An Irenic Conversation

by Reed DePace

Last year after GA I made a post expressing concern about the apparent unwillingness to discuss differences. Here is a post from TE James Hakim making the same point in a gentle and peaceful way:


An Irenic Conversation

Husband: as you know, I like to hear your concerns and address them.
Wife: I’m so glad, because I have this list of concerns, based on our current situation
Husband: I’ve reviewed your list, and note that we addressed some of these things 37 years ago and others 15 years ago. Since we said the correct things at those times, it would be out of order for me to reaffirm similar things again. Besides, if we talk about it again, I might get into trouble for saying the wrong thing this time.
Wife: Oh… well… I’d really still like to talk about
Husband: [interrupting] I’m sorry, that discussion is out of order at this time
Wife: Well… there’s this other issue that matters much to me. There is a wrong decision that we have made that threatens our marriage entirely. Here’s my report on that…
Husband: I see. Yes, that might have been the wrong decision, but we made it in the right way.
Wife: Well, can we revisit it?
Husband: No, the right way of making decisions like this is to never revisit them.
Wife: I’d like to change what we call “the right way” of making decisions. Here is my proposal…
Husband: Even though this is something totally new, it incorporates one element of the way we used to make decisions, which I didn’t like back then. Besides, this would be very inconvenient.
Wife: But if doing things rightly in a way that saves our marriage is inconvenient, isn’t it worth a little inconvenience?
Husband: If we talk about this more we’ll be late for lunch. This part of the discussion is over.
Wife: It is? Well, could we thank God and pray together?
Husband: If we do that, you might think that I was approving what we were thanking God and praying for.
Wife: Is that bad?
Husband: Well, if we approve things that God approves of, but the people that hate Him disapprove of them, we might offend those people, and then they wouldn’t like us enough to stop hating God.
Wife: But… isn’t it the point that we thank God and pray to Him because He is the One who makes people stop hating Him, not they themselves?
Husband: No. It makes it hard to get a hearing from them.
Wife: Are you really against thanking God and praying to Him?
Husband: uh… er… ok, let’s do it real quick
[short prayer]
Husband: I’m glad we could have such an irenic conversation. I feel great about how good our marriage is.

Disclaimer: any apparent resemblance to recent ecclesiastical events is intentional, but the author is grateful for any discrepancies between the analogy and the reality. In fact, the author hopes that there are many, many more of these discrepancies than he has so far been able to identify.

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

Theistic Evolution and the PCA

by Reed DePace, TE, PCA

O.k., I know this is a touchy subject. Yet it is important. I’m not going to name names, as to do that with the respect owed to brothers would take up much more space than I have here. I am however, going to say that I am persuaded that the teaching of theistic evolution is occurring within the PCA.

Some of this is overt; those involved know that this is what they are teaching. Some of this is under layers of rationalizing that hides the connection to theistic evolution (sometimes even from those supporting the rationalizations). Either way, there is support for theistic evolution going in our denomination.

So what! Right? Well, mark me as a trouble maker if you wish, but theistic evolution is deadly. It is a doctrine that presupposes the validity of an origins theory that fundamentally denies the Biblical origins doctrine. And in doing so, it proves a fatal poison to the gospel.

We can spend our time trying to parse out what “death” is, but we doomed to fail up front because evolution in theistic evolution is antithetical to the Bible. Evolution is fundamentally opposed to the Bible’s explanation of death. We may think we can wall off some limited form of death that protects the historic credibility of the Fall into sin and the ensuing curse of all creation. Yet beginning from a position that affirms that in any manner, to any degree, the reign of death now being experienced throughout the created order is actually how God created things in the first place leaves us with no hope.

Evolution calls good everything the Bible says is God’s judgment on Man’s sin. It truly is a matter of darkness denying the light. There is no compromise with it that will succeed. We don’t have a choice if we are to maintain the Bible’s integrity. Whatever the natural processes before the fall (biological, geological, astronomical, et.al.) they cannot partake of what God calls the reign of death. They cannot be a variation of it or a perfected form of it.

To so argue makes biblical interpretation no more than metaphor. If first Adam is nothing more than a metaphor, then last Adam is likewise nothing more than a metaphor. You agree in even a small way that the reign of death IS NOT exclusively a result of the fall and you lose the gospel. No fall, no judgment; no judgment, no atonement; no atonement, no gospel.

It is that simple.

by Reed DePace, TE, PCA

POSTSCRIPT: here is a good starting article to consider problems evolution: What Are the Top Ten Problems with Darwinian Evolution? This is a scientific perspective, not a biblical perspective. For those interested in an informed and reasonable critique of evolution from a science perspective, I recommend this site.

