Permanent Judicial Commission

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Gerstner01Dr. John Gerstner, the esteemed Professor of Church History at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, for many years persisted in his allegiance to his denomination. Despite the urgings of friends, he continued to hope for better days for his Church. But finally when one matter in particular came to the fore, the conclusion was inescapable, and Dr. Gerstner drafted the following statement [emphasis added to highlight the noted date]:—

THE APOSTASY OF THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
by Dr. John Gerstner

The United Presbyterian Church in The United States of America became apostate, officially on January 26, 1981 turning away from adherence to the Lord Jesus Christ by permitting in its ministry a denier of that same Lord Jesus Christ.  This was done by the decision of the Permanent Judicial Commission of The General Assembly of The United Presbyterian Church in The United States of America.  It upheld National Capital Union Presbytery’s approval of Mansfield Kaseman for ministry.  The Synod of The Piedmont had become apostate for the same reason, July 8, 1980.  At Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly levels, Mr. Kaseman had been shown to be guilty of denying or refusing to affirm at least four essentials of the Christian religion:  the sinlessness, bodily resurrection, vicarious atonement, and deity of Jesus Christ.

Documents of the six trials, two each by Presbytery and the Permanent Judicial Commissions of Synod and General Assembly (1979 and 1980) are available for those who would inform themselves in depth. This paper concentrates on the 1981 decision of The Permanent Judicial Commission of The General Assembly which finally, officially, produced the legal and constitutional apostasy of The United Presbyterian Church denomination.  First, after brief statement of the evidence and argument that Mr. Kaseman did indeed deny or refuse to affirm indispensable Christian doctrine, we present second, a somewhat longer critique of The Permanent Judicial Commission decision of January 26, 1981 substantiating our grave charges that in defending apostasy it made The General Assembly apostate. We then third, explain why this apostate action makes the whole denomination apostate and why, fourth, if The General Assembly does not effectively repudiate this apostasy or begin the process of repudiation, every Christian is obliged to separate from the non-Christian denomination. We conclude with an appendix in the form of a proposal for action at The 193rd General Assembly meeting at Houston, Texas, May 19-27, 1981 which may be taken if apostasy is not there repudiated.

I.  The Case Against Kaseman

The substance of the complainants’ case against the National Capital Union Presbytery can be briefly stated.  First, the complainants charged that Mr. Kaseman denied or would not affirm the sinlessness of Christ.  If Christ was not sinless He could not be the Savior of the world.  He would need a Savior Himself.  The only response from Kaseman’s defenders was that he was thinking of sinlessness in the sense of frustration.  There was no denial that Mr. Kaseman would not affirm Christ’s freedom from all sin.

Second, Mr. Kaseman refused to affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The complainants pointed out that according to I Cor. 15:17, “… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” (NASV)  Paul was speaking in that chapter about the bodily resurrection of Christ.  There is no other kind of resurrection than bodily because the soul never does die. The only response ever received was that Kaseman did affirm the “resurrection” (not bodily resurrection). The complainants never denied that Mr. Kaseman affirmed a non-bodily resurrection whatever that may mean.

Third, Mr. Kaseman specifically denied the doctrine of the “vicarious atonement”. No one can question that without Christ’s atonement for our sins there is no possible salvation. The only response that came from the defenders of Mr. Kaseman was that there are other metaphors beside the concept of substitution that describe the death of our Lord.  That never was at issue either. The defenders never questioned the allegation that Mr. Kaseman did deny the “vicarious atonement” which is absolutely essential whatever else may also be essential to the doctrine of the atonement.

Fourth, this whole trial first came about in National Capital Union Presbytery when in March of 1979 Mr. Kaseman was asked if he believed that Jesus Christ was God and he answered, “No, obviously No.  God is God.” Much discussion followed and much was said and reported in the secular and religious press during the following two years but never did Kaseman ever deny this apostate statement.  The Presbytery’s Committee of Representation never said anything to justify Mr. Kaseman.  It was once irrelevantly contended that he merely meant to say that Christ was more than God, being man also, but Christ’s humanity was never an issue either.  Kaseman denied that Jesus Christ was God. He has never denied the denial.  In the second trial before the National Capital Union Presbytery when the same question was put to Mr. Kaseman he refused to answer with a categorical negative as he had before. He also refused to take back his previous statement so that it still stands on the record. He did say at the second interrogation that Jesus Christ is one with God and affirmed belief in the Trinity.

