The primacy of councils in theological cases

(Updated motivation for Overture 3 of 2006 General Assembly, referred to the Manual Committee of General Assembly) The adoption of ecclesiastical courts by the UPCSA for referred disciplinary cases of any type, in which ecclesiastical court decisions in theological cases in particular are not reviewable by any ecclesiastical council of the UPCSA, has created an ambiguity in primacy of theological policy setting of the UPCSA. Such primacy was previously unilateral y held by the use of the Barrier clause provision - See Manual 12.50. However, Manual 18.30 read with Chapter 18 on 'Discipline' in full, has opened the way for ecclesiastical courts of the Church also to set theological policy by the power of precedent that such courts have in all discipline cases, in particular cases in which theological significance other than that of ecclesiastical councils of the UPCSA may be the finding of UPCSA courts.
2006 Assembly Proposal, Debate and Comment Councils versus Courts in Theological Cases Clash between the primacy of Council debate with barrier clause determination of theological position and the precedent power of UPCSA judicial Courts in theological cases TION 1 -
OVERTURE 3, GA 2006 (updated for manual numbering changes).
IN THEOLOGICAL CASES (Updated for Manual Chapter 18)
The following overture was adopted by the Presbytery of Egoli and forwarded to the General Assembly of 2006. The Assembly referred the overture to the Manual Committee and invited the mover to send a ful rationale or motivation to the Manual Committee. This was done while Prof A Kerr was Convener.(Letters attached) The Presbytery of Egoli overtures the General Assembly to amend Chapter 11/18 of
the new Manual
as follows:
Let 11. 2/18.2 become 11.2 (a)/18.2 (a).
Add 11.2 (b)/18.2 (b)
"Within Presbyterian systems of church government the enforcement of confessional discipline and covenant, or the recognition of liberty of opinion in matters not fundamental to the faith, is exercised in ecclesiastical councils, with ful opportunity for open and non-self-incriminating theological debate.
From this point in the Chapter, whenever the word 'misconduct' or phrase 'al eged
misconduct' appears, it has added to it the appropriate one of the following phrases -
"or contravention of teaching, doctrine or covenant," or "al eged contravention of
teaching, doctrine or covenant."
For example 11.59/18.59 becomes:
"A Council, ie a Session, Presbytery, Synod or the General Assembly (if any of the last three mentioned wish to initiate an enquiry), begins an enquiry into al eged misconduct or contravention of teaching, doctrine or covenant either on its own initiative.etc" 11.60/18.60 is amended to read:
"When an act of misconduct or contravention of teaching, doctrine or covenant is al eged, the Council appoints a committee to investigate and report on the circumstances, including in its report whether a judicial case or case of teaching, doctrine or covenant should be initiated.
11.98/18.98 is amended by reworking it to contain (a) and (b) paragraphs as follows:
11.98/18.98 "If the accused admits the truth of the allegation(s) the Court may
question him/her with reference to the alleged facts of the case in order to
ascertain whether he/she admits the allegations in the formal written
statement in para 11.62/18.62, or the accused may hand in a signed written
statement in which he/she sets out the facts which he/she admits and to which
he/she has pleaded guilty.
If the Court is satisfied." rest of current para 11.98/18.98. without
If the Court is satisfied that the contravention of teaching, doctrine or covenant has been committed, it then finds that the case must be presented further before the equivalent Council.
11.99/18.99 is amended by by reworking it to contain (a) and (b) paragraphs as
"11.99/18.99 If the accused denies the truth of the al egation(s), the Court proceeds
to hear all the evidence. (See paras 11.78-11.95/18.78-18-95) Thereafter it
hears the argument of both parties on the evidence, the argument of the
Representative being heard first. The Court then determines its verdict or
finding and informs the accused and the Representative of it.
