Ryan Biese

A Plea for Patience in the PCA (2)

Patience does not mean we simply tolerate deviant practices that violate our church constitution. We must continue to highlight these public actions and compare them to what we have confessed as a Church and agreed to uphold. As we do this, we should pray all our brethren will live with integrity before God and man and likewise fulfill their vows to the Scripture, to our Doctrinal Standards, and to our Form of Government and Discipline (BCO 21-5, 24-6) as we minister together in the PCA.

This is the second of a two-part series. Part one was published be published on Friday, March 3, 2022.
The trajectory of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) seems to have shifted beginning in 2018. Since that time, the General Assembly has delivered several tangible actions indicating greater commitment to the PCA Constitution (Westminster Standards and Book of Church Order).
Despite the encouragement, there remain numerous causes for concern throughout the PCA. In my previous article, I noted several areas creating trouble within the PCA including church-officer-impersonation, women in pulpits, and sacramental innovation, but I do not believe it is yet time to despair over the PCA. Instead, now is the time to continue to contend for the faith and uphold the PCA Constitution
Proposed Remedy
It is clear there are serious deviations of practice from the teaching of Scripture as confessed by our Church. This creates disunity and robs us of the peace we should be able to enjoy when we come together at General Assembly. Additionally, the dissonance between what we confess together (i.e. what we vow to uphold) versus what is practiced sows confusion, which is problematic since our God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.
A. Patience
Calvin encourages us toward patience (see his comments on John 10:31). The deviations in the PCA are not nearly so significant as those encountered by John Calvin in Geneva; we should be able to exercise patience.
Now is not the time to leave the PCA or wring our hands because of these innovative practices. Rather, this is the time to zealously cling to our Saviour, proclaim His truth, and make disciples by teaching the nations to observe all He has commanded.
We should recognize that the work of confessional renewal and reformation takes time. Patterns and habits are in place that must be confronted, in some places church culture must be changed to prize consistency and fidelity rather than latitude and contextualization, and brothers need to be corrected and taught with loving clarity and firmness.
All of these things take time, and we should be willing – even as we hold them accountable – to bear with our brethren as we work toward the goal of purity and peace.
B. Perseverance
Patience does not mean we simply tolerate deviant practices that violate our church constitution. We must continue to highlight these public actions and compare them to what we have confessed as a Church and agreed to uphold.
As we do this, we should pray all our brethren will live with integrity before God and man and likewise fulfill their vows to the Scripture, to our Doctrinal Standards, and to our Form of Government and Discipline (BCO 21-5, 24-6) as we minister together in the PCA.
The future of the PCA is not one of a tiered, latitudinarian approach to the Standards and teaching of Jesus, but of confessional fidelity.

He commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments (Psa 78:5-7).

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A Plea for Patience in the PCA (1)

Calvin understood the zeal of true religion can be patient, but the rage of unbelief acts hastily. Calvin’s demeanor and his patient plodding are instructive for our present moment in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). We should not expect the theological and practical deviations from our Standards to be dealt with speedily. But that should not upset the heart motivated by true religion, which alone can practice patient zeal.

This is the first of a two-part series.
In his comment on John 10:31, John Calvin makes a fascinating insight: true religion produces holy zeal and unbelief produces rage. Calvin observes a difference in how the holy zeal of true religion and the rage produced by unbelief are manifested: “unbelief is the mother of rage, and the devil hurries on the wicked.”
In that little comment we get a sense of Calvin’s pastoral heart. Despite ministering in a time of great spiritual and ecclesiastical dysfunction and in a city with grave moral depravities with staunch opposition, Calvin patiently and zealously preached and taught the truth.
Calvin understood the zeal of true religion can be patient, but the rage of unbelief acts hastily. Calvin’s demeanor and his patient plodding are instructive for our present moment in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
We should not expect the theological and practical deviations from our Standards to be dealt with speedily. But that should not upset the heart motivated by true religion, which alone can practice patient zeal.
Deviations in the PCA
There are grave theological and practical deviations from our Standards disturbing the purity and peace of this faith communion. For quite some time, the PCA has been troubled by those who not merely disagree with our Church constitution (the Book of Church Order and the Westminster Standards), but who also choose not to abide by the doctrine and requirements we have vowed together to uphold in the PCA Constitution.
PCA General Assemblies since 2018 seem to have been dominated largely by the flamboyant escapades of a certain minister in Saint Louis and the attempts to clarify our requirements for ordination. Facing increasing threat of judicial process, that minister and the congregation he serves have since left the PCA. While their repentance and restoration would have been preferred, their departure removes a blight upon the purity and peace of the PCA.
However, the inordinate focus on basic issues of sexual purity distracted the PCA from other issues that present challenges to our confessional integrity and biblical fidelity and therefore continue to hinder the peace of the Church.
A. Ordination & Church Office
We live in a moment of time in which the fundamental distinctions among mankind are not simply being ignored, but denied. The terms “man” and “woman” are confusing to many in post-modern America. While there doesn’t yet seem to be confusion in the PCA on the definition of “man” or “woman,” there does seem to be confusion on the definition of deacon in the PCA.
The PCA Constitution is clear on who may serve as a deacon: The “office of deacon” is an “ordinary and perpetual” office in the Church (BCO 9-1). Men shall be chosen to serve in that office (BCO 9-3). Deacons are among those who have been “inducted by the ordination of a court” (BCO 17-1).
Yet a number of congregations in the PCA seem unclear about this.

