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Archive for June, 2019


I’m grateful I made it GA this year. It seemed like it would be easy. Dallas is a non-stop flight from Tucson. This would be the easiest GA for me to attend short of a car ride. But then CavWife and I talked vacation schedule. I thought they’d join her family on the Jersey shore that week and and I’d just fly to NY to meet them. Nope, the Shore was the week before. I would fly to GA from NY meaning connections.

AImage may contain: grass, tree, plant, outdoor and natures we drove to her parents’ home, on a dead end in the middle of proverbial nowhere, we saw the road would be closed beginning Monday, the day of my flight to Dallas. There was a question as to at what point it would be closed: near the top or the bottom of the hill? Thankfully they started the work at the top and we could drive to the airport easily. I had a few delays for my connection so I arrived in Dallas an hour late. Thankfully, the airport was only 15 minutes away so that was no big deal.

If I’d ever get my bag. Baggage service was interminably slow. Painfully slow. But after finally getting my bag I used Lyft successfully for the very first time. Yes, I was a ride-sharing virgin. Rabin, my driver, was quite talkative. Hearing I was from Arizona he brought up that he’d just binge-watched Breaking Bad thinking it was in Arizona, not New Mexico. As an immigrant, you can pardon his geographical faux pas. A friend thought it was a docudrama. I assured him it was fiction but that the workings of the heart it portrayed were real.

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These needed to be in the assembly hall, not the exhibit hall.

Tuesday morning I participated in the Committee of Commissioners for Covenant College. We heard an address from President Derek Halverson about the state of the college. They have no long term debt. They are one of 5 ranked Christian liberal arts colleges. There is some concern about lower birth rates during the Recession and their impact on college enrollment. They want to build the endowment in anticipation of the end of federal plans like Pell Grants and student loans if the religious exemptions on the issues of homosexuality and gender are ended. They also mentioned an issue they brought up 2 years ago: that today’s students seem more emotionally vulnerable than in previous generations.

In the afternoon I attended two seminars. The first was Two Questions Every Church Must Ask by Mark Lowery (Director of Publishing, GCP). He provided a framework for analyzing, evaluating and setting a strategy for ministry. Those two questions were: What is their relationship to Christ and the cross? And What is their relationship to the church? That developed 4 groups of people a church seeks to minister to. Each has different needs and require different approaches. It was good, and helpful. It was also information overload. In my mind I went back to a Greek/NT prof who I swore was a fire hydrant of information.

I then attended The Politics of Ministry by Bob Burns and Donald Guthrie. It addressed the reality of how things get done, recognizing power dynamics and learning how to negotiate relationships and institutions. Thankfully they summarized the themes in their book of the same name. I would recommend that book. In the seminar they listed the differences between a relaxed/calm system and an anxious system. It is immediately obvious that the PCA is an anxious system. We are defensive and reactive, suspicious of one another. Grace seems but a dream at times. They also spoke about generational differences which play into some tensions in the PCA: Do what I say <=>  Listen to me. These would play out over the the course of the Assembly.

Tuesday night I sat with people at a picnic table talking. Meanwhile, a large number of elders were sitting around talking, smoking and having some whiskey. The scooters we’d seen available were used as the night wore on. People were enjoying the times of fellowship some seem to want to erase.

Wednesday morning I attended two seminars. The first was Mentoring Ruling Elders led by Larry Hoop and Richard Dolan, who is a friend of mine. This was actually geared more to ruling elders mentoring ruling elders. Older ruling elders should be helping younger ones to grow in understanding who they are and how to work within a Session. They talked about “on ramps” or doors into deep relationships, the qualities of mentors and ways in which mentoring takes place.

The second seminar was Relational Wisdom for Crucial Pastoral Issues by Ken Sande. He applied the principles of RW to church leadership. He spoke of leaders as necessarily relational, and marked by transparency and accountability. Ministry is intensely relational. When we lose sight of that, bad things happen. We aren’t simply applying theology to situations, but to … people. I saw a quote by Francis Schaeffer the other day that boils down to orthodoxy without love is a rotting corpse.

“Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is the ugliest thing in the world.” Francis Schaeffer

After lunch we had the opening worship service. The choir was backed by a small orchestra and the service included the Lord’s Supper. Out-going moderator Irwyn Ince preach a sermon on 2 Cor. 4:2-6 called Grind on for Glory. It was an excellent sermon. During the Supper, music was played during the distribution of each element, and then a song was sung before partaking of each element. Thankfully there was no mini-sermon before the Table as is frequently the case.

We then voted for a new moderator, electing RE Howard (Howie) Donahoe. He did an excellent job keeping us moving forward and applying the Rules of Assembly.

We then heard greetings from delegates from the RPCNA, OPC, URC, ARP, the Korean and Brazilian Presbyterian Churches. The URC delegate chided us regarding Revoice, and implied that if people really repented they wouldn’t struggle with SSA (at least that is how it sounded to me). The Korean delegates expressed similar cultural normalization of homosexuality. In light of the large number of overtures (requests for action) and how the Overtures Committee handled them as well as the number of minority reports (5) which requires more time, it was moved that we meet Wednesday night as well. Due to previously planned events, that was voted down.

We did vote to remain in the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals). We remain pretty much the only evangelical voice left in the NAE, and we don’t seem to be having much influence based on their positions. I was among those who thought we should cut ties, but good people like Roy Taylor disagree with me. Speaking of whom, he announced his retirement during the meeting, and search for a new Stated Clerk begins.

After dinner, we enjoyed fellowship with a number of elders over cigars and whiskey in the courtyard. In the courtyard the divisions in the church didn’t seem to matter. We weren’t arguing with each other, but enjoying one another’s company and discussing more personal matters.

TImage may contain: one or more people and shoeshursday began with an all-assembly seminar called Christian Civility in an Uncivil Age: Speaking the Truth in Love about how we interact with one another, particularly in the assembly and on social media. The panels were Sean Lucas, Irwyn Ince, Bryan Chapell and David Richter. They brought Scripture, the BCO and our confessional standards to bear on how we talk to and about one another. It was a great panel and discussion that sadly seemed to have been ignored by many as the “us/them” language on FB was present throughout the rest of General Assembly.

Thursday morning was taken up mostly with Report on Presbytery Records. The issue of the year seemed to be exceptions and requiring men not to teach their views on that subject. Good Faith Subscriptionism permits exceptions. Most of the time those are such that teaching on them is not a problem. Some, like paedocommunion, are commonly permitted but the pastor is prohibited from teaching their views. Calvary Presbytery expanded that area of prohibition. A long, confusing debate occurred. The bottom line is that this issue is best addressed through overtures addressing the BCO than RPR.

These populated the area for some reason.

We voted on the changes to the BCO that had been approved by presbyteries. The important ones like the marriage issue passed, but a few of lesser importance didn’t (the ones dealing with excommunication, counsel for discipline cases. Also passed was extending the notice time for a congregation meeting held to leave the denomination. I don’t get the opposition. It is just about the notice of the meeting. This is not about using property to hold congregations captive. There isn’t even a “period of discernment” like in some other Reformed denominations. I’ve seen congregations caught up in the moment and consider leaving over a decision that didn’t go their way.

