Friday, February 26, 2010

Thought's on Rev. White's Proposal for RE/TE Parity

Over at Johannes Weslianus, Rev. Wes White has posted a proposal for getting Ruling Elders more involved in Presbytery and denominational politics in the PCA. This has been an ongoing problem for the PCA (and not just the PCA). His idea is, in order to get a parity between Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders at Presbytery/General Assembly meetings, that the number of Teaching Elders allowed to vote at those meetings be reduced. He proposes doing this by changing the PCA BCO 13-1 from defining the Presbytery as comprising "all teaching elders and ruling elders as elected by their Session" to "all pastors, associate pastors, and ruling elders as elected by their Session." And changing the definition of the General Assembly in BCO 14-2 from "all teaching elders in good standing with their Presbyteries, and ruling elders as elected by their Session." to "all pastors and associate pastors in good standing with their Presbyteries, and ruling elders as elected by their Session."

As someone pointed out in a comment to his proposal, this would, in effect, prevent assistant pastors, chaplains, and other teaching elders not directly elected by a congregation from having a vote in Presbytery and General Assembly business. If this report is correct, the issue of limiting the voting of assistant pastors in the PCA is pertinent and it is something the PCA is going to have to deal with at some point.

I like Rev. White's thinking about this: "Since only men who have been elected by a congregation can govern a local Church so only those who have been elected by a congregation should govern the regional Church." It fits with the "grass roots Presbyterianism" that typifies the PCA. The problem I see is this: while this proposal would limit the number of teaching elders (and I think the votes of assistant pastors in the PCA need to be limited), it won't get Ruling Elders more involved. In other words, instead of lifting up the Ruling Elder to the task of denominational politics, it is dragging down the involvement of the teaching elder (even if, in my opinion, some of those teaching elders shouldn't be voting at these meetings in the first place).

The task of getting Ruling Elders more involved in the Church beyond their local congregation is certainly not easy, and I'm glad that men such as Rev. White are putting time and thought into this issue, but I am of the opinion that the Ruling Elder needs to be encouraged to participate, rather than have teaching elders prevented from participating. Rev. White's proposal would be a step in the right direction for limiting the involvement of assistant pastors in the PCA, but I don't believe it would do much, if anything, to get Ruling Elders more involved.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review of iReformed Reference Library iPhone App

George Dimidik has done a great service to those of us who own iPhones (or iPod Touches). His iReformed Reference Library App [iTunes Link] includes the Westminster Standards, Three Forms of Unity, and the three ecumenical creeds in a easy to use, very nice looking app. I have already used the app several times, and I just bought it two days ago. If you want a quick reference on your iPhone for any of these documents, then you can't beat the 99 cent price.

That being said, I see a little room for improvement. First, although Scripture proofs are included for the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as well as the Heidelberg Catechism, there are no Scripture proofs for the Westminster Confession or Belgic Confession. References are included in the Canons of Dordt, but not the full text, like the catechisms. Second, the text of the Westminster Confession is not the original text, but reflects the American revisions (the language of the Pope being the antichrist in WCF 25.6 is not included). A disclaimer to this effect should be included or perhaps a footnote giving the original reading. Third, and last, the navigation in the Catechisms, especially the WLC, is hindered by not having a table of contents. Instead, you have to navigate either one-by-one or in groups of ten questions at a time.

All that being said, the app does have plenty of benefits. I especially like the "Hide the Answer" option for the catechisms which allows you to quiz yourself on catechism memorization. The ability to adjust the size of the font is also convenient if you get tired of reading small type, or if you want to show someone else something from a Confession.

Further, if you read the history of updates to the app, you can see that the developer has been very responsive to suggestions, which means you can expect the app to get better with time.

While there is room for improvement, I still highly recommend this app. I can't think of very many ways to better spend 99 cents!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Ruling Elder's Library, Part 1: Bibles

A good theological library is essential for a Ruling Elder. While your library may not be as extensive as some others, there are a few books I believe every Ruling Elder should own. The foundation of any good theological library is none other than the Word of God. Below is my list of Bibles that ought to be on the bookshelf of every Ruling Elder. These are not necessarily your every-day-reading-Bibles, rather, they are tools, references, in the RE's library to be consulted when needed. Also, while it is true that most of these Bibles can be accessed online, I still find paper and ink books to be more useful, especially in face to face encounters, which is why I encourage you REs to have physical copies of the books below.

