My Day By Day Summary and Review of the Major Actions of the 2017 PCA General Assembly

Tuesday (6/13/17)

1) Most of the committee of commissioners (CoC) meetings were held on Tuesday morning. I was on the CoC for Covenant College. There was nothing much of note in our deliberations, I did notice, however, that the Board had changed its by-laws so that they no longer assume that the board of trustees would be composed exclusively of (male) elders. They said this was just their attempt to stay in step with the General Assembly and the assumption that the Report on Woman in the Ministry of the Church would pass. It seemed a bit premature to me, however, and also seemed (and again this is merely a personal opinion) to reflect an unhealthy tendency of the Permanent Committees to be working hand in glove with the Cooperative Ministry Committee (CMC) and their agenda. An agenda which is in turn being pushed on the floor of the Assembly by the National Partnership. To this untrained eye, that agenda looks like part of a unified long-range strategic plan.

2) Outgoing Moderator George Robertson preached in the evening. He began by telling us that he’d written the sermon and then was told by a friend that his points were good but didn’t spring from the texts he was going to use, so he had to look for other texts to preach from. His sermon focused on how God can use us with all of our disabilities, handicaps, sins, and failures and how the kingdom would not be the kingdom without people of every color and shape. Then there was a celebration of sacramental efficacy in lifting us out of depression and giving us assurance of our being accepted by Christ via a personal story. The first 20 minutes were mostly stories of the handicapped overcoming disability. This included Moses who had to overcome the handicap of a “heavy mouth.”

3) As Mike Khandjian of the National Partnership (NP) prophesied, Alexander Jun was indeed elected moderator over a highly experienced RE by the name of Bice. Jun is the first Korean-American to be elected to that position, and it was impossible not to notice how pleased Korean commissioners on the floor were with the development. Against that, Jun is the very model of a modern social justice warrior. You can see his latest book, “White Out” here: https://rjhe.org/2017/02/19/book-release-white-out/ and an example of one of his lectures, ” The Pursuit of Racial Justice in Higher Education” here: https://youtu.be/e4jq9ZoPx_s 

Also, his election really represented one NP moderator handing over the gavel to the next NP moderator. This will probably be the trend for the foreseeable future. Given that the NP also controlled the nominating process for the permanent committees this year, their control over the apparatus of the PCA is fairly impressive. If they don’t like you, you are going to have a hard time getting elected to much at the GA level.

4) The vote was 60/40 in Jun’s favor, and I’m guessing that will be the margin for conservative losses on most of the future votes at this assembly, we’ll see if I’m right. If I am, it probably means that the age of political bloc voting at the GA is here and its likely here to stay.

5) Now for some good news: I had some really good Goat Rogan Josh for dinner and met with some dear old friends.

Wednesday (6/14/17)

Wednesday was frustrating in how little actually got done, a lot of which was due to the fact that the moderator clearly had little or no experience moderating a court of the church. While we may be tempted to view the moderator as an honorary position, the choice of moderator can actually make the difference between a smoothly run or frustrating assembly. Presbyters should take note of this and only choose men who can be reasonably expected to do a competent job.

In any event, here is a very quick review of the actions of the assembly on Wednesday:

We started with an “assembly wide seminar” on the role of women, led by the committee that produced the report on the role of women in the church. The lack of freedom for women to exercise their gifts in the church was presented as a crisis, and while those who spoke affirmed that they did not want women to become elders or have authority, some made it clear that they wanted deaconesses as an ordained office in the PCA. Kathy Keller, Tim Keller’s wife, made that statement directly. Mrs. Keller also passionately opined that “no one in the PCA” wants women to be ordained as elders, which reminded me of her husband’s statement to the GA many years ago during the equally contentious creation debate that no one in the one PCA wanted theistic evolution to be taught in the PCA. Oddly enough, shortly after that Redeemer NYC (Tim’s church) began hosting conferences for BioLogos, the most influential theistic evolution organization in the country and Pastor Keller told Christianity Today that it was the duty of pastors to spread the BioLogos narrative. All that to say, I’m going to take assurances as to what “no one in the PCA” wants with a very large grain of salt. The seminar made it clear that they were in favor of having women become “commissioned church workers” (i.e. full time paid ministerial staff) in the PCA and it seems clear that we’ll be seeing overtures calling for ordained deaconesses as soon as next year’s assembly. While the standard arguments against slippery slopes were deployed, the idea that we’ll have generations of female deacons and ministers but NEVER elders strikes me as highly unlikely.

