A Response to the Rio Grande Presbytery AC’s Recommendation to Vote Against Overture 23

A Response to the Rio Grande Presbytery AC’s Recommendation to Vote Against Overture 23

Written by David H. Linden |
Thursday, January 20, 2022

When we believe in the certainty of the Spirit changing us into the likeness of Christ in real progress of holiness, never absent in any believer, we must not assert that we are a big exception to the Spirit’s work – under the guise of the Spirit’s supposed right not to weaken sinful sexual desires of any kind. The cure for sin is now underway in every Christian. For a minister to say his sinful sexual desires are incurable sin is to diminish God’s powerful production of holiness in a Christian’s being and identity.

Our committee has recommended that the presbytery deny Overture 23. I urge us to affirm it. Below is the explanation by this committee to our presbytery. I respond to each sentence.

Attachment 6, Item 2

The Administrative Committee wrote up the following rationale for why we are proposing to deny the following two amendments:  We recommend that we deny Overture 23.

The Administrative Committee begins:

While we do believe that there needs to be more guardrails and accountability for men struggling with same-sex attraction, we believe that the language of the overture is ambiguous and unhelpful. On first reading, it seems that professing an identity (gay Christian, same sex attracted Christian, homosexual Christian) is the cause of undermining ones [sic] identity as a new creation in Christ.

I reply:  Affirming an identity contrary to the sanctifying work of the Lord should be seen as a limitation of the work of Christ as our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). Just as we should never identify by saying, “I am of this world,” a Christian should not say, “I am a Christian, and I am a homosexual.” The two professions cannot co-exist harmoniously.

Those of us who react to this linkage of opposites, namely sin and salvation, question whether it would be acceptable to combine any other sinful desires with our identity in Christ. Many people admit that they hate their enemies. They may elaborate that this is their unshakable bent in life. It is what they are. Their hatred of their neighbor does not relent. If such a soul professes to be a Christian, he may have surges of anger, but a Christian should not say even in his struggle with his old sins that he is a hater of his enemies.

The Apostle Peter urges us to keep in mind that God’s divine power “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, and that he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them [Christians] may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire … Whoever lacks these qualities [faith, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love] has forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (drawn from 2 Peter 1:3-9). Homosexual desire is corruption in need of cleansing. Such desire may be part of whatever our former life was, but it cannot be, without change, the new life of a godly elder.

When we believe in the certainty of the Spirit changing us into the likeness of Christ in real progress of holiness, never absent in any believer, we must not assert that we are a big exception to the Spirit’s work – under the guise of the Spirit’s supposed right not to weaken sinful sexual desires of any kind. The cure for sin is now underway in every Christian. For a minister to say his sinful sexual desires are incurable sin is to diminish God’s powerful production of holiness in a Christian’s being and identity. It limits the Lord’s ministry to us. The Lord Jesus prayed:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world [or identified with it], just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:15-19)

What the Lord Jesus pleaded for in his intercession is salvation begun. Ours is not a salvation that lacks implementation or delay until the last day. An elder must not be a public exception to the ongoing agenda of our holy God. No man should be recognized by us as walking with Christ when he claims to be a Christian who hates. In our day, some reduce the range of salvation with their contrary identities. These contradictions undermine our lovely identity as new creations in Christ. It would be an inconsistent testimony for a teaching elder to say, “I am still a hating Christian, but I do not act on it. It is an unsought feature of me which will remain with me until my Lord Jesus comes. Meanwhile I am in love with Jesus, and I follow him. I manage and mortify all my hating in costly obedience.”

The Admin. Committee again:

But the overture continues to add complexity in that it is not only identification statements but statements coupled with action ([a] denying the sinfulness of desires, [b] denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, [c] failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory).

Complexity is not evil. John Murray points out that God’s works are manifold in the original creation and even more so in the new. With that similarity, he proceeded to write of God’s overflowing abundance “in the application of redemption continuously and progressively until it reaches its consummation in the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”[1] All who ascribe to Westminster embrace complexity.

Understanding our identity in Christ must not be conflicted with error. Here is where the real confusion sets in: If we deny the sinfulness of sinful desire, we confuse what a Christian is, and thus identity is compromised. If we deny the reality and hope in this life of progressive sanctification, we have destroyed its richness. To deny Spirit-empowered victory is false teaching that allows those who adopt it to flounder in their sin, not knowing how rich the salvation we profess is. In this way, to one’s eternal peril, God’s great salvation is neglected! (Hebrews 2:3) The overture serves us by joining things which should not be separated.

