The PCA Divided Again by the Charges Against Steve Wilkins

John ArmstrongReformed Christianity

Sadly, some leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America refuse to tolerate what they perceive to be "deadly errors." I am not suggesting "deadly errors" should be tolerated, not in the least, but let’s be honest here. This debate is about whether or not the errors themselves, assuming they are errors, are indeed "deadly." Additionally, this is about whether or not the person who holds the supposed errors really denies the Westminster Confession of Faith (WSF) or not. This is an honest debate, in the formal sense, for sure. And Presbyterianism allows elders to have this struggle. (This is a matter for more thought but I seriously doubt that this "type" of presbyterian practice can thrive, and help a groups of churches grow, in the new century. Clearly, the next generation has no tolerance for it at all. Sadly, many in my generation really love it and thrive on it, preferring rational debates about doctrine to actually dealing with real people in pastoral and missional ways.)

The response defenders of "strict confession," if you read the various Web sites that promote their rather militant judicial approach, is simple. The man in question, teaching elder/pastor Wilkins
Steve Wilkins of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana, is guilty of denying the gospel. So the question comes down to this: "Does Rev. Steve Wilkins deny the gospel of grace and teach doctrines that are in obvious contradiction with the WSF?"

Interestingly, the regional presbytery, which has responsibility for investigating such formal charges, has found Wilkins not guilty. Many PCA leaders would simply like to see this attempt to drive Wilkins away just go away. But it will not go away for one simple reason. The poison of a "strict old school confessionalism" is pervasive in some parts of the PCA and the leaders of this fighting remnant will not let this go. They are, simply put, determined to drive Steve Wilkins out of the denomination. Some of us wonder who they would then pursue once they get Wilkins out of the PCA. (By the way, this is one reason why Wilkins doesn’t simply leave on his own. He is filled with courage and hope beyond your ordinary pastor. He has influenced many pastors, counts a number of them his good friends and thus stands with them in resisting these continual attacks that they deem false and unfair.)

Here is the issue, in formal PCA type judicial language:

"Louisiana Presbytery, by neglecting its duties to handle properly TE Wilkins differences and by not finding a strong presumption of guilt on the part of TE Wilkins, and thus either embracing his views or refusing even to being open to considering his guilt therein, has evidenced its refusal to deal with the views of TE Wilkins that differ from the Confessional Standards and Scripture; thereby creating an impasse that can only be resolved by Louisiana Presbytery either repenting (and showing its repentance by bringing TE Wilkins to trial in a fair and impartial way or by referring the matter pursuant to BCO 41), or failing which, having the ecclesiastical connection between Louisiana Presbytery and the Presbyterian Church in America dissolved by the General Assembly, with the geographical bounds of neighboring presbyteries being expanded to cover the geographical area of Louisiana Presbytery, with said neighboring presbyteries, after due examination of elders and deliberation, being responsible for receiving any elders and churches desiring to be reunited with the Presbyterian Church in America."

What this claim is saying is simple. The Louisiana presbytery did not act as these other ministers wanted them to act in regard to removing Steve Wilkins so now they will appeal to the General Assembly (GA) to remove this entire presbytery by an act of discipline and thus force churches to leave and or to stay by joining another presbytery or forming a new one that is "correct" in doctrine. In any normal context this would be seen as a kind of "takeover" move, carefully thought out and clearly political. Yet the proponents all argue that they are simply doing God’s will and protecting the integrity of the PCA. (I do not doubt their sincerity for one moment. What I doubt is their wisdom and hermeneutic.)

I do not have a horse in this race. Steve Wilkins is my friend, as many of you know already. I love him very deeply. I have preached at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church on three occasions. I find it to be a Spirit-filled congregation, a body of well-taught Christians, and a healthy worshiping and witnessing church. Frontofchurchsign
I find Steve Wilkins to be one of the most courageous, patient and faithful Christian ministers that I know. I do not agree with Steve on some points but this is not relevant to my friendship. What is relevant is that he preaches Christ, the good news, and the great doctrines of the system of faith he has openly embraced his entire adult lifetime. His theological views, many friends like me are quite convinced, are not outside the bounds of the confession and clearly not as problematic as a few persistent men make them out to be. If you want to debate this then have at it. Meanwhile I assure you Steve Wilkins continues to pastor his flock faithfully, preach the grace of God clearly and pursue godly peace in Christian love. And his friendship with me doesn’t help him any with these same critics since they also dislike me for different reasons. The major difference here is that they cannot directly harm me since I am not a PCA minister, but rather an RCA minister. At the same time I have more friends in the gospel ministry in the PCA than any other denomination. Most of them dislike this "seek and destroy" business just as much as I do. Some are leaving the PCA for these, and other, compelling reasons. This, in itself, makes the whole business extremely sad to me.  I have no desire to see the PCA torn asunder but so long as these Web debates exist, and pastors spend inordinate amounts of time discussing these issues among themselves and on their blogs (Question: When do these guys pastor their flocks?), this will remain a fractious and contentious issue. (By the way, as long as I was in the pastorate I never found the time to engage in all of this stuff on the Internet, or in person since the Internet was not as big then. I was too busy doing my calling with my flock. This is why I left the pastorate in 1992, out of conscience, so I could be sent to write and counsel ministers and churches at-large!)

God will, quite obviously, decide the right and wrong here. My concern is that the PCA is once again roiling in a controversy that a few men simply do not want to let go away until they get rid of Wilkins, even though a proper process has been followed and he was exonerated. These brothers want to go to the next step, one almost unknown and unheard of in the 20th or 21st centuries, and disband an entire presbytery. They now want to remove this Louisiana presbytery as an act of national discipline. They have the right to do this, at least according to their polity. However, having the right and doing it are not the same thing. The question I have is quite simple: "What will this do to expand the mission of Jesus and to make the good news known to a perishing generation of young people that think the whole business is about power and control by a few?"