But again, that’s just my opinion.

Next up, we had the Stated Clerk’s report, who pointed out that the PCA is still growing in terms of churches and members, and thus defying current trends.

The Overtures Committee then gave a partial report the highlight of which was a rule change which sought to curb the power of the CMC (Cooperative Ministry Committee) a permanent committee mostly composed of ex-moderators that had effectively reversed the normal means by which changes come to the PCA. In the past, changes in the PCA happened via overtures sent by Presbyteries to the GA, but the CMC – an arm of the administration – had begun sending changes to the GA themselves. For instance, the CMC was the source of the overture that created the women in ministry study committee above. The New England overture had sought to return that power to the presbyteries. The Overtures committee was not willing to go that far, but did suggest a revised overture which would hobble the power of the CMC to effect change a bit. Amazingly, the revised overture passed.

We then had fraternal greetings where representatives from other churches sought to outdo each other by telling the funniest jokes. The winner was the Free Church representative who said, “As Henry the Eighth said to his wife, I’ll only keep you for a while.” The runner-up was Pastor Chad Van Dixhorn of the OPC who I’m told introduced himself as a “Non-Commissioned Church Worker”

Following this we had the report of the Ad Interim Committee on the Role of women. NP leaders scurried to and fro, social media hummed, and suddenly the room was packed again. The recommendations from the committee were then discussed and voted on. The entire process was held up by endless inquiries, attempted substitutes, substitutes for the substitutes, and points of order which sucked the oxygen out of the room and left very little time for actual debate. The process dragged and wasn’t helped by the fact that the moderator, while witty, clearly has little or no experience moderating a meeting of the church and relied heavily on the stated clerk, parliamentarians, and members of the assembly to tell him what to do. It was hard to tell where we were at any given point and most presbyters were very willing to vote to call the question on the various recommendations without much real debate on the substance of the recommendations having taken place. Here’s the condensed summary that doesn’t convey any of the actual frustration.

Recommendation 1, an attempt to declare that appointing the committee was an error and dismiss them with our thanks, failed. A suggested amendment proposed by Dr. Joey Pipa to simply send the report without comment to the Presbyteries for study also failed.

Recommendation 2, which essentially said we’ve always held differing views on what women should be doing in the church, and that we should respect our diversity of opinions passed 880 to 339

Recommendation 3, which essentially said that sessions, presbyteries, and the GA should be using qualified women in all sorts of roles, and sending overtures that would allow women to serve on committees and agencies (previously only open to elders and in some cases deacons) also passed by an even higher margin.

We were on Recommendation 4 (whose language had been improved by an amendment from David Coffin) when Mike Khandjian pointed out that worship and family time was around the corner and the we should recess. This passed overwhelmingly.

I guessed that all the other recommendations would pass without too much trouble, and that turned out to be right. Conservatives just didn’t have the numbers to stop it, a situation that is exacerbated by the sad level of Ruling Elder participation (A little over 200 were present from a denomination of over 350,000 members).

I didn’t have the heart to attend worship again that night, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for a sermon summary.

Thursday (6/15/2017)

The Assembly resumed on Thursday and immediately resumed work on the Women in the ministry of the church study report and began discussing and voting on the recommendations.

The only (mildly) conservative recommendation in the report was Recommendation 4 which dealt with the practice of some progressive PCA churches who are not happy that the PCA does not yet ordain women to the office of deacon. These churches deliberately choose not to ordain any deacons because it would be unfair to ordain men without women, and instead either commission all of their deacons or don’t have deacons at all. The report had mildly rebuked the practice and recommended they stop. Accordingly an NP aligned elder stood up and recommended the recommendation be gutted and simply state: “That sessions, if possible, establish a diaconate of qualified ordained men.” A more toothless statement is difficult to conceive of and I’m glad there was no National Partnership at the Council of Nicea. One can only imagine what the Nicene Creed would have looked like if there were.

