The following letter was sent to Northeast Presbytery, with a copy sent to the Clerk of Session of Affirmation Presbyterian Church, dated November 12, 1997:

Fathers and Brothers,

We have been commissioned by Heartland Presbytery (Heartland Presbytery Minutes, p.642, §97-40) to lay before you a concern we as a presbytery have and to humbly request your help. Several of our members and our presbytery as a whole have been injured by the actions of one of your members and his session and we believe it is proper to inform you about it.

On May 29, TE Frank J. Smith, acting in his capacity as Editor of the Presbyterian International News Service (PINS), wrote to the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records (CRPR) through its Chairman (see Appendix A for the text of the letter) alleging that Heartland Presbytery acted unconstitutionally in adopting a standing rule that forbade the circulation of our minutes beyond our membership (see Appendix B for the text of the rule). Although Mr. Smith was aware of the our adoption of this rule at least as early as the Fall of 1996, he did not send his letter until 11 days before the CRPR met, so that our Presbytery could not meet to formulate a response. Had the CRPR Chairman not distributed the letter to the Committee members attending General Assembly, which included the representative of our Presbytery, we would have been unaware of the allegation until the time our minutes were reviewed by the Committee, and would not have been prepared to respond. Mr. Smith did not inform Heartland Presbytery directly of his accusation against us. We believe this to be unethical.

This is not the first time an allegation against our presbytery has originated with PINS or its publications. An article on page 9 of the Spring, 1995, edition of the PCA News (precursor of the Presbyterian and Reformed News) made reference to the only judicial case in which presbytery was a party. It left the impression that we suspended a minister solely on the grounds that he failed to provide statistical reports. We were compared to those in the PCUSA who prosecuted Dr. J. Gresham Machen. When confronted at the 1995 General Assembly by one of our members about this distortion of the record, the editor refused to publish a retraction. He then repeated the assertion that the minister was suspended because of failure to provide statistical reports in the Summer, 1995, edition in an article on p. 3. Thus a misleading report concerning our Presbytery was widely disseminated by the PCA News and accepted by its readership throughout our denomination. This report has been given such credence that, in a personal conversation with one of our commissioners at General Assembly this past summer, a commissioner from another Presbytery referred to the case in question as the "statistical reports case." Though the statements in the articles in the PCA News were "technically" true, they so misrepresented our position that, in the words of the answer to WLC Question 145, they "perverted [the truth] to a wrong meaning . . . to the prejudice of truth . . .", thus breaking the ninth commandment.

In addition, our Presbytery Clerk was misrepresented in the pages of the Winter, 1996, edition. That edition included an article on the November, 1996, meeting of our Presbytery [NOTE: The reference throughout the letter to the November, 1996, meeting is erroneous-the reference has to be to the November, 1995, meeting--FJS], which was clearly based on a copy of the presbytery minutes (there were numerous verbatim citations of our actions). Included was the following action we had taken at that meeting: "It was moved that 'the request from the PCA News for Heartland Presbytery minutes be answered in the negative.'" Our Clerk's name appeared at the bottom of the article, leaving the impression that he had supplied our minutes in direct violation of the action of Presbytery. When our Clerk confronted the editor about this misrepresentation, the editor refused to publish a clarification, other than to include a small-print disclaimer, beginning two issues later, stating that "The names and addresses of the presbytery stated clerks are provided as a courtesy, and do not imply that the clerk listed is responsible for the material."

When we observe the way actions of our presbytery and its clerk have been misrepresented in this publication, it causes us to wonder about the accuracy of other articles that have been published; articles that we believe to have blemished the reputations of MTW missionaries, the leadership of Covenant College, the Interchurch Relations Committee, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, the Standing Judicial Commission, and, most recently, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. Even if it were proper for us to investigate all the innuendoes scattered throughout these articles and thus, perhaps, learn the whole story, we lack the time and the resources to do so. We are confident that the same is true of others who receive this publication, and we are concerned that they may accept these innuendoes at face value.

