PCA Delegation Fails to Have NAPARC Consider Expulsion of CRC
For the last several years, the matter of the relations of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) with the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) has been before the PCA General Assembly. At the 1995 General Assembly, the court voted, unanimously, to instruct the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) to use "all due process" to remove the CRC from membership in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) if the CRC did not repent of its decision to open ruling and teaching church offices to women.
At this year's meeting of NAPARC, the whole question of CRC membership in NAPARC almost did not make it onto the agenda. Shortly after the adoption of the docket, Dr. Paul Gilchrist, who was leading the PCA delegation, spoke up under the category of "Communications" and said, "Last year our General Assembly put us under mandate to deal with the situation in the CRC and what has been going on and I understood that there was something from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that was coming. The position that we have taken is we value the relationship we have with the CRC in NAPARC, and our desire is to continue in that relationship, however we are grieved and distressed by the action of the Christian Reformed synod." After reading the text of the action, he said, "I feel a little bit concerned as to just how that should come before us. . . . " The Chairman, TE Jack Whytock of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, replied: "I believe it should go under new business; however, when the adoption of this docket was being formulated, [no mention was made of it]."
"We thought we had already communicated this to NAPARC last year and we thought the OPC was going to come here with something this year. We wish to follow the OPC's lead," said Dr. Gilchrist. He also stated, "If it needs to be in a formal sense, specifically a communication--if you rule in that way, then we'll follow in that direction." He later said to the chair, when he was leaning in ruling the matter out of order, "Then if that is your ruling, then that's fine. What we will do is send a formal communication for next year. I don't know if there's any zeal on the part of . . . ." At that point, fellow PCA delegate Dr. Larry Roff said: "My sense was that the action of the Assembly was with the expectation that it would be dealt with here." After a discussion as to the nature of new business, Dr. Gilchrist said to the chair, "I'm willing to abide by your ruling." Mr. Whytock replied: "We'll treat it as new business."
That discussion took place on Tuesday, November 19. The next day, towards the end of the meeting, Dr. Gilchrist read this statement: "It is with deep regret and heartfelt concern that the PCA delegation presents the following motion to NAPARC: Whereas the 23rd GA of the PCA in June 1995 instructed the IRC 'to use all due process afforded to them to remove the CRC from membership in NAPARC, if the CRC does not repent of and rescind the action of the 1995 Synod at its 1996 Synod'; Whereas this action was reported to the 21st Meeting of NAPARC on November 28-29, 1995 together with a copy of a letter sent to the CRC NA Synod; Whereas, the CRC, through the stated clerk has reported that the denomination sees no reason to 'repent and rescind' the action in question; Whereas the Constitution of NAPARC has been amended to suspend, restore and terminate membership in NAPARC which action may be 'initiated only by a major assembly of a member church'; Therefore, be it resolved that NAPARC initiate the process to suspend the CRCNA from its membership."
CRC General Secretary Dr. David Engelhard [note: the CRC does not have a "stated clerk"] was hot in his response. He said, "[This] was not processed in the normal way. We do not have any indication of it in the first, second, third or fourth notice" for the meeting. Citing the rules of NAPARC, he contended, "Before we take it up, we have to have a majority vote as to whether we even want to take up the matter." The Chair ruled that the Council would have to vote on whether this matter was properly before the body.
From the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), Dr. Jack White said, "It just seems to me inappropriate that there not be notice given."
Dr. Engelhard later said: "We responded [to the PCA] with a letter from our Synod. . . . The PCA has not yet engaged us further. So you can imagine that we thought that there was at least fraternal process going on here between churches" so that the final action "might be forestalled in conversation. . . . When the Interim Committee met and asked about, Were there any communications that we see on the docket, that we need to process, that we need to help the body understand, nothing was said--not one word. And then, the docket was passed. And then, all of a sudden, this very late recommendation, catching us by surprise. I understand that the press and a lot of observers knew a whole lot more about it than we did--and I find that offensive, but that's part of it, I guess."
Chairman Whytock concurred that there was no mention in the Interim Committee of this matter this year.
Rev. Leonard Hofman stated that the CRC had received a September 15, 1995 letter from the Office of the Stated Clerk addressed to the Synod; and that "a response was prepared and adopted by our Synod," with the expectation of a response.
