A Newly Published Resource for Presbyters
Though other resources exist for deeper investigation and more thorough mastery of the deliberative process, this booklet is uniquely clear, to the point, and pertinent to churchmen in the PCA. Whether you are new to the world of session meetings, presbyteries, and General Assembly or have been laboring faithfully over many years in Christ’s vineyard, this booklet will prove useful to you.
Every conscientious presbyter serving in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) should have a chunky blue binder containing the Book of Church Order (BCO) within easy reach of his desk or workspace.
Like all good binders, this one includes pockets on the insides of the front and back covers. Into those pockets, you may have lodged away some handwritten notes, a helpful flowchart or two, or even a reading plan with study guide to the Westminster Standards. This year, you will want to add a new booklet written by Pastor Jacob Gerber of Harvest Community Church (PCA) in Omaha, Nebraska: Parliamentary Procedure for Presbyters: A Beginner’s Guide.
Presbyterian Polity and the Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) have partnered to publish this helpful (and mercifully brief) guide to parliamentary procedure (i.e., Robert’s Rules of Order) within the context of the various deliberative settings of the PCA. The initial copies of this new resource will be offered exclusively as gifts for attendees of the 2023 GRN National Conference in Charlotte and the GRN’s upcoming PCAGA Luncheon in Memphis. Be sure to register for these two events today (click here for more info).
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A Tree But More Than A TreeBy Brian Taylor — 6 months ago
Next time you look upon one of these majestic giants of the field, may it serve to guide you in your thoughts. May it serve to warn you against a haughty and arrogant spirit, that trusts not in the Lord and his salvation. May it serve, likewise, to remind you of the Lord’s great redemption accomplished in Christ, who, by his death and resurrection, has provided forgiveness for our sins and restoration to the favor of our God. May it likewise stir you to faithful service and growth in sanctification, knowing the Lord does prosper his people in their ways.
I enjoy looking at trees. Even as I type this, I can look out my office window and see these majestic giants, firmly rooted in their places. Such created things declare to me so much of the beauty and glory of God. During the spring, a tree speaks to me of new life and even resurrection, as they once again come to life after the deadness of winter. At first, you see only a small bud, but even it serves as a guarantee that death is over and life is coming. Eventually, they shed their winter deadness and robe themselves with lush green garments, as Spring turns to Summer. Oh, how important these titans of the field then become, as they serve man in his escape from the simmering heat of a hot July day. What would summer be without a cold glass of lemonade, sipped in one’s favorite lounge chair, under the shade of that old friendly tree?
Likely, the reason I am so taken up with trees is due to my favorite time of year, Fall. Trees do agree with me, as it is then that they display their full brilliance. They take off their workaday green and don their royal garb, as they welcome the best of all seasons. As if to provide Fall with a red-carpet treatment, they eventually cast their leaves to the ground, now bereft of its greenery. Glory now past, strength now spent, they join me as we together begin our winter-long hibernation, waiting for the return of life and better days; waiting for resurrection.
I don’t believe I am alone in my love of trees, as different authors of Scripture employ them as images for a variety of reasons. They can speak of the haughtiness of man, which the Lord cuts down in his anger:
“For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low;
against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan” (Isaiah 2:12–13)
Tribalism’s Big LieBy Barry Brownstein — 11 months ago
One of the most damaging illiberal beliefs is the belief in the supremacy of the tribe. From that meta-belief, other illiberal beliefs flow. Mistakenly believing others are less worthy, it becomes easy to fail to see the humanity in others. From that mistake, it is easy to adopt a zero-sum mindset and believe all that matters is one’s own welfare and the welfare of the group with which one is identified.
During the winter of 2021, journalist Virginia Heffernan sheltered from COVID in her upstate New York getaway. After a heavy snow, she was astonished when her Trump-supporting neighbor plowed her driveway. One could conclude that her neighbor saw an unprepared individual in need and acted with decency and kindness.
In her opinion essay for the Los Angeles Times, Heffernan revealed her tribal thinking as she weighed whether to offer thanks to her neighbor. After alluding to the Nazi occupation of France and Hezbollah’s policy of giving out free things in Lebanon, Heffernan concluded she could not give her neighbor “absolution.” She wrote, “Free driveway work, as nice as it is, is just not the same currency as justice and truth.”
She tells us nothing of her neighbor other than he is a good snow plower and a “Trumpite.” Her neighbor saw her humanity; she saw him through her labels.
A simple act of kindness from a neighbor became an opportunity for Virginia Heffernan to express her tribal prejudices. The basis of Heffernan’s perception was her tribal mindset and her inability to see the humanity in others.
In his book Open, Johan Norberg writes, “Historically, we have expanded the circle of people we feel empathy for by discovering that we belong to groups that overlap the old divisions.” If she spoke to her neighbor, she might find they share a love for upstate New York, and maybe they have a hobby in common. Without her thinking getting in the way, she might discover they are both human beings striving to have a happy and purposeful life.
This spring, in Wired, Heffernan, without a trace of irony, observed of others: “When a person…grounds their serenity and joy in a false claim about reality, you do little but cause pain if you try to root it out.”
