Clearing Out the Fog

TE Reed DePace

Some months ago, I realized I was going to have to come to some conclusions about the nature of same sex attraction (SSA) and its interaction with the question of ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America. Up to that point, I had sought to stay on top of the wide variety of conversation on relevant topics. From social media chat, to blog posts, to online magazine articles, to podcasts, to private digital conversations, I made time to delve deeply into this topic. My calling as a pastor and a presbyter demanded this of me.

And, some months ago I acknowledged to myself that I was hopelessly in a fog about all this. One brother from one side makes a credible challenge. Someone from the other side offers a credible response. The former gives a valid pushback I hadn’t considered. Chalk up another “who’s right/who’s wrong” moment. Tally up months and months of exchanges, pro and con, for and against, yea and nay, and I think many can appreciate my fog imagery in these events and subjects.

About a month ago, in preparation for our forty-eighth general assembly, I determined to try and boil things down into a set of vital issues to be addressed. While neither exhaustive nor exclusive, these are:

  • Is there credible information validating TE Johnson’s orthodoxy on the issues before us?
  • Is a man with an ongoing struggle with SSA ordainable to office within the PCA?

It seems to me that these are the crux of the matters before us. Thus, if I was going to be able to navigate the churning fog of these issues to safely land on the biblical runway, answering these was essential.

On the first question, with sadness, my conclusion is a no.

To be sure, TE Johnson expresses a noble missional focus: to bring the gospel to a community at best ignored by the (evangelical) church, and at worst (often) stigmatized by Christ’s Bride. To this, I affirm with a willingness to invest some of my ministry in the same missional focus.

Also to be sure, TE Johnson expresses an understandable commitment to the need for contextualizing his gospel witness to this community. Again, while there is no common ground between God and the sinner, there is common ground between we saint-sinners and the LGBTQ-sinners we’ve been sent to reach. Of course, some contextualizing is a necessary part of our apologetic introduction to them. Even if this means nothing more than entering into deeds of love that “earn” trust within this suffering community, this is entirely understandable, and indeed, biblically sound.

Yet it is here that I’ve (again, sadly!) concluded that there is not sufficient credible information validate TE Johnson’s orthodoxy on the issues before us. Without seeking to prove these observations (since I expect these are rather common amongst many of us): TE Johnson’s contextualization involves adopting critical parts of the metanarrative (the worldview) of the Side-B community. To be specific, TE Johnson clearly and succinctly agrees that the Side-A position (SSA men/women identifying as Christians may engage in homosexual acts in the context of homosexual marriage) is biblically condemned. Yet in seeking to minister to those affirming the Side-B position (SSA men/women identifying as Christians engaging in celibacy), TE Johnson all too frequently adopts the words, the language, and even the dialogical constructs used by those in this community. That is, he adopts the hermeneutic of Side-B.These words, language, and constructs are at times sub-biblical, and at other times contra-biblical.

To be sure, over the years since these issues arose (circa 2018) TE Johnson has offered clarifying language to us inside his doctrinal camp. And most often, sometimes after a bit more questioning for clarity, he has offered expressions that are biblically sound.

Yet then, in another venue, speaking to those outside his doctrinal camp, TE Johnson will yet again offer contextualized expressions that fit with Side-B sub/contra-biblical positions! This pattern has been repeated again, and again, and…

It is not unreasonable for me to ask, “Wait a minute, that contradicts your previously clarification of what you first said that contradicted our biblical convictions. What gives?” It is not reasonable for TE Johnson (or those who defend him) to respond with: “See my prior answer; asked-answered, nothing new here, move on now, drop it.” To be sure, I’ve grown increasingly grateful for what I see as growing gracefulness in TE Johnson’s response to his interlocutors. Yet, my hope for unity then gets smacked in the face when I hear of yet another interview/comment, etc. in which he once again offers contradictory comments. It is entirely reasonable for someone to ask, “Since he continues to offer confusing and contradictory information, what, then, are TE Johnson’s real beliefs on these issues?”

Yet, seeking to cut through the fog, I’ve concluded that I simply do not have the time, resources, and maybe even the ability, to adequately answer such questions. Thus, following the precepts of assuming the best of a brother (1Co 13:4-7), I’ve chosen to conclude the best in these circumstances: TE Johnson is most likely confused on how to apply our doctrinal standards to his apologetic to the Side-B community. Whether this is due to a defective understanding of biblical contextualization (my sense), or something else, does not matter. A TE is called to speak with clarity, not be a fog machine. (To be sure, I’m not suggesting I’d do any better; but then, I’ve not sought to engage at the level TE Johnson has.)

Let me be clear: my answer to this first question does not resolve to saying TE Johnson does not have a credible faith, or even that he is not orthodox on these issues. Rather my conclusion simply states that his lack of clarity, based on this repeated pattern, yields a fog making it impossible to validate his orthodoxy on these things.

That leaves me with the second question: is a man struggling with SSA ordainable? My answer is a qualified no.

My answer revolves around the issues of what does it mean to be above reproach, and the issue of what the Bible describes as sexual immorality contrary to nature (i.e., “unnatural” desire, Jude 1:7; Rom 1:26-27). Rather than repeat myself, I’ll let my words at this prior post offer more explanation. Suffice to say here, a man affirming that he has an ongoing struggle with same sex attraction (homoerotic desire as suggested by a fellow TE supporting TE Johnson), is NOT above reproach, and therefore not ordainable.

How this applies to the situation of TE Johnson is still in the fog for me. As implied above (necessarily inferred by me), I think TE Johnson might not be as he presents himself to those outside the PCA, as a man who is in effect a “gay” Christian as they are, i.e., someone firmly in the Side-B camp. It may very well be that TE Johnson is better described according to the past tense language of 1Co 6:11 (in the context of 1Co 6:9-10). Yet, as long as he continues to adopt the Side-B hermeneutic in his apologetics, it is unclear (i.e., the fog machine issue) whether he has experienced the degree of mortification that would make him above reproach.

