Object Lessons for the OPC


In my previous article in this series, I began to interact with the points raised by Rev. Glenn Jerrell.  My concern in this series of articles is the preservation of Presbyterian government in the OPC and the American Church at large.  It is my conviction, as a man under vows to the Westminster Standards and the BCO of the OPC, that a true, faithful, and impartial Presbyterianism is the way forward in the negative culture we are currently living in.

The episode of racist accusations against the 88th General Assembly of the OPC can serve as an object lesson in how or how not to respond to accusations of racism, abuse, or any other kind of verbal “transgression.” By a “verbal transgression” I mean any instance of taboo speech. These kinds of speech are those words or statements that the culture has deemed offensive. It was in opposing this kind of “verbal transgression” that made Jordan Peterson famous. The trend is that the culture will descend more and more into this kind of verbal policing.

But here, in the realm of taboo speech, is where the church is most vulnerable. For we acknowledge that the Scriptures police speech. There are certain kinds of speaking that Scripture forbids. But there is a way forward. In order to discern the line between cultural and biblical standards and whether or not one has transgressed God’s Word, God has given his church a procedure. This procedure we call Presbyterianism.

There are two principles, found in Scripture and confessed in the constitutions of all Presbyterian bodies, that bear upon accusations of this nature. Only in reaffirming and regulating our church activities according to these principles, recommitting to them, will the church be protected from the assaults of our negative age. These principles are that all accusations must be made with the testimony of witnesses and that all elders (ministers and ruling) have parity among themselves by virtue of their office. The first principle bears upon the reliability of the accusation itself. The second bears upon duly processing those accusations in the courts of the church. These two principles are the burden of this article.

What are the tactics of post-modern liberalism?

As noted in my first two articles in this series, we are living in a negative culture. There is another way to describe the culture we live in: Post-Modern Liberalism. “Post-Modern” refers to the spirit of the age which is unconcerned with truth as such. Rather, the culture today has abandoned any search for truth and is only concerned with power. Modernism sought to know the truth through man’s unaided reason. Having failed in that task, Modernism gave way to Post-Modernism. “Liberalism” refers to the ethics of the age which is concerned with “human flourishing.” The ethical motive of our age would change the answer to WSC #1 from “To enjoy God and glorify him forever,” to “To enjoy Man and glorify him forever.” Thus the age that we live in seeks to gratify human psychological desires by any means necessary. One of those means is the tactic we saw at the 88th GA.

The weapon which has been employed against American institutions for some time now is exactly the kind of accusation made against the 88th OPC GA. The tactics of post-modern liberalism follow a familiar pattern.  First, an accusation of racism (in this instance, though this pattern could easily translate to accusations of abuse, homophobia, etc.) is made.  This accusation could be based on some concrete act (either word or deed) or it can be based upon the accused’s group identity or it could be baseless.  The accusation itself then creates the Kafka trap.  To deny the accusation is used as proof that the accused is guilty.  To receive the accusation and handle it as if it were made in good faith is taken as proof that the accused is guilty.  Either way, the chief goal of these accusations is achieved: painting the accused as guilty of certain verbal taboos as defined by our post-modern liberal culture.  Once this guilt has been established (through the tactics of post-modernism, not through due process), the remedy is to destroy or greatly restructure the institution so painted as guilty.  In the end, once the accused has been removed, destroyed, or reeducated, the vacuum created by their removal is filled by those who want to further the post-modern revolution by bringing in equality. Which is simply another name for “human flourishing.”

This pattern has been repeated time and again in almost every corner of American society.  This pattern can be discerned in the episode of racist accusations leveled against the 88th GA of the OPC.  My debate with Rev. Jerrell trades on recognizing or not recognizing this pattern and how Presbyterian procedure is one of God’s good gifts to the church to help us navigate these waters.  The two principles I noted above are the rudder and compass which will guide us into a safe harbor.

This article will deal only with points 3 and 4 of Rev. Jerrell’s response to my initial take on the 88th GA. Rev. Jerrell’s points get to the heart of the issue between us and, as I hope to show, will serve as concrete examples highlighting the principles at stake in this matter.  To get up to speed you can read my initial take on the 88th GA here.  You can read Rev. Jerrell’s response to that take here.  You can read the first part of this series here.

