Monday, April 1, 2002

Presbytery of the Dakotas Takes on Doug Wilson and Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho

P & R News, April–June 2002

The Presbytery of the Dakotas of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) has adopted a strong resolution, warning all OPC presbyteries of “some grave dangers in the practices of Douglas Wilson and Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho.” According to the Presbytery, these practices “undermine the discipline of reformed churches and refuse to support it, assuming it is unbiblical without even hearing the case.”

The Presbytery also forwarded the correspondence to its fellow presbyteries, as well as to the 69th OPC General Assembly, asking that the Assembly “forward it to churches with whom we have ecclesiastical fellowship.”

At the center of the controversy is Christ Presbyterian Church, Salt Lake City, Utah, an OPC congregation. The Session at the Utah congregation had already taken the Idaho church to task for counseling a former elder in the Salt Lake City congregation that he can refuse to cooperate with the process of church discipline.

The dispute revolves around charges that were brought against one of the original elders of the Utah church. Shortly after organization two years ago, the newly installed Session tried to prevent the congregation from voting on calling the organizing pastor, Jason Wallace, to be the pastor of the church. One of the objections was that Mr. Wallace was going to be moderating the congregational meeting which would vote on his call. Twelve members of the congregation forced the calling of a congregational meeting to deal with the pastoral call. Eventually, all three of the original elders left the congregation. One of them joined the Reformed Church in the United States, the denomination in which he was raised. Another one is now attending Hidden Valley Presbyterian Church, a newly organized Presbyterian Church in America congregation in Draper, Utah. The other elder, Tony Maneri, “resigned” from the church rather than transferring to another church, although he subsequently joined a local Reformed Baptist church.

Under OPC rules, a person may “resign” from the denomination. However, the church court is not obligated to accept the resignation, but may continue with any disciplinary proceedings. According to the Christ Presbyterian Session, Mr. Maneri was confronted individually and before witnesses before he resigned. The Session decided to proceed with formal judicial charges, because of the gravity and persistence of the alleged charges he was making against Mr. Wallace.

Christ Church in Moscow is well known for its publication of Credenda Agenda, and its sponsorship of other ministries, including Canon Press, Collegiate Reformed Fellowship, Greyfriars Hall, and New St. Andrews College. Its pastor, Doug Wilson, is also well-known for his numerous books, particularly on classical Christian education, courtship, and marriage. One of the faculty members at New St. Andrews College is Dr. Peter Leithart, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a sister church to the OPC. Among his several books is Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated? a defense of paedocommunion.

The Idaho congregation spearheaded the formation of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelicals (CRE), a federation of churches. Founded in 1998, CRE seeks to bring together a variety of people who profess an allegiance to Reformed theology. The spectrum is a wide one, encompassing Reformed Baptists and paedocommunionists. Unlike standard Presbyterian polity, a minister’s membership is held in the local church, not in the broader church.

The CRE corresponded with a PCA presbytery over the discipline of Burke Shade. Illiana Presbytery deposed Mr. Shade in 1999. The Carbondale, Illinois, minister was eventually received by CRE, along with the church which he now pastors, Cornerstone Reformed. The congregation, which was started by members from Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the PCA church in Carbondale formerly pastored by Mr. Shade, practices paedo-communion. (See P&R News, May–June 2001).

According to Pastor Wallace, Mr. Maneri was convicted in absentia at a trial on August 22, 2001. Appointed as his counsel was Mr. Mark Hausam. Mr. Maneri was convicted of false witness, being found guilty of having charged Pastor Wallace with false witness, with being morally unfit for office, and with being a divisive man according to Titus 3:10. Pastor Wallace indicated that Mr. Maneri had refused to bring these charges for adjudication, and was instead spreading them as gossip.

Mr. Maneri’s position is that he had joined another church and therefore was not subject to OPC jurisdiction. This was also the counsel of Doug Wilson to him.

As explained in a letter last year from Doug Jones of Christ Church, Moscow, to the Clerk of Session of the Salt Lake City church, “The main point of [our position] is the claim that if one is not a member of the OPC, then one isn’t subject to OPC jurisdiction. Surely, your session does not disagree and claim that nonmembers are indeed subject to OPC jurisdiction.” The email went on to say: “we don’t find him [Doug Wilson] making specific judgments against specific persons or courts on your end but instead voicing strong, well-grounded skepticism about general Reformed patterns of litigiousness, along with long-standing confidence in the character of Mr. Maneri. Mr. Wilson explicitly stated that he was making claims about patterns and appearances as an ‘outsider.’ . . . . If your session is genuinely interested in dissuading Mr. Wilson of his skepticism in your particular case, we recommend that you send us the trial documents which show that you have risen above the contemporary Reformed norm. We would be glad to read them and return our comments back to you.”

The OPC General Assembly is slated to meet June 12–19, 2002. Among the denominations with which the OPC has ecclesiastical fellowship are the PCA, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the Canadian and American Reformed Churches.