“To put it a little crudely, these days nobody is afraid of excommunication. If they decide they don’t want to be Catholic anymore and want to become Episcopalians or Hindus, they just do it. The churches no longer have the disciplinary powers to keep their followers in check. That means that they have to accept much more feeding up from below than they had to in the past.” –Ninian Smart
Updated: Pastor Vince Wood contacted me. He is a most pleasant man who expressed profound concern for abuse. He said he followed the wording that is part of the church order when he excommunicated Brad from the church of Jesus Christ, etc. I countered that, even if that is the case, he should not have written it. Maybe it is about time that their leaders review faulty wording. He wanted me to be sure I understood that Becki was not excommunicated, just Brad.he also wanted me to be aware that Brad’s apology was *not as presented.* I said that he should have been glad that Brad decided to leave the church. I reiterated that I was NOT defending Brad’s point of view. I disagree with him on that matter. That was not the point of the post. I was discussing my concern over unnecessary church discipline. To quote Frozen, “Let it go.”
Theonomy: From Theopedia: ” Theonomy is a view of Christian ethics associated with Christian Reconstructionism, most noted for its attempts to show how the ethical standards of the Old Testament are applicable to modern society, including the Standing Laws of the Old Testament, as well as its general ethical principles.: Think Christian Reconstructionism
Contumacy: From Dictionary.com: stubborn perverseness or rebelliousness; willful and obstinate resistance or disobedience to authority.
This is an important post regarding how poorly church discipline is applied. I rarely have access to so many *certified* letters.
Recently, I said to” Becky Schmehl, “I have something I need to tell you before I post the story of the excommunication of your husband, Brad, from Providence Presbyterian Church. ” She said something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, our pastor told us about your disagreements with Doug Wilson. It’s still OK for you to write our story.” Brad and Becky are now members of a CREC church (Communion of Reformed Churches), a group of churches most commonly associated with Doug Wilson. As readers of this blog know, I am no fan of Doug Wilson.
I am also not a theonomist. I have no problem with people sending kids to public schools. However, I take this view on disagreements within the faith.
In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Augustine
How Providence Presbyterian Church dealt with an outspoken theonomist who disagrees with public schooling.
I support anyone who has been poorly treated by their church. In this case, that church was Providence Presbyterian Church, a PCA in York, PA. There are many details that are interesting in this story. In this case, the final statement from the church is breath-taking in its scope.
Brad and Becky have been more than honest regarding Brad’s behavior. Brad really, really disagrees with public schooling. The pastor of the PCA church supported public schooling. Brad chose to share his strong beliefs with a number of people within the church. He admits to the fact that he probably miffed some folks. He also spoke out against John MacArthur’s “anti-theonomic* beliefs. Apparently, the church really likes John MacArthur. You can imagine how that worked out.
Here is part of a letter from the pastor of the church to Brad.
You wrote to a member of PPC, “I believe that the conflict of viewpoints within the church regarding public education is an ethical dividing line that separates those who are fully committed to obey God from those who have compromised biblical ethics.” In this you imply that Al, and all members of the session of PPC who do not believe that public education is sinful are not “fully committed to obey God.” In this accusation, you are charging Al, and the elders of PPC who disagree with you of heresy and moral failure. Such an accusation is slanderous.
Such actions are factious and must cease. You are disturbing the peace and purity of this church by promoting a view of Scripture that is not held in the PCA and by condemning those who disagree with you. This must cease immediately.
So as your pastor I invite you to be cautious in your words, brother, to be clear, this email is an act of pastoral discipline (BCO 27-1).(The BCO stands for the Book of Church Order)
…Remember, you can continue to disagree with those who do not hold your theonomic views. The error is in using your views as the standard of orthodoxy in opposition to the PCA and in condemning those who do not agree with you.
This letter was sent by Dr. Vince Wood, the Senior pastor. He would go on to ask that Brad not discuss his views on Facebook or with his Fellowship group since a few church members complained. So pastors now believe that they get to control the Facebooks of members…
In bold letters the pastor wrote:
As your pastor, I accept your apology. I am willing to consider the matter done. I would like to help you learn how to maintain your views within the context of the PCA and PPC.
Becky told me the following:
At this point Brad’s apology was accepted, on the condition he did not email members about theonomy or mention PPC in Facebook posts. He did not do either of those things. He continued to post articles from Reform authors and…. On July 25th , 2019.Brad posted this to Facebook and someone from PPC decided to engage him in debate. Brad did not violate his word, this is a public forum and she started the exchange, not Brad.
…(From the church member who asked the question) I apologize Brad I didn’t know you didn’t have any kids. There was no ill intent with my question. I’m going to stop participating in this discussion.
So Brad answered her utilizing an article that he had. The woman asked him a couple of questions and then ended the conversation in what appeared to be in a pleasant manner. She was a member of the church but Brad and Becky do not think she complained about the exchange. Another person saw the exchange and went to the pastor.
