When accusations are brought against anyone, it is crucial for all potential participants, witnesses, or observers to think of the matter biblically. This is because it is perilously easy to fall into that species of do-goodism that wants to uproot the tares, but that kind of do-goodism is at root diabolical.
This is true of accusations of private wrong-doing (e.g. embezzlement) and accusations of public heresy. I have already shown that the two need to be handled differently, according to Scripture. The first should be handled by the elders of the people, who conduct a careful investigation (Dt. 19). The second, as a public matter, should be handled as a public matter in public view. Jesus said to ask the people what He taught. But even with this difference acknowledged, there is still a common element in both situations that everyone should be aware of.
First, we need to see that — from Genesis to Revelation — the godly prosecutor has a paucity of role models. The overall theme of the Scripture is that the true conservatives are the falsely accused; it is one of the great ironies of our day that ostensible conservatives want to earn their gunslinging stripes by accusing. Think of it: Abel accused by Cain, Joseph accused by his brothers and by Potipher’s wife, David accused by Saul, Jeremiah accused by the court prophets, and of course, the Lord Jesus accused by the Sanhedrin. Where in Scripture is the theme of the zealous accuser who wants to root out some troublemaker? There are some — Joshua with Achan, or Josiah and the idolators of Israel. But the words Satan and devil (with their deep connotations of adversarial accusation) are attached where they are for a reason.
This is no argument against church government, or lawful church discipline. It is merely a cautionary note — those who have been entrusted with authority in the church need to take as their top priority an ecclesiastical version of the Hippocratic oath — “first, do no harm.” Those who bring charges lawfully need to do so with fear and trembling, and with a profound awareness of how often charges have been brought in the course of Scripture, and in the history of the Church, by those who thought they were serving God.
The great Puritan Thomas Watson said that it is better to be wronged than to do wrong. It is not a sin to be wronged. Those who are in a position to do wrong (with authority) need to make a point of going the extra mile to put this understanding into practice. The Lord Jesus said that all manner of blasphemy against Him would be forgiven (Matt. 12:31-32), but that the sin against the Holy Spirit would not be. In my mind this means that those who in their calling and vocation are representing the Lord Jesus (ministers) ought to be like the Lord in this. This is why in our practice we have disciplined those who have abandoned their spouses, for example, but have been very slow to discipline those who rail against us. God sees, and He will sort that kind of thing out.
There are some who are distressed on our behalf over the lies that are being told about us. There are web sites out there dedicated to little else. If lies about what we have been doing and saying were liquid, these sites would be overflowing and standing in the slop. But this is just part of the cost of doing business. Jesus said to expect it, to rejoice when it happened, and I believe the tenor of Scripture requires those in spiritual authority to take care that they not react in a manner that makes the accusations retroactively true. False accusations of tyranny could provoke a man into tyranny.
The last thing in the world that elders and pastors should want is the perception that they are using the apparatus of justice to sandbag their own position. Church discipline should be obviously the kind of thing that has the health of the whole body in mind. Now because of the overarching theme of the Bible, and because of the great moral force of Christ’s example on the cross, this explains why, in our contemporary disputes, everyone needs to be the accused. This is where playing the victim comes from. The victims of course want to be the victims, which is their right. There are true victims. But prosecutors, persecutors, slanderers, lie-mongers, accusers, and all their cousins also need to be the victim. This explains why, if someone lies about me, and I laugh at it, in their minds I have committed a mortal offense against public decency. My sympathies go out to these people — it is really hard to be the accuser and the victim at the same time.
Now the occasion for writing all this is the examination of Steve Wilkins that is currently underway in the PCA. I have said, and I continue to say, that what is most necessary here is for as many people as possible to acquaint themselves with what Steve has been teaching. If they read through some stuff a couple years ago, they should refresh themselves on it. They should settle in their own minds whether Steve, when he says that he affirms the Westminster doctrine of election, is affirming the Westminster doctrine of election. Having done this, they should pray that the Louisiana Presbytery will make a godly and wise decision, and then, that the Standing Judicial Commission will make a godly and wise decision in letting that decision stand.
Some might object that I am trying to queer the results here, trying to gather a mob outside the courthouse, trying to run my stick across the bars to get the chimps jumping. Not at all. As Paul said to Agrippa, these things were not done in a corner. I was at the notorious Auburn Avenue conferences. Steve is a friend, and I know what he teaches. I know what I believe and teach, and I know how ignorant and irresponsible people have misrepresented those beliefs and teachings. The people bringing their accusations against Steve are guilty of the same kind of misunderstandings and misrepresentations. I know what the truth in this situation is, and I know this on the basis of information that is publicly available. I am not reporting here from “inside.” This is all on the table.
Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church sought permission from the Lousiana Presbytery to post Steve’s written answers, along with the audio. They received that permission. The fact that the information is public is not controversial; it is out there with everyone’s blessing. Reading through this material, or listening to the audio, is not to side with Steve or his accusers. It is to acquaint yourself with what is going on, and when you do this, you are in a position to do so as a friend of justice.