A Biblical Passage Very Relevant to Our Times

Exodus 23:1-2a says this (emphasis added): “You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil.” The PCA is now plagued by man-fear. Man-fear is on a teeter-totter with God-fear. As man-fear goes up, God-fear goes down. As God-fear goes up, man-fear goes down. This is a zero-sum game, folks. Man-fear exhibits the following characteristics: 1. An obsession with playing the politics of the situation. 2. A corresponding down-playing of truth, especially those aspects of truth that are uncomfortable for other people to hear. 3. An emphasis on love to the exclusion or down-playing of truth. 4. A redefinition of love to be almost exclusively horizontal (love for God takes a very distant second place to love for self and love for others). 5. A redefinition of truth to be what the majority says. 6. An avoidance of accountability, and/or outrage at being called out, and a correspondingly shrill and unloving blast against the “unloving.” 7. Hypocrisy. 8. A good ol’ boys club regarding the people in power. 9. An ignoring of the sheep. 10. A fear of doing the right thing because it is right. 11. Secrecy. 12. Hatred towards open things like blogs. Sound like a whole lot of people you know?

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28 Comments

  1. June 24, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    Well said, Lane. I have a further post in my head on my observations and thoughts reflecting on events.

  2. didymusmartin said,

    June 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    The high Man-Fear titer warrants exile to the man-cave or a long vacation.

  3. Reed Here said,

    June 24, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    “And Keister comes out swinging!!” ;-)

  4. michael said,

    June 24, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    There are some sayings attributed to the great reformer Martin Luther.

    One such saying is I believe based in this sound and upright wisdom:

    Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:5, 6 ESV)

    Martin Luther saying:

    FOR IF I DID NOT HAVE THE WELFARE OF MY BROTHER AT HEART

    I WOULD CERTAINLY BE QUIET AND LET HIM GO

    BUT THE FACT THAT I OPEN MY MOUTH AND REBUKE HIM IS AN INDICATION THAT I LOVE HIM AND SEEK HIS WELFARE

    FOR MY FAILURE TO INSTRUCT AND REBUKE MY BROTHER IS ACTUALLY AN EVIDENCE OF ANGER

  5. June 24, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    The conservatives in the PCA have two choices: (1) they can be driven out of the denomination by force by the liberals (currently in slow-motion process), or (2) they can leave voluntarily. It’s the 1920s-1930s redux. Time to re-read “Christianity and Liberalism”!

  6. June 24, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Richard,

    We have at least one other choice – to fight for the truth powered by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is not to be, but we foreordain the outcome if we give up when the going gets tough. Surely keeping the pure gospel for the flock is worth a fight. Jesus said “Feed my sheep,” not “run when the wolves show up.”

  7. Darrell Todd Maurina said,

    June 25, 2013 at 8:50 am

    Let’s not forget that God can and does do miracles.

    As bad as things are today in the PCA, they were worse during pre-Seminex days among the Missouri Synod Lutherans. Similar things can be said about the Southern Baptist Convention and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

    I trust that my background of a decade fighting liberalism in the Christian Reformed Church gives me the credibility needed to avoid people saying I’m advocating compromise. I’m not. There is a time to leave a church, either voluntarily or by making a stand and being kicked out for faithfulness.

    What I **AM** saying is that the PCA, at this stage, is moving toward a non-confessional broad evangelicalism rather than outright liberalism. Granted, virtually anything can walk through the wide-open door once confessionalism is no longer key to the daily life of the churches.

    History does teach us that most broad evangelicals love the Lord and care about His Word. The complication is convincing them that the liberals are the “bad guys” rather than the conservatives, who all too often are caricatured as being old-fashioned fuddy-duddies who are legalistic and care nothing about evangelism.

    Liberals often succeed in building coalitions with broad evangelicals because conservatives often pick fights over fairly complicated confessional issues which are hard for the average laymen to understand. Splitting that coalition between liberals who hate what the confessions teach and evangelicals who don’t understand the confessions or disagree with them on secondary points is key to winning the war against liberalism.

