The PCA Road to Rome

Mark Horne, assistant pastor at Providence Reformed (PCA) in St. Louis, MO got his feathers in a bunch recently on the Greenbaggins blog when one of his fellow Neolegalists, PCA pastor Bill Smith (Community Church, Louisville, KY) came under a little fire for his Federal Vision. Contributor to the Greenbaggins blog, Seth Foster, who seems to have considerable familiarity with Smith, wrote:

Bill Smith’s ordination and credentials were approved and successfully transferred from the Louisiana Presbytery to the Ohio Valley Presbytery in 2005. He, along with his session, have gone unchecked and unchallenged for over three years.

Mark Horne replied:

The reason Bill Smith was passed and has gone unchallenged is because his theology was orthodox and bears no resemblance to your vile caricatures. Ohio Presbytery still knows how to be godly and you should learn from them. (Though I can only wonder if your are being encouraged in your disgusting behavior by other members or former members–I hope not.)

By the way: A stacked political committee, or even an honorable one, even with a GA majority vote, has 0 authority to damage a minister’s office in his presbytery–a fact that was made amply clear to the GA before they made their vote.

Todd’s blessing of layman despising the courts (Ohio Pby is a real court, unlike any committee) is going to come back on his head. Being a commment[sic] cartoonist may qualify you as a Greenbaggins Genius on this blog, but it isn’t going to be viewed that way by the Lord of the Church when we are all summoned before Him.

Which goes to my standing [in] MO pby. The only thing I’m being “protected from” are slanders from bloggers. There is no subterfuge. We are here because we are orthodox Presbyterians. Period.

Before getting into an example from Smith highlighting the depravity of his Federal Vision and answering the question whether he and Horne are “orthodox Presbyterians,” let’s take a moment to first consider some of the desk pounding by Horne. I should point out that the “Todd” mentioned above is Todd Bordow who evidently set Horne off by praising Seth for recognizing the clear and present danger of the FV in the Ohio Presbytery. Todd’s comments provided the impetus for Horne to launch into attack on the FV/NPP committee with the tired FV canard that the report was the work of a “stacked political committee.” Of course, if it were true that the PCA FV/NPP committed was “politically stacked” then the entire GA , which adopted the report by a near unanimous vote, is similarly “politically stacked.” Horne is clearly a sore loser who is still reeling from his complete failure to get even one of his fellow “federal visionaries” included on the study committee so they could rewrite the report. Even more pathetic is Horne’s invocation of God’s judgment against those who would dare question the wisdom, not to mention the fidelity to the gospel, of a presbytery that would approve the transfer of a Neolegalist like Smith — or even Horne for that matter.

It seems this self-styled “orthodox Presbyterian” has forgotten that since synods and councils “may err and many have erred” (WCF XXX1:4), it follows that Presbyteries “may err and many have erred” when approving the transfers of unfit pastors. Evidently criticizing the competency of a presbytery that would approve the transfer of Federal Visionists like Smith is worthy of God’s judgment, whereas criticizing the court of the General Assembly for putting together a “politically stacked” committee is perfectly acceptable. Needless to say Horne’s highhandedness provides a wonderful and timely example of one of Kevin Reed’s “Imperious Presbyterians.”

Now, before moving on to Smith, there are two points mixed in Horne’s self-serving display of feigned moral outrage that are worthy of special consideration:

1. Horne is correct and the committee report on the FV/NPP has “ZERO” authority to require any presbytery to discipline even one of its Federal Vision pastors, even if one were to stand in direct and open opposition to all 9 declarations found in the conclusion of the committee report. The committee report is a tool that presbyteries may use, but are not required to use, in deciding things like ordinations, transfer credentials or even disciplining errant pastors like Smith and Horne, but they are under no obligation or even compulsion to do so. That is why without decisive court action systematically throwing every last one of these false teachers of the Federal Vision out of the PCA the report would have been better used as toilet paper.

2. Horne is also correct and that PCA presbyteries, like the Missouri and Ohio presbyteries (and there are others), are knowingly and willfully protecting men like Horne and Smith. There can be no dispute that the men in those presbyteries (and they know who they are) are directly responsible for the growth and furtherance of the false gospel of the FV within the PCA and beyond.

