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.