Preface to the CREC Pastoral Commission Report on Saint Peter Presbyterian Church
© 2006 by: Peter Kershaw
The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of Peter Kershaw and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Heal Our Land Ministries
On May 15, 2006 the CREC Pastoral Commission to St. Peter Presbyterian Church completed its Report. Copies of the Report were distributed to St. Peter Presbyterian Church members, along with a two-page "Preface." I will herein respond to some of the more problematic and objectionable language in the Preface.
By way of introduction, let me affirm the CREC Commission's biblically-based admonishments:
Though the CREC Commission didn't likely have the Kershaws in mind, or for that matter the Austins, Saenzs, Fontinots, Wintons, and a number of other former St. Peter Presbyterian Church families when they wrote this, I believe that I can speak for us all when I say, "Amen!" It's only through much prayer and God's grace that we're not bitter. This isn't to say that we're not still hurting; but God has given us the strength to forgive, even though it has yet to be asked for.
Almost the entire second-half of the CREC's Preface letter is set aside for this admonishment. Clearly, there were some very hurt feelings within St. Peter Presbyterian Church, and some are probably still hurting. At least one incident that brought this about is an acrimonious email exchange that took place on the St. Peter Presbyterian Church email list between R.C. Sproul Jr. loyalists in the Mendota and Bristol parishes, and members of the Abingdon parish who had proposed forming an entirely separate church.
Heated emails containing uncharitable accusations and allegations were hurled at the Abingdon men for their desire to depart St. Peter in peace. Accusations of "vow-breaking," and church membership vows are akin to marital vows, were flung like stones. Most failed to see the irony that the allegations bore striking resemblance to those that had been hurled at the Austin family just a year prior over their own desire to depart St. Peter Presbyterian Churchin peace. The ecclesiastical abuse of the Austins played a significant part in the RPCGA's defrocking of the St. Peter Presbyterian Church session. How little the deposed session has learned, and how well they have trained their flock to follow their imperious example.
While the CREC Commission's admonishments are biblical, the source is problematic. The CREC Commission's own recommendations and actions served, at least in some measure, to foment a spirit of distrust and disunity. It would, therefore, be more appropriate for them to offer apologies than to get preachy about avoiding bitterness.
It should be noted that the magisterial tone of the CREC's Preface letter did not go over well with a number of St. Peter Presbyterian Church members, particularly at the Abingdon parish of St. Peter. The Abingdon parish had for some time been discussing leaving St. Peter Presbyterian Church and forming a new church. However, they did for some time have a genuine interest in joining the CREC, as a separate church.
Members of the Abingdon church met with and communicated via phone and email with members of the CREC Commission. They expressed numerous concerns to the Commission about past abuses by the deposed St. Peter session. As a very vocal group, the concerns and complaints they raised comprised a significant portion of the "many documents, received many emails and phone calls" that the "five-member-commission examined."
However, the CREC Commission's lack of genuine regard for the concerns raised by the Abingdon church members only exacerbated tensions. The CREC's Preface letter clearly takes several shots at the Abingdon church. Being on the receiving end of such unpastoral conduct only emboldened their resolve to leave St. Peter, and only lessened the likelihood that they would join the CREC.
The "some SPPC members" are, by and large, members of the Abingdon church and, in several cases, men that had recently left the Mendota and Bristol parishes to become part of the Abingdon church. The fact that these men think for themselves, and the fact that they were starting to demand accountability, meant that they were on a collision course with the CREC Commission.
The investigation by the Abingdon men in no way jeopardized the integrity of the investigation performed by the CREC Commission (if indeed one could even fairly characterize the CREC's labors as an "investigation"). However, the outcomes of the two investigations proved to be very different, and that was clearly not to the liking of the CREC. To have a divergent opinion, in the CREC's view, is "undermining the Commission’s work."
If the CREC Commission was indeed acting in good faith, why did they withhold "far more information than it might appear on the surface"? Withholding "far more information" from St. Peter Presbyterian Church members doesn't demonstrate "good faith." Rather, what it demonstrates is lack of trust in the St. Peter Presbyterian Church members. Moreover, it demonstrates an imperious attitude of, We don't have to prove anything, you just need to trust us. By this point the Abingdon men had already learned the hazards of "Just trust your Elders."
