Revoice and the PCA: who will take Scripture and Westminster Standards in hand to stand in the gap?
Forty years ago, a church in Mississippi called a bright young man to be their pastor. Though there had been some rumblings throughout Mississippi about encroaching liberalism and a few churches had begun organizing a new denomination along conservative lines, no one in Charleston knew or was much concerned. Until December of 1974, that is. It was Christmastime in Charleston when the new pastor told his session that, by the way, he didn’t much believe in the Virgin Birth and, as he saw it, they didn’t need to either. Merry Christmas.
The good souls responded, “…wait…WHAT?”
Yet he had a seminary degree, didn’t he? And the Presbytery approved his ordination, didn’t they?
Here is the scandal of Presbyterianism: it only works if you do. When the pastor doesn’t do his due diligence; when the session refuses to do its due diligence; when the presbytery resents the rigid dude no one likes who is calling for due diligence; when the denomination’s seminary doesn’t do its due diligence and teaches its students to copy its slothfulness and conniving; when general assembly doesn’t notice or care that pastors and sessions and presbyteries and its seminary are opposed to due diligence… What’s the fruit?
The church’s shepherds poison their sheep.
If we tremble before God Who very much cares about the souls in our churches purchased by the blood of His Son, every one of us holding office in our Presbyterian church will never ever forsake doing his due diligence. The Presbyterian system is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain.
Of course the Lord is always strong to save. But we must remember sometimes He saves by rescuing a righteous remnant from synagogues of Satan. Make no mistake: if we fail to do our duty, our churches will soon join those that have already “so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.” These are the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith quoting Revelation 2:9.
To prevent this slide into degeneracy, Presbyterians have adopted standards by which we measure the health of our ministers. While the Bible alone is Divinely inspired, we have and do confess the “subordinate standards”—Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms—to be a faithful summary of the Bible’s teaching. The Standards are a systematic presentation of “what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man,” and we have vowed to uphold them.
The teaching and ruling elders of each presbytery are the gate-keepers of our churches, particularly as they lay hands on a man, ordaining him to a specific call. If there’s anything in the Standards a potential pastor doesn’t entirely agree with, he is to write out a statement explaining his “exception.” In the PCA for instance, it has become normal practice for candidates to take an exception on the Sabbath. Everyone believes in a sabbath observance of some kind, but many think that a game of catch in the backyard with your children is okay, though the standards forbid it. Most Presbyteries let that one slide until the stated clerk catches you playing catch with your twenty-two uniformed “children” in the backyard of a concession stand three hundred miles from your house.
Men taking exception to the Standard’s statement concerning the Lord’s Day are generally allowed on the basis that such exceptions do not strike at the vitals of Scripture’s system of doctrine.
But what happens when a candidate has a call extended to him by a church—say your church—and during his examination for ordination, he tells your presbytery, “I take an exception to the Larger Catechism Question 138.”
Here is what your intended pastor says he disagrees with:
Question 138: What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?
Answer: The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behaviour; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency; conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labour in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto.
The candidate says, “I take an exception to Larger Catechism 138 for the following reasons:
- “I believe that “chastity in mind, affections” is over-rigorous;
- I consider “preservation of [chastity] in…others” to be meddlesome;
- I think “watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses” is probably right unless it means I can’t speak about the beauty of a same-sex brother’s physique;
- “Keeping of chaste company” is not Christ-like because Jesus ate with sinners;
- “Modesty in apparel” is too vague and fails to recognize differing cultural expectations
- “Modesty in apparel” also makes women feel victim-shamed;
- “Marriage by those that have not the gift of continency” and forbidding “cohabitation” don’t allow room for spiritual friendships
- “Shunning all occasions of uncleanness” would bar my participation in art shows and installations, as well as a variety of gay and queer culture events patronized by LGBTQ sexual minorities;
- “Resisting temptations thereunto” implies same-sex temptations are sin, but they are not sin;
Good reader, do you think this man should be ordained? Would you call this man to be your new youth pastor or RUF campus minister? Is this man good to go as the speaker at the RYM summer conference your students will be learning from?
But it gets worse. Your next youth or campus pastor will go on to tell presbytery, “I take exception to Question 139 of the Larger Catechism, also.”
Question 139: What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
Answer: The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage; having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company, lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.