Wednesday lunch was an RTS alumni lunch. We heard from 3 professors including Kevin DeYoung about the challenges in seminaries. Today’s students really struggle with social media and the resultant inability/unwillingness to study or express diligence.

Wednesday afternoon was mostly reports from the various boards like Covenant College, and Seminary, MNA and the rest. The one matter of significance was in the MTW report. After some complaints of gender/sex abuse they hired GRACE to investigate. About 10% of the women feel unsafe at times. There were instances of disparaging comments about women, some sexual harassment and abuse. They are taking the recommendations from GRACE seriously and seeking to implement them. We do need to take better care of the women and children under our care.

After dinner we had another worship service. This time the choir was backed by a small band including Sandra McCracken. The lead male vocalist had quite the voice. David Cassidy preach on Psalm 145, A Brief History of the Future. It was well-received. Many are still raving about it. He is dynamic in his style, but I thought it lacking some in substance. He rarely referred to the text. It was more motivational than exegetical & practical. My two cents, and it is highly unlikely anyone will ever ask me to preach at GA.

We then worked (yes, this is work) until midnight as we began addressing the Overtures at last. Rather than simply beginning with the requests for a study committee on matters sexual, some members pressed for a statement now so we can tell our people what the PCA believes on these matters. I thought our confessional standards still held. Scott Sauls brought up this pertinent fact, so I didn’t feel the need to speak as encouraged by others. In my opinion most of the presented statements lacked pastoral sensitivity.

WLC Q. 138. What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?
A. The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labor in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto.

WLC Q. 139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage; having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.

One TE mentioned that our debate is not doctrinal (speaking of the PCA more than Revoice since there is some breadth of theology there) but cultural. I would add generational. The dynamics of politics in ministry are evident to me. The PCA is an anxious system, and very defensive. How the different generations and cultures approach ministry differs as well. Revoice, for instance, is largely younger people who want to be heard in their struggle, to be open and receive help. Those who are (generally) older are focused on the doctrine and expect people to follow the traditional methods of ministry to homosexuals.

14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 1 Thessalonians 5

Some seemed to indicate that pastoral sensitivity was somehow opposed to doctrine. No, not at all. Paul here advocates for pastoral sensitivity or discernment. There are three groups in mind: the idle (rebellious), the fainthearted and the weak. They are to be treated differently. There are people who struggle with SSA in our midst who are not rebellious, but rather fainthearted and weak. To admonish them instead of encouraging or helping is to practice orthodoxy without love.

Two TEs who struggle with SSA spoke against approving the Nashville Statement. TE Johnson from Memorial in Missouri Presbytery expressed his impression that this statement didn’t just delineate sin but so focused on it that many with SSA will feel rejected and pushed out. Another TE mentioned that the sentiment of the group he’s in online, is that those people will feel unsafe in the PCA if the Nashville Statement was passed. It was passed. There are people like this who are greatly affected by our decisions, negatively, and wonder if they are welcome in our churches as a result.

There are key moments when we can choose whether or not to listen to those most directly affected by a decision. Sadly, in my opinion, we consistently refuse to listen to them. This doesn’t mean that listening determines what you should do, but empathy is in important part of being a pastor and elder. We struggle with this.

Additionally, the RPCNA’s Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis was commended to the denomination, but not referred to boards for instruction. It was already available on the PCA Historical Center website. A series of affirmations and denials was rejected. A minority report with a series of statements was also rejected which I thought was far superior to the Nashville Statement.

No photo description available.Longer term, a study committee on the subject was approved. Also approved was a change to the BCO to permit video testimony. An overture to permit additional RE participation in GA was rejected. This last one is another I wish we’d listen on. The overture maintained a majority of each board has elders. But some boards could greatly benefit from others with expertise. This need for only elders on the board of Covenant College, in my opinion, unnecessarily turns people off. I’ve talked to some of these people. How we practice our complementarianism, at times, drives people to egalitarianism. I don’t think only men, and ordained men at that, are capable of running a Christian college.

My flight Friday morning was at 9:30 so I did not participate in the worship service or business on Friday. I did not want to arrive in NY at midnight, and usually business wraps up on Thursday. But with the extraordinary number of overtures that didn’t happen. The two main issues were the approval of a study committee for domestic violence and sexual abuse, and the rejection of non-ordained members of the boards of the church as an expression of elder rule.

 

2020: Birmingham

2021: St. Louis

2022: likely Memphis

2023: possibly Orlando

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Image of the works of John newtonThe second volume in The Works of John Newton is even a little more varied than the first volume. The first had a biography, then his memoirs in letter form followed by more letters. This volume begins with the remaining letters of Cardiphoia, followed by some collections of sermons, then his ecclesiastical history and then the Olney Hymnbook. There is clearly plenty of material here.

In one of his books Jerry Bridges talks about the pool hall, and that his parents warned him to not go to the pool hall. He thought there was something wrong with playing pool. As it turned out, the concern was the gambling and unsavory characters associated with that pool hall (and some others).

I wonder if something similar happened with Newton and the playhouse. The first series of letters is to a Miss TH***, and they include his rebuke about her attendance at a playhouse. “I am well satisfied, that if there is any practice in this land sinful, attendance on the play-house is properly and eminently so. The theatres are fountains and means of vice…”.

I agree that the gospel is “a source of purer, sweeter, and more substantial pleasures.” We are invited into communion with God, but does that preclude our viewing stories told on TV, movies and stage? He is helping her wrestle with the impact of holiness on entertainment. Like most I’m probably quick to point out the shows I choose not to watch on account of their content but overlook the ones I do. In seminary one professor recommended I watch Seinfeld and another lamented the horrible choices students were making by watching such shows.

These letter grapple with living one’s faith in their circumstances and choices. They point us to Christ, not just for holiness but also for pardon. “Our sins are many, but his mercies are more; our sins are great, but his righteousness is greater.” He helps people wrestle with God’s providence in light of God’s character. This includes his famous paraphrase of Romans 8:28- “All shall work together for good; everything is needful that he sends; nothing can be needful that he withholds.” He’s also very aware of the weakness of the flesh and that hard circumstances draw forth our corruptions.

He also interacts with men in ministry or considering ministry. At times they are men of different opinions than Newton. He tries to gently instruct, and provides a model for such discourses (rather than polemics). Polemics is for books, though even there winsomeness can help, not for personal relationships. He also covers topics like the length and volume of sermons, when to leave a church and more.

He writes about assurance of salvation to William Wilberforce’s aunt. There are letters on “backsliding”. He speaks of the pain of friendship and placing our hope in God alone. He also notes “it is merciful in the Lord to disappoint our plans and to cross our wishes.”

There are also some odd events, adding to the personal character. He writes of a lion they had in town and a discussion with its keeper. He writes of his own frustrations in some of the doctrinal debates, how he doesn’t fit perfectly in any one camp: “I am sort of a speckled bird among my Calvinist brethren … the Dissenters (many of them I mean) think me defective … neither do my dimensions fit exactly with them (Methodists).” So, one will find sorts of things of interest and help.

The sermons begin with a series of discourses that he intended to preach but apparently did not. They cover the deceitfulness of the human heart, Jesus and salvation, the name “Christians”, all things being given to us with Christ, and searching the Scriptures. In some ways they are an introduction to the Christian life. There is much that is very good in these discourses. In the last discourse he seems to discourage the expositional preaching through books. One finds subjects or themes to preach upon. So John and I could possibly have a lengthy discussion on this topic.

