Ryan Biese

We Need to Support the PCA’s Agencies

Other than prayer, the best way Old School Confessionalists can support the agencies of the PCA at this time is by searching for more men who share a commitment to robust, Old School Presbyterianism who will be willing to serve on the permanent committees to help shape the policies and priorities of the College, the Seminary, MTW, MNA, etc. It’s not enough to serve on a General Assembly CofC! Instead of neglecting the Agencies of the PCA, let’s be willing to serve them on the permanent committees.

The PCA is comprised largely of three groups. In 2015, TE Bryan Chapell described these groups as “traditionalists, progressives, and neutrals.” I don’t like the label he chose for my segment of the PCA; I prefer the label “Old School” or “Confessionalist.”
By the way, I don’t think anybody likes the label he chose for their group, but – as I have written elsewhere – the unified dislike of the three labels suggests TE Chapell was at least over the target.
Regardless of what label is proffered, there are largely three groups who are united together in the Presbyterian Church in America. The two groups on each end of the spectrum both profess a love for the PCA, but their interests in the PCA are shaped by different concerns.
Love for the PCA

But there are others in the PCA who are drawn to the PCA not necessarily because of her robust Westministerian theology and her historic polity. They are eager to see how the PCA with her institutions and cultural cachet can influence society to restore people, places, and things. Their love for the PCA seems more centered on the PCA’s Agencies and Institutions and what the PCA represents for the culture. Their love for the PCA is exhibited especially in an unflinching and enthusiastic support for the PCA’s College and Seminary because of the opportunities for witness and cultural engagement that are afforded to the PCA through the institutions brought in to the PCA with the RPCES. Likewise, this segment of the PCA seems excited about the possibility of planting 120 churches a year until 2030 and are therefore wholeheartedly committed to MNA’s models, assessments, initiatives, and programs.
This is not to say the “traditionalists” are not motivated for evangelism or that those on the other side are not committed to the essentials of the Reformed Faith. The “traditionalists,” however, have been rather lackluster regarding enthusiasm for the institutions brought in with the RPCES as well as the other Agencies of the PCA. Their attention is to doctrine and the slow, but steady growth from discipleship in the ordinary means of grace.
A Pointed Critique of the PCA’s Agencies
On a recent episode of the Westminster Standard Podcast (WS Pod), we discussed the change that has taken place in the PCA since 2018 and the role of blogs and podcasts in that transformation.
In 2018, the National Partnership reflected on the success they had enjoyed in shifting the trajectory of the denomination. But six years later, former members of the now defunct partnership are decrying the General Assembly as “broken” and others share their disappointment with the PCA’s renewed commitments expressed in confessional fidelity and clarity.
In the episode, one of the guest commentators relayed some anecdotes shared with him based on experiences church members had with a couple of specific PCA Agencies (i.e. Covenant College and RUF) as well as his own perception of a Covenant College promotional video.
He pointedly expressed concern that some of the PCA agencies were failing to disciple men in particular, but instead accommodating cultural values he viewed as having diverged from historic Christian emphases.
At least one employee of the College has understandably expressed strenuous objection to the guest commentator’s critique. I note several things in this regard.
First, the opinions and views expressed on the WS Pod are not necessarily those of Jude 3 & the PCA, First Presbyterian Church, the Tennessee Valley Presbytery, or the PCA, but only those of the individual speaker who offers a particular opinion or viewpoint.
Read More
Related Posts:

Gender Confusion and the PCA

Earlier this month, the SJC’s ruling was sent to the parties. TE Stephen O’Neill was one of the faithful elders who helped present the case of RPR before the SJC and he joined the podcast to discuss the ruling of the General Assembly in this matter. The SJC is to be commended for its work on this case. The SJC clearly performed a thorough analysis of what MNY presbytery has both done and left undone. The Commission expressed awareness of steps taken already by MNY presbytery to correct the delinquencies in this matter. But the SJC also noted what the MNY presbytery has done so far is “clearly inadequate.”

On “Reformation Sunday” in 2021 a priestess in The Episcopal Church took the pulpit at Trinity PCA in Rye, New York where Craig Higgins serves as senior pastor. The lady paused after reading a portion of Scripture and promising to return to read the rest of the pericope at the end of her “teaching,” she said with a smile.
She went on “teaching” for quite some time. She talked about sin and the grace of God, she warned about self-righteousness and resentment, she asserted American Christians should pay more attention to the teachings of the “Calvinist theologian Karl Barth,” lamenting that Barth’s theology has not caught on in American Churches, and she extolled the freedom that is found in Christ alone to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
News of what had taken place at Trinity PCA in Rye, NY scandalized many in the PCA.
When a ruling elder from another presbytery raised questions as to how such a thing could be done in a PCA Congregation, the Metro New York Presbytery (MNY) investigated. The representatives of the Session and TE Higgins asserted they take no exceptions to the relevant portions of the standards related to whether a woman may preach in public worship. The presbytery then closed the investigation without finding any basis for charges.
When the Review of Presbytery Records Committee (RPR) of General Assembly examined the Minutes of MNY on this matter, many members of RPR were puzzled as to how MNY arrived at its conclusions. Accordingly and with only one dissenting vote, RPR recommended the matter be referred to the General Assembly’s Standing Judicial Commission, since there appeared to be particularly glaring violations of the PCA Constitution in this case.
Read More
Related Posts:

God’s Faithful Providences in Arkansas: An Addendum to the “Jonesboro 7” Series

Covenant Presbytery took up the Jonesboro matter again; this time with the hope of reconciliation between members of the Jonesboro congregation and the original Session. This is very good news. It would be a wonderful testimony if the Presbytery not only reconciled with the Jonesboro 7, but also with those who left the visible church following the abuse by the original temporary Session largely from IPC Memphis. While the actions of that temporary Session have been nullified by the PCA General Assembly, there are nonetheless lingering personal, relational, and spiritual consequences due to the way judicial process was “abused” by the temporary Session.

