Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘RPCNA’


Released in 2012, the report by the Reformed Presbyterian Church, North America (RPCNA) has been the gold standard among Reformed and Presbyterian churches for statements on sexual orientation. I’ve been meaning to read The Gospel & Sexual Orientation, edited by Michael Lefebvre for some time.

Controversies have arisen since then that touch on the issues covered, but aren’t addressed directly by this report. I wish I had read it when the Revoice controversy hit. It would have been helpful to show how the RPCNA report actually supported much of what I was trying to tell some of my brothers who hold this in report in high esteem.

Now that the PCA ad interim committee report has come out, I decided to read The Gospel & Sexual Orientation (GSO) for comparison. I won’t be comparing them here, but as I continue my series on the PCA report, I will be able to more meaningfully refer back to the GSO.

The Forward is quite helpful. It reminds us that much of the New Testament was written in response to controversies. We dread controversies. They are an opportunity to refine our thinking and re-think pastoral strategies and responses. Yes, some will fall victim to the spirit of compromise. But not all who want to talk these things through are compromisers, but can be people of good conscience who want to think more clearly and pastorally on these issues.

This was my goal as more people in the church were being honest about their struggles with same sex attraction. I wanted additional guidance on how to effectively care for them and minister to them. I think I have a firm grasp on the Scriptural teaching (some have claimed I don’t) but wanted additional wisdom.

“Contemporary questions about sexual orientation are not simple, and they must not be treated simplistically. There are sophisticated medical, scientific, theological, and exegetical arguments at issue in the present controversy.”

According to this report, that is not a bad thing at all. It is, in fact, a necessary thing. Similarly, I don’t see the PCA report as a sign of compromise but to help us see how to apply the Scripture and Standards more thoroughly to the issue at hand in our day. I would be concerned if my fellow pastors in the PCA were jettisoning Scripture and the Standards but they are not. Yes, I get defensive with people claim they are. Thus, I do not see us taking the path of the denominations that cast off the Scriptures and ended up conforming to the world.

The first chapter is Introduction and Terminology. The focus of the chapter seems to be the word “homosexuality”. In that regard it is quite helpful. There are other terms in this discussion that I wish were laid out in similar fashion. In the more recent controversy people have been using various definitions without actually defining them and so there was a fair amount of talking past one another by assuming definitions. These additional terms would include sin and temptation.

The term, homosexuality, originated in 1869 by the social reformer Karl-Maria Kertbeny. It was in a pamphlet written in opposition to new anti-sodomy laws being proposed. Slowly use of the new term spread, and the older terminology focused on behavior fell aside. Terms for sexual orientation are relatively new, and were used to justify ending laws against same sex practice. The discussion shifted from behavior to psychology, and now that it is not considered a psychological disorder there is the search for genetic origins. In a materialistic world, there must be some material cause for such desires (is the argument).

“The term homosexual (along with its counterpart, heterosexual) was coined to convey the new idea that some people are same-sex oriented by nature and ought not be prejudiced against simply because it is a minority orientation.”

This is why I try not to use the term. It comes with baggage and is a late-comer to the discussion. This is met with a mixed response. But in light of this big shift in terminology and resulting shift in thinking the GSO proposes:

“Either the church’s traditional understanding of genders and sexual identity needs to be corrected to accommodate the new perspectives on homosexuality, or the church’s traditional positions on these matters need to be re-articulated in ways that show their relevance to the modern claims.”

We need to do exegetical work to answer the claims of those who want the Church to change its views. We also need to do pastoral work to lovingly care for those in our midst who love Jesus but still experience same sex desires. These things are not opposed.

GSO moves on to Biology, Gender, and the Biblical Doctrine of Man. The new terminology shifts thinking about same sex attraction away from morality to sociology, psychology and biology. The quest has been on for a few decades to find the material cause of homosexuality. They note that a degree of skepticism about research can be maintained for two reasons: the faulty presupposition of physiological causes in a materialistic worldview, and the reality of personal and political bias that can affect studies and conclusions. There is a great deal of pressure to validate same-sex desires. We discover similar issues in global warming, the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine and a host of other issues. There is money at stake, peer pressure (not simply peer review) as well as personal agendas at play.

“… even scientific consensus is not formed in a vacuum, and the immense political pressure in this field introduces an unavoidable degree of wariness. Many of those involved in the quest, as the proponents themselves admit, have a personal interest in proving its existence.”

