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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 One of the more controversial ones has been withdrawn.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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Recently new of the overture from Metro NY Presbytery has been burning up the internet and PCA pastor & elder groups on Facebook. I assume the same is true on Twitter and other social media.

Image result for phoebe in romansFor many this is a very controversial request for the General Assembly to consider this June in Dallas. The issue of women deacons has been churning since before I entered the PCA back in 2010. The issue has more layers than an onion, and just as many presuppositions that drive the (lack of) discussion. Sadly, the discussion quickly degenerates into accusations of being feminists or egalitarians, modernists, progressives etc. and people are told to leave for a denomination that permits women deacons. It is kind of wearisome for me as I grow older (wiser?) and read more John Newton. It is wearisome because we never really get to the root of the issue (those presuppositions) like the nature of ordination and authority, particularly in connection with the office of deacon.

My first decade in ministry was spent in the ARP, which allows each Session to decide if they will have women deacons. As a result, much of this overture is familiar with me. It is not forcing women deacons on churches, but permits those having that conviction to exercise it. This does not affect the courts of the church since women elders are not (and should not) be up for discussion. The issue of the courts of the church is precisely why most of these ‘women deacon-loving’ guys don’t go into denominations like the ECO and EPC as advised by some.

To the overture!

 

  • WHEREAS there has long been a sincere diversity of views among Reformed churches as to what Scripture says about the role of women in diaconal ministry…
  • WHEREAS conservative, complementarian scholars differ in their understanding of biblical texts that touch on the role of women in diaconal ministry, specifically 1 Timothy 3:11 and Romans 16:1…
  • WHEREAS there seems to be strong evidence that the word διάκονον in Romans 16:1 is used in a technical manner to describe an office Phobebe holds rather than in a general descriptive manner…
  • WHEREAS the Westminster Confession does not specifically address the office of deacon…
  • WHEREAS the Westminster Confession 20.2 does speak of Christian liberty and not unnecessarily binding the consciences of men…
  • WHEREAS it is in line with the historical spirit of the PCA to be a grassroots denomination and to defer to the judgment of local sessions in decisions regarding congregational ministry…
  • WHEREAS several conservative, reformed denominations within NAPARC allow women to serve as deacons (i.e. Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, The Reformed Church of Quebec (ERQ), and The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America)

The rationale for the overture begins with acknowledging that for quite some time there has been a diversity of opinion in the PCA and Reformed churches as to what the Scriptures teach regarding this issue. That is a key point, “what Scripture says”! This is not about culture, but about trying to rightly divide the Word.

The WCF in the first chapter recognizes the following:

7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

This is an issue that is not as clear as whether or not women may be elders. To me that is crystal clear. Deacons is far less so, which to me means we should be less dogmatic. This is a topic that is not necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation. This hits the well-being, not the essence of the church. It is important we put this in the right compartment so we don’t treat those with whom we disagree as heretics or unworthy of our fellowship. This isn’t the hill worth dying on. But we can discuss it, challenge each other and see this in the ‘reformed and reforming’ category as opposed to the ‘faith handed down by the saints’ category.

Image result for r.c. sproulConservative complementarian scholars do differ on this question. Some live in some sort of denial on this issue. John Piper is surely not a feminist. R.C. Sproul was not a liberal (though he thought the PCA should not have women deacons because of its views of deacons and authority). There are others as well. For instance, you can read the OPC Minority Report on this issue. You can’t get more conservative and complementarian than the OPC (yes, it was a minority report and was not approved, but some there held to that view).

TImage result for john calvinhe rationale brings up Phoebe in Romans 16. It mentions that she may have held an office rather than merely being a servant of the church. This is because of a lack agreement in gender; Phoebe being feminine and the word for deacon being masculine. That great liberal egalitarian John Calvin (tongue firmly in cheek) says about Paul’s mention of her: “he commends her on account of her office, for she performed a most honorable and a most holy function in the Church…” (Commentary on Romans, chapter 16, verse 1). Chrysostom, according to the footnote, considered her a deaconess (as did Origen which isn’t so great).

In his practice, Calvin did have a separate order of deaconness to assist the deacons. Through most of church history they were separate, with the deaconnesses helping the widows, poor women and quite early instructing female catechumens prior to baptism. Some have mentioned this, and perhaps this is a better option that will result in less upheaval.

The PCA currently has provision for assistants to the deacons (9-7), both male and female to be appointed by the Session. I wonder how many churches utilize this provision. I suspect not many do. When I mentioned this as an option for our congregation, I heard crickets. It seems to be another layer of bureaucracy. And it reminds us of Dwight Schrute and Michael Scott going round and round about assistant to the manager vs. assistant manager.

Women deacons, this rationale asserts, is not contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith. We are not violating our confessional standards if we do this. We are merely changing our BCO which while is also part of our constitution is about how we enact our polity, not the system of theology to which we subscribe. As a result, while there are theological presuppositions at play this is a polity shift, not a move to reject our Confession of Faith, or Scripture (as noted above). This is a different category of disagreement.

The issue of binding the consciences of others is important. Currently, those congregations which believe the Scriptures permit women deacons are not able to practice their beliefs and convictions. Unlike issues like paedocommunion, this is not a confessional issue and perhaps more leeway and charity ought to be practiced. A solution similar to that of the ARP “principled compromise” may be a good way to move. Congregations opposed to women deacons don’t have to have them. Their freedom of conscience is preserved, though that of an individual may not. This argument can cut both ways, and should be only a supporting and not a main argument.

Because this issue is not directly related to the courts of the church- who gets to exercise judicial authority- it is about how a local congregation goes about its ministry (women elders necessarily affect the higher courts and aren’t simply about how a local congregation functions), it should be handled as a local matter. If your church has women deacons, it doesn’t affect mine unless people shift from one to another on the basis of that decision. As a grassroots denomination, this may be best made a local decision.

While not addressing the ‘slippery slope’ argument explicitly, they do by mentioning other NAPARC denominations which have women deacons. Those denominations have not slipped down the slope. Those that did previously rejected the authority of Scripture (for instance the CRC which rooted their decision in the giftedness of women despite what Scripture said) or just jumped off (the PC(US) which permitted both women deacons and elders at the same General Assembly). Yes, there are some in the ARP and RPCNA who would like to get rid of them.  Not too long ago, however, the ARP affirmed their ‘compromise’. We cannot know what will be, but only what has been and is. And those denominations have had women deacons for decades without slipping down that slope.

That is the rationale for the requested changes to the Book of Church Order. I’ll address those changes in future posts.

 

 

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We just finished our community group series on Judges. It seems to be a good time to review the strengths and weaknesses of the resources I used for this study.

First, we used Judges: The Flawed and the Flawless by Tim Keller. It is from the Good Book Guide series and taken from his commentary on Judges. Keller keeps moving from the flaws judges, or saviors, of God’s people to the Flawless One. The study brings you back to Jesus early and often.

It only has 6 lessons to cover 21 chapters. We ended up breaking each lesson in half so it took us 12 meetings together. This affected some of the cohesiveness but increased the comprehension. We were able to spend more time talking through material. There is no way we could have completed the material in one meeting unless we planned to meet for 3 hours. Not many small groups meet for 3 hours at a shot.

We did like the overall approach of the study guide. We ended up deciding to continue with the series and move to 1 Samuel (Tim Chester wrote that commentary and study guide).

Keller’s commentary, also published by the Good Book Company, is called Judges for You. I believe it is adapted from a sermon series on Judges. It is more homiletical than exegetical. Keller tends to deal more in themes than nuts and bolts exegesis. Keller is great at connecting the text with its place in redemptive history and the gospel. Its weakness is that he sometimes takes a position that is not necessarily clear from the text, and doesn’t spend much time going over the rationale for and against his position. This is a result of the material being adapted from the sermon.

If you are familiar with Keller’s sermons you will find it typical of those sermons. He’s easy to understand, winsome in his approach and gospel-centered. While there may not be enough exegetical work to satisfy most pastors preparing for a sermon, there are sufficient gospel connections to make it useful in conjunction with a more exegetical commentary. This is precisely why I read more than one commentary at a time. I want a technical commentary, a popular one and one that helps me see how the gospel is laid out by the book. This is one of the latter.