Seven heads of households from a PCA church plant in Jonesboro, Arkansas met with their temporary Session. They explained to their elders at that meeting their desire to consider candidates for pastor other than the current church planter (and a member of the temporary Session). The men were shocked by the temporary Session’s response. The temporary Session’s actions would likewise shock and scandalize many from across the PCA. You can read about the travails and vindication of the Jonesboro 7 here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.
The Principle of Non-Intrusion
In the Fall of 1834, wealthy and powerful Lord Kinnoul selected Mr Robert Young to serve as pastor of a Presbyterian congregation in Auchterarder, Scotland of which Lord Kinnoul was the patron. The congregation had the opportunity of sitting under Young’s ministry for a period of time. When the moment came for the congregation to determine whether to approve the man to be their pastor, the congregation decidedly rejected him:
only two individuals, Michael Tod and Peter Clark, could be found to express approbation by signing the call. Five-sixths of the congregation, on the other hand, came forward solemnly to protest against his settlement [installation].1
The congregation requested their patron, Lord Kinnoul, select another man to serve as minister. But Lord Kinnoul refused and took the matter to the civil courts.
On what was very likely a cold day, March 8, 1838 a Scottish court issued a judgment against that Auchterarder congregation, which stated in effect, “in the settlement of pastors, the Church [presbytery] must have no regard to the feelings of the congregation.”
The little congregation appealed, but on May 2, 1839 the appeals court ruled the opinion of the congregation was “considered of no value in any way…” regarding the selection of a pastor.2
There were numerous similar cases in the Scottish Kirk at this time; the civil courts determined regarding the selection of ministers: “No regard was to be paid to any opinions or feelings of the parishioners.”3
But the people of God continued to protest to the Scottish presbyteries, insisting they should have the right of approving a minister. When the church courts refused to heed their pleas, the people vacated the church buildings and formed new congregations; they would not accept a minister forced upon them by the civil government or the presbytery. The intrusion of the government and church courts into the selection of a congregation’s minister is deeply offensive to the principles of biblical church polity.
Thomas Brown summarizes:
During the whole of the Church’s history it had been held that the call of the people was essential before a minister could be settled. The congregation must invite before the Presbytery could ordain. Here were cases, however, one after another, in which the parishioners were virtually unanimous in their opposition to the presentee. Was the call, then, to be treated as a mockery?…Was it to be tolerated that, the members of Christian congregations must submit to have obnoxious presentees forced on them?4
This led to what is called “The Great Disruption” of 1843 in which several hundred ministers departed from the Kirk of Scotland, being committed to the principle that neither the civil government (e.g., an aristocratic patron) nor the church courts may “intrude” upon a congregation’s right to select her own minister. They formed the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
This “non-intrusion principle” is now universally accepted as vital to presbyterianism.
The ‘Non-Intrusion Principle’ & the PCA?
The principle underlying the Great Disruption of 1843 is at the core of the PCA’s Book of Church Order (see the article I wrote at PCAPolity.com for more on this). A congregation’s right to select her own minister is nearly absolute. No church court may force a minister upon a congregation without its consent, not even a temporary Session.5
This makes what happened in Jonesboro, Arkansas all the more remarkable and scandalous.
Following that meeting with seven heads of households, the temporary Session (largely comprised of elders from wealthy and influential IPC Memphis) investigated, indicted, and summoned the seven men for trial because they objected to the Session’s preferred course of action: to have one of the Session’s own number considered first for the position of pastor.
During the trial, however, no evidence was presented of the men’s guilt. Nonetheless, IPC Memphis Ruling Elder David Caldwell did testify at trial that he had a feeling the Ninth Commandment was violated by the Jonesboro 7.6 Ordinarily, feelings are not admitted into evidence in the courts of the PCA. But in this case, the PCA General Assembly’s Judicial Commission (SJC) noted the “basic principles of due process” required by the PCA Constitution were violated by that temporary Session.7
RE David Caldwell was later elected to be the Moderator of Covenant Presbytery in 2024. As moderator, his role is to ensure meetings and debate are conducted in accordance with the PCA Constitution.
The temporary Session found the men guilty, censured them, and barred them from the Lord’s Table as well as participation in congregational meetings, which also meant they could not vote on the call of a pastor (as some SJC judges noted during their review of the Session’s actions).
When the men appealed their decision to Covenant Presbytery, the temporary Session resigned and recommended the MNA Committee of Covenant Presbytery close the little church plant in Jonesboro, calling its culture toxic.
What was it that made the congregation toxic? Was it that seven households objected to the man whom the temporary Session – a group of men largely from IPC Memphis who did not live in Jonesboro – wanted to offer to the congregation?8
It is unclear what made the church plant’s culture toxic. But you can imagine the impact that label had on the members of Christ Redeemer PCA church plant in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Faithful elders across the denomination are working to further perfect and refine our polity in hopes that the abuse of process endured by the Jonesboro 7 and others is not repeated.
The Cost to the Church
The Jonesboro 7 and their families represented upward of 40% of the congregation. The temporary Session understandably did not inform the rest of the congregation of the investigation, indictment, and trial of the Jonesboro 7, yet nonetheless a cloud settled over the congregation for some time as a result.
When the judgment of the temporary Session was finally announced and notice of appeal was given, the little congregation was in utter disarray. You can get a sense of the pain and hurt felt by the congregation at this meeting where some members of the temporary Session explain their decision to resign and recommend the church plant be terminated by Covenant Presbytery.
Indeed, the Jonesboro 7 persevered through the abuse of process by the temporary Session and the erroneous decisions of Covenant Presbytery and were ultimately vindicated by the PCA General Assembly. But not all the members of the church plant persevered through the congregation’s difficulties, which the temporary Session brought upon them.
While the biblical polity of the PCA prevailed and vindicated the Jonesboro 7 against the usurpations by a temporary Session of elders largely from IPC Memphis, there have still been costs.
A number of the church plant’s members and regular attenders were so shocked by the abuse of process and the bad report that was given to Covenant Presbytery by the former members of the Session that they have left the visible church entirely.
Read More
Related Posts:

The Sabbath was Created for Man

While many presbyteries will grant an exception to the Westminster Standards to a man who believes worldly recreations are permissible on the Sabbath, are presbyteries granting exceptions also for worldly entertainment and commerce on the Sabbath? And are candidates and officers in the PCA stating the full extent of their differences? A difference with the “recreations clause” that asserts it is lawful to go on a walk or participate in a pickup ball game is quite a different category from a difference with the “recreations clause” that asserts it is lawful to pay money to watch professional athletes exhaust themselves on a ball field. In that case, one’s “recreation” seems to be simply watching others engage in recreation; this is “vicarious recreation,” I suppose. But in that case, it is not only the professional athletes who are being employed. 

