We are Salt & Light, Yes?

If the PCA says NO! to Child Sexual Abuse,
Why Not NO! to All Sexual Immorality?

by Reed DePace

The latest general assembly (GA) of my denomination, the PCA, passed an overture (no. 6) that: 1) resoundingly condemning child sexual abuse, and 2) urging member churches and denominational bodies to take this issue seriously and address it in their day to day practices. Given that this horrifying expression of the dominion of Satan is indeed sweeping our nation, I wholeheartedly support this condemnation and admonition.

Yet this same GA struggled to pass another overture, even more mildly worded, with less stringent condemnation and less sweeping advice. This overture, no. 43, addressed two additional satanic horrors capturing the hearts of our nation: abortion and same-sex marriage. It only offered one small and insignificant call to action: expressing prayerful thanks for those striving to bring the gospel to bear on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage.

The GA committee assigned to pre-review and advise on how to respond to overtures before GA, recommended that Overture 43 be declined (by a vote of 45-28). This is the same committee of men who recommended the GA approve the Overture no. 6 on child sexual abuse. It was only upon the significant efforts of a minority of this committee to bring an alternative recommendation (to affirm) that Overture 43 had opportunity for some consideration. (I’m pretty sure current assembly rules only allow for GA for an up or down vote, no debate, on the committee’s recommendation.) This substitute motion from the minority of the Overtures Committee reads:

“Be it resolved that the Presbyterian Church in America expresses its gratitude to the Lord for sustaining by His grace ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians serving in the public sphere who are experiencing ostracism, penalties, and persecution for taking a Biblically faithful stand for the sanctity of human life and declining to participate in the cultural redefinition of marriage;

“Be it further resolved that the General Assembly pause and offer prayer to the Lord on behalf of such ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians.”

And even then this rather mild expression passed only by a small majority.

If this leaves you scratching your head, I understand. Let me offer some explanation (informed by similar “decline” decisions of previous general assemblies).

The Overtures Committee (i.e., the majority) gave a list of four reasons for recommending to decline Overture 43. The first reason appears to be the most substantive:

“This overture is not needed. There is no lack of clarity regarding the PCA’s stand for the sanctity of marriage or the sanctity of life, biblically or constitutionally (WFC 24.1). Furthermore, we do not need an overture such as this to pray for, or encourage, those who suffer unjustly.”

This reason applies to the subject of Overture 6 as well. In fact, remove the words “sanctity of marriage or the sanctity of life” from the reason listed and substitute the words “child sexual abuse” and you can see what I mean. Indeed, the remaining three reasons given for declining Overture 43 could also be applied, with little tweaking, to Overture 6. So why was the latter easily passed and the former barely?

I expect the difference is to be seen in the application of a doctrine called the spirituality of the church to Overture 43 but not to Overture 6.  While a sound and wise doctrine, it can be easily co-opted for use in denying the Church’s responsibility to speak prophetically to the nations in her witness of the gospel. “We’re not supposed to get involved in politics,” ends up becoming an excuse (even unintentionally) to defend an unwillingness to obey God in speaking as:

A watchman to the Church:

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. (Ezk 3:17 ESV)

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  (Col 1:28)

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

And prophetically to a nation:

But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the LORD.” (Jer 12:17)

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. (Jer 18:7-8)

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything excepx to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Mt 5:13-16)

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Ps 2:10-12)

I get not issuing political opinions. I agree completely that this is not only NOT the Church’s calling, to engage in it actually diminishes Her calling to proclaim the gospel.

Yet I fear we can become misguided in our efforts to apply this doctrine. I sincerely cannot quite fathom why the GA would speak clearly, “child sexual abuse is wrong!” and then hesitate to speak clearly, “abortion and same-sex marriage are wrong!” Neither is a statement of political policy. When intentionally connected to the gospel (something without which we should not speak), both are expressions consistent with the command that we love our neighbors as ourselves and warn them of judgment to come.

For the record, I’d be grateful to see some Presbytery propose an overture which simply:

  1. Identifies a laundry list of sexual immorality that is defining our national character,
  2. Affirms that the Scripxures are clear on the condemnation of these,
  3. Reminds that the only hope for the rescue from the deadliness of these soul honey-traps is the gospel,
  4. Acknowledges in repentance and faith that we ourselves are not without guilt save Christ in these sins,* and
  5. Admonishes our churches to prayerfully re-affirm our calling and commitment to go and rescue those trapped in sexual immorality through the ministry of the gospel.