Now, let’s turn our attention to Pastor Smith. I confess, until Seth Foster posted a link to the Community Church website pointing readers to the “pastor’s page,” I was completely unaware of Smith. I’m certainly not familiar with the names of all the Federal Visionists in the PCA and I dare say even most, so it’s not surprising that I missed some of the lesser figures in the movement. I once even unwittingly wrote senior pastor at Horne’s church, Jeff Meyers, with criticism of the Missouri Presbytery’s FV report complaining that it would do little to remove FV pastors from the PCA. I could hardly pull my foot from my mouth after that one. The point is, there is really no telling how many men subscribe to and teach the false gospel of the Federal Vision within the various presbyteries and churches of the PCA. My guess is that passage of the FV/NPP report may have made it more difficult to flush out and identify a large number of these men from under the PCA floorboard. I suspect that while the report has “ZERO” authority within the PCA, passage of the report was a clue for FV pastors and elders in the PCA to lay low. Thankfully Pastor Smith has no clue, which perhaps explains why he would publish his objections to the declarations of the FV/NPP report here. Of course, the other option, and as Horne suggests, is that he feels safe enough within the confines of the Ohio Presbytery to air his opposition to the report’s conclusions like a pair of old gym socks.

While there is plenty in Smith’s various responses that would warrant close attention by any Presbytery that still understands and loves the gospel, I just want to look at just one of Smith’s comments in regard to declaration #9 of the committee report. The committee report concludes:

9. The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called “final verdict of justification” is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.

Here is Smith’s response:

I affirm that we stand as righteous before God by faith on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. I deny that our works form the ground by which we are accepted by God. Since I do not believe that anyone at anytime or anywhere could merit any favor from God, meritorious works cannot be the basis of our acceptance before God as righteous. Only as we are found in the one who was declared to be the Righteous One in his resurrection, Jesus Christ, can we be found righteous.

This belief does not contradict but is complimentary to what James says when he says that we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2.24). James, I believe, is dealing with the nature of saving faith. The faith that justifies before God is a faith that works through love (Gal 5.6). That faith, and only that faith, is justifying faith.

I do believe that there will be a final judgment according to works. Jesus teaches this in Matt 25. Paul speaks of this explicitly in 2 Cor 5.10. Our Standards affirm this in WCF 33.1, LC 90, and SC 38. We will be judged according to what we have done in our bodies, whether good or evil. The righteous will be acquitted/vindicated/justified and the wicked will be condemned. Our good works are only accepted in union with Christ. They are, in this way, necessary for final justification but they are not the “basis” of our salvation. They are necessary in that they are the expression of a justifying faith. That is, if a person does not have this kind of living and active faith, then he will not be acquitted by God at the last day.

William R. Smith, II
Pastor, Community Presbyterian Church (PCA)
Louisville, KY

I confess, I could spend considerable time examining the many deadly errors laced like arsenic throughout Smith’s response, but it really isn’t necessary. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere and even on this blog, big red flags should start to fly – and should fly violently – whenever someone tries to relate James 2 to forensic justification. Yet, that is exactly what Smith does here. For Smith James 2:24 is not referring to our justifcation before men as we evidence or demonstrate our professed belief in the finished work of Christ by how we conduct our lives (i.e., by our works), rather it is our works done through faith that justifies us before God. Smith asserts “The faith that justifies before God is a faith that works . . . .” And, just in case anyone could possibly miss it, he adds: “That faith, and only that faith, is justifying faith.” This is Romanism pure and simple. It would be hard to find the idea of justification by faith and works expressed more clearly and unequivocally in any of the writings of any of the Federal Visionists — or in the even in writings of any pope not to mention Roman Catholic apologists like Robert Sungenis and other self-styled former “orthodox Presbyterians” like James Akin and Scott Hahn.

There is not one thing in Smith’s understanding of justification that does not comport completely with the doctrines and anathemas defended at Trent. Yet, here is a PCA pastor teaching this Romanish bile completely without fear of being held to account by anyone in his Presbytery or from anyone else in the PCA for that matter. As Mark Horne blows above, the Ohio Presbytery which approved Bill Smith’s ordination and credentials is the same Presbytery that will protect him.

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8 Comments on “The PCA Road to Rome”

  1. magma2 Says:

    I see that Horne has already commented, even if he didn’t respond here.

    This is the perfect post: the blogger rails that preaching the Westminster Standards on Justification is the same as preaching “the doctrines and anathemas defended at Trent.” I’d love to think this was somehow anomalous to the ant-FV jihad, but it is quite representative–only standing out by being so naive and honest. Kind of like: “What would anti-FVers say if they didn’t have to claim loyalty to Westminster and the Reformed Tradition.” You just have to love the internet and blogging sometimes. – Mark Horne http://friendfeed.com/markhorne/comments

    A false teacher of the Federal Vision thinks I’m “naive and honest.” How quaint.

  2. rgmann Says:

    Todd’s comments provided the impetus for Horne to launch into attack on the FV/NPP committee with the tired FV canard that the report was the work of a “stacked political committee.” Of course, if it were true that the PCA FV/NPP committed was “politically stacked” then the entire GA , which adopted the report by a near unanimous vote, is similarly “politically stacked.” Horne is clearly a sore loser who is still reeling from his complete failure to get even one of his fellow “federal visionaries” included on the study committee so they could rewrite the report.

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one tired of hearing this incessant whine from the FVists and their defenders! What amazes me is how they claim the FV/NPP report doesn’t accurately represent their views, while at the same time they claim that it was a “politically stacked” committee formed for the purpose of condemning their views with a foregone conclusion! If the report doesn’t accurately represent their views, then what are they complaining about? If that’s the case, then they should be no more threatened by the report’s conclusions than I am. It doesn’t take a genius to see through such an obviously transparent smokescreen. The fact is that the report both accurately represents and condemns their views, and that’s why they are so outraged! Moreover, as you pointed out above, the fact that the GA voted to adopt the Report “by a near unanimous vote” demonstrates the absurdity of their slanderous charges against the committee.

    Even more pathetic is Horne’s invocation of God’s judgment against those who would dare question the wisdom, not to mention the fidelity to the gospel, of a presbytery that would approve the transfer of a Neolegalist like Smith or even Horne for that matter. It seems this self-styled “orthodox Presbyterian” has forgotten that since synods and councils “may err and many have erred” (WCF XXX1:4), it follows that Presbyteries “may err and many have erred” when approving the transfers of unfit pastors.

    Sean, you must have forgotten that we are merely “sheep” who are supposed to silently be led to the slaughter. We have no more right to question or criticize a presbytery than Martin Luther had the right to question or criticize the Papal authorities! Have you no sense of Reformation history and principles?

    Evidently criticizing the competency of a presbytery that would approve the transfer of Federal Visionist like Smith is worthy of God’s judgment, whereas criticizing the court of the General Assembly for putting together a “politically stacked” committee is perfectly acceptable.

    Can you say “hypocrisy?” Come on now, it pronounced “hi-pok-ruh-see” — you can do it!

    The committee report is a tool that presbyteries may use, but are not required to use, in deciding things like ordinations, transfer credentials or even disciplining errant pastors like Smith and Horne, but they are under no obligation or even compulsion to do so. That is why without decisive court action systematically throwing every last one of these false teachers of the Federal Vision out of the PCA, the report would have been better used as toilet paper.

    I see your point, but I’m hopeful that the GA’s admonition to the Louisiana Presbytery on Wednesday, June 11, 2008 (http://theaquilareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=88:louisiana-presbytery-admonished-by-pca-ga) will prompt other presbyteries to wake up and take notice. I’m fairly confident that other presbyteries don’t want to be publicly humiliated in a similar fashion for failing to do their duty. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough!

    The point is, there is really no telling how many men subscribe to and teach the false gospel of the Federal Vision within the various presbyteries and churches of the PCA.

    And I’m sure there are many more who are overly sympathetic with FV teaching (or who are overly friendly with FV pastors and elders), and won’t do anything in order to hold them to account!

    My guess is that passage of the FV/NPP report may have made it more difficult to flush out and identify a large number of these men from under the PCA floorboard. I suspect that while the report has “ZERO” authority within the PCA, passage of the report was a clue for FV pastors and elders in the PCA to lay low.

    I’m afraid you might be correct!

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere and even on this blog, big red flags should start to fly – and should fly violently – whenever someone tries to relate James 2 to forensic justification. Yet, that is exactly what Smith does here. For Smith James 2:24 is not referring to our justifcation before men as we evidence or demonstrate our professed belief in the finished work of Christ by how we conduct our lives (i.e., by our works), rather it is our works done through faith that justifies us before God. Smith asserts “The faith that justifies before God is a faith that works . . . .” And, just in case anyone could possibly miss it, he adds: “That faith, and only that faith, is justifying faith.” This is Romanism pure and simple.

    If this is not what he means (and I’m sure he’ll “say” that it’s not!), then he is incapable of expressing himself clearly, and has no business teaching anyone God’s word!

    There is not one thing in Smith’s understanding of justification that does not comport completely with the doctrines and anathemas defended at Trent. Yet, here is a PCA pastor teaching this Romanish bile completely without fear of being held to account by anyone in his Presbytery or from anyone else in the PCA for that matter. As Mark Horne blows above, the Ohio Presbytery which approved Bill Smith’s ordination and credentials is the same Presbytery that will protect him.

    I hope you’re wrong! I don’t believe the PCA has crossed the point of no return yet. Wasn’t one of the pastors on Greenbaggins’ blog talking about bringing charges against Meyers and Horne? What ever happened with that? Have you heard anything? Anyway, I still believe there’s hope!

  3. magma2 Says:

    Andy Webb threatened to file charges against Horne and Meyers. Doesn’t seem that Horne is the least bit fearful. Perhaps he knows that Andy’s threat was idle. Perhaps he also knows that nothing will happened to him and that his Presbytery will protect him just like the Ohio Pres is protecting so-called “pastors” like Smith.