We are told this Lord’s Day has a big game happening. Brad Isbell informs us it is called a “Super Bowl.” We gather from Facebook that some Presbyterians will be watching this game at a Brewery.
The Presbyterian Church in America confesses that the Scripture teaches the Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath and a day for both resting ourselves and giving rest to others.
Yet perhaps the most common difference stated by ministerial candidates in the PCA is with the “recreation clause” in the Westminster Standards. Most PCA Presbyteries will grant a man some sort of an exception to that aspect of our Confession.
The Sabbath or Lord’s Day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship (WLC 117).
Many officers in the PCA, in good faith, believe the Scriptures do not require people to abstain from worldly employments and recreations on the New Covenant Sabbath, the Lord’s Day.
The “Recreations” Exception
Understandably many PCA Courts have judged such a difference with our Standards does not strike at the vitals of religion. Who could object to a father and son throwing a ball between morning and evening worship or letting the little kids run in the yard after lunch while mom and dad get a nap?
While there is lively debate about whether such practices are what was intended by the Puritans at Westminster when they referred to “worldly…recreations,” that is usually what is cited by officers holding this view.
Nonetheless, some are more broad in their views of what is permissible “recreation” on the Lord’s Day. I recall a candidate coming before the Presbytery of the Missippi Valley (MVP) who asserted he would have no problem with people attending an early service on the Lord’s Day so they could make it to the beach for the afternoon. The members of MVP asked him a lot of questions about his view, but they let him in and he ministered fruitfully for years in that presbytery.
All this to say, there is wide latitude afforded by the PCA Courts to those whose views and even practices differ from what the PCA confesses the Bible to teach about the Christian Sabbath and recreations on the day.
Social Justice & the Sabbath
The Sabbath is not simply about a cessation of activity. In Mark 2 Jesus begins to correct the legalistic and burdensome Sabbath doctrines of the Pharisees. His disciples were criticized for eating grain from the field. Jesus famously rebuked the Pharisees explaining: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
When God instituted the Sabbath at Creation, He did so – according to the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) – because mankind needed rest. The rest was especially to be given particularly to those in lower and vulnerable stations of life. Moses is explicit in his final sermon that the Sabbath was not only for householders and the wealthy but also children, enslaved persons, foreign workers, and dumb beasts. God’s people are to provide rest to all who are within their societies:
…your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you (Deut. 5:14).
Read More
Related Posts:

PCA’s Judicial Commission Vindicates the “Jonesboro 7,” Cites Abuse by Session

The Jonesboro 7 had suffered long and hard; they had been falsely accused, falsely convicted, barred from the Lord’s Table, but finally the Lord had vindicated His lambs, and He vindicated them through the ordinary Presbyterian process. It just took a while. But God did more than vindicate His lambs.