To simplify here: a man with SSA in his life is ordainable depending on whether a present tense or a past tense applies to this issue in his life. If a man demonstrates that his struggle with SSA is past tense, then he has experienced the mortification that makes him above reproach on this issue. If however, this man demonstrates that SSA is a present struggle for him, then mortification has not yet qualified him as above reporach on this issue.

I get my expressions here may be frustrating to some, even on both sides of these issues. Yet my purpose has been to help any I might to the degree they too feel like they’re in a fog on these issues. With malice toward none, mercy and grace toward all, may God grant the PCA purity and peace on these issues.

reed depace

SSA Identification is Not Above Reproach

<rdp> As the Presbyterian Church in America draws closer to this year’s General Assembly, we’re beginning to focus a bit more on the core issues around the question of same-sex-attracted (SSA) men and ordination to sacred office. While there are lots of variables and permutations in front of us, the focus is rightly placed upon the one instantiation (the concrete example) of a teaching elder’s identification as a SSA (homosexual, gay) – (hyphenated) Christian (professing believer in Jesus Christ).

In a previous post I provided a simple summary of why I believe that men so identifying themselves are not above reproach. Accordingly, following the Bible’s rationale here, such men are NOT qualified for sacred office. More, in saying that they are not qualified, this is not a mere declaration that they don’t check off the boxes in a biblical qualifications checklist. No, reading these qualifications via the Bible’s idea of evidence of the Spirit’s work, what I am more fully concluding is that such a man’s lack of the biblical qualifications demonstrates that God has not called him to sacred office. Hence, in submission to the Head of the Body, the Church, we cannot place hands on him in ordination to sacred office.

Of course, these opinions generate some questions, most quite understandable and reasonable. I don’t propose I am the person to answer all these questions. I am not equipped to answer some of them, nor do I have the time to answer all of them. Suffice to say, I strongly recommend reliance on resources from others. Among those, let me highlight a few that presently are drawing my attention (in hopes that you may find them useful too):

Following my previous behavior, this past week I’ve sought to carefully listen to those interacting with my blog post, especially those who’ve disagreed with me. As of today, I am even more persuaded that an SSA-Christian man is not qualified for/not called to sacred office. He is not above reproach. Such a man has established as part of his identity a sin that is against nature (Jude 1:7; Rom 1:26). This identification may be nothing more than a confusion of a worldly-informed identity matrix (complex of principles). Yet at the very least such an identification marks him as one who has not (yet) secured the blessing of living in the language of 1Co 6:11:

“And such were some of you.” (e.g., formerly identifying with your SSA, rdp). “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1Co 6:11 ESV)

reed depace

No SSA Clergy in the PCA

<rdp> So for me, this has been a bit of a difficult decision to arrive at. Others I respect got here a lot sooner. Some I respect still decline to even travel in this direction. But, as the headline says above, I am convicted that same-sex-attracted men are not qualified to serve as ministers (teaching elders, pastors) in any denomination that seeks biblical fidelity in their ordination practices. As this is one of the biggie issues in our circles, allow me a few words to explain, support, and defend my conviction.

Background

Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson, a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, is the Sr. pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. He has publicly identified as a man who is both a Christian and gay. That is, he affirms that both labels are essential in describing his core identity. He affirms all of the PCA’s doctrinal standards, including that same sex attraction (SSA) is sinful, both in desire and practice.

Sounds like, “what’s the problem?” at this point, I know. Indeed, when this first came to my attention (as best I recollect, sometime in 2018), after the first few months’ flurry of interaction and discussion I was inclined to think that, while there may be some minor problems, nothing rose to the level of reaching the conclusion I am affirming in this post. I made a connection with Greg (via Facebook). He graciously accepted my friendship request. He engaged in a number of private messages with me, even when he was being bombarded with people wanting a slice of his attention. (Out of care for him, I decided to not take advantage of our social media “friendship”. At best, we’re acquaintances, showing respect and kindness toward one another via social media’s limits.) Greg has treated me with nothing but the best of Christian kindness. I’m grateful to count him among my brothers in Christ, whom I will see around the throne of Christ in glory. Writing this blog post, then, grieves me.

The Nutshell

God requires men to be ordained as ministers in his church (1Ti 2:12). Further, he requires such men to be above reproach:

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you–if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” (Tit 1:5-6 ESV)

I recognize others will have different opinions as to what this means. For me, as God has grown me in the wonders of his perfect grace and mercy in Jesus, his comforting kindness and secure love has led me to a deepening desire to not lean on my own understanding, but align my beliefs and practices as closely as possible to what his Bible says, without variation (Pro 3:5-6). I’ve learned to take quite seriously God’s warnings to neither add to or subtract from his Bible (Dt 4:2; 12:32; Pro 30:6; Rv 22:18-19). I’ve become increasingly cautious that I neither get off-track to the right or to the left in any matter the BIble addresses (Dt 5:32; 28:14; Jos 1:7; Pro 4:27).

This has led me to conclude that identifying as a (SSA) gay-Christian makes a man not above reproach. He may indeed have a credible profession of faith. His life may in every other way be an exemplar of Christian virtue. Yet in the one vital area of sexual ethics, such a man has declared that he is not above reproach. At best, his life is marked by an ongoing struggle with a sexual perversion that both those inside and outside the church identify as debauchery:

“TNDT Dictionary: 112
ἀσώτως aÃsoÒtos [dissolute],
ἀσωτία asoÒtiÃa [debauchery]
The original sense is “incurable”; then we have the ideas of dissipation, gluttony, voluptuousness, and indiscipline. The only OT instances are Prov. 7:11 and 28:7. The reference in Lk. 15:7 is to the prodigal’s life of dissipation, and in Eph. 5:18; Tit. 1:6; 1 Pet. 4:4 to a disorderly life (rather than voluptuousness). [W. FOERSTER, I, 506-07]”

Such debauchery is not limited to the actions of those who indulge their SSA, but it certainly includes such things:

“For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” (1Pt 4:3-4 ESV)

Let me be clear at this point: Greg declares that he has never engaged his SSA. He declares that he continually fights this temptation of his fallen flesh with the resources of Christ. And I believe him! Let no one misread me and infer that I’m suggesting Greg is guilty of SSA practice. I am most certainly not!