“None are so bad but the gospel affords them a ground of hope: none so good as to have any just ground for hope with it.”

Next are 20 sermons preached in Olney. He begins a series of sermons on Matt. 11:25 on the lack of success the gospel ministry may meet due to the mysteries of the gospel being hid from many. He preaches 4 sermons on that text before moving on to verse 26. There he begins to assert the sovereignty of divine grace. In the 6th sermon he moves to the person of Christ in vv. 27. That includes authority. This means that the glory and grace of God are revealed in Christ. After these 3 sermons on vv. 27, he moves to vv. 28 to discuss our labor and heavy load what it means to come to Christ and the rest he provides. Yes, 3 sermons on that before addressing vv. 30. This may be why he didn’t generally preach thru books- he would have died before he finished one with so many sermons on individual verses.

This is, in my opinion, one of the weaknesses of Puritan preaching which he seems to emulate here. The themes can be subtly removed from the context of the larger passage and book if one is not careful. We can be so focused on a word or phrase that we miss the overall meaning of a text.

Newton then moves to Romans 14 to discuss liberty and misconduct. The next sermon offered concerns the 3rd commandment out of Exodus 20. These sermons and those which follow are all disconnected from one another. He then jumps to 1 Cor. 9:24 and running the race. Then he jumps back to Micah 6:6-8 and James 2. You get the point. These were not preached, I imagine, sequentially.

They are good sermons and there are plenty of helpful statements in them. There is often encouragement to be found in them.

His Review of Ecclesiastical History is not quite what I expected. Generally such works begin after the time of the Apostles. His pretty much ends there. He’d hoped to write more volumes, but that is all he got to write. He was a busy many, as his many apologies for delays litter his letters.

“The history of all ages and countries uniformly confirms the Scriptural doctrine, that man is a depraved and fallen creature, and that some selfish temper, ambition, avarice, pride, revenge, and the like, are, in effect, the main-springs and motives of his conduct, unless so far, and in such instances, as they are corrected and subdued by Divine grace.”

His introduction focuses on the resistance of the human heart to the truth and the spread of persecution. He was thankful that the law of England limited the persecution of the church. He begins with the ministry of Jesus.

“We may describe the gospel to be- A divine revelation in the person of Jesus Christ, discovering the misery of fallen man by sin, and the means of his complete recovery by the free grace of God, through faith, unto holiness and happiness.”

He breaks this definition down, phrase by phrase. Then he returns to the subject of opposition, in particular by the religious leaders in Israel. The particular groups represent the basic types of resistance: legalism/self-righteousness, liberals or the self-wise, the worldly-wise or compromising. Newton then contrasts the disciples before and after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. He focuses on the influences of grace, however imperfect.

The second period of Christianity was the work of the Apostles. He retraces much of the Acts of the Apostles. This section is almost like a little commentary with some helpful words on the biblical book. He tries to focus on the needs of his time as he edits the vast history. As he goes he gives the supposed date of the events and the emperor at the time.

As he reports the advice of Gamaliel, I wonder how often we should heed that. Many fads in theology have come and gone, but each time we act like this one is the end of the church as we know it, only for the controversy to die down and the movement or false doctrine to die out (like the emergent church, open theism etc.).

Newton shifts his attention to Paul’s character as an example for ministers. He was a self-righteous and moral man who’s need for a Savior was revealed. Paul was concerned for doctrinal purity as relates to the great doctrines of the faith. He was discerning about which deviations were deadly to the gospel and which weren’t.

“Self is too prevalent in the best men, and the tendency of self is, to exact submission, to hurry to extremes, to exaggerate trifles into points of great consequence, and to render us averse to the healing expedients of peace.”

Paul derived the circumstantials and essentials of religion from the same source- the Scriptures. Newton explains the differences between them. Paul’s zeal was matched by his humility.

Newton moves on to the irregularities and offenses of the Apostles’ days. He brings us to the letters of the Apostles’ (and Acts) to see some of the most important problems they experienced. He addresses the public worship of Corinth, for instance. He still doesn’t give an answer to the supposed contradiction between chapters 11 and 14 on women speaking i the service. One persistent problem was the attachment some Jewish converts had to the law of Moses. We also see early forms of Antinomianism.

The hymnbook contains only titles and lyrics. It provides the text that influenced particular hymns. At times we can see how the form we have now is much different- verses missing or added (particularly with Amazing Grace). There are many hymns whose words should prove of interest to those who update the music of hymns.

I’m finding The Works of John Newton to be worth the investment of my time this year. They would likely be worth your investment too.

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I was at lunch recently when someone asked if I’d blog on the overtures (requests for action) at the upcoming PCA General Assembly. He was curious as to what I thought of them. So, I’m taking a shot.

I’m not part of the National Partnership. I’m not part of the group that is critical of the National Partnership. I’m not a Conservative Cultural Warrior. I’m an Average Joe and part of the so-called “squishy middle” mostly because my middle is a bit squishy these days. I’m theologically conservative and confessional. I’ve also mellowed over the years and try to use discernment about what hills to die on, or kill others on. I’m hoping that’s maturity. Some would disagree. But I’m not important, and not a genius.

TImage may contain: one or more people and crowdhis year there are 48 (yes, 48!) overtures. I’m not sure if this is a record but it seems overwhelming at first sight. Good news, though. One of the more controversial ones has been withdrawn. I’ve already blogged on that one so I’m not touching it here.

While there are 47 remaining, most of them revolve around a few issues. As a result, I’m going to handle them under those issues.

Ruling Elder Participation

2 Overtures are attempting to increase participation by Ruling Elders (RE) at General Assembly. As a denomination we hold to the parity of elders though we distinguish between Teaching Elders (TE) and REs. The E or elder part is what matters. We want both engaged in the life of the denomination, and not just the local church.

Our Book of Church Order (BCO) does call for equal representation on GA committees (14-1.9). Overture 1 asks to amend 14-2 to increase the number of REs allowed to represent churches at General Assembly.

I will vote NO on this. The issue, generally, is not enough men allowed to attend but not enough REs able to attend. Men work and have families. Taking vacation time to go to GA is an obstacle for many men. In two decades of ministry I’ve only had an RE do that once. Early in my ministry, a retired Naval officer regularly attended Synod (the ARP version of GA). As an TE, I’m expected to go. For REs it is a huge sacrifice to go.

What this would permit is larger churches to be overly represented at GA. Since churches are supposed to help defray the costs of attending, the larger the church the more men they can afford to send. This means that such churches, which generally send more TEs, can also send more REs.

This may increase participation by churches geographically near that year’s GA, but the same issues of vacation and cost apply.

We seem to have confused parity with participation. In other words, we think that unequal participation means we don’t actually have parity. We risk making an idol of RE participation as we focus on endless ways to increase it.

A (possibly) better solution is represented by Overture 27. It requests we study remote voting for General Assembly. It cites the costs to attend which place a burden on smaller churches, and the lack of RE participation.

The technology exists to view remotely. We already stream the proceedings. Perhaps there is a way to vote remotely while we vote electronically at GA.