Editorial Note: What follows relies on official court filings and recollections by observers of a hearing before the PCA General Assembly’s Standing Judicial Commission.
This is Part Five in a series. You can read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four. I have also written about this matter on PCA Polity. I have also collaborated with Zach Lott and TE Jonathan Brooks here to highlight the faithful submission of the men to the edicts of the Session.
You may listen to the Westminster Standard episode with Paul Harrell and Dominic Aquila here as Mr Harrell discusses his experiences and God’s faithfulness in trial.
A growing church plant in Jonesboro, Ark. was nearing the point of becoming a particular congregation of the PCA. A meeting for October 2020 had been scheduled to petition Covenant Presbytery for particularization and to elect officers. Seven men from the congregation, however, had concerns about TE Jeff Wreyford, the man called by Covenant Presbytery as church planter; they perceived him as too progressive, insufficiently focused on cultivating a distinctively Reformed and Presbyterian congregation, too quick to give up the pulpit, and overbearing.1
They took their concerns to both TE Wreyford as well as the Temporary Session overseeing the work; they indicated they would like to consider other candidates for pastor rather than TE Wreyford, whom the Session preferred to offer to the congregation.
The Session responded to the concerns of these men by investigating, indicting, convicting, and censuring the men. After the men appealed Session’s judgment, TE Jeff Wreyford resigned along with the rest of the Session, who were all on staff or elders at IPC Memphis.
TE Ed Norton travelled down from Memphis to Jonesboro to be part of a meeting to announce the Session’s resignation to the congregation and to inform them of their options going forward, since the Session was recommending closing the church due to the trouble the Session perceived in the congregation.
The meeting, audio of which was provided, was tense. Numerous questions were asked at the meeting. Members objected to not being consulted regarding the severance paid to TE Wreyford. Others wanted the Session to wait until the discipline case ran its course rather than give up on the little church mid-stream.
One man wondered what would happen if the Jonesboro 7 were exonerated on appeal. TE Norton explained he was unable to go into details of the case, but promised,
“Let’s say the commission comes back and they find for the Jonesboro…individuals … for me personally, I’d come back and apologize, because that’s what Christians do. We openly and readily confess…that’s part of the process…We are repentant…that’s part of the process…there’s never health in any body of believers unless there is confession and repentance, so you would find me coming back.”
The Presbytery Judicial Commission denied the appeal of the Jonesboro 7. So the men took their case to the General Assembly and prayed that God would grant them impartial judges, judges who were concerned for evidence, elders for whom words would have meaning, and elders who would be faithful to their vows to uphold the Scripture and the PCA Constitution.
A Lengthy Season of Waiting
Readers will recall Presbytery declined to give up on the church plant and instead appointed a new Session to oversee the work there.
Despite a new Session, the judgment of the old Session still hung over them; the men were still prohibited from partaking, by faith, in Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine at the Lord’s Table. The men were still excluded from voting in any congregational meeting because of the judgment against them by the old Session. As such, it was necessary to appeal the case to the General Assembly.
An appeal to General Assembly takes time; it is worthy to remember the trouble began August 31, 2020 when the “Jonesboro 7” raised concerns with the Session regarding the Session’s preferred candidate for pastor. The Session sent a “Letter of Admonishment” with demands on September 9, 2020; Covenant Presbytery later ruled the letter imposed unlawful injunctions upon the men on May 18, 2021.
But just before Presbytery’s ruling against the Session, the men were indicted on May 5, 2021 by their Session for violations of the Fifth and Ninth Commandments. The Session tried, found them guilty, and barred them from the Lord’s Table in July 2021, which they appealed to Covenant Presbytery; Presbytery denied the appeal May 17, 2022. On May 23, 2022 the “Jonesboro 7” finally appealed to the PCA General Assembly. Their hearing before a panel of the Assembly’s Judicial Commission (SJC) was October 31, 2022.
I note these dates because it is important to recognize how long the process sometimes takes in order for justice to be rightly done and rightly received. In such times, it is vital to wait on the Lord, to remember those who suffer for the sake of Righteousness are blessed, and that God will vindicate His Name and His cause in His own time.
The Jonesboro 7 were represented at the hearing before the SJC by TE Dominic Aquila, a former SJC judge and past Moderator of the General Assembly.
Defending Presbytery’s Judgment
The hearing before a panel of the SJC was conducted virtually on October 31, 2022. It had many memorable exchanges, some of which will be conveyed in what follows.
Covenant Presbytery was represented before the SJC by TE Robert Browning, the Clerk of Covenant Presbytery and also on staff at IPC Memphis as well as RE Josh Sanford an employment lawyer from Little Rock, Ark. TE Tim Reed, who served on the Presbytery’s Judicial Commission assisted on the Presbytery’s Respondent team also.
Prior to the hearing, each side submitted Briefs framing the case. Presbytery’s Brief was curious in that it spent three of its eight pages summarizing the facts of the case rather than making a defense of the Presbytery’s findings. When the Presbytery’s Brief finally does begin to make its case, it draws from facts not related to the original charges or trial and seems somewhat to fixate on the fact the Jonesboro 7 had a former SJC judge, TE Dominic Aquila, helping them prepare their defense. All of which are irrelevant to a finding of guilt on the matters for which the Jonesboro 7 were indicted.
Improper Evidence? Or any Evidence?
Presbytery’s Respondents asserted in their Brief that the trial audio and transcript did not reveal any admission of improper evidence nor a denial of proper evidence. The Presbytery attempted to establish sufficient evidence of guilt by means of Prosecutor TE Mike Malone’s closing assertions:
“the transcript and audio recording of the trial summarized by the Prosecutor showed sufficient proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the Appellants were guilty of the offenses for which they were charged.”2
This is an important point; the SJC judges would later query not whether there was improper evidence of guilt admitted, but whether there was any guilt established. One Presbytery Respondent would concede before the SJC panel there was not much evidence put on at trial. Much of the hearing would center on questions from SJC judges asking not whether there was “much” evidence, but whether there was even a modicum of evidence.
Why Didn’t They Complain?
Covenant Presbytery’s Respondents would try to argue the claim of the Jonesboro 7 regarding the indictments being unconstitutionally vague was invalid because they did not complain (BCO 43) against the action of Session in drawing the indictments the way Session did. The Respondents attempted to portray the Jonesboro 7 as guilty rogues for not complaining against such indictments.
Covenant Presbytery tried to use the lack of a complaint against the unconstitutional indictments to show the Jonesboro 7 had a “disregard for those who were exercising proper spiritual oversight.”3
But what Covenant Presbytery’s Respondents failed to consider is that the PCA Constitution does not permit intermittent appeals, i.e. to complain in the midst of judicial process (BCO 43-1). A member of the SJC panel would later point this out to the Presbytery’s Respondents.
The only option open to the Jonesboro 7 was to see the process through and suffer under a process the SJC would later describe as having been abused. But as we’ll discuss later, the men’s use of process would later be proffered as evidence of guilt by Covenant Presbytery’s respondents.
As noted in Part One, this is perhaps an opportunity to further perfect the PCA Constitution.
The Indictments Were Valid…
Throughout the process, the Jonesboro 7 pressed their claim that the indictments against them were unconstitutionally vague. Presbytery’s Respondents countered that since the “Appendix G” to the BCO is simply advisory, the Session did not have to provide the specifics to how the men had sinned “in the days leading up to and following August 3, 2020…” in violation of the Fifth and Ninth Commandments. The Presbytery’s Brief did not interact at length with BCO 32-5, which states,
In drawing the indictment, the times, places and circumstances should, if possible, be particularly stated, that the accused may have an opportunity to make his defense. (emphasis added)
In denying the appeal, Covenant Presbytery asserted the phrase if possible provides “discretion to a court in specifying the particulars of ‘the times, places and circumstances’ in drawing up an indictment.”4 Covenant Presbytery’s interpretation of BCO 32-5 in the Harrell case is outrageous and does violence to the fundamentals of justice.
The SJC would later correct Covenant Presbytery’s fallacious reasoning and remind them the phrase, “if possible,” establishes a burden on the prosecutor and does not grant discretion to the Court. The PCA General Assembly would later describe the Temporary Session’s failure to include specifics in an indictment as, “unfair to an accused and violates basic principles of due process as required by our standards.”5
It is impossible to overstate the weight of Covenant Presbytery’s error on this point. The members of Covenant Presbytery would do well to adopt something enshrining the basic principles of due process in their Standing Rules, since a number of influential members of their Presbytery apparently failed to grasp basic principles of fairness and due process in this case (and continued to do so even in the Supplemental Brief; see below).
Until corrective action is taken in Covenant Presbytery, what happened to the Jonesboro 7 by a Session of Elders largely from IPC Memphis could happen again to anyone under that Presbytery’s jurisdiction.
Presbytery’s Arguments Not Accepted by SJC Panel

Read More
Related Posts:

The “Jonesboro 7” Submit to Edicts of Session

Despite the “unfair” process deployed against the Jonesboro 7 by the Temporary Session, the men nonetheless demonstrated the strength of their commitment to the Scripture, to their membership vows, to Presbyterian Church government, and to the Reformed Faith. After the Jonesboro 7 appealed the decision of the Temporary Session to Covenant Presbytery, the Temporary Session resigned and recommended the church plant be closed. This left the congregation with little spiritual care and oversight.

