Embracing Kantian Divides in the PCA

Overture 22 is asking a question that embraces the Kantian divide. What do I mean by this somewhat cryptic comment? The overture asks for a study committee on whether a person can hold to women’s ordination as an exception while agreeing not to practice it. The Kantian divide is the idea that what we believe is in a completely different realm from what we do. Put another way, the realm of belief is not an object of knowledge in the way that the realm of what we see is. We can’t know what is “up there” in terms of belief. We can only have faith. We can have knowledge about the world that we see. That is the Kantian divide: stuff “up there” can only be believed, whereas stuff “down here” can be known. Kant wound up with the categorical imperative: It has resulted in many other divides that have been hurtful not only to the church, but even to entire fields of knowledge. It has resulted in the increasing fragmentation of knowledge.

The overture asks if we can allow someone to hold to a belief without practicing it. The very question of whether we can do that on any issue is a highly problematic assumption that is not spelled out in the overture. The Puritans would never have dreamed of separating doctrine and practice in this way. The apostle Paul makes it crystal clear that the commands for us to do something are always based on doctrine. The imperative (the command) is always based on the indicative (what has already happened in Christ). Overture 22 would separate this biblical connection, and allow us to hold a belief that we agree not to practice.

Of course, the other major example of this in the PCA is the issue of paedo-communion. Many Presbyteries allow men to hold (and even teach!) paedo-communion without practicing it. I would strongly challenge whether we can separate belief and practice this neatly and this completely. Sooner or later, the age of children allowed at the table gets earlier and earlier until they are playing footsie with their vows. It is utterly naive to think that a person’s beliefs will not affect his practice. Besides the fact that paedo-communion actually runs contrary to about 17 places in the Westminster Standards, our current practice in the PCA is Kantian, and not biblical. Kantianism is the underlying assumption of all modernist philosophy and the secular West.


  1. Ben Inman said,

    June 12, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    The line between believing and practicing is voting. Votes in the minority aren’t real (unless a man insists on it). Votes in the majority are real: they will be determinative.

  2. Andrew said,

    June 12, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I quite agree with you on the matter of women’s ordination. I would suggest, however, that the distinction between belief and practice is biblical, necessary and wise. As such it has also been followed by many fathers in the father. On this particular issue I would say that accepting women’s ordination in theory is sufficient to bar a man from office, regardless of his determination to practice.

    Biblically, the distinction is made by Paul in his teaching on Christian liberty: I don’t object to eating food sacrificed to idols, but I don’t practice because of the effects it would have on others.

    Historically, John Hooper made a great deal of being ordained without vestments; Bucer, though agreeing, advised that this was not the issue to die on (I think the names are right).

    On an everyday level, I know many officebearers whose beliefs diverged from current church practice on things like frequency of communion, order of worship, participation of congregation in worship, etc.

  3. Frank Aderholdt said,

    June 12, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    “Kantian” is the philosophical way of stating the problem.

    I would add a little more “earthy” expression. Guys of my generation will remember the cowboys and Indians TV shows and movies of the 1950’s. You could always count on some Indian saying, “White man speak with fork’-ed tongue.”

    (Sorry, I’m too old now to switch to “native American.” Besides, I always thought I was one of those.)

  4. Cris Dickason said,

    June 12, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    I would agree with Lane’s point, as the philosophical root or milieu for the mentality in the overture. It is dangerous to proceed in this manner (my private, personal opinion vs. public or outward behavior) on a matter of substance, on a matter where acting on the “private opinion” is known & declared to be wrong. If the BCO is clear on the gender distinctions for ordained office, it is eventually going to be a problem if the PCA openly allows or approves of “privately” holding the contrary view. It amounts to allowing men to subscribe to the standards, take their ordination vows with fingers crossed.

    Qualifications for office in the church are not matters indifferent or matters of Christian liberty. I have the liberty in Christ to enjoy an ale or a Scotch (single-malt, neat), but I also have the obligation, out of love for one Christ has died for, to forgo that practice, for the sake of the weaker brother. That is an entirely different matter, knowing I’m free to enjoy an adult beverage, but not doing so, if it causes offense to one of Christ’s own. The issues of ordination vows and adhering to the confessional standards, which reflect the system of doctrine in the Word, not much there that fits into “Christian liberty.”

  5. greenbaggins said,

    June 13, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Andrew, there is definitely a distinction to be made between doctrine and practice. However, they must never be separated, which is what the overture and the current practice in allowing paedocommunion are doing. I never advocated a confusion of doctrine and practice in the original piece. Instead, I argue for their inseparability.

  6. Stuart said,

    June 13, 2014 at 8:37 am

    One of my concerns with issues like this is the binding of a man’s conscience. As a pastor, if I really believed women should be allowed to be elders, then it seems my conscience is being bound if the Presbytery says “You can believe this, but you may not practice or teach it.”

    Since I don’t believe the Bible permits women elders, I have no such issue. But for the men who do have these convictions, there are other denominations that allow them to hold that view and would not bind their consciences. Wouldn’t it be better for such a man AND for the PCA if he simply lived by his convictions and went elsewhere? Wouldn’t it lead more to the peace of the denomination if such a man understood that his view would cause issues? I have recently talked to some men who have done just that, and they seem much freer and happier in denominations closer to their personal belief systems.

