MOS Study Cruise

Let’s face it. Christians in America have suffered enough. We have, for too long, allowed the world to have all the fun. No longer! It is time Christians enjoy the same sorts of creature comforts the world has been enjoying. Mortification of Spin is finally going to do something about this disparity.

We are pleased to make an exciting announcement!

On June 15, 2018 you are invited to join us for the very first Mortification of Spin Study Cruise. We will be considering marvelous truths as we cruise about a storied river in an historic vessel: the SS Hermit Crab.

Alaska and the Caribbean are a little pricey but we have secured a 50 yard section of the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey where we will float along in comfort enjoying the majestic views and local wildlife.

You can book your reservation through 2 Dudes and a Boat at 555-LUV-BOAT

Cost: Thanks to generous funding from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals we are able to offer this wonderful experience for only $14 per person, $25 for couples.

Cost includes:
•    One square foot of personal space on the boat.  
•    Two Meals – Lunch: Fritos and a Ding Dong / Dinner: Bologna sandwich and a Fruit Rollup
•    Stimulating conversation with Carl, Todd, and Aimee
•    Disinfectant

* Neither the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals or the hosts of Mortification of Spin assume responsibility for any infections or emotional trauma suffered while on the cruise.

Reformation Preaching and the Modern Mind

This week I am giving the Moore College Lectures in Sydney.  The title of the series (with due homage to the great Peter Taylor Forsyth) is Reformation Preaching and the Modern Mind.  My hope is to use the Reformers, especially Luther, as a source for building a theological understanding of what preaching actually is.

In my first lecture, I concluded by offering the following seven theses which I will be defending (sometimes indirectly) in the remaining five:

Seven Theses on God and Preaching

The Reformation offers the following vital insights into preaching which helps us to understand it (both message and medium) as a theological act:

1. God is a God for whom speech is the primary vehicle of creation, presence, power, authority and new creation.

2. Those made in God’s image use speech in an analogous way to God himself.

3. God exerts his authority through the speech of those made in his image.

4. God builds his kingdom by the speech of preachers.   Preaching offers an alternative and “real” reality to those false realities created by the world, the flesh and the Devil.

5. Speech is axiomatic for both the content of salvation and the means by which salvation is applied.

6. The cross of Christ is axiomatic for both the content of gospel preaching and the shape of gospel ministry.

7. The existential engagement of preacher and congregation with the message is vital, given that such engagement is by its very nature engagement with God himself and with the tragedy of this fallen world.

And I left the final words of the lecture to Peter Taylor Forsyth himself:

“The Christian preacher is not the successor of the Greek orator, but of the Hebrew prophet. The orator comes with but an inspiration, the prophet comes with a revelation. In so far as the preacher and prophet had an analogue in Greece it was the dramatist, with his urgent sense of life’s guilty tragedy, its inevitable ethic, its unseen moral powers, and their atoning purifying note.”[1]

[1] Positive Preaching and Modern Mind (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1907), 3-4.

A Brief Response to Professor Gehrz

Over at his blog at Patheos, Professor Chris Gehrz has responded to my most recent post at First Things.   Rod Dreher has provided a good reply but I offer here just a couple of brief comments.

First, Professor Gehrz seems on the whole to think that I see the problem with the LGBTQ movement as one of sexual morality.  I certainly do see it as a matter of morality, but then I see the problem of heterosexual cohabitation as one of sexual morality too.  But morality is not what makes this issue so contentious.   What makes the LGBTQ issue interesting and more significant is that it is also a matter of fundamental identity.   That makes the political debates surrounding the issue of profound importance, as anyone knows who has observed how the matter has played out in the public aquare in general and higher education in particular.

Second, and flowing from the first, Professor Gehrz states that he does ‘I don’t believe that marriage, sexuality, or gender identity is anywhere near “the heart of the Gospel.”’  This statement would seem to indicate that he does not see the LGBTQ issue as one of identity (unless he wants to argue that identity — who we are and who we think we are at our most fundamental level– is nowhere near the heart of the gospel).  But even if it were just about sex, then sexual morality seems to be something about which both Jesus and Paul have many things to say. It is not for us to mark off as irrelevant to the gospel areas about which Jesus and Paul spoke.

The problem here is clear: he thinks I’m talking about sexual behavior/morality and he sees that as being of little importance, at least when it does not fall outside the boundaries of morality as society currently constructs them. But I am talking not so much about morality as about identity and the politics that flow from that.   And his failure to realize that this is the nature of the debate over LGBTQ rights etc., or perhaps his eliding of the matter of identity and morality in a manner which minimizes the significance of the former, means that he is completely underestimating the nature of the political problem. 