The Ruling Elder's Library: Bibles

1599 Geneva Bible. This is the Bible of the Reformation. The notes are thoroughly Reformed. The English is, in my opinion, easier to read than King James English. When I need a quick view of what the Reformers thought about a certain verse, this is the first place I look.

King James Version
. No, I'm not a KJV-only guy, but the fact of the matter is, the KJV was the standard translation of the English Bible for nearly 300 years. It is still widely used today. Further, this is the version of the Bible quoted in the notes in the Westminster Standards. To see what the Westminster divines were referencing when they cite a verse, you need to have a King James Version.

New King James Version
. Easier to understand than the old KJV and based on the same Greek and Hebrew texts. This is my preferred translation for everyday Bible reading. It is also the version that the Gideons distribute, which means if a soldier got saved reading one of their Bibles, or a visitor to your city picked up the copy in the hotel room and now wants to know more about Jesus, they are going to have a New King James Version in their hands. You should, too.

English Standard Version. This version has become immensely popular in Reformed, as well as, Evangelical churches. It is based on the Critical Text. If you lead a Bible study in your church, it is more than likely that someone will be using this version. I do not endorse this as your everyday Bible, but do believe you should own a copy so you can compare it with others and be prepared to address differing translations from, say, the New King James or KJV.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Robert's Rules of Order: To Adjourn

Gary North wrote: "It has been more important institutionally to have gained a mastery of Robert's Rules of Order (1876)--originally, an obscure self-published book--than either the Bible or the Westminster Confession." (Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church). North is no fan of Robert's Rules of Order, and why should he be? It's a bureaucrat's best friend, with rules about rules about rules. Sadly, though, it has been a part of Presbyterian politics since it was first published. To that end, I encourage all Ruling Elders to be familiar with it (to that end, this is a handy chart to print and carry with you to your next Presbytery meeting).

With that in mind, I hope to occasionally post a section from Robert's Rules of Order so Ruling Elders can learn it and put it to use. This first installment is one of the most important motions: "To Adjourn" (taken from here)

17. To Adjourn. The motion to adjourn (when unqualified) is always a privileged motion except when, for lack of provision for a future meeting, as in a mass meeting, or at the last meeting of a convention, its effect, if adopted, would be to dissolve the assembly permanently. In any organized society holding several regular meetings during the year, it is, when unqualified, always a privileged motion. When not privileged it is treated as any other main motion, being debatable and amendable, etc.

The privileged motion to adjourn takes precedence of all others, except the privileged motion "to fix the time to which to adjourn," to which it yields. It is not debatable, nor can it be amended or have any other subsidiary motion applied to it; nor can a vote on it be reconsidered. It may be withdrawn.

The motion to adjourn can be repeated if there has been any intervening business, though it is simply progress in debate. The assembly may decline to adjourn in order to hear one speech or to take one vote, and therefore it must have the privilege of renewing the motion to adjourn when there has been any progress in business or debate. But this high privilege is liable to abuse to the annoyance of the assembly, if the chair does not prevent it by refusing to entertain the motion when evidently made for obstructive purposes, as when the assembly has just voted it down, and nothing has occurred since to show the possibility of the assembly's wishing to adjourn.

The motion to adjourn, like every other motion, cannot be made except by a member who has the floor. When made by one who has not risen and addressed the chair and been recognized, it can be entertained only by general consent. It cannot be made when the assembly is engaged in voting, or verifying the vote, but is in order after the vote has been taken by ballot before it has been announced. In such case the ballot vote should be announced as soon as business is resumed. Where much time will be consumed in counting ballots the assembly may adjourn, having previously appointed a time for the next meeting, or, still better, may take a recess as explained in the next section. No appeal, or question of order, or inquiry, should be entertained after the motion to adjourn has been made, unless it is of such a nature that its decision is necessary before an adjournment, or unless the assembly refuses to adjourn, when it would be in order.

Before putting the motion to adjourn, the chair, in most organizations, should be sure that no important matters have been overlooked. If there are announcements to be made they should be attended to before taking the vote, or at least, before announcing it. If there is something requiring action before adjournment, the fact should be stated and the mover requested to withdraw his motion to adjourn. The fact that the motion to adjourn is undebatable does not prevent the assembly's being informed of business requiring attention before adjournment. Members should not leave their seats until the chair has declared the assembly adjourned.

An adjournment sine die -- that is, without day -- closes the session and if there is no provision for convening the assembly again, of course the adjournment dissolves the assembly. But, if any provision has been made whereby another meeting may be held, its effect is simply to close the session. In an assembly, as a convention, which meets regularly only once during its life, but whose by-laws provide for calling special meetings, an adjournment sine die means only the ending of the regular session of the convention, which, however, may be reconvened as provided in the by-laws. If called to meet again the assembly meets as a body already organized.

