Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Five Out of Work Preachers

Tuesday, September 1, 2009, 0:01
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By Bob Williams, Managing Editor – Christian Observer and Presbyterians Week

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Introduction

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One of the most magnificent stories in Presbyterian history began when five out-of-work preachers decided to say “Enough.”  The Associate Presbyterian Church organized to insist on Presbyterian integrity.  Across the centuries other people with the same determination to live in the light have entered the Associate Reformed Presbyterian (ARP) family.  It is a bold and beautiful heritage.

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Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine, James Fisher, William Wilson, and Alexander Moncreiff met in December 1733 to repudiate excusing bad doctrine and practice.  These men were not able to “go along to get along.”

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Something isn’t quite right in the ARP Church today. The heirs of the original Associate Presbytery need to take a good long look and decide what to do.

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Read the story.

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Check the sources.

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Pray about what you find.

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Then decide what the Associates would do about this situation.

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Erskine and the ARP Church

The 17 June 2009 Presbyterians Week carried two articles about the Erskine College “Midnight Revolution” of 24-25 April 2009, and about the ARP Church’s 9-11 June 2009 Synod meeting—plus links to the original sources.

On 26 June 2009, I was contacted by an Erskine College alumnus who asked if he could phone me a few days later and provide me with another perspective on the circumstances surrounding Erskine’s  “Midnight Revolution” and the commission subsequently appointed by the 2009 ARP Synod to investigate Erskine and report back to the 2010 ARP Synod.

During my subsequent phone conversation with the Erskine alumnus, I learned about the student’s non-ARP background, something about the student’s activities while an Erskine student, and the reasons that the student attended Erskine, which included Erskine’s reputation as a small, collegial, high-quality, Christian liberal arts institution.

The alumnus expressed great concern about the activities and the agenda of those ARPs seeking to bring Erskine College “further to the right” and more into line with ARP Church precepts, and thus lose sight of its commitment to liberal arts to the effect that Erskine would become “so heavenly minded that it would be of no earthly good.”  The alumnus was concerned that if changes were made to Erskine’s current  teaching of evolution, that Erskine would run the risk of losing its academic reputation and its accreditation, and thus make Erskine graduates less employable and taken less seriously in the real world.

The motivations and timing of Erskine students and ARPs outside the Erskine community were called into question, as the alumnus spoke of underhanded tactics being used by students that asked “loaded” questions of professors in order to elicit responses that would then be used to denigrate the faculty member and Erskine College, and by those students collecting petition signatures who were deceiving the signatories because of the hidden agendas behind the petitions.

The alumnus expressed concern about the pressures being put on Erskine College president Dr. Randy Ruble from all of the complaints and accusations Dr. Ruble was receiving from those seeking to change Erskine.  The alumnus said that all of the unethical means being employed by those trying to change Erskine were stifling honest and open discussion of the issues.

As the Erskine alumnus’ and my phone conversation came to a conclusion, the two of us agreed on the importance of all parties involved in these issues showing respect and mercy to those with whom they do not agree, and that God’s Will should be at the heart of seeking solutions to the problems.  The alumnus sent me a followup email message pointing me to several other Internet resources relevant to the issues at hand, and I agreed to publish information providing a wider perspective on these issues than was in the 17 June 2009 Presbyterians Week articles.

Rather than try to summarize all of the Internet resources relevant to the Erskine College and the ARP Synod issues, which are detailed and extensive, the following is a list of the Internet links to resources I have found so far that shed light on Erskine’s “Midnight Revolution,” the 2009 ARP Synod meeting, and other related matters, and I suggest that the reader study these resources carefully in order to gain a better and more thorough understanding of these matters.

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* 19 August 2009 The Layman Article: Erskine College goes under ARP microscope

* 19 August 2009 The Layman Article: Non-ARP Students Driving Erskine Seminary’s Growth

* 4 July 2009  World Magazine Article “Looking for a Miracle

* 17 June 2009 Presbyterians Week – Articles [4] and [5]

* Article: “Moonlight Revolution” at Erskine College Highlights Theological Divide: Annual Meeting of ARP Church Could Be Dramatic Battle in Theological Wars