And, of course, we get the usual coda (using the military images of which he apparently disapproves when utilized by Rod and myself): “Conservative Christians have long waged culture war on sexual minorities, with precious little of the mercy, love, and grace that are actually at the heart of our Gospel.”   Such an unqualified statement has a rhetorical force and no doubt plays to the progressive gallery but it actually slanders the many conservative Christians who have worked with grace, love and patience in this area, often in anonymous, local contexts.   Indeed, such a sweeping generalization from one who professes not to be able to see into the hearts of others nor to jump to cynical conclusions regarding those with whom he differs on these issues is quite remarkable. I wonder what he counts as ‘waging war’?  As little as believing that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, and that sexual activity is to be restricted to that relationship, and that one has the right to say that in public perhaps?   Because that is certainly how the liberal culture now defines it.

The virus attached to “social justice”

You have no doubt heard the term “intersectionality” by now. It is an idea which is sweeping academia and activism (unfortunately one in the same thing now). Oddly it is also beginning to have an influence among evangelicals, even of the broadly reformed stripe.

Elizabeth Corey has written an enlightening article on intersectionality for First Things. I encourage you to take the time to read it.

Evangelicals are right to be concerned about intersectionality because it is something of a virus attached to much (not all) of the new social justice activism being imported into the church.

Intersectionality begins to manifest itself by lending justification to, for instance, a left-wing political action committee being run from the offices of a PCA church. It is also seen in various social media with calls – from professing Christians – for white evangelicals to quit trying to take the gospel to Africa because “we good.”

Of course all of this has been warned against. Making something so impossibly vague as “social justice” the central concern of the church has only ever lead to apostasy. If legitimate calls for racial reconciliation are allowed to morph into racial politics the gospel itself will be distorted and the Great Commission will be recast as cultural imperialism.

The Unfortunate Vindication of the Alt Right

In recent years several major Christian denominations have been dealing with questions related to race and racial reconciliation. Two of the denominations are the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). At the recent annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention there was a controversy over a motion to condemn the so-called alt right. The motion was eventually approved. I will not attempt a definition of the alt right other than to say that it is a movement which bears many of the hallmarks of white supremacy or, at the very least, white identity politics. Any ideology which advances racism or racial separatism is not compatible with the Christian gospel.

A Southern Baptist minister who is African American announced his departure from the denomination in an article published by the New York Times. Disheartened by what he believes is continued racism in the SBC Lawrence Ware has decided to forfeit his ordination. He believes the rather messy debate over the alt right, the presence of Trump voters, and the refusal to back the “Black Lives Matters” organization proves that the SBC is fundamentally racist. He also laments what he believes is homophobia in the SBC.

What is getting the most attention however is what I would describe as Ware’s poker-tell near the end of the article where he writes: “I love the church. But I love black people more.”

Being a pastor I am understandably concerned about the possibility of seeing similar sentiments grow in the denomination in which I serve. I have been encouraged by some of the conversations regarding race going on in the PCA. Even where we may disagree there are men and women of good faith with a common commitment to God’s Word and the gospel who are having helpful conversations about race. But I am in equal measure concerned when I see influential voices in our denomination endorse Black Lives Matter (an anti-Christ organization) and write positively about segregation.

Rod Dreher points out that the ideas coming from Ware give an unfortunate claim of legitimacy to the alt right:

See, this is the kind of thing that vindicates some on the alt-right, who say that it doesn’t matter what you believe or why you believe it, they’re still going to hate you and accuse you of being one of us. So why not be one of us? (they say).

I reject categorically the racial idolatry of the alt right. I reject with equal force the religion of race held by Lawrence Ware and Black Lives Matter. The religion of racial idolatry is a dead end for reconciliation and poisonous to the gospel. I pray it will be rejected in the PCA.

“Thinking that they are more merciful than God”

There are a lot of conversations going on in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) concerning homosexuality and same sex attraction. A division exists which seems only to be growing wider. On the one hand are those who believe that homosexual attraction is inherently sinful. They deny that it is ever appropriate for a Christian to identify as gay even if they resist the behavior. They do not see how sexual attraction can be separated from sexual desire. On the other hand are those who believe that homosexual attraction is not inherently sinful. They agree (so far as I can tell) that homosexual sex is sinful. However they do not believe that there is anything inherently sinful with the attraction.