Instead, Greg’s own resolute self-identifying as a gay-Christian marks him as one who is ever suspect. His conviction that his SSA is an integral part of his personal identity means that both those in the church and outside the church will always wonder if Greg is free of any and all charges of debauchery. This is even the case for those who believe SSA is not condemnable. Certainly they will never think Greg is chargeable with debauchery, but that is only because they do not believe SSA desire or practice is sinful!

Thus, a Christian man who ongoingly identifies as a gay-Christian is, by that self-identification, declaring himself to be disqualified for sacred office in the church of Christ. All the debates about concupiscence, mortification, etc. (as important as they are), do not remove the disqualifying effect of the self-identification as a gay-Christian. Such a man will, as fine as he and his life may be in all other ways, always be marked this side of eternity as one who may be guilty of a debauchery attached to his SSA. Disappointing and discouraging as this conclusion may be, it is the only one that respects the integrity of Scripture, that takes it exactly at it’s word, neither turning to the left or the right, but maintaining God’s sole authority.

Notwithstandings

I recognize that the discussion on these matters has left many with frustrations. Men on both sides may feel like those on the other have not listened to them, or are guilty (even inadvertently) of equivocation. Yet, in the providence of God, we’ve not seen much progress in collapsing the gaps between us.

I also recognize that the motivations of Greg (and those agreeing with him) are dominated by concerns for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. Even where I’ve been deeply and personally offended by some things found among those supporting Greg’s position, I recognize that the motives have been consistent with the desire to lift up Christ that all the lost elect might be drawn to him and be saved. Nevertheless, the gay-Christian identification is a compromise with the world’s system of thought. It is a syncretism that in time will yield a destructive harvest in the churches that adopt it. Rather than be helpful to the cause of Christ, the insistence that identifying as a gay-Christian is consistent with biblical fidelity is a pernicious error which can only bring dissoluteness.

For such considerations, as much I wish no harm to Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson, I believe we cannot affirm his calling as a minister in the PCA. Rather, I think we have no choice but to take the actions necessary to make sure no man identifying as a gay-Christian is ordained to sacred office. He is not qualified because he is not above reproach.

Offered with prayers for God’s blessing in the hearts of my fellow elders in the PCA,

Rev. Dr. Reed DePace

[Postscript, 4/24/21: thank you to the brother/ministry that made a way for me to attend GA this year after all. See you in St. Louiee!]

Loving Our Country

Each Wednesday morning I send out to our congregation a revival prayer letter. A small group of our members use this every Thursday morning, and others privately, to pray for revival in our church, and in our community.

This morning’s Wednesday’s-4-Revival prayer letter addresses the topic of our nation and the church. While there is not any profound insights in this letter, it does (I hope) offer a biblically ordered and coordinated way of praying for our churches and communities, to the end that both the Kingdom of Christ is advanced, and our nation is blessed.

Given our focus today, I thought I might share it a bit more widely.
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Wednesdays for Revival #64
July 4, 2018
Reed DePace

Loving Our Country

A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us.*


Historically Amazing

 

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photo: jeff hamilton, unsplash

As a fan of history (double undergrad degree in American History and geo-political science), I appreciate how blessed America has been in her short time on earth. She is rightly to be considered among the top ten world-spanning empires in history. This is not just in terms of her power. Yes, in comparison to other nations in her own time, America is the most powerful militarily, economically, and even to some extent, socially. Even today, in the midst of signs of her decline, and the rise of enemies (both old and new), America is the single largest exporter of cultural influence, the ‘currency’ which is a key component of an empire.

Yes, she has her problems. There is (once again) a terribly large and growing gap between her richest and her poorest. As well, real expressions of injustice continue to plague her. Yet, even in these areas of negative assessment, America stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world. America’s poor are at least equal to, and in most cases, more materially blessed than a majority of the poor in the rest of the world. There are even many countries where their middle classes enjoy less material comforts than America’s poor enjoy.

When it comes to justice, yes, any injustice is a stench in God’s nostrils. Yet there is far less injustice in America than in just about any other country in the world. And even where there is injustice, the American system provides a better chance of rectifying and restoring justice than do the vast majority of the rest of the nations that currently fill the earth. What’s more, the level of personal freedom in America, the degree to which the individual can go where they want, when they want, to do what they want, without being questioned, is still among the greatest ever seen.

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photo: frank mckenna, unsplash

Compared to the rest of the Top Ten Empires, America has seen greater prosperity, greater freedom, and greater justice, for a greater percentage of her citizens than all the other world-dominating empires, and by a large margin. If God could tell the Israelites going into captivity under the tyrannical Babylonian Empire that would rape, pillage, and destroy their beloved homeland to:

… work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jer 29:7

How much more do we citizens of the Kingdom of God have greater reason to praise God and seek his blessing on the nation of our earthly citizenship?

Dangerously Ill

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photo: andrew ruiz, unsplash

In spite of her great blessings, it is true that America is in some ways dangerously ill. Given the state of our social discourse, it is almost impossible for me to give examples. For each example I give, some will think they’re hearing me agreeing with them on their list of “America’s Worst Problems.” Still others will take offense, thinking I’ve dissed their list of what they think is wrong with America. The truth of the matter is I just have an opinion, more or less  informed than yours, depending on the topic at hand. But that we can’t even begin to civilly discuss such things possibly demonstrates just how ill America is.

Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided against itself is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart.” Mt 12:25

History shows that any nation in which democracy is the driving political principle is in danger of self-destruction when the majority will not allow for any social (i.e., public) disagreement with their opinions. That is, a democracy is always in danger of dissolving into a mobocracy, the rule of the mob (e.g., think: the French Revolution). While America was founded as a modified expression of democracy (i.e., the will of the majority filtered through and diluted by representative government), our government has more and more moved toward unfiltered, pure democracy. Worse, in our social discourse, our public discussion, and debate of our differences, the mob already rules. Just stand up and offer an opinion that the majority disagrees with. Overnight social hatred will form into an opposition in which its kindest and gentlest will utterly silence you. Worse, and increasingly more commonly than we care to admit, social opposition from the majority-mob threatens to remove your enjoyment of any dream for material comfort in this world, let alone the American Dream.

No nation in this world can achieve a state of perfection in which even a majority of her citizens experience the best of life all the time. In other words, Utopia is a fantasy that may sell books, but it is never going to be a blueprint for a viable nation. That America has come closer than most in achieving the utopian pipe dream is also a danger. It leads us into a dangerous pride in which we think we just need to try a little harder to get our point across to our opponent. We end up just arguing more angrily and then dividing further. And truly raw, no restraints mob rule creeps closer and closer to taking over our dreams for a better America.

Glorious Hope

So, is there any hope for America? Even though she will follow all the other secular empires and succumb to the King of Kings, is there any hope that America might find more grace and mercy from God? Yes. For within her midst is  a source of salt and light that God promises to use to bless her:

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world– like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. Mt 5:13-15

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photo: james bloedel, unsplash

In every nation and in every generation the Church (those who through Spirit-born living faith are united to Christ) is the hope of real blessing to that nation. Today this hope in the Church in America is still real. No, I’m not ignoring that America is increasingly treating real Christlike Christianity as the one enemy to be completely eradicated from her land. God is still sovereign though. And Jesus is still the victorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords who sits on the throne over all nations. This means that the Church in America can still be the blessing our nation is so desperately looking for in all the wrong places.

So, what do we do? We follow Jeremiah’s advice to the Jews who went into captivity in Babylon. We pray for God to bless America with the only blessing that will make any real lasting difference. We pray, in other words, for God to send a revival across our land. We work for the peace and prosperity of America. This is not the earthly peace and the material prosperity that will disappear when Jesus destroys the nations that follow the great enemy empire described in Revelation 18. Instead we work for the advancement of the gospel. We give ourselves to our own worship and discipleship under the Spirit’s enabling. And then we go back to our communities and tell them that Jesus has something better, and more satisfying, than even the American Dream.

Let your conversation be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you will have the right response for everyone. Col 4:6

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, forgive our nation for her many rebellions against you. Forgive your people in America where they have cared more for their lives in this world than your glories. Heal your church. Restore hope in America that Jesus is the only answer needed. Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.

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* This weekly prayer devotional focuses our attention on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you (Ps 85:6)?  For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams (Isa 44:3-4).  Pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block in your schedule over the next week and use this devotional to focus your prayers. As you can, consider fasting from a meal and using that time to pray for revival in our church.

Reed DePace

A Resolution on New Year’s Resolutions

by reed depace

A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us*

[This is a weekly prayer devotional I write for our church. It focuses on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Ps 85:6;Isa 44:3-4) Each week, we ask our members to pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block, and use this devotional to focus their prayers for our revival.]

Image courtesy of Norwood Themes, Unsplash

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

I talked with a brother this week who noted that he and his wife were not going to make their traditional New Year’s resolutions. They find the process only results in greater pressure and frustration in their lives. My response to him was, “Praise God!” Not that the custom of New Year’s Resolutions is inherently wrong for a Christian to engage in, yet this secular rooted custom presents some painful missteps for the child of God trying to learn to walk by faith.

The making of New Year’s resolutions goes at least back to the earliest period in the Babylonian kingdom, in the third millennium BC (around the time of the Tower of Babel, Gn 11:1-9). The Roman Empire also had a custom of making New Year’s Resolutions (around the time of Jesus’ birth). This ancient secular custom is basically the same as our secular custom. We make resolutions about making our lives better. Typically, about 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.* Almost all of them can be categorized as self-help commitments to make one’s life better. Most of these resolutions are abandoned quickly: 25% after one week, 40% after one month, and 55% after six months. By year’s end, only 9% of people who made resolutions say they fulfilled them. As we might expect with efforts based on a resource that 100% of the time dies, New Year’s resolutions are but another example of the futility of life without a saving relationship with God (Eccl 12:1-8).

While the practice of making resolutions can be found in Church history, the adaptation of the secular custom goes back to John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service (1755), usually held on New Year’s Day. This was a service in which Christians recommitted themselves to discipleship. Notwithstanding the theological differences we have with Arminian Methodism, the liturgy for this service is Christ-focused. If informed by a specific commitment to the doctrines of grace, this adaptation might have some discipleship benefit.

Nevertheless, as is usually the case when the church adapts a secular idea, many Christians who make New Year’s Resolutions actually follow the secular practice. Being gospel presumptive, they’ve forgotten or were never taught that not only is salvation by the gospel alone, but so is growth in the Christian life (Col 2:6-7). Relying on self-help effort to grow in Christ, they’ve forgotten or never learned that there is no power for lasting change in their own efforts (Joh 6:63). Even with Jesus’ name on their lips and the intention to serve him in their hearts, Christians who rely on self-help techniques such as New Year’s Resolutions have forgotten or never learned that the Christian life is only lived by faith through the Spirit, not by flesh through self (2 Cor 5:7).

So, with my brother, I say, “Praise God! And good riddance!” to the custom of making New Year’s Resolutions.