* ARPTalk Blog – especially issues seventeen and twenty

* Facebook – “Alumni for Erskine” Group

* Students Aligned for a Faithful Erskine (SAFE) Blog

* Erskine for Everyone Blog

* Gairney Bridge Blog

* Presbyterians-ARP Yahoo Group

* Article: Reflections of a Lifelong Associate Reformed Presbyterian

* Reformation 21 Blog

* The Heidelblog

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Additionally, please check out the following official ARP and Erskine College information sources, and discover for yourself the dearth of information about the 2009 Synod meeting, the Erskine “Midnight Revolution, and related issues:

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* ARP Synod Website

* Erskine College Website

* ARP Magazine Website

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In furtherance of this official ARP lack of information and information control, the Minutes of the 2009 Synod were made available online 16 July 2009 through a form included with an ARP Magazine email update, but according to the email update, the link will only be emailed to those who send their name, church affiliation, presbytery affiliation, and email address.  The Minutes of the 2008 Synod though, are openly available at the ARP website. The Minutes of the 2009 Synod, assumedly with the official details of the appointment and work of the Erskine commission, are not. The Synod 2009 edition of the ARP Magazine did briefly mention the Erskine Commission in the Synod Highlights article, and one assumes that paper versions of The Minutes of the 2009 Synod are being received as ordered by the ARP churches and presbyteries.

Colliding Worldviews at Work

At the heart of the controversies at Erskine College and within the ARP denomination is the collision of two contradictory worldviews.

The first of these views is the traditional Reformed worldview that was at the core of the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin’s significant contributions to the development of Reformed theology, the development of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the rise of the Reformed theology and the Reformed churches in Scotland—of which the Seceders and the Covenanters became the origins of the ARP denomination.

At a recent Ligonier Ministries conference, Steve Lawson described the reformed worldview as one where God’s people are to “live out their beliefs in a practical, life-changing way” by Reformed [full Bible] theology being applied to every area of life, so to follow the Reformation precept of Soli Deo Gloria, i.e., “…everything in life must be done with a view to the glory of God.”

The second of these worldviews at the heart of the ARP and Erskine controversies is not the complete opposite of the Reformed worldview, but is a hybrid of the Reformed worldview that has come about through years and years of incremental accommodation with the world and with the world’s ever changing standards.  Biblical precepts for every area of life have become more and more seasoned with the ever-changing philosophies and standards of the world to the point where a lukewarm, Laodicean, pragmatic, watered down shadow of Reformed-flavored religion is reflected in many facets of ARP-dom.

Again, Erskine College is caught in between these two worldviews.  A careful study of the Internet resources cited above will make that abundantly clear.  Two groups of people with vastly different worldviews are struggling to define and implement their worldview in the operation of the college.  Echoing what some others have already pointed out, the ARP’s either need to administer Erskine College according to the Reformed worldview and make it an institution where glorifying God in every aspect of life is at the heart of its mission, or for the ARP’s to relinquish control of Erskine completely to those of the latter worldview, and let the institution continue its slide toward becoming a nominally Christian—but in reality—secular institute of higher education.

Erskine President Dr. Randy Ruble

I have a great deal of respect and affection for Dr. Randy Ruble.  He is a gracious, friendly, and unpretentious gentleman.  Dr. Ruble’s “conversation” (2 Cor 1:12) seamlessly demonstrates the heart of a servant, as was apparent after the Erskine College dining hall fire in the pouring rain when he was interviewed by a Charleston, South Carolina, television station reporter.  After being interviewed, Dr. Ruble held the reporter’s umbrella over the reporter’s head as she concluded the filming of her dispatch from Due West.  Dr. Ruble was right in the midst of the post-fire work of carrying the portraits of former presidents from their home adjacent to the dining hall to a safer place.  It is no wonder he is so admired, respected, and supported by so many Erskine faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

None of Dr. Ruble’s many character qualities however, should draw attention away from Dr. Ruble’s responsibilities to the ARP Church in his leadership of Erskine College and Seminary.  The virtually-exclusive teaching of evolutionary theory at Erskine long predates Dr. Ruble’s tenure as Erskine president, but has not changed substantively under Dr. Ruble’s leadership.  Evolutionist Erskine faculty members who in varying degrees have shown contempt, ridicule, and other academically questionable behavior toward believers in biblical creation have not officially been called to task.

