Complaint against Metro New York Presbytery filed with General Assembly's Standing Judicial Commission...

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(Tim) Since Metro New York Presbytery chose not to grant three of the four amends sought by those filing a complaint against her previous action by which she endorsed woman deacons and men and women serving together in the diaconate, without sexual distinction, the presbytery has now been taken before the Presbyterian Church in America's highest court, General Assembly's Standing Judicial Commission.

Here is the text of that complaint as it was filed.

Let us pray that God blesses the hard work these men are doing for the purity and peace of Christ's Bride, and her faithful witness to a world that hates biblical sexuality.

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Complaint

TE Mark Robinson, et. al. vs. Metropolitan New York Presbytery

And now, this 4th day of June, 2009, come TE Mark Robinson and RE James Macbeth and complain against the action of the Metropolitan New York Presbytery (the “Presbytery”) taken on May 8, 2009 in denying certain amends requested in the complaint filed against the Presbytery by the complainants hereto on April 10, 2009.

The complainants allege that the Presbytery erred in denying TE Mark Robinson and RE James Macbeth’s requested amends and in so doing condoned substantial and continuing violations of certain provisions of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America (“PCA”), especially those touching on the office of deacon and diaconal ministry. In support of said complaint the following is set forth...

Summary of the Facts

1. On March 13, 2009, the Presbytery adopted a resolution (the “March Resolution”) that affirmed as not in violation of Scripture and the Book of Church Order (the “BCO”) the practices of (i) abstaining from ordaining deacons while permitting men and women described as deacons or deaconesses to “serve as equal partners in diaconal ministry” and (ii) commissioning deaconesses to serve alongside ordained male deacons as “equal partners in diaconal ministry.”

2. The resolution stated, among other things, that such practices “do exist and have for some time among churches of good standing in our Presbytery.”

3. The resolution in its entirety reads as follows:

Therefore, be it resolved that the Metropolitan New York Presbytery;

A) Recognizes that the diversity of practices listed above do exist and have for some time among churches of good standing in our Presbytery.

B) Acknowledge that while certain tensions exist between this diversity of practice and the Book of Church Order, these practices are within the historic breadth allowed by this Presbytery.

C) Acknowledge that ministers or sessions may hold and practice the following views referred to in the committee’s report above while being “in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity” (3rd ordination vow, BCO 21-5 & 24-6).

1. Only men are ordained as deacons and they conduct the diaconal ministries of the congregation.

2. Only men are ordained as deacons, yet Sessions select and appoint others-men and/or women-to assist the deacons in their work.

3. Only men are ordained as deacons and women are selected and appointed by the Session to serve as deaconesses who assist the male deacons.

4. Only men are ordained as deacons, yet the congregation elects women with the approval of the session to serve as deaconesses who assist the male deacons.

5. Men are ordained as deacons and women are commissioned as deaconesses without ordination, though both the men and the women are elected by the congregation and serve as equal partners in the diaconal ministry.

6. Both men and women serve as equal partners in diaconal ministry and are often described as “deacon” or “deaconess” though no one is ordained to this ministry.

4. On April 10, 2009, the complainants hereto and three other presbyters jointly and severally filed a complaint (the “April Complaint”) against the Presbytery wherein it was alleged that the resolution adopted by the Presbytery and the current practice of churches within Presbytery’s jurisdiction violated the Book of Church Order (“BCO”) in the following respects: (1) that a form of church government was condoned that undermined the form of government provided for in the Constitution of the PCA; (2) that those appointed to assist the deacons were confused with and/or supplanted the diaconal officers themselves; (3) that the practice of refusing to ordain anyone to the office of deacon improperly disregarded the office of deacon and ordination thereto and thereby precluded men from being sealed and set apart to an ordained office; (4) that the proper and legal procedures for amending the BCO were disregarded, in effect creating an unauthorized exception to the BCO for the Presbytery and the Presbytery’s churches; and (5) that the adoption process for the resolution was fundamentally flawed in that the presbyters had insufficient time to consider and weigh the merits of the proposal on such a controversial issue.

5. The April Complaint requested the following amends:

1. That the New York Metropolitan Presbytery nullify, rescind, annul and/or retract the resolutions concerning diaconal ministry passed at its March 13, 2009 meeting;

2. That the New York Metropolitan Presbytery affirmatively adopt, by written resolution, a statement rejecting views 5 and 6 contained in such resolutions as contrary to the system of government required by the Constitution of the PCA;

3. That the New York Metropolitan Presbytery request each Session within its jurisdiction to evaluate the functioning of its Diaconate with respect to conformity to the Constitution of the PCA, particularly with respect to violations exemplified in the current practice of views 5 and 6 in the aforementioned resolutions; and

4. That the New York Metropolitan Presbytery direct churches within its jurisdiction that are in continuing violation of the Constitution through the practices reflected in views 5 and 6 to move into full conformity with the Constitution of the PCA in this matter by rejecting such practices and that the New York Metropolitan Presbytery offer assistance to sessions regarding the difficulties that may arise in the process of bringing their diaconal practices into full conformity with the Constitution of the PCA.