I also read Judges: Such a Great Salvation by Dale Ralph Davis. Davis’ volumes in the Focus on the Bible Series (published by Christian Focus) are well-known and respected (at least in the circles I move in). It is not an exhaustive commentary. It is from a literary analysis approach. He looks at how it was written as well as what was written. He has some elements of grammar and vocabulary to keep the message grounded in the text. He also does a great job connecting the text to the gospel. This was also a helpful volume to read.

The wild card, so to speak, was Right in Their Own Eyes: The Gospel According to Judges by George Schwab. I love the Gospel According to the Old Testament series. I am generally unfamiliar with Schwab though I used to be in the ARP (he teaches at Erskine, the ARP seminary). In addition to being an Old Testament scholar, he has a counseling degree which adds an interesting flavor to things. This is a bit more exegetical than other volumes in this redemptive historical/biblical theological series. Schwab went to places that Keller and Davis did not dare to go. He’s not the crazy counseling guy but ties his out of the ordinary views in the nuts and bolts of the text. One of my elders and I really appreciated Schwab.

For instance: Eglon may have been a homosexual and Ehud takes advantage of this by pretending to want sex in order to be alone with him. The placement of his long knife furthered the deception. This provides a number of ironies that the original audience may have found quite humorous (they were probably not a serious as some of us).

We find similar sexual themes in other stories in Judges. But Schwab isn’t all about sex. He’s mostly about the gospel. He, like the others, helps the reader to see how gospel themes play out, anticipating the true and final Savior, Jesus. In some ways it has a more academic feel than the others, but certainly not a boring feel. This book will make you think and consider the purpose of Judges.

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“A Church has no right to make anything a condition of membership which Christ has not made a condition of salvation.” A.A. Hodge

I came across this years ago when reading Hodge’s The Confession of Faith, a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Note: he wrote this in a commentary on a confession of faith.

Since I’m currently putting together SS material on the Westminster Standards I saw the red ink underlining and exclamation points in the margin. John Calvin expresses similar sentiments in his chapter on The Power of the Church in The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541). I decided to run an experiment. I put it on my FB page, and in a closed group I belong to connected to Calvinism. I was curious if there would be any difference in responses.

On my FB page, the response was overwhelmingly positive. There were a few questions, but no big deal.

In the group, it was overwhelmingly negative. There were a number of misinterpretations of the quote. People were fairly unreasonable. I know, shocking conduct on the internet.

Here is a sampling:

“I disagree. attendance and membership are two different things. …theology is as important as doxology.. we are there to preserve both.. as a group we draw lines in the sand.. as an open group we do not.

“…maybe we should eliminate membership and just gather together without running church like a business. … If you expect the rent/mortgage on your church’s building to be paid, your pastor to be paid, the facility clean and in good repair, and your favorite ministries to be funded, then yeah, church needs to have a business component to it. Some churches take that too far and forget they’re a church, but churches have to run like a business to some degree.”

I also disagree. The elders are responsible to guard the flock, and you can’t keep the wolves out if you just admit members indiscriminately. Membership lists also have a use in determining who is eligible for church discipline. Just because a person sits in the pews doesn’t mean the church has authority to discipline them.

I would not expect a Pentecostal to accept me as a member since I do not accept their core beliefs about how the Spirit works and manifests itself. There should be some basic doctrinal agreement and some kind of pledge to serve to be a member.

“In order to worship in unity you need to agree on some things that aren’t salvation essentials. I don’t doubt the salvation of my Presbyterian brethren even though I doubt the legitimacy of their baptizing infants. They don’t doubt my salvation either but they would view my refusal to baptize my kids before conversion as disobedience to Christ’s command. Baptism is definitely not an essential doctrine but is practically speaking pretty important in fellowship and worship. …Messianic Christians and seventh day Adventists worship on Saturday, and think we’re misinterpreting the New Covenant when we worship on Sunday. They probably don’t doubt our salvation and in many cases we don’t doubt theirs, but it’d be pretty difficult to worship together weekly because they wouldn’t want to gather on our day nor we on theirs.”

“Nobody has to attend our church regularly in order to be saved, nobody has to agree to our church’s confession and member’s covenant to be saved, even baptism is not a requirement in order to be saved. So obviously this statement as it appears is false. But I wonder if it is explained in context in a way that might show it to have a true meaning.

We see an avalanche of erroneous assumptions, worse-case scenarios and oddities marshaled to reject Hodge’s premise.

What does Hodge mean? What doesn’t he mean?

These words begin that paragraph:

“In all Churches a distinction is made between the terms upon which private members are admitted to membership, and the terms upon which office-bearers are admitted to their sacred trusts of teaching and ruling.”

Hodge is writing a commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. He believes in the use of Confessions and Creeds. He believes churches should have and use a Confession of Faith. He held to the Westminster Confession.

So, Hodge is NOT arguing that churches shouldn’t have a confession.

Hodge recognizes the distinction between members and officers. Members are held to a higher standard. He is speaking of the Confession, not extra-biblical conditions (keep reading). The Confession must be accepted, and taught, by the leadership of the church.

What the quote is saying, in part, is that holding to (subscription) the Confession (or any confession) should not be a requirement of membership. There are some denominations, wanting to limit doctrinal controversy. I used to be a pastor in the ARP and the membership questions included: “Do you accept the doctrines and principles of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, for far as you understand them, as agreeable to and founded on the Word of God?”  A confusing qualifier to be sure. The URC requires membership subscribe to the Three Forms of Membership. I was surprised upon joining the PCA that there was no similar vow. Many wish there was one, but I tend to think there shouldn’t be.

This does not mean that Hodge didn’t think members didn’t have to believe anything. They had to believe anything necessary for saving faith. The Westminster Confession includes things necessary for saving faith, but has far more in there. The additional topics are for our well-being rather than our salvation. We should require faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as God incarnate & part of the Trinity, who died and rose again. We should also require repentance as well. And baptism as included in the Great Commission. In other words, as far as we can tell, comunicate members should be Christians.

The other thing Hodge is (may be) saying is that membership should not bind the conscience in any way not required for salvation. Some church membership vows include abstinence from alcohol, smoking or dancing. These are not requirements for salvation (or sanctification).

In speaking about “church constitutions” Calvin argues in this way:

“So we must rapidly conclude as we argued earlier that, where God is concerned, our consciences are in no way compelled or obligated by any such constitutions. Their aim is to bind our souls before Go and to lay duties upon us, as if the things which they commanded were essential for salvation. Such today are all those constitutions called ‘church constitutions which they say are necessary if God is to be truly honored and served. They are countless in number, and make for equally countless bonds which keep souls imprisoned.”

If you think it wise not to drink alcohol, or dance or have the occasional cigar, you are able and free to make that decision for yourself. What you are not free to do is to bind the conscience of others to the same extra-biblical command. No church is free to so bind the conscience of its members. The doctrine of Christian Freedom needs to be taught in churches so members won’t fight over these matters (like the discussions I’d had as a young Christian with people who hated Christian rock, or secular music). You don’t resolve the argument biblically by binding consciences. “So you won’t fight about a beer with your pizza, we’ll just prohibit drinking altogether.” Too many churches take this very route and sin against God and their members.

Back to Confessions. Church members should know that the church has a confession, and that the teaching of the church will conform to that confession. I cover this in our membership class. I give them a copy of the Westminster Standards.

Some members will already agree with the Confession. That’s great! But I hope that many members are younger Christians. We are not a Reformed refuge where you need the secret password (John Calvin Owen & Newton). I see holding to the Confession as one of the goals of my teaching. I want people to move toward the Confession, understand it better and increasingly affirm it as a summary of Scripture. We can’t demand that as a condition of membership, however. We should never say to a Christian, you can’t be a member here. We may say, this is what we teach. If you are willing to discover more about this great. But if you fight about it, this may not be where your membership should be. Just as we offer Christ’s Table, this is Christ’s church. We may be Presbyterians, but can’t restrict membership to Presbyterians. I want people to grow in & into their faith in my congregation.