Some congregations list women as “Deacons” on their website, which is clearly at variance with our Book of Church Order (BCO), which limits the subjects of ordination to men only. Some congregations perhaps try to get around this by not ordaining any of those whom they call “deacons.”

But failing to ordain the ones they call “deacons” creates another issue. Since the BCO sets forth that people are admitted to church office by ordination, if a PCA congregation has no men ordained as deacons, then she has no deacons according to the BCO.
The PCA must sort this out. We can’t continue to have people impersonating church officers in the PCA. These impersonators lack the gift of ordination. Our BCO states regarding ordination:
Ordination is the authoritative admission of one duly called to an office in the Church of God, accompanied with prayer and the laying on of hands, to which it is proper to add the giving of the right hand of fellowship (BCO 17-2).
Why would congregations deprive themselves of the blessings of more ordained officers? Is it right for a church court to refuse to ordain one “duly called” to church office? Is it fair for a congregation’s leaders to confuse people by describing people as “deacons” who are in fact unordained persons and not, properly speaking, deacons according to the Constitution of the PCA?
B. Lady Preachers
There is a spectrum within the PCA regarding what role women may have in public worship. This stems from how one interprets 1 Corinthians 14 and whether silent means “silent” or “she can do anything an unordained man can do.”
God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor 14:33–35)
Despite some diversity of interpretation, until recently there was widespread agreement in the PCA that preaching as part of a public worship service was something only men were permitted to do.
For example, one PCA congregation described an address by a famous Episcopal clergywoman as a “bible study,” despite the fact that her presentation immediately preceded the Lord’s Supper and was the exposition of Scripture for that Lord’s Day worship service. This was not just any mainline minister, but one of the first women to be ordained by The Episcopal Church.
Other PCA churches simply invite women to give installments in their seasonal sermon series as part of their regular rotation.

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Where is LeCroy’s Secret Council Meeting?

TE LeCroy’s pair of blogposts make some outlandish insinuations regarding the GRN and other groups such as the Aquila Report, MORE in the PCA, and Presbycast. While he’s long on insinuation, Dr LeCroy is short on specifics and evidence. That’s not a way forward for peace in the PCA. I propose a different way forward for peace in the PCA. First, cease the broad brush allegations about “big money” and “rhetoric,” but rather be clear and specific about concerns. 

I have no interest in sports. However in high school, I did run cross country, and for our warm up run we frequently would take a big lap around our school campus. As we ran, I was always amused by the things they put on the school sign; it was usually some proverbial soundbite or moral. One of them has stood out in my memory since that time both for its pithiness and its wisdom:
Never ruin an apology with an excuse.– Benjamin Franklin
Last week the Reverend Professor Tim Lecroy, PhD published a meandering blogpost on the SemperRef collective in which he initially seemed to be hoping for a less combative future in the PCA as he poignantly asked, “Will we have peace” as he reflected on his 25 years in the PCA and some of the controversies he has witnessed.
But the blogpost quickly abandoned its irenic façade in favor of what TE Charles Stover characterized as “Slander, for unity’s sake” in which Dr LeCroy leveled allegations, assertions, and questions aimed at the “right wing of the PCA” including the especially outrageous assertion that the GRN has a “secret council” and that the National Partnership (NP) “was never anything more than an email list and a facebook chat group that apparently enjoyed the occasional bourbon and cigar.”
I. Mea Culpa
The blogpost was exceptionally bad. As a man with a Doctor of Philosophy from Saint Louis University (one of the leading Roman Catholic research institutions in the world), he should have known better. As a professor at Covenant Theological Seminary (adjunct), we should be able to expect Dr LeCroy understands responsible research and the evidence needed to make such claims in writing. As a member of the editorial team for the SemperRef Collective, one would assume TE LeCroy would be more careful about what he puts in writing on the blog.

TE LeCroy giving a report at the 49th General Assembly of the PCA.