  8. June 25, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Darrell – Good thoughts. It’s a sad commentary that many PCA church officers cannot follow the confessional issues. My experience in the RCUS years ago was the opposite. Even the average RCUS member could follow “complicated” theological discussions and even actively participate. Perhaps one of the issues is the dumbing-down of the PCA on confessionalism.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    June 25, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Bob, regarding comment 6, the issue for some will be that they feel they have already been at war for many years in the PCA. I would suspect that Andy Webb would find himself in this frame of mind, for instance. I have certainly been fighting for around 8 years, and steadily losing ground the whole time.

  10. June 25, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Lane – No argument here. WWII in the Pacific looked pretty grim until Midway, and even then there was much to be done. I think that we should wait until October’s SJC meeting to see if they accept the Leithart case. If they don’t, then one could reasonably conclude that the PCA will have officially turned its back on the gospel.

  11. Darrell Todd Maurina said,

    June 25, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Bingo!

    To be fair, the “dumbing down” of the PCA’s membership on confessional knowledge is not new. It is a problem inherited from the PCUS and from the broad evangelicalism of Southern culture.

    It is a simple fact of history that the fights of the 1970s and 1980s in Southern Presbyterianism joined confessional conservatives with broad evangelicals in a failed effort defeat a common enemy. Conservative people in the PCUS were mad at the PCUS leadership for all sorts of reasons, ranging from very good to very bad. When the fight failed in the PCUS, the result was the secession that became the PCA.

    Reading old issues of the Southern Presbyterian Journal (later Presbyterian Journal) makes very clear that many of the PCA’s issues today have roots long before the secession from the PCUS — and a case could be made that in some ways the PCA tolerated more confessional deviation in the direction of fundamentalism in its early days than many of its presbyteries would tolerate today. There’s something to be said for extending a hand to a brother in the battle who leaves liberalism and wants to be Reformed but isn’t yet in full accord with the confessions. That’s what an “exception” is for, and that’s why those decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, taking the totality of a man’s teaching into account.

    The result, for better or for worse, was that many churches which left the PCUS were evangelical first and Reformed second.

    This isn’t unique to the PCA; it’s a common factor of secessions in the American ecclesiastical environment in many different denominational contexts. When the comparable Presbyterian secession happened in the North, the seceders quickly split into the BPC and the OPC.

    The difference is that split did not happen in the South.

    Let’s be fair — the stabilizing influence of confessionally conservative men like Morton Smith prevented a split in the South between confessionalists and broad evangelicals, and the situation in the modern PCA is quite similar to what might have happened in the North if Machen had not died shortly after the OPC was formed. He, like Morton Smith in the South, was one of the few men in the secession who enjoyed widespread respect from both confessional and non-confessional conservatives in the secession movement.

    The problem is that both the fundamentalism of the 1930s and the broad evangelicalism of the 1970s, 1980s, and today have no consistent system of doctrine because they have no time-tested confessional foundation. While we certainly must be evangelical as well as Reformed — dead orthodoxy is a very bad thing — it simply is not enough to be broadly evangelical without having a confessional foundation since that leads churches into “drift mode,” being blown by every wind of doctrine.

    Solid confessional teaching in the seminaries and the session rooms could have fixed that problem. Lack of attention to the confessions is now coming back to bite, and bite hard.

  12. didymusmartin said,

    June 25, 2013 at 11:08 am

    it’s not head-knowledge but wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit endweliing in heart of Gods people when the true ministry of the church is alive, Ministries and denominations just like the engrafted vine will wither and die. When the PCA shifted in spirit from the TR-sabatarian view point, the antinomians appealed to liberty, it started the erosin that is the crevasse in the PCA that we see today.

  13. Frank Aderholdt said,

    June 26, 2013 at 11:01 am

    There was at least one little spark of hope in the General Assembly last week. The Overtures Committee, of which I was a member, voted to answer in the Negative an Overture to appoint a Study Committee on the Sabbath. The stated reason for the Overture was the wide diversity of practices that causes great confusion throughout the PCA. My take on the Presbytery’s intentions: We’re tired of granting exceptions, so let’s just weaken the Westminster Standards at this point. The Assembly accepted the Overture’s recommendation. The “Ground” for the vote was the most encouraging thing: If a Presbytery wants to revise the Confession or Catechisms, present an Overture with a specific change. Then the Assembly can go from there and decide what to do. That’s much better than asking for yet another Study Committee, the sole purpose of which in this case was to erode the strong sabbatarianism of the Westminster Standards. Granted, that’s a judgment call, but I can’t think of any other reason. We don’t need more studies in this area. The work has already been done countless of times in the past four centuries. The Overtures Committee rightly said, “Put up or shut up” (my phrase, not the Committee’s, of course). If you want to revise the Standards, just say it up front.

