Lots of people know about what “Calvin did” to Servetus. Servetus ended up burned at the stake.
What not as many people know is that the man who identified Servetus in Geneva had to spend the night in jail with him.
You see, in the city of Geneva you couldn’t make an accusation, not even against a stranger no one else knew, without taking risk on yourself. It was only just. You were risking another man’s life, limb, and/or liberty. You didn’t get to do that without cost. If you were wrong you would have to pay.
The Bible is even more severe about this. As one PCA minister blogged recently:
I was thinking about the troublers of the church; the fine-toothed comb guys who hunt heresy in the Presbyteries. They want to get certain guys OUT.
And I do not dispute the principle: there are times when some church leaders need to be put OUT.
Which brings me to Deuteronomy 19:
If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing,  then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days.  The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely,  then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
This leads me to think that if a man brings a charge against another with the goal of putting the accused OUT, then the accuser should be told, “Are you sure you want to bring this charge? Because if this Presbytery examines this man and finds him innocent of the charges, then YOU will be put OUT as you wished him to be. Do you wish to proceed?”
I bet things would quiet down if we did things the Bible way.
The PCA hasn’t become the False Accusation Capital of the Christian church because of “Machen’s legacy”–with all due respect to John Frame. It has developed into such a horror because it is, especially in the last decade, designed that way. It allows people to attack without cost.
No cost? Yes I know every accuser is congratulated for their “courage” against some dire persecution they face for “standing for the truth.” You would think they were like Luther facing actual harm to hear the rhetoric–or at least Machen’s followers risking the loss of their pensions.
There is zero cost to making an accusation against another pastor that is proven false in court.
This is the key issue. John Frame even brings it up in his essay when he writes of Norman Shepherd:
A number of bodies (Westminster’s faculty, its board, Philadelphia Presbytery of the OPC) studied Shepherd’s position and did not officially pronounce him unorthodox. But the controversy would not quit, and in 1982 Shepherd was asked to resign his position for the good of the seminary community. In my view, that decision was an injustice.
Right. You can download Richard Gaffin’s letter to circularizers who would not abide by one of Shepherd’s exonerations (posted at The Norman Shepherd Project). When one doesn’t get one’s way one just screams more. Eventually, people will act because they can’t shut you up. Shepherd was found not guilty repeatedly but the accusers kept writing and campaigning. Now we hear about how “courageous” they were. It cost them nothing. It was easy. It was risk free.
Even our Book of Church Order has a (rather anemic) appeal to the justice of Deuteronomy 19.16-19:
31-9. Every voluntary prosecutor shall be previously warned, that if he fail to show probable cause of the charges, he may himself be censured as a slanderer of the brethren.
But somehow, no one ever needs to actually man up and accuse. No one ever pressed charges against Steve Wilkins in Louisiana Presbytery. The entire process was circumvented so that there was no risk and everyone went along with it.
It is costless to be an accuser. It is a free ride to endanger someone else’s calling and job and to take a huge chunk of their life away in fear and defense. There is no down side.
And you always get more of what you subsidize.
I like the title but the PCA pastor’s casuistry is off. The law’s penalty applies when the witness is false, and this is not coterminous with acquittal. If Joe says “I saw Jim stealing X” and Jim is acquitted, that doesn’t mean Joe was false (he could have been mistaken or maybe Jim was acquitted because Joe was the only valid witness). But if we find out later that Joe was at home eating chips at the time, then he was false. Analogously, Joe could accuse Jim of violating the WCF and really believe that such is the case. If Jim is acquitted, this would not mean that Joe should be tossed out. But if we later find that Joe hadn’t read anything by Jim (or heard any audio), then he would be a false witness.
“But if we later find that Joe hadn’t read anything by Jim (or heard any audio)[…]”
That’s an extreme we won’t find. There’s only a couple PCA signers to the FV Joint Statement still in the PCA. I expect more blogged BS against them from the same sources.
In theory, someone could make accusations simply based on rumor. That would be false witness but it would also be crazy; most doctrine wonks aren’t that sloppy or lazy. So sure, it would be tough to have false witnesses in a doctrinal dispute. But the bottom line is that a false witness is neither an inaccurate witness (e.g., someone thought they saw something that they didn’t) nor an unsuccessful witness (e.g., the accused was acquitted). A false witness is an unfaithful witness. That is, the determining category is neither epistemology nor pragmatics, it is ethics. The witness is unfaithful because he is knowingly lying about either his qualifications as a witness to the matter at hand or he is lying about what he saw/heard/etc. He is not simply incorrect, he is a fraud. And it’s the fraud that makes him false.
At the very least, a repeat unsuccessful witness is a witness against their TE/RE office and installation, especially when witnessing against another TE/RE in good standing.
There is that whole peace of the church ordination vow thing so yeah, someone who repeatedly brought charges that fell flat would need to be counseled (and disciplined if the issue persisted).
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