Questions about Barthian and otherwise theologically liberal seminary faculty members, their beliefs, and what they are teaching go unanswered.  In fact, most any questions about substantive issues at Erskine go unanswered or are answered with obfuscation.  Holding Dr. Ruble accountable for the leadership of Erskine, asking the hard questions, and insisting upon substantive answers, do not amount to personal attacks on Dr. Ruble.

The I Cor. 13 Theological Argument Exemption Clause

Thomas Jefferson wrote: “It has been a source of great pain to me to have met with so many among [my] opponents who had not the liberality to distinguish between political and social opposition; who transferred at once to the person, the hatred they bore to his political opinions.”

In the above quotation by the third president of the U.S., if you change the word “political” to “theological,” you have a good description of what I call the “I Cor. 13 Theological Argument Exception Clause (TAEC),” and what is at the heart of all of the bile, anger, and other unchristian behavior that so devastates the ARPs and for that matter, most denominations. i.e., agape suffereth long, except when it comes to theological differences; agape envieth not, except when it comes to bureaucratic power struggles with those with whom we disagree theologically; agape doth not behave itself unseemly, except when it comes to winning the theological point because we are right and they are wrong—well…you get the picture.

Let’s Demonize the Opposition

The TAEC manifests itself in several ways within ARP circles.  One of these ways is with the character vilification described so well by Mr. Jefferson, combined with a party spirit.  Almost fifteen years ago, I first became aware that questions were being asked by people in ARP circles about the teaching of Barthian theology at Erskine Seminary.

One reaction I heard was to brand the key person asking the questions as “the pope,” and to further disparage the person’s character.  Another reaction was to label the questioning as an attempt by another denomination to take over Erskine Seminary.  Seminary students rallied around their very likable professors, much as is being done in the same way now concerning Dr. Ruble, the questions about Barthian and Neo-orthodox teaching were never addressed, and the same questions are being asked almost fifteen years later.

Let’s Go Along to Get Along

Another way that TAEC and the party spirit manifests itself in ARP circles is in the bureaucratic control exerted over relevant information being made available to ARP’s and to Erskine students through official and unofficial publications and news sources.

Several years ago, and before the current editor of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian (The ARP) magazine began her tenure, I sent a letter to the previous The ARP editor concerning the teaching of evolution at Erskine College.  Though the tone of my letter was dispassionate and courteous, the editor reacted by accusing me of bashing Erskine, and of mixing religion and science—referencing his many friends on the Erskine faculty. Needless to say, the letter did not get printed.

In the early 2000’s, I was elected President-Elect of the Alliance of Loyal Laity (ALL), originally the independent grass-roots lay organization of ARP’s that challenged the denomination’s descent into Neo-Orthodoxy and theological liberalism during the 1960’s and 1970’s, but now meets annually at Bonclarken with the ARP Synod’s Lay Committee for the Laity in Action (LIA) Conference to hear a series of messages and sermons, and to conduct organizational business.

ALL additionally publishes an officially quarterly, but in reality, intermittently published newspaper called The Highroad.

After serving as ALL President-Elect, I was elected ALL President and served several years in that capacity.  As had been done by prior ALL presidents, I began submitting President’s Messages to The Highroad editor for publication.

One of these articles was submitted after an ARP Synod meeting where the leader of the women’s ministries was supposed to provide the usual annual report of the women’s ministries, but instead discourteously and condescendingly berated the court for a long list of grievances.  Again, my article was dispassionate and courteous.  I first apologized for not myself objecting to this inappropriate address while at Synod. Nor had anyone else. I then suggested that this type of incident was inappropriate and needed to be dealt with biblically and in accordance with the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Standards of the ARP Church.  The Highroad editor, a denominational official with the Synod Lay Committee, refused to run the article.

The other President’s Message article I submitted was another run at the problem of the exclusive teaching of evolution at Erskine College. Again, The Highroad editor refused to run the article, telling me that the main goal was to avoid provoking any conflict within the ARP denomination.

As my term as ALL President came to a close, the need for someone to edit The Highroad for two years while the current editor was serving the denomination in another capacity arose.

The Synod Lay Committee and the ALL board meet annually during the LIA Conference.  The conference that year was graced with a series of messages by the Rev. Det Bowers, Preaching Pastor of Christ Church of the Carolinas in Colombia, South Carolina, who in his messages had thoroughly and biblically defined the spiritual cowardness and conformance with the world that overwhelmingly dominates the visible church today, and just as thoroughly and biblically called Christ’s own to courageously and thoroughly serve God in every aspect of life.  The speaker continually reminded us that faithfully serving Christ involves carrying one’s cross and suffering persecution if necessary.

