Issue 2 -- Post-Synod Issue (June 26, 2008)

This issue of ARPTalk (number 2) contains my reflections and the reflections of others on the meeting of our 2008 General Synod. I direct you to the attachments: Jim Corbitt—Moderator’s Committee on the Executive Committee; Jeff Kingswood—A Canadian View of Synod; Tom Shoger—On Giving (Tom’s recollections of his speech to the Synod on why people give); and Daniel Wells—Moderator’s Committee on Erskine. Also included in the attachments for reference is a copy of the text of the Covenant of Integrity.

The following are my reflections:

A tip of the hat is to be given to Moderator Gordon Query for his Moderator’s Challenge and his choice of Worship speakers.  Splendid is the word to be used. Just before Synod I was at the Banner of Truth Conference and our preachers at Synod were not outdone by those at Banner of Truth. A big THANK YOU to Bill Everett, John Van Eyk, Matt Lucas, and Mark Bolhofner.  The worship time on Thursday evening needs to be done away with; we rarely go that long now. If Synod does go that long we are not in the mood for a Worship time. We probably need it, but we are grouchy, hot, tired, and ready to get to the business and go home. An apology is due Curtis Young. I am sure he was told that he probably was not going to speak. Nevertheless, having never heard him, I was looking forward to hearing him. I am sure he was prepared. I hope Curt will be given the opportunity to preach first next year.

A tip of the hat is also to be given to those behind the scenes. As usual, they were ready.

A poignant moment was the introduction of our Chaplains.  Rightly so, they were given a standing ovation. Our thank you alone is not sufficient for them. And the ones who need to be honored more than the Chaplains are their wives and families.  Chaplains, God bless you and please convey our thanks and gratitude to your wives and children!!!

The theme of Synod was The Indispensable Word of God. Using the words of Deuteronomy 8:3, the Moderator said that the Scriptures are the words of God and those words are important for us because they are important to the God who gave them and the Christ who honors and declares them to be Truth. From start to finish, this was the Synod of the Word of God.
 
Typical of a General Synod, most of what took place was “standard operating procedure.” Boards and committees gave their reports and they were adopted “as is” or with friendly amendments, if any, for clarification. The HOT topics involved the reports by the Board of Stewardship, ONA, the Executive Board, and Erskine.

ONA – The reason the ONA report was HOT is because it was so good. By “good” I mean helpful.  I spent most of my career starting or helping to start churches. On the best days church planting is difficult. The question always looming is “How do I advertise what I’m trying to do?”   That’s the question that keeps church planters from sleeping at night. What Bob Illman has done in Alabama is creative and brilliant. Thank you, Bob.  Thank you, Alan, for bringing this before the General Synod and showing it to us.

Stewardship – Here is the question to ponder: How is it that giving to the Denominational Ministry Fund is down and spending is up to such a point that reserves held by the Executive Board and the Stewardship Board are needed to cover the shortfalls? This is a painful conundrum? Tom Shoger answered that forcefully and you are encouraged to read his comment in the attachment Tom Shoger—On Giving. Responding to some of the comments I heard and echoing Tom’s words, at least part of the conundrum may be solved in how we ask for money. If we want our people to reach into their pockets and get a dollar and resent us for asking, then seek to drive them to give based on obligation and guilt. If we want our people to reach into their coat pockets and get their checkbooks, start writing and then apologize that the amount is too small, then address their dreams and hearts for the church. When was the last time our dreams and hearts were addressed? When our people are not buying the product we dare not blame the customer.

The Executive Board  – Was there enough said on the floor of Synod regarding recommendations that read “That all other actions as herein reported be sustained?”  The CFO issue was a public relations disaster. We need to disabuse ourselves from the use of such language. From this day on, if a Board or Committee wants to raise suspicion and paranoia amongst the members of the Court, then use that kind of language. Our Boards, Committees, and Agencies need to be certain to state what their recommendations are and not be perceived as trying to “sneaking” something past us.
 
The Erskine Report – When the Erskine Report was presented before the court not a word was said and the report was adopted without comment. That, however, did not mean that the Erskine report was not ”hot.” The meeting of the Moderator’s Committee on Erskine was eventful.  For a full report see the attachment Daniel Well—the Moderator’s Committee on Erskine.
 
Before I move to other issues that involved the Erskine report, I think I need to acknowledge and thank those responsible for the revision and presentation of the new ErskineCollege mission statement. This committee was chaired by trustee Doug Petersen, and included President Ruble as a member. This new mission statement rightly emphasizes that ErskineCollege is to be both "Christ-centered" and committed to "excellent liberal arts education.  I celebrate this work. It reads:
 
ErskineCollegeMission Statement

The mission of ErskineCollege is to equip students to flourish by providing an excellent liberal arts education in a Christ-centered environment where learning and biblical truth are integrated to develop the whole person.