Late last week, Dr LeCroy issued a followup blogpost, Mea Culpa, in which he called a personal foul on himself. He tried to explain what a “personal foul” is using basketball. He stated he was just being “sarcastic” in asserting the GRN has a secret council, since people have used that word to describe him and his friends. So LeCroy doesn’t believe the GRN has a secret council; he was being sarcastic.
Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” (Prov. 26:18–19)
Dr LeCroy insists:
Let me be clear: I do not believe that the GRN has a secret council. I also apologize for insinuating. My insinuations were based on my own experience, anecdotal evidence told to me, and my own hunches, but they were insinuations nonetheless. I shouldn’t have put them in print.
Well now I’m not clear. Does Professor LeCroy believe the GRN has a secret council or not? He said his insinuations are based on his own experience, anecdotal evidence, and his hunches. What does this mean?
This is an interesting way to apologize; to retract one’s assertion and then assert he has evidence and hunches to support his insinuation.
II. The Show Me State
TE LeCroy does not have the benefit of having been born in Missouri as I have. But TE LeCroy has ministered in the Show Me State long enough to understand how we Missourians don’t accept claims without evidence. What “experience” and “anecdotal evidence” does Dr LeCroy have to support his claims?
I asked publicly on Twitter for this evidence and I received a (now deleted) sarcastic reply from an anonymous user of the SemperRef twitter account:

The user of the SemperRef Twitter account later identified himself as someone called “Travis” and apologized for his sarcasm.

Few people appreciate sarcasm more than I do. Sometimes I tell my wife, “sarcasm is my love language.” So I am indeed feeling the love from our brothers at SemperRef.
SemperRef describes itself as an organization that aims to:
Provide content that upholds our calling to speak the truth in love and which honors the fullest understanding of the responsibilities embodied in the ninth commandment.
I find it an odd response that when asked for evidence of the claims made in one of their articles, they demanded I provide the emails to disprove what was “insinuated” in the article and seems to be oddly-reiterated in the oddly-named “Mea Culpa” followup.
That is not the way evidence works; one does not have to prove a negative or prove the non-existence of what another “insinuates.”
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Beware the Latitude of the Pharisees

In the days of Jesus, it was not the Lord who disturbed the peace and purity of the Old Covenant Church, but it was pharisaical practices and deceptive use of language that disturbed her. Likewise in our day, it is not those who insist on the plain meaning of language who disturb the peace and purity of the church; it is those who seek to skirt around the “plain and common sense of the words” (cf. WCF 22:4) who trouble Israel.

I was reared Lutheran (ELCA). In my experience growing up and attending several different Lutheran congregations, the worship was fundamentally the same.[1]
Regardless of whether we attended a relatively conservative or relatively liberal congregation, the order of worship essentially did not change. It did not even matter whether we went to the “Contemporary Service” or the “Traditional Service,” for both shared the same basic structure. This was not because the various congregations shared the same theology or worldview, but because the congregations all followed one of the various “settings” in either the Green, Maroon, or Blue Hymnal along with the lectionary.
As a young person, it seemed to me the ELCA was united by a shared worship experience or order of worship. This observation held up even across worship styles and the theological spectrum.
In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), our unity comes not because we share one common liturgy; we have no prescribed liturgy that comes from a denominational publisher or is imposed by the “Headquarters” (and according to some, there is no PCA Headquarters).
This is due – at least in part – to our Puritan heritage; the Westminster Assembly opted not to produce a “Prayer Book” dictating the forms of worship across the Three Kingdoms. Instead, the Assembly produced the Directory for the Publick Worship of God, which set forth “the general heads, the sense and scope of the prayers, and other parts of publick worship…” The Directory described generally what was to be done in worship along with the manner, focus, and general content of each part of the worship.
The unity in the PCA regarding worship, then, flows not from the imposition of a liturgy or lectionary, but a shared theology regarding worship and ministry, which is reflected in our mutual agreement to follow the rules and prescriptions set forth in our Book of Church Order.
In short, unity in the PCA is not the result of every elder and every congregation doing everything the same way (i.e., absolute conformity), but because of our shared theology and our compliance with the same theological rules and principles to govern our practice. We are bound together by our vows to uphold the same theological standards, and so our unity is nonetheless expressed in our diversity.
This system works well when elders and church courts operate in good faith and with sincerity and integrity in their words and dealings with each other. As Postmodernism seeps into the Church and impacts how even Christians understand and use language, this arrangement is becoming increasingly tenuous.

