Tyranny in Tyler
A Response to James Jordan
Editor, The Blue Banner

Copyright 1996 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett


A word of explanation about the first part of this issue is needed. Reviews of three books by James B. Jordan appeared in the Mar/Apr Blue Banner, a copy of which was sent to that author. Within a week we received a response (which Mr. Jordan is circulating) that contained statements of such a nature, and which perpetuate such an ungodly injustice, that we devote the first several pages of this issue to setting the record straight. Our goal is to vindicate innocent men from a gross miscarriage and abuse of ecclesiastical power, from which we had thought they had been vindicated, till Jordan resurrected these charges.

Mr. Jordan writes in his answer to the March reviews(see note below):

"The Blue Banner," a name taken for Scottish and Scottish Presbyterian history, is published by the First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett, Texas, . . . . The session of this church is listed on page 16 of the magazine, and includes a man excommunicated from Christ's church in the early 1980s, who has never repented and been restored. This page of the magazine also lists as publisher a man also excommunicated who has never repented and been restored. It seems that the First Presbyterian 'Church' of Rowlett is actually a renegade assembly of persons condemned by sound Presbyterian churches, a 'synagogue of Satan,' perhaps."

Jordan refers to a case which occurred twelve years ago, involving Deacon Gary Swearingen and Elder David Seekamp. This attempt to rub the scandal of harboring excommunicants on FPCR to unchurch her as a "synagogue of Satan" reflects very poorly on Mr. Jordan. He evidently makes this charge either from ignorance or a selfish desire to perpetuate this injustice (neither of which would surprise us). This ad hominem attack is yet another vacuous attempt by him to slay the messenger as he fails once again to enter into a meaningful debate. His charge is also beyond the limits of a gracious Christian temperament, and way beyond his station. Is he competent to do that which only the church speaking for Christ may do — declare a communion apostate? Also, Mr. Jordan does great evil in continuing to defend the indefensible tyranny of the Association of Reformation Churches; tyranny clearly nullified years ago. May the reader consider the following (see Time Table of Events, p. 2.):

1. Surely, Jordan, who was the ARC's most vigorous apologist in this matter, is aware of the fact that the ARC itself (on the best available evidence and clarification) actually nullified the improper excommunications performed by the Tyler session ([ARC] Presbytery Response to the Chilton-Nelson Letter, October 22, 1986). Two thirds of the judicial commission that tried the case wrote the letter of confession reproduced on page 3-4 of this issue, asking that the sentences be nullified "since they were excommunicated on the grounds of contumacy – a judgment rendered against them by the Commission." According to judical procedure since the source of the excommunications (the judicial commission) was tainted (by their own confession), everything arising from that court was tainted. So the ARC presbytery had no course but to rule "Therefore, in the interest of justice, Presbytery now nullifies any and all decisions of that judicial commission." It was the interpretation of ARC elder Tom Shiffler in a private letter of clarification to Vern Crisler (dated March 5, 1987), that "The bottom line is this: If the plaintiffs were excommunicated on the ground of the contumacy judgment against them by the commission (and this is the clear statement of the Nelson-Chilton letter) then those excommunications are disemboweled."

2. The ARC presbytery instructed the Westminster Presbyterian Church session (which passed the censures of excommunication) to review its censures. Whether or not the excommunications were acknowledged to be nullified by the Tyler session, they morally ought to have been, per the conclusion of the first point. The WPC session could not in justice maintain the censures in light of their Presbytery's findings, nor institute the censures upon other grounds without a new trial with the accused present, which did not occur.

3. Between the time of the excommunications in 1983 and the Letter of Confession in 1986, other churches, including presbyterian congregations, knowing the nature of the proceedings and misconduct in Tyler, did not honor the alleged discipline practiced against certain individuals by that session. In particular, in the fall of 1983 Mr. Swearingen was admitted into membership of North Dallas Presbyterian Church (PCA) which later became First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett (PCA, now RPC). Mr. Seekamp and his family joined the next year.

4. Even if #1,2,3 were not the case, and they are beyond reasonable dispute, the Rowlett session is required to assess the conflicting claims about the previous affair and make their own good-faith judgment insofar as the facts relevant to that previous affair now bear on the life of its congregation.

5. And the FPCR session's judgments are: "(a) Rowlett is not and never has been under the jurisdiction of the ARC, nor has it ever had denominational fraternal relations which would require it to acknowledge and implement the judicial decisions of the ARC; indeed, the ARC no longer exists even as a human organization; (b) Rowlett is ashamed of the (openly confessed) injustice and prejudice of the judicial proceedings within the ARC and does not recognize them as legitimate or of any authority in Christ's church ( any more than it must recognize Lutherans as schismatics based on the Pope's excommunication of Luther; and (c) therefore the session finds Jordan's allegation that David Seekamp and Gary Swearingen were "excommunicated from Christ's church" and have "never repented and been restored" to be false as to fact, abusive in effect, and presumptuous in character."

