both contrary to and additional to the word of God
sets a new standard based on desire, and not on the Bible alone.
This may be regarded as an open
letter to the PCA, in terms of its declaration
in review of the creation record. .
For the Exposure of the New Doctrine in Detail, see Here
In Its most basic form, the relationship is and has been as follows.
The PC in America elected to solve a crisis in its faith testimony in the arena of creation.
There were many who believed that the creation was indubitably, scripturally defined as a matter of days, 6 of them, definable in the basic category of what the vocabulary drew on, in the normal parlance of day and night, morning and evening, light shining and not doing so, action and rest; that the earth was moved into format, as so shown, and the heavens, each of these in detail. In fact, these come in two major divisions in the text of Genesis 1, one after the other.
Just as there was the vocabulary of ‘light’ and ‘darkness’, ‘morning and evening’, divine direction by word and creative response in material, mental and spiritual domains resulting, moving without intermission into the generations of man as Genesis proceeded, persons and groups named in individuality and reality, so the preceding terminology was not intended to be diffuse, suggestive, misleading, or in the words of Proverbs 8:8, ‘wraithed’, complex, contrived, or ambiguous observations, misaligned with the context and its stated mode of making and furnishing the universe and the populace of earth in explanatory mode. Nor is it a substitute of mystery for maestro and magnificence in the area of the beginning and the institution of the plight of man. In understandable terms, it is declareswhat God did in the beginning, using terms to be understood in relation to what IS, for it is to this that it moves in indubitable explanation.
This it does as history proceeds in complete composure and summary integration (Genesis 2:1ff.) with creation, its terminology unmutated, its agents unaltered, its processes in contiguity and continuity alike.
Another approach would have it that there was simply no telling what such terminology, and indeed numbered sequence of days would mean, as the text moved on to the continued use of such terms in the days of mankind. Definitions unaccountably change, terms wobble, confusion reigns. Such is not a permissible degradation of the continuity of the text, but an imaginative poultice to tone it down
It could be, it was held, that the terms changed meaning without notice or indication, that definitions were wholly indistinct, yes unknowable, that the account in terms in normal use, in a sequence of numbered units of days, and logically sequential operations in the earth and in the heavens, merging into world and national history, was without significance, except what the mind of man might invent, and then insert into the text at will, for the convenience, it appears, of melding with a massively blind culture, of which we are warned as to type and time for its invasion (Colossians 2:8, II Timothy 3-4).
Often these matters have been reviewed in major detail, with only one conclusion for the word of God as it defines itself to be. Here it is necessary merely to indicate that it is past all argumentation that it is NOT POSSIBLE to DEDUCE from the biblical text any account of the creation which has it NOT in the sequence given, NOT in the logical development, step by step in coherence of thought and action, as provided, but instead equipped with concepts of vague vistas on divine action given in varied assortment, or of natural processes with a divine oversight of some non-sovereign kind.
In reality, by contrast, in the coverage of creation in the Bible, the word and the need are expressly related in such a style that the divine mind and mentality, view and desire are directly implemented with nothing whatever contrary to His thought as stated and actions in correlation with this, constituting creation of the universe (Genesis 2:1-4). God takes words of defined character, moves through them to events of normal nature, implements in text what He did in fact, and says so. THUS the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. It was not in some other way. It was " thus", says Genesis 2, in oversight. You can take it or leave it. Rest in it, this is the authority of God which speaks. To harass it with permission for adventitious additives born of invasive imagination makes a dual authorship for this book, on the part of a church. It is to signify another source, another word, another authority.
Thus views along those inventive and intrusive lines noted are NOT able to be shown as IN the text by its statements or to be gained by necessary implication from it, to use the words of the Westminster Confession, its system of doctrine here aborted.
It is not relevant to consider as relevant to the point, literal or other ‘interpretation’. We are told how it was done in words given by One who undertakes not to present confusion, but clarity (Proverbs 8:8). Thoughts of something else, not textually presented, as the ‘real’ meaning may be held; they cannot be shown to be so. The text is clear, explicit, normative and so described. It gives neither licence nor liberty to vary from it. It is arithmetic in steps, it is sequential in logical operation, it is decisive in utterance and it is of GOD whom it speaks. Let those who would tell God what He did in such a situation, by unlicensed verbal fiddle with the Genesis text, be ashamed. HE is telling us items constituting elements which we CANNOT know of ourselves, and declaring that this is how the done, and when. Other inventions and of what and when are not even relevant, being nothing but addition, contradiction and cocksure assertion, if allowed by authority as just. For a Minister to vary is a matter of concern; for a Church to do so, is to establish a new authority.