If the Court finds the accused guilty." [rest of para 11.99/18.99
If the Court finds that further action in the case of al eged contravention of teaching, doctrine and covenant must be presented before the equivalent Council for the finding and the exercise of discipline under ecclesiastical Council procedures, the Court transfers the case to the equivalent Council, which must determine the finding and pass sentence. The Court:i) prepares a report and proposals (including sentencing proposals) for the equivalent Council procedure, and forwards these to the Clerk of the equivalent Council, notifies the accused and the Representative that the case is transferred to the equivalent Council, and presents them with a copy of the full report and proposals, i i) Exorts the accused and the Representative to prepare for the debate and decision-making process within such Council procedures." SECTION 2 - A RELATED PRECEDENT
Overtures 2 and 3 of 2008 General Assembly in the name of the Presbytery of the Western Cape were referred to the Administrative Review Panel because of the possibility that a change in theological policy regarding the term of office of elders could be secured without resort to the 'Barrier Clause" provision. The matter came before the Presbytery of Central Cape's February 2009 meeting, at which Prof A Kerr consequently gave Notice of Motion (outcome not material) and Overture. The spirit of the overture was adhered to with the adoption of Proposal 2 (b) of the Manual Committee Report at the Executive Commission of 2009 in sending the amendment on term of office of elders to presbyteries under the Barrier Act. Overture re General Assembly's Administrative Review Panel: Prof Kerr
Prof Kerr spoke to the Overture of which he had given notice Assembly's Administrative Review Panel (hereinafter referred to as the AARP) is asked
(1) to issue a statement to the effect that if anyone wishes to bring forward into The
Manual of Faith and Order a proposition that was in the Interim Manual or in the Manual
of the UPCSA but is not in the Manual of Faith and Order the only way in which the wish
can be given effect is for an overture to be sent to Assembly which overture is then sent
down to the Presbyteries under the Barrier procedure in para 12.50 of The Manual of
Faith and Order.

The Council discussed the merits of the Overture.
Rev H Barnard moved that the Presbytery transmit this Overture to General Assembly
with approval.
This was seconded and AGREED.
Effectively it was not the finding of the Courts or Administrative Review Panel
(an extension of the UPCSA ecclesiastical courts, although it's terms of
reference are set as reviewing only UPCSA Council decisions, not those of
UPCSA ecclesiastical courts, in particular in theological cases), but use of the
Barrier Clause provision of the UPCSA which was given primacy and decided
the outcome of this theological matter.

The ongoing ambiguity on primacy in theological matters between the UPCSA Barrier provision and possibility of the precedent power of the UPCSA ecclesiastical courts to determine theological policy is perhaps implicitly recognised in the report of the Manual Committee to the 2009 Executive Committee, (page 144, Papers, Proceedings and Decisions.) The dispute al uded to was ultimately referred to use of the UPCSA Barrier provision. What then will be the procedure in possible cases of discipline before the UPCSA ecclesiastical courts in findings which also bear theological outcomes but are not able to be referred to the UPCSA Barrier clause because of Manual 18.30? Overture 3 of Assembly 2006 was an attempt to deal with the ongoing unresolved ambiguity in theological cases.
Mover's Motivation:
The overture does not change but keeps the Chapter 18 UPCSA judicial court structure as is for the majority misconduct cases. UPCSA judicial courts will still discipline ministers/elders who steal money, or have sexual affairs, or paedophile pastors. The overture is about disciplinary procedure in the minority 18.4 (a) 'teaching. and doctrine' cases and related 18.4 (b) 'covenantal relationship' cases which Presbyterians decide in our Church Councils, with proper debate, and under the constraints of the barrier clause primacy. The overture corrects the current clash in Chapter 18 procedure between the precedent power of the judicial courts and Council decisions under the barrier clause in determining 'teaching' 'doctrine' and 'covenantal relationship' cases, in other words theological cases.
Initial 2006 Assembly Debate and Comment
2.2.1 The Manual Committee convener and Report presenter asked some superficial questions about the vocabulary used in the overture during General
Assembly 2006 debate. What is meant by:
The first line of Chapter 18 of the Manual reads
"In this Chapter what is meant by "discipline" is the enforcement of rules against "marginally minded sheep" referred to in the first paragraph of the Foreword."
'confessional discipline' and covenant'
Ch 18.4 speaks of 'Discipline being exercised in respect of.' 'teaching' and
'doctrine' and 'covenantal relationship' - confessional discipline and covenant
This vocabulary is that of the Manual itself. The overture was written for compatibility with the Manual, so that the bigger issue would not be lost sight of. Presumably, if the Manual Committee wish to change their own vocabulary, they would need to bring their own proposals or overture to the Assembly to change their own vocabulary.