If in knowledge of all these facts, Mr. Jordan proceeded to make these charges against FPCR and Deacon Swearingen and Elder Seekamp, it demonstrates a very malevolent spirit on his part. Evidently, he cannot just disagree, but must vilify those with whom he disagrees, and if he must disregard and distort facts in order to heap upon his opponent a particularly prejudicial charge, he apparently is all too willing to do so.

Note: In the remainder of his letter, Jordan spends some words dismissing the arguments of the three reviewers against his view of worship. He opines that the reviewers have added nothing to the debate over the reformed regulative principle of worship. Actually, it is he who hasn't contributed much to the debate, except some undignified name calling. Neither is his letter lacking the disdain and arrogance that he customarily displays against those with whom he disagrees on this subject.


January 1981: The ARC forms as a presbytery made up of two small congregations, the main church being Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tyler, Texas (WPC).

January 1983: Five men bring charges against the three elders making up the WPC session. A judicial commission is created to handle the case.

February 1983: The five men along with their families are excommunicated by the accused for contumacy.

Fall 1983: North Dallas PCA (later FPCR) finds the ARC in error and admits Mr. Swearingen into membership, overturning the excommunication. Mr. Seekamp and his family are admitted later. This decision has never been reversed by higher courts of the PCA.

July 1986: Two members of the original judicial commission write a letter of confession of sin and error to the ARC presbytery requesting the nullification of the sentences against the five men. The ARC presbytery rules "Therefore, in the interest of justice, Presbytery now nullifies any and all decisions of that judicial commission." One of the ARC's own elders in a letter of clarification to another individual clearly interprets this decision to mean that the excommunications were nullified.


July 1986. The ARC Presbytery itself ruled "Therefore, in the interest of justice, Presbytery now nullifies any and all decisions of that judicial commission." ARC Presbytery Response to the Chilton-Nelson Letter, p. 5. ARC Elder Tom Shiffler interpreted this as: "The bottom line is this: If the plaintiffs were excommunicated on the ground of the contumacy judgment against them by the commission (and this is the clear statement of the Nelson-Chilton letter) then those excommunications are disemboweled."

Letter of Confession of Sin and Error
By David Chilton and Charles Nelson
ARC Judicial Commissioners

July 10, 1986

To the Presbytery of the Association of Reformation Churches:

Reverend Presbyters:

After much reflection and discussion with one another, we, David Chilton and Charles Nelson, former members of a Judicial Commission of the ARC, hereby submit to you this confession of sin and error with regard to the judicial proceedings in which we were involved from January 9, 1983 to February 26, 1983. We respectfully request Presbytery to receive this letter, first, as a sincere attempt to clear our consciences; and, second, as a plaint of nullity against the judgments rendered by our Commission (and thus against any and all judgments, by other courts, resulting from the Commission’s judgments).

Note: The appended documents are referred to by their original numbers as they appear in the complete set of Documents appended to the Final Report of the Judicial Commission. [Ed. Note: These are not reprinted].

1. Document No. 5 is a statement drawn up by Mr. John Martin (the third member of the Commission, and its Chairman), which he presented to the Complainants for their signatures. The Complainants were required to state, in part:

I understand and acknowledge that the court before which I am a complainant [margin: or a defendant] or a witness is the highest court in the ARC; and I will abide by its’ [sic] judgments and obey its’ [sic] verdicts. I also understand and acknowledge that, if the occasion of an appeal to any judgment should arise, that said appeal would have to be made to the same court; and the court would have the final word as to whether the appeal would be in order.

The plain meaning of this statement is that the Judicial Commission itself is claiming to be "the highest court in the ARC," and that no appeal may be made to any other body; in effect, rendering any true appeal impossible. This requirement was written and issued by Mr. Martin without the knowledge or consent of the other two members of the Commission. Later, when this requirement became a matter of controversy, we wrongfully attempted to cover up the error, claiming that the Complainants "knew what we meant," and that of course they would have had opportunity to appeal our court’s decisions; but, in fact, this erroneous document was not corrected in writing until the Complainants had been excommunicated. Objectively, all they had to go on was our written statement that they would have no opportunity to lodge a true appeal with any other body.

This same document goes on to require the Complainants to make the following promise:

I also solemnly pledge before the Lord and King of the Church, that I will not, for any reason, take this case or any development from this case to the civil authorities for adjudication.

We agree with the Complainants (as expressed in their letter to us, Document No. 6, pp. 4-6) that there are serious flaws in this requirement, and that they should not have been ordered (or even requested) to sign it. In sum, Doc. No. 5 constitutes a most serious offense against justice by the Judicial Commission.