The church started an investigation.
Pastor Wood said:
I have noted that your level of posting on Facebook has risen recently. Your posts have been critical of the PCA and public education. The tone of these posts has been condemnatory and combative. Recently when a member of PPC posted a disagreement—partly because your post condemned her husband a retired public school educator—youchose to press your condemnation by attaching another article by Voddie Buchanan.
…To send this to a woman whose husband gave his life work to such work is wrong
Therefore, I am immediately referring this matter to the session of PPC to investigate your actions. The Session will demand of your “satisfactory explanation “concerning reports affecting your Christian character.”
…I have sought to gently warn you of the error of your ways while protecting your right of private convictions. You have sought to disregard these warnings, viewing them as threats rather than counsel from your pastor. Your disregard for these warnings has allowed you to continue the factious behavior.
The church sought to control Brad’s Facebook conversations which bothers me.
They accuse Brad of deliberately engaging in a conversation on Facebook with the PPC member. This is the member who asked him a question which he answered. This seems to be a game of *gotcha.* It appears the church is saying that Brad can no longer truthfully answer legitimate questions on his own Facebook page. Although I disagree with Brad’s theonomy, I object to this interference by the church. Good night! Brad is not advising a member to do something illegal or immoral. He is simply stating his point of view.
July 25-26, Brad responded to a PPC member (Nancy Reath) who disagreed with another condemnatory post and he attached a Theonomic article to persuade her. The position held by the author is not consistent with the PCA. Brad has once again chosen to “proselytize” a PPC member to his theonomy thereby continuing his divisive practice. I am therefore moving forwardwith the action stated in the “Pastoral Rebuke” and forwarding the case to the Session of PPC to investigate this reportaffecting his Christian character as per BCO 29-1, 31-2.
Brad, it is not too late. Even now I urge you to repent of your divisiveness.
In Jesus, Dr. Vince Wood
Brad and Becky notified the church that they were resigning and seeking another church which is a logical move.
But logic does not apply to churches who get mad when members leave. It would seem to me that the church would be relieved that they were leaving. They got the message. Their beliefs would not be tolerated. Problem solved on both sides, right? Wrong.
Once we realized that we could not grow or thrive within a church that wished to “Control” God’s Word, our speech and our convictions, we told them we wereleaving. They continually said Brad was not under formal church discipline until we said we were leaving.
The church responded by sending a certified letter which Brad and Becky ignored. Becky and I discussed the legalities of certified mail. I explained to them that they should read the letter since they might be responsible for something that is in the letter.
They also found a church that more fit their beliefs and asked to have their membership transferred to the new church.
Guess what happened? That’s right. They were placed under retroactive church discipline.
I am coming to the conclusion that some churches just love to do church discipline, especially when they find out they are losing control of people.
Brad sent out this well thought out response.
He reiterated that he had left the church and told them he would not be attending any meeting. I advise people not to attend any meeting of a church after they have officially left the church. The law clearly states that one can leave a church at ANY time, a fact that controlling churches choose to overlook.
The church sent a second certified letter, basically reiterating what was in the first certified letter. Since Brad didn’t show up at the August meeting, they set up a second meeting for the end of September.
Brad attended the meeting at the request of his new pastor and read a letter of apology.
Becky told me that their new pastor asked Brad to go to one of the meetings and give them an apology for whatever he could apologize for (for being pushy). Because Pastor Gregg is Brad’s pastor, Brad complied and did as Pastor Gregg asked, because he does respect actual church authority.
Here is the apology that Brad read:
I have been asked to provide this session with “satisfactory explanation concerning reports affecting my Christian character”. I am told that the sessionwill address those actions of mine which constitute “factious” behavior. As I do not yet know how the session intends to define “factiousness”, it is my intent to limit my remarks to those aspects of my behavior pertaining to my Christian character for which I am to give account.
I am a man who holds to my convictions with a great deal of intensity. I argue my position passionately at times, and at times I am perceived to be quite pushy. Iam told that I am a person who speaks inadvisedly at times, and that my rhetoric needs to be toned down. I do not deny any of this. I admit that I am a work in progress, with many remaining faults and imperfections, and that I am utterly dependent upon God’s grace and that I require the assistance of my brethren in pointing out changes to my behavior that need to be made.
Some members of Providence who may have have been hurt or offended by the way that I have communicated or by my remarks have received apologies from me. Others, perhaps some on this session, may be awaiting an apology from me.
And so, if I have offended against God’s standards of behavior or speech, and you have been victimized by the way Ihave done so, then please allow me to tender my sincere apologies and ask your forgiveness.
Al and Patricia, It has been brought to my attention that, in my previous interactions with you, I may have failed to show you love and respect in the waythat I addressed your positions on issues where we disagree. If this is the case, then I wish to tender my sincerest apologies, andask your forgiveness. Thanks in advance for your consideration.