This will help TEs who are in smaller churches, and churches with multiple TEs for them to watch and vote. REs who work should not be doing this while working. It may get some men who are retired engaged. I suppose this is worth looking at, and I might vote YES. Would we charge those men the full registration fee?

Covenant Theological Seminary

Overture 2 seeks to develop a plan to make Covenant independent. It recognizes that it can’t happen immediately. It seems to imply that CTS wants to be independent. Rather I hear elders complaining about CTS and its perceived liberal views. Some want to be done with them and this overture will appeal to them.

I have not such desire for us to be free of CTS. If they wanted to be be free of us, I’d consider this. But they don’t, so I’ll be voting NO on this.

Corporate Prayer at GA

Last year some were offended by some of the language/topics in the corporate prayer and worship at GA, particularly at a separate time of prayer prior to and for GA. Corporate confessions of sin will inevitably include some sins that a particular person is not guilty of, but a community is. I have no problem confessing our sins and the sins of our fathers, as we see in Nehemiah. I‘ll vote NO to this.

Issues Related to Sexuality

Overture 4 is the first of a large number of overtures (11) touching on sexuality. This and Overture 22 want the PCA to adopt the Nashville Statement that was produced by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

I’ve read thru the statement a few times. It is generally acceptable. However, I share the concerns expressed by Todd Pruitt. This statement was produced by a parachurch organization, not as the result of a denominational study committee or cooperation between like-minded denominations (similar to an ecumenical council). CBMW also has the baggage of affirming the Eternal Submission of the Son, which many (including me) view as a heterodox view of the Trinity. I’ll vote NO if these two reach the floor.

Overture 11 is the return of an overture from 2018. Last year they wanted us to adopt the RPCNA’s Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis. This year they want us to “commend and distribute it”. You may notice that the link above is from the PCA Historical Center. This document has a good reputation. I’ve been wanting to read it. But the Overture locates it in their minutes for distribution. There are practical problems at work here, not theological ones. Because it is readily available, including on a PCA website, I will likely vote NO.

Overture 28 is a series of affirmations and denials regarding homosexuality. Some of these call out for clarification or nuance. For example, the denial that “unnatural sexual orientations are fixed, permanent, and unchangeable.” Some people experience orientation change and some do not. Does this mean we say those who don’t aren’t truly converted? This creates pastoral problems. I will likely vote NO as a result.

Three overtures request study committees to address these questions and provide pastoral wisdom. I think we should study this and identify the areas we all agree upon, as well as those we can disagree on as well as those we should not disagree. We should also help churches sort thru the best ways to pursue evangelism and discipleship of those who struggle with SSA or gender identity issues. Surely the RPCNA document would be part of the material studied. I would vote YES on forming a study committee to help us better understand the implications of not only sexuality but also the gospel for ministry to people in these areas. We do need to identify the boundaries more clearly and define terms more clearly (and use them more consistently). The online discussions among elders have demonstrated how necessary this is. The fact that the Central Carolina and North Florida reports disagreed on the question of whether to be tempted is to sin indicates we need to study this.

Some want us to re-affirm previous statements on homosexuality. I have no problem with that. But I do think we need to spend time thinking about how to apply this theology to the very different social context we live in now. I think this is not enough. As a result, I will likely vote NO unless someone changes my mind.

Domestic and Sexual Abuse

Many of our members have been victims of domestic and sexual abuse. These are not simply problems out there in the world. We see scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Church, New Tribes Missions,Sovereign Grace Ministries, independent churches like Willow Creek and more. These are issues we cannot ignore.

There are 9 overtures that call for the formation of study committees. I’m sure that these will be pared down to one. I will vote Yes that we form a committee to examine these issues and how to prepare our churches to prevent, recognize and address these issues affecting “the least of these”.

Dissolving Pastoral Relations

Overture 5 seeks to amend BCO 23-1 to clarify the various pastoral relationships and how they are to be dissolved. I generally agree.

I’m conflicted, however, because I am no fan of the Assistant Pastor (not Assistant to the Pastor) designation. This change would clarify that the congregation is not required to accept or request the dissolution of the pastoral relationship. We speak of parity of elders and yet we treat Assistant Pastors as 2nd class pastors or elders. They are called differently, fired differently and are not on the Session of the church they serve. They can be invited to Session meetings (or not), and given voice but no vote. I have serious issues with this “class” of REs.

Since it is currently a designation, I will probably vote YES. I also probably need to start working on eliminating the Assistant Pastor distinctions, or make them temporary and less radical.

Eliminating Memorials

Memorials are notifications of the death of elders which often include their influence and activities for the kingdom and denomination.

Overture 6 seeks to eliminate them. The issue is that they cannot be edited, approved or denied. They need to be heard. Last year there was some controversy. One of the PCA founding fathers passed away, and his teaching on a subject was controversial and many (like me) think foundational to a heterodox view that is contrary to the gospel.

I’m not as concerned about the fact that Calvin was buried in an unmarked grave. We aren’t talking about graves here, but honoring others. The problem comes when a man was controversial.

I lean toward voting YES.

Non-Ordained Members of Committees and Boards

This is the return of an overture from last year. Two similar overtures reflecting the overture from last year.

This is a controversial issue. I hear about how elders are charged with the oversight of the church. Yes, they are.

However, in our congregations committees are not comprised only of elders. They contain unordained men, and women as well. No one freaks out (at least I haven’t heard of anyone). People understand there can’t be enough elders in a local congregation, or that we’d kill the ones we have by overworking them. People understand that committees report and recommend. They are not to act unilaterally but are under the authority of a particular church court.

When it comes to presbytery and GA, people suddenly become adamant that only elders serve on committees and boards. These overtures provide for a minority of seats granted to unordained members. They are still committees and boards and are under authority.

If we ask elders to serve on local congregation committees, presbytery committees and GA committees we will likely overwork them. The REs in my congregation are very busy with work, family and church responsibilities. To serve on a GA committee would include travel to meetings, and how are they going to do that while they work, especially since we want them to show up to GA too?

Some boards and committees could benefit from members with particular expertise. There are times when REs (and more so TEs) lack the expertise necessary.

Like last year, I will vote YES.

Abortion

As our nation continues to polarize on the issue of abortion and the boundaries being pushed to birth (and beyond) in some states, there are 2 overtures regarding abortion and the sanctity of life. One requests reaffirmation of past statements. The other requests strengthening our statements. I would vote for either. It is important that Overture 48 includes not only the heinousness and guilt of the sin but also the sufficiency of grace.

Miscellany

Overture 9 wants to update the rules for filing cases. I’m not sure what they have against faxes and email, but rejecting the use of modern technology seems to be a big mistake. Okay, faxes are outdated. Why are we prejudiced against email? I’ll vote NO.

Overture 12 addresses floor nominations. Floor nominations would be accepted only if there were no nominations properly filed ahead of time. I have no clue or strong opinion.

Overture 17 seeks to allow video testimony of witnesses. At times they are far away. Video testimony, like using Zoom, allows people to see their accusers and cross-examine them. I’ll vote YES.

Overtures 15 and 18 seek to change the Rules of Assembly to end contradicting actions by overtures. They look identical at first glance. I’ll probably vote YES, but I could be persuaded otherwise.

Overture 23 is another request for the PCA to withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals. There seems to be little theological and political alignment (they have embraced social issues in a way that sounds more SJW than simply biblical justice) with the NAE. We have little to no influence on the NAE and I will vote for us to leave.

Overture 33 wants to add a question affirming the Trinity to the membership questions in BCO 57-5. I’m torn. I agree that one should affirm the Trinity to be a member of a PCA church. While I was in the ARP they had a question affirming the Scriptures as the written Word of God, the only perfect rule of faith and practice; and another affirming the doctrines and principles of the denomination, as far as you understand them, as agreeable to and founded on the Word of God.

We should be clear about our doctrinal boundaries as a denomination when it comes to church membership. We should be clear that we recognize the Scriptures as authoritative. I’m not sure we need to specify the Trinity while ignoring what supports it- a doctrine of Scripture. I lean toward voting NO as a result. I’d prefer questions addressing our doctrinal system rather than a specific doctrine.

At this point my brain is starting to hurt.

Overture 40 wants sessions to acknowledge and support women leaders without delay or divisiveness. Our study committee concerning women and ministry in the local church was controversial for some. This overture is not about ordination but encouraging women to use their gifts. It wants us to remember that focusing on what they can’t do (or spending much time debating that) often means women feel like 2nd class citizens in the Church. During that GA I interacted with some women I know who were there, and it was painful for them to have things lorded over them (that’s how they feel fellas). This is to provide some counterbalance. It is unfortunate we need to do this, but I think we do. I’ll probably vote yes.

Overture 41 is a swing in a different direction. They want the Committee on Mission to the World to only permit ordained elders to serve in the roles of team leaders, regional directors and International Diriector. This is in response to CMTW guidelines which include a section on valuing women in MTW. They think these guidelines hinder women by creating a crisis of conscience. I don’t understand this at all. If you have a crisis of conscience, don’t serve in a particular role. I don’t know enough about this to have a very solid opinion on the matter. People seem to have very different ideas about the meaning of ecclesiastical authority. Some are very broad, and others narrow.

Update on 41: I’ve heard from someone who struggled with his conscience as a man under the authority of a woman in a position of authority over him as he served as a missionary. There is no problem with a man in the office being under the authority of a woman regarding accounting or other positions. The issues come into play on the field as missionaries and evangelists are under the authority of a female regional director. Would we want a pastor under the authority of a female bishop? Perhaps that is what this looks or functions like and needs to be reexamined by MTW. This is a difficult one for me to sort out. We have to try to put ourselves in the shoes of the men and women involved.

And so it goes. Now we see what happens.

Keep in mind when you hear the results in a few weeks. Voting against the overture regarding the membership questions doesn’t mean you disagree with the doctrine. Too often I hear those comments: we aren’t committed to x, y or z as a denomination when the issue is not the doctrine or conviction itself, but the mechanics or implications of an overture. Don’t over-react if an overture you love (or hate) fails (or passes).

 

 

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It has been quite some time since I’ve read a book in less than a week.

It has been a few years since I’ve read a volume in the Gospel According to the Old Testament series.

A Journey to Wholeness: The Gospel According to Naaman's Slave Girl (Gospel According to the Old Testament)Both changed this past week. I was scheduled to preach on the healing of the leper at the end of Mark 1. It is hard to consider that text and event without also pondering the healing of Naaman. This led me to A Journey to Wholeness: The Gospel According to Naaman’s Slave Girl by Mark Belz.

You know you are onto something when a book stirs up a desire to preach a text. It has happened a few times. While reading Iain Duguid’s expositional commentary on Esther I decided to preach thru Esther. Reading this book makes me want to preach a series on this.

While a series on a chapter might seem like overkill, there are plenty of things to consider. Mark Belz helps us to work through these matters. He focuses on the people involved in this story, and brings us to the centrality of the gospel in this story which seems odd to us at first glance. He brings us into the New Testament to address Jesus’ reference to this event and how it set off a dumpster fire in Nazareth. He then moves into biblical reconciliation as he wraps up the book and his exploration of themes brought forward in Naaman’s healing.

In the preface, Belz reminds us that “our lives are stories, not outlines”. God communicates theology to us largely through story. There is propositional truth there, but it frequently doesn’t follow a neat outline. Belz follows the story line to get at the truth found there. He begins with Naaman, then the slave girl, back to Naaman for his response to the girl’s information, to the first encounter with Elisha, the healing and second encounter with Elisha to the emergence of Gehazi and the problems he creates.

This is in the backdrop of the conflict between Israel/Samaria and Syria. Naaman is a general in the Syrian army, and a highly successful one it would seem. He would likely hate Israel/Israelites and be hated by them.

His problem is leprosy which threatens first his health, then his career and ultimately his life. There is much in the balance for a man of such prestige. Oddly enough a solution to his problem emerges from the spoils of war- an Israelite slave girl. She is the only person in this story whose name we don’t know. As a slave girl she seems so unimportant, but her simple testimony that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him is what makes this more than a sad tale of a cruel man with a horrendous disease.

The Israelite-Syrian hostility is always there, and part of what God is doing to resolve. There is more at stake here than the healing of a man, however important he may be to himself and his nation.

Gehazi, driven by this hostility, is offended that Elisha extracts no exorbitant fee, or any fee, from this enemy of Israel. Like Judas, he’s driven by greed and undermines the gospel.

While this is a very good book, it is not a perfect book. I’ll start with the trivial and move to the more serious.

And I do mean trivial.

“Gehazi now knew he was fried tomatoes.”

What? This odd local phrase may be understood in his neighborhood but I am clueless. I lived in Florida for about 20 years and traveled through many a southern state. But I have never heard this particular expression. Part of communicating to a wider audience would seem to be getting rid of peculiar, localized idioms. I’m not sure how this got past the editors, or how it has gotten past me for 5 decades.

At times he seems to assert too much. He attributes too much to an individual’s thought process. What Belz says about the Abrahamic covenant is absolutely true. Whether or not this slave girl is that good of a theologian is to have had it in mind when approaching her mistress is debatable. There are a few other instances like this: asserting an unknown motive, however true the theology is. The chapter The Look of Reconciliation has a number of instances where he seems to go beyond what the text says.

I’m reminded of how easy it is for us to do this as preachers. We should be clear in making the distinction between the theology behind the story and the actual motives or theology of the people in the story. We can (and should) draw out the connections to other texts. God has more in mind than the human subjects of the Story do. Let’s be care to not assume they also had these grand theological connections in mind.

Another issue is that of “color-blindness”. I’m not so big a fan of color-blindness. I don’t want to stereotype people on the basis of color, but color is important. It gives us a hint about hardships a person may have encountered. We’d be foolish to act as if a black person who has experienced racism is actually a white person who hasn’t. This doesn’t mean every black person in America has profound stories of racism, or that they are fragile. But it means we may want to talk with them about how an action might be perceived. This is true of any minority.

Color-blindness blinds us to the impact of cultural differences as well. Color-blindness means that I basically assume everyone is like me and will look at things like I do. Unless they are stupid (see how self-righteousness works). So, I’d disagree with him that color-blindness is a great goal. Mutual understanding and respect is a better one, in my opinion. That takes our differences in background seriously.