Unfortunately some within the PCA are using unhelpful and potentially damaging language to describe homosexual desire. Phrases like sexual orientation, for instance, suggest that homosexual desire is just one of many available “orientations.” Such language falls far short of that which the Bible uses. I have even seen the phrases “sexual minority” and “gay Christian” being used within the PCA to describe homosexuals. This ought to concern every pastor and member of PCA churches. I know of no church or denomination where such a trajectory has ended well.

The following video (HERE) is from an address delivered by Rosaria Butterfield at Grace Presbyterian Church in Nashville. The entire thing is well worth listening to. However, the link I provided will take you to the 53 minute mark where Dr. Butterfield mentions the PCA specifically. Please take time to watch.

“In trying to be helpful, many churches have failed, because they have failed to be truthful. They have failed not out of hardness of heart, or lacking of kindness, but in thinking that they are more merciful than God. I shudder to think about how much more rigorous, painful, and dangerous, and difficult my conversion would have been had it taken place in 2016. Rigorous, painful, dangerous, and difficult both for me personally and for my church…Especially today the PCA is smitten in a stupid way, I’m using a hard word, very stupid way and to their shame, to the gay Christian movement.”  – Rosaria Butterfield

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Does Abstinence Teaching Really Promote Purity?

Way back in my early twenties, I used to volunteer at CareNet Pregnancy Center. They trained some of us to give abstinence presentations to high school youth. There were many true and helpful points in these presentations and I felt good about helping teens understand spiritual, emotional, and physical consequences in their decisions. And as evangelical churches around me were also speaking out more to teens about abstinence, I was happy that the church was finally talking more about the consequences of sex. But now, almost 20 years later, I am rethinking how Christians teach abstinence as purity. 

Of course, it is not pure behavior to participate in premarital and extramarital sex. But we are missing out on learning the beauty of purity by reducing it to saying no to sexual activity outside of the bounds of marriage. And by reducing our teaching this way, I think that we have reduced our brothers and sisters in Christ to threats to our purity and have also inadvertently enticed lust by hedging their behavior with more and more laws to stay pure—sealed with with the ring that advertises it.

John doesn’t tell us to hold back our love, but to love our brothers and sisters with a holy love:

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11—12)

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18—19)

And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister. (1 John 4:21)

He tells us to look to our ultimate hope, which is to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, even though we can’t fully grasp what that will be. And this great hope is not merely wishful thinking—it is purifying:

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason, the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1—3)

Because we are children of God, and our hope is in full glorification and Christlikeness, we are called to purify ourselves. What does that mean? We cannot do this ourselves. We need Christ, who is our purity. But what does that mean? Purity is too often thought of as something that we lose, and so it is thought of as something to guard through abstinence. But we don’t purify ourselves through abstinence. We purify ourselves by having our hope fixed on Jesus Christ; “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). In their book, God So Loved He Gave, Kelly Kapic and Justin Borger build off of this verse in discussing the paradox of how Christians live under God’s divine generosity as we belong to God:

God’s ownership is much more dynamic than we might expect. While we often associate the idea of “ownership” with locks and keys, safe deposit boxes, bank accounts, and home security systems, God’s ownership is fundamentally different. Unlike us, God doesn’t own by keeping, but by giving…

Since God did not create to satisfy an inadequacy or need of his own, but out of the fullness of his delight and love, this delight and love flow to the creatures as generosity and back to God as thanksgiving and praise. Creation reflects and therefore shares in—or “beholds”—God’s great glory. Our good has by his hand become a means of God’s ultimate glory, intrinsically connected (cf. Ezek. 36:22-27).

The nature of this connection is a key to a healthy view of God and ourselves. As God’s giving does not impoverish but enriches him, so we, as we offer back to God the gifts he has given and sanctified in us, are enriched in his glory and are satisfied in and through him. (24-25)

We can certainly apply this dynamic nature of God’s generosity to our purity. Our purity is from God. Think of all that purity entails. It is not merely abstinence from premarital sex. We must not reduce it to what we withhold. Purity involves our hearts, our thoughts, proper active love, integrity, and holiness. Purity is body, mind, and soul cleanliness, which is not mixed with sin in any of these areas. Can anyone uphold this in herself? Himself?  No! But God graciously gave us his Son. Jesus Christ’s full righteousness is imputed to every believer. So from him, we are given everything that purity entails. Everything! And it is through him that we remain pure. He didn’t just pay for our impurity and give us his purity; he has given us himself! Paul makes this argument when discussing purity:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

We have been given the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, tabernacling with us. Now that is holiness and purity! While affirming God’s ownership, he is telling us that God has given us himself. Talk about divine generosity! He then concludes that we are to glorify God in our bodies. So our purity is from God, through God, and we respond by offering it back to God. Purity isn’t merely abstaining from sexual activity; it is offering our whole selves back to the Giver.  This positive response of gratitude and worship is where we find our greatest satisfaction and joy. We will not find our ultimate satisfaction in sex. But that is the lie that many believe when they participate in entertaining lustful thoughts, inappropriate behaviors, and especially in carrying it all the way through to the act of premarital or extramarital sex. Temptations to sin in this way must be confessed and offered to God. That too is an act of faith in offering ourselves to the One who sustains us. 

