Missouri Presbytery Revoice Report: a close reading (17); one-sided warnings
NOTE: Missouri Presbytery (PCA) is the ecclesiastical authority over Pastor Greg Johnson and the elders of Memorial Presbyterian Church. Pastor Johnson and Memorial hosted the first Revoice 18 conference one year ago in St. Louis. The second Revoice (19) will soon be held, once again in St. Louis.
Responding to national pressure from inside and outside their denomination, Missouri Presbytery put together an investigatory committee and just issued their Report. This is seventeenth in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here. Report text is indented. Unless otherwise indicated, footnotes are from Missouri Presbytery’s Report. We pick up where we left off last time.
Further, just as the Old Testament classifies homosexuality as an “abomination” (הָ בֵועֹת (ּto the LORD (cf. Lev. 18.22; 20.13), so it classifies “haughty eyes” and the “spreading of strife among brothers” also as an “abomination” (הָ בֵועֹת (ּto the LORD (Pr. 6.16-19). Sowing dissension among brothers and sleeping with a member of the same sex are both egregious in the eyes of God.
True. So who’s spreading strife among brothers? Those warning against Revoice, or Revoicers and Missouri Presbytery for defending them?
Missouri Presbytery assumes Revoice’s critics are the ones spreading strife. Again and again they accuse Revoice’s critics of being divisive.
The truth is the very opposite. Revoice is schismatic whereas those opposing it seek the unity, purity, and peace of the Church.
When addressing matters of sin, especially the sins of those holding membership in the covenant community, it is imperative that we follow the example of our Lord Jesus, who, upon seeing Jerusalem, the city that would murder him, responded not first with words of admonition (much less denunciation) but with tears of heartbroken lamentation (Lk. 19.41).
Quite the opposite. Jesus was most confrontational in His words to the Church’s leaders. Men like the Missouri Presbytery’s pastors and seminary grads and profs of Revoice. Note that these condemnations immediately precede Jesus’ words Missouri Presbytery chose to quote, above:
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven [fn]from [fn]people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.” You fools and blind men! Which is [fn]more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, “Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.” You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:13-36)
These are the sins inside the Church.
Now then, what about the sins outside the Church?
With respect to the sins outside the church, Revelation does indeed portray the church as two witnesses who boldly prophecy (sic) to the world, and yet they do so “clothed in sackcloth”—i.e., in garments of lament (Rev. 11.3). Without love-filled lamentation, admonition can tragically deteriorate into mere (Satanic) accusation and condemnation.
As opposed to?
“Satanic accusation and condemnation.”
Which category do Jesus’ words above fit into?
Revelation 2-3 contain the seven letters from the resurrected, reigning Christ to the seven churches, as recorded by John. These letters, in their variety of circumstances and struggles, present flawless models for confronting a church’s deviation from faithfulness, in doctrine or in life. As such, the general format of these letters is highly instructive: it begins with a Christological reflection (e.g., “These are the words of the First and the Last”), followed by very considered and diverse words of affirmation and sympathy (e.g., “I know your deeds, your hard work and perseverance” or “I know your afflictions and your poverty”), revealing a keen awareness of both the historical (socio-political, geographic and economic) context and the cultural moment. Then the letter continues on to confront the various failings in the church’s life and doctrine (“Yet I have this against you…”), accompanied by various exhortations and admonitions. The letters then conclude with a hope-filled summons to “hear” and with a beautiful promise from Christ for all who “overcome.” Of especial importance in this format is (i) the ordering of their content and (perhaps especially) (ii) the proportionality of their affirmations and admonitions: it is this general order and proportionality, then, that bring into greater relief the exceptions to the format—namely, the persecuted churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia, for whom Christ has no admonition, only encouragement; and the failing churches of Sardis and Laodicea, for whom Christ’s words of affirmation are both fewer and more selective.
One hopes it’s been a while since these pastors of Missouri Presbytery have read the Letters to the Seven Churches, and thus have forgotten their content and are not as culpable for leaving out of this Report the parts of those letters that don’t fit their theme. For instance:
But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:20-23)
And to the church of Laodicea:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.(Revelation 3:15-19)
Missouri Presbytery continues:
Our sincere hope and prayer is that any PCA minister, church or presbytery sending correspondence concerning another body’s potential or actual deviation in doctrine or life would earnestly seek to follow the example of our risen Lord and great High Priest.
Missouri Presbytery never stops faulting Revoice’s critics. When one thinks of all the verses they might have quoted warning their own Missouri Presbytery Revoicers, then the absence of such warnings in 143 pages of text, their project is clarified.
This is not to say warnings aren’t needed or heeded by us and Revoice’s other critics. Of course we are called to love these schismatics promoting sexual immorality. We are guilty of many sins both outside and inside our work condemning Revoice. Where there are many words, sin is not absent. Please pray for us.
(This is seventeenth in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here.)