Jesus and the Pharisees

In the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Pharisees were respected by Jewish society at large and admired for their careful preservation of Jewish culture. The Pharisees were revered for their reputation of strict obedience to the Law of Moses. But Jesus exposed their true nature as latitudinarians, as men who want broad license when it comes to (dis)obedience.
Jesus warned His disciples about the Pharisees: they were religious hypocrites.
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. (Luke 12:1–3)
The Pharisees were one way on the outside: strict, pious, and sanctimonious; they gave off the appearance of grave concern for compliance with the Law of Moses and the Traditions of the Fathers. But Jesus foretold: the hidden guile of their hearts will be revealed.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for twisting the plain reading of God’s Law in order to circumvent it:
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:9–13)
The Pharisees contrived a system whereby a person could be excused from aiding his father or mother if he had stipulated that upon his death all his possessions would be dedicated to God (Corban). Sinclair Ferguson describes the result:
The ruling of the Pharisees was that nothing could be done, even to alleviate sickness. The tragedy was that the Pharisees actually led those they advised to breach one of the great commandments. Under the guise of religious faithfulness, they encouraged disobedience to the law![2]
Pharisees of the First Century excelled at appearing religious while concealing the latitude, broadness, and license with which they approach the Truth. Pharisees defy God’s Law while at the same time appearing to be scrupulously devoted to it.
Pharisees did this not only with God’s Law, but with their own promises. The Gospels show us how Pharisees used language with both nuance and precision to minimize their duties. Many were taken in by their ruse, but the Lord Jesus Christ exposed them:
Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? (Matthew 23:16–19)
Do you see how clever the Pharisees were with their use of language? If they happened to make a vow they didn’t want to keep or had an obligation they did not want to fulfill, they could simply claim the latitude to disregard it by asserting the vow was not by the gold of the temple or the gift of the altar. They created new rules, new distinctions to undermine the fundamental principles of the Law.
Jesus rebuked this line of thinking in His Sermon on the Mount and commanded people instead to submit to the plain meaning of words: Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:37)
The King’s words issue a strong warning for those who play fast and loose with language. The latitude the Pharisees presumed for themselves by words was explicitly condemned by Jesus as, comes from evil.
Far from being strict and rigorous in their devotion to God, the Pharisees abused language to give themselves a license to disregard God’s word, enrich themselves, and enhance their personal ministries.
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[1] In the Lutheran congregation of my baptism and formative years, we used the Green and the Maroon; when we moved to Ohio we were part of several congregations. It didn’t matter whether we were at the hip church plant in the high school cafeteria, or the liberal congregation in Mentor or the relatively conservative Finnish Lutheran Congregation in Fairport Harbor, or even the awkward-college town congregation, the worship was pretty much the same. The hymns and tunes might be different, but what we did in the worship service was largely the same. The liturgy of the various ELCA congregations we attended largely followed the “Settings” contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (Green) or one of the later hymnals such as the very creatively entitled, Hymnal Supplement 1991 (Maroon) or in the With One Voice (Blue).
[2] Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999), 105.
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He Gets Us? But Who Is He?

The HeGetsUs campaign aims not to get people to “go to church,” but rather invite people to “consider the story of a man who created a radical love movement that continues to impact the world thousands of years later”….While the goals of HeGetsUs may be to make Jesus palatable to sophisticated urbanite worldings frustrated with religion and society, the Jesus they present is not the Jesus of the Scripture. This campaign has turned the good news of Christ on its head with some sort of psycho-therapeutic-babble that obscures the truth of Christ.

“They are wanting to know more about a Jesus who is a false Jesus,” said the Reverend Tom Buck in reference to the new HeGetsUs campaign which ChristianityToday describes as a campaign to “make Jesus the ‘biggest brand in your city.”
The HeGetsUs campaign aims not to get people to “go to church,” but rather invite people to “consider the story of a man who created a radical love movement that continues to impact the world thousands of years later.”
As they explain on their website:
He Gets Us is a movement to reintroduce people to the Jesus of the Bible and his confounding love and forgiveness. We believe his words, example, and life have relevance in our lives today and offer hope for a better future.
They seem to believe the public “image” of Jesus needs to be rehabilitated for the 21st Century. They realized a problem according to Jason Vanderground: “how did the world’s greatest love story become known as a hate group…but we wanted to help them see that in Jesus there was somebody who had a lot of common experience just like they did.”
On their website they attempt to portray the Saviour as relatable and sharing many experiences, problems, feelings, and emotions endured by 21st Century people.
One of the videos asserts, “Jesus suffered anxiety, too.” The assertion the Saviour suffered “anxiety” is theologically dubious and comes very near to blasphemy.
Another video claims, “Jesus had to control his outrage, too.” But the outrage Jesus felt was never sinful, was always justified, and always perfect in its expression. The explanation goes on to say, “By telling this story, we reminded ourselves that even when we’re tested and trolled, we have the option of rising above.” But do we have the power to do so?

Which Jesus?