This is also important for married people to understand. Often, abstinence teaching within the church gives a false promise that is still focused on a man-centered gratification that really has nothing to do with our purity. It goes something like this: If you maintain your virginity until marriage, you will be blessed with wonderful sex and a happily ever after relationship. Purity is treated as some sort of commodity for ultimate blessing. Don’t be fooled: this is the prosperity gospel. God’s holy standard exists only to reward you for your great victory in following the “name it claim it” formula. But even sex within marriage is not going to satisfy us. And it certainly isn’t our purity. 

Many disillusioned Christians who tried to “do it the right way” have fallen hard when they didn’t get the rapturous blessing they thought they had earned. Our purity is from God, through God, and to God. Understanding that the Lord has truly been victorious, that he can sustain us in our weaknesses and give us his own power to love him and to hate sin, that we can share in his love to his people with godly affection which is appropriate for our different relationships, and that all of our affections are going to be returned to him in fullness of glory is satisfying. He wants to give us true pleasure that is to be found in blessed communion with the Triune God and his people. When we know and experience this, we do not put false expectations on others, even our spouses. And we look at our brothers and sisters with the eyes of faith.

True love rightly orders it’s affections. But please don’t put that on a ring.

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Dialoging with the Doc

For me this summer is to be one of engaging Martin Luther.   Next Friday I am to be the token Schwaermer at a conference on the Word of God for Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastors and theologians.  In August I am giving the Moore Theological College Annual Lectures on ‘Reformation Preaching and the Modern Mind,’ in which I will attempt to articulate a theology of preaching by drawing extensively on the writings and insights of the Doc.  Luther’s concept of the theology of the cross and of the theologian of the cross was, and remains, one of the most powerful articulations of the connection between the content of the gospel and the form of gospel ministry as set forth by Paul in 1 and 2 Corinthians.  It is note the church needs to hear struck again and again.

Then, in the autumn Baker Academic will publish Between Wittenberg and Geneva, the fruit of the last few years of theological, historical, and ecclesiastical conversation between myself and my friend, the great scholar of the Lutheran Reformation, Bob Kolb. 

This latter work has a deeply irenic character.  I have made no secret over the fact that I believe confessional Lutherans are the more natural partners for ecumenical dialogue for the Reformed than are the Evangelicals.  We hold a similar attitude to church, confessions, the classical doctrine of God, and justification.  When Luther’s pastoral thought is studied carefully, the distance between Lutherans and Reformed on ethics is negligible and his model of ministry is exemplary.  Preaching is central to both communions.  Sacraments are important and, although the historic point of dispute, I find Luther’s Small Catechism on the Lord’s Supper to be an acceptable way of describing the matter.  Further, we have a common belief in a connectional polity which sees true church unity as more than merely a matter of spiritual affinity between autonomous congregations.  In short, we can have real ecumenical discussion with Lutherans that we cannot have with Congregationalists of whatever stripe because congregational polity rules out by definition any real churchly ecumenism.  Informal friendship is all that can ever be achieved.

2017 is a significant anniversary.  Hopefully it will be used by Evangelicals to re-engage with historic Reformation Christianity, including its polity and priorities.   For the Reformed and the Lutherans it offers the opportunity of re-engaging in full and frank discussion of both our shared creedal heritage and our principled confessional differences.  Luther has much to offer the Reformed, especially on the issue of the theology of the Word, the Cross

As a postscript, I spoke at a Reformation conference with T. David Gordon last week.  To celebrate the occasion, the church brewed a special beer. But it is pointless to check your local beer store.  Only 24 bottles exist, shared equally between the two men on the label…….

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

A Report on PCA General Assembly 2017

During the week of June 12, 2017 the Presbyterian Church in America held its annual General Assembly in Greensboro, NC. The following is my attempt to summarize my thoughts from the week.

