Your request for a copy of the minutes of the Presbytery of Southeast Alabama was referred to the Administration Committee.
At the meeting of Presbytery on this date [October 28, 1997], the Committee recommended that the minutes of Presbytery be made available to ministers and to elders and members of the churches of Presbytery and to the appropriate committee of General Assembly for review, but to no others. (Grounds: Robert's Rules of Order, Section 41). Presbytery unanimously adopted this recommendation.
With warmest personal regards, I am, Sincerely yours,
Henry Lewis Smith, Stated Clerk
[Actually, the reference in Robert's Rules of Order has to be to Section 47, not 41.-Ed.]
Just a note to tell you how much I have enjoyed your publication while studying here at Westminster Seminary. You give excellent and balanced coverage to all the subjects you cover. I trust that you will be blessed and strengthened by our Lord in your ministry and work of publication.
Jeffrey C. Waddington
I am a PCA teaching elder not in a pastoral relationship, but I am not receiving a copy of your paper as is claimed by your stated policy.
My snail mailing address:
Lawrence N. Lunceford, 5902 Blue Ridge Cutoff, Raytown, MO 64133-3728
[We're glad Mr. Lunceford wants to read our paper, and we apologize for the oversight. If anybody knows anyone else who similarly should be receiving our publication and isn't, please let us know.-Ed.]
Dear Mr. Smith:
I was a close observer of the case of the Heartland Presbytery against Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church (GRPC) and Stephen Newton. The essential issue was whether the Presbytery could coerce GRPC to submit statistical reports merely because the Presbytery so ordered.
The essential issue is well illustrated by the events at one Presbytery meeting (this one not done in executive session) when GRPC agreed to send in the reports as long as they were requested for the sake of the peace and unity of the church, rather than as a command of men. A Presbytery member then made a request on that basis, and Mr. Newton agreed to submit the reports without hesitation. The matter appeared to be resolved. The next day, however, Mr. Lunceford said he would quit as the clerk if discipline was not initiated against GRPC. Thus began the long road which would lead to the deposition of TE Stephen Newton, one in which executive session was repeatedly invoked by the Presbytery.
The Presbytery preferred to see the case as a matter of contumacy, and labeled it as such. GRPC argued that the demand to submit statistical reports based on the bare authority of the Presbytery - Heartland did not attempt to ground their request for statistical reports in the Scriptures - was a false view of church polity that violated Chapter 20 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. A dissenting opinion of the Presbytery noted this issue. On this issue, Mr. Newton read a paper to the Standing Judicial Committee. In addition, the General Assembly stated "[t]his leaves only one remaining specification in support of Presbytery's finding of contumacy...The specification deals with TE Newton's failure to provide statistical reports..." The statistical reporting was the sine qua non issue.
As for the use of executive session, it was the Presbytery, not GRPC, that wanted it. GRPC argued strenuously against the use of executive session at a Presbytery meeting in Nebraska. One of the bases of the charge against the GRPC session was its refusal to meet with a committee; this was actually a refusal to meet with the committee in executive session, the session having stated to the committee that it would see them in an open meeting.
It is my hope that this will help clarify the nature of this case and promote the truth so that the Church of Jesus Christ may be advanced.
Des Moines, IA
[For clarification's sake, it was actually not the
General Assembly, but Dale Peacock's Concurring Opinion, which
stated that "[t]his leaves only one remaining specification
in support of Presbytery's finding of contumacy . . . ."-Ed.]
Dear Dr. Smith:
We, the Session at Christ Presbyterian Church, wish
to respectfully express our disappointment with the coverage given
by your publication to matters between our body and Stated Clerk
of the General Assembly, Dr. Paul R. Gilchrist.
After being made aware of your publication, it was
the feeling of the CPC Session that the article in the fall, 1997,
edition of P&R News was in violation of the spirit of Christ's
teaching concerning the handling of personal offenses as spelled
out in Matthew 18:15-18.
It had been, and is a most important matter to our
sessional body that the concerns we have since resolved with Dr.
Gilchrist be approached with loving, Biblical due process in mind.
By definition, the matter is private unless it cannot be resolved
through these channels. It certainly does not concern P&R
News. Our purpose in seeking the help of the Eastern Carolina
Presbytery was never intended to give a public ill report of these
personal issues. We were unaware the documents were being distributed
to you, and are still uncertain who channeled them your way.
P&R News seems to have made no effort to preserve our Biblical
intent, but instead appears to be working to undermine our attempt
to follow our Christian mandate for handling conflict, the purpose
of which is to reconcile, not aggravate.