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Thursday and Friday was our stated Presbytery meeting in Flagstaff, AZ. This was the 3rd “short” week in a row thanks to a holiday, my son’s surgery and now Presbytery. Usually this means compressing the sermon preparation, but this week I have a friend from out of town preaching for us on Sunday. He was coming back to Tucson, in part to attend the presbytery meeting.

So he spent two nights at our house and was going to drive up with me. This also meant that I didn’t get my usual exercise. I was planning on leaving between 6-6:30, but the night before decided that 6:30-7 might work better for us, so we could get a little extra sleep in the morning.

I tried. We left shortly after 7 and were on the road for the approximately 3 1/2 hour trip to Flagstaff. I had kidded him about loading up my iPod with Deep Purple since he thinks Smoke on the Water is the only song they are known for. We ended up not even using my iPod as we talked most of the way up. We talked about the issues to be discussed in our meeting, the shooting accident that resulted in his hearing loss, church opportunities he is pursuing, the morality of football, and the Pope’s visit. Before getting on the highway we stopped so he could get a Coke to drink with his medicine. With no parking in front I dropped him off and then, without his realizing it, drove into the connector between the lots for Circle K and Wendy’s. It was a long line, and I was waiting thinking about having to make up time. When I saw him come to the door I pulled into the lot and toward the door. He missed me, and thought I’d parked around the corner. Though he knew I wouldn’t abandon him, he was still confused. So I honked at him, he got in and off we went.

We made one stop, on the north end of Phoenix. It is a new to me car and I wasn’t sure if I could make it to Flagstaff on one tank of gas. While I pumped gas, he went in. For another Coke. When he had come out, I had moved the car to a parking space. I kind of enjoyed messing with his mind. This resulted in a story of how they used to do this to one of their friends who was always the last one out of the store.

We actually made great time, and arrived into Flagstaff on time. (One oddity of the new congressional districts in AZ is that I drove 3 1/2 hours and ended up in the same district I live in.) When we had been looking at maps online it looked like I needed to get off 17 onto 40 and get of the first exit. Since Siri does not like me (to put it mildly), I asked him to use his phone to get the directions. Siri responded quickly to him. Unfortunately we were brought through the NAU area which gets clogged due to low speeds, pedestrians and buses. So much for being on time. We then discovered that Siri brought us to the old address, from like 2 years ago. We quickly pulled up their website to get the address and now were on our way again. We finally got to the church, and arrived about 20-25 minutes late for the committee meeting. The new building was pretty much at the intersection of 17 & 40. We wasted that whole trip thru town. I don’t like Siri- it is a mutual thing.

The big news for the balance of the meeting was simply the time frame for re-starting an RUF ministry at the UofA. We, the churches in Tucson,  have until 2017 to get the initial money together and hire a campus director.

We didn’t eat here.

After the meeting, we went cruising for a restaurant without any assistance from Siri. We settled, rather quickly, on Freddy’s Steak Burgers. Ed had eaten Italian food for lunch and dinner the day before. Olive Garden was out It was the first time either of us had been to Freddy’s even though there is one near my house in Tucson. The burger was good- mine was the double with bacon and cheese. I prefer Five Guys, and I had known there was a Smash Burger not too far away I would have wanted to eat there.

We began with a time of prayer. We focused on our marriages, and the physical, emotional and spiritual health of our members. We heard a report from our RUF campus minister in Las Cruces. The part of the committee meeting I’d missed. He told three stories of people impacted by the ministry since last we met. Their large group meeting has been running at about 75 students. Things are going well there.

Much of the afternoon was spent examining a candidate for ministry. He had received a call to one of the churches in Tucson, but was coming from a non-PCA and non-Reformed context. So we wanted to be thorough. And fair. His English Bible exam was very good (though I prefer more than one reference when possible), as was his history exam (though I mentioned that he never mentioned the ARP in his history of Presbyterianism). There were some small blips in theology w/regard to the 3-fold division of the law and the 3rd use of the law but nothing that appeared significant. He would preach later during our worship service that evening.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in executive session. So I can’t tell you about it. Those sessions are often very personal and painful, or they wouldn’t be in private. They are draining periods of time. We didn’t finish that work when the time for dinner arrived. It had been a busy 5 hours.

Dinner was Italian. I thought it might be Olive Garden since it was cheese tortellini, a Caesar salad, rolls and tiramisu, but it was catered by NAU food services (good to build that connection). I spent some time talking with one of the assistant pastors from Tucson and getting to know the new director of youth and family ministry at the host church. Since the latter will eventually come before us for ordination, he had a few questions.

Theirs is a new building, two stories built into a hill. The sanctuary seats about 150, has the high ceilings (like an A-frame) with a library above the foyer overlooking the sanctuary. The furnishings often looked like they came from the Adirondack’s: knotty limbs and blocks of wood for horizontal surfaces. Downstairs was the kitchen, nursery and classroom space. This is where we ate dinner.

In the week before the meeting I’d developed a boil on the underside of my arm in the pit. I’d soaked it the night before to try and get whatever was causing the swelling out. It was tender in the morning, and had grown increasingly uncomfortable as the day wore on. I checked on it in the men’s room after dinner and saw that my work had been successful and hoped to attend to it when I finally got to my hotel later that night.

One of things I usually like about presbytery is worshiping in other churches. You get to see how they worship. Often I am able to borrow confessions of sins, additional verses from songs etc. They had the lyrics up on a large flat screen above the pulpit area. Most of them were also in the Order of Worship, except the one we sing which had an additional verse I wanted to bring home. Sometimes a worship service will be a bit outside of your comfort zone. That’s okay, generally speaking. This was a bit outside of mine in some ways. The sermon by the candidate was generally good, but it hit me as focused a bit too much on the imperative at the expense of the indicative. As it turned out, I was not alone in that impression.

As we prepared for communion I noticed that my sleeve seemed to keep sticking to my arm. Wondering what was up, I looked and saw it was covered in blood. After partaking of the body and blood, I slipped into the men’s room to tend to my now-exploded boil. I’ll spare you more of the gory details. But it sure felt better.

After the worship service we tied up a few loose ends, including a task for me, in the executive session. Then it was time for fellowship. Of course we got turned around a few times trying to read those road signs. Finally we asked Siri for directions to the Beaver Street Brewery. She-who-hates-me was useless. Back to Google and we were soon there. Thankfully we passed my hotel, so I now knew how to get there.

We had a great turnout, and only a few other people were in the restaurant. The music was too loud, and sadly they had just run out of the steamed mussels in a thai curry sauce. But I had a glass of their stout (which was good) and what they call Bowl of Goodness, fries sprinkled with cheese and herbs with a dip. It was very good and a few guys “helped” me eat it. It is good being able to get to know guys you don’t ordinarily spend time with because they work hours away. Josh, who organizes these events and I’ve decided to call “the Party Starter” decided we should play a pool game. Everyone threw a dollar into the kitty and the one who took the fewest attempts to get all three balls in a pocket won. I managed to get one in, semi-acquitting myself, before exceeding the best thus far.

Soon 11:30 was creeping up, and I still needed to check-in to my hotel. Ed was staying with other friends, so I was on my own. I’d picked the Econo Lodge University. The price differences between hotels were fairly large. I paid only $50 since I was basically only going to sleep and shower there. The room was clean, so I was content. I was delighted to see that the shower head 1. was not for Hobbit-sized people, and 2. of the rain fall variety.

I cleaned up my armpit, again. Resisting the urge to watch TV I went to bed about 11:45. I woke up around 3:30 in the morning. I’m not sure why. But I had a hard time falling back asleep. The pillow wasn’t very comfortable being overly fat and fluffy, and there were unusual noises (the refrigerator?), and the room was a bit stuff. So eventually I turned up the fan and read. I finished 1 Chronicles, and then a chapter in a book on missions I’ve been reading. At 5 I tried to sleep again, and slept until about 7 when CavWife called.

From my trip there in 2010

I showered and dressed. The continental breakfast, and the lobby, didn’t look appealing so I went next door to Chick-Fil-A. I noticed 2 other guys from presbytery and ate with them talking about various aspects of the meeting and ministry in our respective cities. Afterwards, having finished my sweet tea, I went next door to Dunkin’ Donuts for a vanilla chai.