Overall, a very good book that helps us to see the gospel in this story about a powerful man brought low by leprosy. This gospel is not simply powerful enough to heal a disease, but also powerful enough to heal relationships and nations.

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The vast majority of the Central Carolina Presbytery Report (CC) is taken up with a summary of Revoice, the issue of temptation and sin, and identity. The last 4-5 pages handle a number of issues in rapid fire pace. The rest of these issues are not addressed directly in the North Florida Presbytery Report on Same-Sex Attraction (NF). They are addressed at length in the Missouri Presbytery Report from the Judicial Committee (MP).

I will follow the order in which they are addressed by CC.

Spiritual Friendship

Image result for friendshipThe subject sounds strange. CC notes that a number of the Revoice speakers addressed “the importance of reclaiming a fully biblical understanding of friendship.” Tushnet and Belgau in particular stressed this idea. I would agree that our culture and our churches need to recover a Christian understanding of friendship. The friend is a different category than family or one’s enemies. Some of those friendships were bound with a covenant, in particular David and Jonathan’s friendship.

Belgau (and the others) are clear that David and Jonathan’s friendship was not romantic or sexual. They are not used to justify homosexual relationships. This is important to keep in mind.

Belgau has a different erroneous position: that these covenantally bound friendships may be more binding than marriage. CC is correct in saying “we can’t go there”, so to speak. You can’t be more bound to another human than a “one flesh” relationship, and that relationship is between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage.

While we see that friendship is given great value when men like Abraham were called “God’s friend” we see that the “one flesh” relationship is more frequently used covenant relationship to understand our covenant relationship with God in Christ (Hosea 1-3 and Ephesians 5 for instance). This relationship is intended to be permanent and exclusive, with a legally recognized status. Friendship, sadly, is not permanent. It is not exclusive either, and lacks legal recognition.

In this area we find more unclear language by Revoice speakers. “Same-sex love” is used for same-sex friendship but is easily misunderstood. Two homosexuals engaging in friendship should establish clear boundaries, not be making covenants to bind themselves to one another. It sounds like a romantic relationship without the sex which is dancing on thin ice. Gay but celibate should not mean a celibate dating relationship with another person of the same sex.

Healthy same-sex friendships are vital for all of us, including homosexuals. We should have a high view of them. They are to make way for marriage, however. My wife is and should be more important to me than a friendship. My children should also be more important to me than my friends. The views expressed by some Revoice speakers on this subject are unwise.

“We think it unwise, however, to posit a separate class of homosexual friendship that goes by different names and looks substantially different from the healthy friendships all Christians should cultivate and enjoy.” (pp. 13)

In similar fashion MP wrestled with this, seeing some inconsistency in message.

But it is also our judgment that, to the extent that Revoice even entertains the possibility of “celibate partnerships” (even within the limits expressed above), it has erred in offering unwise, unedifying relational arrangements to Christians who know same-sex-attraction (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12). In our judgment, to entertain the possibility of such partnerships stands in tension—perhaps even contradiction—with their public Statement.

As for Memorial Presbyterian and TE Johnson, while as a Session they have made no official statement regarding celibate partnerships or romantic coupling, TE Johnson, in his Revoice workshop, publicly warned about the danger of friendships morphing into romances and stressed the importance of boundaries. On one hand, it is our judgment that they have not erred in not having adopted an official statement on the question of romantic, nonsexual same-sex “partnerships,” yet we also believe they are open to the danger of a preoccupation with technical boundaries on physical limits in friendships to the neglect of the deeper inner dynamic involved in SSA romantic coupling, and the way it mimics the longing and the personal pull toward the other person that draws a man and woman together toward an exclusive intimacy that is designed by God to move them toward marriage. (MP, pp. 32)

The Gift of Homosexuality?

Some of the speakers at Revoice suggested that God has given homosexuality as a gift to the church. CC notes in particular that Finegan uses this language in three ways.

First, there are gifts that come with same-sex attraction. For instance they have a greater awareness of the depth of sin so they are humbled and more dependent.

While it is good to have this awareness, be humble and dependent they are confusing the gift with the means of the gift. The gift isn’t homosexuality but how God uses it in a person’s life so they are humble and dependent. CC is right to say “Scripture never point to our fallen desires as gifts. (pp. 13)” She is confusing categories.

“Second, Finegan argues that gay Christians are a gift to the world. (pp. 14)” They show that one can find life by losing life. They show that sexual desires need not define us. All Christians are to display these, not just those with SSA. Christians with SSA do need to hear they play an important role as heralds to the kingdom, and that their experience of salvation (already/not yet) will be a powerful testimony.

With the caveat that Christ is the real gift, CC notes “we heartily agree that faithful same-sex attracted believers have a powerful role to play in declaring the goodness of God and the glory of the gospel to the world. (pp. 14)” I can agree with that while I would be hesitant to call homosexuality a gift in this case as well.

Third, she thinks SSA Christians are a gift to the church. This would be similar to Nate Collins’ “prophetic call to the church to abandon idolatrous attitudes toward the nuclear family, toward sexual pleasure” (cited on pp. 4).

CC believes they are a gift of the church in terms of “examples of denying oneself and God’s strength being perfected in weakness. (pp. 14)” The gift is faithfulness and godliness, not homosexuality. The language of many Revoice speakers here is less than helpful and confusing. We should value them, as Christians, and we should encourage them to walk faithfully as well as be encouraged when they do.

“Same-sex attracted brothers and sisters, then, are deserving (and desirous) of our compassion, sensitivity, and care. (pp. 14)”

CC brings this back to the “at least three different ways Christians often think about same-sex attraction:

  • A sin to be mortified
  • A struggle to be endured
  • A gift to be celebrated” (pp. 14)

We can have more than one way to think of it. I would think SSA to be a temptation to be mortified and a struggle to be endured in hope. I would hesitate to call it a gift to be celebrated, though I willingly and joyfully celebrate any good God works through it (Romans 8:28). I think that distinction is vital.

CC puts it this way:

“… we do not believe it is right to characterize sinful inclinations as a gift. But if same-sex attraction is not a gift to be celebrated, our brothers and sister who pursue Christ courageously in the midst of this attraction certainly are. (pp. 14)”

Pervasiveness of Pain

A major theme in the addresses were “the pain, sorrow, and sense of loneliness and exclusion that same-sex attracted Christians experience. (pp. 15)” CC notes this was most clear in Nate Collin’s address but also a component of many others.

Here is my experience as a pastor and friend. While wanting to be supportive, I have usually not found out about friends’ struggles with SSA until it was too late. I am reminded of:

Image result for joan jettA friend in Crusade who came out of lesbianism. We didn’t talk much about it (I did learn that Joan Jett was popular among lesbians, but that shouldn’t be surprising). We spent some time together, playing guitar or talking. We both lived in NH and rode up on vacation. I didn’t see my role as to help her with her deepest struggles, but to be a friend.

A friend from a Bible Study group in NH got married to one of the single young ladies in our Singles fellowship. Years later he left his wife and children. I wouldn’t have guess he was gay, but wish he’d shared his struggles before they overcame him and caused such damage.