When the motion to adjourn is qualified in any way, or when its effect is to dissolve the assembly without any provision being made for holding another meeting of the assembly, it loses its privilege and is a main motion, debatable and amendable and subject to having applied to it any of the subsidiary motions.

In committees where no provision has been made for future meetings, an adjournment is always at the call of the chair unless otherwise specified. When a special committee, or the committee of the whole, has completed the business referred to it, instead of adjourning, it rises and reports, which is equivalent to adjournment without day.

The Effect upon Unfinished Business of an adjournment, unless the assembly has adopted rules to the contrary, is as follows:

(a) When the adjournment does not close the session, the business interrupted by it is the first in order after the reading of the minutes at the next meeting, and is treated the same as if there had been no adjournment, an adjourned meeting being legally the continuation of the meeting of which it is an adjournment.

(b) When the adjournment closes a session in an assembly having regular sessions as often as quarterly, the unfinished business should be taken up, just where it was interrupted at the next succeeding session previous to new business; provided that, in a body elected, either wholly or in part, for a definite time (as a board of directors one-third of whom are elected annually), unfinished business falls to the ground with the expiration of the term for which the board, or any part of it, was elected.

(c) When the adjournment closes a session in an assembly which does not meet as often as quarterly, or when the assembly is an elective body, and this session ends the term of a portion of the members, the adjournment puts an end to all business unfinished at the close of the session. The business may be introduced at the next session, the same as if it had never been before the assembly.

Ruling Elder at Greenbaggins

I realize I've come across this a little late, but I wanted to point you to Green Baggins, where there is a post describing some of the qualifications for Ruling Elders. Please take a look:

The Ruling Elder at Green Baggins

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ruling Elders in the ARP: Where are you?

The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church has called a special meeting of their Synod to address the report of a commission investigating Erskine College and Seminary. The Synod is supposed to meet March 2-3. In order for this called meeting to happen, though, there needs to be a quorum of Teaching Elders and a quorum of Ruling Elders (ARP Form of Government, 13.C.5). The quorum of Teaching Elders has been reached; however, there are not yet enough Ruling Elders to make a quorum, which means this Called meeting of Synod may not happen.

Ruling Elders: I must impress upon you the importance of attending this called meeting of Synod. The issues raised by the Erskine Commission are of vital importance to the future of our denomination. If we cannot keep our Seminary in check, either we will lose it or it will continue to operate as it has for years: as an authority unto itself. Ruling Elders: rule!

I understand the difficulties associated with traveling to North Carolina, the need to take time off from work, to arrange accommodations for your families, and all the other various reasons that could be used as an excuse to not go to this Called meeting of Synod. However, remember your calling: "Ruling elders...together with the ministers...exercise government and discipline. They oversee the spiritual interests both of the particular congregation and of the Church generally when appointed to represent the congregation in higher courts. In all the courts of the Church ruling elders possess the same authority and the same eligibility to office as ministers...they are to seek the will of God in all church court decisions." (ARP Form of Government, 7.B.1-2.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Apologetics and the Reformed Church

Last night, I had the privileged of being in the audience of a live broadcast of The White Horse Inn, which took place at Biola University. Truth be told, I had never listened to The White Horse Inn before. The topic for the night was "The Importance of Contending Earnestly for the Gospel of Jesus Christ." To put it mildly, it was excellent. The hosts correctly emphasized the necessity of preaching the Gospel--that is, focusing on Christ, and not on ourselves.

There was one statement, however, that I did not agree with. The hosts said (I believe it was Horton and Riddlebarger) that the Reformed are really good at talking about apologetics and apologetic methods, but never actually get around to doing the work of apologetics. We never get around to engaging non-Christians. Quite frankly, this is false. And it isn't the first time I've heard this critique. (Interestingly, the other time I heard it was from another Reformed scholar.) So, in light of this apparently widespread opinion of Reformed Apologists, I hope to regularly highlight Reformed theologians who are actively engaged in the work of apologetics.

I can't think of a better place to start, than with James White. His Alpha and Omega Ministries is actively engaged in debating atheists, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. No, I don't agree with him on every point (for one, he's a Baptist and I'm a Presbyterian), but his name was the first to pop into my head when Horton made his statement last night.