The air pressure warning had gone off the night before, and was still on when I started the car. I figured that if I filled up with gas, and had the air checked, I’d be ready to go once the meeting was over. I knew, due to the ideal gas law, that the pressure would drop due to those refreshing cooler temps at 7,000 feet. But I’d been having some trouble with air pressure and didn’t want a tire to go flat on the long ride home. I didn’t have my new digital gauge with me so I wasn’t sure which one was low. I spotted a Discount Tire and took advantage of their free air pressure check. Only a pound light, but I guess the sensors don’t work well at such elevations and read as if about 3 pounds light. They put a little extra in and I was good.

The rest of the meeting was mostly reports and prayer. We didn’t handle the proposed changes to the Standing Rules of Presbytery. This was good because the proposed “radical” changes had been replaced with some minimal changes. I’m not excited about the status quo which seems mostly maintenance not pressing the kingdom forward. We will talk about them at our next meeting.

There were lots of opportunities for congregations and individuals to be involved in missions connected with our presbytery, like:

  • Helping with church planting in Hondoras w/the Pettingills.
  • Teaching local pastors in Uganda.
  • Helping Barrio Nuevo, a mercy ministry in Phoenix
  • Helping Crossroads Ministry, a mercy ministry in Las Cruces
  • Supporting interns with the Hispanic Leadership Initiative
  • 2 Church Plants in Albuquerque.
  • Possible prison ministry in Phoenix/Tucson
  • Native American ministry east of Flagstaff
  • Ministry across the border in Juarez

The best line of the meeting was when one presbyter was disagreeing with the Parlimentarian about a particular section of the Book of Church order, to whom he replied “I wrote it” and therefore knows what it means.

After some good-byes, Ed and I were off for another largely uneventful ride home. I did spot 2 elk along the side of the highway that had been hit. They were actually quite huge so I wondered what the vehicles looked like. My ears popped repeatedly as we went from 7,000 feet to under 2,000 feet. We stopped for a late lunch in Phoenix at Pappadeaux which I’ve wanted to do for 5 years. It was excellent, though a bit more expensive than I was hoping. I was also surprised to see so many people with grey hair because it was a loud restaurant with lots of background noise that can make hearing difficult. We continued to talk family stuff, transitions in ministry and how my book is coming since he works for the publisher.

Still Deep Purple and iPod-less we arrived at my house at 4 pm. I think I will sleep well tonight.

[I meant to take some pictures of the building and sanctuary, but forgot.]

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This year General Assembly was in Chattanooga, TN. This presented some unique opportunities for the PCA. Chattanooga is where New City Fellowship is, one of the far too few churches that is multi-ethnic. It is also the 50th anniversary of the events in Selma, AL (if you haven’t, WATCH the movie!).

All Presbyterian denominations have struggled with issues of race, particularly southern ones. There are a number of reasons for this. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Notable Southern Presbyterian theologians tried to justify race-based slavery that was the result of man-stealing (a death sentence sin in the OT and condemned in the NT as well).
  • The Southern Presbyterian church supported the Confederacy in the War Between the States. The Confederacy defended state’s rights, but one of those rights was to own slaves.
  • The Presbyterian Church refused to stand against the Jim Crow laws, and stand with their brothers and sisters of color for their basic human rights.
  • The Presbyterian Church did not protect the lives of defenseless and innocent African-Americans from racists individuals and organizations like the KKK.
  • At least one of our “founding fathers” has taught (at least) proto-kinism which is a false doctrine that rejects the reality of the dividing wall of hostility being torn down in Christ so that the vision of Revelation 4-5 is not just eschatalogically true but intended to be ecclesiastically true today.
  • Many of our churches have tolerated kinism.
  • Many of our churches and private schools were founded to avoid the move toward integration in some churches and in public school districts.

A little over a decade ago, the PCA admitted the sins of our fathers with regard to slavery. But there are other issues that keep African-Americans, who remember the history better than we white people do, out of our churches. It is time for us to address these additional issues.

There were many things I found encouraging about General Assembly. For instance, the 3 worship services were all very different. Prior to Bryan Chapell’s excellent sermon from Psalm 32, the music was very traditional including a choir, organ/piano and strings. The second service was led by the worship team of New City including James Ward and some incredible singers, both black and white, in what was a very different vibe for GA. Then their pastor Kevin Smith delivered a powerful sermon on the 6th commandment tying it in to Southern Presbyterians failure to protect the defenseless and innocent in those dark days we want to forget about. It is only my fourth PCA General Assembly but Kevin is the only African-
American I’ve seen preach so far. (During my years in the ARP I don’t remember any African-Americans preaching to the synod.) In the final worship service, I think the worship team from Lookout Mountain lead us in a southern folk style that was quite interesting. The sermon by Rankin Wilbourne on Union with Christ was very good as well. Unfortunately, during the liturgy there was a line that created some offense by thanking God for the particular founding father who paved the way for kinism.

Bryan Chapell led an assembly-wide panel discussion entitled How to Advance Ethnic Outreach and Ministry in the PCA. We heard from 4 brothers: 1 African-Americans, 1 Hispanic-American, 1 Asian-American and 1 Caucasian who works among the generational poor. It was a much too short conversation though a good one.

During the seminar times, there were opportunities for us to learn more about this subject. Lance Lewis lead one called Moving Forward: Actively Engaging Issues of Race/Ethnicity from a Biblical Point of View which argued for a proper ecclesiology that expressed the multi-ethnic character of the church. I also sat in on Duke Kwon’s Building a Racially Inclusive Church which was excellent as well. Unfortunately I missed Jemar Tisby’s seminar The Image of God and the Minority Experience. I bought the CD and plan to listen to it soon.

People could avoid these opportunities if they wanted to. But they could not avoid the personal resolution that was put forward by Ligon Duncan and Sean Michael Lucas with regard to our sins against our African-American brothers and sisters during the civil rights era.

Initial reports were that the Overtures Commission was quite divided on this issue. Before it returned to the floor they had met with some key members of the African-American Presbyterian Fellowship. The unanimous recommendation was to prepare a much improved version which would also include specific suggestions as to the fruit of repentance. This would allow time for those unaware of the history to learn, particularly from Lucas’ upcoming history of the PCA. There was also a desire for overtures to come thru the lower courts. In many ways they encouraged a year of reflection and repentance by our Sessions and Presbyteries leading up to next year’s GA in Mobile.

On the floor, things got … interesting. Some saw the need to do something NOW. I agreed with that sentiment. We do need a perfected statement with the kind of fruit we are looking to see. But we needed to start now. This discussion was long and heated. Parliamentary procedure once again made like more confusing and frustrating. If you go down the wrong path you can’t go back. There is no room for “repentance” with parliamentary procedure. One of the remaining founders of the PCA stood to speak. While he disavowed racism as a motive for founding the PCA, he confessed sins of omission during the years of the civil rights movement. This was very important.

What did happen after the vote was positive. First, the moderator opened the mics for a season of prayer, focusing on repentance. There were many men on their knees, literally, praying for mercy and for God to work in our midst to bring repentance and fruit in keeping with it. He initially said about 5-6 guys would pray at the mics. I lost track of how many men were able to pray at the mics. Someone (wink, wink) noted that we offended our brothers in our worship that very evening because we don’t listen to them and learn from them.

Then there was a protest of the decision which allowed those who wanted to do something now to register their names up front. There was a very long line of men wanting to register their protest. God is at work to deal with these issues. Hopefully within a generation we will be an integrated denomination filled with African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans in the pews and positions of power and responsibility.

I asked a friend about the ARP. I am delighted to say that they also have begun a similar process. The Theological and Social Concerns Committee has been tasked with this matter. There was no apparent opposition to this. May the Father heal these denominations for His glory.