Do Make New Year’s Prayers

Now, lest you think I’ve left the poor baby hanging by his fingernails on the window ledge in throwing the New Year’s Resolution bathwater out the window, I do think making a biblical resolution is a healthy discipleship practice. For example, Daniel and his three friends resolved not to break their faith in God by disobeying through eating King Nebuchadnezzer’s food (Dan 1:8). Paul made a resolution to travel to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21), a resolution he kept even after being told he would face persecution (Acts 21:10-14). Finally, the Scriptures themselves urge on us the practice of making resolutions as part of our discipleship:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Th 1:11-12, emphasis added

If we begin with a firm commitment to the sovereignty of God, recognize that our role is to express our God-given repentance and faith, want to achieve something which will glorify God, and rely on the Holy Spirit to be the presence whose power transforms us, then resolving to grow in Christ is actually a very spiritually healthy thing. Indeed, as we consider Paul’s admonition here for resolutions that are good works of faith by the Spirit’s power, and as we consider the generally weak and anemic condition of many Christians’ lives, we might even conclude that we need to make more such resolutions (1 Pt 4:7)!!

But what makes such resolutions expressions of faith-by-the-Spirit, instead of flesh-by-self? It is found in Paul’s words at the beginning of these verses, “To this end we always pray for you.” The difference between a secular resolution and a Christian resolution is found in believing prayer.

It is not found merely in prayer. A Christian who prays, “Lord, this year I promise I am going to do such and such …” is basically telling God what they intend to do this year, in their own flesh-based, self-help power. The only difference between that and the atheist who doesn’t pray, or the goof who prays to the Spaghetti God is, well, nothing. A self-help prayer does not honor God. Instead, it simply builds on “The Waterboy” lie Satan told our first parents, “You can do it!” (yourself)!+

The potency of biblical resolution making is found in believing prayer. Trusting in God’s sovereignty, wanting to show God’s glory, relying on the Spirit, it is through such believing prayer that we express our repentance and faith. So, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, let me encourage you to make New Year’s Prayers. Jot down a handful of sinful traits or habits you know are dishonoring God. Pray for these each week. Write down the four or five godly habits you want to develop (e.g., Bible reading, weekly worship – personal, family, and church, being discipled, regular witnessing, etc.). Then pray these each week as well. Don’t worry if you forget to pray for these in a given week. Just repent the next week and pray for them again! What you will find is that the Spirit will do exactly what Paul prayed for the Thessalonians (and us!). The name of Jesus will be glorified in and through you this year in more powerful ways, with a more lasting glory than even the most potent New Year’s Resolution could achieve!

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, we confess that too much of this past year has been given to self-indulgence. Be it wicked sins we don’t want anyone else to find out about, or the common sins we excuse every day, because Jesus is the Resolute One who never wavered in his commitment to face the cross for your glory and his and our joy, forgive and cleanse us.

Then Holy Spirit, who love us enough to resolve to complete the work of holiness in us until we are perfect like Jesus, guide us to what we should be praying for this year. Show us the sins we need to regularly pray the promise of repentance upon. Show us the obedience we need to regularly ask for in faith that hears only Yes and Amen from our Father. Use us this year that your glory in and through us might draw others to yourself. We long for your glory!

Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.

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Photo courtesy Olivia Snow, Unsplash

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* Statistics on New Years’ resolutions found at: https://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/.

+ “You can do it!” is a line from the movie Waterboy (1998), epitomizing our culture’s belief in the power of self-help to overcome anything.

Thankful for Stumbling

[This is a copy of the weekly revival prayer devotional I send out to our congregation. Thought I’d share this week’s, as I have a little extra time waiting for the family to get back from shopping for turkey and trimmings. Nothing special, but maybe it will encourage. Reed DePace]

What Am I Thankful For?

I’m old enough now that a lot of my natural curmudgeon-ness has worn off. At Christmas, my family no longer worries if I’ll decide to reprise my award-winning role as Scrooge. At my birthday It is rare to hear a “harrumph.” But at Thanksgiving, I still struggle with one of the table traditions in our family, “Let’s everyone go around the table and share one thing we are thankful for.”

Now, it is not that I am not thankful. But it is kind of awkward for everyone else when you share, “I’m thankful I’m not as big a jerk as I used to be.” Some sitting there think I’m making a joke. Some (the quiet ones) know I’m not.

The Stone of Stumbling

So, with that bit of uncomfortable transparency to start our devotional this morning, let me share with you one thing I am thankful for. We’re visiting family this week, and so I am writing this in less than ideal circumstances for a person who does his best thinking and writing sitting in a dark corner with jazz lightly playing in the background. I’ve been a bit distracted, worrying a tad, “What am I going to write for this morning’s devotional?

I’d like to share with you something from my personal worship that just now grabbed my faith. I’m reviewing passages on election for an upcoming sermon series. This morning I completed Romans 9, looking at verses 30-33. There Paul explains why he was discussing election in the previous verses: to explain why most of the Jews who professed faith in God still rejected Jesus. He became for them the Stone of Stumbling.

But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said, “I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Romans 9:31-33

This is scary. All those folks raised in the heart of the Church with all the right blessings: adoption as God’s own family, the ministry of glory and joy, the covenant of grace, the law to teach them their need of Christ, worship based on faith and repentance, and the promises of the fullness of salvation (Rom 9:4-5). Yet when Jesus came along, they stumbled over him. They heard him speak truth about their sin, their need for salvation, and him as their Savior, and they rejected him!

Yes, I know, they were not among the elect. Yet, as I read this passage this morning, I found myself thinking about how many Christians, folks like you and me, maybe me and you, still stumble over Jesus. If it is all by grace, not of our efforts (Rom 9:30), them why do we still live by” do this or else”, and “don’t do that or else”? We’re still stumbling.

Or for others of us, we may not stumble at this point. But, ignoring that IF the Spirit really has saved us, then we WILL find ourselves increasingly loving and longing for Jesus and for what he loves and longs for, we stumble in a different way. Instead of rejoicing and learning to dance with Jesus, far too many of us professing faith in Christ are still having fun dancing to the world’s tunes, living the world’s life. Professing “we’re saved!,” we can’t even find the strength of faith to even be faithful in worshiping him, the primary place where Jesus gives dance lessons!