Zach Lott and six other men from a small church plant in Jonesboro, Ark. wanted to see a Reformed and Presbyterian church in their town; they wanted to be part of the PCA. Covenant Presbytery had dispatched TE Jeff Wreyford to the small city as the organizing pastor. The work was going well, but Lott and several others were concerned about the trajectory of the work and the philosophy of ministry of TE Wreyford.
They had detected some “progressive” tendencies in the organizing pastor.1 They perceived a “controlling and unyielding nature” in TE Wreyford’s ministry. They also believed TE Wreyford’s philosophy of ministry did not sufficiently emphasize Reformed and Presbyterian distinctives, but instead focused on what would make the “church most appealing to the masses.”2 And finally they were frustrated by how frequently TE Wreyford was absent from the pulpit; they wanted a pastor who would preach the whole counsel of God, but TE Wreyford seemed “quick to give up the pulpit,” they believed.3
Accordingly, when it seemed the church plant was moving closer to particularizing as a congregation of the PCA, Lott and six other men approached both the organizing pastor and the Session expressing their desire for other candidates to be considered when the time came to call a pastor.
The Session’s response to their concerns was not what they anticipated.
In response to the concerns expressed by the Jonesboro 7, members of the Session emphasized the qualifications and credentials possessed by TE Wreyford.
Also present at the meeting was TE Clint Wilcke of the Midsouth Church Planting Network; he suggested that if the men did not agree with Pastor Wreyford’s philosophy of ministry, then they might need to find “another denomination” and “the PCA isn’t it.”4
The men wanted an ordinary Presbyterian and Reformed Church. One of the men put it this way,
…we wanted that teaching, we wanted that meat. We wanted something of… substance. We wanted a reformed Presbyterian church here, PCA church.5
How curious that the “Coordinator/Catalyst” for the PCA’s Midsouth Church Planting Network, TE Clint Wilcke, would suggest that such people find a different denomination if that was the sort of church they wanted.
Despite the objections and concerns of the seven church members, the Session continued to press forward with their belief TE Jeff Wreyford should be offered to the congregation for the position of pastor.
When the men, the Jonesboro 7, did not withdraw their objections to TE Jeff Wreyford being offered as pastor, the Session investigated, indicted, and found them guilty of violating their membership vows as well as sins against the Fifth and Ninth Commandments. The men appealed the Session’s judgment, but the Session – largely comprised of pastors and ruling elders from IPC Memphis – took the added step of leaving the men suspended from the Lord’s Table even while their appeal made its way through the courts.
After the Jonesboro 7 appealed the Session’s judgment, the Session resigned.
Suspended from Communion at Christmas
As noted in other articles, the judicial philosophy apparently embraced by the elders on the Session was peculiar. They had not provided the men with specifics as to their alleged sins. A panel of the SJC would note later the men could not mount a defense at trial, since Session had not told them what their sins were particularly, but instead only that they had generally and vaguely violated the Fifth and Ninth Commandments at some point in “the days leading up to and following August 3, 2020.”6
But nonetheless, despite suffering under a Session which the SJC would note “abused” the process, the men were committed to being PCA. So they submitted to the discipline and waited on the Lord’s deliverance.
The weight of the Session’s actions hit home for Zach Lott on Christmas Eve. He and his family were visiting an ARP congregation in North Carolina where his brother was a pastor. He tells it this way,
I approached [my brother] to ask whether or not I could take communion, knowing that my prospects were not good. Even though my brother is an ARP minister, he has many friends in the PCA, and he keeps a PDF of the BCO on his iPad. He wanted to know specifically what the censure entailed. I explained that, even though the judgment is technically suspended during an appeal, there was a provision in the BCO permitting the Session to withhold the Table from us during the appeal process.
Read More
Related Posts:

Covenant Presbytery Denies Appeal of Jonesboro 7 Finding No Errors in Session Trial

It is a most remarkable providence; if one reads the protest against Presbytery’s action to preserve the church plant, the signers represent the elders from Covenant Presbytery’s wealthiest and most influential churches and committees. Yet the speech of a largely unknown, retired former Arkansas church planter was powerfully used by God to change the course of the debate, save the little church plant from dissolution, and preserve a witness for Himself in Jonesboro.

