(Eighth in a series.)

(NOTE: Minor edits to this post have been made following information received concerning Tenth members’ correspondence with the moderator of Philadelphia Presbytery, Ryan Egli of City Line Church, Philadelphia.)

As we have seen, Tenth Presbyterian Church paid G.R.A.C.E. to research and write a Report on the sexual abuse and sins strewn across the twenty years presided over by their two senior ministers who succeeded Jim Boice. The number of predators and sins during the past twenty years is awful.

But then, immediately following G.R.A.C.E.’s release of their damning Report, the sexual sin of Tenth’s present Senior Minister, Liam Goligher, came into the open. (Not from the Report; G.R.A.C.E. had missed that one.)

All of this adds up to a terrible weight of sexual sin across a quarter century.

Sexual abuse not worst sin reported by G.R.A.C.E. Report

But worse than the sexual abuse has been the sin of Tenth’s pastors and elders who have steadfastly refused to discipline the congregation’s sexual predators and to warn the congregation against those predators. Tenth’s pastors and elders have refused to protect their sheep and to heal the victims of the predators they carefully hid.

This can’t be said too frequently or too strongly:

Sexual sins are destructive and evil, but more destructive and evil are pastors and elders who refuse to discipline predators and their sexual sin, thus refusing to guard the sheep for whom Christ died.

The shepherd is to kill the wolf and guard and heal the sheep, but Tenth’s shepherds have abandoned and devoured their sheep, instead guarding themselves and the wolves.

This has been shown by the G.R.A.C.E. Report to the point of shame. What is the point of this Report if not to bring the church to repentance and its pastors and elders to accountability and discipline?

G.R.A.C.E. Report toothless

Finally (and maybe the very worst thing about the Report as a report), is that G.R.A.C.E. in their Report neither recommends not brings any accountability to Tenth’s pastors and elders who sinned so flagrantly against their flock.

Really, it would have been better if the Report had not been written than to write it using nostrums like the need for better communication and “transparency.” When such evil is recounted and the Report follows up by saying this and that evil need better “transparency,” what the reader learns is that evil has no consequences. He learns to sin that the work of G.R.A.C.E. may abound.

No teeth at all. Not a single consequence required by the Report for those who betrayed their calling to protect Tenth’s sheep.

Tenth pastors and elders too important to be disciplined

So what the reader concludes is that Tenth is too big, too important, too historic to fail. Its pastors and elders are too rich, too proud, too recognized. So here is the present situation.

On top of the G.R.A.C.E. Report, the sexual sins of Tenth’s senior minister have brought down even more ridicule on Tenth Presbyterian Church, to the point that ignominy now rains down and spreads to Tenth’s presbytery and denomination. Less than a handful of Presbyterian churches in the country have the reputation and respect Tenth has enjoyed since the faithful ministry of Donald Gray Barnhouse, my own father’s pastor when he was a child. Barnhouse was one of the fathers of Reformed Evangelicalism of the twentieth century, but now it is painfully obvious his children have not honored their father.

Straightforward discipline of Tenth’s pastors and elders now required

If one is familiar with church discipline under any Presbyterian book of church order—any at all—the proper actions to be taken at this time are few and simple.

Session must resign

First, the Session of Tenth Presbyterian Church must resign. All of them. They have presided over more than a quarter-century of betrayal of their sheep. G.R.A.C.E. relates reports of sexual abuse of various parties connected to the church. Although not all the accounts are credible, but there is more than enough confirmed that the subjects of G.R.A.C.E.’s Report should be hanging their heads in shame. Were they honorable, these officers would have turned in their resignation the very day the Report was issued.

Some will protest that not every elder has failed, and of course that’s true. Not every member of Aachan’s family (Joshua 7:1-24; 22:20) was responsible for hiding the treasure under the floor of the tent, but God judged and punished them all. Most Reformed believers understand the centrality of corporate responsibility in God’s economy, starting with the federal headship of Adam. So yes, all of them should resign. They all share the shame and guilt whether or not they were equally to blame.

Philadelphia Presbytery must discipline members’ sins reported in G.R.A.C.E. Report

Second, Philadelphia Presbytery should appoint a commission (not a committee nor task force) to examine the Report carefully, looking for teaching elders whose failures were recounted there and today remain members of Philadelphia Presbytery. These men should be called in to the Commission to be questioned as to whether they agree with the sins and crimes they are reported to have committed by the Report? These men should also be questioned whether there are other sins not contained in the Report they would now like to confess?

If they agree to their guilt and/or confess other sins, their case can go forward to an efficient conclusion without a need for trial. The blessing of confession—which is to say self-accusation—is that it removes the need for prosecution, exhibits, witnesses, counsel for the defense, record of trial, certified letters, etc.

Upon self-accusations received by this Commission of Philadelphia Presbytery, the Commission may be asked by Philadelphia Presbytery in each case to bring recommendations concerning the penalty. Should there be any public admonishment, or is private admonishment sufficient? Is the sin more serious so that there should be public censure, definite (for a predetermined time) or indefinite (for an indeterminate time) suspension from their call and ministry, or definite or indefinite suspension from participating in the Lord’s supper?

Should there be other disciplines required that a member of presbytery would supervise (such as counseling)? Should the accused be led to make apologies and request forgiveness from those he has harmed by his pastoral betrayals? (It would be necessary for the presbytery’s Commission to arrange appropriate person(s) to accompany the pastor or elder who requests a meeting with his victim he abused, failed to protect, or neglected. Thus his victim would be spared from having to be alone with the one who sinned against him or her.