The article fails to mention that CPC supplied no
documents and that the CPC Session supplied no comment
on the matter. Indeed, we would have concurred with spokesman
for Dr. Gilchrist who-according to the article-"indicated
that this matter was between Eastern Carolina and the AC (Administrative
While the article may have been a reasonably accurate
chronology of actual correspondence, the letters were never intended
for public consumption. This does a great disservice to both
our church body and Dr. Gilchrist and family.
The accuracy of the denomination's news is not always
of paramount importance. In this instance, the information was
disseminated without taking seriously the most basic principles
of the New Testament teaching concerning matters of discipline.
At best, printing such information is inconsiderate, at worst,
it may lead to an undermining of the peace and purity of the church.
We would encourage you to hold fast to Biblical teaching where
it clearly takes precedent over the principles espoused in the
secular journalism classroom.
We thank you for the opportunity to share these concerns
THE SESSION OF CHRIST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, WINTERVILLE,
Response from the Editor of PINS to this letter from
the Session of Christ Presbyterian Church:
One of the sad facts in this life is that we often
are called upon to fight battles-even in the church. It is not
a pleasant business, but sometimes it has to be done.
The Session of Christ Presbyterian Church, Winterville,
NC, was, in God's providence, placed in a situation where it believed
it had no real choice but to take unpopular stances with regard
to the chief executive officer of the entire denomination. I
personally want to commend these elders for their courage in doing
what they believed was right, just, and even necessary. I believe
that what we find coming to expression in the letter above is
perhaps what we might call a war-weariness, brought on especially
in the aftermath of receiving critical and hostile comments.
I hope that my response will not be unduly harsh to the brethren
in Winterville, while at the same time defending our actions.
In the second paragraph, the letter states the "feeling"
of the Session that the article "was in violation of the
spirit of Christ's teaching concerning the handling of personal
offenses as spelled out in Matthew 18:15-18." We are a
bit confused by the presence of this feeling. Matthew 18 spells
out three stages in the disciplinary process. The last piece
of correspondence which the Session sent to the Stated Clerk prior
to bringing the matter to the attention of Eastern Carolina Presbytery
specifically states that this is the third step of discipline.
The third step is to bring the matter to the church-that is,
to press it formally in the courts of the church. The documents
of church courts are, by definition, public. Beyond the question
of whether the matter was "private", the fact that the
Session was concerned about whether or not Dr. Gilchrist was faithfully
carrying out his duties as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
makes it hard to understand how these alleged offenses could be
considered "personal" rather than "general"
(see BCO 29-3).
In the third paragraph, the Session states that it
was important to that body to approach its concerns "with
loving, Biblical due process in mind. By definition, the matter
is private unless it cannot be resolved through these channels.
. . . Our purpose in seeking the help of the Eastern Carolina
Presbytery was never intended to give a public ill report of these
personal issues." As we noted in the paragraph above, taking
the matter to the level of a church court-and here we mean the
Session-already made it a public matter, by definition, in that
the minutes are public documents. And, the action taken by a
church court is the action of the entire church (BCO 11-4);
presumably, those who have had action taken on their behalf are
entitled to know what that action is. Furthermore, it is hard
to see how these alleged offenses could be considered "personal"
since both the Pastor and the Session were making the case that
this matter involved principles about how the Stated Clerk's Office
works and how the Administrative Committee functions in relation
to local churches.
It is, shall we say, somewhat naïve for the
Session to believe that seeking the help of Eastern Carolina could
be sought without making the matter "public." The Session
distributed throughout the Presbytery copies of the correspondence,
and did so, apparently, without making any comment as to the alleged
private nature of that correspondence. The Presbytery, having
received that correspondence at the April 1997 meeting, did not
have time to consider it at the July meeting, and finally took
action regarding it at an adjourned meeting in August. This action
was reported in the Eastern Carolina minutes. We are incredulous
that anyone could seriously maintain that news about such action
would not spread. In addition to that, by definition, a "private"
offense is known only to a few people (BCO 29-4). The
fact that the entire Presbytery was involved means that it was
no longer a "private" matter.
In its letter to the editor, the Session states that
this matter "certainly does not concern P&R News."
Our news service exists to provide information about and of interest
to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The allegations
made with regard to Dr. Gilchrist are certainly of interest to
the entire PCA. We make no judgment about the validity of the
allegations. However, if it were true that he was failing to
carry out his duties as Stated Clerk, that would be very serious.
