"Law and Procedure
How and Why in 1973"
A Message delivered to the
CONVOCATION OF SESSIONS
May 18, 1973
Mr. W. Jack Williamson
| The Law is the law of love;
and the Procedure is to the rescue of the perishing. As our Lord Jesus
walked the streets of Jerusalem on his way to Golgotha to the greatest
demonstration of that law and to enable that procedure, He turned
to those following and said: "For if they do these things in a green
tree, what shall be done in the dry." (Luke 23:31)
When God thus saw Jesus in the sinner's place, He did not spare Him; and where He finds the unregenerate without Christ, He will not spare them. Yet it is not His will that any should perish. We are called to declare this law of love and to proceed to rescue those perishing: "for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Rom. 10:13)
This Law and this Procedure is foolishness to an unbelieving world; but it is the commission and the compulsion of these who have been truly reborn into the true church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here is the nature and mission of that church.
Now, over 25 years ago a group of men from The Presbyterian Journal met at the Biltmore Hotel here in Atlanta. They came to preserve a Presbyterian Church in America true to that nature and that mission. We gather again in Atlanta today, a product of their original initiative. Most of
|us on this program are novices in this battle compared
to those veteran defenders of the faith. We were recruited by them,
trained by them, directed by them, and sent out to the battlefront
by them. Although they may not all agree with us now as to the best
course for the immediate future, all are committed to these same basic
principles as to the nature and mission of the Church. We honor and
respect these men; and we give thanks to Almighty God for their gallant
faithfulness. They have led us to this place and this hour. Praise
God for each of them.
As this Convocation of Sessions comes to consider the possible procedure of forming a new ecclesiastical entity in 1973, the question is often and properly asked -- "Why 1973?" Or as one has put it -- "If I could work in the PCUS in 1972, why must I not continue to do so in1973, when there is no development radically changing the picture of things? Why '73, instead of '70, '72, '74 or '80? Let us address ourselves to this issue of procedure. In a word, my reasoning is that my vows of ordination as a Ruling elder, as I understand them, require me to separate from my beloved church. It is with genuine sadness, many tears, and much soul-searching that I have come to thus see my duty before God. On ordination, I promised to study the peace, unity, edification and purity of the Church. For a decade now I have diligently sought to fulfill this vow at various levels in our Church. I have reluctantly concluded that I -
(a) Can find little peace in a structure that in its official acts and doings is constantly and consistently contradicting my faith.
(b) Can find little unity in a structure that advocates a pluralism and diversity that tolerates unbelief -- for me "two cannot walk together less they be agreed."
(c) Can find little edification in a structure that continues to embarrass me in its official acts and doings and forces me to spend most of my time in negative reaction and apology.
(d) Can find little hope for purity in a structure that permits unbelief to run rampant and has lost its will and ability to discipline.
Thus as I see my duty, it is not that I wish to go but that I must. Others may see their duty differently. We must respect their views as "God alone is Lord of the conscience" and we ask them to respect ours. But, why 1973?
I believe I can best answer this question by summarizing the history of this movement in the past decade. It was at this point in time that some of us were recruited from our comfortable positions in our local churches to enter the battle on a broader scale in Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly. At this time, these aforesaid gallant warriors had won a great victory in the Union fight of the mid-50s. But they had been unable to stem the tide of modernism, liberalism, and radical ecumenism in our Church. The situation continued to get worse rather than better: and they realized it. The Church had already violated its faith and order on several constitutional issues; but they hoped we could return the Church to her former faith and order through a concerted effort by Ruling and Teaching Elders. This we undertook to do; but after about 5 years of much intensive effort, it became obvious to us that humanly speaking it would be impossible to recapture our church. Instead of being able to stop the trends, they seemed to get worse as the liberals intensified their efforts in reaction to our opposition. During this period many more serious constitutional violations of our faith and order were officially adopted and practiced by our Church. I won't list them as Dr. Morton Smith has already pointed to many of them. Suffice it to say that it became clear that the historic witness of our beloved Church was gradually being liquidated; and for those who felt a duty to preserve it, division became the only answer. From that point on the issue of division has been settled; and the only issue was timing and procedure. It was then we sought a method of peaceful realignment hoping that men of good will would prevail. Not the only but the best method for such peaceful realignment seemed to be an acceptable escape clause in the Plan for Union with the UPCUSA. Our liberal friends promised us this method; and we accepted their promises in good faith. We chose and recommended this method as the best constitutional procedure for such a division. We warned that unreasonable delays would be taken as a breach of good faith. We made preparation for the division we humanly saw as inevitable. But, in February, 1973, our liberal opposition in the PCUS succeeded in closing this door for peaceful realignment by discarding the Plan of Union and delaying its presentation for vote indefinitely. Even though strenuously requested by me as the conservative representative thereon, this Union Committee refused to commit itself to any "escape" clause. Thus this best method for constitutional division became no longer a viable possibility in the foreseeable future. The abandonment of this method by the liberals was an act of pure ecclesiastical political expediency. They broke faith with us in 1973 and have forced us to move to an alternative procedure. One of their frank leaders said to me in Dallas -- "We will force you conservatives to do what you must and after you have done it we will regroup and reevaluate our position; and in the meantime we will push for more union Presbyteries and more de facto union at the administrative level of the Boards and Agencies; and after you have gone we will redraw the Presbytery lines so that we won't have any trouble passing any plan we want. It may take 10 years but we can wait."