Years after moving away another friend and former elder left his wife and kids. The immediate circumstances were complicated, but there was a long history of gay porn of which I had not been aware. While it didn’t surprise me, it did disappoint me greatly in that we’d never talked about it and I wish I could have helped him.

A congregant who came out to me as bisexual. While I didn’t make a big deal about it, I wish I’d asked more questions about how it impacted (or didn’t) his marriage. Perhaps it could have saved some grief down the road, but I can’t be sure because there were a number of problems at work.

Until recently, many who struggled with SSA have struggled in our churches in silence. It is more common now for people to say they struggle with SSA. Some churches and pastors are doing better with this than others. Just recently I read an elder begin a FB comment with “yuck, yuck, yuck.” All sin is ugly. If you think someone else’s sin is more disgusting than your own, you probably need to get the plank out of your eye. Every type of sin drove Jesus to the cross. And every type of sin can be forgiven because of the cross.

Yes, some churches and pastors have failed miserably. They treat people with SSA as sinners to be condemned as opposed to in need of compassion. They treat them as the unrepentant, as though if they just repented enough they wouldn’t have SSA.

“Mistreatment of same-sex attracted believers is real, and the church must stand against it.” (pp. 15)

The church must speak the truth about the sinfulness of SSA.

The church must speak the truth about the sufficiency of Christ in the gospel too.

Speaking truth in love means speaking in a way that helps others mature while maintaining (as much as it depends upon you) the relationship. Some who have been critical of Revoice have not always spoken truth, but have misrepresented facts. Others have not spoken in love. Some Revoice speakers have not spoken (the whole) truth. CC discusses this in terms of Revoice addressing some real (though often subjective) issues but in a way that will lead to greater pain.

For instance, if you think you are God’s gift to the church (whether you are for or against Revoice, or where you stand on the issue of Christians struggling with SSA) you will experience great pain when people disagree with you. You will attack people, not simply ideas. Those who disagree with you will be heaped in your own personal pile of “deplorables”.

CC notes, rightly, that it can be difficult to assess the pain of others, and its cause. Pain is highly subjective. How one views the cause of said pain is as well. We’ve all had people leave our congregations with very different perspectives on an event than we do. We’ve heard one side of the story and don’t know the other. This doesn’t mean they are lying, but the lens we look through can warp things. Due to the noetic effect of sin, we all have a lens that distorts to some degree.

Wrapping Up

“We must never forget that we are dealing with real people, flesh and blood human beings with hurts and fears and joys and hopes. While we disagree with important aspects of what was said and assumed at the Revoice Conference, in so far as the movement acts as a reminder for all of us to be welcoming, sympathetic, and hospitable, there are valuable things we can learn and necessary lessons to be appropriated” (pp. 16)

Image result for one size fits allThat is well said. We tend to get so caught up in the theological and controversial that we forget the personal. We do need to remember that gospel ministry includes breaking hard hearts and comforting broken hearts. Ministry to Christians with SSA requires wisdom and discernment. There is no one size fits all method. That is because all churches differ and the people they serve differ as well: in temperament, experiences and circumstances.

I think the recommendations from NF are helpful, so I’ll repeat them here (pp. 6).

  • Recognize that the church has encountered and confronted issues surrounding same-sex issues with grace and faithfulness for many centuries(1 Corinthians 6.9-11). While our culture has foregrounded the issue, the church need not be alarmist or respond in fear. Rather, this challenge presents the church with an opportunity to proclaim the grace of God to a broken and fallen world. It is a moment to extend hope to those who are hopelessly confused through the gospel.
  • Uphold Biblical sexual standards, in thought, word, and deed,for the entire congregation. Be careful not to hammer the few struggling with same-sex attraction while going lighter on those dealing with other sexual attractions and behaviors.Sexual immorality is sexual immorality (Romans 13.13; Ephesians 5.3; 1 Thessalonians 4.3-7).
  • With regard to sexual temptation, acknowledge that sexual temptation is not sexual sin. That said, temptation is always an inducement to do wrong. Therefore, the temptation is not neutral.
  • Encourage Christians, struggling with the indwelling corruption of sin, with the gracious indicatives of the gospel that free us to embrace God’s liberating imperatives. In Jesus Christ, we have been set free from the dominion of sin (Romans 6.7). Our challenge is to ‘consider’ ourselves—an act of faith—as dead to sin and alive to God in Christ(Romans 6.11). God forgives us and empowers us to walk in newness of life.
  • Resist the cultural momentum that defines personal identity through sexual desires and inclinations. Human sexual behaviors do not confer identity—God does. Encourage those who struggle with same-sex attraction to root their identity outside of their sexuality, specifically by rooting their identity in Jesus Christ. Same-sex attraction may be a temptation someone encounters, but it is not the defining element of their personal identity.
  • Discourage Christians dealing with persistent same-sex attraction from identifying as a ‘Gay Christian’ as this label is ultimately unhelpful, confusing, and sub-biblical.
  • Strive to create a culture of welcome and genuine friendship at church that embraces single people, no matter their sexual temptations. When healthy, the church operates as a family that draws lonely, single individuals, including men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction,into the families that constitute the larger church family.
  • Celebrate the dignity of marriage, but do not impugn the dignity of singleness. God calls some to serve him without a spouse (Matthew 19.11-12; 1 Corinthian 7.8). According to Paul, there are even advantages to it (1 Corinthians 7.32-35)! Therefore, we need to consider how to honor singles within our congregations and not operate with a bias against them. For those who find themselves with unwanted same-sex attraction, singleness may well be God’s call upon their lives. We should honor these brothers and sisters, enfold them into healthy relationships, and give them opportunities to serve the Lord and the church.

 

 

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In the first post, I covered the issue of temptation and sin as discussed in the Central Carolina Presbytery Committee Report on Revoice (CC). I also included reference to the North Florida Report on Same-Sex Attraction (NF). This subject took more space than I think the others will. There is more disagreement, even in the Reformed Community including the PCA, on the subject. We saw disagreement between the CC and NF reports, as well as between an older Kevin DeYoung blog post and this report he worked on.

We agree that sexual temptations arise from the remnant of sin within each of us. They are temptations to commit sin. We agree that such temptations (all temptations) should be mortified as Paul encourages in Romans 8 and Titus 2 among other places. The disagreement is about whether being tempted itself constitutes a sin.

“To conflate the two ignores the reality of God’s gracious promises of deliverance to those facing temptation (1 Cor. 10:13; Heb. 2:18) and the sinless obedience of Jesus Christ in the face of temptation (Mt. 4:11; Heb. 4:15). Christians can be confronted with an opportunity to sin and, by the grace of God, resist the temptation and pursue obedience.” NF, pp. 3

There is fundamental agreement but the focus seems to be on the finer distinctions made. None of these differences imply that same-sex attraction (SSA) is morally neutral or “good”. They have a pastoral application as to whether the person has in fact sinned or is tempted. Those are treated differently: repentance vs. mortification. No person should experience church discipline for being tempted, but persistent patterns of sinful action should usually be addressed.

Further, when we consider the Westminster Shorter Catechism on repentance we see:

Question 87: What is repentance unto life?
Answer: Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

Repentance properly includes a “full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.” That properly describes what happens if we don’t put our temptations to death. Temptations are not a matter under our control and therefore, themselves, a matter of obedience. Obedience is about whether we entertain those temptations or mortify them.