Here is the text of the resolution:

Whereas, last year and this year mark significant anniversaries in the Civil Rights movement: 2014 was the sixtieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and Freedom Summer, and 2015 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the Selma-to-Montgomery March; and

Whereas, many of our conservative Presbyterian churches at the time not only failed to support the Civil Rights movement, but actively worked against racial reconciliation in both church and society; and

Whereas, the 30th General Assembly adopted a resolution on racial reconciliation that confessed its covenantal, generational, heinous sins connected with unbiblical forms of servitude, but failed to deal with the covenantal, generational, heinous sins committed during the much more recent Civil Rights era (cf. Daniel 9:4-11); and

Whereas, the 32nd General Assembly adopted a pastoral letter on “the Gospel and Race” that was produced under the oversight of our Mission to North America committee, but that also failed to acknowledge the lack of solidarity with African Americans which many of our churches displayed during the Civil Rights era; and

Whereas, our denomination’s continued unwillingness to speak truthfully about our failure to seek justice and to love mercy during the Civil Rights era significantly hinders present-day efforts for reconciliation with our African American brothers and sisters; and

Whereas, God has once more given our denomination a gracious providential opportunity to show the beauty, grace and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ by showing Christ-like love and compassion towards the greater African American community;

Be it therefore resolved, that the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize and confess our church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice inside and outside of our churches during the Civil Rights period; and

Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly recommit ourselves to the task of truth and reconciliation with our African American brothers and sisters for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel; and

Be it finally resolved, that the General Assembly urges the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America to confess their own particular sins and failures as may be appropriate and to seek to further truth and reconciliation for the Gospel’s sake within their own local communities.

TE Sean M. Lucas

TE J. Ligon Duncan III

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In the last few years there has been an explosion of books on the topic of grace. Some of been excellent. Some have been controversial. Some of those that have been controversial had some significant flaws. Not a fatal flaw, mind you. They were still within the bounds of Christianity but not necessarily within the bounds of the community to which the author belonged (how’s this for vague?).

So, it was with a measure of anticipation and trepidation that I read Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness by Barbara Duguid. I had a sense of anticipation because I have found her husband Iain’s books very helpful. Additionally I saw that she was very dependent on John Newton from whom I’ve also benefited greatly. But I also had sanctification controversy PTSD.

Here is my bottom line: I loved the forest, but some of the particular trees may have issues.

Barbara has some obvious influences, and some that aren’t as obvious. In addition to John Newton, she has a certificate from CCEF, and holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith. When she sticks close to those the book is quite excellent and helpful. When she goes beyond them I found it less helpful and has some of the same issues that troubled me about Tullian Tchividjian’s books on grace. I try to remember what Dr. Pratt taught us: you can’t say everything any time you say anything. Yet a qualification or two saves a world of misunderstanding.

The Good

Throughout the book Barbara Duguid is quite honest about her own struggles, which essentially drive the book. This is nothing new. Many theologians have a doctrinal emphasis that reflects their own personal struggles. Think Luther and his emphasis on justification by faith alone. There is nothing wrong with this, particularly when we consider the providence of God in the matter. Yet we should recognize that we, as sinners saved by grace, can still run off into extremes. Her honesty, to get back to my point, is helpful. She is not writing theoretically, but has walked with God through these difficult places.

“God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin.”

This book is easy to read. It is not a technical book but intends to make theology practical. She does a good job of this. The first chapter, Welcome to Your Heart, easily introduces you to her heart and by extension yours through a story. She shows how pride lurks in our hearts, distorting our experience by trying to make us the center of … everything.

The next three chapters, leaning heavily on Newton, are about the three stages of Christian life: babes in Christ, maturing and grown-ups. Sadly, not many people talk about this. It is helpful to recognize the differences so a person has more accurate expectations. Babes often have few trials and lots of joy. God has merciful on them. There is often, in my experience, significant change almost immediately if one converts as an adult. But then life gets hard. God begins to work more deeply, and most often through hardship and failure. The focus is on developing deeper dependence on God, and the destruction of our pride.

“A mature believer studies all the aspects of a person’s struggle with sin and makes allowances. He never stops calling sin the ugly and evil thing that it is, but he understands how deeply rooted it is in human nature and how helpless every Christian is to stand against it.”

Her book offers hope to all of us who struggle with sin, which is every Christian. She reminds us of the providence of God, the preservation of the saints, and the doctrine of assurance (from the Westminster Confession of Faith) which instruct us that sometimes God does in fact bring us through periods of disobedience. The problem is most Christians don’t talk about with struggles (contrary to James 5) so when we struggle with sin we think we are the only one, or more messed up than everyone else in church.  We have to remember that God is up to something bigger than “sin management.”

Our struggles with sin should translate into greater patience with the sins of other Christians. When we consider how patient God is with us, and how sufficient His mercy is to us, we are able to be patient and extend mercy to our brothers and sisters even (particularly!) when they sin against us.

“The more I see myself as the biggest sinner and the worst transgressor, the more I will be able to step up to love others even when they sin against me time and time again.”

I can see Ed Welch’s (a professor at CCEF)  as well as Newton’s influence in the last chapter. Part of how we strive for holiness is in community and making use of the means of grace (Word and sacrament). We need each other profoundly. Her the individualism of Americans is anti-thetical to the gospel. We need help to see our sins. We need help through the prayers of others not only for our illnesses but our sins. We need to remember that the Lord’s Table is for us as saved sinners who still need grace along the pilgrim road.

Her audience is those who are depressed and overwhelmed by their on-going struggle with sin. These people need to know of God’s extravagant grace toward sinners saved by grace. There is plenty of truth to encourage them so they can strengthen their weak knees and keep moving by the grace of God.

“Although God did not create your struggle or tempt you to it, he has called you to walk with it. He has assigned it to you, and he loves you as he calls you to walk through it. He is not disgusted by you.”

The Questions the Reformed Community Needs to Address

There are some questions that are raised by this book, reflecting problems with other books on grace. The sanctification debates seemed largely focused on the third use of the law. These go deeper and are, I think, more important.

1. Is sanctification monergistic or synergistic? This book seems to give conflicting answers at times. Newton often refers to striving for holiness, and she echos that at times. But she is also critical of unnamed pastors who seem to focus on our responsibility. Philippians 2:13 has been one of the key verses for me to understand the relationship between gospel indicatives (facts) and gospel imperatives (commands). God works in me so I will and work according to His purpose. We can’t focus on only one part of that. Edwards noted that it is “all of God and all of me”. I can only work because He works in me (grace!!). But I actually work. He’s not working for me, believing for me, repenting for me. It is typically a hyper-Calvinist view to minimize the exercise of our wills. At times she comes really close to this.

2. What is the nature, or goal, of sanctification? She frequently criticizes the view that it is “sinning less and less.” This seems contrary to the way it is expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism to which she holds as a member of the ARP.

Question 35: What is sanctification?
Answer: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

She doesn’t really qualify or explain what she means. She is correct if she is referring to simply external obedience. The truth is that our “obedience” is often driven by fear and pride instead of faith and love. When we obey out of fear (the fear of getting caught, what people will think etc.) or pride (having a reputation to uphold, a sense of entitlement) we are not really obeying. If this is what she means, I wholeheartedly agree. God is working to address the fear and pride behind so much “obedience.” God also won’t give us “victory” (I hate that term) if it will lead us to spiritual pride. Fear and pride are sins too, but sins that drive other sins as well as counterfeit obedience.

3. What is the Degree of Regeneration?

Our depravity is total, but not absolute. Every aspect of us is affected but we aren’t as bad as we could be. She notes that though saved, we are depraved, weak little sinners. Where is regeneration? To what degree have we changed? Thomas Boston, in the Human Nature in its Fourfold Estate, argues that our regeneration is total in the same way that depravity is. Every aspect of us is affected by regeneration, but not absolutely. While regenerate we still have indwelling sin. We want to be neither triumphalists nor fatalists. She rightly criticizes the former but sounds an awful lot like the later.

4. Does God get angry with us? Can He be pleased by our actions?

She hammers our position in Christ. Indeed there is cause for great rejoicing with regard to our position in Christ as perfectly righteous. This is our hope: union with Christ. But in sanctification does God only see us positionally or does He also see us personally?

She notes the Israelites in the wilderness as the pattern for us in many respects, particularly their failure (she overlooks how many times it does say they did everything the Lord commanded Moses in particular matters). If they were converted (which I think many/most of them were) they were then united to Christ (apart from whom there is no salvation). During the wilderness journey we often see God angry with Israel (with no differentiation between the elect and non-elect). In Hebrews 12 we see that God disciplines us so we bear the harvest of righteousness. He necessarily sees us as less than personally righteous and moves us toward greater personal righteousness. We have Christ’s imputed righteousness in justification, and He imparts Christ’s righteousness to us in sanctification. These distinctions seem to be missing here (and in other some books about grace). If we can’t please God personally, then why does Paul pray for this in Colossians 1.

