A couple weeks ago, the two overtures passed in response to Revoice by last year’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America failed. Both overtures (23 and 37) were changes to the PCA’s Book of Church Order, and thus required, first, the approval of the assembly itself; and second, the approval of a supermajority of local presbyteries. Both overtures got the necessary approvals of the assembly but failed to get the necessary approvals of local presbyteries.
When adopted by the assembly last year, these overtures were broadly celebrated by the denomination’s conservatives who claimed they were signs of hope Covenant Theological Seminary, Missouri Presbytery, RUF, and Kellerites had not yet won their battle to eviscerate the denomination of any incisive, faithful Biblical and confessional witness to our homosexualist culture.
“All is not lost,” they said. “Look at these overtures. Things are looking up!”
But no, things weren’t looking up then—and even less so, now.
It may surprise some, but I would not have voted for these overtures at General Assembly. Nevertheless, it’s also true their defeat at the presbytery level is bad news for the restoration of Biblical commitments to the denomination.
Why do I say I would not have voted for Overtures 23 and 37 at General Assembly? But before answering…
Presbyterians and self-affirming gays: a little history
Back in the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA), tall-steeple Evangelical pastors such as Clayton Bell (Highland Park, Dallas) and John Huffman (St. Andrews, Newport Beach) worked with their lieutenants (Bell’s man was his Executive Pastor, Harry S. Hassall) calling for fellow Evangelicals to adopt this or that strategy at General Assembly each year. The strategies always focussed on getting each year’s assembly to adopt this or that statement intended to counteract the moral decadence our seminaries, denominational bureaucrats, and self-affirming gays were establishing everywhere.
But each year, the tactics and statements grew weaker and weaker. This was predictable given that the weight of opinion among the denomination’s Evangelicals kept shifting along with the nation’s electorate, getting regressively softer and more opposed to Scripture and our confessions. Any statement hoping to get the popular vote of general assemblies’ commissioners had to aim for that shifting target.
Inevitably, then, these rich Evangelicals fought retreat actions so that, after a year or two, I became convinced this was not their sad fate, but their desire. Their goal wasn’t the reform of Christ’s Bride, but peace in their time, and that peace required them to show themselves to their constituents as zealous for truth with losses at the national level working just as well to solidify their constituents’ trust and sympathy as victories.
Year after year, their ever-weaker statements were defeated.
Condemned to repeat it
This is what’s been going on in the PCA for years and it’s most visible in the matter of Revoice which has been festering four years, now.
Last summer at the assembly, the PCA’s conservatives had allowed the currency of the denomination’s doctrinal and ethical commitments to become so debased that they were reduced to watching the future of the denomination ride on the assembly’s passage of statements whose greatest boldness was to say self-affirming gays “are not qualified for ordained office.” Yes, you read that right: simple membership in Christ’s church was not under discussion. The overtures proposed and passed did not seek to establish that gay self-affirmation is incompatible with Christian faith, but only with members being promoted into church office.
This was the same compromise forged in the Presbyterian Church(USA)—then called the UPCUSA—at their 1978 General Assembly. I’ve always thought of this compromise in my former denomination as, “You agree to no ordination of church officers who are self-affirming gays and we’ll agree to no church discipline of members who are self-affirming gays.”
Presently in the PCA, in an effort to appear evenhanded in their concern about disqualifying sins, other sins were thrown into the overtures, but the thrust behind both overtures was never misunderstood by anyone as anything other than an attempt to protect against Covenant Seminary’s Revoice and Pastor Greg Johnson (@PcaMemorial).
The “witch hunt” against self-affirming gay Greg Johnson
One tweet put it directly:
PCA overtures 23 and 37 – they are unloving, unmerciful, and judgmental. Let’s call this what it really is…A witch hunt. A hunt against a man, @PcaMemorial
The destroyers of Biblical morals and doctrine creating schism within the church always have explanations in justification of their sins, and those explanations never fail to fool the naive and credulous. Presently, for instance, Greg Johnson and his self-affirming gays protest that they promise not to marry or have sex with each other, so what’s the big deal? Scripture only prohibits them sex and marriage, but everything up to those things is perfectly permissible. Matter of fact, if one attends their Revoice conferences, it’s pointedly obvious that all things gay which stay inside the cup, allowing the outside of the cup to appear clean, are celebrated. Queer narratives. Sodomitic identities. Gay aesthetics. Man-boy love songs. Zoophilic art shows.
But no, not the last two, actually. Covenant Seminary and Revoice are not yet leading church schism in promotion of the pedophilic and zoophilic. They know the church is not yet ready to open those specific closets.
True, at this point in time, Covenant Seminary’s Revoice is only self-affirming in sodomy, and not pedophilia and bestiality. Still, the reasonable among us have no trouble recognizing the plain fact that the logic of their lies works just as well with other sexual perversions.
