Dear David, I am deeply troubled by your decision to leave Good Shepherd. The vows made by your daughters just a few months ago were made before God and before God's ordained minister and elders. Those vows were serious, just as serious as any vow made in the Roman Catholic Church. Those vows were real and binding and precious. Walking away from our church tells your girls that their vows were whimsical, temporary, and groundless. Your girls will conclude that Pastor Moon has no authority as an ordained minister and that our elders also do not represent God's authority over our lives. I also want to say that you are tearing your family away from its church family, the people who love you, took vows at your children's baptisms, grieved for you when you went through miscarriages, and celebrated when your girls were born. We are a family, and your leaving is a painful and sorrowful event. God is just as much present at Good Shepherd on Sunday morning as He is at the cathedral or the Vatican. We worship in spirit and truth. Isn't that good enough?Hi anonymous. I can tell you are from Good Shepherd, as you remember my girls taking membership vows. Also, we were so incredibly blessed to have Good Shepherd at our side during our recent tragedy. I will forever thank God for the mercy of having a pillar like Josh to comfort us at our son’s funeral and the many people that comforted us in that bitter time. Perhaps God was waiting for that event to pass before moving our family to join the Catholic church? Perhaps the solid believers at Good Shepherd was what he knew we needed in that dark hour? You are the only person to respond to this letter so far. I am surprised at that. I thought more people would at least leave a quick note to wish our family well. But perhaps I have made people upset at how I handled all this. I can’t blame them. They perhaps have written us of as flakes that never were truly Reformed or something. Or perhaps they see us as apostates now and could care less about saying anything at all to us. Lord knows I could have done things in a better way. For that I am sorry, and I have said as much to the elders as well. But thank you for your caring attitude. I can tell our decision has troubled you and believe me, our family is very sad to have to leave. Honestly, on a personal level it has been painful for us (Bridget especially) but I decided on the “pulling off a bandaid” way of leaving. Quicker the better. What follows will be lengthy, as you are the only member to respond, and I want to fully respond to you. I hope you will hear me out. Now about our membership vows. Try to see things from the perspective I am at. I have come to believe the Catholic church is the one and only church that Christ founded. From that perspective, can you see how any vows to other Christian communities or churches are not at all valid? I did not enter into any vows at Good Shepherd in a “whimsical, temporary, and groundless” way. Neither did I teach my children those vows were such. I took them deadly serious, faithfully teaching my children to take their obedience to the elders seriously. But can you see how the perspective changes when one comes to see the true nature of Christ’s church? I am sure you can think of all sorts of vows one makes that later they cannot in good conscience feel obliged to fulfill. (Luther and his wife Katharina come to mind) You said I made vows before “God's ordained minister and elders”. I will be frank. The elders at Good Shepherd are committed Christian men that love Christ with a passion that shows. What they are not, however, is validly ordained. This is something that is easily shown, and if they can show me evidence of their being ordained to ministry by someone having succession from the apostles, I will immediately bring my family back to Good Shepherd. The fact is, however, they have been ordained by men with no more authority than you or I. Their connection to the apostles is one of a perceived “apostolicity” based on a certain interpretation of scripture. As I have said before many times, their idea of “apostolicity” is different than many other Christian’s ideas and I have no way of knowing who has the truth and who doesn’t unless one of them claims the Holy Spirit protects their apostolicity from error. There is no Protestant that will claim this. If they did claim infallibility, they could not then show a valid succession from the Apostles to back it up. So the idea that I must submit to them is really saying I must submit to some session somewhere I agree with right? If I decided to become Lutheran to fit my interpretation and transferred my “vows” to an ELCA church with a lesbian Eskimo pastoress, I am nearly certain the session at Good Shepherd would transfer me. I think they would have to per the BCO. They wouldn’t like it, but they would. Where is the authority there? Where is the exercise of church discipline? If the WCF is true then force submission to it on pain of excommunication. If it is not true, and just some guys opinions, then it is just scratching my itching ears. I desire above anything in the world that my family follow Christ. Not men. Not my opinions. Not the PCA’s opinions, or the Westminster Divines