Love is not contrary to anger, as she seems to argue. Anger is an important part of love to protect the beloved from danger, including the destructiveness of sin. I wonder how much her own anger issues (one of the sins she says she struggles with) influence her views on this. I don’t want God to be angry with me, but I need his fatherly anger at times, as Calvin notes.

“The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended [wondrously angry] with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them for their sins, and also propitious to their persons.John Calvin (Institutes 3:2:12)

The Big Picture Problem?

When she moves away from Newton, CCEF and the Westminster Standards, I pick up an organizational principle for salvation that is more Lutheran than Reformed. Lutheran theology (after Luther’s death) made justification by faith alone the organizing principle so union with Christ and sanctification (and all the other benefits) flow out of justification. This, in my opinion, means that justification flattens the other doctrines, our understanding of Scripture and the dynamic rather than static relationship we have with God. This shows up in focusing on the positional almost exclusively.

The Reformed view sees union with Christ as the organizing principle (to borrow Lane Tipton’s terminology, see Calvin’s Institutes, book 3 and the WLC #65-69). Out of our union with Christ we receive all the (distinct) blessings of Christ. We receive the double grace of justification and sanctification at the same time, though they are distinct. We experience definitive or definite sanctification at that point. It focuses on us as positionally sanctified (see Hoekema’s Saved by Grace). Progressive sanctification necessarily focuses on our personal sanctification. He sees us as we are in ourselves (but doesn’t condemn us because of our position in Christ). Reformed Theology has historically held these two in a biblical tension that appears to be lacking here.

Yesterday I looked at some other reviews to make sure I wasn’t missing the boat, or seeing something that isn’t there. Both Mark Jones and Dane Ortland saw the same things or similar things.

Like Dane Ortland I recognize the many good things about this book which includes some things that are rarely taught which need to be heard. But I want to filter out the ways in which she departs from (my understanding of?) Reformed Theology. Enjoy the forest, even if some trees have thorns. Or to use a different metaphor: it is a good meal, but there is some bone and gristle to toss out.

Time for a little Double Cure.

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One of my friends is dying. We’ve known this since shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer more than 5 years ago. He has lived beyond the average life span for a person whose cancer had spread so far. I started thinking about David’s impact in my life. Sometimes we don’t realize the impact of one person on our lives.

I met David Wayne after he transferred to RTS Orlando to finish his MDiv. I had graduated but was still working in the bookstore until the end of the summer. David would come in to browse and buy. He would talk with me and the other guys like Keith Mathison when he was in the store.

I wouldn’t see David for another 6 years. I was living in Winter Haven and serving a small ARP church as their pastor. One of the PCA churches in town was without a pastor. Spring was difficult for me. My girlfriend had unceremoniously dumped me and one of my good friends was leaving the area to serve as the pastor of an ARP church in the Carolinas (the heart of the ARP). I felt lost and lonely. But God would provide.

I heard the PCA church called a new pastor, and his name was David Wayne. I was excited they called a man I knew, although only casually. I was going to be out of town for his installation so I called the office to leave a message congratulating him and that I hoped to see him soon.

When we finally talked it took some time for him to remember who I was. But we were two men called to serve as solo pastors in a place we were still figuring out. So we began to spend more time together. It was a time of healing for me that none of us realized.

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It seems like so much has happened since our first congregational meeting on this topic in December. There have been plenty of changes in the plans and dollar figures. One of our members, a retired OPC elder, noted that with building projects you should double the figure and add 10%. He was about right as we went from Dec. to mid-May.

What are we doing?

At some point I’ll put a link to some graphics but here is the rundown.

  1. Adding a triple-wide modular (new) that will provide office space, a new nursery and SS space.
  2. The office space will be converted into sanctuary space. We estimate adding 60-70 seats. We can’t fully utilize that space or we’d have to retro fit with sprinklers, so we’ll actually have some storage space for chairs/tables/instruments depending on the use of the sanctuary space at any given time.
  3. The “overflow room”/SS room will be converted into a new ladies’ room where they shouldn’t have to worry about the door knocking their knees every time they enter/leave a stall.
  4. The old ladies room will be converted into a men’s room so we can have more than one guy in there at a time (up to 3).
  5. The old men’s room will become a family/ADA restroom that can handle busy bathroom times.
  6. Part of the covered sidewalk at the entrance will be walled in to create a foyer or narthex. There will be double doors to enter the sanctuary space so there will be more noise insulation for bathrooms and crying/naughty children.
  7. We will reorganize our largely haphazard parking to accommodate more cars in a more organized and functional fashion.

We are looking at about a $370k project and a sizeable loan to fund it. We do have nearly 1/2 of the funds already but taking out a loan is a big deal. We cannot wait until we have the money in hand because we will soon stagnate and/or shrink if history repeats itself. We are past the comfort zone of capacity and that is okay in the short run, but a church that is too “full” will usually shrink back to comfort (and often beyond as some people misinterpret the departures).

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I’m just an ordinary PCA pastor (not to be confused with Erik Raymond, The Ordinary Pastor, who is not in the PCA). I don’t pastor a big church. Or even a medium sized church. I haven’t published any books (this is part of God’s providence to humble me). I am fairly anonymous in the PCA.

While I was in the ARP, I was not. It is a smaller denomination, and in my youthful exuberance (aka pride) I thought I had something to say about nearly everything. I was a chairman of a Presbytery committee, and therefore on the denominational board. There was an appearance of influence. At times I probably thought I had to save the denomination from “those guys”.

I miss the ARP and my many friends there who put up with me. There is much about the PCA I appreciate and enjoy, including the many friends who put up with me. I am a tiny fish in a lake now. There is much that goes on that I am not aware of here in the desert. But some things get through way out here on the periphery of the PCA. The news of the National Partnership was just such a thing. And so was the backlash, or push back.

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One of the joys of being a Presbyterian pastor is voting on changes in the Book of Church Order. While I was a member of the ARP this was a joy I had infrequently. As a member of the PCA, it is one I have more often than I would like.

This summer at General Assembly, we had an Overture to explicitly prohibit the practice of intinction, or dipping the bread into the wine (or more commonly grape juice) when administering communion. I have had some experience in my life with the practice. At times in my youth, the Roman Catholic Church would practice it. How they administered communion kept changing. If you were away for awhile you could safely wonder how it was being done “now”.

http://ts3.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4547422006740054&pid=15.1I personally do not like intinction. We did dip one Sunday in the church in which I am pastor because we thought we had run out of communion cups. We celebrate weekly communion. It was a pragmatic decision based on our circumstances. It seemed less problematic than withholding the means of grace from the congregation. We actually had a new box of cups tucked away in the Administrative Assistant’s office. Surely the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover our numerous failings that day.

I view intinction as irregular. I refrain from using the term novelty, though in some senses it is appropriate. It is not taught in Scripture, and therefore a novelty. But it is not new. The Eastern Church has practiced it for many a century. It has been practiced at times in the Church of Rome. It does not have an extensive history, as far as I know, among Protestants. Therefore another word we could use is heteropraxy.

The issue for me is this: is it so irregular that we should censure those who practice it?

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The book What is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom and the Great Commission by DeYoung and Gilbert has been on my list of books to read since it came out. The recent “controversy” regarding the book moved it up the list faster. It is really difficult to talk about this book without referencing at least some of what has gone on.

In the book, they noted that some people received early copies of the manuscript to elicit feedback. They were thankful for that, and included some people who would “push back”. In other words, they didn’t send it to people who would love all over it. This book is a contribution to a larger discussion on the topic of the mission of the church. So they read a number of books on the subject, drew upon their own experiences as pastors and studied the Scriptures (not necessarily in that order). They tried to do their homework. But no book is met with unanimous affirmation.

Ed Stetzer’s review, in particular, has received a great deal of attention. He affirms them in many ways, but also criticizes their views for being too narrow. As I read his review, I get the impression he wasn’t really listening.