2.2.2 "non-self-incriminating" theological debate also arises from the contents of Chapter 18.62 (b) (c) and (d), which, as the subsequent motivation will show, have an appallingly negative history in theological cases.
It was made plain to the Assembly that the overture concerns theological primacy in the UPCSA. Does primacy of determining 'teaching' 'doctrine' and covenant' still lie with the Councils of the Church, Session, Presbytery, (Synod), Assembly, or has it been subverted to the precedent power of the Courts? As Chapter 18 now stands, decisions of the Courts can currently make 'teaching', 'doctrine' and covenant' policy, without any review by Councils. Further negative impact will be looked at in the motivation below.
4.1 Historical Background for Debate in Councils
The leaders who most got the Reformation going studiously avoided ecclesiastical judicial courts. John Wyclif had influence which kept him debating and lecturing theology at Oxford, and away from ecclesiastical judicial courts and 'inquisition' (used here to mean 'court enforcement of theological position without exemption from self-incrimination in proceedings'), and thus allowed the roots of English Reformation to form, and to put Bible translation into the vernacular on track. Martin Luther fought hard for debate instead of going before ecclesiastical judicial courts and self-incriminating 'inquisition'. More than the 95 Articles, it was the Leipzig debate with Johann Eck which swung Europe. Eck did show Luther was in error against Rome, and so 'deserved' inquisition, but the wider public saw openly that bogus biblical claims by Rome, enforced by ecclesiastical judicial courts, had condemned so many falsely, even to death. Most German leaders then refused to act and arrest Luther. Both John Calvin, (who fled France and the probability of an ecclesiastical court future), and John Knox, (exiled from Scotland and being released, fled consistent anti-reform threats in France and England), found opportunity for open debate in the city council system of Switzerland and the German Reformation, though the Geneva City Council first opposed Calvin. Councils versus Courts In Presbyterian Theology
John Calvin, human founder of Presbyterianism, wrote of the primacy of the consistory in theological debate in his Institutes of the Christian Religion: Book IV.IX.13 - "We readily admit, that when any doctrine is brought under discussion, there is not a better or surer remedy than for a council of true bishops to meet and discuss the controverted point."When discussing the ecclesiastical power in Book IV.XI. Calvin's opinion concerning the primacy of the Consistory (Councils from Session outwards) in theological discipline is very clear: Book IV.XI.6 "This power, as we have already stated, did not belong to an individual who could exercise it as he pleased, but belonged to the consistory of elders, [which was in the Church what a council is in a city.]" and "But the common and usual method of exercising this jurisdiction was by the council of Presbyters, of whom, as I have said, there were two classes." [Calvin's famous exegesis of Eph 4.11-12 about ministers/pastors & elders/teachers is applied.] In Book IV.XI.15 Calvin includes a quotation from Ambrose concerning the right approach to settling matters of theology or theological cases: ".they say that a question of faith should be discussed in the Church before the people." Calvin adds his comment: "He (Ambrose) maintains, indeed, that a spiritual cause, that is, one pertaining to religion, is not to be brought before the civil court, where worldly disputes are agitated." It may be argued that the UPCSA courts are church judicial courts, and not civil courts. Calvin was also aware of this claim about the Church judicial courts of his day, but gave an opinion reflecting very badly of judicial courts for theology. Book IV.XI.7 "It was, therefore, a gross iniquity, when one man, transferring the common power to himself, paved the way for tyrannical licence, robbed the Church of what was it's own, suppressed and discarded the consistory ordained by the Spirit of Christ. Book IV.XI.8 But as evil always produces evil, the bishops, disdaining this jurisdiction as a thing unworthy of their care, devolved it on others. Hence the appointment of officials to supply their place. [I am not now speaking of the character of this class of persons; all I say is that they differ in no