The affirmation (which apparently satisfied the majority of Presbytery) that Christ was one with the deity did not amount to an affirmation of the deity of Jesus Christ.  The proof of that is the explanation which Mr. Kaseman offered for denying that Jesus Christ is God.  If Jesus Christ were God, he asked, how would he answer the death of God theologians: Who was then minding the universe? This only served to show that Mr. Kaseman did not even understand the doctrine of the Incarnation, much less believe it. He apparently thinks that the doctrine of the incarnation means that God ceased being infinite and omnipresent and became finitized and temporalized in a human being! Having such a grotesque misconception, Mr. Kaseman could not possibly believe that Christ was or is God.

All of these most grave charges have been repeatedly proven by complainants as the documents of the various trials clearly illustrate. They have complained against the National Capital Union Presbytery for its approving Mr. Kaseman in spite of his demonstrated apostasy.  Neither the Committee of Representation of the Presbytery nor any of the higher courts that have heard the case have ever refuted these charges.  In some instances, including the final trial, there was no attempt to do so.  This refusal or inability was in spite of the fact that the complainants have charged apostasy and pled with the higher courts if they could not refute the charges, to set aside the Presbytery’s decision and discipline all courts which have approved it.

  1. The Permanent Judicial Commission of The General Assembly Decision of January 26, 1981

The final court at the final hearing, (the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly in the hearing January 24, 1981), falls far short of saving our Church from the apostasy charged. Actually it itself, by tacit compliance, became guilty of the same apostasy. All that the supreme court of our denomination did was affirm how orthodox our Confessions are, while at the same time upholding Presbytery and Synod in approving a man whose unorthodoxy, in at least four essentials of the Christian faith, had been demonstrated.

First of all, . . .

Those interested in reading the entirety of Dr. Gerstner’s treatment of this issue may write to the PCA Historical Center for a digital copy. Address your mail to [archivist (AT) pcahistory /DOT/ org]

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Historical Prologue

Ascension Presbytery was chronologically the 19th presbytery formed within the PCA, being officially organized on 29 July 1975. Originally its encompassed a larger territory, but those borders were diminished with the formation of Pittsburgh Presbytery on 1 January 1993, and later on 1 January 2010, Ascension contributed churches to the formation of Ohio Presbytery. Presently its borders include all of Pennsylvania north and west of and including the counties of McLean, Elk, Clearfield, Jefferson, Armstrong, Butler, and Beaver counties. The following brief history of the Ascension Presbytery was composed by the Rev. Richard E. Knodel, Jr.:

The Presbytery of the Ascension of the Presbyterian Church in America did not spring forth de novo. Among reasons for its formation were many that were not of the moment. The constituents of the Presbytery of the Ascension were almost exclusively members, in one way or another, of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (hereafter cited as the UPCUSA). In broadest terms, it could be shown that the continual turning of the majority of the UPCUSA toward a crass latitudinarianism was placing a greater and greater torque on firm evangelicals with that body. The attrition which had surfaced during the earlier portion of this century had, in many cases, reached an undesirable maturation of unbelief and corruption. No matter which field might be investigated, be it doctrine, missions, education, management, social concern or evangelism, the seeds of corruption could be seen reproducing themselves at an unnatural rate.

Yet while there were such cyclical crises, problems which for the Evangelical seemed to resurface with a foreboding rapidity, there was, for the most part, an inverse reaction of silence from the evangelical camp. Most evangelicals were hesitant to take precipitous action though they were in the midst of a self-admitted crisis. The proverbial “carrot”, representing possible changes and hope, was seen to be continually dangling before the conservative’s watch. Whether it was a humility which was deeply conscious of its own fallibility, or whether it was a hesitancy to become embroiled in an open hostility, the posture of most evangelicals was inert. And this was a position which was open and vulnerable to the disease of the greater portion of the body. Furthermore, it presented the evangelical involved, with the problem of “what degree” of liberalism there must be, before it would be morally advisable to either attempt discipline within the church, or to exercise reverse discipline by separating oneself from the church.x

But for the vast majority of the members of this new presbytery, such agonizing decisions were made unnecessary, by the direct action taken by the UPCUSA. Most felt that they were asked to leave their church, and that the most honorable way that this might be accomplished was to “peacefully withdraw.” This action was precipitated by the popularly known “Kenyon Case” which began in the late Spring and ended in the late Fall of 1974. The watershed of this case had taken, and is taking place in 1975, even as this account is presently being penned.