So, the next time someone accuses the Reformed of being all talk and no action when it comes to apologetics, point them to James White.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dispensationalism and the Westminster Standards, Part 1: WCF

I recently finished reading through the Westminster Confession of Faith (ARP edition), cover to cover, and while this was not my goal, I was pleasantly surprised to find many statements in the WCF that contradict Dispensationalism, which I had never noticed before. Below, I’ve posted all the parts of the WCF that I believe a dispensationalist would have to take exception to in order to subscribe to it. I plan on reading through the Larger and Shorter Catechisms next, and will the parts of those documents related to dispensationalism, as well.

As a side note, I believe it would be beneficial to have “cheat sheets” like this for different doctrinal errors, so that if a candidate were to hold to an errant view on, say, paedocommunion, those examining him would have a handy guide with which to challenge him and note any and all exceptions he would have to take to the Standards.

Sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith related to Dispensationalism:

WCF 7.6, “There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.” (Gal 3:14, 16; Acts 15:11; Rom. 3:21-23, 30; Ps. 32:1 with Rom. 4:3, 6, 16-17, 23-24; Heb. 13:8.)

WCF 8.4, “and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.” (Rom. 14:9-10; Acts 1:11; Acts 10:42; Matt. 13:40-42; Jude 6; 2 Pet. 2:4.)

WCF 20.1, “all which were common also to believers under the law;” (Gal. 3:9, 14.)

WCF 25.2, “The visible church…is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Matt. 13:47; Isa. 9:7.)

WCF 25.5, “there shall be always a church on earth to worship God according to his will.” (Matt. 16:18; Ps. 72:17; Ps. 102:28; Matt. 28:19-20.)

WCF 25.6, “The Pope of Rome…is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all this is called God.” (Matt. 23:8-10; 2 Thess. 2:3-4, 8-9; Rev. 13:6.). ***NOTE: This wording is not the in the ARP edition of the WCF, but was part of the original WCF. I’ve included it for historical perspective, and because I do believe this statement to be correct. It obviously contradicts the Dispensational idea of a future antichrist.

WCF 28.1, “Baptism is…to be continued in his church until the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:19-20.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What happens when Elders don't do their job?

Elders: want to know what happens when you fail in your duties to guard the purity of the Church? Want to know what will become of the flock God has entrusted into your care when you don't study the current theological controversies in your denomination; when you think "it's better for my pastor to deal with this"? Then, take a look at Al Mohler's latest blog post titled "Vanishing Christianity -- A Lesson from the Presbyterians."

Mohler makes some sad but accurate points. Based on the latest "Presbyterian Panel" survey (2008), only 36% of PCUSA church members either "disagree" or "strongly disagree" with the statement "only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved." Mohler points out that elders are slightly more "conservative" than other church members, but does it even matter any more?

"Theological compromise appeared first among the pastors, theologians, church executives, and seminary professors," Mohler writes. Elders: are you on Candidates and Credentials committees? Do you take an active role in examining what Pastors and Professors seeking ordination in or transfer into your Presbytery (and denomination) believe? If you don't, you can expect that in less than 100 years, your denomination will look exactly like the PCUSA.

"Make no mistake," Mohler concludes, "in the end, vanishing theological boundaries will amount to vanishing Christianity."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Books for Ruling Elders

Though by no means comprehensive, I've started to compile books related to the office and work of the Ruling Elder. Feel free to suggest others I may have missed. (All synopses/reviews are taken from Monergism Books.)

The Elder and His Work by David Dickson
"The Elder and His Work, originally written in the mid-1800's, is a classic that conveys the gravity and importance of the elder's calling. Nineteenth-century author David Dickson provided this brief, complete manual describing the qualifications and duties of elders. According to Dickson, an elder is a shepherd of Christ's flock and a student of God's Word - a man growing in the gracious disciplines of the Christian life."

The Ruling Elder by Samuel Miller
"One of the most complete treatises ever written on the Presbyterian system of church government, this book examines the scriptural qualifications for holding ecclesiastical office."

Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Church Leadership
by Alexander Strauch
"This is the definitive theological work on biblical eldership. It is really a one-stop shop for accurate teaching on oversight. If we probed all the churches across the world, interviewing pastors who had read this work we would pile recommendation on recommendation because it is the very best available. If you are an elder and you have not read this book, you need to read it. If you are a new congregation and are looking to position elders, you need to read it. If you are part of the church, you need to read this book! No theological library can be complete without it. It is an essential course in accurate theological knowledge." -Monergism Books Review

The Elder: Today's Ministry Rooted in all of Scripture
by Cornelis Van Dam
"To rediscover God's gift of eldership for the church today, we need to go back beyond the New Testament to the origins of the office of elder in ancient Israel. There we discover the enduring principles that guided the elder in antiquity - and that guide the church today. In this book you will develop a renewed understanding of the office of elder and of godly discipline."