All attempts by conservatives to modify the other recommendations, even slightly, failed. But here they are:

The Assembly also voted to adopt Recommendation 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).”

I attempted to amend this statement so that it would read, “That sessions, provided their consciences allow it, consider how to include…” etc. I explained that this would provide some relief for sessions who are already convinced by scripture that women and unordained men should not be taking an active role in leading the worship of the church. Unfortunately, the majority deemed that no one should have any conscience problems when it comes to this issue, and given that any suggestion from yours truly comes to the floor with 200+ votes against it already, my amendment was soundly defeated. As a result I find myself unable to comply with the directions of the assembly regarding Recommendation 5, something I take very seriously.

The assembly then slightly modified Recommendation 6, to include the words “and men.” The final version adopted by the assembly read: “that sessions and presbyteries select and appoint godly women and men of the congregation to assist the ordained diaconate.”

Then came one of the most contentious of the recommendations, namely Recommendation 7, that the PCA begin the process of creating an office that everyone agrees is not to be found anywhere in scripture, namely that of “commissioned church worker.” The moment we do so, we will no longer be able to say that our polity is derived solely from the polity found in scripture. The refusal of Presbyterians to create or submit to offices invented by the church but not found in scripture is one of our biggest differences with Episcopalians, and to reverse our stance on this issue is a much bigger deal than we are willing to admit. Despite all of that, we voted to accept the recommendation.

The last Recommendation, #8, proved to be the least contentious, and I’ll simply list it without comment at this point: “That sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly consider how they can affirm and include underprivileged and underrepresented women in the PCA.”

We then had our Review of Presbytery Records, and the only really contentious issue was a minority report brought by brothers who believed that presbytery needed to be admonished over the use of a supposed image of Christ by the presbytery during worship. Such a use is a clear violation of our Confessional Standards – specifically WLC 109. The really odd thing is that even though not creating pictures of Jesus is our Confessional Position, the minority report had to argue this from the position of the weaker brethren (even though they know that in reality they are stronger) by asking the supposedly stronger brothers who don’t mind the use of pictures of Christ to provide their supposedly weaker consciences with some relief. So in essence they had to plead as though they were teetotalers asking that beer not be served at the church picnic. Several brethren argued that there was nothing wrong with pictures of Jesus and at least one made the kind of theological argument that the reformed theologians and confessions have been refuting for centuries. The minority report was eventually adopted, but only by a very close margin.

What this served to highlight is that in many cases the position taken in our Standards has become the exception rather than the rule, and that the brothers who agree with the Standards are clearly considered “weaker” or possibly even cranks. This tends to confirm the adage that when error is tolerated, it tends to drive out truth.

We finally arrived at Overtures, and clearly the wind had gone out of most of the presbyters. Overture #2, which would have granted Book of Church Order chapter 59 constitutional authority, was obviously going to be the most contentious issue in the report until TE David Coffin proposed that we recommit it to Overtures, thus putting off consideration until next year. I was disappointed by this decision to punt on one of the most important issues facing the church at present. In 2015 the Supreme Court of the USA created a civil right out of thin air and made something the bible calls an abomination the law of the land. It is now 2017 and the PCA has yet to address the subject in any way. Our silence at this point is becoming deafening. One might almost suspect that we’d rather not confront the civil magistrate or the culture over this issue and hope that if we don’t talk about it people will simply assume that our positions on homosexual marriage mirror those held by the PCUSA.

Finally, in a rather ominous move, the assembly approved an overture that would make it harder to leave the denomination by raising the required quorum at a congregational meeting held to discuss leaving to 50% of the congregation. While this seems reasonable, gathering 50% of the total membership of any church for a congregational meeting is difficult indeed. The vast majority of our own congregational meetings have not come anywhere near that percentage. It also led some to ask why this was felt to be a necessary change to the BCO at this point. Is the PCA expecting an exodus of churches in the near future and what changes coming down the pike are they expecting might precipitate that exodus?

In any event, that concludes my review of the major stuff that happened at the assembly.

My Final Summary and Thoughts

Here are my thoughts about the General Assembly itself.