WHO IS this authority which can so allow and so add to the word of God, by its own! One thing it CANNOT be is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is bound by His word to other practices than this, as to purity, and not profundity of pollution. Beyond the word of God, the Church of Jesus Christ has NO authority (Matthew 23:8-10, Proverbs 30:6), as we shall shortly see further. To use what is absent is anomaly if not enormity. It does not, and it cannot bind.
Hence the AUTHORISATION of such views by a Church CONSTITUTES not only a defilement of the purity required for treating the word of God by that same word, but in fact, it even transgresses the fundamental counsel of the Westminster Confession. Therefore a breach of the most fundamental basis not only of the word of God but even of Presbyterianism has here occurred.
Here the just concern is with presenting what the infallible word of God has to say with NO addition, and this in the name of the Lord, the Gospel itself and the depiction of the Lord Jesus Christ being no exceptions. Any Church or Presbytery therefore which indulges in such endorsement, authorisation or acceptance as the decision of the Church, is in principle, as much adding to the word of God as are the exponents of Romanism. It was expedient for Rome to add to the Bible to achieve its goals; and in this case, the PC in America has done the same. Teaching for commandments the word of man however is expressly excluded by Jesus Christ (Mark 7:7ff.). Those who do this are not appropriate for fellowship (Romans 16:17). Whether such new material is required or merely authorised, the standards are being treated in the same way.
It is not possible to relate to such liberties, which breach the basis of union between pastor and Church, with impunity or loyalty to the Lord in this field. Confusion may keep some, but responsibility must be met by all. Authority is lost when it is based in part on ultra-biblical imaginations.
A Christian Church must be prepared to adhere to its biblical fundamentals, and not simply, or unconstitutionally rollick in whatever appeals, whether for its own imagined ‘survival’ or any other reason. Saving your life, indeed, individual or organisational, is in principle a method of LOSING it (Matthew 16:25ff.). To lose life is not the purpose of the Lord but that it be given more abundantly (John 10:10). This is better achieved when one adheres strictly to what He gives when teaching in His name.
The narrow stream (cf. Matthew 7:15ff.) may seem in a worldly aspect, not as attractive as the broad flowing river; but its force in its in flow of purity in its course, not in making of the environment, a flood plain of human self-indulgence, self-reliance and self-expression. It is God who is expressing Himself, and what is required of man is fidelity. If one wants to write a novel, fine; but if one wants to so indulge in the NAME of the Church of Jesus Christ, it is as Proverbs 8:30 declares, a perilous exercise, making one apt for the rebuke: LIAR! How dare man use his own words where those of God are in view, and even do so in the name of Jesus Christ.
From such a Church one therefore had unilaterally to separate, for where such liberties are taken, the authority of God is supervened, and one can only appeal as one has done, to this as one’s unchanging basis, according to the wise counsel of the subordinate confession, the Westminster, which in this is wholly biblical in approach. Its system is superlatively its excellence, precisely here. We are not bound by the word of man, it declares, and indeed how could we be, since as it states, this can err.
In so doing, one does not as such either condemn the PC in America, though one exposes this decisive drift into multilateral mutilation of the word of God by the word of man; nor does one assume any kind of personal authority. One STAYS where one was on entry into this denomination, in the place where ONLY this word of God, the Bible, as taught and presented with what may OF NECESSITY be shown from it, may be asserted, authorised, proclaimed or taught: that is, NOTHING but what is clearly and categorically shown. In fact, this is as rightly shown and emphasised in the Westminster Confession, Chapter 1, VI. Preaching and teaching, and authorising of the doctrine of the faith is of and through the word of God, with NO additives. It is not under the heel of the Church but from the mouth of the Lord. The humility here in the Confession is both remarkable and faithful.