    I realize there are issues that are not of primary or even secondary importance that we may have convictions about but out of love for our brothers we don’t practice those things. But can we really say women’s ordination is on the same level as convictions about drinking a beer in public in a small Southern town or having the Harry Potter books in a prominent place on our bookshelves when certain folks come over?

  7. andrew said,

    June 13, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Re 5. Point taken. But if you recognize the examples provided by Christian liberty, you are surely embracing a Kantian divide yourself: at least, if I were in the shoes of those sponsoring Overture 22, that is what I would say.

    It would be simpler to argue that the theoretical holding of women’s ordination involves other theoretical holdings (view of Scripture), that it is simply too big to allow.

    For what it is worth, lay members live with this ‘Kantian’ divide all the time: there are lots of things that they think wrong or unwise, but go along with for the greater good. (i.e being teachable and submissive).

  8. greenbaggins said,

    June 13, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Andrew, how exactly am I embracing a Kantian divide? I reject his formulation completely. I believe that theology is the queen of the SCIENCES, for instance, not merely a matter of faith. I reject the isolation of doctrine from practice. I believe in the inter-related nature of all the theological disciplines. This is completely anti-Kantian. So how, pray, am I falling foul of the Kantian divide?

  9. Josh said,

    June 13, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I agree with Stuart. Why would the PCA want to put men in a position where they must choose between violating their own beliefs and violating their ordination vows?

    Why would men of integrity allow themselves to be put in such a position?

  10. Andrew said,

    June 13, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Lane, you disagree with the idea that ” we can allow someone to hold to a belief without practicing it.”, which you term the Kantian divide.

    I pointed out that this is exactly what Paul commands in his teaching on Christian liberty. I gave an historical example of vestments. Chris gave the example of alcohol, and Stuart our attitude to Harry Potter books.

    Perhaps you disagree with this common understanding of Christian liberty, in which case full marks for consistency. But if you do accept that chap can believe it is permissible to drink, but decide not to for the sake of the body, I would like to know the difference between this and what Overture 22 suggests (other than the importance of the issue).

    As a further example, my own denomination requires members to ‘show a teachable and submissive spirit towards the church’ which seems to be allowing folks to believe one thing and do another, but perhaps the laity are allowed to straddle this Kantian divide. Or perhaps you see this membership requirement as part of the downward trend, and would require full subscription of members as well as office bearers.

  11. greenbaggins said,

    June 13, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, Andrew. That helps a lot.

    I would express things this way: issues of Christian freedom (of which one’s views on women’s ordination are NOT a part) are bounded by my brother’s conscience. So, issues like whether to drink alcohol are bounded by whether I will make my brother stumble. These kinds of issues are not the same kinds of issues as women’s ordination, because the Bible does not give us leeway on women’s ordination.

    I would say that the Kantian divide does not exist on issues of Christian freedom, because it is part of my belief that the liberty in question is already bounded by a brother’s conscience. So, in that area, both drinking and refraining from drinking would be dependent on the circumstance of whether I am in the presence of a weaker brother. Therefore, partaking and refraining from partaking are simultaneously in the realm of belief and practice. This is not true with regard to women’s ordination, which the Bible gives no freedom on.

  12. horace said,

    June 13, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    The Overture is not about a point of Christian liberty, it is about a specific teaching of Scripture regarding the qualifications for leading the Lord’s flock (and it is really quite plain to everyone who shows a teachable and submissive spirit). That so many men want to find the “liberty” and the wiggle room and have their exceptions to Scripture blessed by the PCA prompts me to repeat the point Josh and Stuart made, i.e. “Why would men of integrity…?”

    The Lord said let your Yes be Yes and your No be No, he didn’t say “Let your exception be this and that”.

    Praying for the PCA.

  13. Jack Miller said,

    June 14, 2014 at 1:08 am

    The Overture is not about a point of Christian liberty, it is about a specific teaching of Scripture regarding the qualifications for leading the Lord’s flock (and it is really quite plain to everyone who shows a teachable and submissive spirit).

    Amen, horace said. The issue of Christian liberty of conscience turns on whether one is a public person or a private person in the church. One ordained is a public person, one who vows to uphold the church’s teachings through his teaching and shepherding. How can one truly teach that which he doesn’t truly believe? I wonder how much the ethos of “tolerance” is influencing the thinking of some when it comes to doctrine.

  14. Bobby said,

    June 14, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    It’s unclear to me why the propriety of consuming alcohol is substantively any different from women’s ordination. In my church, the overwhelming majority of members favor ordination of women to the office of elder and deacon. But we view this as a secondary issue, not of sufficient substance to cause us to break our peace with the denomination as a whole. That being said, we nevertheless believe that this is an issue that has more to do with social context than Scripture. In that sense, the BCO seems to make Southern social attitudes regarding the roles of women normative to the denomination as a whole. Perhaps it’s true that having women elders in Mississippi would be disruptive. But there’s no reason why the peculiar cultural mores of Mississippi should be imposed on churches in LA, SFO, Boston, NYC, DC, and Chicago.