He won’t be comfortable with those parts about “unnatural lusts,” “unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, affections,” nor with that part about “filthy communications, or listening thereunto.” He’ll quible over the precise meaning of “impudent or light behaviour” saying he doesn’t think men in the past could understand what constitutes impudent or light behavior today. He’ll say “undue delay of marriage” doesn’t apply to sexual minorities; it’s just for heteros, straights, or breeders.
Reading this exposition of the Seventh Commandment in the Westminster Standards makes it painfully obvious Revoice men and women trained by Covenant Seminary professors never for a second worried that their denial and violation of every other phrase of this part of our Standards would be something they’d be confronted and held accountable for.
One of two things must be true: either they have never read the historical expositions of the Seventh Commandment passed down from century to century, generation to generation of our Presbyterian and Reformed fathers in the faith; or they feel safe to violate them systematically with no fear of admonition, rebuke, censure, temporary or permanent suspension from the sacraments, defrocking, or excommunication.
How could this have happened?
While the Revoice man grudgingly agrees that the Bible forbids sodomy, he feels that a prohibition on his orientation is really out of line. He’ll say he can’t help what kind of desire he has, so that can’t be considered a violation of the Seventh Commandment. Orientation isn’t sin. It should be mortified but somehow it does not rise to the level of sin.
Whether or not any men actually claim an exception on this part of our standards, the fact is undeniable: those promoting and supporting the Revoice conference are undermining our obedience to the Seventh Commandment. And in the future (this is the inaugural Revoice conference, in case you haven’t been paying attention) men will be conditioned to view LC 137-139 as incomprehensible and outdated. It is likely you will not know this until it’s too late.
Remember that church session forty years ago down in Charleston, Mississippi? It’s happening again at your local PCA church, but this time it’s not the Virgin Birth being attacked in the bleak midwinter. Rather, it’s the Seventh Commandment of God’s Moral Law written on the stone tablets by God’s Own Hand and the attack is being carried out in the sultry heat of summer in St. Louis.
Nobody with eyes to see has the slightest difficulty knowing where this is heading.
Men in the church today refuse to acknowldge any such things as a “slippery slope” despite the sexual ethics slope consistently demonstrating for decades now that it has zero friction and infinite gravity. But to humor these small thinkers, let’s look at what Revoice is giving us right here and now without regard to where we may or may not be on any slope.
- Revoice men and women declare “unnatural lusts” to be merely a tragic result of the Fall. No sin needing repentance.
- Revoice men and women declare it is a man’s right, not merely to delay, but to repudiate marriage without any reference to whether or not he has the “gift of continence.”
- Revoice men and women advocate and promote spiritual friendships which indisputably are “provocations to … acts of uncleanness in ourselves [and] in others.”
- Revoice men and women at their best teach others to despair of fruitful “conjugal love and cohabitation.”
- Revoice men and women along with the pastors and seminary professors leading them declare it to be loving Christian witness and wise pastoral care to gather together a large number of people sharing the same unnatural lusts so they can talk and walk, eat and drink, sing and pray together away from their churches and homes during the heat of St. Louis in late July. There they will share in wanton looks, impudent and light behaviour, immodest apparel, entangling vows of single life, idleness, unchaste company, and many other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, both in themselves and their fellow Revoicers.
The list could go on… and these offenses are the reason sessions and presbyteries and general assemblies are called church courts. They exist to charge men who violate these standards and discipline men found guilty who refuse to repent. These offenses amount to reckless endangerment, at least; but more likely, they turn people away from repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
The work Revoice leaders give themselves to in our midst is reassuring tender souls that their chains are sweet, their dungeon is home, and their bondage to degrading passions will not leave them them for the rest of their lives, so they should get used to it.
No man since the Fall could read through Westminster Larger Catechism Questions 137-139 and think that his life is what it ought to be. We are not talking about whether a man sins or not. We are talking about whether he justifies his sins and encourages others to join him in those sins.
The central truth that every Presbyterian in former generations would have known and based charges on is that Revoice approves and promotes the very sins against the Seventh Commandment our Westminster Standards condemn.
