Northern California Refuses to Entertain Charges

Against MNA Western Coordinator Lewis Ruff

At its October 16-17, 1998, meeting, Northern California Presbytery refused to receive judicial charges brought against TE Lewis Ruff. The Western Coordinator for the denominational home missions committee, Mr. Ruff's activities have been the focus of particular attention in recent months as a result of his involvement with church planting in Utah.

TE David R. Brown, a retired minister of Northern California Presbytery who serves as pastor of an unaffiliated congregation, brought the charges in the form of a motion. He had asked Mr. Ruff, who had been elected Moderator, to step down while he presented his motion.

The charges brought against Lewis Ruff allege violations of the First, Second, Fifth, and Ninth Commandments. With regard to the First Commandment, the Specification is "That you indicated that someone who believes that the contemporary type worship used in several of the Northern California (Presbytery) churches is not Biblical worship would not be welcome in Northern California Presbytery, thereby violating Christian liberty and liberty of conscience." With regard to the Second Commandment, the Specifications are "1. That you improperly administered communion, including in the use of an unordained person to assist you. 2. That you allowed the administration of communion without the preaching of the Word."

With regard to the Fifth Commandment, the Specifications are "1. As a member of the oversight commission for New Song-Salt Lake, you have been guilty of mal-administration, as evidenced by: a. your allowing the ordination of Mr. Jeffrey Szakonyi by Summit View Church, Bellevue, WA (a congregation that is not in accord with Reformed practice/doctrine). b. your allowing an unlicensed person to continue to fill the pulpit at New Song-Salt Lake, with disregard to the specific instruction at the June 6, 1998, meeting of Northern California Presbytery. 2. In your capacity as Western Coordinator for Mission to North America, you have shown disrespect to fellow teaching elders who have sought information from you."

With regard to the Ninth Commandment, the Specifications are: "1. That you showed disregard for the truth when you indicated to the MNA Committee of Commissioners at the 26th General Assembly that a teaching elder always administered the sacrament of communion at New Song (Salt Lake). 2. That you insinuated that the Northern California Presbytery was not aware of any interest by any other Presbytery in starting a mission work in the state of Utah when you were fully aware that Central Georgia Presbytery was in the process of sending a man to organize a church in Provo, Utah. 3. That you slandered [a PCA teaching elder and a layman].

After a few moments of debate, a presbyter challenged the propriety of the charges, since "Matthew 18 had not been followed." The Moderator pro tem ruled that the charges were in order since, in matters of public scandal, the PCA's Book of Church Order states that all the steps of Matthew 18 do not have to be followed. However, upon challenge, the court overturned the ruling of the Chair and ruled the charges out of order.

Following the meeting of the court, Mr. Brown filed a complaint against the refusal of Northern California to deal properly with this matter. In his complaint, he lists the following "relevant facts":

1. Certain actions by Mr. Ruff had become widely known, both throughout the Presbytery and the General Assembly.

2. TE David R. Brown endeavored to have the Presbytery exercise the proper oversight of one of its ministers, in accord with BCO 31-5. He was also attempting to prevent a likely scenario, in which two or more presbyteries may petition the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction over Mr. Ruff (BCO 34-1) with regard to these or similar allegations.

3. After debate, a challenge was made to the motion, contending that it should be ruled out of order in that the steps of Matthew 18 were not followed. The Moderator pro tem rejected that challenge to the motion. The Chair was challenged, and the Chair was overruled.

Mr. Brown then contends that "[t]his action by the Presbytery was improper, for the following reasons":

1. The matters regarding Mr. Ruff's actions vis a vis the New Song-Salt Lake situation are notorious, having been widely reported. By no stretch of the imagination can they be regarded as private.

2. BCO 31-5 requires a multi-stage process when an injured party is bringing charges. But, BCO 31-7 specifically provides: "When the prosecution is instituted by the court, the previous steps required by our Lord in the case of personal offenses are not necessary" (emphasis added).

3. The motion had already been debated; and, as the property of the floor, could be ruled out of order only if obviously out of accord with the Constitution. The plain fact is that, prima facie, the motion is not obviously un-Constitutional, and therefore it could not be ruled out of order at that point.

4. Even apart from the orderliness, propriety, or wisdom of the particular motion, Northern California Presbytery failed in one of its prime duties, viz., "to exercise care over those subject to [its] authority" (BCO 31-2). The same paragraph of our Constitution says that lower courts "shall with due diligence and great discretion demand from such persons satisfactory explanations concerning reports affecting their Christian character." Prima facie, Mr. Ruff is guilty of certain actions. Because there is a "strong presumption of the guilt of the party involved, the court shall institute process, and shall appoint a prosecutor to prepare the indictment and to conduct the case."

The complainant is seeking the following amends:

1. Immediate institution of process against Mr. Ruff on these charges.

2. The appointment of an un-biased judicial commission.

The next stated meeting of Northern California Presbytery is scheduled for March 5-6, 1999.