The Blessed Stumbling

This passage caused a blessed stumbling in me this morning. I worry too much for those who aren’t taking Jesus seriously. Yeah, I worry for some of those to whom I am witnessing. But the ones I fret over are those who’ve professed “Amen, Jesus my Lord,” and yet often do not even struggle with the fact that they don’t show much fruit of the new life that Christ says proves they are his disciples (Jh 15:8). I get worried enough that my “gotta fix this” mentality goes into overdrive.

This is what I’m thankful for this season of Thanksgiving. This has been rolling around in the back of my soul for a while, yet I’ve never really focused on it. Yeah, I’ve acknowledged it is wrong (repentance) and asked God to change me (faith), but I never really sat down and examined just how dangerous and offensive is this sin.

So today I am thankful that God kept his promises once again to work in me, to bring me just a little closer to the Christlikeness that is full maturity (Eph 4:13). Today I am thankful that he showed me how, in worrying for those who aren’t dancing with Jesus, I stumbled on him like those Jews Paul was talking about. All the promises and power Present for me, and yet I still run back to self-reliance. How thankful I am not just that he will keep his promises, but that right now, Jesus IS keeping this promise.

I don’t see the end of my self-reliance yet. But I do see it better than ever before. And I am enabled to recognize even sooner when I’m beginning to trip over Jesus instead of just resting on him. And I find right now, and will throughout my tomorrows, that I can dance with with more intention and sincerity, that is praying with more faith and repentance, and rely on Jesus, alone. This is something to truly be thankful for.

How about you? Do you find yourself still dancing to the world’s tunes? Be careful, you might stumble over Jesus one too many times, and never dance again. Are trying to do the Christian thing, but dancing solo? Ask that you might trip over Jesus now and learn to only dance with him. No more solos! The great news, what we can all be thankful for, is that stumbling over Jesus does not have to be fatal. Indeed, he often causes us to trip that we might not slip out of his hands (Jas 1:3-5).

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to dance with him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (Col 2:6-7, NLT, slightly paraphrased)

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, thank you for causing us to stumble over your Son Jesus. Thinking we’re ready for dancing with the stars, we fail to see how much we’re lurching toward destruction. Forgive us for where we’re still self-reliant, trying to solo on the dance floor. Forgive us for where we are chanting Jesus’ name, but still dancing to the world’s tune.

Stop us from being those who try to obey you through self-effort (solo dancers). Stop us from being those who don’t obey you (world dancers). Turn us into children who dance holding on to their Father’s hands. Make us into people who line dance with the Spirit. Let us dance for your glory and joy, held tightly in our Bridegroom’ arms.

Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. For Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.”

 

reed depace

A Father’s Day Reflection

by reed depace

Possibly the best defense for fathers is the Fatherhood of God over His children in Christ. God didn’t create fatherhood as an accident, and then think to himself, “Hey, what a great picture of me!” No, the fatherhood of God to all who submit to him in Christ has been from eternity past; God’s status as father is an essential characteristic of his being.

Thus, fatherhood shares a sanctified status. That is, it is set apart for God’s own holy usage. That so many men refuse to rejoice in their calling to reflect God’s glory in this role is yet another slap of rebellion in his face.

How grateful I am for Jesus then. In him I find forgiveness and cleansing for all the times I refused to act toward my children in a manner that reflects God’s glory. In Jesus I find that his life of perfect obedience to our Father grants me growing obedience, expressed in all areas of life, and especially toward my children.

To them, on the eve of the day when our culture “honors” fathers while ignoring the One to whom all fathers point, let me say to my children (and their mom) how sad and grateful I am. I am sad at all the mean, unkind, selfish, and downright evil things I’ve done to you. I am grateful for both Jesus’ forgiveness and yours. Let not my failures dissuade you of your Heavenly Father’s perfection. Instead, let that sense that your dad is wrong, often, lead you to consider the perfection of God’s fatherly love for you.

I know I haven’t “failed” you, as in utterly. But I know I’ve given you more to forgive than to thank me for. Praise God our Father, He is nevertheless perfect. With you, I rely on him, alone.

“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:11-13

I love you. Happy Father’s Day.

by reed depace, te,
the church at chantilly
(historic first pres gumptown)
http://www.firspresschantilly.com

Overture 2 – A Quick Word

by reed depace

This may be too late for the debate, but since I can’t be at the PCA GA this year, I thought I’d post here in hopes that some at GA might pick it up. Consider it if you think it is valuable.

Overture 2 would give constitutional authority to chapter 59, On the Solemnization of Marriage, of our BCO. That is, it would require all office holders (TE’s, RE’s) to live by the practices outlined in this chapter.

The primary reason for opposing this overture appears to be a well-meaning desire to not confuse and clutter our doctrinal standards with unneeded repetition. Since the other constitutional standards, in this case WCF 24.1, fully affirms that marriage is solely for man and woman, there is no need to add BCO 59 to our constitutional requirements.

While I sympathize with the motive here, I think this misses a critical observation. The Westminster Standards cover our required beliefs, our doctrine, our orthodoxy. BCO covers our required doing, our practices, our orthopraxy. While the former clearly affirm hetero-marriage alone, the latter merely recommends it.

This is a hole big enough for even a first year law school graduate to drive a truck through. I can just hear the cross-examination in the trial, “Let me make sure I understand this right Rev. PCA pastor. You require your officers to BELIEVE that same-sex marriage is a no-no. But you only recommend they don’t PRACTICE it?! Other chapters in your BCO are required, but NOT this one on marriage?! How serious is your opposition to same-sex marriage? Certainly it is not an essential in your faith.”