respect from civil judges. And yet they call it spiritual jurisdiction, though al the litigation relates to worldly affairs.]" Inbuilt 'precedent power' within church judicial courts allowed papal curialism through the bishopric to buttress its position on the many Roman innovations in faith and order in the Church, and 'to inquisition' and so not hear genuine scriptural apostolicity. Whatever coincidences or dissimilarities exist between the church judicial courts of Calvin's time and current UPCSA courts, including claims that UPCSA courts are just consistory in another function, the issue of the precedent power of church judicial courts remains. Calvin's intention is clear, in particular in theological cases - theological primacy resides with the Consistory (Councils), not judical courts however 'delegated' they may be. (2) The Appalling Failure of Church Judicial Courts in Theological cases:
Jesus faced Sanhedrin judicial trial and was asked "Are you the Christ, Son of the Blessed One?" Just 'inquisition' and no real intent to debate took place, the outcome was Jesus' execution by crucifixion. Thousands of other cases are as notorious: John Huss sought debate under imperial safeguard against 'inquisitional self-incrimination', but was betrayed. The English martyrs, (listed in Foxe's Book of Martyrs), the Scottish Reformation martyrs (Patrick Hamilton, burnt at the stake; {when half burnt he lifted a hand to bless the crowd but his thumb and little finger were already burnt off, so he blessed them with only 3 fingers - the origin of the blessing form so popular with Dr Jack Dalziel}; George Wishart, lecturer of John Knox and many others) suffered 'self-incriminating inquisition'. Galileo Galilei was condemned for the science that the earth orbited the sun. Servetus accused Calvin in judicial court but the court, acting under self-incrimination, sentenced Servetus instead to be burned. Calvin's credibility about liberty has been questioned ever since. In SA, Bishop John Colenso's case split the Anglicans; Professor Albert Geyser's case before the Hervormde Kerk instead drove the ecumenical church to isolate them. The 'justification of apartheid is a heresy' debate had huge implication in the prior PCSA/RPCSA churches: under intense apartheid state pressure, open debate was practiced which allowed the whole issue of the 'theology' of Apartheid to come to conclusion - without inquisitional cases being used against the issue by what was once a dominant white apartheid majority. The principle and role of such open non-self-incriminating debate, used by a then minority black and white ministers opposed to apartheid theology, is hard to over-estimate.
The huge issue in most such cases was the trying of theological cases before 'inquisitional, self-incriminating' church judicial courts, with the negative repercussion of all that goes with 'heresy trials'. In theological cases, Chapter 18 of the Manual as it stands, re-opens the possibility of just such 'inquisitional, self-incriminating heresy trials', which don't work. Reservations about 'inquisitional, self-incriminating representation' in theological issues also arise from the 'prosecution' and 'judging' having inherent theological specialisation. Yet the omission from the Chapter 18.62 'rights of the accused' of the right to specialist theological and ecclesiastical representation that civil legal representation cannot offer in such cases, may open 'inadequate defense' grounds for mistrial in theological cases, and may therefore deserve due notice to any accused.
The Acts 15 Council Precedent:
In the Bible theological discipline was done in open theological councils, using non-self-incriminating theological debate and decision. The Acts 15 Council is the best example. Barnabas and Paul come before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 accused of not circumcising and not disciplining Gentile converts into Jewish legalism. Ful Council debate gives the one correct decision which keeps Jesus' changing of the world going forward - Jewish legalism is not the measure of faith, ministry is done in the Spirit of Christ in grace. So successful was this Council that not only are al black and white Southern African Gentiles here because of it, but Reformed churches adopted a Council practice through all modern centuries for government and discipline, and theological discipline in particular, as the true Biblical practice.

