This report analyzes the constitutional document of the Doug Wilson group, which calls itself the CREC. The purpose is twofold: (1) to try to convince men in my own Reformed circles to stop being so careless as to refer to the CREC or its votaries as Reformed; for doing so only weakens their own claim, making it seem like “being Reformed” is naught but a word-game. (2) To try to put out a helping hand to the hundreds of very good sheep that are currently grazing in the slaughter-pen of the CREC, which is so carefully disguised by cunning words and smiley faces to look like a grazing field within the legitimate holy catholic church.
My method will be to print excerpts from the document using indentation, interleaved with my own analysis. I am particularly burdened to show that this group is in no wise Presbyterian, and should stop being referred to as such. However, this does not mean that instead they are some other legitimate church government. They are sui generis: though there may be other similar clubs in the world of the same genus, there are none that are widely recognized in the holy catholic church.
Preamble: The name of this confederation of churches
Notice the question-begging. It is assumed, without demonstration, that any collection of professed believers whatsoever, is a “church,” which may then choose, sovereignly, to “confederate” with other such collections. The congregational dialectical fallacy is already presupposed in the very first words of the preamble. I will unpack this more thoroughly as we proceed.
The next sentence is interesting in both its earlier and later form, so I show both:
By reformed, we call to mind the need to restore the church from many contemporary abuses, as well as testify that we stand in the stream of historic Protestant orthodoxy. (2011 version)
By Reformed, we testify that we stand in the stream of historic Protestant orthodoxy and call to mind the importance of continual reformation and sanctification for the Church of Jesus Christ in light of Holy Scripture, which is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. (2014 version).
Until 2014, the word “reformed” was not capitalized. Thus, it was apparently not talking about the historical Reformed Church. But people often thought they meant that.
It became capitalized in the 2014 edition, meaning they do indeed want to lay claim to the historical Reformed Church. But at their foundation, they did not come out of any Reformed settlement (the flagship assembly “came out of” — if that is the right way to put it — the Ev. Free), nor was this a magisterial settlement from the previous one, taking on that name. In short, they are simply laying claim to that name and heritage without any basis whatsoever.
As I have explained before, if this criticism seems strained, simply replay their claim using any other branch of Christendom. Suppose, for example, they had taken a particular shine to the 39 Articles. Then, they forged a Confederation of Anglican Evangelical Churches, and Anglicans the world over started interacting with the theological innovations of these fellow-Anglicans. It is not conceivable. You do not become an Anglican by declaring it. You do not become a Lutheran or Catholic by declaring it. Neither should people think you become Reformed in that way.
As if sensing this tension, they add further justification for the name, something about “the need to restore the church from many contemporary abuses” (2011) or “the importance of continual reformation and sanctification” (2014). But all churches need to do that. This “need” or “importance” has nothing whatsoever to do with the connotation of Reformed in the title, Reformed Church.
Note also that Reformed should be in distinction to other manifestations of “historic Protestant orthodoxy,” such as Lutheran. The statement is a mixing up: a confusion.
…The nature of our affiliation is one of confederation, that is, we have formed a broad connection between churches which, with respect to polity, is representative, being neither hierarchical nor autonomous. Our gathering of churches is not intended as a separation from other orthodox believers who confess the name of Christ, but rather as a gathering within that broader church, in order to work together effectively for reformation.
Again, notice the continuing question-begging assumption that they already existed as bona fide churches before making this confederation. Second, they make a false dichotomy between hierarchical and autonomous. The true church is not hierarchical but organic. The false church is autonomous, yes, but more precisely: self-willful. This confederation is nothing if not self-willful. For starters, they might add a statement explaining why, in the land of 26,000 denominations, they were not able to find a single one worthy of affiliating with.
With patterns of church order and confessional standards, one of the fundamental requirements of Scripture is honesty (Ex. 20:16).
This expression, “with patterns of church order and church standards” has been in there from Doug Wilson’s first draft. I think originally it was the opening. I honestly have no idea what it means. I know what each word means, just not what they mean when jumbled together like that. It could just as well say, “with rockets to the moon and distant planets” as “with patterns of church order and confessional standards.” It could be translated by Google, but simply has no meaning in context.
So much for the preamble. Now contrast that confused bit of gobbledy-gook with the preamble of my church, the OPC:
Jesus Christ, upon whose shoulders the government is, whose name is called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, of the increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and justice, from henceforth even forever, having all power given unto him in heaven and in earth by the Father, who raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand, far above all principality and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come, and put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all; he being ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things, received gifts for his church and gave offices necessary for the building of his church, for making disciples of all nations and perfecting his saints.
As some wag once said, “and the winner is….”
Amen. May the Lord bless my feeble efforts.
