After extensive prayer; investigation; deliberation; soul-searching; and solicitation of godly, outside advice, Church of the King–Santa Cruz (COTK) has withdrawn from the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC), of which we have been a part as either a fraternal delegate or full member since 2000. The present communication explains our action.
A Little History
We joined the CREC (then the CRE) with the understanding that the organization is a “confederation” as stated both in its name and its constitution. A confederation is a “group of confederates, especially of states or nations, united for a common purpose; a league.” This Confederation in its constitution indicates that its member churches are joined by theological confession (Reformed, Reformed Baptist or Congregational) and by agreement with the aims of the organization. The CREC constitution provides doctrinal and ecclesial accountability without tipping into standard Presbyterianism (the governance of local churches by all the churches’ elders in their geographic locale) or Episcopacy (the governance by a single bishop exercising authority over elders or ministers within local churches as a virtual succession of apostolic authority).
The CREC constitution defines the organization as confederate, not Presbyterian or Episcopal:
The moderator [whether of presbytery or counsel, and the chief elective office in the CREC] also has the authority to meet with the moderators of other broader assemblies to encourage them or to be encouraged, as well as to inquire about the spiritual and doctrinal health of the churches within the other assemblies. This should in no way be interpreted as a judicial or prelatical authority. (emphasis supplied)
The decisions of the assemblies [presbyteries, and the wider council] with regard to the local congregation are spiritually authoritative, but practically advisory. If the elders of a particular congregation choose to refuse the instruction of the broader church, they may do so without deprivation of property. However, if their disregard of godly counsel is particularly egregious, they may be removed from membership in the CREC, in accordance with Section M and O [that is, by a vote of the presbytery]. (emphasis supplied)
Dissatisfaction has been registered within the CREC with the constitution’s limiting definition of the role of the moderator. A 2003 Constitutional Review Committee report to the CREC titled, “On the Moderator,” (2003 Minutes, pp. 52 ff.), complains that the CREC constitution’s view of the role of moderator is “a real problem,” and outlines instead a much more active, intrusive role for the moderator, stating: “The direction we [the CREC?] are moving calls for more than this,” i.e., more authority than the constitutionally limited role of moderator. The CREC constitution forbids that the moderator may exercise judicial authority, but this report seeks to have that limitation abolished (p. 55), and calls the CREC to “modify our constitution” (p. 56) to grant the moderator (explicitly using the title “bishop”) more intrusive authority within churches. The report calls for the moderator to be “the personal embodiment of the CRE[C],” and he holds up as a positive example the Roman Catholic Pope at this point (p. 53). The Constitutional Review Committee’s argument for such constitutional alterations confirms their understanding that the CREC constitution does not grant the moderator this more expansive authority they desire. The CREC constitution specifies a limited, narrow scope to the moderator’s duties and authority, and the CREC has operated according to this constitutional standard until the latest unfortunate events involving Church of the King. A CREC moderator is already now operating as just such a “bishop,” but in so doing, he is acting contrary to the CREC constitution.
As that constitution declares, decisions of the CREC are “spiritually authoritative, but practically advisory.” While the CREC has the authority to expel a church whose actions they come to regard as “particularly egregious,” its moderators have no constitutional authority to govern within that church. Any reasonable reading of the constitution confirms that local churches are not bound to abide by what they deem bad decisions of moderators.
A Constitutional Crisis
Over time, however, it has become clear that one or more leaders in the CREC have fundamentally redefined the organization’s authority from what is expressed in its constitution, without the due process of discussion and/or vote by its member churches.
This fact became painfully clear to us in the last two years. A group of disgruntled COTK-SC members — as well as non-members — contacted Anselm (Western) presbytery moderator, Rev. Douglas Wilson, with their concerns. He advised them to work with us local elders to resolve their issues. At the same time, however, he continued working with these dissidents behind the scenes, leading them to understand him to be in agreement with their negative assessment of the COTK leadership, thereby validating their negative assessment. Moreover, and quite early in this process, Rev. Wilson pressed the COTK elders to support the disgruntled group in forming a new CREC church, and he irresponsibly assisted that group in plotting a course to accomplish this goal. He unilaterally contacted another CREC minister to solicit his assistance in starting this church, despite the fact that this disgruntled group had not acted responsibly in dealing with COTK, and despite the fact that we had implored Rev. Wilson not to go over our heads as the duly chosen leaders of the local flock. Rev. Wilson disregarded nearly every one of our pleas.
Indeed, throughout this ordeal, Rev. Wilson repeatedly dismissed our concerns and seemed to assume that, at a far distance, he knew the situation much better than we elders did — we who, unlike him, are actually called to oversee our local flock (Ac. 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1–4).
At one point Rev. Wilson communicated to us that the main issue of this entire dispute was his personal differences with one of our elders, P. Andrew Sandlin. Though Revs. Sandlin and Wilson do maintain certain theological disagreements, these disagreements were tangent to the actual church issues under consideration. Nevertheless, when Rev. Sandlin repeatedly offered to meet Rev. Wilson privately to address any differences these highly visible men might have, Rev. Wilson declined each offer.
