Lawful and Unlawful Orders
Mr. Rich Blinne, a ruling elder at Cornerstone Presbyterian
in Ft. Collins, CO, graciously submitted this response to our
editorial entitled, "Conscience Bound." He expressed
total agreement with the editorial, "A Complaint By Any Other
Name . . . ."
The following is my personal opinion and may or may
not represent the position of the Rocky Mountain Presbytery.
I am a Jus Divinum Presbyterian. As such, I believe that the
courts of the church may at times make lawful orders of their
members. I come to that conclusion from the following section
of the Confession (Chapter 20-4):
And because the powers which God hath ordained, and
the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God
to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they
who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful
power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical,
resist the ordinance of God. And, for their publishing of such
opinions, or maintaining of such practices, as are contrary to
the light of nature, or to the known principles of Christianity
(whether concerning faith, worship, or conversation), or to the
power of godliness; or, such erroneous opinions or practices,
as either in their own nature, or in the manner of publishing
or maintaining them, are destructive to the external peace and
order which Christ hath established in the Church, they may lawfully
be called to account, and proceeded against, by the censures of
Concerning this clause, A.A. Hodge said the following:
It is of the highest importance, on the other hand, clearly to understand that Christian liberty is not an absolute liberty to do as we choose, but a regulated liberty to obey God without hindrance from man. It
is a freedom from usurped authority, in order that
we may be the more perfectly subject to the only legitimate authority.
It is hence absurd, as well as wicked, for a man to make his Christian
liberty to obey only God a plea to disobey God, as he does whenever
he violates any of the principles of natural right or of revealed
truth which express at once the unchangeable nature and the all-perfect
will of God. There can be no liberty which sets a man independent
of that will; and this is always the will of God concerning us,
even our sanctification. (1 Thess. 4:3.)
The Rocky Mountain Presbytery ordered TE Bruce Nickoley to exhort his congregation to obey the Ninth Commandment and 1 Corinthians 6. They did that not because the Evergreen congregation was picketing per se, but rather the implied message of the signs was that Dear Creek Church held secret meetings, said message being slanderous. Given TE Nickoley's responsibilities described in BCO 8-3 that "no corruption of doctrine or of morals [of the congregation] enter therein", Rocky Mountain Presbytery believed that the order was a lawful one.
Having said all this, great weight must be given to the claim of binding the conscience. The clause of the Confession I quoted was used to unlawfully excommunicate J. Gresham Machen. The slippery slope into prelacy is there. So, if there was ever a case where all the protections of process are needed, it was this one. This is where the Rocky Mountain Presbytery erred and violated TE Nickoley's rights. Presbytery does have the right to give lawful orders but it must prove them to be so and with the highest standards of proof.
While I disagree with TE Smith as to the extent of church power, I do agree with him with respect to the Central Georgia case. Even granting my more expansive power for church authority, the claimed powers fails on two counts. 1. Any evangelist ordained by Central Georgia is subject to its authority, not another Presbytery and certainly not MNA. It was on this basis that the Rocky Mountain Presbytery found TE Nickoley not guilty of other, but related charges. TE Nickoley was ordained by another body. Therefore, Rocky Mountain Presbytery had no jurisdiction and could not lawfully compel obedience. 2. An order to disobey the Confession is facially unlawful.
It is my hope that the PCA will learn from Rocky
Mountain Presbytery's errors. While the church does have real
powers, they are ministerial and declarative. They should be
used for the building up and not the tearing down. I pray that
the General Assembly of the PCA will do just that and rule justly
on this matter.