“The mission of the church always must include making disciples, but the life of disciples will always produce work unique to its time and place, relating to the various needs and corruptions in the world around us. And such work is not only the fruit of discipleship, but is also, through modeling, part of the process of making disciples.” Ed Stetzer

I didn’t get the impression they would disagree with what he said. But he misses the point. That is the life of disciples, which they distinguish from the mission of the church. As disciples, we act justly and defend the rights of others. But he’s saying this to criticize their view of the mission of the church. The book is about what the Church is to invest it’s limited resources doing. And that, in their view, is to make disciples. Those disciples will do many things that they institutional church does not, and should not do. Let’s put it this way: John Newton was right to encourage Wilberforce to remain in politics and work for the abolition of slavery. And John Newton, who aided that cause with his personal testimony and records, was right not to establish a program of the church designed to work for the abolition of slavery. At least this is how I understand both the Scriptural testimony and the Westminster Confession of the topic of Civil Magistrate.

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While I was in seminary the topic of paedocommunion (infants receiving communion) was largely unaddressed. I may have overheard a conversation or two, but it was very much under the radar. During my time in the ARP, the subject was not even on the map. While candidating for a position in a PCA church in New Jersey, the retired minister who was their stated supply encouraged me to study this subject (and I thought “why?!”).

Now that I am in the PCA it is time. There are pastors who hold to this view, though they are not permitted to practice it. One of my elders read Children at the Lord’s Table? by Cornelius Venema so I decided to read it for myself.

“Though it is true that the church’s practice ought to be formed by the teaching of the Scriptures, which are the supreme standard for faith and practice, the Reformed churches read the Scriptures in the company of the whole church and may not ignore the lessons of history.”

The first argument for paedocommunion that Venema examines is the argument from church history. As noted above, sola scriptura is about our final authority regarding practice. Properly applied we also examine church history and historical theology to see how the church has thought and acted in the past. We recognize that the Spirit has been instructing the church in the meaning of the Scriptures for 2,000 years. We don’t start from scratch. But not all the church has thought or done has been in accord with the Scriptures.

Those arguing for infant communion assert an early and widespread practice of infant communion. They claim that the western church has departed from this practice and should return to the practice. Venema examines this claim first. He notes the ample early evidence for infant baptism (he depends upon Jeremias’ work). The evidence for infant communion is note nearly as strong or as early. The first clear statement affirming the practice of infant communion is from Cyprian in the middle of the 3rd century. Prior to this we find statements indicating the church did not practice infant communion. For instance, Justin Martyr (mid-2nd century) says that “no one is allowed to partake but the man (person) who believes that the things which we teach are true…” (First Apology). So the practice he was familiar with was communion after a period of instruction in the faith. Clement of Alexandria (150-219) also teaches that those who receive it have been instructed and receive it “by faith” in Instructor and The Stromata. In the east, Origen, also says that children were not given communion in his Homilies on the Book of Judges.

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If you think I’m about to do a political rant, this is not it aside from saying I’m tired of the ad hominem arguments already.  I’m talking about those books that pastors and elders use that provide the instruction necessary for the church and denomination to run smoothly.  They outline procedures that are to be followed.

I spent over 10 years in the ARP.  The Form of Government was called the FOG, for a reason.  There were certain things that weren’t as clear as you’d want them to be.  Latitude was granted in particular areas.  It was not designed to spell out everything, just the necessary things.  For 10 years I used this book and got to know it fairly well.  I pretty much knew where to look for the information I needed at particular times and in particular circumstances.

I spent all that time in the same presbytery.  I had a leadership roll, chairing 2 different committees at different times.  I was “somebody”, for the lack of a better term.

Then things changed.  I moved into the PCA.  I am a “nobody” again.  I haven’t gained any trust and respect.  Sometimes that is painfully obvious- like at our last meeting.  But maybe I’m just being too sensitive. They have no obligation to listen to me, much less to follow my advice.  It is just tough being low guy on the totem pole after all these years.

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“Do you like dahgs?” So the Piker asked Tommy when he went to buy a new mobile home for Turkish.

If you don’t like dogs, don’t go to Mexico.  They are everywhere.  It is difficult to tell if a dog is feral or not.  If they actually wear a collar, they probably belong to someone.  We saw one dog being walked on a leash.  Other than that the vast majority were wandering around loose.  Bob Barker needs to make a whole lot of public service announcements and pay for a wandering crew of veterinarians to fix all those dogs so they don’t make more dogs.  It has gotten to the point in America that it is rare to see and “intact” dog.  Looks nearly obscene though it was quite common when I was a kid.

For breakfast on our last day at work we had hot cakes.  We were all dragging.  I work behind a desk much of the time, so the physical work was exhausting (and the lack of sleep didn’t really help).  But all of us were feeling it.  We had to push through though.  We were in the 4th quarter and needed to finish strong.  Most of what we had to do was the dry wall near the ceiling.  Lots more measuring and cutting.

The BEAMM missionary we worked with was working on the budget.  We’d gone over on construction supplies, and our food budget.  But had saved lots of money on housing.  When he made the budget, it was based on the hotel they’d used in Mexicali.  It was $70/night.  The infamous Motel Continental was $45.  If we upgraded it would have been about $100.  Quite the difference.  So thanks to our time “living it up at the Motel Continental” we were actually under budget.  The question was what to do with the extra money.  We decided to buy them all they needed to install the ceiling, tape and mud the dry wall and do a few other necessary projects.  They don’t lack the will or the skill.  The problem has been lacking the resources.  It is a small church and the people don’t make much money.  One woman who worked at a tortilla factory made under $10/week.  They put their “widows’ mites” into the offering plate, but there is not enough to do projects like this. Hopefully this will help them grow spiritually and numerically so they will have more to help others in the future.

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I’ve been bringing CavGirl through the children’s catechism for awhile, when I remember.  We are currently mired in the Covenants.  She does well, I’m the problem.

I don’t work with CavSon on the catechism directly since he has a “severe language delay.”  He understands just fine, but has issues when it comes to speech.  When you are born with a bilateral cleft lip & palate, this can happen.  Particularly when your palate is not repaired until you are nearly 2 years of age.

Since moving to AZ, CavWife has gotten to know the wife of the military chaplain who served as the interim pastor prior to my call.  She sent us a link for a new set of CDs that may help us instruct our children more faithfully.

When I was in seminary, some guys learned their catechism using songs.  I took long walks and did it old school.  This concept has been applied to the children’s catechism in Ask Me Whooo.  My kids have learned some Scripture using the Songs for Sprouts CDs.  I hope I find the music here less annoying than the Sprout songs.  I’m sure they will often be on in the car.

The 3 volume set follows the answer to one of the early questions in the catechism I use (the ARP version is slightly different from the one produced by GCP):  Why do we love and serve God?  Because He made us, saves us and keeps us.

Yes, volume one is  Who Made You? It covers the topics of God, man, covenant, sin and salvation.

Volume two is Who Saves You? The focus is on the atonement, the 3 offices of Christ (one of my pet doctrines), and the Ten Commandments.

Volume 3 is Who Keeps You? This volume is about the Lord’s Prayer, the sacraments and heaven and hell.

The focus is clearly on God.  You may want to check them out to help raise your kids in the instruction of the Lord (Deut. 6 & Ephesians 6).

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Having been in the ARP since 1998, this was my first General Assembly as a member of the PCA.  I had heard many things, but it was good to see things first hand.  That means the good and the bad.  Inevitably, my mind compares and contrasts everything to my experiences in the ARP.

Some of the differences come from the fact that the PCA is much larger than the ARP.  I was not used to holding up a half sheet of card stock to vote (unless the votes needed to be counted).  We would merely use voice unless the vote was close.  There were differences in terminology:  Memorials => overtures, delegates => commissioners.  No big deal there.  But the sheer size of the documents was so much greater.  There is, comparatively, so much more going on.

One of the additions was a review of all the minutes from all the Presbyteries.  We had to vote on some matters relating to them.  That was interesting.  I was also shocked at the length of the report from the Standing Judicial Commission.  I can count on one hand the number of issues that came up in a decade that went to the ARP Synod’s version.  There were pages of appeals and other judicial issues sent up.  It is a very different culture than the ARP.