1) The assembly showed a clear turn towards social justice issues and the social gospel generally. The evidence for this was overwhelming and included:

a) The theme of the Assembly, “Come to the Table” which even the host committee had an obvious double meaning referring to both communion and the inclusion of people who previously didn’t have a “seat at the table”
b) The election of a Korean-American moderator who lectures on social justice at the University level
c) The fact that everyone asked to pray at the assembly was a minority
d) The women’s report and calls for deaconesses and female church workers
e) The racial reconciliation report
f) The “Welcoming the Refugees” theme of our next PCA Global Missions Conference.
and so on…

2) Once again the NP agenda passed overwhelmingly, and they demonstrated that when the votes mattered to them they could pack the assembly with commissioners very quickly. They are also clearly moving through a well defined multi-year strategic agenda for fundamentally changing the PCA, which is a point many of my Conservative brethren fail to grasp. The Women in Ministry report, for instance, was important not because of what it said, but because it was the necessary precursor to a host of overtures moving women into voting positions on the Permanent Committees, into the diaconate, and into the role of “Commissioned Church Worker.” This combined with the push to include women in worship and all kinds of ministry cannot fail to produce the kind of long term egalitarian change that progressives dearly love.

So having a few conservative nominees win positions on permanent committees and declaring that to be genuine progress is rather like chipping a few pieces off a glacier and thinking you’ve stopped it for good. Calling this a victory for conservatives would be even more misleading. It would be rather like describing the Battle of the Little Big Horn this way, “Good news! While General Custer’s northern attack ran into some trouble, the southern attack made a cunning feint towards the Sioux village, followed by a masterful tactical withdrawal. Subsequently Major Reno and his command heroically held off an attack of numerically superior Sioux Indians for a day and a night while inflicting several casualties on the enemy forces!”

Posted in Denominational Differences, Homosexual Marriage, Marriage, PCA, Politics and The Civil Magistate, Spiritual Declension, Theological Declension | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Last Minute Thoughts About Overture 2

Part of my preparation for going to the Presbyterian Church in America’s 45th General Assembly in Greensboro includes attempting to read through all 646 pages of the massive 2017 Commissioners Handbook. And as I was doing that, I was extremely saddened to find that the Committee on Constitutional business (CCB) had found Overture 2 from Calvary Presbytery:  “Grant BCO 59, ‘Solemnization of Marriage’ Full Constitutional Status” to be in conflict with the constitution and therefore unlikely to be adopted by the assembly.

By making this chapter, which is already part of the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO) constitutional, the PCA could have corporately proclaimed its continuing belief that marriage is only to be between one man and one woman, and that we will have nothing to do with movements that might try to weaken or mute that commitment. There is of course still the possibility that the Overtures Committee (OC) might simply fix the language in the final “therefore” of that overture that CCB found to be in conflict, making it obvious that Calvary Presbytery was asking the 45th GA to begin the process of changing the BCO so that chapter would have constitutional authority. This could be done by simply revising the “Temporary Statement” on  at the beginning of the Directory For the Worship of God so that it stated, “BCO 56, 57, 58, and 59 have been given full constitutional authority by the Eleventh and Forty Fifth General Assemblies after being submitted to the Presbyteries and receiving the necessary two-thirds (2/3) approval of the Presbyteries.”  

I hope that OC will try do so, because I strongly believe that if we don’t do this, theological conservatives will someday have cause to regret this missed opportunity. Let me attempt to explain why.

When the first attempt to give BCO 59 full constitutional status was made in 2011, many PCA presbyters told me that they were opposed to the overture simply because it was unnecessary. More than one presbyter made a statement along the lines of, “America will never legalize same sex marriage, so being asked to legally marry men to men or women to women will never be something we have to face.”

Those prophecies were obviously proven disastrously wrong when, on June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that same-sex marriage is protected under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and thus made homosexual marriage the law of the land in all 50 states and a legally protected civil right.