  14. locirari said,

    June 26, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Mr. Aderholdt,

    Thanks for your insider’s perspective on the North Texas Sabbath Overture. I think that’s right: Presbytery’s should be proposing revisions to Standards if they want changes. I also think that confessional integrity enjoins that presbyters not promote unconfessional views. If North Texas is ordaining numerous men who think that the Fourth Commandment was abrogated then the PCA is effectively undermining its confession. What can be done about so many entering the ministry holding views that strike at the vitals of religion?

  15. June 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    locirari, RE #14,

    I’ll let you know the answer to your insightful question when/if we finally clean up the FV and paedocommunion debacles.

  16. Frank Aderholdt said,

    June 26, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    As far as I can tell, it’s generally only the strictness of the “recreation clause” in the Westminster Standards that causes a problem with PCA Teaching Elders. I’ve never heard anyone argue for the abrogation of the fourth commandment in its entirety.

    The PCA as a whole has lived for decades with a sort of truce (or at least cease fire) with regard to the Sabbath. To my knowledge, no Presbytery has ruled that exception to the recreation clause strikes at the vitals of religion, or is destructive of the system of doctrine.

    Actually, I’m more concerned with a man who states that he takes no exception to anything in the Westminster Standards, but then ignores those Standards in his Sabbath (non-) observance. Man up, gentlemen, and say exactly what you believe.

    Echoing Bob in #15, the Sabbath question is minor in comparison to the “FV and paedocommunion debacles.”

  17. locirari said,

    June 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Echoing Bob in #15, the Sabbath question is minor in comparison to the “FV and paedocommunion debacles.”

    Point taken.

  18. descriptivegrace said,

    June 28, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    “Actually, I’m more concerned with a man who states that he takes no exception to anything in the Westminster Standards, but then ignores those Standards in his Sabbath (non-) observance. Man up, gentlemen, and say exactly what you believe.”

    Weren’t you guys just condemning the Messianics for attempting to keep the Mosaic Law, and now you’re trying to keep it too? Sabbath keeping? That’s very interesting. There’s a guy on the internet with a blog called Paul’s Passing Thoughts who’s been saying Calvinists are legalists who try to follow the Law….was he right?

  19. dgwired said,

    June 29, 2013 at 8:37 am

    DTM, once again you need to read more history. Machen and McIntire were at odds before Machen died. McIntire led a coup within the Independent Board and this meant that Machen was not re-elected. The split of 1937 was in the works in the fall of 1936 before Machen died. McIntire represented “American” Presbyterianism, Machen a Presbyterianism open to “ferners” like the Scot Murray and the Dutchman Van Til.

    Then McIntire’s followers broke with him in the 1950s and they eventually joined the PCA in 1981. The difference apparently is that the PCA absorbs other groups, the OPC repels (joking somewhat) them.

    The parallel is the Dutch Christian Reformed Church which stayed out of Kuyper’s GKN. The question seems to be how long are you willing to maintain the secessionist spirit, or do you simply become the conservative version of the absorbing communion you left (like the EPC)?

  20. greenbaggins said,

    June 29, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Just for the moderator’s sake, descriptivegrace is James Jordan.

    Jordan, you may not agree with the three-fold division of the law, nor with the three-fold uses of the law, but if you are not going to acknowledge that other people do, then you will come up with comments like yours about the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not ceremonial or civil, but moral law. Obedience to the moral law is not the same thing as legalism. It becomes legalism if I connect it in any causal way with salvation. If, however, I describe it (as the entire Reformed tradition does!) as the reaction of gratitude for the salvation already bestowed on me, then it is not legalism at all. The heart of the moral law is love of God and love of neighbor, as Jesus tells us. We would not want to accuse the idea of love as being legalistic, would we?

  21. June 29, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Lane,

    Fascinating that Jordan now has an anonymous attack blog. What would Wilson say about that?