Gordon Keddie of the RPCNA noted that the matter then before the Council was to declare whether the PCA motion was properly before the body. TE Tom Tyson of the OPC asked the Clerk to read the minutes from the day before regarding the action taken on this matter. After a moment or two of discussion, Dr. Paul Gilchrist said, "I may be digging myself into a hole here. I raised it as a question at the point of 'Communication.'" Fellow PCA delegate Dr. Bill Edgar contended, "The general idea is that new business can be brought up spontaneously."
The Chairman said that he had asked a couple of people as to whether the new Bylaws adopted at this meeting, which had provisions regarding communications, were in effect now or would be in effect next year. He said, "I have asked a couple of people on that, and there have been two answers."
By a unit vote (i.e., with each denomination having one vote), the Council, 5-2, affirmed that the matter was properly before the Council, with the CRC and OPC voting "no."
Immediately after that vote, Gordon Keddie moved that this be referred to the Interim Committee for consideration at the next meeting. "That is scandalous, really," said Keddie. "It is not something that in my judgment is properly to be dealt with 50 minutes before adjournment." The procedural motion carried unanimously, including the affirmative vote of the PCA delegation.
Commenting later on the situation, Dr. Bill Edgar said that the PCA delegation voted to postpone consideration of this matter until next year because "we think that it ought to be discussed." He stated that "we never received" the letter from the CRC Synod, "probably because of the US mail" failing to deliver it. "We want to follow the mandate of the GA, which was to make every effort to start the process." He added, "We're happy to have it put into the Interim Committee, so that we can get the issues out, . . . and to have NAPARC do what it's supposed to do which is to be a forum for getting these issues out on the table. . . . The assumption is we assumed it was still alive under 'Communications,' because what we did last year still stands. . . . The Interim Committee either didn't pick it up or didn't notice it. . . . We thought, 'We've got to get this in', so we brought it up under new business."
The agenda sent out to NAPARC churches before the meeting did not list the 1995 PCA communication. There were several items of "old business" to be considered, but, since the PCA delegation had not presented the matter last year to the Council, the mandate of the PCA General Assembly was not listed. The PCA representative did mention to the Interim Committee a couple of items of business, viz., the possibility of joint assemblies in 1999 and alternation of fraternal delegates. But, according to members of the Interim Committee, when it was asked if there were any items of business not already mentioned that should come before NAPARC this year, the PCA, represented by Dr. Gilchrist, said nothing.
Reaction from Members of IRC Committees of Commissioners
[To help our readers understand this situation better, we asked members of the last couple of Interchurch Relations Committees of Commissioners as to their reaction to the PCA delegation's performance at this year's NAPARC meeting. For the 1995 Committee, we tried contacting every member. Several were unavailable, and a few declined comment. Here are the responses of the others:]
"I think the instructions were quite clear. I'm disappointed with the delegation failing to bring this up to NAPARC in a timely fashion."--RE Mark Miller, RD 6, Box 210, New Castle, PA 16101; (412)924-9101
"There's no question that our Committee of Commissioners was very clear about what our General Assembly committee should do. I really don't know what to say about our own representatives not doing what the Assembly clearly said for them to do. Incredible. This is quite surprising."--TE Steve Wilkins, 109 Auburn Avenue, Monroe, LA 71201; (318)323-3061
"As well as I remember, it was to remove the CRC from NAPARC. I can't understand why this issue keeps coming back up. No, we want no part of it. I was under the impression that was the way it was going to be. I thought it was over with. As a member of the PCA, I feel they should be expelled, because this is not Scriptural for women to hold office in any church. My session feels the same way. I'm just kind of concerned because it wasn't carried out the way we said. I can't understand, because the vote was unanimous."--RE Frank Summerville, 3716 Devonwood Lane, Charlotte, NC 28214; (704)399-5679
"It seems like they don't consider themselves bound by the instructions of the General Assembly. The IRC did not carrry out the instructions of the GA. The GA did not instruct the OPC. Under the present circumstances, the instructions to the IRC were to seek to remove the CRC from NAPARC, not to suspend them."--RE Virgil Roberts, 6171 Birkewood Road, Huntington, WV 25705; (304)736-1616