Coffin asks a helpful question in this regard: “Are these three behaviors exhaustive of behaviors that will make the use of certain terms contradict identity with Christ?” Surely there are other ways to abandon our identities in Christ.

What is TE Coffin’s point? Are there other ways to contradict our identity in Christ? Of course there are! These three in the overture are current issues in the debate about Side B homosexuality. There are other ways to abandon our identities in Christ. No one in the PCA disputes that. Coffin’s question distracts.

If someone were to demonstrate that they were in fact fulfilling the latter obligations yet still using such terms, would they [sic] be qualified for ordained office? According to the amendment, yes.

If a candidate for office in the church [a] does not deny the sinfulness of same-sex attraction, and [b] claims a change of heart regarding his former sins, and [c] rejoices in the degree of ongoing deliverance from them, why should he then broadcast his former sins? Do we not all have sins about which we are now ashamed? (Romans 6:21) We confess our sins; we do not coddle them. Why would a godly candidate for ordination allow a non-Christian identity to mark himself as something he isn’t?  (Identities mark people). The Lord does not take away our shame while leaving in place the vexing sin that caused it. Our passports should agree with the citizenship we confess.

But, argument after argument on the floor of GA would argue the opposite. Mere identification with such terms would disqualify a candidate according to many arguments posed at the recent GA.

I do not know what arguments were made on the floor of the General Assembly in St. Louis. However, I stoutly disagree with my fellow minister, TE Coffin, that a candidate using such a descriptive term as “homosexual” for himself is a mere matter of words. If I term myself as a Hindu, such a term defines me. Our choice of terms is a conscious declaration. It ought to be consistent with our confession of Christ, our repudiation of the lusts of the flesh, and how we portray ourselves to the world. Pilgrims and Puritans eschew worldly language. Rational people avoid contradictions.

Furthermore, the complexity continues when you consider: how does one evaluate whether the three latter obligations are being fulfilled?

A presbytery makes judgments of the suitability of a candidate all the time when they follow Biblical qualifications in Scripture. How should a presbytery evaluate? Well, one way would be to pay attention to what a candidate says about himself. If he has some strange desire to beat his wife and admits it, he has helped a presbytery to move on to the next item on the agenda.

Is there not always, to some degree, a failure to live out these latter obligations? Are we always in step with denying our sinful desires when we are greedy or prideful?

Dr. Coffin is correct to point out that we always in some degree fail to live up to the virtues that should characterize us. Overture 23 does not have the role of comparing sins. Yes, other sins also disqualify. Would we ordain a man whose lifelong passion is to make money and that he daily craves it? Of course not. If he boasts of superior gifts, despises the poor, avoids people of other races or religion, when such defects become apparent, he should be disqualified. Overture 37 prompts presbyteries to inquire, and 23 calls for being above reproach. Professing homosexuals, no matter what words they use to speak of themselves, do not qualify; neither are they good examples, nor are they a letter from Christ written with the Spirit on the tablet of the heart (2 Corinthians 3:3).

While the amendment seeks to bring clarity to the ordained office, we are afraid it only brings confusion and muddies the waters it seeks to clarify.

Our Administrative Committee makes its feelings plain about this amendment to our Book of Church Order. I think the Overture is clear in some things we should reject when examining candidates. When the whole point of the overture is unwanted, one approach is to question its clarity, complexity, and helpfulness, and to present it as ambiguous. (A number of brothers in other presbyteries have viewed this overture as ambiguous.) The chief problem is that it is not to the liking of those who allow celibate gays into office. The PCA has recently become properly alarmed, and that is why the General Assembly has put this amendment before us.

Meanwhile, last month one of our ministers in good standing has come out with a book Still Time to Care (Zondervan) with the rainbow colors on the front of its jacket and on the back. The LGBTQ colors have even made it to the spine of the book. I have a number of pro-gay books. None of them have flown the colors the way this book does on its cover. This is bold and rather revealing. More are taking notice.

Because of my schedule, I do not know if I will have time before presbytery meets to interact with the Admin. Committee’s recommendation that the presbytery also deny Overture 37; I urge the members to vote to approve this overture.

David Linden is a retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America; he lives in Delaware.

[1] In Redemption Accomplished and Applied, pp 79, 80.

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