    At the current time, there are practical work-arounds. For example my church has a single ruling elder who, within the context of our church, is merely referred to as a “presbytery liaison”. Even so, I don’t think he’s ever attended a presbytery meeting in the 5 years he’s held the position. In fact, someone recently conveyed to me that it had been over 2 years since a single ruling elder from any church on my presbytery had attended a presbytery meeting. Instead, most decisions in our church are made by an unordained leadership council that is about evenly divided between men and women. The local presbytery does little of substance besides administering ordination exams.

  15. Jack Bradley said,

    June 14, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Lane, I want to use a concrete example to think through this “Kantian Divide”. Let’s take the recent PCA intinction controversy. (BTW, even though I’m pro-paedocommunion, I do not favor intinction and do not see it as central to paedocommunion). Given how this debate played out (below), with the final vote rendering a sizeable *majority* against prohibiting intinction, are we to say that they are all now guilty of this Kantian Divide?

    http://theaquilareport.com/at-the-pca-general-assembly-overtures-committee-report/ :

    “Those who made arguments against said that denying the overture does not approve intinction, but rather it is the better way to deal with the issue. There are many portions of communion that vary from church to church, use of wine or grape juice; sitting at tables, sitting in pews, coming to the front, etc. and that this is another option. A firm argument was made to allow local option when one congregation desires to do things in a way they approve.

    At the point of the vote, it appeared close enough that the Moderator asked for a counted vote. That count resulted in a vote of 348 in favor of changing the BCO to not allow intinction and 334 against the change, a margin of only 14 votes. The proposed change now goes to the Presbyteries for confirmation. It takes 2/3 of the Presbyteries to approve the change, and if that occurs, another majority vote at next year’s assembly.”

    http://byfaithonline.com/intinction-amendment-fails/ :
    Intinction Amendment Fails

    “The 40th General Assembly passed an overture to revise “Book of Church Order” 58-5. The change would prohibit the practice of intinction (dipping bread into a common cup instead of receiving the bread and cup separately). Two-thirds of the PCA’s 80 presbyteries must approve the change for the motion to pass. As of Jan. 23, 41 presbyteries had reported their vote. Twelve presbyteries have voted in favor of the change; 29 have rejected it, making it impossible to reach the two-thirds required.”

    I think this demonstrates that on some issues (paedocommunion a good case in point, given its large minority in the PCA) we must allow room for conscientious exceptions, with the understanding that such an officer has vowed submission to his brothers, in which case he can fence the table without violating his conscience.

    I’m not in a position to know whether the pro-intinction officers continue to practice that or not, but of course the pro-paedocommunion officers do not practice their view. They have submitted their consciences to the brethren, while taking an exception—based on conscience.
    The PCA appears clearly to be allowing that, at the least, with the intinction issue. What am I missing? (That is a sincere question, because I did not follow the intinction issue closely.)

    BTW, I am definitely not in favor of the ordination of women, and will readily admit that I could not, conscientiously, vote to ordain a man who is in favor. That’s just it: each presbyter must determine the extent/degree of violation to his conscience. I could vote in favor of a man who believes in intinction, even though I think it is unwarranted. But the ordination of women involves a greater degree of violation to my conscience, which I trust, is fully informed by Scripture.

  16. Jack Bradley said,

    June 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Just to be clear, it goes without saying that paedocommunionists fence the table at all times from the unbaptized and unworthy (ungodly).

  17. Reed Here said,

    June 14, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Bobby: are you saying you are unfamiliar with the biblically based arguments used to conclude that women cannot hold biblically appointed offices in the Church?

    Or are you saying that you don’t agree with those arguments?

    Can you tell us your church/denomination?

  18. Reed Here said,

    June 14, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Bobby, as well, please identify yourself a bit more fully. If for reason you prefer not to do so on-blog, please feel free to contact me off-blog (reed here at gmail dot com).

    Lane’s blog rules do not allow for anonymous or pseudonymous posting without his agreement. Thanks.

  19. Andrew said,

    June 15, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    “I would say that the Kantian divide does not exist on issues of Christian freedom, because it is part of my belief that the liberty in question is already bounded by a brother’s conscience. So, in that area, both drinking and refraining from drinking would be dependent on the circumstance of whether I am in the presence of a weaker brother. Therefore, partaking and refraining from partaking are simultaneously in the realm of belief and practice.”

    Excellent response, and very clearly put!

  20. June 19, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Bobby, I’d like to ask similar questions as my former comrade in Ascension Presbytery–Reed Here. If you’re in the PCA then your church is definitely doing a “work around”. Just curious, are you a TE? I, for one, think Ruling Elders are the backbone of Presbyterian polity and your presbytery’s situation boggles my mind. If a TE resigns and takes another call, then the congregation carries on–with help of presbytery hopefully–. If a church acquires the dubious status of having no RE’s, then the matter is much graver. No presbyters means your not Presbyterian, ipso facto.

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