The ALL board meeting got underway in the usual manner, beginning with a discussion of the conference.  The widespread opinion was that the Rev. Bowers preached powerfully and faithfully to God’s Word.  The agenda eventually reached the matter of appointing a two-year editor for The Highroad, and we were told that the decision had already been made to appoint the then-former The ARP magazine editor to that position.

I objected to doing this because of my prior experience with the rejected letter to the editor of The ARP and the obvious incongruity between the mission of ALL (see page two of any The Highroad issue) and the beliefs of the former The ARP editor.  Several of the committee members spoke in favor of appointing the former The ARP editor anyway.  No one at the meeting seemed to care about the incongruity.  I suggested that the appointment be tabled until ALL  could find an appropriate interim editor, and the board somewhat-reluctantly agreed to table the decision pending more research by the ALL leadership.

After a late evening and the following early morning of prayer and meditation about the situation, I, now in my new role as ALL Past-President, went to several of the ALL board members and volunteered to be the interim editor of the publication so that the ALL publication would be in the hands of someone who was in harmony with the tenets of the organization.  I next was notified about the new editor when several months later I received the next issue of The Highroad and discovered that the former editor of The ARP was now the editor of The Highroad.

I made one more effort to have the exclusive teaching of evolution at Erskine College addressed in the open after an Erskine biology professor testified before a South Carolina legislative committee when the committee was considering the teaching of other theories of creation along with evolution.  The professor made clear her contempt for alternate theories of creation, and disparaged the teaching of anything other than evolution in the public schools.  Again, I wrote a dispassionate and polite letter to the current editor about the situation, which on this occasion was just ignored and not published.

The False ‘Science OR Religion’ Dichotomy

The Erskine alumnus that I wrote about earlier and the former editor of The ARP both made arguments to the effect that one should not  mix science with religion, with the accompanying implications that theories of creation other than evolution cannot be scientific in nature, and that a student’s education and academic reputation is somehow damaged if they are taught alternate theories of creation alongside evolutionary theory.

The premise that creationism is not scientific is patently false.  One only need examine the extensive research done by Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and other such organizations and their scientists to see clearly that, not only is the research done with the utmost in scientific integrity, but in scientific genre after scientific genre, there is a much scientific fact that supports creationist theory.

As to the premise that students being taught the theory of biblical creation alongside evolution somehow damages the student’s education and academic reputation, the situation is a bit more complex.  A student that is taught evolutionary theory exclusively is taught more of secular dogma that scientific fact, as evolutionary theory completely lacks supporting scientific evidence in the fossil record and elsewhere, and instead relies on much unsubstantiated presupposition and conjecture.

Biblical creation theory is too based on presupposition and conjecture, as is evolutionary theory, but an objective evaluation of the scientific evidence yields a strong case for intelligent design within the cosmos that corresponds well with the Bible’s account of history and nature, while the tenets of evolution lack much else than absolutes of uniformitarian and atheistic random chance tenets with no empirical evidence in support.

When a student is presented with both theories of creation, the presuppositions behind the theories, and the evidences for the theories, the student will much better be able to determine the most plausible theory and will concurrently learn to think critically, and thus be better prepared academically for the challenges of life.

As to the premise that a student that is taught both creation theories may be damaged academically—as when applying for graduate studies or applying for jobs, there is a kernel of truth at the heart of the argument.  Exclusive, evolutionary dogma is the prevalent cosmology at almost every contemporary institute of higher education, and in almost every contemporary scientific community.

Creationists are normally greeted with contempt, disdain, and mockery from the evolutionists, who haughtily contend that their position is so right and so thoroughly scientifically proven that there can be no argument against evolution. Those in the academic and scientific community who dare to question evolution in the very least often find themselves out of a job or forced out of their academic program.

A scientist that worked for the Smithsonian was forced out of his position several years ago after he edited a collection of essays including an essay that posited an intelligent creator.  That was all it took to have the editor removed from his job, and to effectively remove him from thereafter having influence on mainstream science.