6. At the Presbytery’s May 8, 2009 stated meeting, the April Complaint was brought before the Presbytery.

7. TE Sam Andreades, Pastor of The Village Church, stated that The Village Church does not ordain anyone to the office of deacon and, out of respect for the denominational position on the office of deacon, that the church does not call anyone a “deacon.” Rather, The Village Church has a team of people that does the diaconal work of the church.

8. TE Andreades moved that the Presbytery approve the first amends and noted that accepting the other amends is asking too much without further study on the matter.

9. TE John Yenchko proposed an amendment to TE Andreades’s motion (the motion as so amended, the “Amended Motion”), adding a (i) pastoral plea to the complainants of the April Complaint to take the matter out of the church courts in consideration for the good faith promise that the Presbytery revisit the matter in the Fall and (ii) direction to the facilitating team to form a committee to study the matter.

10. TE David Miner, a signatory to the April Complaint, spoke in favor of the Amended Motion.

11. TE Mark Robinson, a signatory to the April Complaint, spoke against the original motion and Amended Motion on the grounds that they were disrespectful to the nature of the complaint, which warranted debate on the merits of the arguments as presented and a subsequent judgment in favor of the complainants.

12. TE Peter Wang spoke in favor of the Amended Motion on the grounds that to make all amends without due consideration of the merits would be to commit the same error as adopting the March Resolution, which was received without due deliberation.

13. RE Wade Speas, a signatory to the April Complaint, spoke in favor of the Amended Motion, expressing satisfaction that the resolution would be rescinded and further review of the matter would follow.

14. The Amended Motion passed by voice vote. The Amended Motion read as follows: “MSC that Metropolitan New York Presbytery respond to the complaint by adopting Amend # 1, and only # 1, namely rescinding the resolution concerning the Diaconal ministry passed at the March 13, 2009 meeting together with a pastoral plea to the complainants to withdraw the complaint as this Presbytery pledges in good faith to discuss the paper on the Diaconate and matters raised in the complaint; and that Presbytery direct the Facilitating Team to appoint a committee to lead a discussion on these matters.” (Footnote 1)

(Footnote 1: The precise wording of the motion is subject to final approval of the Presbytery’s minutes.)

Proposed Statement of the Issue

Did the Presbytery err on May 8, 2009 in failing to rule that the current diaconal practices described in the resolutions adopted by the Presbytery on March 13, 2009 were impermissible violations of the Constitution of the PCA and in denying the complainants’ requested amends 2, 3 and 4?

Proposed Judgment

Yes. The complaint is sustained.

Proposed Reasoning and Opinion

At its March 13, 2009 stated meeting, Metropolitan New York Presbytery adopted resolutions that officially recognized the legitimacy of certain current practices among churches within its jurisdiction. In particular, the resolutions affirmed as purportedly not in violation of the Book of Church Order the practices of (i) abstaining from ordaining deacons while permitting men and women described as deacons or deaconesses to “serve as equal partners in diaconal ministry” and (ii) commissioning deaconesses to serve alongside ordained male deacons as “equal partners in diaconal ministry.” On April 10, 2009, a complaint was filed with the Presbytery (the “April Complaint”) objecting to the adoption of the resolution and the unconstitutionality of the current practices described therein. The Presbytery granted the first of the requested amends—rescission of the resolution—without ruling on the constitutionality of the diaconal practices currently observed by churches within the Presbytery’s jurisdiction. The remaining three requested amends were not granted.

The questions presented by the April Complaint called for the Presbytery to rule on the constitutionality and permissibility of the diaconal practices that were described in the resolution and, as admitted in the resolution itself, are currently practiced by churches within the Presbytery’s jurisdiction. Although the first of the amends was purportedly granted—rescission of the March Resolution—it was granted without ruling on the constitutionality of the resolution. Many Presbyters had concerns about the manner in which the original resolution was passed and, therefore, had reasons for rescinding the resolution other than its unconstitutionality. However, the March Resolution was not objectionable merely because it was passed hastily; it was objectionable because its purpose was to bless the current diaconal practices of the churches within the Presbytery’s jurisdiction as in conformity with Scripture and the BCO. Notwithstanding the Presbytery’s good faith pledge to revisit the matter at a future time, the Presbytery, as a court, has in the meanwhile disposed of the complaint by granting only the first of the complainants’ four requested amends. As a procedural matter, the complaint is no longer before the Presbytery. The failure of the Presbytery to grant amends 2, 3 and 4 is a ruling that the current diaconal practices within the Presbytery are permissible and in accord with Scripture and the Constitution. In its disposition of the complaint, the Presbytery erred by continuing to condone a form of government that undermines the essential form of government set forth in the PCA’s Constitution.

