Missouri Presbytery Revoice Report: a close reading (5)
NOTE: Missouri Presbytery (PCA) is the ecclesiastical authority over Pastor Greg Johnson and the elders of Memorial Presbyterian Church. Pastor Johnson and Memorial hosted the first Revoice 18 conference one year ago in St. Louis. The second Revoice (19) will soon be held, once again in St. Louis.
Responding to national pressure from inside and outside their denomination, Missouri Presbytery put together an investigatory committee and just issued their Report. This is fifth in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here. Report text is indented. We pick up where we left off last time.
NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all footnotes are from Missouri Presbytery’s Report.
B. Our Committee’s Charge
The committee’s charge is identified in the approved minutes of Missouri Presbytery for its stated fall meeting in October 2018. The committee, as the minutes show, was charged with investigating TE Greg Johnson, Sr. Pastor at Memorial Presbyterian Church, as well as the Memorial Session, according to the provisions of BCO 31.2 and BCO 41.1-4, after concerns were expressed against it (sic) for allowing Revoice 18, an organization outside of the jurisdiction of Memorial and outside of the PCA, to hold a conference at its church in July 2018.1
In Presbyterian polity, the session of a church (comprised of the pastor and the congregation’s ruling elders) is the court of original jurisdiction concerning the oversight of the church’s members and ruling elders. The church’s presbytery is the court of original jurisdiction concerning the church’s pastor. Thus it is the duty of the session to guard the sheep from bad morals and false doctrine, but it becomes the duty of presbytery to guard that flock when the session and pastor fail in their responsibility.
When the session and the pastor of a local church are, as in this case, themselves the ones who are promoting bad morals and false doctrine, it becomes their presbytery’s responsibility to file charges against them, conduct the trial, and—assuming they are found guilty—bring the scandal to an end through discipline.
But what if the presbytery joins the church’s session and pastor in refusing this responsibility?
Then it becomes the responsibility of other Christians outside the church and its presbytery to send reports of the scandal to the presbytery, asking them to take action. Note that the PCA’s Book of Church Order allows members, church officers, and courts of other churches and denominations to report the scandal to Missouri Presbytery, pointing out their failure and asking them to correct it:
This is laid out in all books of presbyterian polity including Memorial, Pastor Johnson, and Missouri Presbytery’s Book of Church Order of their Presbyterian Church in America:
31-2. It is the duty of all church Sessions and Presbyteries to exercise care over those subject to their authority. They shall with due diligence and great discretion demand from such persons satisfactory explanations concerning reports affecting their Christian character. This duty is more imperative when those who deem themselves aggrieved by injurious reports shall ask an investigation.
40.5. When any court having appellate jurisdiction shall receive a credible report with respect to the court next below of any important delinquency or grossly unconstitutional proceedings of such court, the first step shall be to cite the court alleged to have offended to appear before the court having appellate jurisdiction, or its commission, by representative or in writing, at a specified time and place, and to show what the lower court has done or failed to do in the case in question. [Emphases added.]
The court thus issuing the citation may reverse or redress the proceedings of the court below in other than judicial cases; or it may censure the delinquent court; or it may remit the whole matter to the delinquent court with an injunction to take it up and dispose of it in a constitutional manner; or it may stay all further proceedings in the case; as circumstances may require.
Here on Warhorn and across the country, many “credible” “reports affecting the Christian character” of Memorial Presbyterian Church’s Session and their Pastor Greg Johnson were made beginning in May of 2018 and continuing to this day. The reports were made often and publicly and in great detail. Hundreds of thousands of words reporting their participation in, and support of, the Revoice scandal and these reports were read by Memorial’s members and session, Pastor Johnson, and the members of Missouri Presbytery.
Yet none of them acted on those reports. Instead, they stonewalled critics day by day, month by month, until finally it became clear the outcry of these “reports affecting their Christian character” were going to become the subject of even greater scandal at this year’s General Assembly.
With the national scandal reaching crescendo proportions, it was not until half a year after they first received bad reports about Revoice, Memorial, and Pastor Johnson that Missouri Presbytery finally acted by appointing a committee to investigate Memorial and Pastor Johnson. They did so at their stated fall meeting of October, 2018.
This action was not taken because anyone in the presbytery had brought charges—as many of the pastors and sessions of the presbytery ought to have done. Rather, this action was taken because Memorial Presbyterian Church and Pastor Greg Johnson asked Missouri Presbytery for an investigation.
It is imperative readers understand there was never any action taken by Missouri Presbytery to remove the scandal and protect the sheep. No member of Missouri Presbytery filed charges against Pastor Johnson.
It was left to Pastor Johnson himself many months later to file charges against himself toward the end that his presbytery’s investigation would vindicate him and his session.
It’s hard to imagine how Missouri Presbytery was able to justify refusing to act on this national scandal. She received innumerable reports affecting the Christian character of Memorial Presbyterian Church and Pastor Johnson’s Revoice, and those reports were made to her by many Christians, elders, pastors, and ecclesiastical bodies.