Temptations do reveal the depths and character of our remaining corruption. In addition to mortification, they are also an occasion for lament. They also reveal to us our on-going need for Jesus so we respond much like Paul in Romans 7- O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of sin? His answer and ours is to be Jesus. That is true no matter the types of temptations, and sins (which is the context of Romans 7), we experience and commit.

I hope I’ve said enough on that topic.

The Question of Identity

Related imageCC then shifts its attention to the question of identity. At times I will appeal to sections of the Missouri Presbytery report from their investigative committee (MP). It is my opinion that this has become something as a shibboleth for some. If you don’t say it the right way, with no regard what you mean by it, you are considered wrong and should be outside the boundaries of our community of faith (see Judges 12:1-6).

Labels do matter. And what people mean by the labels matters too. Communication includes both the speaker (and their intention) and the listener.

One of the things bringing criticism to Revoice is their use of the terms “gay Christian” or “homosexual Christian.” The criticism is that these are (necessarily) terms of identity and they are therefore identifying themselves with their sinful inclinations at best, or sinful actions at worst. Revoice does, as we saw in the earlier post, affirm biblical sexuality and marriage. So theirs would presumably be a best case scenario.

The Scriptures speak of two fundamental identities: in Adam or in Christ. These can be expressed in many ways. For instance, regarding our identity in Adam, Paul refers to people in accordance with their dominant sin: the sexually immoral, idolators and adulterers among others (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Regarding our Christian identity we see Peter referring to Christians as a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9).

Additionally, our union and identity with Christ is to shape our thinking. We see this in Colossians 3:1-4. As the text unfolds in the following verses our actions, not just our thoughts, are to follow our new identity. Sanctification is the putting off of our old identity in Adam with its sin, and the putting on of our new identity in Christ which is righteous.

Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with ChristThese ideas are developed by Rosaria Butterfield in her book Openness Unhindered. In particular in the chapters Identity (pp. 35-58) and Self-Representation: What Does It Mean to Be Gay? (pp. 113-136). Christopher Yuan offers a briefer treatment in Holy Sexuality and the Gospel (pp. 7-13).

CC recognizes that Revoice accepts at least some of the identity language of our culture. For instance, they use the term “sexual minority”. Even the terms “gay” and “homosexual” in some way bow to the Freudian origination of sexual orientation (see NF, pp. 4-5). Rosaria Butterfield also traces this development of use of orientation in Sexual Orientation: Freud’s Nineteenth Century Mistake (pp. 93-112).

Sam Allberry addresses all of this as well.

CC spends time delving into General Revelational arguments in this case. They are not ignoring Scripture (for there are plenty of quotes) but explaining and assessing the worldly theories that NF simply recognizes as worldly.

Adjectives, at times, may be helpful modifiers of the noun “Christian”. Reformed Christian differentiates me from Orthodox Christian, Evangelical Christian etc. American Christian may be used to differentiate me from an Asian or African Christian as well. Cultural background has an effect on how you tend to live out your faith.

The problem both CC and NF express is when the adjective describes a sinful inclination or action. Both reports acknowledge that due to the remnant of sin, many Christians continue to experience these sinful inclinations. Regeneration does not remove them in every instance. We don’t want to promise anyone that if they come to Jesus, they will suddenly have no more SSA. But the reports warn against using the terms “homosexual Christian” and “gay Christian”.

How and why does Revoice use those terms?

Revoice generally uses those adjectives to refer to their struggle, not their identity. In this they are following the lead of Wesley Hill, on of the keynote speakers from his earlier book, Washed and Waiting. In the introduction he explains his usage.

“I hope to send a subtle linguistic signal that being gay isn’t the most important thing about my or any other gay person’s identity. I am a Christian before I am anything else. My homosexuality is part of my makeup, a facet of my personality. One day, I believe, whether in this life or in the resurrection, it will fade away. But my identity as a Christian- someone incorporated into Christ’s body by his Spirit- will remain.” pp. 22

Later he writes:

“Washed and waiting. That is my life- my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do. That is what this book is all about.” pp. 50

You can’t properly understand Revoice on this issue apart from this book. They should be more clear about that! They use Christian to express their identity. They use “gay” or “homosexual” to express their struggle.

In doing so they are addressing those who struggle with SSA and the gay community more than people like me and other PCA presbyters. Their audience shuts down, so the claim is made, with the terms SSA or ex-gay.

While I do not prefer their language, I seek to understand their meaning by the phrases instead of demanding they not use those terms based on how I’d use them. Instead of refusing to acknowledge how they are used and bearing false witness against them (imputing an erroneous meaning), we should faithfully express their intentions. We can criticize them for it, but we should properly interpret their intention, not the one that we think it should mean.

After her chapter on Self-Representation, Rosaria Butterfield has a chapter called Conflict: When Sisters Disagree. There she focuses on this particular disagreement. Rosaria strongly believes that the phrases not be used. Yet she wrote:

“The conservative Christian world is one of the only places where gay still means primarily an identity associated with a sociopolitical community.” pp. 139.

She focuses on the need for Christian love in these matters of disagreement. Those relationships may be complex, but we don’t cut them off. She notes:

“Friendship and neighborly proximity are necessary components to working through theological differences in Christian love. Ideas are not enough. … Ideas that divide must travel on the back of Christian life practices that allow us to stand shoulder to shoulder as we submit before our holy and loving God. This is the Christian labor of real neighbors.” (pp. 146)

I take those words to heart. I was dismayed when Rosaria responded to Revoice in a way that seemed inconsistent with those words, at least to me. She focused on her material on identity (which, I do agree with), but offered a very different tone to Revoice and the PCA than she seems to have offered her friend with whom she disagreed more profoundly.

MP offered caution to both Revoice and their detractors on this point. I find their counsel to both to be wise.

We agree that the way Revoice and Side B believers in general use terms has been confusing to many of our churches. But we reject the claim that this is because terms like “gay,” sexual orientation,” “queer,” and “sexual minorities” are always or necessarily unbiblical. These terms pose a particularly challenging problem for both the Revoice project and its critics. We encourage Revoice and those who would adopt such language to do so with great care, recognizing its potential to cause offense and division within the church. At the same time, we would encourage those who are inclined to hear such language and dismiss those who would use it, to charitably, sincerely, and carefully listen to what those people are intending to mean by it. The ongoing and evolving discussion of terminology around sexuality in the 21st century has led the committee to suggest that terminology be one area of study taken up by a General Assembly study/consensus-building committee. (pp. 61)

To one: be careful you don’t confuse or create unnecessary offense. To the other: be charitable and listen to what they actually mean. Don’t assume and accuse.

Summing Up

Revoice and the PCA (and other conservative denominations) agree that our identity is in Christ. The point of disagreement is on appropriate terms to be used to speak of professing Christians who struggle with SSA. As in many disagreements, we should define our terms so people don’t misunderstand what we are saying. We should also take those definitions at face value even if we tend to use a different definition.

Bottom Line:

Revoice is not using these terms to signify people who profess to be Christians but also embrace a gay lifestyle and/or their attraction to people of the same sex. Revoice is seeking to help them live as chaste Christians. They could clearly be more clear about that.

 

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