It Comes Down to This

by Reed DePace

It seems to me that the results of the Meyers, Lawrence and Leithart matters have the effect of focusing the issues involved. In all three situations Presbyteries have concluded that teachings which appear consistent with FV teachings denounced by the PCA Study Report are in fact not out of accord with our doctrinal standards.

The common threads seem to be that each of these men:

1. Affirms the Westminster Standards (WS), and
2. Their teachings in question do not contradict the WS, and
3. [Therefore] their teachings do not conflict with the PCA FV Study Report.

The rationale that seems to logically support these conclusions centers is the claim that the teachings in question are only about the benefits of salvation which the reprobate church member receives. As this is not (supposedly) something addressed by the WS (which only addresses the benefits received by the decretally elect), therefore these teachings do not conflict with our standards. E.g., this is usually heard in the FV claim to be speaking about salvation (or any other ordo salutis benefit) in different way than the WS, but in a way that the Bible also speaks.

I’m thinking that this is pretty much the heart of the rationale rested upon by the presbyters in three presbyteries when they decided to find these men “not guilty” (in the case of Lawrence and Leithart explicitly, Meyers implicitly). That is, this argument for the defense sounds both reasonable and biblical to the men tasked with determining whether or not these men’s teachings are out of accord with the WS.

If I’m right, then it comes down to this,

Does the Bible teach a secondary way of salvation, a way of salvation that is experienced by the reprobate church member that is parallel but different in terms of duration than the way of salvation experienced by the decretally elect?

If yes, then the FV is not out of accord with the WS? If no, then it is.

It would seem to me that future efforts to demonstrate the biblical errors of these teachings must deal with this dual salvation scheme. It must deal with demonstrating that this is not the biblical teaching. It will not suffice to argue exclusively from the WS, as men teaching these things can simply respond, “amen, and also …” It must be shown that the Bible does not support the FV’ers parallel secondary way of salvation for the reprobate church member.

If this can be shown then the elders having to make the judgments in these matters will be greatly supported.

Well?

By Reed DePace

Leithart “potentially” Out of Accord

The SJC has affirmed its panel’s finding that there is a strong presumption that Rev. Dr. Peter Leithart is out of accord with the Westminster Standards (in regards to the matters investigated.) Accordingly, the Presbytery of the NorthWest is ordered to follow through with a proper BCO investigation.

See Rev. Jason Stellman’s, one of the original complainants, comments here.

The SJC ruling can be downloaded here. I note that the record of the vote demonstrates there was little disagreement as to the rightness of the finding (17 concur, 2 dissenting, with no minority report to be filed.)

I particularly appreciate declaration no. 6 from the decision: “6) The view that water baptism effects a “covenantal union” with Christ through which each baptized persons receives the saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.”

I think the SJC has done a good job of both fairly representing the FV and succinctly defining the problematic nature. The parallel “covenant” soteriological system is contrary to the Standards, and I might add, to the Scriptures.

I affirm and echo Jason’s sadness and prayers for a resolution other than a trial. Church discipline procedes by degrees because at each step of the way it is an expression of faith, pleading for the Spirit to lead an erring brother to repentance.

This is my prayer. It has happened before.

Posted by TE Reed DePace

The General Evangelical Nature of the PCA

This post is in response to a suggestion from my good friend, Wes, whose blog you should definitely read, if you don’t now.

One thing that greatly concerns me (and him) is the sloppy nature of the PCA’s evangelical middle. I asked myself this question: why did 95% of the PCA vote in favor of the PCA’s study committee report? Was it because everyone thought that justification by faith alone needed to be protected? Undoubtedly, many in the PCA thought that. However, I’m not sure that this is the general case with the evangelical middle. I’m sure there are exceptions even here. However, what strikes me about the FV and the NPP is its neonomian tendencies. No one would ever accuse an FV’er or a NPP’er of being an antinomian. It has never happened yet, to my knowledge.

I think a lot of what drove the PCA’s decision is the genuinely antinomian character of much of the evangelical middle. They were reacting to the neonomian tendencies of the FV and the NPP, and therefore they voted against it. Be assured that I am glad they voted the way they did. However, it raises the question in my mind about their true theological stance. It has been a commonplace in critics’ evaluations of the FV that there is general agreement about the problem. The problems of rampant Endarkenment individualism (surely Enlightenment is too strong a word!), antinomianism, and general evangelical mush are evident to the FV’ers, as to many critics of the FV. What are we going to do about this? How will this victory over the FV in the PCA translate when it comes to evangelical feminism, which I realize is a contradiction in terms? What about the Arminianism rampant in the PCA today? Will we be confessional, or won’t we?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 349 other followers