So it was that last year’s General Assembly passed two overtures intended to express their concern with this annual self-affirmation of gayness within the PCA.
Here’s the first, Overture 23 (emphasis not in original):
BCO 16-4. Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.
Here’s the second, Overture 37 (emphasis not in original):
BCO 21-4 e. In the examination of the candidate’s personal character, the presbytery shall give specific attention to potentially notorious concerns, such as but not limited to relational sins, sexual immorality (including homosexuality, child sexual abuse, fornication, and pornography), addictions, abusive behavior, racism, and financial mismanagement. Careful attention must be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires. The candidate must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending on this work of grace to make progress over sin (Psalm 103:2-5, Romans 8:29) and to bear fruit (Psalm 1:3; Gal. 5:22-23). While imperfection will remain, he must not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 6:9-11). In order to maintain discretion and protect the honor of the pastoral office, Presbyteries are encouraged to appoint a committee to conduct detailed examinations of these matters and to give prayerful support to candidates.
BCO 24-1. In the examination of each nominee’s personal character, the Session shall give specific attention to potentially notorious concerns, such as but not limited to relational sins, sexual immorality (including homosexuality, child sexual abuse, fornication, and pornography), addictions, abusive behavior, racism, and financial mismanagement. Careful attention must be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires. Each nominee must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending upon this work of grace to make progress over sin (Psalm 103:2-5; Romans 8:29) and to bear fruit (Psalm 1:3; Gal. 5:22-23). While imperfection will remain, he must not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 6:9-11). In order to maintain discretion and protect the honor of church office, Sessions are encouraged to appoint a committee to conduct detailed examinations into these matters and to give prayerful support to nominees.
So then, here is the proposed requirement for ordination to church office which the PCA has now refused to approve as an amendment to its Book of Church Order:
Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms) …are not qualified for ordained office.
Where does this leave the PCA?
The utility of pr0longing the conflict
From the old days in the mainline PC(USA), experience tells us the repudiation of these overtures leaves nothing clear other than the decay is proceeding apace.
Concerning the lack of clarity, does the failure of the vote mean those who self-affirm as “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” and “homosexual Christian” are now qualified for ordained office? The PCA has now refused to approve the statement that they are “not qualified for ordained office,” right?
Well yes, but this doesn’t mean the denomination is now on record that self-affirming gays are qualified for ordained office. Why not?
Well, for starters, only a minority of the denomination disapproved of Overtures 23 and 37.
Furthermore, if Overtures 23 and 37 were rewritten to be their polar opposites and submitted to this coming General Assembly, they would likely fail; and if the assembly did pass them and they were sent down to local presbyteries, it’s likely they would fail on the presbytery level by an even larger margin than Overtures 23 and 37 failed this year.
National meetings or assemblies of any denomination hear reports, appoint functionaries, provide a forum for expostulators, and only ever move the political ball slightly in one direction or the other. Despite their bookend worship services, they are almost purely political and thus do little of any substance. Nevertheless, the women back home must be convinced Very Important Things are at stake, and their husbands and fathers are very much needed, so the charade is kept up. A moderator is elected, committees report, debates are engaged, votes are tallied, victories celebrated, defeats lamented, self-proclaimed heroes watch themselves on the assembly’s videocast in their hotel rooms later that night, magnificent accounts of battles won are posted on Twitter, and when the assembly adjourns, pastors go home and report how weighty the whole thing was and how necessary their presence was to the whole thing and how important it is that they have their pastor there standing up for whatever it is he stands up for…
Church discipline: found difficult and left untried
Now then, stop for a second and remember that, in presbyterian polity, the local church session and individual presbyteries are the courts of original jurisdiction. Thus the church is built up or torn down depending on whether those courts discipline moral and doctrinal error.
But sadly, for decades now, these courts of the PCA have avoided their work. There’s been no discipline in local church sessions and presbyteries.
Sure, if a pastor denies the divinity of Christ, he’ll get talked off the roof; and if he stays up there, he may eventually get defrocked by his presbytery. If an elder’s son hacks a grandmother to pieces Sunday morning with a hatchet and doesn’t say he’s sorry, he may eventually get excommunicated.
But if a professor at the denominational seminary publicly calls for the repeal of all the nation’s sodomy laws,1 if one of the seminary’s grads is commended to a presbytery and ordained despite being a self-affirming sodomite, if that student goes on to hold a national conference in his church near the seminary where hundreds of other self-affirming sodomites go and get their flame on, if the same man then talks some publisher into selling his book calling for the church to stop hurting all the self-affirming sodomites who want to be deacons, elders, and pastors just as he is, sure I am that neither the professor nor the seminary’s board of trustees and president, nor the man himself will ever be disciplined for their schism and sin.