An additional concern of ours relates to the way that Mr. Smith obtained our November, 1996, minutes, which involved a further injury to one of our members. Mr. Smith contacted TE Phil Kayser, a member of our presbytery who is a personal acquaintance of his. He requested Mr. Kayser send him a copy of our minutes, suggesting that he could obtain them from our Clerk but that it might be easier for Mr. Kayser to send them. Mr. Kayser agreed to do so. He was excused from our November, 1996, meeting due to personal illness, and so was unaware of our action to deny the PCA News' request for our minutes. Before reading the minutes, he sent them to Mr. Smith. Upon reading the minutes, and certainly realizing that Mr. Kayser had inadvertently violated an action of Presbytery, Mr. Smith published an article drawn from them, thus compromising the trust Mr. Kayser had placed in him, and possibly damaging Mr. Kayser's reputation in our presbytery. Then he had the temerity to request that Mr. Kayser send him a copy of the minutes of the next meeting, in effect asking him to disobey a directive of presbytery. Mr. Kayser refused. When Mr. Smith asked him for a reason for his refusal, Mr. Kayser made reference to the newly enacted standing rule forbidding it. Mr. Smith demanded to see a copy of the rule, which Mr. Kayser then provided. Mr. Smith published that rule in the Fall, 1996, issue, fully cognizant of the fact that the rule was not a public document under our rule. On his own initiative, Mr. Kayser expressed repentance for his own wrong judgment on this issue which Presbytery has accepted, and he has not sought to blame Mr. Smith. However, we believe that Mr. Smith's action in this regard has injured Mr. Kayser. Moreover, it has also caused us to question both how he obtains what might otherwise be considered confidential information (such as verbatim quotations on sensitive matters reported to General Assembly Committees of Commissioners) and his judgment in broadcasting such information to the whole church.

All of this has led us to reflect on the propriety and constitutionality of the whole enterprise of PINS, which is represented as a ministry of the Session of Affirmation Church. We believe this session, consisting of one teaching elder and one ruling elder (the smallest size allowed to constitute a session under BCO 12-1), has assumed the stance of investigative journalists-investigating the work of churches and agencies which function under the oversight of various higher courts of the church. We question whether this is proper conduct for a session or an individual member of Presbytery under the PCA Constitution. BCO 11-4 is very clear on the issue of jurisdiction:

"For the orderly and efficient dispatch of ecclesiastical business, it is necessary that the sphere of action of each court should be distinctly defined. The Session exercises jurisdiction over a single church, the Presbytery over what is common to the ministers, Sessions, and churches within a prescribed district, and the General Assembly over such matters as concern the whole Church. The jurisdiction of these courts is limited by the express provisions of the Constitution" (emphasis added).

BCO 40 further indicates that it is the higher courts that are responsible to review the actions of the lower courts:

"40-1. It is the right and duty of every court above the Session to review, at least once a year, the records of the court next below, and if any lower court fails to present its records for this purpose, the higher court may require them to be produced immediately, or at any time fixed by this higher court.

40-2. In reviewing records of a lower court the higher court is to examine:

  1. Whether the proceedings have been correctly recorded;
  2. Whether they have been regular and in accordance with the Constitution;
  3. Whether they have been wise, equitable and suited to promote the welfare of the church;
  4. Whether the lawful injunctions of the higher court have been obeyed."

In other words, the proper body to investigate the actions of a lower court (agency, or committee) is the next highest court.

Please note that, in our understanding, the issue involved is not the propriety of an American citizen to act as an investigative journalist under the provisions of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Rather, the issue involves the propriety of a lower court of our church or an individual member of Presbytery assuming the investigative authority which the BCO reserves for the higher courts. It is our opinion that, in the operation of PINS and its publication, the Presbyterian and Reformed News, the Pastor and Session of Affirmation Church have usurped this authority and are acting as independent investigators in a manner analogous to the "vigilantes" and "lynch mobs" of old.

It is for this reason we are writing to you. Fortunately, under our system of government the Pastor and Session of Affirmation Church are not permitted to act independently-their actions are subject to your review. We call these matters to your attention under the provisions of BCO 40-4 in a spirit of Christian concern for our members and for the peace and purity of our denomination, and request that you review them according to the provisions of BCO 40-2 and 40-4.

You may wonder why we have delayed so long in bringing these matters to your attention, as some occurred over two years ago. This was not because of a lack of concern, but rather because we attempted to handle the matter personally and informally instead of rushing to take formal action. As time has passed, we have found that individuals in other presbyteries are also concerned about the actions of PINS and its editor. We have further concluded that, in the terms used in BCO 32-20, their questionable practices have become "flagrant" as time has progressed.

We will greatly appreciate your review of these situations. Please notify us of any action you take.

Sincerely in Christ,

The Commission to Correspond with Northeast Presbytery

RE Don Boldt

TE Dan Dermyer

TE Tim Diehl

TE Larry Hoop

TE Larry Lunceford

RE Charles Meador

RE John Pink

RE Dwayne Sents

*It should be noted that as early as our third stated meeting (August, 1989), Heartland Presbytery declined to send its minutes to a publication that requested them (Minutes of Heartland Presbytery, §89-99). It has been a long-standing policy that we distribute our minutes only as outlined in Standing Rule 2.8.