"I do believe that the IRC is still under the mandate given to it by the General Assembly and that's not negotiable, and the CRC communication saying it sees no reason to change its position on women's ordination would not in any way change the instructions of the General Assembly, but would rather confirm them."--TE William Smith, First Reformed Presbyterian Church, 12900 Frankstown Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15235; (412)793-7117
"[The motion presented by the PCA delegation] was weak at best. Why did Paul Gilchrist just let it slide by? Why are we sitting back on the situation? Why are we waiting for others to make the move? We're being too lax on what we're doing. I'm just surprised that we didn't bring this to a conclusion. I can't imagine why we're holding back on this. Why we're still talking about it is unbelievable to me, rather than taking positive action."--RE H. Jim Webb, 74 Haverhill Road, Bristol, VA 24201; (540)669-2689
"Obviously, Paul Gilchrist has no real desire to bring the matter up. They're apparently just trying to stall for time in the hopes that a subsequent General Assembly will not pursue it."--TE Bob Slimp, 4636 Crystal Drive, Columbia, SC 29206: (803)782-0924
"The operative words are 'due process'. At least it's on the agenda. It seems like we've kind of tried to avoid the issue. Part of the problem is the timing of it. At least it did come out, and the CRC is upset about it, and they're using a lot of procedural stuff to try to delay it. I think the Committee has to do a lot of explaining. It seems to us that it's taking a lot longer than it should. If we're not happy with what they're doing, we have to get a new Committee."--TE Rick Tyson, Calvary Presbyterian Church, 405 N. Easton Rd., Willow Grove, PA 19090; (215)659-0554
"The action really is indefensible. It is reprehensible. We toned down the language because some [on the Committee of Commissioners] wanted them [the CRC] out immediately. We were very clear to the Permanent Committee Chairman that we expected this to be followed and we were told it would be. The Assembly was very clear that it would write the letter because we wanted to communicate clearly the procedure that it was not to go a third year."--TE Dr. Joseph Pipa, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1727 Bear Creek Pkwy., Escondido, CA 92027; (619)738-8651
"I was surprised by the nonaction, but I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to our representatives to implement, graciously and in a timely manner, the 1995 GA's painfully clear and unanimous action. Besides, it's only November 1995. . . . I fear, however, an inordinate passage of time, makes our unanimous action too little, too late, too lukewarm for those seeking to reverse their Synod's actions and will increasingly seem punitive and mute for those promoting them. I also fear parliamentary maneuvers will trivialize our Assembly's action; making it late and untimely."--TE Ernest Lad Heisten, III, 1328 S. Chestnut Ave., Broken Arrow, OK 74012; (918)251-0480
"I'm really disappointed in this whole thing, in finding out how fouled up things are. The ball was dropped in not getting it properly on the docket."--RE Richard Leinecker, PO Box 537, Etowah, NC 28729; (704)692-2123
"I too am disappointed in what appears to be a failure on the part of our IRC to carry out the clear instructions of our 1995 General Assembly. All of us sincerely desire repentance on the part of the CRC, but repentance never occurs, in my experience, through good wishes alone. God has told us to rebuke in love for the good of the church, and that was the intent of our Assembly. Are we afraid of taking an unpopular stand?"--TE Jim Creech, Church of the Covenant, 11688 Mill Road, Cincinnati, OH 45240; (513)851-5100
"I'm disappointed that this was not timely brought up so that it could be fairly considerered by NAPARC."--TE Anthony Dallison, Westminster Presbyterian Church, 3722 Belfort Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32216; (904)737-5133
"Our concern is that, failing all good offices, the CRC was to be removed from NAPARC. It seems that to ask simply for their suspension is doing less than what the GA asked of the Stated Clerk and the IRC. In light of Rick Perrin's remark that the Dutch had let the cows out of the barn regarding women's ordination, it seems somewhat weak to ask for their suspension rather than to ask for their removal."--TE Irfon Hughes (1996 Committee of Commissioners), 801 Superior St., Grove City, PA 16127; (412)533-4315 [Former Permanent Committee Rick Perrin had said at the 1995 Assembly, "The barn door is open, the cows are out, and there is no way the Christian Reformed Church will ever be able to get them in." Mr. Hughes served on the Committee in 1996.]