From Jason Grabulis’ Stuff That Matters blog. Originally posted 10/19/07.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Statement of the CRPC Session Regarding the Recent Suspension of Dr. Warren Gage

Below is the “official” statement of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (CRPC) Session detailing their understanding of the recent suspension of Dr. Warren Gage and the Session’s subsequent rulings.

For those of you interested in an explanation of official PCA documents, the following statement details aspects of both the Book of Church Order (BCO) and CRPC’s constitution. However, the statement does not interact with Knox Theological Seminary’s Bylaws. (This document is posted with the permission of the CRPC Session) –

Statement of the CRPC Session Regarding the Recent Suspension of Dr. Warren Gage by the Knox Theological Seminary Board of Directors


The Session of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church recently upheld the historic reformed understanding of Scripture as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith in overturning a decision of the Board of Directors of Knox Theological Seminary.

In light of recent publications on Web and elsewhere, it is proper that the Session provide an official version of the facts which led to the extraordinary act of overriding the Board of Directors of Knox Theological Seminary which resulted in the resignation of six of the directors1. The Session provides this statement and prays for healing and reconciliation.

 

The Authority of the Session

Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is not only a confessional church, but it is a constitutional church. The Constitution consists of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), the Larger and Shorter Catechisms and the Book of Church Order (BCO). The Scripture is not a part of the Constitution because while a constitution may be amended, the Scripture is a non-amendable authority which is above the Constitution. All teaching elders, ruling elders and deacons in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) are required to subscribe to the constitution and to advise the court of which they are members if their views on the subject change. That subscription to our constitutional standards is at the heart of the recent disagreement between the Session and the Knox Board.

 

The government of the Presbyterian Church in America is divided into courts at three levels. BCO 11-4 provides in relevant part:

 

For the orderly and efficient dispatch of ecclesiastical business it is necessary that the sphere of action of each court should be distinctly defined. The Session exercises jurisdiction over a single church, the Presbytery over what is common to the ministers, Sessions and churches within a prescribed district and the General Assembly over such matters as concern the whole church. The jurisdiction of these courts is limited by the express provisions of the Constitution.

*****

Every court has the right to resolve questions of doctrine and discipline seriously and reasonably proposed, and in general to maintain truth and righteousness, condemning erroneous opinions and practices which tend to the injury of the peace, purity or progress of the Church.

 

The Book of Church Order 12-5 also enumerates the powers and responsibilities of a PCA Session; it states in part:

 

The church Session is charged with maintaining the spiritual government of the church, for which purpose it has power:

 

To call congregational meetings when necessary; to establish and control Sunday schools and Bible classes with special reference to the children of the church; to establish and control all special groups in the church such as Men in the Church, Women in the Church and special Bible study groups…(BCO 12-5d).

 

 

It must be understood that Knox Theological Seminary is very different from independent seminaries in its form of government. Whereas other seminaries are governed by a board of directors of what is usually a separate nonprofit corporation, Knox is a division of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church having no independent existence apart from the church. The Knox Board is established as a commission of the Session totally subject to the Session as clearly stated in Section 18000 of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church Policy Book.

 

A commission, often called an ecclesiastical commission, is simply an organization within an organization that has the power to do things in the name of the commissioning organization. Section 15-1 of the BCO provides:

 

A commission differs from an ordinary committee in that while a committee is appointed to examine consider and report, a commission is authorized to deliberate on and conclude the business referred to it, except in the case of judicial commissions of a presbytery appointed under BCO 15-3. A commission should keep the full record of its proceedings which shall be submitted to the court appointing it. Upon such submission this record shall be entered on the minutes of the court appointing…

 

While the BCO does not discuss the power of the commissioning court to overrule a commission; nonetheless, inherent in the power to create a commission is the authority to override, overrule, decommission and reconstitute it. The Session is accountable to the higher courts in the Presbyterian Church in America. For example, the Presbytery through its review of Session minutes can note or cite irregularities made by a Session or its commission. Accordingly, the Session must have the authority to control the commission as necessary. This inherent power is explicitly recognized in the CRPC Policy Book, Section 18,000, which creates the Knox Commission (Board) using the following language:

 

18,000 COMMISSION B – KNOX THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

 

Knox Theological Seminary (Knox) shall be governed by a Board that acts by authority delegated by the Session of CRPC. Just as the Session exists in conformity to Scripture, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America, the Board of Knox exists by discretion of the Session in conformity to the higher standards and to the standards enumerated below.

 

Thus the Policy Book states:

1.       The Knox Board acts by authority delegated by the Session.

2.      The Knox Board exists by the discretion of the Session.

3.      The Knox Board exists by the discretion of the Session in conformity to the higher standards and the standards enumerated below. More on this later.