1. I continue to be grateful to the Lord for the PCA. I am grateful that the founders of our denomination had the courage and conviction to break fellowship with those who no longer held to the Scriptures and orthodox confessional standards. For one raised in broad evangelicalism, being part of a denomination which holds to the Westminster Standards and the Book of Church Order is a great blessing. The PCA still holds to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. The Mainline denominations are dying precisely because they abandoned the Scriptures. And while modest, the PCA continues to grow.

2. As always I greatly enjoyed my time with brothers. The Lord has given the PCA many faithful pastors. I was encouraged, as I always am, by my time with these men.

3. Every pastor and member of a PCA church ought to be thankful for Presbyterian polity. To the uninitiated, Presbyterian church government may seem rather archaic and inflexible. Indeed it is and thankfully so. This rather complex and slow-moving process helps to ensure that men do not highjack the church. It helps protect the church from unruly pastors and sessions. It helps protect pastors from unruly congregations. Presbyterianism is not perfect. But it works remarkably well when actually practiced.

4. The moderator for GA has a tough job. It requires a complex of particular skills and knowledge that few possess. It is important that each year the Assembly elect as moderator a man who has those particular skills. I was impressed that this year’s moderator handed over the gavel to a more experienced man to lead the Assembly through a particularly complex debate.

5. The Overtures
This year the Assembly considered 25 overtures. I won’t go through the entire list. There were however several overtures that I considered to be of particular significance.
a) Overture #2
This overture would have granted Book of Church Order (BCO) chapter 59 constitutional authority. Chapter 59 of the BCO deals with the solemnization of marriage and makes clear that marriage is exclusively to be between a man and a woman. So far so good. The problem is that chapter 59 belongs to that portion of the BCO which does not have constitutional authority. That is, it is part of the BCO which churches are not required to practice. Overture 59 seeks to give constitutional authority to chapter 59 thus giving it binding authority. You may be wondering how that could be controversial. Unfortunately, it was.

It was clear from the start that Overture 2 faced strong opposition. It made it through the Overtures Committee by a very narrow margin. From the assembly floor it was recommitted for consideration next year. I understand that there were some conservatives who, though agreeing with the spirit of Overture 2, nevertheless believed that the wording needed perfecting. Others were opposed to Overture 2 for reasons of which I can only speculate.

The new sexual revolution is yielding a terrible harvest in the land. Many churches and denominations have wandered from the truth and embraced all manner of sexual immorality. It is important in times such as these that the church give public witness to the truth. Overture 2 is an opportunity to do that. It is also a means by which we remind the laity in PCA churches that we must not capitulate to the spirit of the age. Also, by adopting Overture 2 we will provide further legal protection for PCA pastors and chaplains who will be increasingly pressured to perform same-sex weddings. By making BCO 59 constitutional we can do these things.

I am mystified by any principled opposition to Overture 2. Perfect the wording? Fine. But oppose the Overture outright? For what purpose? Are we embarrassed by our position on homosexuality and marriage? Are we afraid to confront the civil authorities when they bless what God calls an abomination? Will such a move make us less winsome? If the only sins we are willing to condemn are the same ones condemned by popular culture then what has happened to us?

Pray that Overture 2 will be approved next year.

b) Overture #7
 “Remove Long Range Planning from CMC by deleting RAO 7-3 c”

As amended, Overture 7 changes Rules of Assembly Operation (RAO) 7-3 so that long-range planning for the PCA come to the Assembly through overtures from the lower courts not the Cooperative Ministries Committee.

The passage of Overture 7 was a very good thing for our denomination. The PCA was designed to be a grassroots denomination. That is, it is not supposed to be ruled by committees but through the lower courts – sessions and presbyteries. Committees, therefore, exist to execute policy not to propose policy. This helps to protect the denomination from special concerns who may “fill” committees with “our people.” The liberal drift of the Mainline denominations was often times aided by the empowering of committees thus eliminating the proper oversight of the lower courts.

c) Overture #18
“Amend RAO 9 so that ad interim committees may only be formed in response to presbytery overtures.”

So, paragraph 9.2 in RAO now reads: “Recommendations for the appointment of ad-interim or study committees shall arise only by way of overtures from Presbyteries, which shall be exclusively submitted to the Overtures Committee for recommendations to the General Assembly.”

Like Overture 7 the passage of 18 was a very good thing for the future of our denomination. It helps to ensure that the lower courts propose overtures rather than specially appointed committees. Further, this will ensure that overtures submitted to the Assembly will go through proper debate in the Overtures Committee.

6. Very, very (I mean VERY) few men look good in a tank top.

7. More Ruling Elders need to attend General Assembly. The numbers aren’t even close. If I’m not mistaken, there were about 220 Ruling Elders in Greensboro in a denomination with about 330,000 members. The problem of course is expense. It’s almost an entire week and it ain’t cheap. Churches ought to do their best to budget toward enabling their maximum allotted number of commissioners to General Assembly each year.