When analyzing the “meat” of the Krek document [note 1], the key hinge upon which everything swings is whether on the one hand, any believers (say, that happen to show up at the same time at Starbucks, or who by intention show up at the public school auditorium at 11:00 am on Sunday morning) is “a church,” free-standing and having intrinsic rights, and which can then decide whether or not to “affiliate” with other similar arbitrary collections of individuals to form a “denomination”; or, on the other hand, that there is never such a thing as a “local church” that is not already in nested, organic connection to the universal, apostolic church. In one issue after another — the nature of confession, of ordination, of authority — the Krek will be seen to belong to the former model, while the true church of Christ can always be recognized in terms of the latter.
For the sake of relative brevity, I will only highlight the most egregious sections from the Krek document. In reality, there is scarcely a single paragraph, short or long, that does not suffer from the same cancer as the rest of the document. But a select few can be picked out as paradigms.
The presbytery may or may not recommend [a pastoral candidate’s] ordination to the session of the local congregation. The local session is not judicially bound by the recommendation of presbytery. If a local session does not abide by the presbytery recommendation, then the presbytery may or may not initiate proceedings according to Article IV.D.5. (II.F)
It is here established beyond any possibility of confusion that the “local session” is the authority that ordains pastors. The “presbytery” is only advisory. A bit of ominous saber-rattling is made, but this does not change matters at all. In fact, it makes it worse, as we will see.
Note that this is in diametrical contradiction to Presbyterian theory. In Presbyterian theory, the Presbytery grants and holds the credentials of a pastor, and in turn, can remove them again. Presbytery is actually a proxy for “holy catholic church.” Presbytery is in organic connection to wider assemblies, which would terminate at either the national church settlement, or, if God should ordain, at the entire catholic church. So in the Presbyterian church, the ordination of a pastor is the granting of the right to act executively in the name of the pre-existing universal church of Christ, while also being subject to her greater, and prior, authority. In the Krek, every single one of these elements is denied and reversed. This local bag of unconnected believers is autonomous and (at least on paper) in control right to the end — though, with a diabolical twist that will come out in due time. “Pastors” are but agents of this local bag of believers — though the local believers may soon discover they have unleashed a monster neither they nor McPresbytery can do anything about. How and by what authority the local bag of professing believers ordains one of its own members as “pastor” is completely unspecified in the Krek constitution. Apparently, ministers do not differ in any respect from elders in general, except that they get paid. Their “ordination” is the same. When it comes down to it, their so-called “presbytery” is really nothing more than a meeting of fellows that like to smoke cigars together and opine about theology. (I like to do those things too — wish I could be “seated” for that part without having to endorse all the play-church nonsense.)
But while seeming to shift all the power (needed to establish a pastor) to the bag of believers, it actually does not even do that. There is not even a whiff of the concept of a congregational call to the minister, in contradiction to all branches of the real Reformed Church. In reality, the ”local session” holds the proxy for the foundational congregationalism, and appears to hold all the cards in respect to designating and ordaining a pastor. So though the Krek is congregational in structure, it actually eviscerates virtually all the traditional rights of the congregation. This will become vividly clear near the end of this study.
If a minister or teacher has already been ordained within the CREC, he may not be required by presbytery or council to undergo another presbyterial examination. (II.G)
What it even means to be ordained is never explained. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
The companion “Book of Procedures” adds a little bit of detail, undoubtedly by virtue of pressure from some of the johnny-come-latelies that may have wanted to shore up the significance of their own credentials:
Having established elders in every city, it further was the pattern that this process of succession was perpetuated by those already established in the office. (BOP XI.1.a)
Note that even this clarification still makes the congregational mistake as to origin. When it says, “having established elders in every city,” it implies that those elders were not established by succession. They just “got established,” and then a process of succession kicked in. But this is not the case. Those “elders in every city” were ordained by previous elders, the apostles themselves. The Krek is trying to inch closer to the catholic view of office, while still, willy-nilly, establishing the origin as congregational. And it must continue to do so, since its own patriarch and foundational McChurch were entirely congregational.
Getting back to II.G, it is clear that the founding members of the Krek were grandfathered-in in any case (as III.M makes clear). Now, no one can “require” them to “undergo another presbyterial examination” — which would have no binding jurisdiction anyhow. (In view of that, I don’t understand why they are so stingy with “presbyterial examinations.” It should actually be kind of fun to be “examined” under these terms — a chance to smoke an extra cigar or two while being the center of attention. Though they can’t make him, he could volunteer to do so, as Wilson once did. It’s kind of fun.)
Each church will adopt into its statement of faith at least one of the following:
1. Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)
2. American Westminster Confession of Faith (1788)
3. Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of the Synod at Dordt)
4. Belgic Confession (1561)
5. Heidelberg Catechism
6. London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)
7. Savoy Declaration (1658)
8. Reformed Evangelical Confession (see Article XI)
9. Second Helvetic Confession
10. 39 Articles of Christian Religion (III.C)
Note some oddities. (3) includes (4) and (5) — thus there is absolutely no need to include it, since the requirement is one or more (“at least one”) anyhow. (10) is a real hoot. I don’t expect very many Anglicans will be applying for membership. (Jump from tactile apostolic succession to “no idea what we mean by ordination or why we have it but everyone else seems to be doing it, so why not?”) Having both (1/2) and (6) is a howler, as is (1/2) and (10) for that matter (the latter, e.g. use of Apocrypha). These pairs are mutually contradictory, and this fact is soon addressed:
All members in good standing in a local CREC congregation must be received by any other CREC church regardless of confessional differences between the churches. All CREC churches will handle problems arising from differences in how membership is reckoned from church to church (e.g. individual vs. household) with all charity and good faith, seeking to include one another’s members. (III.F)
Note that this is self-contradictory, as it must be given Krek’s “confessional” definition. Consider: a member of an infant-baptizing McChurch [note 2] transfers to a McChurch that practices believer-baptism. The first sentence of III.F says the new McChurch must receive them, i.e. must serve them McCommunion, even though they don’t believe these new members have been baptized. As if sensing the difficulty, the last sentence of this very same section qualifies it, that they only need to seek to include one another’s members. Which is it: they must, or they must seek to? They think they are qualifying for charity, but they are actually asserting a contradiction. Section III.G simply reiterates this muddle, and can be examined by the reader.
Controversies within a local congregation regarding matters arising from differences between our various confessions will not be adjudicated beyond the local church level. (III.H)
Here is where the pretense to confessionalism is now laid out to dry. For, who decides what are “differences between our various confessions”? That there are differences is too obvious to point out. But who is to say how deeply those apparent differences ramify? Since truth is systematic, a blatant contradiction at any point is potentially a contradiction at every point, in principle.
In contrast, suppose there is a subtle, previously-undetected contradiction within the single confession of a true confessional church. But then that church resolves the contradiction by its joint ruling in a particular case. The “contradiction” is then resolved de jure. There is no crisis of authority. But here, where the existence of contradictions ab initio is undeniable, such a resolution cannot happen. It cannot get to first base. Or can it? It would depend on whether the McPresbytery said there was a contradiction at the particular disputed point. But just that question is not supposed even to be on the table if there actually is a contradiction.
Plus, if such important topics as baptism and apocrypha are off-limits for presbyterial adjudication, why bother with presbyterial adjudication for any topic? What could be more foundational?
The McPresbytery may
by two-thirds majority vote and pending judicial process, censure a member church or a CREC officer. A censure under this provision does not affect a member church’s voting rights or appeal rights in the broader assemblies. (IV.A.2.n)
I thought the two-thirds majority vote would be the result of judicial process, not “pending” on it (and what pray tell is the judicial process that it pends upon?).
Worse yet, the “Presiding Minister” of a McPresbytery or a McGeneral Assembly can censure another minister without process, provided only he get approval from “two other Ministers”!
Additionally, prior to a Minister censuring a CREC church or officer he must receive approval from two other Ministers. (IV.C.9.c)
If the bulk of the constitution is congregational, this provision is episcopalian on steroids. In a true presbyterian constitution, censures are the result of a trial, in which the cognizant court sits as judges.
Turning our attention now to complaints, a comparison of 2011 and 2014 shows that the near-impossibility of a member bringing complaint against a McSession has been shored up even more tightly. The Casino Gambling case evidently gave the Moscow McKirk quite a scare, and the language is very clever at giving the appearance of the right of complaint while denying the reality.
All that may be subject of another discussion. Here, I only want to highlight one curious form of language.
… when the Session of elders is accused of participating in or tolerating grievous dishonesty in subscription to the doctrinal or constitutional standards of the local church ( IV.D.4.d.i)
Here we come back to the “honesty” issue which the “with patterns of Martian travel” prologue was burdened about. This is a category mistake that has been made in judicial cases of such venerable institutions as Westminster Seminary, so we should be “measured and limited” in censuring it. Regardless of who does it, however, reference to the honesty of subscription is itself a grievous error. At issue should be whether the officer is in fact confessional. His honesty should be presumed, and if in doubt, that is a moral, not confessional, failing, and should be dealt with as such. If an officer is in violation of the Confession he is sworn to uphold, he should be held accountable, even if his deviation is held in complete honesty. It is a serious, and portentous mistake to confuse these categories.