For those who will admonish me, “but our standards ALREADY (in effect) say such things; there is no need to repeat ourselves,” my response will be a simple, “and where would you and I be if God did not repeatedly, page after page, remind and admonish us of our sin and need of Jesus Christ?” If God sees fit to repeat Himself, why should not His Church follow His example?

[*Edit: a friend in a comment below brought up the concern of the appearance of hypocrisy. Sexual sins are so potent in terms producing guilt and shame that speaking openly about them immediately provokes all in hearing to respond, in force. Unless one has a good grip on Jesus and His cleansing the tendency is to marshal one's own fleshly resources to a defense marked by attack (often all out). It helps them if the Christian identifies his own culpability. Then they have hope you are not just a hypocrite, but one who does indeed love them.]

by Reed DePace

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11 Comments

  1. June 24, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Your point is spot-on – why was the same logic (i.e. the clarity of our standards) not applied to this issue as well? I think it is one simple reason – no one (except child abusers) could possibly be offended by someone taking a strong stand against child abuse. Not very consistent.

    Of course, 15 or 20 years ago who would have thought that standing up for the traditional/biblical view of marriage would have been controversial?

    I am very much pleased that our denomination has taken this stand against child sexual abuse. Kudos to everyone involved in getting this passed.

    I only wish that similar stands had been made regarding sexual immorality (not only of the homosexual variety, but also of the heterosexual variety as well) and abortion. The timing would have been more than a bit felicitous in light of all the the headlines that the PCUSA is making during this same exact time frame.

    Well-said, Reed.

  2. June 24, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Being “salt and light” only applies when it’s referring to putting our children into public schools, moving into cities to do urban ministry to the urban elites, and drinking beer in public. It has absolutely nothing to do with speaking against the prevailing moral issues of our day. If we speak out against the culture on those issues, then we won’t be invited to the popular crowds parties. That would be bad. We need the influential to fund our urban ministries.

  3. June 24, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Also, in regards to the idea that we don’t need to repeat ourselves, I’d like to see men try that one with their wives. For example, “I told you I love you when I asked you to marry me. I don’t need to repeat myself.” Or “we celebrated our wedding with a lovely reception. We don’t need to repeat ourselves with yearly anniversary celebrations.”

  4. Howie Donahoe said,

    June 25, 2014 at 5:08 am

    Reed – The recommendations from the Overtures Committee are fully debatable. They just can’t be amended.
    I don’t have any comment on your observation about the differences between Overtures 6 and 43. (I didn’t vote.) But regarding your suggested Overture wherein we identify a “laundry list of sexual immorality that is defining our national character,” perhaps the Overture should also say that no commissioner can vote for it unless his computer screen was impeccably clean the year prior. And maybe add the prerequisite that he hasn’t harbored bitterness in his heart and hasn’t coveted the success of others in ministry, etc. You get my point. If the Romans 7:24 wretchedness of my own heart were open to GA, nobody would let me go to a mic, let alone vote.

  5. Alan D. Strange said,

    June 25, 2014 at 7:04 am

    Howie:

    I deeply appreciate and agree with what you are saying with respect to those of us who are teachers of the Word: we all err in many ways and we must not pretend otherwise. In speaking against any sin whatsoever, I am not suggesting that I am not full of sin (failing in so many ways to love God and neighbor). I am and it grieves me deeply. The solution is to be candid about our own failings, and the need of forgiveness which we have and enjoy in our Savior.

    That I struggle mightily with and against remaining sin, however, does not disqualify me from calling sin “sin” and calling for us all, me chiefly even, to confess and repent of our sin. If my own failure keeps me from preaching repentance, then I am reducing the gospel to my own personal circumstances. My own failings do not define the message down. I grant you that such failings ought to humble me and cause me to proclaim the message in a way that makes it clear that I am not without fault in these matters.

    We always preach beyond where any of us live. The law, which reflects God’s perfect character, is never something that I can wholly keep. I make only a small beginning of such obedience in this life, in fact. But that does not mean that I do not preach the law with all it demands and the gospel with all its promises. I do and I must and I may never change the message to suit my own sins and shortcomings.

    I stand and preach about the tongue and its sins, while at the same acknowledging that I fail in this and need the mercy of God that is found only in Christ, who kept the whole law for me and paid for my law-breaking. I know, Brother Howie, that you know and believe these things, too. I just wanted to keep the record clear that our failures do not mean that we cannot vigorously preach sin and repentance, the law and the gospel. This is the task and calling of the church.