This is what has happened; and this is why 1973. We have never contended that the use of the "escape" clause in the Plan of Union was the only constitutional issue for division or only constitutional method for realignment. We have always felt and maintained that many constitutional breaches exist that justify division; but we thought the "escape: clause was the best method to accomplish it. We now feel that method has been taken away by the liberals for this decade, at least, and perhaps forever. This happened in 1973. We have always maintained that we who agree in principle should move together. We are convinced that if we wait longer, major fragmentation will occur. In order to maintain the significant corporate witness of a Church loyal to Scripture and the Reformed Faith, we must move now in 1973. Perhaps it is important for some of you that we document this historical progression. Let me summarize my statements published in the Presbyterian Journal as documented proof of the truth and consistency of our position.
1. Almost a decade ago, we began by trying to return our beloved Church to its primary mission. In 1965 we wrote:
(1) We must move only as God's Holy Spirit moves us. "For it is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."
(2) We must curb our human impatience and impetuosity and not take precipitous and premature action.
(3) We must move together.
(4) We must move with honor.
But in suggesting that we wait on the promised "escape clause" in the plan of union, we wrote:
5. By 1972 we had suggested a plan for a continuing Church. It was to support any plan of union with the UPUSA which contains an acceptable escape clause permitting local congregations and ministers to elect not to enter the union. We supported the plan as the most effective constitutional method for peaceful realignment. And we still believe it was the best method for the reasons we cited. But we were careful to write:
7. And so we come to the meeting of the Committee on Presbyterian Union in Dallas, Texas, in February, 1973. We came after spending 6 days in the preceding six weeks with a subcommittee on drafting. We came with a plan ready to be presented to the 1973 General Assemblies for vote. In its three day session in Dallas the Committee never discussed the substance of the plan they had been working on for almost four years. Instead they voted to cast aside this plan and start anew writing another plan. This new plan will not be presented until 1974 and then "for study only". The members of the Committee from the PCUS had succeeded in getting an indefinite delay. Before the vote to delay, I made it clear to the Committee that I felt that you would consider such a delay as a breach of faith. They voted the delay with only two dissenting votes -- mine and that of Mr. William Thompson, Stated Clerk of the UPCUSA. Next morning, in full open session, Mr. Thompson stated to the Committee that he thought the Committee had been "dishonest" and betrayed the confidence placed in you by the conservatives in the PCUS." These were his words -- not mine. He then spent 30 minutes chastising the Committee for their conduct and particularly blaming the PCUS members. Other members of the Committee from the UPCUSA privately apologized to me for what they felt was unfair conduct by the PCUS members and a breach of good faith by them.
We had accepted the promises of these PCUS leaders, the overt and covert, and trusted them in good faith as men of good will. They have broken that trust and confidence. We cannot put our faith in them again -- for they admit candidly that their decisions are not motivated by principle but by expediency. And those who wait for the constitutional issue of union with UPCUSA wait at the whim and the mercy of the liberals as expediency dictates, both as to timetable and the probability of an acceptable escape clause.