Called to Serve: Essays for Elders and Deacons
edited by Michael G. Brown
"Sixteen chapters cover topics such as the qualifications of elders and deacons, their duties and tasks, the history of the Reformed churches, infant baptism, the Lord's Supper, worship, rules for meetings, church discipline, family visitation, and the ministry of mercy. A plan and study guide incorporate readings from Scripture and the confessions. Includes recommendations for building a basic elder's library."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

REs and Heresy

TE Wes White has a new post at his blog addressing the question "Are Teaching Elders More Qualified to Deal with FV [Federal Vision] than Ruling Elders?" It is worth reading. He makes some great points, such as:

1. TEs are no more qualified than REs to deal with heresy (specifically, Federal Vision). This is especially true when TEs don't do their homework and read up on issues.

2. TEs tend to run in cliques (or at least, have a tendency to do so), based on the fact that many TEs may have attended the same seminary, gone through the same ordination/examination process, have to face similar issues in their churches (like pesky REs getting in their way).

3. REs have lead the charge against FV and have been some of the most determined opponents of it.

4. REs have to sit under the teaching of TEs who do hold to heresy, so there is a personal interest in seeing doctrinal issues dealt with.

In light of these things, I ask you, Ruling Elders: have you read through your denomination's reports on Federal Vision? Do you read your denomination's Standards? Are you familiar with Robert's Rule of Order? If the answer to any of those is "no" then you've got some work to do!

REs and Spiritual Warfare

RE Bill Mueller (PCA) has posted an article at The Aquila Report on the topic of Spiritual Warfare. It's a quick read, but also a good reminder that there is more to being an elder than procedural reports and Session minutes.

Interestingly, at the Bible study I lead last night, we discussed Matt 26:41 ("The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."). I said that, in my opinion, that verse could be the motto of the Christian life: a constant struggle between the New Man and the Old. Elders are called upon more than others to bare the burdens of those in the churches in addition to their own struggle. Therefore, "Watch and pray."

Monday, February 8, 2010

News Round-Up

Here's a round-up of recent blogs and news related to Elders and Presbyterian Government.

First, Dr. Scott. Clark has an interesting analysis of Tim Keller's "Multi-Site Model" of church planting. Here's a tidbit to get you interested:

The collegiate model that Tim articulates sounds like a sort of parallel presbytery where one session is the presbytery or classis for multiple “collegiate" congregations. How does this model relate to what we’ve traditionally considered presbyteries and classes? What oversight does the presbytery or classis actually have over these various bodies that are
de facto congregations but nominally a single congregation?"

Second, here is a great chronology of the matters happening in the Siouxlands Presbytery of the PCA up til now. Note that one of the (former) members of that Presbytery who voted NOT to approve the committee study condemning the Federal Vision is now a professor at Erskine. I didn't know that until reading this post. Also, note how long it has taken to deal with this issue. (The chronology starts back in April of 2005). Presbyterian government moves slowly, most of the time. Elders need to be patient and persevere!

Third, a discussion was started on the Puritan Board when someone asked "What minimum age should a Ruling Elder be?" Of course, Biblically there is no minimum age, as the requirements for Elder are spiritual maturity. Some other good points are raised in the discussion, as well.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ruling Elder Exams

Although Teaching Elders are put through more rigorous exams, Ruling Elders also need to be examined by the Session before taking office. Areas of examination may include: Biblical knowledge (knowing the books of the Bible, themes of books, where key passages are located, etc), theology (theology proper, anthropology, soteriology, eschatology, etc), familiarity with the creeds and confessions of the church (Westminster Confession, Shorter and, more importantly, Larger Catechism, what does it mean when the Apostles Creed says "descended into Hell"?, etc).

Of course, there are more than just academics that have to be taken into account, but these are good starting points.

The ARP has a "Study Questions for Presbytery Examinations" here. I believe this is intended for Pastors, not Ruling Elders, but it could just as easily be used to examine a RE.

Over at A Puritan's Mind, there are two study guides for examining potential elders (Exam 1 and Exam 2). They are longer than the ARP guide, but again, could be adapted for use in examining Ruling Elders.

Remember, the difference between a Teaching Elder and a Ruling Elder is function, not knowledge!