This is not intended to be a denial of science, nor the scientific method. Nor is it intended to rule out the possibility of an innate cause. There are physiological causes for a number of problems, including alcoholism in some cases. Finding a cause shifts our pastoral response, but not our theology. They believe that finding a cause would result in greater compassion in the church’s ministry to many of those who struggle.

“If science shows us that sexual disorders are more deeply enmeshed in human biology than the church has traditionally understood, this ought to stir our concern for even greater understanding and compassion for those who experience these desires; however, it does not change the fact that such inclinations are contrary to human nature as God designed it- and as he is redeeming it.”

Adam’s sin has broken us all. We are disordered and corrupt. The Fall has affected us spiritually, morally and physically. While the Scriptures do not speak of a sexual orientation, they do speak of “dishonorable passions” which include but are not limited to same-sex desires. We all bear brokenness, though in differing degrees and in different ways. Our lives are profoundly affected by Adam’s sin, our own sin and the sins that others commit against us. Why a particular person experiences same sex desires may be quite complex.

Romans 1 is not about an individual’s decline but a culture’s decline as it turns away from God. We are watching it unfold in America these days. There is a profound descent into spiritual and moral folly, degrading passions and cultural decline.

They also note that Jonathan Edwards wrote of a person’s ‘natural constitution’ being the root of many sins. People have different weaknesses, or sins to which they are more prone. He therefore calls for allowances to be made. Not excusing it, but recognizing the weakness. This is part of our total, or radical, depravity.

“The bondage and afflictions of the curse really do run that deep; but it is against the backdrop of such struggles that the profound power and immeasurable greatness of God’s grace shines forth with splendor and stirs our hearts with a yearning for sanctification and hope in heaven.”

They rightfully remind us that “EVERY person will face profound struggles sexually.” When we are honest about our own sexual struggles we should have more compassion on those who struggle differently. Note, compassion not compromise.

Personality Traits and the Multiplication of Gender Categories brings us back to 19th century Germany. This time it is Karl Heinrich Ulrichs who proposed new terminology. He spoke of himself as “a female soul confined by a male body”. He saw himself exhibiting some typically female traits. He thought his feminine qualities indicated that he was differently oriented. His views developed into the common saying that “sex is between the legs and gender is between the ear.” Gender became separated from physiology, which is odd in a materialistic worldview. But sin (as a power) does this kind of thing.

Our world tends to think of masculine and feminine as generalizations. When someone doesn’t fit the stereotype, they are considered to be the other gender. Instead of a strong woman simply being a strong woman, she’s considered manly and therefore masculine. Christians have fallen into this kind of cultural thinking. We really confuse people who don’t fit our strict categories. Rather than simply being an outlier, we treat them as if they are actually the other gender.

Into this they interact with the profound differences between Esau and Isaac. Esau was a “man’s man” who loved to hunt and explore. Jacob preferred life among the tents. While more “sensitive” Jacob was not a homosexual as some might supposed based on his more feminine (supposedly) qualities. While these two men had very different traits, they were both men.

This brings us to Hermeneutical Issues of the Homosexuality Debate. In this section they deal with the main arguments to adjust our theology and refute them. These arguments are:

  1. Since same-sex orientation is a recent discovery, the biblical texts  addressing same-sex activity don’t apply to orientation. Yet, the Sermon on the Mount expresses Jesus’ teaching that activity flows out of the heart and reflects a Godward or selfward orientation. Paul and other NT authors speak of passions, not simply actions. They weren’t ignorant of internal dispositions but refused to allow them as an excuse to transgress the law of God. Robert Gagnon also points to similar concepts in Plato and Aristotle (inner orientation and by nature).
  2. Many interpretations are based on a view of Scripture as an evolving religious understanding. This is the trajectory hermeneutic made popular by Rob Bell. It asks the question, “what would Paul think today” as if Paul was actually writing under the inspiration of the Spirit but rather the spirit of his age. But they use this concept to negate what the Scriptures say. This is obviously to be rejected as well.
  3. Some use Barth’s “christocentric” interpretation in a way Barth likely never imagined. Christ is separated from the written word, and the word must be interpreted “through the lens of Jesus’ redemptive life and ministry.” As a result it re-interprets Scripture to minimize differences between people- social reconciliation. Jesus essentially, in this view, redeems homosexuality rather than redeeming saints from the sin (in both a want of conformity and transgression) of homosexuality.

“We would urge ministers and laymen to be alert for these kinds of hermeneutical errors when encountering those who quote Scripture to contradict the historic stance of the church on same-sex issues.”