“Two or Three Witnesses”

3. Mr. Castle’s response highlights a seeming minimizing of the seriousness of racial problems when he writes, “In this announcement we were told the substance of the four instances. As has been recounted elsewhere, one of the four was so beyond conception that no one at the Assembly gave it any credence. The other three were probable.” OPC ruling elder David Mahaffy responds to that point when he writes, “It is wrong to say that ‘no one at the Assembly gave it any credence.’ Did we find it hard to believe? Yes. Did we all think that there was no way a commissioner could have said that? No. Mr. Castle summarily dismisses an outright racist comment as being so ‘beyond conception’ that an officer of our church couldn’t have said that. To do this indicates a huge blind spot: any accusation of outright racism against an officer of the OPC is ‘beyond conception’ and should not be given any credence?! It’s unlikely that officers with such an attitude would actually deal with any sin in that vein, since they believe it ‘beyond conception’ that we could commit it. That leaves the church wide open for that sin to go on without correction, since the officers don’t believe it can happen. I believe that’s an atrocious position and inappropriate for one who should be guarding God’s flock.” David Mahaffy adds: “Serious accusations need to be seriously addressed, not summarily dismissed…


I will own a mistake in my reporting of the 88th GA.  Of all the commissioners I spoke with at the 88th GA, none gave the third incident any credence.  Apparently, there were some at the 88th who did.  I apologize for this factual error. But this raises a question. 

My understanding was that we were to love our brethren.  I thought that to love the brethren meant to “think no evil; not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoice in the truth; bear all things, believe all things, hope all things”?  It seems to me that, in this episode, to love our brothers at the Assembly would mean to think the best of one another until evidence came forward proving otherwise.  I thought that the Presbyterian way to handle accusations was to “not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.”

The next question is a simple matter of fact.  After all was said and done, Eastern University reported to us that the man who actually used the vile language of the third instance was not a part of the OPC.  After the incident, EU told us that they had not seen him since.  Just as love rejoices in the truth, I rejoice in the fact that whoever said this was not a part of the OPC.  Now, it seems to me that this proves that the judgment of charity was correct, not only morally but also factually, as the result proved.  This leads to my question: without witnesses or evidence was the third accusation (the one involving vile language) serious?  I agree that if proven true it would constitute an offense serious enough to warrant a trial.  But without evidence or witnesses, it remains an accusation with no weight.  Lacking weight, it was therefore not serious.

In Presbyterian procedure, an accusation of sin must be made with evidence and/or witnesses.  The degree to which that evidence or witnesses supports the accusation gives the accusation more or less weight. This is what I mean by an accusation being serious or not. Others understand the seriousness of an accusation as relating to the seriousness of the sin of which one may be accused.  The gravity of the sin is all that matters.  The question remains, is this a Presbyterian and Biblical approach to accusations?

Part of Presbyterian procedure is to determine whether an accusation of sin is serious.  In our BCO, a judicatory, when presented with a charge (formal accusation of sin) it is to determine a number of factors.  The primary emphasis of this determination is whether this is a serious accusation based upon the quality of evidence brought forward to support it.  The mere fact of an accusation, no matter the sin charged in it, does not make an accusation serious.  The quality of evidence renders an accusation serious.  

This leads to my next question; if we grant the same level of seriousness to every accusation, how will actual sin be addressed?  What happens when a church receives every instance of offense as equally serious, based solely upon the nature of the supposed offense?  Would this way of receiving accusations of sin swamp the energy and recourse of a session, Presbytery, or General Assembly? How does this not lead to ecclesiastical judicial gridlock? How does taking accusations in this way agree with Proverbs 18:13, 18? 

“One is your master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren”

  4. The expression, “doubling down on Presbyterianism,” fuels questions which may not be fair to the OPC and its GA. What is within the power of a GA to deal with in such a situation? Many situations are resolved without formal charges. From a Presbyterian governmental perspective, what tools did the moderator have available to him to address this situation? If it had occurred on the floor in debate the moderator would have called it out of order and even perhaps reproved the person from the podium. But this incident occurred outside of the Assembly’s hearing. It came to us initially by a report from a party outside the church. The moderator and the Assembly realized the immediate need to respond in a Christ-like, pastoral fashion. The Assembly and its representatives worked tirelessly on the situation with prayer and with communication to the University. They took solid steps towards dealing with the situation.