We ourselves here at Warhorn provided them many very specific “reports affecting the Christian character” of Memorial Presbyterian Church’s Session, her Pastor Greg Johnson, and other members of Missouri Presbytery in which we carefully documented all of our charges. We even did Missouri Presbytery the favor of outlining a path to discipline, specifying publicly Revoice’s violations of the PCA’s confessional Westminster Standards as regards the Weminster Larger Catechism’s exposition of the Seventh Commandment.
Sadly, Missouri Presbytery didn’t respond. In fact, there is not a single mention in Missouri Presbytery’s Report of those violations of the Westminster Standards we had reported.
Many Christians, pastors, elders, and ecclesiastical bodies both inside and outside the Presbyterian Church in America sent “reports affecting the Christian character” of Memorial, Pastor Johnson, and Missouri Presbytery in which they called for the church, her pastor, and her presbytery to repent of their abdication of responsibility and authority.
The Presbytery refused to respond.
Then, finally, Memorial’s session and pastor themselves demanded that presbytery take action:
The committee …was charged with investigating TE Greg Johnson, Sr. Pastor at Memorial Presbyterian Church, as well as the Memorial Session, according to the provisions of BCO 31.2 and BCO 41.1-4, after concerns were expressed against it (sic) for allowing Revoice 18 …to hold a conference at its church.
Some might be confused by the above use of the word “charged.” What’s being spoken of is the task assigned (or the charge given) this committee.
The approved minutes of the October 16, 2018 stated meeting of Missouri Presbytery contain the following:
TE Meyers continued the AdCom [Administrative Committee] report by sharing that the Presbytery had received a request, by a letter dated October 10, 2018, from the Memorial Presbyterian Church Session, and from TE Greg Johnson, the senior pastor of Memorial Presbyterian, concerning allegations of wrongdoing made against them, or suspicions raised about their beliefs, by PCA teaching and ruling elders from other presbyteries for choosing to host the Revoice 18 Conference in July.
The letter requests that Presbytery take up the whole matter in the form of a BCO 31.2 investigation of TE Johnson and a BCO 41.1-4 reference.2
No objections from the floor were made to AdCom’s recommendation that these requests from TE Johnson and the Memorial Session be granted, so without dissent it was ordered.
TE Meyers reported that he had begun to think about the makeup of the investigative committee, and had asked TE Ron Lutjens to chair it, pending Presbytery’s approval of these requests.
Relevant also to the committee’s charge was the Presbytery’s response to concerns that it received, through its Moderator, TE Jeffrey Meyers, after that stated meeting in October of 2018. The minutes for Presbytery’s next stated meeting, January 15, 2019, reflect that all additional concerns and requests for investigation of any kind related to the issue at hand, were to be referred to the committee already set up for this purpose.
Included in the minutes for the January 15 stated meeting are the following provisions approved by Presbytery:
TE Ron Lutjens reported on the progress of the Committee to Investigate Memorial Presbyterian Church (=CIM), specifically, their Session’s decision to host the Revoice 18 conference…
The Presbytery was informed that subsequent to setting up an investigative committee at our last stated meeting (October 2018) our Presbytery received a letter from Calvary Presbytery requesting that we do a BCO 40.5 investigation because of Memorial’s decision to host Revoice 18. A similar letter was received from the Southwest Florida Presbytery in November. Seeing no need to set up yet another committee to deal with the same issue, Moderator Jeff Meyers had asked, in the fall of 2018, that the committee already set up to deal with the Memorial situation, take up as well the allegations in the letters from these two presbyteries.
TE Lutjens asked Presbytery, through new Moderator, RE Les Prouty, to confirm or reject by vote the former Moderator’s instruction (those of TE Jeff Meyers) to the committee to take up the Calvary and the Southwest Florida Presbytery concerns and allegations since they are within the scope of the committee’s original assignment. MSA to concur with the Moderator’s instructions.
TE Lutjens invited teaching and ruling elders to submit, in writing, to the committee for its consideration: questions, comments, concerns, resources, church policies being drafted, etc., touching the issues raised by the Revoice 18 controversy.
So it was that, many months into the scandal, instead of charges being filed and a trial being held, the Session of Memorial Presbyterian Church and her Pastor Greg Johnson requested an investigation they expected to vindicate them and bring the matter to an end.
Missouri Presbytery granted their request and did them the favor of stacking the committee with pastors and elders who had long been on record through their paid and voluntary associations as well as their written publications as fully in support of the very scandals Revoice promotes. (For a list of the members and their prior commitments, see the end of this post.)
This is fifth in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here. The series will continue.
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|1.||↑||The October 2018 minutes were approved at the following stated meeting of Presbytery on January 15, 2019, being amended at that latter meeting in order to add further detail so as to leave a fuller record of the case.|
|2.||↑||For additional clarification: in its letter the Memorial Session asked Presbytery not merely to advise it on the matter but to make a “final disposition of the matter referred” to Presbytery, according to the options set out in BCO 41.3.|