In the case of crimes and sins committed in the past by pastors who are no longer members of Philadelphia Presbytery, if the Commission judges such former members need to be interviewed and provided the opportunity to admit their sin, to self-accuse, and to seek forgiveness, it would be the duty of the Commission to communicate this need to the presbytery (or denominational association) this pastor now holds his credentials or membership in. (Of course, the Commission would leave it to those other authorities how or whether to act on the Commission’s recommendation.)

Excommunicate the contumacious

Each job has its vocabulary. Anyone ordained a pastor in a Presbyterian denomination in the English-speaking world quickly learns the meaning and uses of “contumacious.”

Sadly, at this point in the Presbyterian church of the Western world, most church discipline cases end with the court declaring the accused “contumacious,” then excommunicating him.

Some sins are still actually tried, occasionally. But as I’ve repeatedly said, those sins are usually of the variety that the horror of the women of the church would be greater if charges weren’t filed than if they were. That’s the pivotal thing. It would have to be something like:

That teenage boy with all the tats walked to the front of the church during communion and used his machete to hack our favority eighty-seven year old grandma to pieces! Right there in front of the children. The pastor told him to stop, but he didn’t. So of course, we had to file charges against him.

When charges are filed and found to require a trial, the accused has to be notified multiple times and in foolproof ways concerning the case, when and where he is to show up, and what his legal privileges are as he prepares his defense.

Almost always, despite having vowed when he joined the church that he would submit to church authority and discipline, members fail or refuse to show up at their hearing(s). At which point the church officers are required to reschedule the hearing and notify him again of his obligation to appear, and once more the officers have to take the evening and show up for the hearing, invariably finding the defendant is, again, thumbing his nose at them, and absent.

Depending on the judgment of the court and session, what usually happens, then, is the defendant is charged and found guilty of contumacy, meaning flagrant rebellion against church authority.

Presbyterian church courts seem to be fighting a retreat action in defense of this word. “Contumacy” is not as common in usage in American English as it was back in the nineteenth century:

What Tenth Presbyterian Church Session should have done seven weeks ago

It’s been more than a month, now, since the public sexual sin of Senior Minister Liam Goligher and Tenth’s deaconess were made public, and more than seven weeks since Goligher has abandoned his call and pulpit.

Presuming the Session of Tenth filed charges against Pastor Goligher immediately after his public sins were made known, the Session should also have informed the congregation of the elders’ action (or pending action) with the presbytery as early as December 3, 2023, the first Lord’s Day when it was clear to all, by his absence from the pulpit, that their pastor had abandoned his call. In that announcement at the conclusion of public worship, the Session could have related that its charges would await adjudication by presbytery, and assured the congregation that Pastor Goligher would be summoned to appear in person to answer the truthfulness of the charges.

It would have been no surprise if Senior Minister Liam Goligher had refused to respond to the charges and his summons as required by his vows and the Book of Church Order. In which case the congregation would have been informed of that sad fact, also. Thus everyone would have done the minimal thing necessary for the honor of Christ and the peace and purity of the Church, and the court would immediately conclude the matter by finding Goligher guilty of contumacy, then proceeding to his defrocking and excommunication.

This is what ought to have been done, first by the Session of Tenth, then by Philadelphia Presbytery. No drama. No endless meetings and conversations. No called special meetings of the congregation to vote on this or that. No quiet efforts to give Goligher some of Tenth’s money to help him now that he’s out of work. No cancellation of congregational meetings called to tell the sheep this and that, or to get their approval for this and that.

Just discipline. That’s all that was needed seven weeks ago, and it is still all that’s needed today.

What must be done now

Yes, I repeat myself, but…

Charges must be prosecuted against Goligher, and by individuals. Do not leave it to the Session. The members of Tenth should finally be done with the Session’s private assurances that they have done this or that or the other thing.

Any pastor, elder, or member of Tenth can bear their proper responsibility and do what’s right, filing their own charges against their Senior Minister Liam Goligher to Philadelphia Presbytery here. Then they are directly in the loop and not dependent on their Session.

Don’t be intimidated. Just write “I charge Senior Minister Liam Goligher with the following.” Then enter the specifics and what preliminary evidence you wish to state. The presbytery’s stated clerk will get in touch with you right away and you can ask him to help you perfect your document as needed, or as the Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order requires.

Make and keep a copy (screen shot) of your charges when you submit them. With the submission of the charges online, request the stated clerk notify you that he has received your charges, asking him to do so by return email, if possible. Philadelphia Presbytery is the court of jurisdiction over Senior Minister Liam Goligher.

Leave the Session of Tenth Presbyterian Church to itself. Use Book of Church Order 40-5 to establish your standing with the disciplinary matters before the presbytery by yourself, alone, accusing Liam Goligher by yourself, alone. In this way, Philadelphia Presbytery will be required to respond to you, alone.

Discipline is love

Truth and obedience always simplify matters.

Discipline is what’s best for the honor of Christ. It’s what’s best for the peace and purity of the Church, for the peace and purity of Tenth Presbyterian Church, for the peace and purity of Philadelphia Presbytery.

Discipline by Christ’s Church is the kindest thing that can be done for the soul of Liam Goligher. Also the soul of his consort.

Discipline is love.

But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:8)

(Eighth in a series.)


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