It is important to understand that none of the issues over which the disgruntled group was exercised touched on confessional fidelity or on any grievous sin of the elders, the only two prescribed actionable offenses according to the CREC constitution. Rather, they were comparatively secondary issues over local polity and decisions, such as liturgy; two-, three-, and four-office eldership; so-called “federal headship” and so on. No issues at COTK met the two criteria for adjudication outlined in the CREC constitution, which reads:
Before any appeal [to the CREC] is made, a matter must be first addressed at the local church level. Appeal may be made (1) when the session of elders is accused by two or more of the church members of participating in or tolerating grievous dishonesty in subscription to the doctrinal or constitutional standards of the local church; or, (2) when the session of elders is accused by two or more of the church members of gross misbehaviour [sic]. . . . The broader assemblies must refuse to hear frivolous or unconstitutional appeals. (IV:M)
None of the issues animating the disgruntled group have ever been considered “grievous dishonesty in [theological] subscription” or “gross misbehaviour [sic].”
Again and again we asked Rev. Wilson to notify us whenever individuals from the disgruntled group contacted him, but he consistently ignored our pleas. On several occasions he portrayed the COTK elders negatively before this group, even while we were seeking to work responsibly with them. When we implored Rev. Wilson to stop his undermining our pastoral efforts with this group, he persistently ignored our requests and continued to do so behind our backs. The desires of our local leadership were of little evident interest to him, in that he ignored us so completely.
The CREC constitution clearly places the prime locus of governing authority in the local church:
We hold the local congregation has primacy in the structure of biblical church government (Heb. 13:7, 17) without denying the important blessings and obligations which come from broader connections and fellowship. (III:A)
By his actions, however, Rev. Wilson shifted much of this constitutional authority to his own office as moderator — without specific constitutional warrant, and in conflict with specific constitutional warrant. Throughout our protracted exchanges, Rev. Wilson did not adhere to courtesies and Christian ethics common among church leaders.
We understand that viewpoints on church government are widely varied, and we are aware that most New Testament scholars understand that the Bible is not unambiguously clear on the issue of church government. Our concern is not that Rev. Wilson would disagree with our views on this issue but that he was not acting in accord with the CREC constitution to which he and we all have given allegiance.
In all this, we have not donned the robes of moralism. We have erred in several points in our actions and have apologized to our congregation and to others for those errors. But we do not believe that our errors validly invited contra-constitutional interference by Rev. Wilson or any other moderator of the CREC.
Where Matters Now Stand
As it stands now, Rev. Wilson has determined to start a congregation from a church split, a split that his actions repeatedly encouraged. The Anselm presbytery has at this late date retroactively sanctioned his injurious actions. This is the same split-group congregation that Rev. Wilson has all along insisted we agree with him in recognizing, and he has finally gotten his way in starting it as a CREC church. The end was visible from the beginning.
By these actions it has now become apparent that the CREC, in conflict with its constitution, has become functionally Episcopal, coalescing around the office of the moderator as the denominational bishops vested with sweeping judicial and prelatical authority.
Our church has been damaged by the actions of Rev. Wilson, and we cannot in good conscience continue in an organization that sanctions such contra-constitutional actions injurious to our local church. We realize that denominations desire new churches, but they may not injure our church — or any other churches — with which they are confederated to achieve this end.
The chief issue is the CREC leadership’s disregard for their own constitution. We cannot remain in an organization that acts so radically at variance with its own constituting documents. Ironically, the CREC constitution provides for expulsion of a member church on the grounds of dishonest theological subscription, but there seems to be no constitutional recourse when the CREC leadership is guilty of dishonest subscription to its own constitution.
Our responsibility is to the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made us overseers (Ac. 20:28), and this awesome obligation dictates our severance from an organization that sanctions injury to that flock and its duly chosen leadership.
Our Present Course of Action
Because we are committed to Biblical accountability, we as elders have requested oversight in this transitional phase by a board of four Christian leaders, each from a different denominational or church sector (OPC, PCA, RCA and independent), and these leaders have graciously consented.
Our prayerful interest is affiliation with a group of Protestant churches who share a genuine confederate structure. Our sentiment is not to have “just another Protestant denomination.” Our concern is for our local body and what would best suit it, and for a confederacy such as we originally anticipated when we read their constitution and joined the CREC. Such a confederacy would be orthodox in creed, Protestant in theology, catholic in spirit, missional in outlook (the entire Gospel for the entire person to the entire world), and flexible in non-essentials (spiritual gifts, millennial views, local church polity, etc.). Its member churches would be bound by a theological and moral accountability with a wider Christendom that respects the distinctives, polity and decisions of the local church. We will welcome discussion with any like-minded church interested in such a confederacy. Please contact us at Elders@cotk.org.
Finally, we bear no ill will to the many godly sisters and brothers in the CREC. We wish for them the Lord’s richest blessing, we are grateful for their past fellowship, and prayerfully anticipate we will continue to serve with them in many endeavors in the Lord’s vineyard.
We pray that this present statement will be helpful for responsible governance for those remaining within the CREC.