Editorial Note: What follows will be controversial and disturbing as it deals with abuse. Reader discretion is advised. In preparing this series, official documents and public comments have been extensively used to compose the narrative. No attempt is made to assign motives to any of the parties in this case. Reference will be made to inferences drawn by the judges on the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission as they carefully reviewed the case and noted the process was “abused” and offenses “imagined” by a Temporary Session of Elders against the Jonesboro 7. Any objection to the use of the term “abused” should be directed to the SJC Judges rather than the author of this series who simply reports the judgment of the PCA General Assembly regarding the actions of the Temporary Session in this case.
This is Part Four in a series. You can read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. I have also written about this mater on PCA Polity.
The men wanted to see a Reformed and Presbyterian Church planted in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Covenant Presbytery had established a mission congregation, Christ Redeemer, in that city under organizing pastor TE Jeff Wreyford.
However, the Jonesboro 7 had not perceived TE Wreyford’s philosophy of ministry to be heavily focused on Reformed distinctives. They had perceived some “progressive” tendencies.1
As such they conveyed their concerns to the elders serving on the temporary Session and stated their belief that other men should be considered as candidates for pastor when the time came for the congregation to elect one.
The Session, however, responded by charging the men with violations of their membership vows and sins against the Fifth and Ninth Commandments. The men, from a church plant of about 45 people, were summoned for a trial on July 12, 2021 at the Independent Presbyterian Church of Memphis, which in 2021 reported its average morning attendance to be 478; more than ten times that of the fledgling church plant.
The Session of Christ Redeemer consisted of – with the exception of TE Wreyford – pastors or ruling elders from IPC Memphis. That same Session would sit in judgment on the men.
Numerous witnesses were called by prosecutor TE Mike Malone, but none of them could give any specific testimony as to what the Jonesboro 7 had done to violate their membership vows and God’s Law. Undeterred by the lack of evidence, the Session found the Jonesboro 7 guilty and censured them with suspension from the Lord’s Table until they would show sufficient evidence of repentance.
But since neither the indictments nor the trial established what the men had specifically done that was sinful, giving “satisfactory evidence of repentance” would be difficult.
An Attempt to Participate
Ordinarily in the PCA, notice of appeal “shall have the effect of suspending the judgment” against an Accused.
Despite the men called by Presbytery to serve as pastor and to shepherd them in Christ’s Name having declined to show them where they had specifically sinned, the men still wanted to participate in the church, to be part of the PCA, and to partake in Christ’s body and blood by faith with the rest of His people at His table. So they appealed to Covenant Presbytery.
But the Session of Elders took the additional step of barring them from approaching the Lord’s Table even while their appeal was ongoing. SJC judges would later note that this would also have the effect of preventing the men from voting in a congregational meeting to elect a pastor, should a vote take place.
To explain their decision to take the extra step of keeping the censure in place even during an appeal, the Session simply asserted, “The judgement shared with you on 21 July 2021 contained sufficient reasons as to why you were being suspended from the Lord’s table.”2
A short time later the Session sent a correspondence to Covenant Presbytery alleging the Jonesboro 7 had “violated BCO 32-19 in the authorship” of their complaint and pleadings by an outside elder.3
The Session wrote,
New evidence has been presented that many of court documents dating back to the earliest correspondence between the appellants and the session bear the name “Dominic Aquila” as author…
We believe this to be potentially against BCO 42-2 and 42-4 which prevents circularizing court documents, as well as 32-19, which prevents the use of “professional counsel.”4
It is a curious interpretation of BCO 42, which places no prohibition on “court documents,” but rather prohibits “circularizing the court,” i.e. attempting to persuade the judges on the court to a certain opinion.
It is further curious the Session interpreted “circularizing” in the way it did, considering that on March 30, 2021 TE Robert Browning, the Covenant Presbytery clerk, had written to the Session about another matter and explained how “circularize the court” is to be understood: “This means there is to be no effort to influence or ‘whip’ the vote before Presbytery.”5
It remains unclear what evidence the Session had to indicate the Jonesboro 7 had retained professional (i.e. paid) counsel.
An Appeal Denied
The seven church members did not believe their elders had showed them where and how specifically they had sinned either through pastoral shepherding or by means of the process of a trial. At such a point, the Jonesboro 7 might understandably shake the dust off their feet and find a gospel centered, Christ exalting, God glorifying faith communion where they could be nurtured and shepherded somewhere else in Jonesboro. That was, after all, what RE Olson seemed to anticipate they needed to do in his testimony.
But these men were committed to the Reformed Faith and were committed to being Presbyterian. As such, they appealed their case to Covenant Presbytery, which had oversight of all the PCA churches in that area. Covenant Presbytery was also the body who had appointed the Elders of the church plant’s temporary Session.
It is likely the men were optimistic about their appeal. After all, the Presbytery had sustained the portion of their complaint months earlier that dealt with largely the same matters.
But if there was any hope of being vindicated at Presbytery, it was short-lived; the Presbytery assigned their case to a commission to review. That commission met on February 4, 2022, and “a motion was made by RE Josh Sanford, seconded by TE Dan Anderson and passed to deny the appeal in the whole. The vote was 7-0-0 in favor.”6
All seven men on the Presbytery’s judicial commission voted to deny their appeal, which would have to be ratified by Presbytery, which it did on May 17, 2022.
The Jonesboro 7 made several arguments pleading for relief from Covenant Presbytery.
They claimed the indictment itself was unconstitutional, since it gave no specifications regarding the sin as required by BCO 32-5; Covenant Presbytery, however, disagreed. The Presbytery reasoned: “the phrase ‘if possible’ gives broad discretion to a court” in what it includes in the indictment. Covenant Presbytery reasoned that the assertion “in the days leading up to and following August 3, 2020…” was sufficiently specific: at some point in the month of August the Jonesboro 7 did something that violated their membership vows and Commandments Five and Nine.7
In their appeal the Jonesboro 7 also claimed that improper, poor, and inadequate evidence was presented at trial to prove their guilt. In other words, the Jonesboro 7 claimed the evidence and testimony did not establish their guilt. But this argument also was rejected by Covenant Presbytery. Covenant Presbytery reasoned “BCO 42-3 does not state ‘poor’ evidence, as the allegation states, as grounds for an Appeal.” The Presbytery also accepted the assertions of the prosecutor, TE Mike Malone, in his closing argument to show “sufficient proof” of the guilt of the Jonesboro 7. This, despite, the fact no testimony was offered as to their specific guilt. Although RE Caldwell did testify as to his feeling the Ninth Commandment was broken.
Read More
Related Posts:

Trial at IPC Memphis for the “Jonesboro 7”

As Session saw it, the Jonesboro 7 were in rebellion against the will of Christ. But had not told them how they were in rebellion against Christ. At the hearing the SJC Judges would later question how the men would be able to show proper evidence of repentance given the lack of specificity; one SJC judge asked whether proper repentance might seem to include having to vote for TE Wreyford. As the SJC would later point out, however, “Session had neither the responsibility nor authority to determine or direct who, if anyone, would stand for election as the pastor of the mission church upon its organization as a particular church.” Session had gravely transcended its authority.