Thus with one fateful Supreme Court decision, homosexual marriage became the law of nation, and never in US history has a civil right, once granted by the Supreme Court, been rescinded. To see how long lasting even the most dubious of newly created civil rights can be, we only have to look to the 1973 SCOTUS Roe vs. Wade decision that created the now 44 year old right to obtain a legal abortion out of thin air. In a similar manner it is very unlikely that we will see homosexual marriage made illegal again in our lifetimes. Perhaps even worse, a recent poll by the highly respected Pew organization indicated that popular support for homosexual marriage continues to grow with 55% of Americans now saying they support gay marriage and even more disturbingly, the level of support rises to 71% among the millennials who represent the future of this nation. Additionally, those who still oppose gay marriage are already being openly called “bigots” by mainstream America and we have seen ordinary Americans who work in both the private and public sectors lose their employment and even their businesses and savings because of a refusal to participate in homosexual marriages or call them good. Even churches and ministers are no longer exempt from cultural and legal pressure as states like Massachusetts are quickly moving to force churches to accept the gay agenda or face legal action.  

Therefore, as a denomination, we need to come to terms with at least four facts:

1) Same-Sex marriage will likely be legal in the USA for decades, if not generations to come.

2) Opposition to homosexual marriage is likely to become as odious to the American public as opposition to mixed race marriages, and not substantially different in their minds. In fact, we already see this happening.

3) The legal challenges to our right to refuse to conduct, approve of, recognize or host homosexual marriages are likely to increase exponentially over the coming years.

4) Those churches that refuse to conduct homosexual marriages will almost certainly eventually lose their right to conduct marriages as agents of the state. In other words while we will still be able to pronounce people man and wife, “By virtue of the authority committed unto me by the church of Christ” we will no longer be able to add, “and the law of the state.”

All of these factors will inevitably create considerable agitation within our denomination to take a more Laodicean approach and end our opposition to homosexual marriage.  Those who doubt this need only look at what has happened in the mainline denominations and in formerly evangelical denominations, including our closest denominational analogue, the CRC. We also need to take seriously the fact that several denominations and congregations (including ex-PCA congregations) that use the Westminster Standards have already accepted homosexual marriage. Within our own denomination, the Westminster Confession is treated as more general and considerably more open to “interpretation,” while the BCO is often treated as more binding especially when it comes to do day to day church operations. If we hope to stand on this issue for the decades to come, then common sense should tell us that BCO needs a constitutionally binding statement on the matter.

Therefore, as a denomination, if the PCA intends to continue to teach, proclaim, and practice what God teaches about marriage in the bible rather than abandoning our commitment to scripture, then we need to understand that a “business as usual” approach will not carry us through the coming storm. At the very least, while there is still time, we need to do the following:

i) Prepare for the legal battles to come by making sure our constitution is absolutely clear and uniform on this issue. 

ii) Prepare the members of our denomination by honestly explaining why we must take a Contra Mundum stand when it comes to issues of sexuality and marriage, and what that stand is likely to cost us. If we do not, we must expect that our congregants will inevitably simply conform to current cultural norms.

iii) End our denominational silence on this issue and begin prophetically proclaiming to the culture the biblical truth about sex and marriage. We must publicly condemn sin, warn of the coming judgment, exalt virtue, and point to the way of salvation in Jesus Christ.

As such, Overture 2 was always more of a beginning than an end of the work that lies ahead of us, but if we are unwilling even to make a start of that work then what hope does the PCA have of standing in the evil day?

 

Posted in Compromise, Current Events, Denominational Differences, Ecclesiology, Homosexual Marriage, Homosexuality, PCA, Politics and The Civil Magistate, Theological Declension | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Teaching Children About Perversion from the Pulpit

Will Smith and Family react to Miley Cyrus' pornographic performance at the VMAs.

The other day after watching the news, my nine year old daughter asked me what “pre-operative transgender children” were. I seriously doubt that the conversation that resulted would have been necessary twenty years ago, but how many of us, 20 years ago, would have believed that people who were against biological males being allowed in ladies bathrooms and locker rooms would be called bigots, that homosexual marriage would be legal nationwide, or that one of America’s premier constitutional lawyers would be fighting for the legalization of polygamy in the Federal courts, or that all of these things would be discussed as though they were perfectly normal in the news?