Addressing the hermeneutical issues, they shift to Exegesis and Confessional Statements. Here I think they inadvertently make a huge error.

“While the exegesis of biblical texts is our only authority, confessional statements offer us the fruits of the church’s exegesis in ages past.”

I get that they are distinguishing between the role of the Scriptures from that of the Confession. But it is not our exegesis of the Scripture that is authoritative but the Scripture itself. Our exegesis can be either accurate or faulty. We are disagreeing with the exegesis of our opponents, in part, based upon their faulty presuppositions. I’m quite surprised this wasn’t cleaned up, or I am really missing something.

The rest of the chapter is quite good. They are not trying to be comprehensive in the chapter, or it would be far too long for a report. They do take us to the creation of man in  Genesis 1 & 2 to see that there are two genders. They are “two distinct categories of humanity (not poles on a continuum).” Much of what we might call gender differences are more likely differences of personality having little to nothing to do with gender. Along with gender we see the institution of marriage, including sexual union, to be heterosexual. This is social orientation determined by anatomical gender. They speak of it in terms of “head and helper” which is true as far as it goes, but remember that God is our helper too. This passage is not simply descriptive but also prescriptive regarding marriage.

They spend a fair amount of time on Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Genesis account focuses on their intention to rape the “men” who sought refuge in Lot’s home. Many claim they were judged for other sins, and discount the role of homosexuality. They root this in Ezekiel. Yes, Ezekiel addresses other sins that characterized Sodom and Gomorrah. He focused on the sins of which Judah was also guilty, and for which judgment came upon them. Similar to this is the Levite’s Concubine in Judges 19. This is handled more briefly, stressing the fact that Israel had so quickly become like the Canaanites.

Another good amount of space is devoted to Leviticus 18 and 20. They draw attention to the fact that both parties were to be put to death. It was against God’s law to play either role in a same-sex encounter. Admitting that “abomination” can refer to ceremonial uncleanness, they provide 7 reasons that these are moral injunctions and not simply “temple prostitution.” For instance, the general word for “male” is used, not the word for a “male prostitute”. The contrast is not simply about worship but with normal sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex. We also see Deuteronomy 23:17-18 addressing cultic prostitution.

GSO moves on to 1 Corinthians 6 and Paul’s vice list. They spend time explaining malakoi which can refer to the “effeminate” but was also used for the penetrated, often younger, partner. Used in conjunction with arsenokoitai we see the sexual nature of these terms and that Paul is considering both roles are not conforming to the law of God. Lev. 20 also makes the same point, and Paul is likely just drawing upon it.

In 1 Timothy 1 Paul uses arsenokoitais in his discussion of the ten commandments. He sees same-sex sex as a violation of the moral law. They spend far more time on Jude 5-7 and the “different/strange flesh”. Some get around homosexuality in saying the men of Sodom sought angel flesh, but they didn’t know the men were actually angels. The surrounding towns were also guilty of this sin, and there is no record of them seeking to assault angels looking like men. Jude wasn’t concerned about his audience seeking to have sex with angels, but lapsing back into the same-sex activity common in the Greek and Roman world.

Then GSO addresses Romans 1 again. There is much there that hearkens back to creation. This is about perversion of the created order. It is not simply about actions, but we see a focus on passions or desires which are corrupt. It is then back to Genesis and Ham’s sin against Noah. Ham is the father of the Canaanites, and their sexual perversion. We aren’t exactly sure how, but that much is clear.

They shift to the Standards, particularly WLC 139 which addresses not just homosexuality but lust, fantasies, adultery, pre-maritial sex, pornography and more. Their mention of lusts or desires reflect the fact that we are to put them to death, not just behaviors.

GSO concludes with Pastoral Implications. They want us to remember “homosexuality is not just an issue to try to understand, it is a struggle experienced by real people.” Some of those real people are in our pews and need our help. There are two things that GSO does that are reasons why I wish I’d read it prior to the Revoice controversy.

  1. Don’t treat homosexuality as a special sin.  They say “they are not all that different from other temptations common to human experience. … Christians must avoid the stereotype of homosexuality as a sin greater than all others… Like many other temptations, same-sex desires often arise without warning and feel hopelessly overpowering. But all human brokenness is within reach of the Gospel’s power.”  Later, “Christians must avoid the stereotype of homosexuality as worse than all other sins and beyond the reach of God’s grace.”
  2. There are no quick solutions. “Deep-seated desires are never resolved easily. They are certainly not resolved by mere will-power or ‘steps of treatment’. We dare not promise quick solutions; but neither should we shy away from the full hope of the Gospel for total redemption by the working of God’s Spirit.” They have good balance in this matter. “The Spirit of Christ may work patiently or he may work quickly.” In fact, one of the primary reasons for “failures” is unrealistic expectations. I suspect that is the reason for most people I know of that left the faith in order to live according to their sinful desires.