    Horne is so delusional that he even believes he and his ilk represent Reformed tradition and that Smith’s doctrine, so clearly expressed in his reply above, is that of Westminster.

    As for hope, I think men in the PCA, men who ought to know better and sometimes even do, are simply not philosophically equipped to effectively deal with, much less stop, the continued spread of the false gospel of the FV. I wish I were wrong. Had enough men been trained in Clark’s non-contradictory and biblical epistemology, along with embracing his simple and non-tautological definition of faith and saving faith, things might be different.

    As it stands, I think even FVers half as clever as Doug Wilson could successfully tickle the ears of any assembly of PCA “TRs” that would sit in judgment of even one of these men.

  4. gusg Says:

    Sean,
    It continues to amaze me, though it should not, that individuals can make baldly anti-scriptural statements, and with vehmenence and ferocity. It reminds me of what I was like–having been in the ranks of formal AND material heretics. I was a Charismatic, an Arminian, a Reconstructionist, and my last major blunder, was to be found among the ranks of the “Imperious Presbyterians”. But God loved me, by walloping me but good. His kids ALWAYS get lovingly spanked, and the non-elect go their merry ways. As a former collar wearing, closed presbytery meeting, conniving and cussing Imperious Presbyterian I have repented of all my evil ways. God delivered me from the clutches of all that evil.

    This whole episode of FV/NPP in the North American visible “Reformed” church’s life reminds me that truth is a gift, error is a judgement, and “there but for the grace of God go I.”

    “Imperious Presbyterian” merely confirmed what I have suspected for a long time, that there are (perhaps literally) ONLY 7000 in North America that have not bowed the knee to Baal, that the “Reformed” (Deformed?) Dutch and Presbyterian denominations are dead or dying, and that we have retrogressed 500 years. In Canada if you want to maintain your faith, read the Westminster standards dilligently, follow them–and stay out of a church denomination or building. If the Christians who are closet Romanists dont get you, the crypto-statists will. If they dont get you the liberals will.

    As difficult as it is to accept, I agree with the premise of “Imperious Presbyterians”–the visible church is much more radically deformed than many are willing or able to admit. We had been visiting a Brethren chapel for sometime, and thought that we had found an innoculous oasis, until a “friend” suggested that home-schoolers who don’t meet government standards should be charged with abuse and have their children taken away from them. We are at least wise enough to know that “even the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel”–and cut our ties immediately. Thanks for the continuous insight as to just how bad it is out there. I’ll worship at home thanks.

    Gus Gianello

  5. magma2 Says:

    Thank you for you post Gus. You nailed it, truth is a gift. I also agree with your assessment of the state of the P&R church. I even walked down many of those same paths (OK, never wore the dog collar or bought into Reconism — thankfully my first intro into the Reformed faith was from reading Clark).

    It is amazing how God is so merciful and on such an undeserving lot as we are. – Blessings.


  6. […] their pastor, William Smith (pictured above), are by now well known to readers of this blog (see here).  It appears that Instead of ridding herself of false teachers like Smith, the PCA is ridding […]

  7. Keith Says:

    I agree with magma 2 that most PCA elders are not equipped to analyze “Orthodox” words used to cloak heterodox ideas.
    Two tactics fogging the vision (ok, bad pun!) in my state are:

    1. Claiming that Scripture “delegates” its “highest authority” to the visible church organization.
    They actaully say the church authority is not subordinate to , but equal to, Scriptural Authority.
    This is because they claim that Scripture delegates it away to the church leaders.
    “Ecclesiocentricity” even calls it “primary”!
    (My reply: The Bereans even tested Paul as under the supreme unique authority of an inerrant Scripture!)
    The church organization is said to be the “center “, not Christ or Scripture.

    2. They like to preface, saying salvation is “by grace alone through faith alone “.
    Then they cleverly cancel out what they preface, saying :
    Salvation is “only found” and obtained exclusively through the conduit of the visible church organiaztion.
    One must then be faithful to “covenant vows” made joining the church, or go to hell.
    It is asserted that one is not a Christian until they are a baptized church member.
    Then they are judged for salvation by “vow faithfulness”.
    When pressed, they admit that a person who desires to join, but cannot join (as on a death bed, like the “baptism of desire” in the RC church) may be saved.

    I have seen intelligent (but not equipped) men fall for this because :
    1. The “delegating” by Scripture to the church leaders seems on the surface to be “based” on Scripture.
    2, The words cancelling out “by grace alone through faith alone ” following it are ignored.

    Has anyone reading this met these type of tactics?

  8. Keith Says:

    One other question:
    To what extent has the old liberal National Council of Churches/PCUSA Confession of 1967 church organization centeredness (ecclesiocentricity) permeated the PCA?


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