    If ministers must be free of lust to call for repentance for such, no one can ever properly do so. If ministers must be free of bitterness and envy to call for repentance for such, no one can ever properly do so. I know what you mean in your proper call for us not to be hypocritical and I agree. But when we don’t pretend that we are without sin, and this must be made clear even in a proposed GA declaration (I agree), then we may issue that call that is so needed for faith and repentance.

  6. Alan D. Strange said,

    June 25, 2014 at 7:35 am

    Howie:

    As I further reflect on what you say, it strikes me that your concern is likely similar to mine: we need always to remember and reflect that judgment begins at the house of the Lord. I agree, and we need always to make this clear, something easy to lose sight of in cataloging the sins of our day.

    That having been said, I think that we can do both, by God’s grace, calling us all to repentance and faith. I agree that the chief thing that we need to do as the church with respect to the world is to call it to believe and trust in Christ alone. This is not done in the first place by cataloging its sins. But that has its place (also with respect to the civil use of the law) as part of the reason(s) that it needs Christ.

  7. Reed here said,

    June 25, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Howie, I take your concern as being about hypocrisy. I completely concur with and appreciate the correction. Previous conversations on thus subject should have reminded me I need to first confess lest I be unfairly written off as yet another hypocrite.

    And I agree with Dr. Stranges’ critiques. The answer is not perfection before speaking, but humility to identify with the one to whom you are speaking.

    How about this, we add a point lamenting our own sinfulness and express our commitment to continued personal repentance?

    Let me lead the way. On my own I am guilty of numerous sins of sexual immorality. I regularly run to Jesus and repeat, “God, forgive me, I am a luster.” Expressing my faith in God’s promises in Christ, I use Covenant Eyes (according to them I’m one of their longest using clients). By God’s grace and mercy this stronghold of Satan was broken through the gospel years back. I can testify that yes, any sin of sexual immorality can be broken, for good, in a believer’s life. The purity of Jesus can be one’s daily companion through faith and repentance.

    So to be clear, my desire is NOT to add to the hypocrisy that is a fertilizer for sexual immorality’s flourishing. On the contrary, I’m seeking to apply the promise of Eph 5:11-14. Only the exposure marked by full honesty will show this evil for the spawn of hell that it truly is.

    So, thank you Howie. If we were on the floor of GA, I’d take yours’ as a speech perfecting the original motion. What do you say, want to to work together this next year and bring something to next GA?

    I’ve nothing to lose; I’ll willingly confess my sins before all the gathered fathers and brothers if that will help break the heart of pride and shame that may lead them to not be brave enough to stand up and love our Church and nation enough to tell them the truth about their primary idolatry, and how Jesus can save them from it’s pincer-grip.

  8. June 27, 2014 at 12:02 am

    […] Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of First PCA in Montgomery, Ala. This article appeared on Green Baggins and is used with […]

  9. Mark G said,

    June 27, 2014 at 9:26 am

    One significant way in which the child safety issue differs from the others is that the child safety issue concerns not only the safety of children but the protection of every local church and volunteers in children’s ministries. Not only are we responsible for other’s children, but we must protect volunteers and churches from charges (true or not). Churches and volunteers also need to understand the legal requirements for reporting issues. I haven’t been to a church that babysits gays or needs to deal with abortions that may happen unawares on church premises or at church functions. The problem with recent child abuse scandals is that they’ve taken place within institutions (church or associated) and involved abusers and their negligent (or worse) associates. To think that nothing this bad could ever happen in your church or at a church function is potentially a setup for disaster.

    I think this recent move is intended to protect churches and volunteers as well as children within the church. It’s doesn’t primarily reflect a concern about issues in the society.

  10. Reed Here said,

    June 27, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Mark G: I can appreciate that this is at least a part of the motive package behind this overture.

    Given the overture itself, the reputation of some involved in drafting it, and the impassioned speeches on the floor of GA, I think it is unkind to suggest that pragmatic concerns over being sued were the driving force for the overture’s passing.

    If this is not what you mean, please correct yourself. What you’ve written strongly suggests this less than noble motivation on the part of all who passed it.

  11. Mark G said,

    June 27, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    “Correct myself”? “Strongly suggest … less than noble”? I don’t have a clue where you could get that notion. In fact, I said just the opposite, “we must protect volunteers and churches from charges (true or not).” It is wise for churches to implement appropriate procedures for the protection of children, the church and volunteers. Those motives are not mutually exclusive and churches need to implement processes to accomplish all. I think that’s just plain wise.


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