May 29, 1997

Dear Fathers and Brethren:

As one who twice served on this Committee, including being its secretary one year, I am very much aware of the hard and thankless task in which you engage. I want to thank you up front not only for your labors on behalf of the Assembly, but also for your willingness to entertain my expressed concern.

I believe that the actions of several presbyteries over the past couple of years have been blatantly unconstitutional in denying us (i.e., the news service and the congregation which officially sponsors it) access to the minutes of those courts. In particular, I believe that the action of Heartland Presbytery in amending its Standing Rules with regard to its minutes violates our Constitution.

Last summer, Heartland adopted the following: "2.8 Distribution of minutes. The official minutes of Heartland Presbytery are not published. Unofficial copies of the minutes are circulated to members of and delegates to presbytery for the convenience of presbytery under the terms of S.R. 4.3, F. Copies are sent to General Assembly for review in compliance with BCO 13-19 [sic] and 40-1, and RAO 14. This is not an act of publishing which makes them a public document. All rights are retained by presbytery. Further dissemination is not authorized, except for legitimate presbytery purposes such as providing each member of a session with a copy." I believe that this action violates our constitution in several particulars.

First, it violates BCO 11-4, which states: ". . . These courts are not separate and independent tribunals, but they have a mutual relation, and every act of jurisdiction is the act of the whole Church performed by it through the appropriate organ." This provision of our Constitution illustrates the organic nature of the church. It specifically provides that, in the exercise of jurisdiction, every church court is acting on behalf of the church as a whole. (We could also illustrate this point by noting that, with regard to judicial process, the case is never "Local Church vs. John Doe" or "Presbytery vs. John Doe", but always "Presbyterian Church in America vs. John Doe"--that is to say, judicial process always involves the entire church bringing charges against a person.) Since it is true that "every act of jurisdiction is the act of the whole Church performed by it through the appropriate organ", any member of the whole Church has the right to see what action has been taken on his behalf. The action by Heartland in refusing to circulate its minutes to those not members of the court (or members of one of its constituent sessions) therefore violates this provision.

Secondly, Heartland's action violates BCO 34-1: ". . . if Presbytery refuses to act in doctrinal cases or cases of public scandal, and two other Presbyteries request the Assembly to assume original jurisdiction, the Assembly shall do so." In many instances, the only way that other presbyteries will have sufficient information to take the extraordinary action envisioned in this paragraph is by having access to the official minutes of the allegedly delinquent presbytery.

Third, Heartland's action violates BCO 43-1: "It is the right of any communing member of the church in good standing to make complaint against any action of a court to whose jurisdiction he is subject. . . ." Any communing member of a constituent congregation of Heartland Presbytery may complain the actions of that court. However, the amendment to the Standing Rules noted above allows for the dissemination of minutes only to members of the court and/or members of sessions. Removing from other communicant members the opportunity to have access to the minutes of the Presbytery, in effect, renders inoperative their opportunity to complain the court's actions.

(Some may contend that the words "to whose jurisdiction he is subject" refers to "direct and immediate jurisdiction". However, on that interpretation, no ruling elder, who is a member of an organized church with its own session, could ever complain the action of presbytery, since he is not subject to presbytery's direct and immediate jurisdiction. Furthermore, the language of BCO 43-1 comes from the Southern Presbyterian Book of Church Order, which had a four-tiered polity [i.e., with synods between General Assembly and presbyteries]: if the wording meant "direct and immediate jurisdiction", then no one could have ever complained to the Assembly, since neither churches nor ministers were subject directly and immediately to the synods. Moreover, at least a dozen cases through the years have been heard by the PCA Assembly where the person was not subject to the direct and immediate jurisdiction of a presbytery.)

Set forth above are the relevant portions of our Constitution directly contradicted by Heartland's action. However, there are other teachings that are also negatively affected by the position assumed by Heartland, such as: the organic nature of the church; and the notion of the church as the visible kingdom of Christ.

Some might think that this controversy is all a tempest in a teapot. However, whenever the church's Constitution is violated, as it clearly has been by Heartland's action, it is always a serious matter. It is also a serious concern when a church court goes to great lengths to try to hide its actions from the scrutiny of the rest of the church.