The authority remains just where it was before, during and after my residence in the PC in America, and in that denomination where I entered before the PCA began, one which later became absorbed by it, namely the RPCES. It is in propositional form, the Bible as decisively, doctrinally definitive, and in personal form, God Almighty Himself, as depicted in that word and personally definitive in the Lord Jesus Christ whom it exhibits with its pervasive aptitude, reliability and certainty. There is authority, and that is what may and must be decisively believed and taught. Every word of it is that by which man is to live (Matthew 4:4), and this is not only a suggestion, but a requirement. The authority is Jesus Christ, and He Himself is such that before Abraham was, as He declared, "I am", as in John 8:58.
Thus this particular Pastor or Minister, Robert Donaldson, has changed in nothing concerning these matters, and is by faith as firmly fixed in the basic Presbyterian setting of entry in 1967, as ordained before that entry; but the Church having changed, one has been left like a Jeremiah, outside of it and saddened for it, though one’s heart has not changed. Often in Church history, people have had to do this; and this Pastor is no different in that.
Finally, one should further clarify a particular point. If some Minister teaches beyond the scripture, then that is a mistake. He can of course give opinions or make reasonable constructions for Christian Apologetics, so long as the actual teaching in them does not go beyond the Bible in doctrine. To show how a matter may be resolved, is not to bind it as the result, but to remove assault merely. That is a logical and not a doctrinal process. It does not bind, but blend, giving a reason for the faith.
Even if someone errs demonstrably, this is to be taken up with concern and reasonableness. Pastors are not the premises of the Church, but executives for the Lord, in it. How any such Pastor, so erring, is dealt with depends on earnest thought, careful evaluation and biblical principles. He may be cautioned or asked to redefine the WAY in which he is presenting opinion and so on, and carefully to distinguish it from the word of God, while emphasising as decisive doctrine, ONLY what IS the word of God.
Frequently, as in the Auburn Affirmation case
early in the twentieth century,
this careful compassion is misused to allow red-necked assaults on biblical
doctrine, and church bodies, or camps are organised, or even manipulative efforts made to gain a
majority as at Princeton in the 1920s. Thus the entire approach of the body may
be changed. Pity is often misused by guile, and godless departures from the word
of God are authorised as an absolute priority. So the word of God is fulfilled
that thus awry and mistaught many will come as the Age goes (II Peter 2, II
I dare not fear man because I fear God, in delighted love and awe (cf. Psalm 2:11).
However, this impending apostasy, predicted further to defile the world and invade many churches, is no reason to discard, qualify, compromise or add to or subtract from the truth, the word of the living God, Himself. It is indeed, now as always for faithfulness to proceed with the unchanged requirement of purity in the presentation of the word of God AS SUCH.
As to this, neither is it arraignable by the word of man (I Thessalonians 2:13), nor attainable by or subject to invasion by the thoughts of man (Isaiah 55:8-9), as if the thoughts of the infinite God and those of man could be conjoined in any kind of mere collaboration. Isaiah is us ed to show anything such both naive and laughable, lèse-majesté on a grand scale. Even with an earthly author, this would be anomalous; but with God it approaches an act of categorical unfaithfulness, to which none may with impunity submit; nor dare I.
Thus it is one thing – one of great testing for any Church, to consider any vagrant, personal teaching by any one Pastor and how to bring blessing and restoration most wisely to the Church from any such variation from the word of God. It is one situation when dealing with any teaching given as if it were sure or His or to be entertained with any confidence, when the Bible does not warrant this. What is acceptable in this domain is to be either merely what is written or else necessarily implied in the Bible, as the Westminster Confession so justly says, relaying in this, biblical doctrine (cf. Isaiah 8:20, Mark 7:7ff.). It is quite another domain when the Church itself as a body sets up a STANDARD of any TEACHING which is NOT so demonstrable from the Bible, and endorses it, or acts to suffer it.
THIS is what has happened; and this is the error which most unhappily has defiled the PC in America. Is it well to wait mounting months before the folly is cleansed, so that instead a document of submission to error is published for acceptance, as happened after I had duly severed! Subversion by continuance has been too major a matter to require more rehearsal. Paul acted on very different principles (Galatians 2:5).
In leaving it, without any mode of detachment but severance, as a Minister in good standing in it at that time, as always, one has acted as seemed best and needful, to testify, to protest and to evacuate, not accepting the testimony or organizational propriety of a body in connivance with such action ("avoid" does not mean conjugate - and this is the commanded response to such error, as shown in Romans 16:17). The ordination requirement to seek the purity of the Church has not withered, nor has culture become king. Nor did one fail for long to seek correction instead of vagrancy in the Church which was in this developing, quasi-faith and statements of it!