A major problem with this campaign is that it seems to present a Jesus that is too much like us.
To be clear, Jesus was more human than you or I; His humanity was untainted by original sin. But the campaign seems to present Jesus as merely a moral exemplar, that is Christ is simply an example for people to follow.
The Reverend Derrick Brite warns about this kind of messaging: “it’s a gospel without sin, without cross, without a god; it’s ridiculous, it’s blasphemous, and it needs to be killed.”
In another video HeGetsUs speaks of a man who wanted people to be “filled with compassion” and then they go on to explain, “The name of Jesus has been used to harm and divide, but if you look at how he lived…He was radically inclusive. What would our world look like if that were the norm? If strangers became friends over the dinner table as they did around Jesus?”
It seems the marketers of the HeGetsUs campaign are trying to make Jesus likable, palatable, and acceptable to the world. And to do that, they are obscuring the reality of what Jesus came to do: to glorify God by satisfying divine justice by becoming a curse and being hanged on a tree all after He had fulfilled the Law of God on behalf of His people.
The campaign seems devoid of the cross; it presents a Jesus without the cross, a Jesus who is just like us and who is inoffensive. But that is not the Jesus of the Bible.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:22–25).
The Apostle Paul did not hide the offense of Christ from the sophisticated urbanites of Corinth. In fact that is what he led with:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3–4).
Certainly, the way Jesus is portrayed in the HeGetsUs campaign will start conversations and raise questions, but they will not be conversations and questions about the biblical Jesus. Perhaps the organizers intend a “bait and switch” with this provocative campaign: Get people interested in a Jesus who went around talking about hope, love, compassion, and forgiveness and then get them connected with a church that proclaims the whole Christ, the truth about Christ.
In a statement, TE Byran Chapell noted there has not been a lot of “controversy” regarding this and only “one person in the whole PCA has brought up any concerns” related to the HeGetsUs campaign. If you have thoughts, questions, or concerns about the PCA involvement in HeGetsUs, you may contact the PCA Stated Clerk’s office:
Phone: 678-825-1000Email: [email protected]
Someone has started a petition urging the PCA not to take part in this campaign. TE Chapell indicated the Coordinators of PCA Agencies (e.g., RUF, CDM, MNA, MTW) might make a decision at a meeting next week on whether to join the site.
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The End of the Beginning

We must not think recent news out of Saint Louis is cause to slacken or pause. News from Saint Louis should stir us to remain vigilant against any who would erode the freedom of the gospel: freedom from the penalty of sin, freedom from the power of sin, and one day freedom from the presence of sin.

The PCA has been at a crossroads for some time as we debate what sort of denomination the PCA will be.
Will the Presbyterian Church in America be a denomination that is “Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission,” where officers and church courts uphold the Constitutional Standards of the PCA with integrity and sincerity? Or will the PCA be a denomination characterized by latitude and leniency with regard to the Standards?
Up until recently, the General Assembly of the PCA tended to issue actions and deliverances that favored that latter course: one of latitude and leniency. As I’ve written elsewhere, the presbycrats were largely allowed to run things.
But lately, attendance at the General Assembly has seen marked increase, especially since 2018 when it was so difficult for the General Assembly to grant constitutional authority to the chapter on marriage in the Book of Church Order. And a year later attendance skyrocketed after many in the PCA were scandalized by a speech in which TE Greg Johnson, PhD reflected on his unnatural lust on the floor of the Assembly.
I. Hoping for Repentance
Many throughout the PCA were shocked that a minister of the gospel would attempt to wax eloquent about his vile affections in hopes of swinging a vote against an overture. Further grief flowed seemingly every time that minister spoke publicly. During one now infamous podcast, he even seemed to go so far as to assert that unnatural affections are not within the scope of repentance:
What I hear is that you are judging brothers for not repenting of something that cannot be repented of.
From many corners of the PCA, individual elders and church courts wrote both to TE Johnson and to his presbytery urging him to repent of his views, actions, and statements. The Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) even took the unprecedented step of re-opening a case before it to provide additional opportunity for clarification and corrections by TE Johnson on what he meant.
Despite the clarifications when the SJC re-opened the case, members of the Standing Judicial Commission nonetheless issued a blistering concurring opinion expressing concern regarding his “lack of clarity” and “tone-deafness” on matters of homosexual lust and other issues.
Further corrections and clarifications followed. But in addition to corrections and clarifications, TE Johnson engaged in additional speaking and writing on the subject of vile affections, which further troubled the Church.
For example, Ascension Presbytery reported on Johnson’s 2021 book Still Time to Care and noted not only grave concerns with the way TE Johnson “misuse[d] identity in Christ” but also and his “aberrant views on sexual orientation, his disregard of the confessional teaching on the heinousness and various aggravations of different sins, and his lack of interaction with the confessional understanding of the gift of continence.”
Further attempts were made to bring TE Johnson to repentance; letters were sent to his presbytery, dialogues on various media platforms, reviews of the book were written highlighting troubling aspects in Johnson’s views and ministry paradigm.
Johnson’s teaching, speaking, and writing on the issue of unnatural lust has deeply troubled the PCA. For example, two Covenant College faculty members noted a troubling lack of focus on the need for sanctification in his book:
[W]e’ve registered two substantial reservations, raising a worry about Johnson’s treatment of sanctification with respect to concupiscence and questions about the notion of sexual orientation as a fixed propensity that’s taken for granted in this book and by most participants in the broader debate. Since these themes are central to the book’s overall argument, they end up weakening his case for a paradigm of care. In our opinion, the paradigm of care is inadequate without a complementary devotion to sanctification.
The defects in his theology and practice have been noted across the spectrum of the denomination from GRN Council Members such as Jonathan Master, the aforementioned Covenant College professors, and even the Stated Clerk called the way he speaks about his unnatural desires, “highly imprudent.”
Despite all this, TE Johnson and the Session with whom he serves have refused to give heed to the concerns of the wider church on this matter. Memorial Presbyterian Church (MPC) continues to welcome transvestites to perform in its chapel as the church supports these folks earning a living from their “arts.”
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Celibacy Is Not Enough