    On point, I agree with Reed’s post that the PCA’s 41st GA was a significant step towards becoming the PC(USA). I plan to put forward a number of overtures next year to turn us back towards being an ecclesiastical body and away from a Chicago-style pagan political body like we saw this year. I see the problem as being the mushy middle which is highly susceptible to man-fear.

  22. darrelltoddmaurina said,

    June 29, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Dr. Hart, I am quite aware that the tensions which led to the BPC-OPC split predated the formal split by many years — and arguably by decades. Personal relations built up for many years between men of similar but not identical faith count for a great deal, and a lot of damage had been done to those personal relationships in the years between 1929 and 1936. The loss of conservative control of Princeton Seminary and the need to create a new ministerial training institution exposed problems underneath the surface in conservative Presbyterianism which had been papered over for a very long time.

    You are a historian and a recognized expert on Machen. I trust you are aware of Machen’s correspondence, almost to the end of his life, with at least some and perhaps many of the men who later began the Bible Presbyterian Church. It seems fairly clear that while some of the younger men with what were later shown to be bitter spirits — Carl McIntire being only the most obvious example — would not have been happy in any denomination they did not control, that was not true of everyone in the movement that later became the Bible Presbyterian Church.

    As with most divisions among conservative Christians, there is much fault on all sides and I see little benefit in blaming men, nearly all of whom are long dead, for taking stands that very few conservative Calvinists would take today. But let’s be fair — one of the issues in the split at Westminster Seminary was use of alcohol. Correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Hart, but I’ve been taught that Machen agreed with the “foreigners” (i.e., the Dutchmen and the Scotsmen) on the principle of Christian freedom but chose not to drink alcohol to avoid what he saw as an unnecessary division among conservatives. Some of the Westminster men, however, insisted on their right to drink alcohol.

    It certainly seems to me that Machen did the right thing by respecting the conscience of the “weaker brothers,” but a fair number of people who agreed with him on Reformed principle chose not to follow his practices, causing great offense not only to McIntire but also to many other evangelicals of the day.

    Would things have turned out differently if Machen had been able to “rein in” or “calm down” his more radical supporters? Nobody knows for sure. It is obvious in hindsight that McIntire was a loose cannon, and perhaps the same was true in a different way of Buswell, but it’s hard to fault Machen and the more strictly Reformed men for trying to retain a fiery young pastor of a large and successful church, or for trying to retain a college president with widespread influence far beyond Presbyterianism.

    While what would have happened in Machen had lived is inherently a matter of conjecture, I do think it is a matter of clear historical fact that Dr. Morton Smith was successful at holding together “TRs” and “BRs” in the PCA. It is at least a good historical hypothesis that the early death of Machen led to a split while the continued presence of Smith mostly avoided that sort of split. Regardless of whether Smith’s continued presence as a respected senior leader was responsible for doing so, it is a matter of historical fact that a number of other men who later became PCA leaders — Dr. D. James Kennedy, for example — took a “wait and see” attitude toward the PCA and joined only after it was clear that 1973 would not be a repeat of 1937.

    We can debate until the cows come home whether the “big tent” model of the present PCA is good or bad. My own views on that are probably much more in line with yours. Keeping moderate conservatives following a secession is only good if the moderate conservatives can be educated into becoming confessional Calvinists, and that is not an easy thing to do.

    What does not appear to be debatable is that lots of conservatives stayed in the Northern church post-1936, while a far larger percentage of conservatives left the Southern church post-1973. The then-recent Supreme Court ruling on church property was certainly a factor, but the decision of key conservative Northern churches like Tenth Presbyterian and others to stay in the PC(USA) while many of the conservative “big steeple” Southern churches left the PC(US) made a major difference in the subsequent history of both denominations.

  23. dgwired said,

    June 29, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    DTM, my point was that the OPC from its beginning was willing to let others walk. I don’t know what Morton Smith’s outlook was. At the same time, the PCA was a big tent from the beginning and it only got bigger when it let in the ex-McIntireites. In other words, the OPC has been comfortable with being small. Can’t say the same for anyone in the PCA (which is why it seems that even the Old Schoolers in the PCA are uncomfortable with the OPC.)

    As for alcohol, I can’t imagine Murray and McIntire going out for many occasions where alcohol was an option. I do know that McI. brought an overture to the OP’s 3rd GA calling for prohibition in the church. At that point, Machen’s view that the church could only speak where the Bible does prevailed.