The BCO, together with the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechism, form the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America. BCO Preface, III— The Constitution Defined. Part I of the BCO, under the heading “Form of Government,” recognizes and provides for, among other things, the offices of the church, and in particular the offices of elder and deacon. The importance of these offices is seen in that, according to the BCO, they are established by Scripture and all of the powers of the Church are administered through them. BCO 1-4 (“The officers of the Church, by whom all its powers are administered, are, according to the Scriptures, teaching and ruling elders and deacons.”).

The BCO does not explicitly state that each church is required to establish a diaconate. In fact, the BCO acknowledges that a church may be unable to constitute a diaconate and therefore provides that the duties of the diaconate devolve upon the ruling elders in such a case. BCO 5- 10; 9-2. However, far from supporting the view that the BCO permits an unordained diaconal body, this direction in the BCO makes clear that the duties incumbent on the office of deacon fall solely within the province of an ordained body. Significantly, the BCO does not make a concession in such cases for the service of the diaconate to devolve upon, for example, other unordained members of the church. Far from such hypotheticals is the present situation; the Presbytery is not suffering from churches without qualified men willing to serve as deacons. The BCO assumes that a church with members willing and qualified to serve on the diaconate will ordain such members to the diaconate. In the words of BCO 17-1, “[t]hose who have been called to office in the Church are to be inducted by the ordination of a court.” The BCO does not allow an unordained diaconate. A coherent and integrated system of diaconal organization is fully provided for in the BCO, with explicit provision made in BCO 9-7 for non-ordained persons to assist the diaconate in its work. The practices occurring within the Presbytery’s jurisdiction and authorized by the Presbytery’s March 13, 2009 resolution do not amount to permissible supplementing of the BCO, but rather a competing system of government.

A view holding that the diaconal provisions of the BCO may be supplemented to allow for the creation of a wholly unordained diaconate is only tenable if the BCO considers the diaconate outside the form of government established by the Constitution. Only in such a case could one argue that the BCO’s provisions regarding the diaconate are subject to substantial variation insofar as ancillary ministries of the church are not fully developed in the Constitution. However, the BCO is a constitutional document and it specifically identifies the office of deacon together with the office of elder as constituting the offices forming the PCA’s coordinated system of government. A primary purpose of a constitution is to set forth a system of government. In fact, the formation of government is the sine qua non of a constitution. Therefore, strict interpretation of the constitution is required in matters touching upon the offices comprising the government of the church. The explicit statements of the BCO further establish the importance of the PCA’s two-office system of government. In the chapter titled “Form of Government” the BCO states that “[t]he officers of the Church, by whom all its powers are administered, are, according to the Scriptures, teaching and ruling elders and deacons.” BCO 1-4. Separate chapters in the BCO are given to the offices of elder and deacon. BCO 8, 9. The office of deacon, not merely diaconal-related service, is ordinary and perpetual in the Church. BCO 9-1. For these reasons, failure to ordain qualified men as deacons, where such men are functionally serving as such in an unordained capacity, undermines the letter and spirit of the BCO.

A session’s authority over the diaconate in no way diminishes the office of deacon. That the BCO rightly places the diaconate under the authority of the elders is undisputed. BCO 9-2. However, deacons, though subject to the rule of elders, do not serve at the pleasure of elders. The primacy of the elders’ authority no more establishes that the office of deacon is unnecessary or subject to the prerogative of the elders than Christ’s plenary rule disestablishes his plenipotentiaries. The authority of office establishes those offices under its influence. Additionally, as stated in BCO 24-7, “[o]rdination to the offices of ruling elder or deacon is perpetual; nor can such offices be laid aside at pleasure; nor can any person be degraded from either office but by deposition after regular trial.” As one who holds the office of deacon holds a perpetual office, his office, though initially derived through a local church, has a distinct existence apart from any particular local church or the office of elder.