Again, this is confusing.  Rev. Jerrell asks what was within the power of the GA to do and then asks what tools were at the moderator’s disposal to address this situation.  Now I thought that the moderator’s role in a deliberative body was to moderate the handling of business.  He is a servant of the Assembly.  Yet, these statements seem to conflate the GA’s power and the Moderator’s tools.  Is the moderator primus inter pares or unus inter pares? Is he the first among equals or one among equals

These Latin phrases come from church history and describe the situation of the post apostolic church.  In a city, like Ephesus, the pastors would gather for common cause and they would appoint one man (due to his wisdom or piety or both) to govern their affairs.  This appointment was similar to what we do with moderators.  The man appointed was considered unus inter pares, one among equals.  He was not considered to have been given more or greater authority than his brothers.  He was simply appointed to serve a role in the administration of the church’s affairs.  Over time, however, this man began to be looked upon as primus inter pares, first among equals.  This role began to take on the early features of episcopalian authority.  This was one of the early factors leading to the growth and development of the Roman Catholic system.

Among Presbyterians, though we grant greater honor to a man who has served as moderator of the Assembly, we do not grant that his temporary role confers greater authority upon him.  The moderator serves as one among equals to facilitate the work of the Assembly.  In light of this, it seems to me that the moderator had the only option of moderating the Assembly’s debate over this matter.

At this point, the way the statement was actually passed at the 88th GA needs to be looked at. 

The Committee of 17

When the statement was presented to the Assembly, it was the first item we took up on Friday morning.  We were told that the 17 previous moderators of the GA had looked this over and approved it.  Now, one can take this fact in two ways. 

The first way would be to take it as if the 17 previous moderators were a committee of 17, appointed to deal with this matter.  The problem with this way is that the committee was not approved by the Assembly through a regular vote.  Not having been voted on, there was no mandate given to this Committee of 17 to limit their actions. Now, all of this can be overlooked with charity.  It happened.  It was motivated by a decent desire.  It produced an acceptable result.  But when things are overlooked with charity, the assumption is that the party who has erred is not to do so again.  Charity is not to be taken for granted on the part of the one making a mistake.  I am willing to grant this charity to the 88th Assembly and her moderator.  This way of taking this fact is what I would prefer.

The second way of taking the emergence of the Committee of 17 is that this was a good and orderly Presbyterian manner of proceeding.  It seems to me that this way of understanding the Committee of 17 would be a mistake.  For, as I pointed out above, the emergence of a committee without a vote and without a mandate is, not Presbyterian, but Episcopalian.  This way of taking the Committee of 17 assumes that moderators, former and current, are the first among equals rather than one among equals.  It implies that having held the temporary role of moderator confers an extra level of authority upon that individual granting them powers that can operate outside of Presbyterian process.  My understanding was that Presbyterianism operates on the principle of plurality and parity.  By referring this statement to this informal Committee of 17, those 17 men were a plurality among themselves.  But they were elevated above the par of every other commissioner at the Assembly, thus violating this fundamental principle of Presbyterianism.

Plurality and Parity, as a principle of Presbyterian government is often misunderstood today.  Plurality means that there are many leaders of the church (minister and elders), not one.  Parity means that each of these leaders possess equal authority in determining the direction of the church, judging cases, and guiding the flock.  Parity is reflected in the equal vote each man has in the court of the church.  Parity is also reflected in the open communication and debate that should occur in every Presbyterian church (session, presbytery, and General Assembly).  The erosion of authority (as was mentioned in the early centuries of the church) does not begin with the formal elimination of offices.  It begins with the informal nullification of the practical authority those offices possess.

My concern with the emergence of the Committee of 17 is that this was an informal nullification of the equal authority each member of the Assembly had by virtue of their office.  By referring this statement to this Committee of 17, the men of that Committee (former moderators) were informally granted greater authority than the rest of the Assembly, thus nullifying the principle of Presbyterian parity.

My question is this: were these accusations serious enough to warrant a bypassing of Presbyterian procedure in handling them?  Could the Assembly, acting with parity, not have handled this properly?

If all were willing to walk away from this Assembly without defending the breaches of order that occurred therein and understanding that as OPC Presbyterians we need to be better when it comes to our principles of government, fine and good.  If however, the way this was handled by the 88th GA of the OPC is viewed as a necessary or positive example for the future deliberations of the church, then we may be laying the snares of our own collapse. The way forward for the OPC is be recommitted to our Presbyterian system; to indeed double down on Presbyterianism.

Many institutions have been ensnared by the weapons of post-modern liberalism.

May God grant the OPC a different and better fate.

Editor’s Note: There was a minor error in a previous version of this article. Originally, this article called the accusation involving vile language the “fourth” accusation brought by Eastern against the 88th GA. It was actually the third accusation out of four. This language has been corrected in this article.

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