The mere abstinence from sodomite conduct – while at the same time speaking about, attending conferences focused on, and writing about one’s sodomite lust – is hardly to be considered “above reproach” (cf. 1 Tim 3), to “adorn the profession of the gospel” (cf. BCO 21-5, 24-6), or to be “free from all taint of what is lewd or salacious.” Bare abstinence from all sexual conduct does not meet the minimum standard for Christian behavior. All Christians – whether single or married – are called to chastity, so the claim of celibacy is not enough to show oneself called and qualified for church office.

In the Presbyterian Church in America, it seems we disagree on where “the line” is to be drawn for church officers and what it means to be “above reproach.” Our presbyteries are debating whether to ratify Overture 15 (Item 1) which reads:
Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.
I believe the debate centers on the extent to which worldly concepts and ideas are permitted to shape the way potential officers conceive of and describe themselves. We disagree on how closely a man may come to describing himself according to his unnatural desires and still be qualified to serve Christ and His people in ordained office. It seems some see this debate as centered on simply, how worldly can a man be and not be disqualified?
I. The Main Debate: “homosexual”
Some argue there is nothing wrong with an officer who experiences sodomite lust being described by the national media as “gay.” They see nothing necessarily wrong with a man who conceives of himself as a homosexual ministering as an ordained officer in Christ’s Church. One side of the PCA insists a man who confesses to be homosexual is simply acknowledging unwanted same-sex attraction, which is no worse than a man acknowledging an unwanted attraction for a woman not his wife.
But others insist that while we may name our sins, we are not named by our sins. They argue for a man to describe himself according to his sinful lusts disqualifies him from ordained ministry. Their concern is that describing oneself as “gay” or “homosexual” indicates the man has bought into – or at least is unduly influenced by – a Post Modern Worldview in which the self and sexuality are virtually indistinguishable. Carl Trueman’s diagnosis is helpful to explain the concerns of many of those in the 54% of the General Assembly who voted to pass Overture 15:
The idea that sexuality is identity is now basic and intuitive in the West, and this means that all matters pertaining to sex are therefore matters that concern who we are at the deepest level. Sex is identity, sex is politics, sex is culture.1
As Trueman explains, the culture in which we minister views sex as fundamental to identity. Thus, many in the PCA argue a potential officer who describes himself according to a disordered and unnatural sexuality crosses the line of propriety and reveals such a man has succumbed to the disease Trueman has diagnosed in the wider society.
But there is another, less considered, part of Overture 15 (Item 1).
II. An Overlooked Aspect of the Conversation: “celibacy”
One recent author has claimed2 the PCA and other Bible-believing denominations have had same-sex-attracted ministers for generations who have ministered faithfully to the church in a lifestyle of celibacy.3
But the PCA constitution requires more than celibacy for faithful Christians and especially of men called to be officers in Christ’s Church. Celibacy for unmarried Christians is only the beginning of sexual faithfulness.
I am aware in our Post Modern Age that appealing to a dictionary for a definition is a rather risky proposition, but nonetheless: Merriam-Webster defines celibacy as follows:
not engaging in or characterized by sexual intercourse; abstaining from marriage and sex especially because of a religious vow.
But our confessional standards require more than celibacy, but rather chastity:
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 all our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto (WLC138).
In our hyper-sexualized society, it might be easy to conflate celibacy and chastity, but they are not strictly synonyms.4 While they do have significant definitional overlap, they are different, yet related concepts. Merriam-Webster on chaste:
implies a refraining from acts or even thoughts or desires that are not virginal or not sanctioned by marriage vows; innocent of unlawful sexual intercourse; pure in thought and act; free from all taint of what is lewd or salacious.
Single Christians and married Christians are alike called to chastity. Chastity includes not simply abstinence from fornication, but also the setting of a guard over our thoughts, desires, and company that they all be chaste.
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1 Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 299.
2 n.b. the author’s use and appropriation of historical sources has recently been called into question by M. D. Perkins and the Presbytery of the Ascension (PCA).
3 Greg Johnson, Still Time to Care (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2021). See also this podcast episode for a similar claim.
4 Indeed Merriam-Webster does seem to note the words are becoming conflated. But our Confessional Standards nonetheless recognize a difference between the requirements of chastity versus celibacy.
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Clarity on PCA Overture 15