Historical Perspective In 1839 by the providence of God, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church established ErskineCollege. Many American colleges had abandoned their commitment to the historic Christian faith; however, from its inception, ErskineCollege has been committed to the principle that facts and values–learning and faith–are inseparable. This commitment is enshrined in the Erskine motto: scientia cum moribus conjuncta (knowledge joined with morals). As the arm of the Church for Christian higher education, Erskine strives to carry out the biblical mandate to redeem all of life, especially moral and intellectual life, under the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

OUR COMMITMENTS ErskineCollege is committed to excellent liberal arts education.
At Erskine an excellent liberal arts education means that all students pursue a broad-based course of study including requirements in language and literature, visual and performing arts, natural and social sciences, Bible and world history; mathematics and technology. Students are encouraged to think critically, so that minds and hearts may be opened to truth. With this foundation, Erskine is committed to developing the whole person and to preparing students for life-long learning. Erskine is recognized nationally for excellence in these pursuits.


ErskineCollege is committed to a Christ-centered environment.
At Erskine, a Christ-centered environment is one that supports conformity to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Rooted in the Reformed tradition, Erskine provides for a holistic and transformational education that takes into account the intellectual and spiritual formation of students. This environment fosters an educational ethos whose personnel, policies, and teaching are informed and animated by the sovereignty of God over all the created order. Erskine encourages wholesome living and calls the entire community to glorify God and enjoy him forever.


ErskineCollege is committed to the integration of learning and biblical truth.
At Erskine the integration of learning and biblical truth is an ongoing process of seeking to discern and develop the integral relationships between reason and revelation. In this process human learning informs the development of a Christian worldview, and biblical revelation informs the content and practice of human learning. Within this framework, faculty and students are free to engage in a genuine pursuit of truth and understanding and to strive to develop the highest and best use of their abilities.

 
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the outcome of the voting, the most significant action taken by the General Synod since 1979 involved three motions from the floor regarding the authority of Scripture.
 
First motion (made by Jim Coad and adopted): That the 2008 General Synod go on record by stating that the position of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on Scripture is that the Bible alone, being God-breathed, is the Word of God written, infallible in all that it teaches, and inerrant in the original manuscripts.

Second motion (made by Billy Barron and adopted): That the position statement adopted by the 2008 General Synod on the Bible be forwarded to Synod’s Committee to revise the Form of Government and that this statement be included in the vows of ministers and elders at the appropriate places.

Third motion (made by Rob Patrick and adopted): In the Manual of Authorities and Duties, p. 9, the definition of an evangelical, item 1, regarding the Bible, reads, “The Bible to be the inspired, the infallible authoritative Word God.” I move that the position statement adopted by the 2008 General Synod on the Bible replace that statement.
 
The question asked is this: Why were these motions pushed forward at this time? That question deserves an answer. There are probably as many answers as there are people who voted for these documents. I will posit five (5) of my reasons.

(1) The 1979 position was a compromise and latitudinarian statement. The Covenant of Integrity that followed some months later is the proof of that (see attachment, Covenant of Integrity [text only, full list of signatories not given]).  There was an unspoken agreement of “live and let live.”  However, it was generally felt by many of those who held to an inerrancy position that this document would in time become an “inerrancy statement,” and by 1985 that was how the document was used. This also explains why there was no hurry to get the new document into the vows of the FOG. The examining protocols of our presbyteries already reflect the action that is called for and the change simply codifies those actions. I do not know of a presbytery that is not asking inerrancy questions of candidates and that is not using the 1979 document as an inerrancy standard. As a matter of fact, if the present issue had not arisen most of the ministers who are new to our Synod would not be aware that the 1979 statement is a compromise statement.
 
(2) It was not surprising but still it was shocking to many of us that a member of the General Synod stood in opposition to our clear statement on Scripture and said that his God was larger than the Scriptures and he found God, as he was led by the Holy Spirit, in other places. What other places?  Certainly God is larger than his communication to man.  That is a non-discussion. The claim of the Scripture is that it is the disclosure of those things that God would have us to know about himself and his mind for our redemption and life, complete, sufficient, flawless, authoritative, and knowable. The statement that delegate made about Scripture is preposterous. How does one know the God of which this man was speaking? The Bible affirms that within its pages God is found. Psalm 138:2 reads “you have exalted above all things your name and your word,” binding together God’s name and his revealed Word with the Bible being the finding-place for both. The statement of the delegate who opposed the inerrancy of Scripture is a grievous error and reveals why our newly adopted statement that is clear and unambiguous is needed at this time. But let me hasten to add publicly that I do not wish nor do I know anyone who wishes to use our new position in order to launch a “witch hunt” on those who have scruples regarding our new position.