Editorial Note: What follows will be controversial and disturbing as it deals with abuse. Reader discretion is advised. In preparing this series, official documents and public comments have been extensively used to compose the narrative. No attempt is made to assign motives to any of the parties in this case. Reference will be made to inferences drawn by the judges on the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission as they carefully reviewed the case and noted the process was “abused” and offenses “imagined” by a Temporary Session of Elders against the Jonesboro 7. Any objection to the use of the term “abused” should be directed to the SJC Judges rather than the author of this series who simply reports the judgment of the PCA General Assembly regarding the actions of the Temporary Session in this case.
This is part three in a series. You can read Part One as well as Part Two. I have also written about this mater on PCA Polity.
Seven men from a small church plant in Jonesboro, Arkansas desired to see a distinctively Reformed and Presbyterian church planted in their city. Covenant Presbytery had called a church planter, TE Jeff Wreyford, to organize the work there. But the seven men, the Jonesboro 7, had a different ministerial philosophy than TE Wreyford and they had not perceived the cultivation of a distinctively Reformed and Presbyterian church to be a priority for him.
The seven men went to the Session of elders overseeing the work and stated that when the time came to consider extending a call to a permanent pastor, that they desired to consider other candidates rather than TE Wreyford. You can read more of that in part two.
The Session, of which TE Wreyford was moderator, eventually responded by indicting the Jonesboro 7. The Session wrote them claiming it was “fair to assume,” the Jonesboro 7 had broken the ninth commandment in arriving at their conclusions about TE Wreyford. It remains unclear why the Session believed that was a fair assumption.
These “dirt kickers” from Jonesboro, who attended a fledgling church plant of about 45 people, were summoned for a trial on July 12, 2021, however the wife of one of the Accused was pregnant and her due date was that same day. But despite the request of the Jonesboro 7 for the trial to be moved to the city where they worshiped and where the offenses were alleged to have taken place, the Session of Elders insisted it would be held at IPC Memphis, where most of them were on staff or already ruling elders.
We can only speculate as to how the added stress of allegations from Christ’s under-shepherds and ultimately an indictment would have impacted the young family as they awaited the arrival of their child.
The Session graciously accommodated the soon-to-be father by offering him a choice: choose to be absent from his own trial and represented by counsel or, if the delivery “providentially hindered” him, they would schedule a new hearing date for him. Mr Hurston ultimately chose to be near his wife on that date and was represented by one of the other Accused.1
A Curious Trial
The trial was held at IPC Memphis about 70 miles from the men’s homes and from the church where they were members. It was quite a contrast; IPC Memphis is an historic, wealthy, and influential congregation, which reported an average morning attendance of 952 in 2020 when the Jonesboro 7’s troubles began. Christ Redeemer PCA in Jonesboro, had about 45 people attending the church plant in 2020.
The men had little reason to be optimistic about their impending trial; at the end of May, the Session sent each of the Jonesboro 7 a letter asserting: “Scripture reminds us that if we fail to confess our sins, we cannot expect the Lord’s blessing…you are on a pathway that leads to Sheol and death. Return to your first love, Jesus Christ….”2
Readers may recall that earlier the Session had declined to tell the men how they had sinned. And when the men begged to know what their specific sin(s) were, these under-shepherds of Christ accused the men of being “disingenuous.”
As such, it is curious TE Ed Norton would sign a letter urging the men to “Confess [their] sins,” but continue to refuse to tell the men what their particular sins were (Cf. WCF 15:5). The SJC would call this more than curious; it was “unfair.”3
Nonetheless, the men were committed to the PCA and submitted to a trial, still not knowing what the Session believed they had done in violation of Christ’s Law.
TE Mike Malone, at the time also a pastor at IPC Memphis, served as the prosecutor in the case. It was his job to prove the Jonesboro 7 had broken the Fifth and Ninth Commandments.
At trial, TE Malone alleged the men were in sin to oppose TE Wreyford being offered as candidate for pastor; TE Malone asserted:
The session has continued to voice its support of [TE Wreyford] and believes without hesitation that he should be offered to the congregation as a candidate to serve as its pastor. That’s our job. That’s our responsibility as a provisional session.
The PCA Standing Judicial Commission quotes other arguments from TE Malone’s prosecution in which he alleged the Jonesboro 7 had sinned against the authority the Session “presumed” to have:
“The persistent insistence that [TE Wreyford’s] name be removed as a candidate to be pastor of this church reflects a fundamental unwillingness to fulfill membership vow number five, and is disruptive of the peace of the church.”4
Numerous witnesses were summoned against the accused. But none of them offered any evidence of the guilt of the accused, as the SJC would later point out (see the forthcoming Part Five).
One of the witnesses was TE Clint Wilcke who serves as the “Coordinator/Catalyst for the Mid-South Church Planting Network.” TE Wilcke’s testimony featured some memorable exchanges.
In one exchange, TE Clint Wilcke corrected a defendant for addressing him as “Mr Wilcke,” and instead insisted he be addressed as Reverend Wilcke.
Read More
Related Posts:

The “Jonesboro 7” Indicted for “Imagined” Sin

The Jonesboro 7 did not merely want a man to whom MNA had given the “green light,” they wanted a man in whom they had confidence. They wanted a pastor who would lead the congregation in the old paths of the Reformed Faith. As Mr Lance Schackleford put it: “We wanted a reformed Presbyterian church here, PCA church.” And the Jonesboro 7 were not confident TE Wreyford would do that.