Overture 15 would not declare the mere presence of homosexual desire to be disqualifying. While there may be a minority within the PCA who would bar anyone from office who confesses unnatural lust, overture 15 would not do that. Overture 15 is narrowly focused on barring from church office any man who describes, characterizes, or defines himself according to his sinful desire.

Words can be confusing. Last year in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), we learned a number of elders were unclear on the meaning of identity. This year a minority of the Overtures Committee tried to avoid the confusion regarding identity by proposing this amendment to our Book of Church Order (BCO) Chapter 7:
Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.
The proposed BCO amendment is clear, succinct, and straightforward. It bars anyone from office who describes himself according to his sinful and unnatural lust.
There seems to be a great deal of hostility to the change proposed by Overture 15 (Item 1 before the Presbyteries), but I wonder how much of the opposition comes from misunderstanding what the proposed amendment would do rather than reading the plain language.
I. Confusion by the Stated Clerk
In an otherwise anodyne summary of the history and state of the PCA given at Southwood PCA in Huntsville, Alabama, Stated Clerk TE Bryan Chapell, PhD described the “present division” within the denomination as centered on homosexual desire and whether “the desire itself is disqualifying.”
The Stated Clerk gave an overview of his efforts “organizing people from both sides” at General Assembly to resolve this matter. He indicated he urged “the opposing sides” to “listen to each other” and invited them to collaborate “in the same room” to resolve the scandal surrounding homosexuality in the PCA. The Stated Clerk notes the meeting he organized resulted in an “agreed upon proposal” (presumably Overtures 29 and/or 31), which easily passed the Overtures Committee.
The Stated Clerk then proceeded to give background on Overture 15 and how it came to the floor. TE Chapell stated, “sadly, those who were not in the room” came with another proposal (i.e. Overture 15) in addition to the “agreed to proposal” (i.e. Overtures 29 and/or 31) produced by the group brought together by the Stated Clerk.
He then characterized the “very divisive” Overture 15 as proposing to amend our BCO to state regarding homosexuality, “the desire itself is disqualifying.”
Both the consensus proposal crafted by those invited by the Stated Clerk to a meeting and the proposal of those “not in the room” passed the Assembly and are now before the presbyteries for consideration.
II. Clarity from the Text
While some might commend the Stated Clerk for trying to bring consensus between the wings of the PCA regarding officer qualifications, the trouble here is how he mischaracterized Overture 15.
Later, in a Q&A portion at the very end of his presentation, the Stated Clerk described the issue as whether or not, “the same sex attraction itself is more heinous, so heinous that it is automatically disqualifying.” That is a surprising description of our intramural disagreement given there is currently no proposal to disqualify someone from office on the mere basis of experiencing unnatural lust.
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Does the Bible Trump the BCO?

In the PCA, our standards and our vows are clear. We must abide by the Book of Church Order; we have sworn oaths together saying we believe it conforms to Biblical polity, so let us live together practicing what we have pledged and hold one another accountable for the honor of Christ, the purity of His bride, and the peace of His body.

I have heard it multiple times:
We follow the BCO except where it disagrees with the Bible…
But the Bible overrides the BCO.
Is it possible a denomination claiming to be Reformed would have a governing document that fails to submit to the Scripture? Is it conceivable the PCA, which historically confesses divine right church government (Jure Divino Presbyterianism) would adopt a subordinate standard at odds with the plain teaching of the Bible? Some seem to assume so.
I. What is the Book of Church Order (BCO)?
Many members of the PCA are likely unaware of what the BCO is. The BCO is part of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, which means it is subordinate to the Scriptures. The BCO functions not as a summary of our doctrinal beliefs, but instead more like a practical manual for operations and procedures within the denomination.
We joyfully give thanks that God’s word has made clear “all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life.” But the Bible does not give us a blueprint or manual for how to do every single thing in the Church:
…there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed (WCF 1:6).
The BCO is drawn from the words and principles of the Scripture and applies them to the official functions in the life of the PCA.
For example, the Bible tells us congregations are served by elders and deacons and the Scripture gives us the qualifications of those offices. The Bible does not, however, go into great detail as to how we select men for those offices. What the BCO does is take the truth of Scripture on that matter and present it in a summarized and explicated manner that can be clearly and concisely applied in every congregation (e.g. BCO Chapters 7-9, 24).
This accomplishes at least two things:

It saves every Session from having to “re-invent the wheel” when electing church officers. The BCO provides a basic framework describing the qualifications and duties of the officers as well as the procedures for training, nominating, electing, and ordaining/installing officers. Anyone who has ever served on any board knows how helpful it is to have a starting point and a framework for any project.
It provides unity of practice and understanding across the denomination. This enables the thousands of churches in the PCA to hold one another accountable, because we have all agreed to follow the same rules and abide by the same standards. Where a church has deviated from the BCO, the other churches in her presbytery can call her back to faithfulness and integrity.

II. How does the Bible relate to the BCO?
The 66 books that make up the Bible comprise various types of literature (e.g. historical narrative, poetry, prophecy, “Gospel,” epistles, etc.), and the authors make use of various literary devices (e.g. metaphor, allegory, sarcasm, etc.) and sometimes no literary device at all, but are intended to be understood in a strictly literal sense. Moreover, sometimes the narrative is prescriptive and sometimes it is simply descriptive. All of this can make biblical interpretation challenging.
Since there is one Divine Author of the Scripture, it never truly contradicts itself, although some portions of the Scripture are more easily understood than others (cf. 2 Peter 3:15ff). Our Confession of Faith tells us how we can make sense of the difficult parts of the Scripture:
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly (WCF 1:9).
We acknowledge there are difficult parts of the Scripture, but we also confess the difficult parts of the Scripture are understood by the more clear portions of the Scripture either explaining them or helping us to see what those difficult portions both can and cannot mean.
But even then, there may be disagreement over the precise meaning and application of that portion of the Scripture. This is the case even with church polity.
For instance, there are numerous areas in which faithful Christians disagree on church government. For example, our Anglican neighbors believe the word presbyter and episkopos refer to two different types of church officials: the former a priest and the latter a bishop. Presbyterians, by contrast, believe the Scripture uses those two words interchangeably to refer to the one office of elder and his function as an overseer.
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What is a Deacon?

While the use of the word deacon is somewhat varied in Scripture and church history, the constitutional Standards of the PCA clearly define that word for use within the bounds of the PCA. Why then is the word deacon used in such diverse and even contradictory ways by PCA congregations?

Modernism was characterized by a quest for objectivity and certainty, but it failed to deliver. Post-Modernism arose in response and questions all objectivity and certainty. Post Modernism thrives in the society of our exile.
Perhaps nowhere is the impact of Post-Modernism more glaring than in language.
Language is hard. The meanings of words evolve over time. For example, four centuries ago a “stew” was a reference to a bathhouse or brothel. Today a “stew” is a thick soup that is especially popular in colder months. But you can see the relationship between the archaic meaning and the current understanding of “stew.”
However, in our postmodern day the meaning of words has become almost completely fluid. Consider this somewhat absurd example in the meaning of the word literally as it is currently understood according to Oxford Languages: “in a literal manner or sense; exactly,” or “used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true.”
So what does literally mean? I literally don’t know.
There seems to be similar trouble over the meaning of the word deacon in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
Deacon in Scripture
The word deacon (and its feminine, deaconess) simply means servant. I am not going to do an exhaustive study of the word here; that has been done by others elsewhere. Nonetheless, a brief survey will help set the context.
It is used of Nero by Paul in Romans 13:4 – for he is God’s deacon (διάκονός; diakonos) for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
Later in Romans, the Apostle Paul uses the same word to describe the woman who apparently carried Paul’s epistle to the church at Rome – I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon (διάκονον; diakonon) of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well (Rom. 16:1, 2).
So it seems in Romans the word deacon does not have a technical, official sense (i.e., referring to a church office), but is rather used to describe both men and women who serve, whether in government or in the church.
Acts of the Apostles
Acts 6 is generally understood by Reformed Christians to explain the origin of the office of deacon by Christ through His apostles. Although the noun often translated deacon does not actually occur there, the verb form is used to describe the work the apostles and elders will not do, but to which ministry they will set apart seven men elected by the Church – And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve (διακονεῖν; diakonein) tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty (Acts 6:2, 3).
Interestingly, a noun form of the verb translated serve in verse two is used in verse four to refer to the ministry of the apostles and elders – But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry (διακονίᾳ; diakonia) of the word.
The words appearing in Acts related to what is elsewhere translated deacon don’t seem to have taken on a technical or official sense.
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