The current Chapter 18 is unconvincing about opportunity for the abuse of the precedent power of the UPCSA judicial courts not being present in theological cases for our time - some of them very divisive indeed. No understanding has been given of how the management of theological primacy between the Councils (with barrier clause practice), and the precedent power of decisions of UPCSA judicial courts (without Presbytery or Assembly power to review theological decisions of their respective courts), will be handled. There are currently constituted one GA court, eighteen Presbytery courts (Synod Courts not counted), and a possible 444-plus Session courts (last directory), using a precedent based, court primacy over Councils system (no theological review by Councils) - without even a Chapter 18 clause establishing a precedent library of past court findings as first step to management of theological primacy between Councils and Courts. Here are some scenarios under Socratic scrutiny: Abuse of Precedent Power by Zealotry:
The Assembly has put out a declaration on homosexuality which upholds the
current marital position of the UPCSA as definitive on the issue, while al owing
the 'other' position open debate in Councils. If a minister, who after ordination
and induction has taken open homosexual 'marriage', and faces discipline but
has presented that he holds the 'other' position (that there is a differing
interpretation of Scripture), and an over-zealous 'liberal' Court of the Egoli
Presbytery (writer's then presbytery for the sake of the argument) finds such
'other' position also to be theologically valid and so dismisses the case against
the minister without review by the Presbytery or Assembly - by precedent
power, that theological decision has become the theological position of the
UPCSA. Declaration and determination by the Barrier Clause, review by the
Court of Assembly may be moot. Further proceeding in civil court is now given
open invitation to find with an alternative church court finding by the over-
zealous Presbytery court, that the 'other' position is a current yet valid minority
position within the wider UPCSA and therefore legal, irrespective of the
theological issue. Precedent power has set UPCSA theology.
Abuse of Precedent Power For/Against Cultural Primacy:
The ancestral issue went through Catholic judicial practice in Lusaka against
Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo. In his 1984 book "The World in Between".
London: C Hurst & Co. p89ff, 118ff., Milingo describes his charismatic healing
services like those of Francis MacNutt and Cardinal Suenens. He claimed that,
led by the Holy Spirit, the good ancestors of the one receiving healing told him
what diseases evil spirits were causing and how he was to pray, and then, in
the name of Jesus the highest ancestor, he cast out the evil spirit or prayed for
healing. Whatever we may think, in 1982 the Congregation for the Propagation
of the Faith (current Pope Benedict's old job) disciplined him, he was recal ed to
Rome. The ancestral Christology/Pneumatology issue was not addressed in
open debate at a council, the controversy just goes on, little was resolved. A
similar scenario involving a minister on trial for 'syncretism' is possible before
the UPCSA Courts, with either outcome as a finding - pro-cultural weighting or pro-scriptural primacy, with the attendant negatives for Church unity and integrity. Again, probability is that the finding of the Court at whatever level will note the 'other' interpretation, and itself uphold it as a valid legal position, or civil court involvement in the labour dispute part of the case will do so, and thus make UPCSA theological policy, despite Council and barrier clause procedure.
Intimidation of Precedent Power for Religious/Political Correctness:
Religious/Political correctness is also a divisive debate in the UPCSA, the liberal opinion of religious and political correctness favouring tolerance without offense for other religions or social practices as we follow our own. Yet Christians must debate the Qur'anic interpretation of Jesus, Qur'anic claims for angelic dictation of Qur'anic Christology, Qur'anic claims regarding Jewish and Christian subversion of the Old and New Testaments, Qur'anic 'jihadism' which has in the main focussed on Christians (now Jews) in clash with 'love for the neighbour'. al issues which under Shariah Law are tantamount to blasphemy against God, Islam and Muhammad. The previous pope was subject to an assassination attempt by a muslim extremist; Salman Rushdie had a 'fatwa' issued against him for "The Satanic Verses" (a work similar in scope for Islam to the Da Vinci Code for Christianity); a crude cartoon, and even an attempt by the current pope for open debate with muslims about the perceived 'jihadist' content of the Qur'an, was met with churches being burnt, Christians persecuted. September 11 was celebrated, not apologised for.
A UPCSA court, in the Western Cape, for example, may uphold a finding against a minister/member/elder who has attempted to engage these 'muslim' issues in open debate with the tools of critical academics (form critical and linguistic, literary analysis of the Qur'an), and has come under the orchestrated violent reaction' against 'Islamophobia' which is the tool increasingly favoured by Islamic militancy. The western Cape UPCSA judicial court, under stress, finds the minister/elder/member not to have shown 'appropriate comparative religion training and inter-religious tolerance', so bringing the UPCSA into scandal by this misconduct, thus spuriously silences debate for the preservation of the 'unity and integrity of the UPCSA'. Again a judicial court sets theology for the UPCSA, not Councils and barrier clause. CAN SUCH THINGS "GO HORRIBLY WRONG.?"