2. Document No. 6 is the Complainants’ letter to the Judicial Commission, requesting us to step down, and requesting further that, in view of the small size of the ARC, an outside and impartial panel of judges be established to hear the case. We believe that this was a reasonable request; in fact, we did not regard it as unreasonable when it was originally proposed. Mr. Martin, however, was greatly angered by it (perhaps in view of the fact that it was occasioned by statements which he had authored), and we joined him in signing a statement to the Complainants (Document No. 7) which deemed their letter to us to be "a meddling intrusion into the court’s process, and which exhibits contempt for the court." This statement goes on to instruct the Complainants "to follow the court rulings explicitly or forfeit all claims to due process in the ARC."

At the very least, our response to the Complainants’ letter should have acknowledged our material and procedural errors, seeking in the fear of God to establish justice in both fact and appearance; and we probably should have disqualified ourselves, as they requested. Instead, we high-handedly and arrogantly refused even to consider the merits of their request.

3. Document No. 9 is another letter from the Complainants, apologizing for their failure to follow the steps of Matthew 18:15-17 and requesting that the Commission "not deem us as having any charges before them at this time," in order that they might go back through the Matthew 18 process with their complaints. The Commission rejected this request, and demanded that the Complainants must either completely repudiate their charges, or proceed to a formal trial. Our reasons for this rejection were based on our acceptance of the arguments of the Accused (Document No. 12), which in turn were based on the assumption that the charges had been made "public," and that the Accused must have a public opportunity to clear their names. In retrospect, however, we believe that the matter was not in fact "public," and that the Complainants’ request should have been accepted (cf. the comments in Document No. 10, Mr. Greg Bahnsen’s letter to one of the Complainants). Our rejection of this request by the Complainants appears to indicate a desire more for vengeance and retribution than for a peaceable resolution of the issues.

4. Out of a sincere feeling of our own inadequacy to deal with this case (both of us being relative novices in presbyterian judicial procedures), we made the mistake of seeking the advice of the Accused themselves on all matters pertaining to the case. This very rapidly degenerated into a daily practice of "hanging around" with the Accused, enjoying their company as friends, watching movies together and so on. At the very least, this bore the appearance of evil; and, in fact, it did have the effect of swaying our judgment in their favor, and prejudicing us against the Complainants. This glaring injustice alone disqualifies us, and should render our official decisions invalid. [Ed. Note: emphasis added.]

5. Our subtle adoption of the viewpoint of the Accused led to another error: that of considering the charges in the "wrong" order. We were persuaded to view the long list of accusations in terms of a simple conspiracy to overthrow the Session of Westminster Church, and thus (in the words of one of the Accused) as "a grab-bag of charges … as though somebody had sat down and said, ‘Let’s see how far back we can go and what we can find.’" Upon further reflection, and in the light of later events, we believe that this perception on our part may have been seriously mistaken. An equally, if not more, plausible explanation would be that the issue of what took place with regard to the Cash Exchange was the central charge; and that the other charges were supplementary to this, in order to demonstrate that the alleged improprieties at the Cash Exchange were indicative of ongoing attitudes and activities by the Session.

But, because we chose to view the charges as a "grab-bag," we dealt with those that were unrelated to the Cash Exchange first, as independent charges in themselves, rather than as radiating outward from the central hub. Then, having dismissed these charges, we reasoned from them (and their apparently frivolous nature) to the question of the improprieties at the Cash Exchange. For example, we reasoned that, if the Complainants had-had to reach all the way back to 1 ½ years before in bringing up charges about advertising practices and so on, then there must not have been much substance to the charges with regard to the Cash Exchange; thus we were able to dismiss the Cash Exchange questions as just so many more "frivolous" charges.

The fact is, however, that the alleged activities at the Cash Exchange were central to the concerns of the Complainants, as is evident in Document No. 1, the list of the original charges. By considering the charges in an order the precise reverse of that presented by the Complainants, and thus effectively disregarding the central accusations, the Commission committed another injustice, compounding its manifold errors.

6. None of the above is intended as support of the Complainants’ accusations with regard to the Cash Exchange. The Judicial Commission never examined the documents of the Cash Exchange, Inc., and thus could not make any determination of what their contents may or may not have proved. Therefore, as we stated in our Findings, "the Judicial Commission found no grounds for Presbytery to bring charges against Messrs. Bulkeley, Dwelle, Sutton, or Young." Moreover, as our Findings went on to state, Mr. Adams apparently did act unlawfully in revealing corporate documents to unauthorized persons without the express permission of its shareholders, in bringing charges against an officer and employee of the Cash Exchange, and in bringing such charges in the name of the Cash Exchange (see Documents No. 11, 13, 14, and 16).

Nevertheless, on the grounds of the numerous injustices perpetrated by the Judicial Commission, we respectfully request Presbytery to declare its Findings null and void, and further to nullify the excommunications of Messrs. Adams, Brach, Kemp, Seekamp, and Swearingen, and that of Miss Roth (now Mrs. Kemp), and that of their families, since they were excommunicated on the grounds of contumacy – a judgment rendered against them by the Commission.

Sincerely yours in the Peace of Christ,

Charles Nelson David Chilton