If any in the PC in America wish to condemn this, one's action of severance, after their change in doctrine, and one’s continued unmet protestations about biblical purity, and after one’s own morality required separation, so be it. This is not unusual in history, that a body, when biblically confronted, attacks what so acts in the name of the Lord; indeed it is habitual in the historical presentation of the Bible, as seen for example in Matthew 23:34-35, Acts 7:51-53. Athanasius in his day, like Stephen before him, in early New Testament Church times, is just such a case; and of course many of the English Reformers like Cranmer, Ridley were not well received by the ‘Church’ of the time, when they exposed its errors, in fact being denied the means of continuing life on this earth and not merely executed verbally but physically, allied with drastic ritual gobbledegook.
Thus while one does not condemn such a Church as this, one does and must condemn its actions in doctrine in this field, its compromise, its enhanced peril for so adding to the testimony of the word of God by formal authorisation; and so there is need sincerely to declare that to belong to such a body in such an excursion is in train to be spiritually and morally compromising for the Christian (Romans 16:17). This by no means excludes prayer for its return to the pure word of God, not only in word but in deed, nor does it expunge hope that it may yet escape this devastating misuse of convenience and this encumbrance with the intrusive thoughts of man.
It does however make manifest the cleavage that must separate from its fellowship, as also in such former follies as those of Numbers 16, when the penalty of refusal to dissociate from the self-willed was made outstandingly clear,. There was in this tilt at what God had made clear, no provision for the dalliance of flesh, and much was simply swallowed, so that continuance with the rebellion had self correction. Those doing so were no longer there, for this was no rational act, but simple departure from what God had long shown and confirmed, adding their weight to the situation. The soaring height of it is shown in I Timothy 6. Of this, one must warn.
Whether in the one or the other or the generic case last named, there is the sheer unwillingness, in such theological engineering, to follow the appointed authority, to be patient before downgrading the divine direction, before avoiding the wholesome words of leading, extending or amending the deposit of faith, the biblical text, before teaching more or less or otherwise, and so holding to another authority, or to a different desire (Romans 16:17, II Corinthians 10-11); before the flexibility of man is injected into the intelligence of the will of the Lord. There is but one direction; and in this case, it has had to be followed, for there is but one Lord, one written word of God, defined and definitive, immiscible and polluted at peril.
Who knows how the good Lord in His providential mercies may re-organise as the time of His return draws near. Meanwhile, all who love Him must keep to HIS word and neither add nor subtract, nor authorise such things with any pretended authority. From first to last the Church which is that of Jesus Christ has NO authority except to present what HE has presented (cf. John 12:48-50, 17:14-19, Revelation 22:18-19).
As noted, in reasonings to show the truth of His word (I Peter 3:15, II Corinthians 10:5, Philippians 1:7), one may present many things; but as to what is acceptable in doctrine itself, this is limited to what is written and what is necessarily implied. The Bible not a field or sports day for contrivance and innovation, but a field of the majestic speech of the Almighty. It is the infallible word of Him who governs all, and is governed by none, nor by the thoughts or say-so of any, including those who dare to use His name while so polluting and opining as did false prophets of old (Jeremiah 23).
Thus is the mode of Presbyterianism, of Reformed doctrine in its classic presentation, where in the realities of the horror of Romanist persecution, even to the death, the purity of the word of God was seen, striven for and declared. God is not part of a crowd. If any, in so doing, faltered, failed or erred, without so intending, this at least was NOT the same as merely making declarations without scriptural warrant. It is not as if possibility, even if this were present, were necessity; or as though the thoughts of man were attributable to the acceptance of God, by mere human authority, as if they were pleasing to Him. As the Father sent Him (John 12:48-50), so He sent the apostles (John 20:21), not as innovators but instruments of service. What is accepted in His name as doctrine, yet delivered without biblical warrant by the mind of man, is like a blight: it is as if He were their publisher!
His own WORD declares what is acceptable to Him, and is in need of no decoration (I Thessalonians 2:13, I Corinthians 2:9ff., Proverbs 30:6, Galatians 1:6-9, Matthew 5:17-20, Isaiah 34:16, Matthew 23:8-10). Fiddling with it readily has the place of fiddlesticks, a tangled mountain of confusion.