  24. June 29, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    […] A Biblical Passage Very Relevant to Our Times. […]

  25. June 30, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    In the mid-1990s I attended Home Missions conference sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe it was held at First Baptist where Charles Stanley is the pastor. The keynote speaker was Tony Campolo. Tony at the time portrayed himself as an “Evangelical.” Now he is an open advocate for apostasy, gay marriage, and other abominations. So much for “broad” Evangelicalism.

    The problem is that Arminianism and the Federal Vision are not just “broad” Evangelicalism. They focus on moralism at the expense of the Gospel. If Calvinism is Christianity–and I believe it is–compromising with unconfessionalism of any kind is the road to liberalism or Rome. Take your pick.

    Part of the problem is that a so-called “valid” profession of faith in Christ is the only requirement for church membership in most Reformed denominations today. What do you expect to happen when catechism is no longer a prerequisite for church membership and full communion in a local congregation?

    Open the doors to Arminians who are not Reformed and Arminianism soon takes over the pulpits as well. The other problem is the so-called “Reformed” seminaries these days are teaching mangled views of confessional Calvinism, including the idea that union with Christ replaces the doctrine of justification by faith alone and justification becomes either an afterthought or it becomes confused with sanctification via the union with Christ. Union with Christ is not some mystical experience by way of an existential encounter with an ill defined God. No, union with Christ is a rational understand and assent to ALL the Scriptures by means of faith. Without a solid systematic understanding of Scripture there is no saving faith. The purpose of the Westminster Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechism is to educate ALL the members of the church, not just the ministers. Given the widespread promotion of ignorance these days, why would anyone be surprised that a counterfeit gospel has been approved by the denomination as a whole?

    And worse? Those who stand against common grace and the free offer of the Gospel to the reprobate are condemned as “hyper-Calvinists.” I don’t read either of those doctrines in the Westminster Standards, the Three Forms of Unity, or the Anglican Formularies.

    Charlie

  26. June 30, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    “Dead” orthodoxy? Either you’re orthodox and confessional or you are not. There is no such thing as “dead” orthodoxy. Emotionalism and pietism are not confessional, imo.

  27. Mark B said,

    June 30, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    @25 R.C.

    “Part of the problem is that a so-called “valid” profession of faith in Christ is the only requirement for church membership in most Reformed denominations today. What do you expect to happen when catechism is no longer a prerequisite for church membership and full communion in a local congregation?”

    Perhaps you could clarify a bit what you see as the solution to this is? Are you implying that we should have subscription to the standards as a prerequisite for membership, or what do you view as a solution? I think that persons being baptized and immediately becoming part of the Church is the model we see in Acts, for example, when it says “on that day there were added to their number…” In other words, new believers were discipled (catechized) as communing members of the Church. In that sense I think the guidelines (credible profession) the PCA uses are Biblical. I do think that there are practical problems in the application of that, however. The most obvious is the relative (to the New Testament) lack of Church discipline, some Churches seem reluctant to take as firm a stance on giving people the boot as Paul in the Epistles does. Another obvious one would be the lack of a sound definition of “credible confession”. The third thing I would throw out is new members who are not new believers, and this is more difficult as there are less Biblical examples to correlate our modern practice to (For a Biblical example of this I think that the Judaizers might apply. They were part of the OT Church, and tried to bring some things that had been abrogated into the NT Church). I think that sessions need to make sure that those coming to us from non reformed backgrounds understand the primary distinctives of the Reformed faith (through a new members class), understand what is meant in the vows about submitting to the authority of the Elders, and understand what is meant by “studying the purity and peace” of the Church. My experience has been that problems in a Church can come as a result of the theological baggage that these people bring with them. Any thoughts?

  28. Hugh Glass said,

    July 28, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Mr. Keister, etal,

    It seems to me the readership here and church members and officers everywhere would do well to read the following in light of the current debate about doctrinal and practical matters in the PCA.

    The sinful separations that occur, and the poor thinking and practice that precedes and precipitates schism, needs to be addressed. In my opinion, none too soon. Especially when many cavils against Christ’s Bride have gone so long unaddressed.

    http://www.fpcr.org/blue_banner_articles/visible1.htm


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