opinions. Not Calvin’s or Luther’s opinions. NOT THE POPE’S OPINIONS EITHER. But the Pope does not claim I must listen to his opinion, however. When doctrine is defined by the church, it is being recognized as from God. Neither the Pope, nor any man can change that doctrine or make me take a vow to submit to any man’s opinions. Ask the session at Good Shepherd the following question: Is Christ’s body and blood truly present in the elements of bread and wine during communion? Listen for the well reasoned answer (your Pastor is smart) Now ask them if the answer they give you is from the Holy Spirit, and if you need to completely submit to their answer as a matter of faith. You know what they will say. They will say you can basically believe what you want if you are convinced by scripture of it. Of course they will give you some basic “guardrails” of doctrine outside of which you may not go, (Coca cola may not be used, never, ever, ever.) But who decides where those guardrails are? Should I bow down and worship Christ in the elements? Can we throw the bread in the garbage after the sevice? What is their answer? Whatever it is, their answer has absolutely no authority over me. It is merely the opinions of men. Even they would say that I can disagree with them up to a point, and then they would, based on their own interpretations, ARBITRARILY set a point at which disagreement becomes heresy. (let’s call it the Coca Cola heresy) I want the true doctrine of the Apostles. Not smart men’s best guesses. The church Christ founded must have a special ability, guided by the Holy Spirit, to determine where that heresy boundary is, and to determine what is true doctrine. Any organization which does not claim this supernatural ability is automatically disqualified as being that church. Of course claiming it (Mormons) is not enough either, but at least that is a starting point. The Catholics and Orthodox are the only two choices by a long shot. Reformed Christianity, and Protestantism in general has never claimed the Holy Spirit guides their leaders in such a way that disobedience to their doctrinal definitions is heresy. As a Protestant this makes ME, the one who is the authority. So you can see, anonymous, how from my perspective the vows my family has taken are actually very dangerous. I am the final arbiter of authority under those vows. That means that I have taken vows to submit to myself! This leaves me in a position of having absolute ecclesial authority over myself and my family. As much as I trust the motives of the session and know for a fact they have nothing but the purest intentions, and an earnest desire to serve our Lord, I cannot trust my soul or my family’s souls to good intentions. I must follow Christ.
You said: “Your girls will conclude that Pastor Moon has no authority as an ordained minister and that our elders also do not represent God's authority over our lives.”That is a true conclusion. Where does Pastor Moon’s authority come from? To say it comes directly from God would be pretty cocky. And anyone can say that. I could say that and start my own church tomorrow. (Just like Doug Wilson did) There needs to be a standard of succession from the apostles to determine which leaders claim to authority is real. (see Turtullian below) As far as the authority of the session, I challenge you to put yourself in the position of (theoretically) disagreeing with them to confirm the fact that they do not communicate God’s authority over your life. Only so far as you agree with them do they have “authority” over you. You only submit to them because you first CHOSE to put yourself under their authority based on your agreement with their interpretation of scripture. I will say it again: Only so far as you agree with them do they have “authority” over you. Search your feelings, you know it to be true! You only submit to them because you first CHOSE to put yourself under their authority based on your agreement with their interpretation of scripture. Why are you not a Pentecostal? Why not Reformed Baptist? Why not Lutheran? Why not PCUSA? Kenneth Copland? You do not and would not take vows and submit to the authority of at least one of the above options, because they disagree with your interpretation. So the fact that you and I have taken vows to submit to the authority of a Reformed Presbyterian church, simply means we have chosen to submit to people that agree with us. If that agreement should shift, we then form the CREC down the road like the people we know did, and on with the Reformation! Semper Splintera! Uh cough… I mean Semper Reformanda! Do you see now how the guy in the pew is the authority in Protestant churches? Our Pastors and sessions have only the authority we allow them to. They were not given their authority by Christ, but by mere men like you and me. Please try not to take it personally, like I am condemning Protestants as not being Christians or not worshipping the triune God. I think no such thing! Remember, I have very recently been one myself, so I think I have at least earned the credibility with you to say that people at Good Shepherd (of which I was one) are SOLID Christians that are totally sold out for Jesus. That is really beside the point.