All of the bureaucratic spelling out of if, when and wherefore a complaint is “received” and perhaps acted upon, and when it “must not” be — and history has shown that the accused officers have a dozen subterfuges to deflect any such attempt from getting to first base —, all this in any case is shown to be sound and fury signifying nothing in the section we have now arrived at. If the reader takes nothing else away from this review, it should be this point. For this section proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Krek is no presbyterian church, but simply a club of men that like to discuss theology with each other. The entire review could have been around this point alone. Here again, it is interesting to compare 2011 and 2014:
until 2014: The decisions of the assemblies with regard to the local congregation are spiritually authoritative, but practically advisory. If the elders of a particular congregation choose to refuse the instruction of the broader church, they may do so without deprivation of property. However, if their disregard of godly counsel is particularly egregious, they may be removed from membership in the CREC, in accordance with constitutional procedure. (IV.D.3 )
Calling their decisions “spiritually authoritative, but practically advisory” is nugatory. They are either authoritative or not. Qualifying it as “spiritual” is sick piosity covering a deep antinomianism. So the latter phrase was struck out in the 2014 edition.
Up to at least 2014, if the elders of a McChurch did not submit, they were not deprived of property. Wait: since when do they own the property anyway? Follow the money is evidently an important principle when unraveling Krek policy. This was changed in 2014. Probably, there were some potential recruits that rightly balked at this section and so it was clarified:
2014: The decisions of the assemblies with regard to the local congregation are spiritually authoritative. If the elders of a particular congregation choose to refuse the instruction of the broader church, the congregation may do so without deprivation of property. However, if their disregard of godly counsel is particularly egregious, the congregation may be removed from membership in the CREC, in accordance with constitutional procedure. (IV.D.5 )
The wording became even more strange: who is the subject in this sentence: “If the elders of a particular congregation choose to refuse the instruction of the broader church, the congregation may do so without deprivation of property” (emphasis added). This is becoming even more scary: what the elders do is tantamount to the congregation doing it now.
Common to both versions, however, and indeed made explicit in 2014, is the most disgusting feature of this entire document. For, what can the Krek do to come to the rescue of sheep suffering under recalcitrant elders? The answer is almost unbelievable: Kick the entire sheepfold out, leaving them to the now unbuffered tyranny of their “elders.”
Here we see in blatant form that the Krek is not only not presbyterian, it is not even an instance of any form of church government. The local “elders,” including the local “pastor,” give the appearance of accountability to a “wider body,” but not to worry, fellows, as long as the men in the wider assembly agree with you, it will only increase the weight of your “rule,” but if they ever disagree, you can do whatever you want anyhow, and if they really really disagree, all they can do is say “nyah nyah, you are not part of the Krek any more,” leaving you just as free as you were before joining the Krek.
In summary, there is no organic concept of the holy catholic church in the Krek. The local McChurch is purely nominalistic, a bag of raw individual believers that are only even part of the same bag because they say so. They make their own McElders. But they better be careful in doing so, because once installed, these McElders have unlimited power, and if worst comes to worst, can always just withdraw their bag from the wider playing field — or get it kicked out, saving them the trouble.
The Krek is exactly the same as some boys playing church in the backyard, with the sole difference being that some people do take them seriously, and the stage is set for some true scattered sheep of Christ to suffer a great deal of harm.
 I will spell the confederation’s name Krek, partly by inspiration by Douglas’ use of kirk for church, and partly to emphasize that the acronym should be pronounced as a single word, not spelled out as C – R – E as some do, creating great confusion (because of its similar phonology to CRC).
 Since we do not recognize that the local entity the Krek calls a “church” is actually a church, to avoid confusion of reference, I will from this point on in my comments refer to the entity they call a “church” as a McChurch, in contrast to the biblical church. Similarly, McPresbytery and McGeneral Assembly (which they call Council), all ruled over by McElders and McPastors, serving McCommunion, and so forth.
“The false church is autonomous, yes, but more precisely: self-willful. This confederation is nothing if not self-willful. For starters, they might add a statement explaining why, in the land of 26,000 denominations, they were not able to find a single one worthy of affiliating with.”
It seems like a number of other recognized “Presbyterian” denominations like the RPCUS, RPCGA, and hundred other schis-P’s might be subject to this sort of criticism as well?
The difference though is that at least they came out of a church with succession, and were already ordained. Whereas Wilson neither came out of a church with succession, nor was ordained.
However, your comment has a place. Those split-P’s have taken it upon themselves to become “episcopi vagantes” and this is harmful to the organic character of the holy catholic church. What ongoing status should be imputed to them would have to be adjudicated on a case by case basis.
I do appreciate the distinction, but I find a similar independent spirit underlies both.
One is dressed in the silly notion of self-proclaimed authority, the other with an equally silly notion one being too reformed to be yoked to anyone else. One is ridiculous, the other just distastefully haughty.
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