Today’s Christians are living in the midst of what I can only describe as sexual anarchy, or perhaps a time of ever deepening perversion might be a better description. But regardless of what we call it, our children are being routinely exposed to more and more sexual material at a younger and younger age. As a family, we had to massively accelerate the pace at which we informed our own children about things like abortion and homosexuality simply because with the increasing degeneration of our culture they were already encountering these issues in print, on the news, on the radio, on bumper stickers, bill-boards, and via discussions with peers and relatives and we wanted them to have a bible-based apologetic grid in place through which to filter what they were seeing and hearing. Many of our children’s friends have encountered or are struggling with the consequences of  sexual sins such as adultery, fornication, and pornography in their families and I’ve counseled more than one family in our own congregation whose sons were struggling with pornography at ages that would have been unheard of in the past. [In 2005 the average age at which a child would first be exposed to pornography was 11 but now, largely due to the proliferation of internet accessible devices, it may have dropped as low as 6.
Continue reading

Posted in Children, Christian Education, Compromise, Divorce, Ethics, Homosexual Marriage, Homosexuality, Liberalism, Marriage, Pastoral Theology, PCA | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Before You Get Divorced…

Unhappy couple not talking after an argument in bed at home

Over the past 15 years as a pastor, I have counseled a lot of people who have told me they wanted to divorce their spouse for reasons other than adultery or desertion. The most common reason given is that they have fallen out of love with them and now have irreconcilable differences. Often they will say that they want a divorce for the sake of the children, as they believe that their constant arguing is causing them mental and spiritual harm. It is at this point that I usually give a version of my, “Whatever you think you’re going to achieve by getting a divorce, you won’t achieve it” speech tailored to the person whom I talking to. Here is a generic version of this speech, given to someone who has told me they want a divorce because of irreconcilable differences*:

1) God will not be pleased with your decision nor bless this action: Unless you’re the innocent party and your spouse has committed adultery (Matt. 19:9) or deserted you (1 Cor. 7:15), you are not getting a biblical divorce, and God HATES divorce (Mal. 2:16). If you remarry after an unbiblical divorce, Jesus Christ says you are an adulterer. (Matt. 19:9) It is a tearing apart of “one flesh” which inevitably produces a wound that seldom, if ever, heals (Matt. 19:4-6).

2) Far from being “for the sake of the kids” your children will be better off if you don’t divorce: Other than the death of one or both parents, NOTHING is more traumatic or damaging to children than the divorce of their parents. Its usually the root of a host of spiritual problems of their own, makes it more likely that their own marriages will end in divorce, makes them choose between their parents, and introduces them to a life of shuttling between two families without really ever being wholly part of either. I’ve never encountered a child of divorce who didn’t bring trust issues into their own marriage.

3) It doesn’t even achieve the “separation” you think you desire: In a divorce in which children are involved, the two parties go from being joined “for better or for worse” in a matrimonial union that will fluctuate wildly into being legally joined in a relationship in which – having punched out a point when you disliked each other intensely – you will be constantly forced to deal with a person you didn’t like on legally hostile terms. Your new “life apart together” will involve lawyers, payment plans, hostile holidays, regret, guilt, resentment and anger.

4) You aren’t going to find the “perfect” alternative spouse out there: All humans are sinners (Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23), so you might find someone who does some things better than your old spouse, but inevitably they will do some other things worse, and having abandoned one marriage, you will be even more ready to abandon a second.

5) Dating after 30 with kids of your own usually SUCKS (I apologize, but there simply isn’t a good alternative word that conveys how bad it is): Face the facts, all of the undamaged, moral, upstanding, trustworthy, responsible, good looking, well adjusted people without baggage are all married by now. The people you will be dating are going to be either divorced themselves, or trailing a bunch of bad relationships of their own. And guys, you simply aren’t the catch you think you are, and other people either know it, or will realize it. Also remember that you’re married to someone who has been trained to put up with your garbage – other people aren’t and won’t. 

6) Trying to fix your marriage is always the better option, it costs less in every sense, and works most of the time. Think of it as two countries opting to negotiate instead of entering into a nuclear exchange.

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* This is not the speech I would give to someone who was the victim of adultery, desertion, or spousal abuse. For information about what constitutes legitimate grounds for a biblical divorce, please check out this article. For more information, about what it means to be abused or an abuser, I’d recommend these articles: Those Suffering Domestic Violence and Those Who Choose to Abuse. 

Posted in Children, Divorce, Marriage | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

WHAT IS THE REFORMED DOCTRINE OF DIVORCE?