(3) My third answer to this question involves another question: Where is Erskine Seminary headed?  Conversations with administrators who speak of drawing near to the PCUSA confessing churches in order to tap into a new source of students are troubling if administrators are willing to hire professors whose views on Biblical authority are unclear or, worse still, clear- but wrong. No one is against getting new students and it is our delight to give them a Biblical education that is REFORMED, ECUMENICAL, and EVANGELICAL, but not at the price of selling out to the neo-Barthianism that is rampant throughout the PCUSA, in both liberal and conservative configurations. Indeed, it is disconcerting when a controversial PCUSA professor whose views on Scripture are questionable and who has at least one student who is officially challenging him is given tenure QUIETLY so as not to upset the ARPChurch. It is also troubling when administrators are willing to say that they cannot ask questions about inerrancy to potential faculty because our documents do not use the term inerrancy. This strikes me as clear justification for the third motion that puts Synod’s clear language on inerrancy in the Manual of Authorities and Duties.

(4) The maxim that “personnel is policy” is generally true.  Am I the only one that finds it worrisome that the two development officers at Erskine Seminary are a United Methodist layperson and a PCUSA minister? If our aim is not in that direction, how would it look if it were?

(5) Finally, how is it that six (6) of our best and brightest graduates of ErskineCollege are choosing other seminaries or are transferring to another seminary? They have not left in silence. Their reasons are compelling. They are not to be dismissed simply as obnoxious trouble makers. Should we not be asking why? Are we to blame the customer for not buying our product? Indeed, their answers reveal why these motions were pushed forward at this time. Where are the development resources dedicated to developing our ARP constituency?

My final observation is this question: What is Erskine going to do?  Past Erskine administrations, in order to avoid complying with the actions of our General Synod, have used three techniques: Passive-aggressive tactics, spin tactics, and cover-up tactics.

(1) Passive-aggressive tactics.  The example is the 1976/77 definition of “evangelical Christian.” Since then our Manual of Authorities and Duties has mandated that "any newly-appointed administrative or teaching employee of any board shall have given satisfactory evidence of his belief in and adherence to the basic doctrines of evangelical Christianity." Most of us have been under the impression that ErskineCollege faculty members have signed some sort of document indicating assent to that evangelical statement. The reality is that formal written assent to the definition of evangelical beliefs has NOT been required until this year (2008), when the issue was pointedly raised and the President finally made affirmation of the definition of evangelical belief a part of the faculty application process.   The legacy of this long-term resistance is clear: reliable estimates suggest that even now committed, openly evangelical faculty members are still in the minority at ErskineCollege (see comments in Additional Erskine Report, 2007 Synod materials).

(2) Spin tactics.  The most recent example of spin tactics involves Mark Wright, pastor of our Unity Church in Second Presbytery. Mr. Wright is a Th. M. student at Erskine Seminary. This past semester he took a class on theological hermeneutics. He has written letters to the Seminary administration complaining of the professor’s neo-Barthian bent. The point of his letter is not a grievance with the professor. His point is a question to the administration (and to the Board): “Why do you allow this?” The Seminary administration has dealt with this letter as a student-professor grievance issue. The spin is that no comment can be made because the grievance process is underway. This in spite of the fact that Mr. Wright has stated numerous times that he has no grievance with the professor. Rather, he is questioning the direction of the Seminary.  Spin! Spin! Spin!
 
(3) Cover-up tactics.  The prime example of this is the run-around that numerous ARP ministers and laymen have received when trying to ascertain the answer to two simple questions. First, Do all of the professors at Erskine Theological Seminary affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, or not? Second, Do we have professors teaching Barthianism, not just as information, but as a preferred theological system?  These are not hard questions and it should not be so difficult to get a straight answer. However, one might sooner get the camel through the eyeof the needle than get a straight answer out of the administration.
 
Well, it is a new era. Day one of this new era was the Friday after Synod.  I hope that the Erskine administration will leave behind the old ways. Our Synod has spoken clearly. Administrators are given a stewardship on behalf of the Synod. They have an obligation to serve with integrity and transparency and to carry out faithfully the directions of Synod.
        
These are my recollections and commentary on the 2008 General Synod meeting.
 
Blessings,
Chuck

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