Less legally tenuous inconsistency than this has been used to affirm the most egregious abominations in our civil courts. Time for us to listen to Jesus’ command to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. Matthew 10:16

Overture 2 should be approved simply because it makes our practice convictions consistent with our doctrine convictions. I pray even that it would be unanimous.

by reed depace, te
The Church at Chantilly, PCA
Historic First Pres MGM, AL

Racism, Guilt – Other People’s, and Our Repentance

by Reed DePace

“How am I guilty of sins committed by others, sins I had nothing to do with since I was not even there?!”

Regarding the issue of our denomination’s repentance for sins in the Civil Rights era, this is the most common objection raised by those who sincerely disagree with actions taken at the PCA 2016 General Assembly (last week, in Mobile, AL). It is not that they don’t agree that such sins should not be repented from. It is that they do not agree with what we might call corporate-historic repentance.

I am beginning work on a D-Min dissertation devoted to this topic, and hope to study this subject a bit more fully. Here I am not able to delve into it as deeply as it needs. Instead, for the sake of our congregation (and maybe others as God chooses), I want to do two things:

  1. Provide background on this issue in terms of its application to our local church and our denomination.
  2. Provide an outline of the reasons why I believe corporate-historic repentance is biblically valid, and so does apply in these kinds of situations.

My prayer is that the Spirit will see fit to use this pastor’s reflections to lead our congregation to the freedom in Christ from this history, and equip them for greater service in the gospel in our community. And, since we are covenantally connected to the Church outside our local church, I also pray God will use it to honor the gospel’s advance amongst brothers and sisters not a part of First Presbyterian Montgomery.

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Historic First Presbyterian, downtown Montgomery

Our church is prayerfully moving toward the next step in the fruits of repentance (cf., Luke 3:8) for our history of racism in the Civil Rights era and since. Neither the majority of the members of our church nor myself were present during any of the occurrence of the sins documented in our church records (session, diaconate, and congregational minutes). And those records also show that those few members who were part of the church during these events did actively try to address these sins. Here are a series of links giving background on this topic, both from a local and a denominational perspective.

I urge you to read all the links in these posts. For our denomination, the PCA, particularly read the referenced overture (full statement and the amendment.) For our local church, particularly look at the powerpoint at our church’s website.
As noted above, a problem for some is the inference that someone is personally guilty for sins which that person never participated in. “How am I guilty for sins of racism committed by others in the past?” As understandably difficult and frustrating is this question, a beginning answer is not that hard to find. The issue is not personal guilt for the sins of others, but the corporate experience of that guilt. Maybe asking this question differently can help show this:

How am I guilty for sins of racism  committed by others Adam in the past beginning?

The answer is that we are not. That does not mean that the guilt of Adam’s sin do not effect us. The doctrine of sin in Scripture makes it abundantly clear that while each Christian is not personally responsible for Adam’s sin nevertheless the guilt of Adam’s sins have effected their lives, and disastrously so. Just consider Paragraph 3, Chapter 6, from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.”

[Biblical references for the italicized phrase: Genesis 1:27, 28; 2:10, 17; Acts 17:26; Romans ROM 5:12, 15-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45, 49. See WCF 6, beginning on page 26.]

Here we see what we might call the original corporate imputation of guilt. We are not guilty of Adam’s sin, but the guilt and its results are imputed to us. In principle then, we already recognize that the guilt of one generation’s sin effects a subsequent generation who had no participation with the original sin. Even more, we depend on this principle, if Jesus’ obedience and its results (something we also did not participate in) are likewise going to be imputed to us (cf., Romans 5).

Corporate-historic repentance is simply an application of covenantal principles that are the foundation of our faith. Yes, we individually are not guilty for each other’s sins (cf., Ezekiel 18). And yet, we are covenantally connected to one another. In some manner, the guilt of our forefathers, material and spiritual, has an effect on us. This is nothing more than the necessary continuing application of the warning in the second Commandment, Exodus 2:5 (4-6):

…”visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,” … (iniquity: sin, with its guilt).

This is a warning repeated so frequently that we don’t need to make extended arguments about the fact and nature of the ongoing consistent application of ALL God’s law to every generation:

Exodus 34:7; Leviticus, 20:5; 26:29, 39, 40; Numbers 14:18, 33; Deuteronomy 5:9; 7: Joshua 7:24, ff.; 1 Samuel 15:2-3; 2 Samuel 21:1-6; 24:10-17; 1 Kings 14:9-10; 16:1, ff.; 21:21, 29; 2 Kings 23:26; Job 5:4; 21:19; Psalm 79:8; 1106:6,7; 09:14; Isaiah 14:20-21; 65:677; Jeremiah 2:9; 32:18; Daniel 9:8; Matthew 23:31-32; 27:25.

[For extended arguments of the ongoing application of ALL God’s law, see the Westminster Larger Catechism question 99, with its biblical references, beginning at page 234.]

At the very least, there are covenantal applications with reference to the guilt of sin. These covenantal applications cross both space (trans-spatial) and time (trans-temporal). This does not mean personal culpability, responsibility for the sin. It does mean personal experience of the consequences of such guilt. Yes, the parameters and details of this need to be worked out, but it can hardly be argued that the Bible does not teach this principle.

Now ask this question of Scripture: would God who in Christ frees us from all sins and its effects not particularly provide an application of the gospel to address this covenantal aspect of the guilt of sin?

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First Presbyterian Montgomery, the Church @ Chantilly

Corporate-historic repentance, what the PCA and First Presbyterian Montgomery are applying to these circumstances, is an application of the Covenant of Grace, the gospel promises fulfilled  by Jesus our Christ. Here is a partial list of factors involved:
  • Corporate-historic repentance is exemplified in the circumstances of Jeremiah (14:20), Daniel (9:6-8), Ezra (9:6-7), Nehemiah (9:2), and the Apostolic Church (Acts 7:51-52, 58, 60; 8:1; 9:176-20).
  • Corporate-historic repentance does not say I am personally guilty for the sins of my forefathers.
  • Corporate-historic repentance instead acknowledges the truth of God’s word that my forefather’s iniquities (sin with its guilt) are a burden that only the gospel can remove.
  • More, corporate-historic repentance declares to the ones offended by my fore-fathers’ sins that I recognize they were sinned against.
  • Finally, corporate-historic repentance declares that Jesus Christ will cover and remove these sins and their offense.

