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

Feminism and the Church

The fifth tooth of the wolf is feminism. This post will be very politically incorrect, I realize, but it must be said. The other caveat I would issue here is that the church, in reacting against feminism, should not denigrate the gifts God has given to women, and should be actively looking for ways in which women can use their gifts in proper settings. Sometimes it seems as if the attitude towards women in conservative churches is more focused on what women cannot do, as opposed to encouraging women to do what they should do.

One other caveat should be given here, and that is that not all forms of feminism are the same. Not all feminists, for instance, would agree with every point of Sittema’s description. There is definitely a range of opinions on these matters. All these caveats aside, there is no doubt that the feminism Sittema describes is very dangerous to the church.

Here are the points that Sittema summarizes from James Dobson’s analysis of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. In other words, this appears to be fairly mainline feminism. For those of us used to kinder, gentler forms of feminism, this may come as something of a shock. But this is their agenda: 1. Marriage is the enemy for women, since men are by definition oppressors. 2. The family is to blame for violence suffered by women. 3. The sex of a baby is something imposed on them from birth, and is not biological (i.e., it is entirely a social construct, and is therefore oppressive). 4. The language of “wife, husband, son, daughter, sister, brother,” etc. must be changed to “parent, spouse, child, and sibling.” 5. The government needs to mandate that household responsibilities be divided 50/50, and so must the military also. 6. Abortion is a mandated right for all women. 7. The homosexual agenda walks hand in hand with feminism in its redefinition of traditional roles and sex. 8. All patriarchal religions must be oppressed. 9. The Bible is not authoritative when it oppresses women by forbidding teaching roles to them over men. If the Bible does not speak to modern women’s experience, then it has no authority there. 10. Traditional Christian doctrines need to be redefined, including the doctrine of man, God, sin, redemption, and Christology, to be more favorable to women.

One can quickly see, first of all, that what many of us would regard as “radical” feminism is actually more mainstream. This is what the world council on feminism has said.

Second of all, one can see that if feminism has its way, then the Bible’s authority will be completely undermined. I have seen two approaches to the Bible in feminism. The first approach is to deny the Bible’s authority. This is actually the more honest approach. The other approach (especially with passages such as 1 Timothy 2) is to “interpret” the passage to make it mean pretty much the opposite of what it actually says. This is done by the so-called “evangelical feminists,” who still want to cling to the authority of the Bible. As Ligon Duncan said, if one can make “I do not permit a women to teach or have authority over a man” to mean “I do permit a women to teach or have authority over a man,” then one can make the Bible say absolutely anything.

Sittema suggests four ways of fighting feminism in the church: 1. Teach the Biblical model of gender relationships. 2. Don’t over-react. We must remember that there are a range of views. Just because someone might say something like one of the above 10 points doesn’t mean that they believe all of them. 3. Use women and their gifts in the church. He quotes the memorable dictum “cults are the unpaid debts of the church.” If the church were to encourage women to use their gifts to the best of their ability, and in the right setting, then feminism would not have much room to make inroads into our churches. 4. Honor marriage, family, and motherhood within the church. Show the church how much the Bible praises these things, and what a high calling these are for women. I would add 5. Be sympathetic towards women who really have been abused by men. This should never be tolerated, even though our definitions of “abuse” will be different from the feminists’ definition. We would not regard keeping men as elders and deacons in the church as a form of abusing women, for instance. But verbal and physical abuse of women does happen, and we should never become soft on such abuse just because we’re reacting against feminism.