It definitely could affect everyone in the denomination. News
about such action is quite germane to what we do, as a news organ
that is part of the church and yet independent of the denominational
bureaucracy. Moreover, it was inevitable that news about these
allegations would spread. Part of what we try to do at our news
service is to disseminate accurate information so as to cut down
on the spread of rumors and false reports.
Also in the third paragraph, the Session states that
"P&R News seems to have made no effort to preserve our
Biblical intent, but instead appears to be working to undermine
our attempt to follow our Christian mandate for handling conflict,
the purpose of which is to reconcile, not aggravate." With
all due respect, I believe that the elders on the Session may
have short memories. They were rather agitated about this whole
matter last spring and summer. They were even willing not only
to take this matter to the floor of the Presbytery, but also (potentially)
to take it, judicially, to Dr. Gilchrist's presbytery. This is
not to say that their purpose was not, all along, reconciliation.
However, it is to recognize that sometimes conflict must come
before reconciliation can be achieved. Aggravation sometimes
works good, not as a goal but as a means to that end. In this
regard, we would respectfully note the chronology of events.
In late October 1997, at least one member of the Administrative
Committee intervened in an effort to resolve the dispute. At
about the same time, on October 29, 1997, we contacted the Stated
Clerk's Office with regard to this story. Two days later, on
October 31, he sent the letter of apology to Christ Church Session.
It is at least conceivable that the knowledge that we had the
information on this matter may have helped to induce the Stated
Clerk to write that letter. If that were the case, then our efforts
may have helped to resolve the dispute to the satisfaction of
the folks in Winterville.
We cannot help but mention the fact that the Stated
Clerk's Office, both orally on the telephone and then via snail
mail during the first week of November, refused to comment on
this matter. If the Stated Clerk had sent us a copy of the apology
letter, we would have been happy to have run it. The story would
have had a totally different flavor to it. However, the Stated
Clerk failed to provide us with that documentation which, perhaps,
could have cleared him. Any aggravation of the situation, it
would seem to us, lies elsewhere.
In the fourth paragraph, the Session states that
the article failed to mention that that court had supplied us
with no documents and had also supplied "no comment"
on the matter. The fact of where the documents came from was
irrelevant to the story. In the Winter 1998 edition of the newspaper,
we do note that the Session was not the direct source of that
In the fifth paragraph, the Session states that the
letters sent to Dr. Gilchrist "were never intended for public
consumption. This does a great disservice to both our church
body and Dr. Gilchrist and his family." As we have suggested
above, it is naïve to believe that these letters could remain
"private." It does not matter what the "intention"
of the elders at Christ Church may have been: once the Session
took the action it did-particularly involving Eastern Carolina
Presbytery-there was no turning back. We believe we have already
addressed the question of whether our publication of this correspondence
was a "disservice" to the PCA. Merely making such an
assertion does not make it so.
In the sixth paragraph, the Session states that the
"accuracy of the denomination's news is not always of paramount
importance." I take it that what is meant here is that,
even if accurate, spreading private information is not in the
best interest of the church. With that sentiment, I would agree.
Let me say in no uncertain terms that we at the news service
have NOT sought to uncover private matters. The point, however,
is that the information in this instance could not be considered
to be private.
The Session continues in the same paragraph: "In
this instance, the information was disseminated without taking
seriously the most basic principles of the New Testament teaching
concerning matters of discipline. At best, printing such information
is inconsiderate, at worst, it may lead to an undermining of the
peace and purity of the church. We encourage you to hold fast
to Biblical teaching where it clearly takes precedent over the
principles espoused in the secular journalism classroom."
Well, it's been awhile since anyone has accused me of not knowing
my Book of Church Order. I hope that, per the discussion
above, I have demonstrated that I have given serious attention
to the most basic principles of the New Testament regarding discipline.
Even if I am mistaken, I do not think that it can be maintained
that I have not "taken seriously" the instruction of
Scripture in this matter. May I respectfully suggest that the
Session is, without any evidence, attempting to judge my intentions?
As was suggested above, disseminating the correspondence
as we did, in our estimation, helped to maintain the purity and
peace of the church. (If not, then the problem is principially
with the Session of Christ Presbyterian, not with the news service.)
As to principles espoused in a secular journalism
classroom, I would not have any knowledge of them, since I have
never taken a class in journalism. (That admission is probably
going to elicit from across the church a lot of exclamations,
such as, "So, that explains it!")
I hope that this response adequately addresses the
concerns raised by the Session of Christ Presbyterian Church.
We are always ready to receive constructive criticism of our
efforts at keeping the church informed of matters of interest
and importance to her. As I trust is evident from this response,
we are quite comfortable with the coverage we gave to this dispute
and continue to stand by our reporting of it.