Divorce

Even the most cursory examination of the statistics concerning divorce in America reveals figures that are nothing short of staggering. In the 60 years between 1920 and 1980 the divorce rate more than tripled. The United States now has one of the highest divorce rates in the world and at least half of all U.S. marriages will end in divorce (53% as of 2011). About half of those divorces will involve children, for a total over one million children experiencing the divorce or separation of their parents yearly.1

What these figures should tell us is that America has become what one author has called a “Divorce Culture,” and as such we can expect divorce to continue to impact every part of our society, including the church. In light of this situation it is imperative that Reformed churches have a coherent policy regarding divorce that accurately reflects the teaching of Scripture. Today most states have passed legislation that allows for what is called a “no fault divorce.” As the name implies, this is a divorce in which neither party is judged to be at fault and the reasons are usually ones of emotional incompatibility, or “irreconcilable differences.” In this kind of divorce neither party must prove that the other has broken the marriage covenant by some act of sin, only that they no longer wish to be married to the other person. Is this a valid divorce by biblical standards? The purpose of this essay is to answer this kind of question by briefly examining the scriptural evidence and the historic Reformed consensus on this issue in an attempt to frame a “doctrine of divorce”. Continue reading

Posted in Old School Presbyterian Churches | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Should We Make Images of Jesus?


Should We Make Images of Jesus?

The Relationship between
the Second Commandment and Images of Christ

The Following is a Brief listing of just some of the Reformed Evangelical witnesses that directly address the creation and use of pictures of Jesus, either in worship, decoration, art, or mental imagery. They are arranged in chronological order from the Reformation to the present day.

 

Table of Contents
(1561) The Second Helvetic Confession – Chapter IV
(1648) The Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 109
(1674) Thomas Vincent, A Family Instructional Guide
(1679) John Owen, The Glory of Christ
(1692) Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments
(1700) Wilhelmus A’Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service
(1753) Ebenezer Erskine and James Fisher, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained, By Way of Question and Answer
(1949) J.G. Vos (son of Geerhardus Vos) Commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism
(1961) Prof. John Murray, Pictures of Christ
(1970) G.I. Williamson, The Shorter Catechism For Study Classes
(1973 & 1993) J.I. Packer, Knowing God, Chapter 4
(2004) Andrew Webb, Final Thoughts
Continue reading

Posted in Christmas, Denominational Differences, Easter, Holy Days, The Puritans, Theological Declension, Worship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wonder Bread Preaching

Wonderbread1I was listening to a show on Christian radio yesterday and the host mentioned that what American Christians need and want is deep, compelling, convicting, expository, and doctrinal preaching. She’s not the first person I’ve heard on the radio who has made a statement along those lines, and of course the callers all agree with those sentiments.

I, however, am not so sure. I certainly agree that American Christians NEED that kind of preaching, but I’m far less convinced that they WANT that kind of preaching.

For instance, in our city (and I strongly suspect this holds true for the majority of American cities) the churches that are most popular with Christians are the ones where the sermons are light, entertaining, topical, amusing, anecdotal, doctrine-free, and generally about 15 to 25 minutes long. There are a few exceptions, but the rule still applies. Light and fluffy is what draws crowds.

So why is there a big difference between what Christians SAY they want to hear, and what they actually choose to listen to on Sunday?

I think part of the answer might lie in what one ad man I heard called the “Wonder Bread Rule.” He described how when mothers were surveyed in the 1980s about the kind of bread they wanted their family to eat, most said they wanted them to eat natural, whole grain, nourishing wheat breads, with thick chewy crusts. However, when those same moms were surveyed as to their actual buying habits it was found that the majority of them actually bought “Wonder Bread” style breads – soft, bleached white breads, with little or no actual nutritional value. When asked about the difference, most explained that Wonder Bread was what their family preferred to eat and that they didn’t want to have to deal with the hassle and complaints associated with getting them to eat the things that would actually be good for them.

Most Christians probably know what kind of “whole wheat” preaching they need, but they are deathly afraid of the family being bored or irritated or overtaxed by it, and instead choose the Wonder Bread path of least resistance. It may have little or no nutritional value, but its attractive, easy to consume and produces the least complaints.

“You are what you eat” as the old saying goes, and if what the American church is consuming is usually the sermonic version of junk food, should we be surprised it’s so unhealthy?

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