Pragmatism and the Church

The fourth tooth of the wolf is pragmatism, and it is a real doozy. I can’t tell how many times I’ve seen people make decisions on this basis, completely ignoring what the Bible might say. Here is Sittema’s excellent definition of pragmatism: “Pragmatism means first you determine whether an act seems practical, whether its consequences bring you pleasure or pain, and by that process you determine what is right or wrong” (p. 67). What is right is what will increase my pleasure. What is wrong is what will increase my pain. Have a difficult marriage? The pragmatic approach says get out, whether or not such a divorce has biblical grounds or not. Have an unwanted pregnancy that will cramp your style? Just get rid of the child in an abortion. We don’t need to worry about what the Bible says, do we? This is the approach of pragmatism, and it is part and parcel of the world’s philosophy of life. Everything is calculated down to a nicety on the scale of pleasure and pain, or convenience, or advantage. But have you noticed what happens in such a philosophy? The Bible gets thrown out the window. All of a sudden, it doesn’t matter anymore what the Bible says. What matters is what will work. Another example: if a church is getting low on men who are willing to lead, then since we have to have leaders, why not elect a woman to fill the spot? Pragmatism over-rides the Biblical mandates. This is a very insidious philosophy, since it overturns the law of God, thus constituting a direct attack on the authority of the Law-giver, God Himself.

Sittema makes the excellent point that pragmatism is NOT practical (p. 68). We must distinguish between “pragmatic” and “practical.” They are not the same thing. Being truly practical means putting into practice what the Bible says. Being pragmatic means throwing out what the Bible says. Hard to believe as it may seem, therefore, oftentimes “practical” and “pragmatic” are actually complete opposites.

Sittema’s suggestions for combating this philosophy: 1. Ask “why” a lot as the elder visits his flock. Pragmatism is not that difficult to detect. Most of the time, it is a simple “fly by the seat of the pants” approach without any biblical considerations coming into play whatsoever. 2. Teach God’s standards as eternal, unchangeable truths. God’s unchanging law determines what is right and wrong, not what brings worldly happiness. 3. Discuss case studies with the youth and enable them to see the radically different ways that people make choices, and make clear to them what God says. I would add 4. Keep the law in front of the people often, with all the caveats that needs (distinguishing among the three uses of the law, etc.).

The Manhattan Declaration

I know I’m a bit slow to comment on the Manhattan Declaration, but I wanted some of my fathers in the faith to speak out first before I said anything. I had some initial impressions, but wanted them debated before I stuck out my neck. I shall stick it out now.

On each of the three issues, I issue a hearty amen to the position of the declaration. It would be difficult to do otherwise, when these issues are of such paramount importance, and the stance taken so completely biblical. I have picketed abortion clinics in the past, and support doing so now and in the future (as long as it is done legally). I firmly stand for marriage as God has defined it, not as how man wants to redefine it. And, in our context, where the freedom to worship God has been constantly eroded by humanistic thinking, what Christian wouldn’t be eager to say that he wants the freedom to worship the God he loves?

However, the concerns of Sproul, MacArthur, Horton, and Challies have all raised some very important issues about particular words and ideas used in the effort to create a monolithic Christian coalition on these issues. And there is where the rub lies. How is the word “gospel” and “Christian,” among other words, being used in this document? Is it a wax nose, twistable by any signer or reader into the shape he wishes? I was forced to come to this conclusion: those words are empty vessels, into which anyone can pour what meaning he chooses. I would much have preferred language like this: “Although we do not agree on the definition of “gospel” or “Christian” or “justification,” we can agree on these social issues.” This, I think, would have allowed folks like the ones linked above to sign this document in good conscience. It is really too bad that these flaws are deal-breakers for the men listed above, and for myself, especially when SOO many men I deeply respect have signed it, and when I yearn to say yes on the particular issues.

On Abortion

Try to guess who said this:

She who first began the practice of tearing out her tender progeny deserved to die in her own warfare. Can it be that, to be free of the flaws of stretchmarks, you have to scatter the tragic sands of carnage? Why will you subject your womb to the weapons of abortion and give dread poisons to the unborn? The tigress lurking in Armenia does no such thing, nor does the lioness dare destroy her young. Yet tender girls do so- though not with impunity; often she who kills what is in her womb dies herself.

No fair using Google Search or any other search.

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