The conservatives (not the liberals) of the PCA have long opposed any discipline of doctrinal and moral error, as well as the schism it has caused and is still causing. Sometimes, at a national level, they make pronouncements against this or that, but the central failure of the PCA for decades now is repeating the central failure of the mainline PC(USA) before her, which is that the conservatives of both denominations refuse to use the discipline ordained by God for the the salvation of the sinner, the purity and peace of His Church, and the protection of His Holy Name.
Of course, there is one exception, and that is the man who publicly condemns these conservatives for betraying their calling. That man will surely be disciplined.
For lying. For slandering. For envy. For bitterness. For exaggeration. For breaking his vows of living peaceably with his brothers. For schism. For many, many things no one had ever thought about him until he piped up and stated the simple fact that there is no discipline in his church.
Why would I not have voted for Overtures 23 and 37 at last year’s General Assembly?
Subjecting Scripture & Westminster Standards to popular vote
Such overtures are never helpful except as political maneuvers intended to pacify the flock. The most they can accomplish is a pastor damping down anti-PCA talk in his session by responding, “See, the Church spoke and what it said is Biblical!” But if the statement fails to be adopted, finally, the church is worse off than before.
What should have been done?
The Covenant Theological Seminary professor calling publicly for the repeal of all sodomy laws should have been admonished; and if he didn’t repent and retract, he should have been fired.
If that wasn’t done, Covenant’s board of trustees should have called in the president and asked him why he hadn’t disciplined his faculty member? Then they should have given him time to do so, and if he refused or failed to do it, in time he should have been fired.
What if Covenant’s board of trustees failed to call in the president and admonish him?
Then, the following general assembly should have called the board of trustees to account and given them a year to resolve the matter to the honor of Christ, the peace and purity of the church, and the repentance and restoration of all who had erred—starting with the professor. The following year’s general assembly should have taken the matter up again so that, if in the interim Covenant’s board of trustees had not corrected the matter, the assembly would have replaced the board of trustees with men who feared God and trembled at His Word.
What about the PCA pastor who was led astray by his Covenant Theological Seminary professors and administration in the first place? This self-affirming gay alum and Missouri Presbytery pastor should have been loved and counseled by his fellow presbyters to the end that he repented of his self-affirmation of gayness and gave up his leadership and celebratory status with the butch and effeminates of Revoice. If he refused the counsel, he should have been censured by his presbytery; and if that didn’t produce demonstrable fruit of repentance, he should have been defrocked and excommunicated.
Gayness is a perversion Scripture lists right next to incest and bestiality. Gayness cannot be self-affirmed by any Christian without violating the Seventh Commandment in a multiplicity of ways. Gayness cannot be self-affirmed because, like the similar sins of incest and bestiality, gayness is shameful. Being gay is not something any follower of Jesus Christ should ever publicly proclaim about oneself. “Of such were some of us.”
That a man does affirm his own gayness is a violation of the Seventh Commandment, as well as the exposition of that commandment given in the Westminster Standards, which read:
Q. 138. What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?
A. The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; 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 labor in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto.
Q. 139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A. 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.
As we have pointed out repeatedly, Greg Johnson and his fellow Revoicers are in open defiance of the Seventh Commandment, and the Westminster Standards provide all that is necessary to prove their defiance and find them guilty of gross and public immorality.
Sadly though, no one has bothered counseling or prosecuting any of them for violating their ordination vows to submit to the Word of God and the Westminster Standards. In fact, no one has even bothered quoting the Standards’s exposition of the Seventh Commandment in any prosecution or defense of Greg Johnson and his fellow Revoicers in the PCA.
Think about that. No one has bothered pointing out or prosecuting these men and woman for their “unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections;” for their “wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour;” or for their “undue delay of marriage.”
The list of their violations of the Seventh Commandment could be explained at great length, and also added to, but there’s no use. Where there’s no will, there’s no way.
I would never have voted for Overture’s 23/37 because they were not motivated by a love for Greg Johnson or any of his fellow Revoicers. They were only motivated by a desire to whitewash the outside of the tomb the PCA is becoming.
But maybe the worst thing about Overtures 23/37 is the damage they did to the authority of Scripture and the Westminster Standards. Any time a referendum is held on what is already crystal clear in prior standards of authority, those prior standards of authority lose some of their authority. After all, the referendum is taking some of their content and putting it out there for a vote.
But really, how can anyone vote on what God Himself commanded and the Westminster Divines exposited in a way that could not be a more clear condemnation of all things Revoice?
Now, alas, God’s Seventh Commandment as well the Westminster Standards exposition of that commandment have been officially relegated to the sideline, while a much weaker and smaller statement of that commandment and its exposition were put forward for vote.
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For more on the church’s betrayal of homosexuals, as well as recommendations for pastoral care of those suffering this temptation, get a copy of, The Grace of Shame: 7 ways the church has failed to love homosexuals.
|↑1||Covenant Theological Seminary Professor David C. Jones: http://baylyblog.com/blog/2006/04/christian-leaders-seek-repeal-anti-sodomy-laws|