But even beyond that, there is a concern that, should we publish information from the meeting or the minutes of Heartland Presbytery, we may face judicial charges. Just over a year ago, the Stated Clerk of Heartland, Lawrence Lunceford, telephoned me, very upset about the fact that we had published a report of his Presbytery based on a copy of the minutes which had been supplied to us. (The gentleman who had mailed us a copy recently told me that he got into all sorts of trouble for having sent us those minutes.) Mr. Lunceford told me that he was recording our conversation, and that he would be happy to give me a transcription of the conversation, should I desire that. He was very upset over the fact that it appeared that he had given us those minutes. I apologized to him for that; and I believe I also said that it was our policy to put the names and addresses of the presbytery stated clerks at the bottom of the presbytery articles as a courtesy to our readers as well as to the clerks.

As a second point, he in essence called me to repentance for having "stolen" from Heartland Presbytery. He used words to the effect that I had taken something that was not mine and used it for my own purposes. On this point, I politely but firmly denied that I had done anything wrong, and I stated that I rejected his call to repentance. He seemed to indicate that I would hear further from him on the matter. Although I have not heard another word from him, Heartland, at its summer 1996 meeting, adopted the Standing Rule mentioned above. I believe that should we report on Heartland Presbytery, even if we don't directly use the minutes as typed by the Clerk, we could very well face not only further unpleasantness, but also judicial charges.

The absurdity of this situation is seen by virtue of the fact that, should a correspondent report on the action of the Presbytery, and quote verbatim a motion as it is made on the floor, has he violated the allegedly sacrosanct minutes? If I understand the position of Heartland correctly, I believe that a majority of that court would say, Yes.

I am therefore pleading with you to give protection to us in our ministry of informing the denomination what is transpiring in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and parts of Missouri. In doing this, we would be acting in accord with the historic Presbyterian position, that "The records of our church courts are public and not private documents. . . " (PCUSA, Minutes 1879 GA, cited in J. A. Hodge, What is Presbyterian Law?, pp. 222-23); and in accord with the historic Presbyterian practice, which has been for various publications to publish news of the church at large. We would also be operating fully in accord with the Constitution, as noted above.

Let me make clear that not necessarily everything that is discussed in a church court gets into the minutes. In this regard, one must make a distinction between the elders acting in their joint capacity and in their several capacity.

Indeed, even in a judicial case, not everything that may be revealed in testimony, even if recorded, may be part of the minutes: the Constitution makes a distinction between the minutes and the Record of a Case. In sensitive matters, church courts can phrase things very delicately and carefully so as to be both pastorally wise and Constitutionally obedient.

Also, please note that, even though we have framed the debate philosophically in such a way that all minutes of a court are open, one could argue that the minutes of an executive session, for example, are privileged. We do not think so. For one thing, all that a court would have to do in order to hide its actions from scrutiny would be to go into and remain perpetually in executive session. For another thing, Roberts' Rules of Order provides that executive session makes privileged the discussion, but not the action. However, apart from that philosophical debate, it is abundantly clear that Heartland's proscription of the open distribution of its minutes is overbroad and out of synch with our Constitution, and therefore exception must be taken to this action.

In this matter, you must choose one position or the other--neutrality is not possible. We urge you to choose the clearly Constitutional and Presbyterian position, by finding Heartland's action to violate our standards. Thank you for your kind and patient consideration of this request.

Very truly yours,

Frank J. Smith, Ph.D., Editor

Presbyterian Int'l. News Service


  1. Distribution of minutes. The official minutes of Heartland Presbytery are not published. Unofficial

copies of the minutes are circulated to members of and delegates to presbytery for the convenience of presbytery under terms of S.R. 4.3, F. Copies are sent to General Assembly for review in compliance with BCO 13-19 and 40-1, and RAO 14. This is not an act of publishing which makes them a public document. All rights are retained by presbytery.

Further dissemination is not authorized, except for legitimate presbytery purposes such as providing each member of a session with a copy.

Mr. Don Boldt

416 Mitchell Street

Ackley, IA 50601


Rev. Dan Dermyer

1332 E. Sheridan Bridge Lane

Olathe, KS 66062-5721


Rev. Tim Diehl

924 First Avenue

Ackley, IA 50601-1607


Faith Presbyterian Church

10164 D Avenue

Ackley, IA 50601-8005


Rev. Larry Hoop

Colfax Center Presbyterian Church

18935 K Avenue

Holland, IA 50642-8022

(319)824-5231(o)/824-6423(h); email:

Rev. Larry Lunceford

5902 Blue Ridge Cutoff

Raytown, MO 64133-3728

(816)353-2421; email:

Mr. Charles Meador

c/o Olathe Presbyterian Church

20100 W. 153rd Street

Olathe, KS 66062


Mr. John Pink

7650 Lackman Rd

Shawnee Mission, KS 66217-9422


Mr. Dwayne Sents

RR 1, #71

Wellsboro, IA 50680