8. The Committee on Review of Presbytery Records
This year there was a controversy over the application of the 2nd Commandment.

A six page minority report from 8 members of the Committee was adopted by the Assembly. The substitute for recommendation 52 was adopted: “Exception: January 30, 2016 (Ex. 20:4; WLC 109) – Presbytery distributed to worshipers in the Worship Guide the cover of which included an apparent representation of the second person of the Trinity, thereby introducing that representation into worship.” A copy of the cover was included in the report.

Allow me to translate. Each year the minutes from presbytery meetings are reviewed by the Committee on Review of Presbytery Records (RPR). This committee exists to help ensure that presbyteries are following proper procedure. During the review process this year it was noticed that a particular presbytery distributed a worship guide which included a picture of Jesus. An objection was raised but a majority of the RPR concluded that such an image was not problematic. In response a minority report was composed.

Our confessional standards are quite clear regarding the use of images in worship – they are prohibited. I understand that some men who affirm our standards differ when it comes to the use of images of Jesus for pedagogical purposes (Sunday School, Children’s Bibles, etc.). But I am troubled that the PCA seems divided over the use of images of God in services of worship. Some of the comments from the floor opposing the adoption of the minority report reflected the Nestorian error that the picture was only of the human nature of the Son. Other comments treated those wanting to hold to our doctrinal standards as weaker brothers, as though such a commitment to our standards is reflective of spiritual immaturity.

Thankfully, the minority report was approved by the Assembly.

9. The Report of the Ad Interim Study Committee on Women in Ministry
Not surprisingly the debate dedicated to this report took a lot of time and seemed to get bogged down in the minutiae of parliamentary procedure. The report of the Study Committee can be found HERE.

I was not in favor of the formation of the Study Committee. I believed last year and still believe that it did not come to the assembly in a proper way. I also believe the breadth of the committee’s mission was far too wide.

That said, the committee was served by honorable men and women who are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I commend them for what must have been a difficult task considering the disagreements on the committee. There are some very good things about the report. For instance, the section on ordination is quite good. It clearly upholds the fact that ordination is authoritative. In other words, when elders and deacons are ordained there is a certain level of authority being conferred upon them. This matters because it helps explain why most of us oppose ordaining women to the office of deacon. Ordination inherently confers authority and the responsibilities given to deacons in the BCO involve the exercise of authority.

The report is also clear that God has given the task of spiritual leadership to men. The report, though acknowledging differences in ordaining women to the office of deacon, was uniform in holding to male-only ordination to the office of elder. Any pastors in the PCA who hope for a pathway to see women ordained to the office of elder will find no support in this document or the words of the committee members.

During the committee report Kathy Keller, a committee member, stated emphatically that she in no way supports women holding positions of authority over men in the church. She went so far as to say that if anyone in the PCA does support women in positions of authority then they are in the wrong denomination. That clarity was helpful.

It is a good thing to have conversations about the God-designed role of women in the life and ministry of the church. Those discussions ought to go far beyond merely asserting those things women may not do. So, the report is helpful insofar as it helps churches that may need assistance in clarifying in a positive way the contributions the church needs from women.

The Assembly adopted the eight recommendations from the Study Committee. For many of us, the recommendations, at least most of them, were the real problem with the report.

The recommendations are as follows:

1. “That Overture 3 from Westminster Presbytery, to ‘Declare that the 44th General Assembly erred in the formation of an Ad Interim Committee on the role of women as not being properly before the court, and dismiss the Ad Interim Committee with apology,’ be answered in the negative.”

There was an attempt from the floor to dismiss the committee with thanks but to not receive the report due to procedural irregularities. The motion failed. Next Dr. Joey Pipa moved that the report be received and sent on to presbyteries without comment. That motion failed.

2. “That sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly recognize that, from the founding of the PCA, there has been a variety of views and practices regarding the ways in which women may serve the Lord and the church within scriptural and constitutional parameters, without ordination, and that such mutual respect for said views and practices continues.”

3. “That sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly strive to develop, recognize, and utilize the gifts, skills, knowledge, and wisdom of godly women in the local, regional, and national church, and particularly consider overtures that would allow qualified women to serve on appropriate committees and agencies within the church.”

The key phrase here is “appropriate committees and agencies.” This is too vague in my opinion. There are committees and agencies that involve responsibilities open only to those in spiritual authority. The PCA must maintain clear boundaries around those committees which exercise authority and spiritual oversight lest we violate biblical principles.  