Heffernan’s false claims about the tribal nature of reality can instruct us all. She has assigned other people a terrible purpose. Other people are objects that either share her views or are against her. The character and actions of others don’t matter. What matters is the maligned category Heffernan has assigned to them.
In his book, Less than Human, philosopher David Livingstone Smith explains that “Journalists have always had an important role to play in disseminating falsehoods to mold public opinion, and this often involves dehumanizing military and political opponents.” Smith quotes Aldous Huxley, who explained we lose our “scruples” when a “human being is spoken of as though he were not a human being, but as the representative of some wicked principle.”
Heffernan doesn’t seem ready to examine the cost of her tribal thinking. Why would we see the havoc it creates if we think our mindset works for us? What if the “justice” Heffernan is seeking can emerge only when tribal thinking is relinquished?
One of the most damaging illiberal beliefs is the belief in the supremacy of the tribe. From that meta-belief, other illiberal beliefs flow. Mistakenly believing others are less worthy, it becomes easy to fail to see the humanity in others. From that mistake, it is easy to adopt a zero-sum mindset and believe all that matters is one’s own welfare and the welfare of the group with which one is identified. Freedom for me but not for thee is a zero-sum mindset.
Tribalism is the belief in the supremacy of one’s group identity over individual rights. Tribal identity fosters negative feelings, even hatred, toward those outside the tribe. In the grips of the tribal mindset, we see the world through a lens of us vs. them, victims and victimizers. “They” are out to get me is an oft-heard refrain. We are certain our tribe deserves more than it has.
Tribalism rests on the destructive mental delusion of denying the humanity of others: I am fundamentally different and separate from those I’m judging.
A second, more destructive delusion can follow from the first: My well-being depends on destroying or marginalizing those from whom I am different.
Matt Ridley explains in his book The Origins of Virtue, the “tendency of human societies to fragment into competing groups has left us with minds all too ready to adopt prejudices and pursue genocidal feuds.”
Most of us learned long ago to value human cooperation; we recognize that harming others doesn’t foster either our own well-being or the well-being of others.
Many don’t have the same probity when it comes to harming others indirectly through the coercive agents of government. In business, some seek subsidies, tariffs, or demand government force people to buy their products, such as ethanol and vaccines. Some want loans canceled. Others want to live rent-free. Still others want a guaranteed annual income.
The mindset driving all these examples is zero-sum thinking. Zero-sum thinking—the philosophy that someone else must lose so I can win—is a mistaken idea that destroys lives and economies. Is zero-sum thinking, fueled by growing tribalism, threatening human cooperation and progress?
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently observed, “There is a direction to history and it is toward cooperation at larger scales,” adding that “[N]ew technologies (writing, roads, the printing press) …created new possibilities for mutually beneficial trade and learning. Zero-sum conflicts…were better thought of as temporary setbacks…”
Norberg asks, “Why are we so bad at understanding that voluntary relations and an open economy are non-zero?” It is not possible to change the nature of reality, but it is possible to adopt beliefs at odds with reality and experience harsh consequences. Norberg points us toward understanding how our failure to understand reality has polarized politics:
Almost every kind of angst the nationalist Right and the populist Left feels over the economy is based on it [zero-sum thinking] in one form or another. If the rich get richer, it’s because they take it from us. With more immigrants, there are fewer resources left for the natives. If robots become smarter, there will be no jobs left for us. If trading partners like China and Mexico gain, it must be at our expense.
Neither conservatives nor progressives are immune from zero-sum mindsets. Today, with inflation raging, many are sure greedy supermarkets and energy producers are responsible. Not understanding that the Fed and politicians are culpable, it is easy to have strong opinions about which prices and salaries are too “high.”
To be fair, lies propagated by government generate malcontent feelings and zero-sum thinking. If, as President Biden claims, “America has achieved the most robust recovery in modern history,” why are your finances feeling squeezed? Someone or something must be holding you back while others are getting ahead. This is not fair, you might reason. And the President is eager to channel your anger, greedy corporations are part of the problem that he will solve.
You Can ObeyBy Stephen Kneale — 1 year ago
Our sinful nature is not zapped away when we trust in Christ. But does that mean we cannot obey? No. We have God’s Word and God’s Spirit to guide and empower us to obey. Which means any time we sin as believers it is not because we are unable to do what is right but because we did not yield to the Spirit who dwells within us.
I wonder whether sometimes we give up on holiness before we even get started. We know that we are sinful. We know that this side of glory we will not be sinlessly perfect. We believe in the doctrine of Total Depravity. All stacked together, we can give up before we even get going.
We thank the Father that he sent Jesus to die for us. We are grateful that Jesus lived the perfect sinless life that we couldn’t. We trust in his atoning work on our behalf. We know that we are given the righteousness of Christ and rely upon that to see us made right with God. We believe all of this and know our salvation is secure because of it.
But we just don’t think we can obey. We are sinful, we think. Our old sinful nature remains with us. We thank Jesus that he came, died for us and transferred his perfect life to our account. And then we can think that we won’t be perfect until glory so we kind of give up trying. Sinners gonna sin, innit.
But the fact is, we can obey. Yes, when we were outside of Christ our hearts could only incline towards sin. But being made alive by the Spirit means that we are capable of obedience.