The brilliant, young chief astronomer at Answers in Genesis, while pursuing his Ph.D. at a secular university, was forced to hide his creationist beliefs and write creationist articles under an assumed name for the realistic fear that he would be ousted from his Ph.D. program if his views of cosmology became known to the school. There is a secular price to pay in today’s world for being faithful to Christ and God’s Word.

The question for Erskine College and the ARP’s is whether or not Erskine is going to be a true Christian institution of higher education that remains faithful to God in all aspects of its existence, or is Erskine going to be a compromising, pragmatic, nominally-Christian institution while pretending to be otherwise.

Erskine and Conservative Theological Activism

The alumnus I spoke with expressed concern about the efforts and the underlying motivations of the faction trying to bring Erskine College more under the biblical and ARP umbrella.  As objectively as I can state, I could find no blatant examples of misconduct or misspeaking among the “right” wing of the argument.  I did though, find some very questionable postings by a very few on the “left” side of the argument, but no condemnation of the misbehavior from within the “left” group.  I found the timing of the petition effort to be a realistic one, considering the unique opportunities presented at the 2009 Synod meeting, and due to the normal fallen human nature to procrastinate.

I emphasize again, holding Christians accountable for their beliefs and  actions does not by itself constitute persecution.  Disagreement, even strong disagreement with other Christians, does not justify demonization of those holding the opposing view, nor does it justify ad hominum attacks upon those with the opposite view; nor does the disagreement justify condemnation of obnoxious and sinful behavior within the opposition while ignoring the equivalent behavior in your own camp.

The “right” in this argument is not without their own problems.  In an indirect effort to deal with those within the ARP Church and Erskine Seminary of Barthian, Neo-Orthodox, and otherwise theologically liberal persuasions, the 2008 ARP Synod voted effectively to affirm the Chicago statement on inerrancy, with the background goal of condemning those within the ARP’s and Erskine that question the authority of Scripture.

The problem is, that by affirming the Chicago statement on inerrancy, the ARP’s have contradicted Chapter I of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which affirms the biblical principle that the Holy Spirit is the exclusive agency by where the truth and understanding of Scripture is imparted to the believer.  The hypothetical question of whether or not by analysis of biblical manuscripts we can determine, or not, the inerrancy of the autographs is not only irrelevant, but it muddies the clear biblical teaching that the agency of the Holy Spirit is the exclusive factor in biblical truths and understanding, and it places the rationalizations of man above or beside the agency of God.

The “right” faction is refighting the same theological battle centered at Princeton that occurred in the mid-19th century, which was a significant factor in the increasing viscosity of the slippery slope of man’s rationalism and theological liberalism that has destroyed much of what today is the ashes of the biblical Presbyterianism that so influenced the establishment of our nation and its early history, and has replaced it with a lesser-to-greater secular, heretical caricature of biblical Christianity that defines so much of today’s Presbyterian and Reformed circles.

I Cor. 3 and Eternity

The apostle Paul in I Cor. 3 warns:

1Co 3:11  For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1Co 3:12  Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

1Co 3:13  Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

1Co 3:14  If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

1Co 3:15  If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

I submit first, to myself, and then to both sides of the debates within the ARP Church and within Erskine College and Seminary: Our works for Christ’s Church are yet going to be judged by our omniscient and omnipresent Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and those works not of a foundation in Jesus Christ—even if on the theologically “right” side of the argument—that are wood, hay, and stubble, will be burned up with no eternal reward.

True faithfulness to God the Father, to Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit, are not only important, but are of an eternally significant imperative, as the consequences of this faithfulness or lack thereof will be ours for eternity.  God will use all of our works, everlasting and combustible, for his providence and eternal glory, and for his children’s good (Rom. 8:28), but our pragmatic, worldly means will never be used by God to make our combustible, though theologically correct, ends into anything but fuel for the great fire he will bring to sin committed in the guise of Christian service.

May God grant all of us the wisdom, courage, and devotion to God’s holiness demonstrated in the lives of our five out-of-work Associate forbearers; and, may God grant all of us the wisdom and discernment to not be conformed to this perishing world, but to fully and in all aspects of our lives submit to the transforming of our minds by our sovereign God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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Bob Williams is the Managing Editor of the Christian Observer and Presbyterians Week, holds the Master of Arts in Religion degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, is a probationer and licentiate in the Hanover Presbytery, and for more than seventeen years was an ARP, serving as a Sabbath School teacher, deacon, and ruling elder.
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