Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Heart rot

Some trees suffer from heart rot. They look sturdy and healthy on the outside, but they've been hollowed out by internal rot. It only takes a wind storm to blow them over. Is that what's happening to the PCA? 

• Women's Ministry. In order for the PCA to have unity, it will be necessary for ME's to accept our denomination's historical commitment to the Bible's teaching of male-only elders and deacons, involving not only ordination but also the functions of those offices. Meanwhile, MR's will need to show a broad embrace, within the above bounds, of women exercising their gifts and partnering with men in the work of the gospel. Given the clear stance of the 2017 Women's Ministry Study Committee report in agreement with both of these sides - against ordination to elder and deacon and for wide-ranging ministry - there is reason to be optimistic. This year's denial of the overture to admit women as voting members of general assembly committees is even more encouraging to those concerned about a liberal drift. Still, the coming years will tell the tale, and if progressives become resolved to achieve women's ordination then all hopes of unity in the PCA will be dashed.

• Creation v. Evolution. PCA unity on this topic requires MR's to accept that not all of our brothers are going to hold a strict 24-7 view of Genesis 1. But it will also require ME's clearly to accept that evolution has no place in our denomination, including end-run theories like old earth progressive creationism. If we can continue to agree on the biblical portrait of a historical Adam, clearly exclude evolution, and accept diversity within those bounds, the PCA can maintain our functional unity. Conversely, attempts to foster acceptance of evolution or to impose a 24-7 creation view on the denomination will lead to further division.

• Homosexuality. At the heart of our division on this subject is whether or not to define same-sex attraction (SSA) as a morally neutral status that does not require repentance. PCA progressives seem to have asserted such a sub-category beneath sinful desire (essentially adopting the pre-Reformation concept of concupiscence).  PCA conservatives hold with the Reformers against concupiscence, urging that the Bible does not meaningfully distinguish between "orientation" and "desire" (see James 1:13-14). Can we come to an ME-MR agreement on this topic? I was encouraged in this regard by comments made during the general assembly by Mark Dalbey, president of Covenant Theological Seminary. While conservatives may quarrel with details of Dalbey's configuration, his statement that "attraction to the same sex must be mortified by the means of grace and the support of the people of God,"2 is at least close to the conservative view regarding same sex attraction. Moreover, MR's are convinced that expressions such as "gay Christian" are incompatible with 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 as a wholesome description of a believer. For their part, ME's are concerned for believers struggling with homosexual desire to be granted their full human dignity and embraced with loving gospel ministry in the church. Can we reach an agreement that brings both sides together? This remains to be seen, although I was encouraged in this hope by the experience of general assembly.

With due respect to Rick Phillips (and he's not the problem), I don't see how this is going to work out. The proper procedure is to seek ordination in a denomination you already agree with. A prospective ordinand should select a denomination whose theology and official policies are a match for his own. And the ordination process is supposed to be a vetting process to ensure, as much as possible, that candidates line up with the viewpoint of the denomination.

If, however, a sizable percentage of elders are at variance with official policy, then short of schism or expulsion, what's the remedy? Aren't they bound to work towards changing the denomination to make it realign with their own viewpoint? 

And even if they kept their dissent private, their actions will lack conviction. They can't be expecting to put their heart into preaching/teaching things or practicing church discipline if they're unsympathetic with official policy in that regard. 

In the case of the same-sex attraction debate, the PCA may not have an official policy. Things that were unthinkable 10 years ago are now up for grabs. It's hard to keep up with sociological trends. 

But that doesn't excuse what ought to be an easy policy call. How can homosexual activity be intrinsically wrong unless homosexual attraction is intrinsically wrong? This is a wedge issue. 


  1. "including end-run theories like old earth progressive creationism"

    So Old-Earth Creationism is OK, but Old Earth creationism is not OK? Or is he trying to talk about theistic evolution here?

  2. I noticed that about Old-earth creationism. The whole thing seems like a mish-mash. On the one hand, it sounds way too harsh on old-earth creationism. On the other hand, it looks like an attempt to make the place safe for everybody who affirms, in some sense, an historical Adam. One gets the impression that a policy based on this could be wielded in almost any direction desired by someone who had the power to do so.

    The discussion of same-sex attraction appears to me to be muddled as well, but that's a kind of muddle that we see so much of that one can almost excuse it. For example, temptation as such is not *sin* but may nonetheless be *disordered*. If I feel a sudden overwhelming rush of rage, "seeing red," and an urge to kill someone, that isn't necessarily a sin, if I squelch it immediately. But it obviously betrays a fault of disposition and a disordered state of the passions. Hence I should pray to be changed at the heart so that such rages do not come over me, rather than making an identity out of my angry personality.

  3. Replies
    1. Two major factions in the PCA: more evangelistic (ME) or more Reformed (MR).

    2. Brrother, so "more evangelistic" means "more socially, theologically, and politically progressive." Got it.

  4. It is sad that people think that they have to compromise on doctrine in order to be more evangelistic.
    John Piper's "Let the Nations Be Glad" is a very good book on missions that is doctrinally sound. PCA nowadays needs a Piper and another Sproul, it seems.