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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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From the 20th century, Francis Schaeffer cast a long shadow that is still seen in the 21st. L’Abri and his disciples like Os Guinness, Jerram Barrs, and Nancy Pearcey continue his work. I enjoyed his book True Spirituality, but got bogged down in He is There and He Is Not Silent. I’ve been meaning to read some of his other books.

As a result, I decided to read Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality by William Edgar on my study leave. Reading a book in this series has been my practice for the last few years. As I consider our changing place in American culture, I thought this would be a helpful read. In some ways it was. In other ways it wasn’t as helpful as I’d hoped.

The book was written by one of his disciples: William Edgar. Edgar was a college student seeking truth when he visited L’Abri and met with Schaeffer. Francis was instrumental in his conversion and growth as a Christian. He teaches apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

He begins the book with that personal reflection of his experience with Fran, as close friends like Edgar called him. This volume is not hagiography, however. He’s honest about Schaeffer’s shortcomings. He tries to present a balanced volume, and I believe he succeeds.

One of the flaws that Edgar mentions is his interaction with Cornelius Van Til, who was his professor for a time. Their apologetic method was very similar, but they seemed to dwell on their differences. In Edgar’s opinion they often talked past one another, as is often the case in such debate.

He then moves to Schaeffer’s life in two parts. The first is his early life, and life after the beginning of L’Abri. Little is known of his ancestors prior to his grandfather’s arrival in America in 1869, after the Franco-Prussian War. He apparently burned all of the family records.

His father only received a 3rd grade education. He apparently was a thoughtful man, as Fran would later reflect that working-class people could be deep intellectually. He worked hard, including time in the Navy. They attended a Lutheran church and believed the gospel. They would struggle financially even as they tried to leave behind the poverty of their parents. As a result, they only had one child (Francis). No books were in the house. The only vacations were trips to nearby Atlantic City.

In addition to this obstacles, Francis likely had dyslexia. Despite this he had a thirst for knowledge. He was driven by consistency. He wanted it to all fit together. He had an interest in Greek philosophers. He read the Bible through so he could reject it with integrity. Instead he became convinced that it was the most consistent way of looking at life that answered all the big questions.

At college he met Edith, who grew up in China because her parents served as missionaries with the China Inland Mission. This experience may have influenced L’Abri’s position as a “faith mission” (not sharing financial needs with others but simply praying for them). They both attended a meeting at First Presbyterian Church to hear a Unitarian attempt to refute Christianity. She responded to him citing J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson from the new seminary down the street. This caught Francis’ ear and attention. He walked her home and requested she break off a date with another young man to go out with him. They were well suited for each other and complemented each other well.

Francis would end up at the new seminary, Westminster, as a student. There were two issues that the seminary left open: the millennium and Christian liberty. This would become a big issue in the also new Orthodox Presbytery Church in addition to the seminary. The last exam that Machen administered was to Francis, at his bedside.

Some in the community forming around Westminster and the OPC were historic premillennial and abstained from Christian liberties. They struggled with those who weren’t so inclined. It was not enough for them to separate from the Presbyterian Church in America (the liberal northern denomination that no longer exists and not to be confused with current PCA), and they separated from the OPC to found the Bible Presbyterian Church.

This was pertinent for his spiritual crisis. Schaeffer realized that he was not gracious and kind to those with whom he disagreed. He realized he was wrong. Hopefully most of us come to this understanding as we age in years and mature in Christ. That is counter-cultural in this age of outrage. It is one thing Edgar probably could have spend more time.

While the pastor of a church in St. Louis, God seemed to be calling Schaeffer to Europe. When he left St. Louis, his friend and one of my former professors Elmer Smick took over his responsibilities. At this time Schaeffer met Martyn Lloyd-Jones who similarly called evangelicals to leave the Church of England. He also met C. Everett Koop (who treated his daughter) and Hans Rookmaaker who would become life-long friends.

Image result for L'AbriSchaeffer talked much culture and was often critical. His views were not the conservatism of, say, D. James Kennedy, but those of the revolutionary. While they may have overlapped at points, Schaeffer wanted Christians to buck the trends and lived in a counter-cultural fashion. This was to exhibit the reality of Christianity.

His spiritual crisis in 1951-52 resulted in True Spirituality. It was about living in the reality of Christianity. We are really guilty, and Jesus has really made atonement for sin. Schaeffer stressed the authority of Scripture. “Wherever it touches upon anything, it does so with true truth, but jot with exhaustive truth …” He focused on propositional truth as conveyed by the Scriptures. The Bible spoke about how things really were.

A large part of his apologetic was to point out to people how their worldview didn’t match up with their lives, and often couldn’t. He looked for the inconsistency, the borrowed capital (as David Bahnsen calls it) of their view. He wanted to bring people to square with reality.

“All of us battle with the problems of reality … Reality is not meant to be only creedal, though creeds are important. Reality is to be experienced on the basis of a restored relationship with God through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.”

This brings freedom to the Christian. We are free from the bonds of sin and the bonds of legalism to live free in Christ to live godly lives of faith and love as expressed in the Ten Commandments. That is because we’ve been delivered from the Law’s loud thunder. Still sinners, we have both died with Christ and die daily. Self-denial is a central reality in the Christian life.

As subversives we sometimes have cobelligerents: people with whom we agree on a particular issue but do not share the Christian faith and worldview. This seems to be his view of common grace. We both see the truthfulness of this issue and work together even though we don’t see all of life the same way.