Some say they will be with us but must wait on the UPCUSA union issue. They reason that they feel a justifiable division requires such a grave constitutional issue. They say that such a union would raise a major theological issue as it would require them to be united with a group with whom they cannot agree as to doctrine. They cite the Confession of 1967 as a major theological, doctrinal deviation by the UPCUSA; ;and they say they cannot be linked in union with a body which subscribes thereto. To those who so reason, I would respectfully suggest that such a judgment is a matter of degree rather than a matter of principle. I would suggest two reasons -
Now let us turn to consider alternative procedures for those who are ready now, in 1973, to raise the banner for a new Church loyal to Scripture and the Reformed Faith. We can eliminate a General Assembly walk-out; for most conservative commissioners have decided not to even attend this General Assembly. This leaves three alternatives: (1) withdrawal of entire Presbytery, (2) Presbytery dismissal of individual churches, and (3) unilateral withdrawal of individual churches by congregational action. Presbytery withdrawal still remains a good method; but since few Presbyteries have any real possibility of such an action, we feel it better to discuss the details of this method directly with these Presbyteries. A Presbytery can dismiss a church with its property; but the present attitude of the liberals poses problems with this method. They have taken hard line; and I predict will even get tougher. It is difficult for me to understand how men, who bear the name of Christ, can display to a watching world such a harsh, mean and vindictive attitude toward their brothers in Christ. A few months ago they seemed willing to heed the advice of our beloved Moderator, Dr. L. Nelson Bell. In speaking to the Committee on Presbyterian Union in Charlotte last year, in his first public appearance as Moderator, Dr. Bell said he favored the "escape" clause because he thought it "unchristian" and "immoral" to try to coerce a congregation to remain in a voluntary organization as the church when they could not in good conscience support it. But as time disclosed that this movement was of mammoth proportions and thus threatened the power and purse of the liberals, their attitude began to harden under the advice of their leaders. Their public voice, the Presbyterian Outlook, actually chastised their followers for being fair with us. Can you imagine Christians being criticized for being "fair" with other Christians? Well in its April 9, 1973, issue this voice of the liberals wrote for the world to reach these words -
But probably for most congregations, the third alternative is the best present procedure. Just call a congregational meeting and vote to withdraw and so notify your Presbytery. Thereafter, politely refuse to entertain any commission or committee on the principle that you are no longer subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Once again this procedure could bring a civil lawsuit over your property. But again the liberals would have the public onus of beginning the lawsuit against the express will of the majority of the congregation. Many constitutional lawyers feel that this right is preserved to the local congregation under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to our U.S. Constitution.
You will readily recognize that there are perils in all three alternative procedures. You may end up in a civil court battle for your church property. It begins to be quite obvious that it is your church property that most interests the liberals. In this same April 9,1973, issue of the Presbyterian Outlook they gave their motive away when it was written
So the die is cast. To me our course is clear. Some may say, "Why 1973?"; but I say "Why wait?" If conscience dictates that it is your duty to wait, then you must wait, you should wait, you dare not do otherwise. But if not, why wait? Now I suggest that the decision for a minister and the decision for a congregation is somewhat different. A minister may go at any time without peril -now or 5 years from now -- but if you are responsible for a congregation and for those yet unborn, what will be preached and taught in your church 5, 10, 20 years from now. You have other considerations to think about. What then can a congregation gain by waiting? If yours is a congregation that does not use PCUS literature, and does not support the PCUS program, then you have already in effect, separated. What can you possibly gain by waiting? Surely you don't believe that you can reform the PCUS? What then do you gain by waiting? But you may lose by waiting. You may lose the only chance you will ever have to leave and take your property. Do you really believe there will ever be a Plan of Union with an acceptable escape clause? Are you willing to wait 5 to 10 years on the speculative chance? Is it not true that as your conservative brothers leave your position in your presbytery is weakened? What is going to be your position when your presbytery is restructured as it is surely going to be? Is there not less chance of civil lawsuits when churches go in mass rather than later to go in isolated situations? Is it not better to join with your Christian brothers of like mind and raise now the Standard in our beloved Southland of a new church loyal to Scripture and the Reformed Faith? To me answers are loud and clear. Move now, together, toward a Church reborn.
And as we move, our attitude to others is most important. We move with determination and resolve, but with tears, sorrow and mourning for the necessity that is laid upon us. Regardless of the attitudes or actions of others, we will remember that we represent the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the King and Head of the Church. As his ambassadors to the watching world, we must let this mind be in us which was in Christ Jesus. Let men everywhere notice in us the three effects of nearness to Jesus -- humility, holiness and happiness. To those who would be unfair and harsh toward us we hear Him say -
Let me close with a statement made by Charles Haddon Spurgeon about 80 years ago. Listen carefully to the exhortation of the great man of God as he so aptly describes our present opportunity.
The Law is the law of Love; and the procedure is to rescue the perishing. Godspeed!!! Amen.