I miss going to Bonclarken.  I knew my way around.  I knew were to have a good meal (especially a good Tex-Mex with my friends from Presbytery), and where to enjoy a beer and cigar.  Each year the PCA General Assembly moves.  This year it was Nashville.  I had never been to Nashville.  I did not know my hotel was 3 miles from the convention center until the night before I left.  There was a shuttle to and from the airport, but no mention of one to the convention center.  The hotel desk said there wasn’t one.  So, I had already walked the 3 miles once before I discovered the PCA had provided regular shuttles to my hotel.

I was surprised to find that all of the hotels and the convention center charged for internet access.  Now that we’re “hooked” they want $10/day to access the web.  I needed to get my sermon notes back to Tucson.  Thankfully there was a Panera nearby, and I enjoyed a chai latte and bagel while uploading my document and checking out some sports news.

I found the worship far more accessible and edifying than in the ARP.  Part of that is the fact I did not grow up ARP and our church didn’t use Bible Songs (a holdover from the days before the ARP permitted the use of hymns).  Often the worship is filled with songs I do not know.  Since we were in Nashville, we used numerous hymns by Indelible Grace and similar musicians.  I liked that and found it much easier to engage with the worship.  I did not feel like a fish out of water.

I found how the PCA does business to be similar in many ways.  For instance, both bodies have guys who seemingly speak to EVERY recommendation.  There is also an underlying aura of fear at work in both bodies.  The “slippery slope” and “big brother” seem to never leave some people’s horizons.  I was reminded often of the Swirling Eddies’ song “Knee Jerk“.  People in both denominations have been wounded from experiences with the mainline denomination.  Sadly, those wounds are infected and need to be healed.  Instead, the people nurse and rehearse, therefore look upon many items with unnecessary suspicion.  This is sad, because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Both assemblies are, obviously, filled with sinners.  How we go about our business is tainted by our sin.  And how we listen to the business is as well.  I suppose I should view this as a sanctifying process and seek to grow in patience and diminish in sarcasm.  The constant phrases “point of order” and “motion to recommit” wore me down (as did the lack of sleep).   That is just as much about me as it is about others.

The ARP often has a Pre-Synod Conference.  They bring in a speaker or two to address a pressing issue for the denomination or church at large.  The PCA has seminars in the morning.  It was good to be able to choose what topics I want to address.  They reflected the needs and/or goals of my ministry.  So, I went to:

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Since I was preparing to fly out to Tucson to be examined for transfer to the Southwest Presbytery of the PCA, I was not at the called Synod meeting regarding Erskine.  I still have many close friends in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  I still want the ARP to prosper.  But, I am not up on all the “in”s and “out”s of this matter.  (Dr. William Vandoodewaard -how’s that for a good Dutch name- has a short summary of the actions and responses to date.)

I have sat in many a Synod meeting prior to this discussing matters pertaining to Erskine.  I know many have a great desire to see Erskine reflect the commitments of the ARP as a Reformed and Evangelical denomination.

Perhaps a bit of history is in order.  In the 50’s and 60’s many in the ARP had fallen under the spell of neo-orthodoxy.  The seminary had been compromised.  But men from seminaries like Reformed, Westminster and Covenant were entering the denomination.  In the 70’s the problem came to a head in the battle over Scripture.  The historical Reformed view of Scripture was affirmed, and the neo-orthodox view was rejected.

But a denominational statement does not instantly change the minds of men.  Some held to their views, and some of those men remain in the denomination today.  There were no witch hunts.  Most of those who held a more neo-orthodox view of Scripture and theology have retired or are close to retiring.  It would appear that Erskine seems to represent this fading minority more than the traditional majority.  Like most evangelical colleges, they use “academic freedom” to embrace ideas unbiblical ideas.  Institutions tend to drift left over time.  That is, unless they have a group of people who call them back to orthodoxy.  (Erskine professor Bill Evans has a great article on how misrepresentations of inerrancy have run rampant to stir up fear.)

This is a rare thing.  The ARP and the SBC are the only two groups I know of who have moved left and then moved back to the right.  It is never done without kicking and screaming.  I visited Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shortly after Al Mohler became the President.  I was considering a Ph.D.  at the time.  The students were angry, fearing that SBTS would be destroyed.  The old, established faculty seemed to resent him.

Erskine is going through the same fear, the same concern.  The status quo is being challenged.  People feel alienated, as though their understanding of the faith is being questioned.  In some cases that is true.  But Erskine is not an independent institution.  It is part of the ARP and under its authority.  It continues to receive funds from the ARP.  It is being loved by the ARP, and they are trying to love it well.  But since kinder, gentler means have gone unsuccessful, these more drastic measures are a kind of tough love.  In this day and age such love is not welcomed but resisted.  After all, isn’t this part of our fallen human nature?

If you have time, pray for Erskine and the ARP.  They need a new President (and Philip Ryken would have been a great choice if he hadn’t already gone to Wheaton).  It will take a strong man, a principled yet gracious man to make the changes that are necessary to make Erskine representative of the views of the ARP.  Sadly this problem distracts the ARP from considering the cause of the gospel and the health of its congregations.  But, by the grace of God, Erskine may once again strengthen the ARP and help them fulfill the great commission.

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The Marrow Controversy is one of those obscure questions that appears on the ARP examinations.  Many a student has little knowledge of this controversy that involved, among others, the Erskine brothers.  As a result of the Erskine brother connection, the ARP holds to the “free offer of the gospel”.  The Marrow Controversy shaped the groups that would one day shape the ARP.

I heard of the Marrow Controversy while in seminary, but it was not discussed or examined in any great detail (I can think of a few guys who were examined in Central Florida Presbytery who wish it had so they could answer R.C. Sproul’s questions about evangelism as Calvinists).

One of my favorite Puritans, Thomas Boston, was central to the Marrow Controversy.  The Controversy involved The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  Thomas Boston witnessed its censure by the Church of Scotland and saw this as an attack on the gospel itself.  He and the Erskines were among “the Marrow Men” who believed Fisher’s book defended true Christianity against both anti-nomianism and legalism.

Phil Ryken’s introduction to a recent (and needed) reprinting of this book is helpful to put some of this together.  This new edition includes Thomas Boston’s explanatory notes.  Even more helpful is Sinclair Ferguson’s lectures Pastoral Lessons from the Marrow Controversy.  It has 3 lectures that examine its history, the twin problems of license and legalism, and their resolution in the free grace of God.  In many ways, Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God is a modern defense of free grace against license and legalism.  It is the Marrow Controversy applied to today.

“Anyone who comes to grips with the issues raised in The Marrow of Modern Divinity will almost certainly grow by leaps and bounds in understanding three things: the grace of God, the Christian life, and the very nature of the gospel itself.”– Sinclair B. Ferguson

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One of the key passages in the discussion over women deacons is 1 Timothy 3:11.  For many people, this clearly shows that women are not to be deacons.  The Greek in this sentence is very interesting, and as a result, many translations necessarily interpret it.  The question is, do they interpret it correctly?

11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. (NIV)

11 Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.  (NKJV)

11 In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not speak evil of others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do. (NLT)

11 In the same way, women must be respected by others. They must not speak evil of others. They must be self-controlled and trustworthy in everything. (NCV)

Many of these translations include a footnote indicating that the Greek word “guna” can mean either woman or wife depending on the context.  I can’t get the Greek text in here so it is legible, so forgive me.  Here are the problems:

  • There is no subject for this sentence.  It is assumed (as in verse 8).
  • There is no verb for this sentence.  It, too, is assumed (as in verse 8).
  • The word for women/wives is in the accusative, indicating that it is the direct object.  It is first in the sentence to put stress, or emphasis, on it.  Though “in the same way” something very different is being said than in verse 8.  It has to do with women.  Deacon/servant in verse 8 is also in the accusative.
  • There is no possessive pronoun, which would clearly indicate that it means “wives” rather than “women.”  Most translations add this (“their”) to the text.
  • The rest of the sentence is largely made up of adjectives modifying women/wives.

So, the sentence reads like this:  “In the same way [or likewise] (assumed subject & verb) honorable women/wives, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all (things).”

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