Creating within a church an unordained body of men and women given the titles “deacon” and “deaconess,” respectively, (or referring to both men and women as “deacons”) while ordaining no one to the office of deacon, is a de facto establishment of an unauthorized diaconate. Further, such a practice vests ecclesiastical power in a class of persons—women—not authorized to hold office or exercise ecclesiastical power. BCO 1-4 (“The officers of the Church, by whom all its powers are administered, are, according to the Scriptures, teaching and ruling elders and deacons.”); BCO 3-2 (“The officers exercise [ecclesiastical power] sometimes severally, as in preaching the Gospel, administering the Sacraments, reproving the erring, visiting the sick, and comforting the afflicted, which is the power of order . . . .”); BCO 7-2 (“In accord with Scripture, these offices [elder and deacon] are open to men only.”). Additionally, refusing the ordination of men to the office of deacon nullifies one of the two offices Christ generously gave His bride for the growth of His Kingdom. BCO 1-4; 3-5 (“The Church, with its ordinances, officers and courts, is the agency which Christ has ordained for the edification and government of His people, for the propagation of the faith, and for the evangelization of the world.”). Therefore, such practices functionally either abolish the office of deacon or seat women in the office of deacon. In either case, there is a substantial and continuing violation of the Constitution of the PCA.

The BCO, in diverse sections, unequivocally states that only men are qualified to hold the office/title of deacon. BCO 7-2 (“In accord with Scripture, these offices [elder and deacon] are open to men only”); BCO 9-3 (“To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men of spiritual character….”); BCO 24-1 (“[E]ach prospective officer should be an active male member who meets the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1”). The provisions of these sections, far from being advisory in nature, set forth a view of the diaconate that is based on Scripture. In BCO 7-2, the male-only restriction of the office of deacon is said to be “in accord with scripture” and BCO 24-1 states such restriction alongside those qualifications set forth in Scripture. As stated in BCO 29-1, the Constitution of the PCA, of which the BCO is a part, is “accepted by the PCA as the standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice.” Whatever binding authority the BCO may have on this issue solely by virtue of its constitutional nature is only further established by references to Scripture in the very texts that principally relate to the matter under consideration. Further, the BCO is based on a system of Biblical interpretation shared by the PCA’s ecclesiastical communion in connection with which each presbyter submits to his brothers in accord with his ordination vows. BCO 24-6. The merits of diaconal practice must be evaluated, therefore, in light of such vows and in accordance with the BCO’s clarity and scriptural emphases in the areas of women officers and diaconal authority.

In a similar manner, statements to the effect that men ordained as deacons and women commissioned as deaconesses serve as “equal partners” in diaconal ministry serve to blur the distinction between the office of deacon and those assisting the diaconate and are therefore improper. The phrase “equal partners” conveys that the distinction between an officer of the church and those serving as non-officers is purely formal and serves no substantive purpose. It thereby undermines the office of deacon established by the BCO and makes it of no import. Emphasizing that non-ordained persons serving the diaconate are “equal partners” with the diaconate implies that there is no difference in the service rendered by the diaconate from that offered by others assisting in the diaconal work. This practice contravenes the BCO insofar as it treats the office of deacon and ordination thereto as having little or no value. The BCO, in contrast, states that “[t]he ordinances established by Christ, the Head, in His Church [include] . . . the ordination to sacred office.” BCO 4-4.

Additionally, failure to ordain qualified men to the diaconate prevents those men from exercising the calling and authority of their biblically-constituted and BCO-defined office. According to the BCO, the office of deacon is an office for which men are recognized as duly called and set apart by taking vows, the laying on of hands and prayer and by which men may be recognized as holding the office of deacon by other churches within the denomination.

The Constitution is binding on the churches within the PCA. Though the Constitution is not Scripture, much of the Constitution explicitly claims to derive from biblical teaching. Moreover, the PCA has bound itself together by means of these documents (including the BCO), believing that its Constitution represents “the form of government founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God.” BCO Preface—II. Preliminary Principles. Careful attention must therefore be taken to avoid diminishing the BCO’s dependence on Scripture. In the realm of judicial process, careful attention is given to single words of the BCO. If this degree of attention is paid to sections of the BCO which are in many cases tangential to the provisions of Scripture, no less attention is required of sections of the BCO which are explicitly said to derive from Scripture itself. If churches within the Presbytery believe that the BCO is overly restrictive or not in accord with Scripture, the BCO itself provides the remedy: an amendment to the Constitution. BCO 26-2. By permitting the continued practices described in the resolution, the Presbytery has, in effect, allowed a functional amendment to the BCO. Such action marginalizes those members of Presbytery whose affiliation with the PCA is predicated, in part, on the system of government agreed upon in the Constitution and forgoes deliberative denominational discussion on the matter for which very purpose the amendment process was designed.

For the reasons set forth above, the Presbytery is instructed to consider the complaint again in light of the impermissible unconstitutionality of the practices of (i) abstaining from ordaining deacons while permitting men and women described as deacons or deaconesses to “serve as equal partners in diaconal ministry” and (ii) commissioning deaconesses to serve alongside ordained male deacons as “equal partners in diaconal ministry.”

Complainants ask that this complaint be sustained.

TE Mark Robinson

RE James Macbeth