4. As finally amended reads, “That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men.”

The recommendation, as originally proposed, read, “That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men. Though The Book of Church Order does not specifically prohibit the practice of going without ordained deacons, it seems poorly aligned with the spirit of the principle of the two church offices outlined in The Book of Church Order.”

During the debate the proposed recommendation was amended to read: “That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men. The practice of going without ordained deacons is poorly aligned with the spirit of the principle of the two church offices outlined in The Book of Church Order.” This amendment improved upon the original by making it clear that the practice of not ordaining deacons does not merely “seem” to be but indeed “is poorly aligned with the spirit of the two church offices outlined in the Book of Church Order.”

Sadly, this improved wording was stripped from the recommendation. To make matters worse the original wording was almost entirely demolished. I would have been able to support the recommendation as worded originally and especially after the improvement of the first amendment. As it stands the recommendation means virtually nothing.

Why does this matter? It may surprise many reading this that some PCA churches do not ordain deacons. In at least some of these cases it is because, according to the BCO, only men are to be ordained as deacons. In response some churches have chosen to not ordain deacons at all – “If we can’t ordain women then we won’t ordain men either.” That is a clear violation of the spirit of the BCO and should be rebuked. It robs the church of an ordained diaconate. Recommendation four was stripped of any language acknowledging that this practice is contrary to the standards which elders in the PCA vow to uphold.

5. “That sessions consider how to include non-ordained men and women in the worship of the church so as to maintain faithfulness to Scripture, as well as utilizing the gifts God has poured out to His entire church (see exegesis of 1 Corinthians 14:26 in Chapter Two).”

One of the problems with this recommendation is the lack of clarity. To what extent may women and unordained men take an active role in leading the church in worship? It seems to me that the committee’s recommendation is too broad to be helpful.

There was an attempt to amend this statement to read, “That sessions, provided their consciences allow it, consider how to include…” Unfortunately that recommendation was not approved by the Assembly. That action suggest to some of us that TE’s who are convinced by their reading of Scripture that women and unordained men should not be taking an active role in leading the church in worship ought not to have a conscientious objection.

6. As amended, “That sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women and men of the congregation to assist the ordained diaconate.”

The recommendation, as proposed, read, “that sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women of the congregation to assist the ordained leadership; these godly, unordained women have often historically been referred to as deaconesses.”

The problem here is that the BCO already provides for deacon assistants. So I am not sure why this was included in the list of recommendations. Perhaps because it gave members of the study committee to recommend the office of deaconess.

7. “That presbyteries and the General Assembly consider an overture that would establish formally the right of sessions, presbyteries, and the General Assembly to establish the position of commissioned church worker within the PCA for qualified and gifted unordained men and women.”

This recommendation is deeply troubling for at least three reasons. First, it comes too close to establishing a third office of the church. There is simply nothing in Scripture that establishes the office of “Commissioned Church Worker.” Assurances were given that there was no possibility of confusion between ordination and commissioning. I remain skeptical of this claim for what I hope are obvious reasons.

Second, how important is a title? I am happy to serve alongside many men and women who have absolutely no interest in being given a title at church. Certainly we have elders and deacons for Scripture establishes those offices. But is the desire for a title so great that we would create a de-facto church office in order to provide it?

Third, this recommendation will ultimately lead to dishonesty. One of the justifications for this recommendation is that the title of Commissioned Church Worker will provide the holder with tax benefits reserved for ordained ministers. In other words, the IRS would recognize those who hold this title as “clergy” and thus eligible for tax benefits. Yet, the PCA would not consider them clergy nor would they be called ministers, elders, or pastors. Do you see the conflict? On the one hand we would tell the IRS that these commissioned church workers are clergy while denying to our churches that they are.

8. “That sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly consider how they can affirm and include underprivileged and underrepresented women in the PCA.”

I believe that this recommendation was amended to include the words “and men.”

In summary, I believe the report itself was good for the most part. It is a document that would be rejected as barbaric in our culture. I point that out only to reassure you that the report clearly affirms the differing roles between men and women and protects the clear teaching of Scripture that leadership in the home and church is given to men. The recommendations however are largely unhelpful or worse. My hope is that our churches will dismiss most of those recommendations.