Church history shows that in theological cases things can go horribly wrong, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, originator of the now famous phrase "things went horribly wrong", has upheld more widely. In a Mugabe meltdown, the widely admired Zimbabwe 1980 new Constitution after the Lancaster House agreement amounted to cold comfort; the daughter of the past Chief Justice of Zimbabwe found schooling refuge in one of the South African Schools recognised by the UPCSA. A ZANU PF aligned Anglican bishop now ordains ZANU PF politicians as priests, causing deep schism in that communion. In the USA, the unilateral consecration of an openly homosexual priest as bishop by that episcopalian church has split the the global Anglican communion. The Roman pontiff never even raised an AK 47, he just commented about Muhammad, the Qur'an and jihad, and churches were burnt. September 11 Islamic apology is absent. Constitutions, manuals and Courts are easily abused or hijacked. Archbishop Tutu has himself not escaped controversy on some of these issues. On the homosexual issue he found himself on the 'unilateral' side. He spoke on Mugabe, and earned that president's scorn as another 'embittered little bishop' of the ilk of Bishop Abel Musorerwa. He spoke on the 'unsuitable' Jacob Zuma candidacy for the presidency of South Africa, and was 'asked' to forgive Zuma as he forgave the perpetrators of Apartheid atrocities. Things go horribly wrong.
The UPCSA is not immune to the problems arising from the contexts in which the church does theology. The best protection for the UPCSA covenant with its congregations, in the event of such crises of things going wrong, is sound Consistory (Session), Presbytery and Assembly Council practice, with disciplined use of the barrier clause provision. Decisions of theology in these kinds of contexts made by misdirected precedent power of the UPCSA judicial courts have potential for great division. TION 6 - CONCLUDING REMARKS:
Judicial court findings in theological cases are prone to things going horribly wrong; they could be 'back to heresy trials', or the kind of 'canon law' precedent power overruling the barrier clause and forcing policy on the UPCSA, precedent power which entrenched so much Roman innovation and 'inquisition' in the Roman Catholic communion. Presbyterian method in dealing with theological cases seems to be that Courts/Commissions can bring theological issues into clarity, but that open theological debate with proper non-self-incriminating opportunity for presentation of reports and for debate in UPCSA Councils, which should retain authority for review of theological court decision and determination of findings, is to be preferred. The overture retains the Court structure of Chapter 11/18 so that church judicial
courts and civil courts do misconduct cases. The changes manage the clash
between the precedent power of the courts and the theological primacy of the
Councils under the barrier clause procedure. The courts are used as specialist
committee structure in theological cases, so that respective UPCSA Councils have
proper theological and legal representation, guidance and reporting, but the Councils
retain theological review authority and thus theological primacy of the Councils under
the barrier clause procedure.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Notes:1. Bainton R, 1950,1978. Martin Luther. Nashvil e: Abingdon. p64-92; M'Crie, T. 1976. The Life of John Knox. Glasgow: FreePresbyterian Publications. p 19-102.
Walker, W. History of the Christian Church. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. p268f; 306f;349f; 369f. Wendel, F. 1963,1980. Calvin. London: Col ins. p40-68.
2. Calvin, J. 1536,1559, 1962. Institutes of the Christian Religion BkIV. London: James Clarke.
Berkhof, L. 1939,1984, Systematic Theology. p576-603.
Hal am, H. 1827. The Constitutional History of England. London; Ward, Lock and Company. p83f, 3. Bainton R, 1950,1978. Martin Luther. Nashvil e: Abingdon. p79,88, 104,128. Calvin, J. 1536,1559, 1962. Institutes of the Christian Religion Book IV. London: James Clarke.
David, RHC. 1970. A History of Medieval Europe. London: Longmans. p237-248; 349-353.
Deanesley, M. A History of the Medieval Church 590-1500. (general)Hal am, H. 1827. The Constitutional History of England. London; Ward, Lock and Company. p83f, Southern, RW. 1970. Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages. Harmondsworth: Walker, W. History of the Christian Church. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. p263; 306f; 349f; 369f.
4. Bolt, R. 1960,1990. A Man for Al Seasons. Oxford: Heinemann.
Bolt gives a dramatic comment on the issue of self-incrimination as he perceived it to have arisen in the case of Sir Thomas More, charged with treason in the reign of Henry VI I.


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