Now let’s go back to your pastoral candidate. You’ve called him because he went to the PCA seminary and got his M.Div. After graduation, he was one of the fortunate who was able to get an internship working under a well-known pastor who pulls down $150,000 a year in addition to speaker’s honoraria and book royalties. Your candidate learned from this pastor and preached a good candidating sermon. Your search committee asked all the questions they could think of, but…
They probably didn’t know all the questions they should have asked. That’s why they can’t hire him without the approval of presbytery! That’s why there are Standards. That’s why presbyteries ask, “Mr. ___, do you take any exceptions to the Westminster Confession or the Larger and Shorter Catechisms?”
Presbyterian churches are never any better than their willingness to hold officers accountable to Scripture and the Westminster Standards.
Men who oppose the Seventh Commandment and its exposition in the Larger Catechism will not take exceptions to that exposition until someone somewhere shows the willingness to hold someone somewhere accountable to that exposition. To our Standards.
And really, presbyteries aren’t willing to do so because no one wants to deal with sexual rebellion and sin today—just as no one wanted to deal with racism, oppression, and man-stealing a century and a half ago. So we have a steady stream of men hiding their bad consciences who are being ordained and entering the pulpits of the PCA where they are free to promote their doctrines of demons. The presbyters don’t ask them if they take exceptions to WLC Questions 137-139 and they aren’t volunteering any.
Is it really impossible to hope that presbyteries of the PCA will dig deep into a man’s views on the sins of sexual perverts? Ought we not expect presbyteries to probe issues of character in a man that shout out loud his views on the sins of what he mincingly refers to as “sexual minorities?”
Calvin’s company of pastors in Geneva refused to ordain men whose manners were soft. Unlike us today, John Calvin and his company of pastors scrutinized a man’s mannerisms fully expecting his mannerisms would reveal his character—and his character his theology.
Take a few minutes and think about that. Are you willing to do the same? Is your presbytery willing to do the same?
When a man is effeminate, the questions of his ordination examinations should be focused on WLC 137-139. During our examinations let’s not be naive. Or worse, stupidly magnanimous. Let’s not mimic Corinth who boasted while the man had his father’s wife.
If presbyteries are unwilling to do this (admittedly difficult) work, then having been groomed by our seminary, the pulpits, RUF ministries, and missions of the PCA will be filled with men and women who approve of sexual perversions. Of those sins the Apostle Paul condemns as “degrading passions.”
We will watch as our eagerness to demonstrate our great compassion and sensitivity to those struggling with same-sex temptations blossoms into a full-scale approval of all things gay.
The historic Christian sexual ethic is being attacked today, and those carrying out the attack have the audacity to claim they are upholding it. In such a time as this, faithful men will guard the fences put up by our Westminsterian fathers, both enforcing and reinforcing those fences as time reveals the need.
We are pastors and this is our concern. Pastors are called to denounce sin and preach the righteousness of Christ to the repentant. Those corrupted by sexual abuse who, tragically, cope with their pain by hating their God-given sexuality (giving themselves to the same sexual perversions their predators assaulted them with) must from our true compassion be called to live according to the way God lovingly fashioned them in their mother’s womb.
We are horrified by those who suffered sodomitic depredations in their childhood and youth now suffering under pastors who heal them superficially, telling them they must remain twisted the rest of their lives. We are grieved that homosexually-tempted men and women will not be told it’s better to marry than to burn. We condemn the sort of pastoral care that, under a false sense of compassion, withholds the very responsible and obedient act of marriage that would assure these precious souls’ sexual purity.
We anathematize those wicked shepherds who publicly oppose the very shame that drives these men and women to our Lord Jesus Christ. Every last one of us knows shame over our sin is precious because it drives us to our dying Savior. Those who affirm a sinner in his perverse lusts and effeminacy do the worst thing to him they possibly could, barring him from the very contrition that God delights in.
When Presbyterian pastors refuse to discipline the Church by the Westminster Divines’ exposition of the Seventh Commandment, sinners are left to die in their sins. Such pastoral care may strut as compassion now in our cheap and decadent age, but on the Terrible Day of Judgment it shall revealed to be the worst kind of cruelty and betrayal.
Ruined souls will remember with the same bitterness and gnashing of teeth as the rest of the damned that the Church’s shepherds never called them to repent of their adulteries.
Is Revoice still going to be held? If so it proves the church’s refusal to love sinners.
The responsibility lies with the pastors and elders of Missouri Presbytery.
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
But you did not learn Christ in this way. (Ephesians 4:17-20)