Prayer was an important and ordinary part of life at L’Abri. Edgar draws heavily here from Edith’s writings. He often does this since her writings were more about the practical aspects of their lives while Francis was looking at the bigger pictures. This was one of the ways their writings complemented each others’. Prayer is one of the ways we show we believe in God- we rely on Him in prayer. The cross invites us to ask for His help.

In terms of guidance, Edith writes that they didn’t really have a long range plan for L’Abri. They responded to the challenges that came their way. As finite people, making grand plans we can’t actually accomplish didn’t seem to make sense to her. As I face the realities of pastoral ministry, this seems to be what happens no matter how much I want to plan long-range. Cavman plans and God laughs.

Edgar then moves us into the topic of affliction which will surely come upon Christians in various forms. He addresses how Schaeffer dealt with Albert Camus’ dilemma as expressed in the plague. Do you fight against God to seek a cure or against humanity by rejecting one? Schaeffer sees this as a false dilemma. God loves humanity and to fight for a cure would be to fight on God’s side. In Camus’ atheistic world, there is no way to evaluate good and evil, there is no standard of justice.

Schaeffer had a complex relationship with the Church. He loved the Church as Christ’s bride. But he was critical of the ways the evangelical church strayed from its calling. Many who spent time at L’Abri would struggle in church life as a result. Schaeffer would not point to external problems like modernism or liberalism as the Church’s biggest threat, but to trying to fulfill its calling the power of the flesh. The middle class evangelical church is also risk adverse. We don’t want to risk our middle class life and compromise as a result.

“Schaeffer taught the general principle of form within freedom, an freedom within form- especially in the church.” They were not antitheses but needed on another to be meaningful. Jesus has set us free and life finds form within this spiritual freedom. We have patterns that emerge. Within those forms we are able to enjoy a measure of freedom. As one who needs to know the boundaries but wants to play within them rather than be straitjacketed by them, I grasp this. Form is meant to be a guide, not stifling.

“Unlimited freedom will not work in a lost world; some structure and form are necessary.”

He then moves into engagement with the world. This is the application of a revolutionary Christianity to a fallen world. His expectations were not perfectionism- either in the Christian life nor in society. The historical (having taken place in space & time, not simply the belief of the Church) Christianity has historically changed the cultures in which it has taken root like yeast affects dough. It speaks to the issues of any day, calling society and individuals to forsake sin.

As I noted, this book stirred up an interest to read more of him. I saw ways that I had been greatly influenced by what I have read of his. Or picked up from professors who read him.

I tended to see this book as more like Schaeffers views on a variety of subjects than how to live as a Christian in this world. It seemed less than helpful in this regard. It seemed too philosophical at times. Perhaps it was just how Edgar structured the book, and the big themes he addressed. I was left without it making a big impression on me as other volumes in this series have. Interesting? Yes. Impactful? We’ll see.

“I have never met anyone anywhere like Francis Schaeffer, who took God so passionately seriously, people so passionately seriously, and truth so passionately seriously.” Os Guinness

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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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“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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It was very strange not going to Synod this year.  It was the first I’ve missed since my first as a new pastor in 1999.  I chose not to be certified to vote as a pastor w/out call.

I’ve talked to a few of my fellow Presbyters about what happened in my absence.  Tonight I came across Dr. William Evans’ articleabout this unordinary meeting of Synod.  Apparently he has been busy, since he also has a piece there about Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation.  He simply lays out so problems with the book.  But on to Synod where the issue of inspiration arose.

For the first time in years, more than one person was nominated to be Moderator of Synod.  It is interesting on a number of levels.  One, Barry Dagenhart, has deep roots in the ARP and would probably affirm the status quo and put a big priority on relationships.  The other, Dr. J.R. DeWitt, is a relative newcomer to the ARP (more recently than yours truly), but Drs. Evans, R.J. Gore and Sinclair Ferguson believed that his theological acumen are vitally important as the ARP addresses some important issues.  He would not maintain the status quo, and is quite fearful of a top-heavy denomination (which the ARP cannot be accused of having with any seriousness).

I agree that a man with theological acumen, and who will not seek to preserve the status quo but rather move us into the future, is greatly needed.  I’d humbly disagree with Sinclair Ferguson that Dr. DeWitt is that man.  One of the great things about the ARP, which I’ve needed to have modeled to me, is the emphasis on love as well as truth.  Our pursuit of truth must be done in love and hopefully preserve the relationships that already exist.  My experience with the Dr., limited as it is to debate on the floor of Synod, would make me hesitate in applauding his election as Moderator.  While I may side with him theologically, I fear that the price of winning the debate may be too great.  I really hope I’m wrong. 

I would like us to take our theology more seriously, and build stronger relationships with other conservative Reformed denominations.  We do need to repent of our in-grown ways.  But that is a product of spritual renewal.  I want us to be more than well-connected with the PCA, OPC et al.  I want us to grapple with the call to be missionaries to this culture and our communities.  I don’t sense that winsome, missionary spirit with Dr. DeWitt.  I think we had the right motives but not the best choice, if that makes sense.  Mark Ross probably would have been a better choice, but convincing him to serve would probably be difficult.

Regarding Scripture, 3 different motions were approved to strengthen our stance on the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  Since we are in the process of revising our Form of Government it is important that new ministers understand and affirm these things lest we drift off to the left over time.  Without these fundamental commitments, our ability to properly address the theological issues before us becomes weak and suspect.  To include these affirmations in the ordination vows, and as standards for Synod employees, is what was missing from our affirmation of these truths over 2 decades ago.

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