In the great Revoice debates it would have been great to say “I’m saying nothing different than what is expressed in the GSO.” I’m not trying to minimize sin, under-sell the Gospel, and I’m not self-deceived. I’m simply recognizing what the Westminster Standards say about sanctification. Repentance doesn’t mean we are free from temptation from within, or even that we never act on our temptations. It is an endeavor for new obedience, but our reach often exceeds our grasp in the area of sanctification. We want to be more fully sanctified.

The authors when us to remember that sanctification is about more than same-sex attraction. It is but one aspect of discipleship, not the whole enchilada. They also briefly mention that the guidelines they layout do not replace evangelism, but are generally to be understand in the context of discipleship. Generally you want to develop trust because discussing such a personal struggle is often quite difficult. Most people in the church are not proud of their struggle. They often feel legitimate shame. I’m not going to go through all their guidelines (it is short, and I want you to read this). One great need is generally healthy same-sex relationships. Non-sexual relationships. It is not about doing “manly” or “girly” things, but about building edifying relationships. It becomes about spending time together, sharing life together.

As far as GSO goes, it is excellent. Being a human document it couldn’t anticipate all of the controversies which would arise since then. It is a product of its time, and its controversy. It provides good guidance in other controversies that touch on the same issues. It provides plenty of pastoral wisdom. It should become a helpful addition to a pastor’s and church library.

Read Full Post »


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

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

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

Image may contain: indoor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These populated the area for some reason.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2020: Birmingham

2021: St. Louis

2022: likely Memphis

2023: possibly Orlando

Read Full Post »


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).

 

 

Read Full Post »


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.

 

 

Read Full Post »


You will note two common letters in those initials, in sequence.  RP.  Both the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, North America trace their roots back to the Covenanters who withdrew from the Church of Scotland so long ago because Arminianism and an Episcopal form of church government had infected the Church of Scotland.

What came up at the ARP synod was our future.  If you were to put this in courtship terms, we talking about spending some time getting to know one another.  Our hands probably haven’t even brushed accidentally.  But in the interest of biblical unity, we are talking.

The ARP has about 27,000 members which means it is smaller than the small city in which I live and serve.  We are over 200 years old and have not caved in to liberalizing forces.  On the theological map, I guess you could say we are between the EPC and the PCA.  As a pastor, I would be in the segment adjacent with the PCA.  We are found primarily in the Southeast, though we have a new Presbytery in Canada.  There are more ARPs in the Pakistani synod than here in the US.  There is also an ARP synod in Mexico.  Not bad for a small, largely rural denomination.

The RPCNA is about 6,000 members in churches that are primarily in the North and  Midwest.  There is a congregation in Orlando, FL.  Many of you have probably heard of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA.  It is their denominational college.  Their seminary is The Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary  in Pittsburgh.  (We, of course, have Erskine College and Seminary in Due West, SC.)  The primary difference would probably be that they are exclusive Psalm singers.  The ARP has a few congregations that sing only Psalms.  But this is the one issue that decides whether or not we ever consummate.  There will have to be lots of conversations before that ever happens.

I was duly impressed by their representative who spoke to our synod last week.  He was struck by the enormity of the issue, referring to the Gordian Knot.  But repeatedly went back to the biblical passion for unity purchased by the death of Jesus.

None of us knows how this will pan out.  But it would be great if there were fewer Presbyterian denominations out there- not because of decline, but because of union.  I think that would be a great testimony to the power of Christ, the love of Christ to lay aside peripheral issues when we have all the BIG issues in common (after all, we are Reformed and Presbyterian).  So, perhaps we’ll go out together and decide we really like each other, and can do more for the kingdom together than apart.  That would be a great thing.  But it may take awhile.

7 Years Later, an Update: The ARP has issued an invitation for the RPCNA to join them at Bonclarken for a joint meaning. I am not sure of all the logistics, but the ARP has agreed to only use the Bible Songs book and without instrumentation in deference to the convictions of their brothers. I say “their” since I am no longer an ARP pastor but serve in the PCA now.

Read Full Post »