 

Also note from BCO 11-4 above that while church courts have the right to resolve questions of doctrine, commissions may only do what they are commissioned to do. Since the Knox Board is a commission not a court, there is no implied authority giving the Knox Board the power to resolve questions of doctrine. Indeed, the doctrine of the Church and the Seminary are fixed in the Constitution (WCF, LC and SC). In fact they are the guardians of the historic doctrine set forth in the Constitution above. They may not deviate from it.

 

Background–September 11, 2007

On September 11, 2007 the Board of Directors of Knox Theological Seminary sent a delegation to the Session to report that they had earlier that day at a called meeting suspended Dr. Warren Gage from all teaching at Knox and had given him seven conditions (metrics), not all doctrinal, to which he must agree in order to be restored. It was suggested that the Session should, in turn, suspend Dr. Gage from teaching and preaching at the Church. The Session declined to suspend Dr. Gage, but instead scheduled a called meeting for September 25, 2007 to hear testimony from both parties.

 

The Doctrinal Question

During Dr. Gage’s testimony, he readily agreed to six of seven conditions imposed by the Board, and, in some cases, provided testimony why he believed he had not violated them at all, and emphasized his agreement to WCF I:92.

 

This brings us to the one condition, the main doctrinal question, which is hereafter referred to as (Condition 1.)

 

Dr. Gage said he could not agree not to set forth any typology except that which is explicit in the Scriptures. After a full hearing, discussion and deliberation, the Session determined that WCF 1:9 does not require that the use of typology be limited to what is explicit in Scriptures. Instead, the Session found that WCF VII:5 speaks much more clearly to the issue by indicating that there are a great many types, all of which point to Christ.

 

Article VII .5 provides:

This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.”

(Emphasis added.)

 

The conflict between Article VII .5 of the WCF and a restraint on typology as adopted by the Board and imposed on Dr. Gage required action by the Session to protect the integrity of the Seminary’s adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The restraint imposed by the Board and delivered to Dr. Gage and to the Session was in writing in the following form:

 

Dr. Gage…

[Condition] 1) Must agree not to set forth any typology except that which is explicit in the Scriptures.

For example: Jesus’ teaching on the Road to Emmaus does not include specific Old Testament references. We may not speculate on how and where Jesus used the Old Testament.

(Emphasis added)

This restraint is simply in conflict with the much broader view of typology expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, VII. 5 (above). The restraint had been proposed by an Anglican bishop in the early nineteenth century, but it is not a doctrine of the Reformation.

 

Furthermore the language in Condition 1 above, as formulated by the Knox Board has been declared unacceptable and non-reformed by such scholars as Patrick Fairbairn (Typology of Scripture) and Louis Berkhof (Principles of Biblical Interpretation). The Session maintains the Board’s action was a deviation from our historic reformed hermeneutic (interpretation) and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

 

The Session rejected the idea that the WCF compels adherence to Condition 1, finding persuasive the opinions expressed in a letter from Dr. Dominic Aquila, the President of New Geneva Theological Seminary, in which he states that, “Dr. Warren Gage’s writing, teaching and preaching are in conformity and in accord with these principles of Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. His hermeneutical approach is within the mainstream of historic Reformed biblical interpretation, in accord with the writings of Reformed scholars like Geerhardus Vos, E.J. Young, Meredith Kline, O. Palmer Robertson, and Herman Ridderbos.” The Session also considered the scholarly opinion of Dr. Edmund P. Clowney, the late Reformed theologian and first president of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia, PA), as it related to Condition 1. Dr. Clowney wrote, “Only the lack of hermeneutical method can shut us up to recognizing types only where the New Testament itself explicitly recognizes them.” (Preaching and Biblical Theology, pp. 111- 112). Dr. Clowney’s statement clearly supports the position of the Session.

 

The Session Decision

After hearing the Board’s one hour presentation with time for questions and answers and hearing Dr. Gage’s one hour presentation with time for questions and answers and a review of documents submitted by the parties, and vigorous debate, the Session passed the following motions:

 

1. Dr. Warren Gage was declared Confessional and the Knox Theological Seminary Board’s conclusion was declared incorrect.

 

2.      Dr. Warren Gage’s suspension from teaching at Knox Theological Seminary was vacated and he was reinstated immediately with full rights and privileges as a professor in good standing. Further, neither Dr. Gage nor any other faculty members are required to meet Condition One of the restoration procedure (Must agree not to set forth any typology except that which is explicit in the Scriptures.)

 

 

Conclusion

It is understood that a commission of the Session should ordinarily be allowed to do its work with minimum oversight by the commissioning court. On rare occasions, however, a Session has the obligation to overrule.

 

It is the fervent prayer of the Session that the process of forgiveness and reconciliation will continue, and that the Church and the Seminary will continue to honor the Savior producing well trained reformed pastors to the glory of God.


Soli Deo Gloria

1 On or about October 12, 2007 the six Knox directors who had resigned notified the Session that they rescinded their resignations.

2 WCF Article I.9 The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

–> The document can also be read on CRPC’s website here.

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