He then quoted from Doug Wilson’s A Justice Primer. Some session members stated that they were pleased he took the time to read the quoted section. However, apparently Pastor Wood was less than impressed.
Becky described what happened next. This is why I advise people not to attend such meetings. They are a *no win* proposition.
Then the following occurred.
Brad was then sent out of the room for 40 minutes and and called back in, Vince shoved a paper across the table at Brad and want him to answer for all his “sins”. Everything of which he was forgiven, some of them twice now. They began to pepper him with questions and by the advice of Pastor Gregg, he told them he was not going to answer any more questions, his apology was self explanatory. They continued to badger him and he said he was leaving. Brad had a final shot at Vince, Brad pointed at him and said “You lied to Becky, when you told her, in the presents of a witness, that if I decided to leave you would not pursue me. Then he left.
The third certified letter was received.
Another certified letter was received, demanding that Brad attend another meeting. Folks, these types of authoritarians never give up.
“Now he has two more offenses. He is now accused of trying to divide the session by contacting two of the members. Jon and Jay. Joncontacted Brad, Brad did not contact him. He never spoke to Jay and if he had it was going to be about our friendship (we get that the friendship is over now). He did NOTHINGto divide the session (more lies).”
Here is where the word *contumacy* shows up.
Brad was Indicted in the 4th certified letter.
The letter spelled out everything that proved that Brad was *factious.* The letter is quite lengthy and I find some problems with the letter. I will post just a few items.
- There is no acknowledgment of Brad’s apology.
- They assume that Brad was trying to create a division by contacting his old friend John Burke and Jay Hassinger.
There is no question in my mind that they were going for the jugular and Brad and Becky needed to stay away from them.
Brad received the 5th and 6th certified letters.
The 5th one told Brad to come to a meeting in December 2019, regarding his indictment. He was to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. Brad didn’t respond which is the advice I would have given him.
Now the 6th letter is more interesting. Remember, they know that Brad and Becky were attending another church but the leaders couldn’t let go. So, they decided to exclude Brad from receiving the sacraments and said they would tell his current church of their decision. Guess they felt they could control other churches as well.
(Update 8/20/20) Their new church, at first, suspended Brad from communion to give the former pastor the benefit of the doubt. However, the former church refused to send over their report as requested by the new church. Their new church, in another denomination (CREC), responded well by restoring him to communion.
In March 2020, we began communicating and I discussed the need for them to reclaim their rights under US law to freely leave their church
I have been writing extensively on this subject. Many churches, especially of the Calvinista variety, appear to think they own the people who join their church. However, just like they have the right to conduct church affairs as they see fit, they cannot violate individual freedoms provided by the law. In other words, the church has the right to discipline an individual who remains a member of the church. They do not have the right to continue to treat an individual as a member who has resigned their membership. Is PPC’s response to this stupidity or the wish to control people? Is it the *admiral in a rowboat* syndrome?
I referred Brad and Becky to a section on my blog that could be of help. They didn’t realize that they might have the law on their side and the church might be violating constitutionally protected rights of their members. Here is the letter that they wrote to the church in March 2020. I also encouraged them to seek legal advice. Providence Presbyterian Church appeared to be running amock. I strongly advised them to seek legal help.
Here is the *Cease and Desist* letter that they sent.
Providence Presbyterian Church sent a certified letter in June, excommunicating him from the entire church of Jesus Christ!!!
Brad was convicted of the sin of contumacy and excommunicated. In other words, he was a pain in the dupa (pronounced doopa, a Russian word for your backside.)
- Be warned, that by evidence of your life, you have been removed from the Church of Jesus Christ
- Your life has not shown evidence of a lively faith.
- You are excluded from the Sacraments
- You have manifested no evidence of repentance
Blah, blah, blah…
My response: Which of the two churches gets to decide Brad’s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ?
Brad had apologized but that wasn’t enough for Dr. Wood and his team. No, they appeared to want something more. Perhaps they want to be in control of the life of their members. For example, the pastor appeared to want to tell Brad what he can and can’t say on Facebook. The pastor assumed motives in his list of *bad things Brad did.* I have long believed that we can never assume motives unless we have godlike insight. It is quite dangerous when a pastor or church leader believes that he has such insights, especially if said pastor has control issues. It’s amazing to me how churches can come up for stupid reasons for church discipline.
I have had several discussions with the Schmehls. I am no theonomist but there is no question in my mind that they are Christians and have quite a lively faith. How very strange for the PCA church to say they are no longer members of the Chruch of Jesus Christ but their current CREC church believes that they are. So what happens when two churches of different denominations disagree over the salvation of individuals? Which one does God listen to?
This is just one more example of a church that applied unBiblical church discipline. This time it’s a PCA church. I believe that the session should apologize to the Schmehls for their stupid actions. But, I doubt they will. Controlling people rarely do.