Finally you said: “God is just as much present at Good Shepherd on Sunday morning as He is at the cathedral or the Vatican. We worship in spirit and truth. Isn't that good enough?”No, it is absolutely NOT good enough. Good motives and intentions are absolutely not good enough for my family. I don’t mean to be rude or overly curt, but you need to look at the above sentence you wrote and put it in the mouth of a Pentecostal, Reformed Baptist, Lutheran, or a health and wealth gospel church. Now move to the non-Christians and put it in the mouth of a Mormon or Jehovah’s witness. ALL of these people believe they are worshipping God in Spirit and Truth. Is God present at Good Shepherd? 100% absolutely. Is he present at my brothers Assembly of God church where I first believed and was baptized? 100% absolutely. Are you folks Christians that will be in heaven if you have true contrition for sin and trust God according to what you know? 100% absolutely. But you must admit, these groups can not all have the “truth” simultaneously. And unless you are willing to say that the Holy Spirit disagrees with Himself, which I know you are not, you must admit that they are not all proclaiming the truth of the one true faith. So how do I escape this dilemma of choosing between different interpretations and finding the true church Christ founded? What makes my choice of Catholicism any different than your choice of Reformed theology? Am I not just basing it on my preferences just like I am accusing you of? Am I being a hypocrite? No. And here is why. The way the early Christians identified where the church was is polar opposite from the self serving way we have done it since the Reformation. I will give but two quotes. If you want more I can give you dozens. Again, how do we find the church?......
St. Augustine: “You know what the Catholic Church is, and what that is cut off from the Vine; if there are any among you cautious, let them come; let them find life in the Root. Come, brethren, if you wish to be engrafted in the Vine: a grief it is when we see you lying thus cut off. Number the Bishops even from the very seat of Peter: and see every succession in that line of Fathers: that is the Rock against which the proud Gates of Hell prevail not.” St. Augustine to the Donatists
Tertullian: Moreover, if there be any [heresies] bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, so that they might seem to have been handed down by the Apostles because they were from the time of the Apostles, we can say to them: let them show the origin of their Churches, let them unroll the order of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning, so that their first bishop shall have for author and predecessor some one of the Apostles or of the apostolic men who continued steadfast with the Apostles. For this is the way in which the apostolic Churches transmit their lists: like the Church of the Smyrnaeans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John; like the Church of the Romans where Clement was ordained by Peter. In just this same way the other Churches display those whom they have as sprouts from the apostolic seed, having been established in the episcopate by the Apostles. Let the heretics invent something like it. After their blasphemies, what could be unlawful for them? But even if they should contrive it, they will accomplish nothing; for their doctrine itself, when compared with that of the Apostles, will show by its own diversity and contrariety that it has for its author neither an Apostle nor an apostolic man. The Apostles would not have differed among themselves in teaching, nor would an apostolic man have taught contrary to the Apostles, unless those who were taught by the Apostles then preached otherwise. Therefore, they will be challenged to meet this test even by those Churches which are of much later date – for they are being established daily – and whose founder is not from among the Apostles nor from among the apostolic men; for those which agree in the same faith are reckoned as apostolic on account of the blood ties in their doctrine. Then let all heresies prove how they regard themselves as apostolic, when they are challenged by our Churches to meet either test. But in fact they are not apostolic, nor can they prove themselves to be what they are not. Neither are they received in peace and communion by the Churches which are in any way apostolic, since on account of their diverse belief they are in no way apostolic (The Demurrer Against the Heretics 32:1 [A.D. 200]).This is the only objective way to identify the church! Christ gave authority to the Apostles and tells us to listen to them. In John 13:20 Jesus said to the Twelve: "Amen, amen I say to you, he who receives the one I send, receives me; he who receives me, receives the One who sent me." Without an objective way to identify the true teaching of Christ, and the true identity of the Church, we are left with well, Protestantism… every interpretation with its own “branch” and no authority. So there HAS TO BE an objective way. Christ would not leave us stranded with our own interpretations. We need to look to the successors of the men Christ sent and see which churches are in communion with them to find the true faith. Outside of this, no matter how sincere, Godly, and well intentioned, there can be only opinions and division. Not the unity Christ said we would have in John 17. If any Reformed Pastor can show me a bishop in the line of succession from the apostles that he is in full communion with, (The Bishop of Rome or an Eastern Patriarch) I will fully submit myself to his authority. If he cannot do this simple act, I will assume his authority to be arrogated and illegitimate. It is as simple as that. All the theological arguments in the world can be spilled, and spilled, and spilled, but in the end, we need to submit to the church like a child submits to her daddy. She looks around for him, runs to him, and hugs him. She knows who he is. Christ gave authority to our “daddies” the Apostles. I can see where those men are 20 centuries later, and I am running home to them. I wish you all at Good Shepherd the continued grace and blessings from the Holy Spirit. And I pray you all come to the fullness of the Truth waiting for either you or your descendants in the Catholic faith. Peace, David Meyer and family