10. Ad Interim Study Committee on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation
The Ad Interim Study Committee on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation (TE Kevin Smith, chairman, TE Carl Ellis, RE Alexander Jun, TE Sean Lucas, TE Jonathan Seda, TE Richie Sessions, TE Alex Shipman, voting members; RE Sylvester Brown, RE Otis Pickett, TE Russ Whitfield, advisory members) offered the Assembly a brief initial report and the Committee’s recommendations were adopted.
1. That the Committee and its funding be continued for another year.
2. That a budget of $50,000 be approved to secure the services of Life Way Research to “Assess the current situation in the PCA concerning racial and ethnic reconciliation.”
3. That there be a follow-up study in three years to assess the growth and progress of the PCA in biblical racial reconciliation practice.

11. When will GA be held in Charleston (shrimp and grits) or Memphis (bar-b-que)?

Concluding thoughts:
I have appreciated much of my correspondence and conversations with some of my brothers on the other side of our denominational debates. Such conversations matter in part because it may help reduce the polarization we are presently experiencing. It may help break apart the “voting block” mentality and make way for brothers to vote according to consciences captive to God’s Word rather than party loyalty.

My mind is not changing about things like the 2nd Commandment and ordination. My mind is not changing about the need for pastoral piety, the ordinary means of grace, missional clarity, and confessional subscription. But I think I can hold to those things without vilifying my brothers. Don’t misunderstand. I will continue to oppose efforts to broaden the PCA into progressive evangelicalism. Such efforts, I believe, will prove deadly to our denomination. Indeed, that’s been the result of all such efforts in other denominations. I will continue to encourage those who want to change the PCA to seek out fellowship in one of the denominations which already affirm their views.

However, I believe this can be done between brothers in Christ without seeing one another as the enemy.

Were there things about GA 2017 that discouraged me? Of course. Any gathering of sinners like me will at times be discouraging. But by the end of the week I was, for the most part, encouraged. I understand that some brothers, believing the PCA has drifted too far left, are seeking a way to lead their churches to a more confessional Presbyterian denomination. I am certainly sympathetic to their perspective. However, I believe it is far too early to abandon the PCA. This is not 1936. We are not the PC(USA). Not even close. Has there been a troubling trend in recent years? I believe there has been. Do we have brothers who desire to significantly broaden the PCA to something less than robustly committed to the Westminster Standards and the BCO? It certainly seems that way. But I am convinced that the clear majority of the elders and laity of the PCA are not similarly committed to that project of reinvention.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

A Listener Response to the Maddi Runkles Podcast

I’ve received a handful of emails regarding the latest MoS episode on Maddi Runkles, the pregnant teenager who could not walk with her fellow graduates at Heritage Christian Academy. They were pretty much divided in half between those who agreed with the school’s decision and those who did not. This thoughtful reply by a listener got to the heart of a matter about whether a school administration, even a Christian school, has the same authority that church government does in handling personal sin. I am posting it with permission of the the sender, Lori Seaman:

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the conversation about the Christian school shaming the pregnant teen. One thing it got me thinking about was the unique role of the church, and what happens when other institutions try to take on that role. Christian schools can and do play a very good, important role in the formation of Christian children, but they are not churches. I’m not sure, once they created a code of conduct that did not just address academic- or school-related issues, but personal sin. 

There are things that are not sin that schools can reasonably prohibit and punish. It is not inherently sinful for a boyfriend and girlfriend to kiss, but a school can have a policy against PDAs, and give a detention to students seen kissing in the hallway. A pastor, on the other hand, would be (as least as far as I can tell!) wildly out of line if he were to discipline a serious boyfriend and girlfriend for not waiting until their wedding day to have their first kiss. Failing a class is not a sin, but a school can deny graduation to a student who fails. Whereas, I’d say, a church can discipline a member for sex outside of marriage, but a school should not. 

A school, even a Christian school, has no real mechanism for dealing with sin, nor is it their role to do so. If they have a code of conduct with that includes both not having premarital sex and not plagiarizing, then they are in a bind. If a student plagiarizes or cheats, are they now bound to allow that student to walk at graduation if they repent? But if they won’t allow that, then they are also in a position where extending grace to the pregnant teen but not the plagiarizer would seem unfair. A church can embrace and forgive and be again in full communion with both the repentant pregnant teen and the repentant plagiarizer, because dealing with sin is the job of the church. Dealing with sin is not the job of the school, and they cannot do it well.

Anyway, great show, and I think the school really could not have come up with a good answer once they decided that they should have student’s private sexual behavior (behavior that did not take place on school grounds or at school events) in the code of conduct. It doesn’t belong there, because even Christian schools are not there to discipline and forgive sinners. That’s the church’s job. I’m not sure, once they created a code of conduct that did not just address academic- or school-related issues, but personal sin, they could have responded well.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.