Mr. Walter Wynn Kenyon was an honors graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. in his trials for ordination, Mr. Kenyon, upon being asked his position on the ordination of women, stated that he could not in good conscience participate in the ordination of a woman. He said that it was his understanding of Scripture that prevented such involvement, but went on to say that he would not stand in the way of such an ordination, if such was the desire of a church which he would happen to serve. Immediately there arose much dissent, and such dissent grew until the overwhelming majority of the church endorsed the judicial verdict which banned Kenyon and all future Kenyons from the pulpits of the UPCUSA. Furthermore, there was both explicit and implicit action which was taken against those men already ordained.

The Rev. Arthur C. Broadwick (and the Union UPCUSA of Pittsburgh) and the Rev. Carl W. Bogue, Jr. (and the Allenside UPCUSA of Akron) were already involved in litigations which involved this issue. And, in an even more pervasive way, the Stated Clerk of the UPCUSA (Mr. William P. Thompson), acting as the official interpreter of th Constitution of the UPCUA, ruled that as one’s answering the ordination/installation questions affirmatively was involved in the final decision in the Kenyon Case, any presently ordained pastor or ruling elder who held to the Kenyon views, could likewise never be placed in another pulpit or office unless he changed his views. The constitution of the UPCUSA clearly stated that men should exercise “forebearance in love” in situations where non-essentials of the presbyterian system of doctrine and polity were at stake. when the Permanent Judicial Commission of th UPCUSA ruled that Mr. Kenyon could not be ordained (i.e., granted exception on this matter of conscience) it effectively elevated this doctrine concerning social relationships to the place of being a major doctrine of the church. Furthermore, by application, it appeared that this new essential would eclipse all others and become the sine qua non of “orthodoxy” test questions.

Such action by the Permanent Judicial Commission led to a crisis for all of those pastors and elders who held to the traditional views on this question and who were now considered heretics. Accordingly, to uphold the peace, unity and purity of the church, most of the men who made up the membership of the charter presbytery peaceably withdrew from the UPCUSA.

These decisions and their subsequent effects were aided by many informal gatherings of like-minded individuals, beginning with the Kenyon Case and continuing through 1975 to the official organization of the Presbytery of the Ascension on July 29, 1975. The three meetings immediately preceeding the organization were unofficially recorded under the title of “Pre-Presbytery Meeting” and shall be spread upon the minutes of the present presbytery as an appendix to this historical program.

A fitting conclusion to this description of the genesis of the Presbytery of the Ascension is the mention of the Presbytery’s new affiliation, the Presbyterian Church in America. In the Fall of 1974, men who were affected by the drift of the Kenyon Case, sent four representatives, from an informal committee which was considering alternatives to the UPCUSA (i.e., in case that body should make a ruling against Mr. Kenyon which would affect the church as a whole), to the second General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church (which became the Presbyterian Church in America). These four pastors (cf. the Rev. A.C. Broadwick, the Rev. K.E. Perrin, the Rev. R.E. Knodel, Jr., and the Rev. W.L. Thompson) were, on behalf of the larger concerned group, seeking a historically Reformed body which was also evangelical and mission minded. While this small entourage went to Macon, Georgia with many suspicions and questions, they returned overjoyed that there was an option such as the Presbyterian Church in America. When the Permanent Judicial Commission of the UPCUSA ruled as was feared, men who felt compelled to leave her bounds renounced the jurisdiction of that church and very happily were welcomed into a body of like mind. In the most concise manner possible, it would be said that it was the fervent balance of orthodoxy and spirit which led this group to finally align themselves with the Presbyterian Church in America. We pray that all of our actions might work to the praise and glory of our Sovereign God, our Victorious Christ, and The Spirit who continually sustains us.”

Respectfully and Humbly submitted,
/s/ Richard E. Knodel, Jr.

Postscript:
Dr. Wynn Kenyon went on to serve an illustrious career spanning thirty-one years as Professor of Philosophy and Biblical Studies at Belhaven University, and was also a founding member and ruling elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. He passed away quite unexpectedly on February 13, 2012, at the age of 64.

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