Irrespective of the CREC Commission's claims, they did not possess "far more information than it might appear on the surface." The information they had, as it pertained to the defrocking of the St. Peter Presbyterian Church session, was no more extensive than what the RPCGA had publicly released -- case information which everyone, including the Abingdon church, already had access to. The RPCGA's case file is far more expansive than what they have publicly released, and the fact of the matter is that the CREC Commission's knowledge of the case is minute in comparison to the RPCGA's knowledge of the case.
Having been myself a member of a CREC mission church, I know from personal experience that this is CREC standard operating procedure -- obtain vows in advance of the release of a "Report." The "vow" then is subsequently held over the vow-takers' heads as a means of forcing assent to a "Report" that at least some in the church could not have otherwise agree with:
Some will errantly view the entering into such "covenants" as honorable and a means of demonstrating loyal submission to authority. In certain cases that might be true. But in this case compelling a man to "covenant" to agree to something that he hasn't even seen the outcome of yet is duplicitous, and it is unbiblical. Such arrangements only invite bad faith dealing. In legal terms such arrangements are sometimes referred to as "adhesion contracts," meaning that a contract is entered into without all the terms and conditions being plainly disclosed up front, and the one party unwittingly waiving many or all of his bargaining rights. Such contracts are generally viewed by the courts of law as legally unenforceable and even "legally unconscionable."
The CREC's adhesion contract with the St. Peter Presbyterian Church congregation is as "legally unconscionable" an arrangement as to arrange for the CREC Commission to tell a St. Peter member, "I notice your house is for sale. One of your Elders wants to buy your house. Would you be willing to sell your house to the Elder?" "Why yes, of course." The CREC Commission then stipulates, "Okay then, you need to covenant with us to sell your house to the Elder. We'll inspect the home and do a thorough appraisal and investigation. We're experts in these matters, and we have far more information than it might appear on the surface. As a way of proving that we're all operating in good faith, you need to covenant with us that you'll sell your house to the Elder based upon the terms and conditions that we'll stipulate when we release our CREC Commission House Report."
It doesn't demonstrate "good faith" or "loyalty" to enter into such a "covenant." All it would demonstrate is that the man who makes such a covenant is gullible or a fool:
The CREC Commission's bad faith dealing with the Abingdon church proved to be the nail in the coffin for those 15 families in Abingdon who might have had any lingering doubts about whether they could remain a part of St. Peter Presbyterian Church. For them the CREC Commission's loyalties had become all too transparent -- their loyalties were with the deposed session, and with any who were, likewise, loyal to the deposed session.
If the CREC Commission's objective was to restore peace and unity to St. Peter Presbyterian Church, they failed miserably. However, if their objective was to separate those who lacked loyalty to the deposed session from those who remained loyal, they succeeded brilliantly.
In the CREC Commission's Letter To Ten Reformed Men, they ask the men to sign off on the following statement:
No St. Peter Presbyterian Church member was asked to sign off on any similar statement. Instead, the Commission asked only men who had only partial second-hand knowledge to sign. Had St. Peter Presbyterian Church members been asked to sign a similar statement there likely would have been a number of men who not only would have refused to sign, but who would have repudiated it as a canard.
The Abingdon church has chosen the name "Christ Church"1 for their continuing work. Christ Church at Abingdon is actively investigating denominational affiliation. However, the CREC is no longer a serious contender on the Christ Church at Abingdon short-list of denominations. They are also investigating their options for calling a pastor.
May the Lord direct and bless their efforts, and may Christ Church at Abingdon bring glory to His name.
1. The name "Christ Church" happens to be rather common in the CREC. In fact there are currently seven CREC churches named "Christ Church," one of which is CREC founder Doug Wilson's church in Moscow, Idaho. In inquiring about this I was told that Christ Church at Abingdon was not in any way influenced in choosing the name "Christ Church" by any phantom affections they might have for the CREC.
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