Editorial Note: What follows will be controversial and disturbing. Reader discretion is advised. In preparing this series, official documents and public comments have been extensively used to compose the narrative. No attempt is made to assign motives to any of the parties in this case. Reference will be made to inferences drawn by the judges on the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission as they carefully reviewed the case and noted the process was “abused” and offenses “imagined” by a Temporary Session of Elders against the Jonesboro 7. Any objection to the use of the term “abused” should be directed to the SJC Judges rather than the author of this series who simply reports the judgment of the PCA General Assembly regarding the actions of the Temporary Session in this case.
This is part two of four; you may read part one here.
The church plant needed to be dissolved; its culture was “toxic,” the members of Covenant Presbytery were told. The Christ Redeemer church plant had already been the source of one complaint (BCO 43) adjudicated by Presbytery and now seven men from the congregation had been investigated (BCO 31-2), indicted (BCO 32-5), found guilty, and censured with “indefinite” suspension from the Sacraments (BCO 30-2). And now they were appealing their case to the Presbytery.
The members of the temporary Session (BCO 5-3) had resigned, the church planter and staff had been paid out severances. All that remained was to close up shop; the church was “toxic” after all.
Given the summary of facts above it would be easy to conclude the members – or at least a significant portion of them – were “toxic.” Investigations, indictments, trials, censures, appeals, complaints, and all this before the congregation was even particularized? Surely the best thing for Covenant Presbytery and the PCA to do was shut it down, wash their hands of it, and get out of Jonesboro.
But all was not as it seemed.
Tucked away in the 2023 Commissioner Handbook with all the other decisions from the PCA General Assembly’s Standing Judicial Commission is Harrell, et. al. v. Covenant Presbytery. As I read it recently, however, I was shaken, I was grieved, I was genuinely frightened and scandalized by what happened to the Jonesboro 7.
But as I read I was also profoundly encouraged and grateful for the integrity of the judges who sit on the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission. They observed a case in which the process had been “abused” such that seven of Christ’s lambs were falsely convicted, censured, and – after a timely appeal of the verdict – their elders all resigned and recommended the church plant be dissolved.
A Question of Fit
In 2015, Christ Redeemer PCA began meeting as a church plant of Covenant Presbytery. TE Jeff Wreyford was called by Presbytery to be the “organizing pastor” to begin the work in Jonesboro (BCO 5-5a) and a Session of Ruling and Teaching Elders from IPC Memphis was appointed by Presbytery to serve alongside him (BCO 15-1). Importantly, TE Wreyford was not the pastor called by the church; he was called by Presbytery as the church planter/organizing pastor.
The work was going well; the congregation, according to Mr Paul Harrell, was gathering about 45 people each Lord’s Day by 2020 and it seemed to Harrell and others that the church plant was getting close to becoming a “particular church” (i.e. no longer a church plant with a Session of elders from other churches, but a congregation that has called its own pastor and elected its own elders and deacons).
The Lord was doing great works in Jonesboro at the church plant, yet several men in the church had reservations about the philosophy of ministry they perceived in TE Wreyford. The SJC notes Stephen Leiniger and Wesley Hurston met with TE Wreyford to share “a set of concerns” they and others had about his ministry.
To be clear, they did not accuse TE Wreyford of anything unethical or immoral; it was simply that they did not think he was a good fit or supported by a significant portion of the congregation to be elected the permanent pastor (BCO 5-9f).
Later on August 30, 2020 seven men from seven different households in the church plant met with the “entire Session” to again share their concern that TE Wreyford was not suited to be the pastor of the congregation once it was organized into a particular church.
Mr Stephen Leininger summarized the position of the Jonesboro 7 saying simply, “In our opinion…Jeff is not the one to be the pastor of Christ Redeemer as it particularizes and moves to its next level of ministry. We recommend that Jeff remove his name from consideration as pastor.”
In a meeting with the Jonesboro 7, TEs Ed Norton and Clint Wilcke responded to their concerns of the church members about TE Wreyford by highlighting the credentials and qualifications possessed by TE Wreyford and the fact that MNA assessment had given him the “green light.”
But the Jonesboro 7 insisted, despite the endorsements TE Wreyford had received and his credentials and degrees, the issue was many in the congregation simply disagreed with TE Wreyford’s philosophy of ministry. The “Jonesboro 7” explained they were more traditional in their subscription to the Reformed Faith than the philosophy of ministry they had observed in TE Wreyford.
No amount of endorsements from MNA or church planting networks could overcome the reservations the men had with TE Wreyford’s philosophy of ministry. They wanted a PCA church in Jonesboro that was distinctively, historically Reformed in character.
Read More
Related Posts:

Can a Temporary Session Impose a Pastor on a Church Plant?

The core of the issue addressed by the Eggert concurrence was a disagreement between a temporary session and some of the members of the congregation they were supposed to be serving and shepherding. All church members have a duty to honor their leaders, “to submit to the government and discipline of the Church, and to study her purity and peace.” But this submission does not mean members of a mission congregation must have their consciences bound by the preferences and recommendations of a temporary session comprised of men who are not members of the congregation.

How a church-plant, or “mission church,” (BCO 5-1) transitions to become a “Particular Church” is outlined in BCO 5-9.
Until a “mission church” becomes a particular church, the church plant is usually under the care of a Presbytery by means of one of two temporary arrangements. In the first arrangement, a commission of elders from the Presbytery is appointed to serve as a temporary session (BCO 15-1). In the second arrangement, the “mission church” is erected as a daughter church of another particularized congregation (BCO 5-3b), and the session of that particularized congregation serves as the overseeing session for the mission church.
A mission church is usually served by a “church planter” who is also a member of the commission serving as session (BCO 5-4a). This church planter is called by Presbytery to do the work of ministry organizing the church plant/mission work with the hopes that it will one day be particularized according to the steps outlined in BCO 5-9.
A crucial step toward becoming a particular congregation is the election of a pastor and other  officers.
The election of a Teaching Elder can sometimes be confusing in the case of a mission work. Ordinarily, a church plant already has had a Teaching Elder ministering as a “church planter” among the saints in that congregation for quite some time. In many instances, the members of the church plant will elect that church planter “to be their pastor” (BCO 5-9f), but not always.
If the members of a congregation “choose not to continue the pastoral relationship” with the church planter, they are free to follow the steps of BCO 20 to elect a different pastor in the ordinary manner.
Before the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) last year, there was a curious case that tested the principles of our Presbyterian polity and challenged the integrity of our Constitution regarding the selection of a pastor by a church plant.
A group of men from a mission work met with the session – including the church planter – overseeing the plant to express their desire that candidates other than the initial church planter be considered for the position of pastor.
It was an undeniable difficult situation. The church planter had labored for years, investing much of his time and energies in the church plant. But now a group of men from several households in the congregation went to the elders and expressed a disagreement with the church planter’s philosophy of ministry and vision for the work.
The Session responded to the men’s concerns by doing three things. First, the Session demanded the men repent of any sin whether of omission or commission against the church planter. Second, the Session demanded the men reaffirm their membership vows. And third, the Session reaffirmed its belief that one of their number should be “offered to the congregation as a candidate to serve as its pastor.”
Read More
Related Posts:

Scroll to top