Whether you find yourself quibbling with the details of these things, at the very least I pray you will find yourself agreeing that corporate-historic repentance does have a biblical mooring and that it is the means God gives us in Jesus to remove the effect of the guilt of corporate-historic sins.

May He so bless us, to our joy (John 15:11) in His glory (John 15:8).

by Reed DePace

An Overture to Racial Reconciliation

Review and Comparison of PCA 2016 GA Racial Repentance Overtures

by Reed DePace

UPDATE#2: Overture 43 has passed. Read about it here.

UPDATE #1: The Overtures Committees has overwhelmingly passed a resolution regarding these overtures. 85-3, they are recommending to the General Assembly that Overture 43, as amended, be approved.  See here for details: OC Recommendation.

It appears that the amending includes three parts:

  1. Adding a list of sins (copied from the Whereas section).
  2. Referencing Overture 55’s “presbytery letter” as advice on how presbyteries can help local congregations involved with these sins.
  3. Referencing the local level action overtures’ (#50, 53) direction toward the use of BCO provisions (31-2, 38-1) for the procedure for handling repentance from these sins.

As with any combination overture, I do not expect this will satisfy all. Indeed, I am a bit concerned about the charge that this will all turn into nothing more than another meaningless expression of (empty) words. If passed by GA, it will be up to Presbyteries and local churches to implement this Overture.

I’ll listen to the floor debate that is sure to follow, and will most likely learn some things of value from the fathers and brothers gathered. At this point, my initial reaction is that maybe there is some sound wisdom at play in the Overture Committee’s recommendation.

As a pastor who has no personal racial sins to repent from, and who is shepherding a congregation whose history is full of some of the most heinous of these sins, I am grateful for the advice and direction. I pray God will lead us all to see His wisdom and find His blessing in these things.

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I’m getting ready to head to General Assembly (my denomination’s annual meeting where all our churches discuss/decide on issues relevant to our denomination). In preparation, I reviewed the overtures (requests for action) that will come before us. The big topic this year is repentance for racial sins in our denomination going back to the Civil Rights era. This is not a discussion about the civil (secular) matters of this subject (although they are related). Instead it is a discussion about how to repent of these sins, sins which impinge upon or outright deny the gospel of Jesus Christ. Such issues are ALWAYS the purview of the Church as they deal with the honor, integrity, and glory of our Lord God and Savior.

This is an issue particularly relevant our church and me. We have such a history. Last year, our elders led our church to express repentance for the sins of our fathers in this regard. We are now seeking the Spirit to lead us in bringing forth “fruits of repentance,” acts consistent with our verbal profession (see Matthew 3:7; for details on our repentance, see: http://www.firstpreschantilly.com/repentance).

There are sixty-three overtures before us at this meeting. Forty-two deal with the topic of repentance for racial sins. Clearly this is the topic most pressing in our hearts.

You can find the overtures listed here: http://www.pcaac.org/general-assembly/overtures. Click on the title of each to read the details.

I haven’t been able to find a summary and guide for all these, so I thought I’d put together one myself. Some of these overtures are simply affirmations of support for another overture. Yet others include particular details, different from all other overtures on this topic. Without going into too detailed an assessment, I found it helpful to arrange these into three generalized groups:

  • Those (mostly) calling for denomination level action: four (#s 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 18, 17, 19, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 35, 34, 41, 42, 43, 46, 47, 51, 52, 57, 58, 60, and 63. Note: most of these are the same or similar to Overture # 4. The italicized are more or less different.),
  • Those (mostly) calling for local church/presbytery action: two (#s 50 and 53), and
  • Those calling for both levels of action: seven (#s 1, 16, 48, 49, 55, 56, and 59).

Overtures calling for denominational level action follow the pattern of repentance seen in the biblical teaching on corporate-generational repentance (Leviticus 26:49; Ezra 9-10; Nehemiah 1:3-10; 9:1-10:39; Daniel 9:1-20). Rooted in the continuing application of the Ten Commandments (see C#2, Exodus 20:4-6) and the trans-temporal and trans-spatial nature of biblical covenants, these overtures propose our denomination acknowledge and express repentance for the racial sins in view.

Overtures calling for local action follow the pattern of repentance seen in the biblical teaching on personal repentance (Psalm 19:13; Matthew 26:75; Luke 19:8; 1 Timothy 1:13, 15). These overtures propose that churches and presbyteries apply the discipline procedures from our Book of Church Order (see particularly BCO 31-2, and 38-1).

Overtures calling for both propose we take action at both the denominational level and the local level. I find myself in favor of this approach. Admittedly without offering an extended defense of my opinion, let me briefly highlight the key considerations persuading me. First, I believe the covenantal considerations found in Ezra and Nehemiah’s examples are still applicable. Second, I believe the personal repentance considerations are still applicable. In other words, I believe the Bible teaches that, when and where appropriate, God’s people are to express both corporate-generational repentance AND personal repentance.

There are two overtures don’t quite fit into this scheme (#s 32, and 45). Let me draw your attention to Overture #32 in particular. If we did nothing else, given the circumstances of our church in our nation, I believe this overture is in order. My prayer is that we will do both: take action regarding racial sins and join together in asking God for deeper and wider repentance and its fruits. Our members, churches, presbyteries, denomination, the Church in America, and America herself are in desperate need of such salt-and-light gospel ministry (Matthew 5:13-14). I pray we will not prove worthless (Luke 13:34-35).

by Reed DePace

 

 

 

 

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