When I woke up on Saturday, October 23, 2021, there were two texts that had been sent to me earlier that morning. One was from a pastor in the PCA. The other was from a pastor in Vanguard. The sentiments were the same for both of them with respect to the most recent decision of the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission. On October 21, 2021, the SJC denied all the complaints against the actions of Missouri Presbytery for protecting and exonerating TE Greg Johnson in his professed same-sex attraction. The vote was 16-7. That means the issue is dead. It is over. If there had been at least 1/3 of the SJC jurors to vote against the decision of the highest court, then it would have automatically triggered a floor vote by the next General Assembly on whether to accept the majority report or the minority report. No such vote will be forthcoming now.
But wait… the SJC voted on these same complaints against Missouri Presbytery at their March 2021 meeting and the vote then was 16-8 which should have triggered that floor vote. A funny thing happened along the way of that decision being brought to the floor of the 2021 PCA GA. The details for getting both the majority and minority reports before the meeting of the General Assembly in June of 2021 were filed a day or two late. Wow! But… none dare call it intentional! It was just that they ran out of time. Sure! So the cases were before the SJC again at the fall meeting and the new vote was 16-7 with one person being absent. It fell one vote short of having 1/3 of the commissioners as a minority. I feel sure that if that absent juror, Sean Michael Lucas, had been present the vote would have been 17-7. Thus, the decision of the SJC is final. The case is closed. Greg Johnson can continue to promote his homosexual views with impunity.
Those of you who have followed my writings know that I warned you for over a year that this is exactly what would happen in this case. I predicted that the SJC would defer to the lower court and rule that there were no procedural grounds for the higher court to deal with this matter. That is almost verbatim what the SJC wrote. They wrote that there was “no reversible error.” I have also told you that the view of the SJC is that judicial oversight of the lower courts is disallowed. All judicial oversight belongs solely and only to sessions and presbyteries. All the highest court can do, in the flawed opinions of the SJC members, is to correct procedural errors. Anything beyond a procedural mistake is not reversible. Period. So, it should not have come as a shock to any of you receiving this email that the decision is what it is. Only ostriches could be surprised at this happening.
I also am quite sure that those conservatives who have been promising that they are going to take back the PCA will still be saying the same thing in days to come. They will have to change their narrative, though. Before this ruling by the SJC, they were saying that they would win a floor vote on these complaints at the next General Assembly and the progressives would leave the PCA in droves. There have been numerous articles written by conservative ministers within the PCA that the 2021 GA was glorious and that conservatives won every important vote. They have hailed the Ad-Interim Study Committee Report on Human Sexuality as the greatest report in the history of the PCA. They are wrong. That is a contradictory report which both affirms and then takes it back. In a true confessional statement, a person can profess both sides (which are stated as “Affirmations and Denials”, not “Affirmations and Neverthelesses”). I never hear conservatives talk about the Nevertheless statements in that report. I would challenge anyone and everyone who professes to be a conservative to read only the Nevertheless statements and then decide if that is a true statement of what they believe. If they said it was, I would then challenge them to reconsider whether they are truly conservative. The Nevertheless statements in that report are more in line with the views of TE Johnson and the Revoice Conference. If someone cannot see that, I have no other help I can give them. I do believe with all my heart there will come a day when conservatives everywhere abandon that report in droves as they see how it has benefitted the progressives. Moreover, the report was passed overwhelmingly because both conservatives and progressives alike felt it benefitted their side. One side got played. I wonder which side that was? Hmmm.
I believe the new narrative for supposedly reclaiming the PCA will be this: Let’s pass Overtures 23 and 37 and then we can defeat the progressives at the presbytery level. We will frustrate them and they will throw their hands up and walk away from the PCA. The only difference in the narrative to win back the PCA is that conservatives will now be urged to turn their attention to the presbytery level. If Overtures 23 and 37 pass, the conservatives will cry ‘Victory’ just as surely as Neville Chamberlain declared, “Peace in our time” after meeting with Hitler. Yet, Overtures 23 and 37 are now irrelevant. Missouri Presbytery has given other presbyteries the key to continue in the progressive direction. In fact, it is not new to Missouri Presbytery. It was used by other presbyteries in the Federal Vision cases 10-15 years ago. Here are the keys: Exonerate the minister/ministers you are protecting through a regular trial. Cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’. Make sure that you follow all the rules of due process. Follow all the procedural rules completely. Then, the court can make whatever decision it desires and the SJC will let it stand. That is how progressives win.
The great question for conservatives in the PCA is this: Why do they keep getting outmaneuvered by the progressives? Naivete is the number one reason, in my opinion. Eve did not realize how cunning the serpent was. Likewise, conservatives keep expecting the progressives to play by the rules. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I could give many examples of how the progressives have fooled conservatives, but this email would soon swell to a large chapter of a book if I did. So, to conservatives, I say this: Quit being so naïve! The leopard does not and cannot change his spots. Also, quit listening to those conservatives who keep selling you the idea that success is just around the corner. Listening to that sales pitch is like investing in a Ponzi scheme. Every supposed victory only moves you further away from victory because the other side has had even more victories. So what if Overtures 23 and 37 pass? The progressives won a much bigger victory with this recent decision of the SJC.
With this decision concerning the complaints against Missouri Presbytery, the PCA has unmistakably and irreversibly become a progressive denomination. She is no longer an evangelical and Reformed denomination. She has evangelicals and Reformed ministers, officers, and members within her communion, but the denomination has moved very decidedly in the direction of accommodating the culture. In my very strong opinion, the PCA will never again be an evangelical and Reformed denomination. I realize that some people will respond, “If God sends revival, she can be turned around.” Yet, there is no example of a denomination being revived in the whole of church history. Ministers, church members, and congregations are revived. Revival sometimes sweeps through geographical areas. Sections of a denomination are revived, but no denomination has ever been revived. The Roman Catholic Church was not revived during the Reformation. The Church of England was not revived during the Puritan movement. Revival always leads to many people and churches separating from moribund and dead denominations. It has never led to the revival of dead denominations. Why is that so? Because God is sovereign and chooses His elect. He does not choose whole denominations. He chooses Jacob, not Esau. He chooses one and passes by another. Perhaps the PCA will be the first example of a denomination being revived in the whole history of the church, but I don’t think so.
To make a play on the words of the SJC, their latest decision in the Missouri Presbytery cases is “irreversible error.” It has set the PCA on an irreversible course. Church history will record this decision as one of the major reasons for the fall of the PCA. The epitaph of the PCA is already being written. The PCA is over just as surely as the PCUS was finished after 1972. Some PCUS conservatives wasted the rest of their lives trying to win back a denomination that had gone progressive, Barthian, and liberal. They died without ever seeing their hopes come to fruition. Is that what you want your life to be? Or, do you want to serve Christ in your generation outside the camp? I choose the latter.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery (www.vanguardpresbytery.com)
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