Friday, June 08, 2012

[Opinion] The Right Thing to Do is Resign

 Jason Stellman

1. What should a minister do if he changes his theology in a fundamental way?

Jason Stellman decided that he should disclose this to his church and resign from that ministry.

I think Stellman did the right thing.

2. Jason Stellman was a minister of the Presbyterian Church in America.

The Presbyterian Church in America is a confessional church and is Calvinistic or Reformed in its theology.

A confessional church is a church that besides adopting the Bible as its primary standard for belief and action, adopts certain creeds or confessions as its secondary standards.

The need to adopt secondary standards is due to the fact that the Bible is subject to more than one theological interpretation.

So that people may know what it believes in, a confessional church adopts certain creeds or confessions as its secondary standards.

By consulting the secondary standards, one can determine what a confessional church believes and how it interprets the Bible.

3. The constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America is consisted of two kinds of documents:

(a) its doctrinal standards; and

(b) its organizational standards.

Like many Presbyterian denominations, the Presbyterian Church in America adopts:

(a) the Westminster Confession of Faith;

(b) the Larger Catechism; and

(c) the Shorter Catechism

as its secondary doctrinal standards.

Besides these secondary doctrinal standards, the organizational standards of the Presbyterian Church in America are contained in a document call the Book of Church Order.

The Book of Church Order is divided into three Parts:

(a) Form of Government;

(b) The Rules of Discipline; and

(c) The Directory for the Worship of God.

The 6th Edition of the Book of Church Order (2011) of the Presbyterian Church in America is available online:

4. Chapter 21 of the Book of Church Order is concerned with "The Ordination and Installation of Ministers".

In paragraph 21.5 is listed a series of questions to be proposed to a ministerial candidate.

Among the questions is this (21.5.2) (bold in original):

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?

To be ordained and installed as a minister of the Presbyterian Church in America, a candidate must answer this question in the affirmative as part of his ordination vow.

It is sad to say that there are examples of ministers that have changed their theology and are out of accord with the fundamentals of the Westminster Confession of Faith but are not willing to make their changes known.

Besides the doctrinal changes, this makes the lack of action a moral failure.

5. Jason Stellman's resignation letter:

May 31, 2012

To the Clerk and Credentials Committee of the Pacific Northwest Presbytery,

In many ways this is one of the most difficult letters I have ever had to write, and I pray that it will be received in the spirit with which I intend it: one of humility and respect.

When I was ordained in this presbytery in 2004, I vowed before God that I “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” and further, that “if at any time I find myself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine I will, on my own initiative, make known to my Presbytery the change which has taken place in my views since the assumption of this ordination vow.” In keeping with this solemn vow, I feel duty-bound to disclose some changes to my views which have developed over the past few years, relating to the issues of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide specifically.

Concerning the former, I have begun to doubt whether the Bible alone can be said to be our only infallible authority for faith and practice, and despite my efforts (and those of others) to dispel these doubts, they have only become more pronounced. In my own reading of the New Testament, the believer is never instructed to consult Scripture alone in order to adjudicate disputes or determine matters of doctrine (one obvious reason for this is that the early church existed at a time when the 27-book New Testament had either not been begun, completed, or recognized as canonical). The picture the New Testament paints is one in which the ordained leadership of the visible church gathers to bind and loose in Jesus’ Name and with his authority, with the Old Testament Scriptures being called upon as witnesses to the apostles’ and elders’ message (Matt. 18:18-19; Acts 15:6-29), with no indication in Scripture that such ecclesiastical authority was to cease and eventually give way to Sola Scriptura (meaning that the doctrine fails its own test). Moreover, unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the “orthodox” understanding of doctrines like the Trinity or the hypostatic union is reduced to mere fallible human opinion. I have searched long and hard, but have found no solution within the Sola Scriptura paradigm to this devastating conclusion.

Regarding Sola Fide, I have become convinced that the teaching that sinners are justified by a once-for-all declaration of acquittal on God’s part, based upon the imputation of Christ’s righteousness received by faith alone, is not reflective of the teaching of the New Testament as a whole. I have come to believe that a much more biblical paradigm for understanding the gospel—and one that has much greater explanatory value for understanding Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John—is one that sets forth the New Covenant work of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, as internally inscribing God’s law and enabling believers to exhibit love of God and neighbor, thereby fulfilling the law in order to gain their eternal inheritance (Rom. 8:1-4). While this is all accomplished entirely by God’s grace through the merits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, it is at the same time not something that occurs through the imputation of an external and alien righteousness received through faith alone. Rather, as Paul says, God’s people are justified by a faith that works through love—itself the fruit of the Spirit—and with God’s law inscribed on our hearts and minds we sow to the Spirit and reap everlasting life (Gal. 5:4-6, 14, 16, 22; 6:8).

Due to the fact that these disagreements strike at the very core of the system of doctrine set forth in our Standards, I feel that I have no other choice than to tender my resignation from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America.

I would like to express my gratitude to the godly and faithful men of the Pacific Northwest Presbytery for the eight years I have been a member of this body. My desire when I joined was to remain pastoring in Woodinville for my entire life and ministry, and it is with deep disappointment and regret that this will not be the case. My sincere hope is that the fathers, brothers, and friends I have gotten to know here will keep me in their prayers, and forgive me for any offense I may have caused during my involvement in the case against TE Leithart, as well as for any offense I may be presently causing by breaking my ordination vows.

With sadness and a heavy heart,

Jason Stellman

6. It is sad to see Jason Stellman changes his theology, but I commend him for making his changes known to his presbytery and resign from the Presbyterian Church in America.

As Gordon H. Clark has written in another occasion (Clark [1966] 1982, 63):

"The person who resigned, having changed his theology after first joining with us, is morally commendable for his withdrawal. Too often ordination vows are exercises in perjury, and professors seeking positions in Christian colleges sometimes resort to lies when questioned on their religious faith. As a contrast to this liberal dishonesty, we express admiration for a man who honestly resigns."


Clark, Gordon H. [1966] 1982. The Evangelical Theological Society Tomorrow. Reprinted in God's Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics, 51-63. Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation.