Stephen Spinnenweber

Actually, We Do Care (3): A Forgotten Third Paradigm

Any paradigm of “care” that does not manifest itself in encouraging one’s brother to pursue comprehensive, Spirit-wrought change is caring only in name. Calling on a fellow believer earnestly to desire and actively to seek change at the level of sexual desire is not abusive; it is our duty. As believers we are called to hate our sin, turn from it to God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience (WSC Q. 87) and to call on our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.2 Repentance unto life is the pulse of God’s people individually and corporately. No desire, no matter how consistent or persistent, is exempt from Scripture’s call to mortification and vivification.

Since the inaugural meeting of Revoice in 2018 the Reformed and evangelical world has been holding its breath wondering, “Where will all of this lead?” In four years we have seen three successive Revoice conferences with the fourth forthcoming, hotly debated BCO amendments with more to be debated at the 2022 PCA General Assembly, and the recent decision of the Standing Judicial Commission concerning Missouri Presbytery’s investigation of Memorial Presbyterian Church. All of these together suggest that matters will get worse before they get better. Only the sovereign God knows exactly how everything will fall out, but we now know where the most prominent figure of the Revoice movement wants to see things go. In the concluding chapters of Still Time to Care, Greg Johnson offers his vision for the church’s future: he wants us to pick up the ball that we dropped forty years ago and return to the “paradigm of care” that he sees exemplified in the ministries of C. S. Lewis, Billy Graham, Francis Schaeffer, and Richard Lovelace (216). The “paradigm of care” is Johnson’s antidote to the “paradigm of cure” that undergirded the ex-gay movement of the last 50 years. To be sure, the ex-gay movement was fraught with serious theological and methodological errors from the start but, as one examines Johnson’s “paradigm of care,” one will find a host of other issues that will do more harm than good to the one who adopts it. For the sake of our sheep, I encourage pastors to consider different paradigm, a third way that I believe better adheres to the teaching of Scripture: a paradigm of change.
“But wait, change? That’s the same empty promise of the ex-gay movement. They tried to change peoples’ sexual orientation before, but it was an utter failure. Why turn back to a defunct paradigm like that?”  In Johnson’s eyes, the language of “change” has become so poisoned by the ex-gay movement that calls to change are all but off limits. In fact, he goes so far as to call them abusive.
While Exodus in the United States is largely buried and dead, change-focused ministries continue to exist. And in much of the world, the ex-gay movement is still very much alive. As we ask what a path to care looks like for gay people who become Christians, we have to confront the ways the ex-gay movement is still moving about undead among us. The relics of the ex-gay movement continue to foster emotionally unsafe and even abusive spaces within conservative Christianity. Any path to care must root out the emotional abuse within our churches and ministries (190).
To be sure, if the only change that is pursued is a change in one’s sexual orientation, that is setting the bar for holiness woefully, woefully low.1 I am not here to advocate for mere behavioral change as was common among the purveyors of the ex-gay movement. As Christians we are called to aim higher and seek change that is deeper— change at the level of our hearts, affections, and yes, even our sexual desires. I agree, by and large, with Dr. Johnson’s assessment of the ex-gay movement and find many of its measures misguided and some even abusive. It pains me to hear that anyone would be told they must not be a Christian if they continue to struggle with a particular besetting sin. This represents an unfortunate and painful chapter in the history of American evangelicalism and it is one to which I hope we never return.
Johnson’s reaction, however, to the excesses of the ex-gay movement and its promise of orientation change inflicts a new damage all its own: it cuts the hope for meaningful change at the knees. Johnson writes:
Lewis, Schaeffer, Graham, and Stott viewed the homosexual condition not as a cognitive behavioral challenge to be cured but as an unchosen orientation with no reliable cure in this life (32; emphasis added).
What is a paradigm of care?…Be honest about the relative fixity of sexual orientation for most people (33; emphasis added).
In this positive gospel vision for gay people and the church, we see a focus not on curing homosexuality but on caring for people. We see that the locus of hope lies in the coming age. This present age is not for cure but for care (35; emphasis added).
There were some individuals who experienced profound shifts in their sexual preference. Jill Rennick recalls several cases that could be deemed orientation change. She counts eight women and one man whose stories she is confident pan out. I spoke with one woman, named Debra, who has experienced a significant shift in her sexual orientation. So it’s not impossible in some instances, but the rarity of these cases is still striking (123–4; emphasis added).
Our struggle to confirm even a couple handfuls of cases of true gay-to-straight orientation change is telling. God has the power to do anything. It appears this is something he has chosen to do only very rarely in this era (127; emphasis added).
For me (Johnson), the sexualized pull toward people of the same sex is not likely to go away. This is a lifetime calling not to let it rule over me (136; emphasis added).
Paul wrote to the Corinthians to stress just how limited our transformation is in this life. Yet many well-meaning believers, having drunk the ex-gay Kool-Aid, continue to twist Paul’s letter to say something very different (143; emphasis added).
Can we not find a way to acknowledge the reality and persistence of sexual orientations that seldom change and are part of our lowercase, secondary identities, while still locating homoerotic temptation as an affect of the fall and manifestation of indwelling sin? I think we can and must (207; emphasis added).
We learned that sexual orientation is real. It’s not an addiction. And any shifts within it are fairly rare and incremental (243; emphasis added).
Whatever hope Johnson gives with one hand, he immediately takes away with the other. One can feel the walls closing in on the believer who wrestles with homosexual desire and longs to be freed from its bondage. “Sexual orientation is relatively fixed…change is so rare…hope is beyond our grasp until we reach the eschaton…look at all these statistics of people who tried and failed to change their orientation,” what other choice does the homosexual struggler have than to wave the white flag and adopt their homosexual desires as a “secondary identity” (199)?
Johnson is very careful in his walk along the terminological tightrope. Nowhere does he say that a homosexual orientation is altogether fixed, which would certainly open him up to ecclesiastical investigation. Instead he speaks of homosexuality’s “relative fixity” (33) which doesn’t violate the letter of progressive sanctification, but when all the individual pieces above are brought into focus, the spirit of progressive sanctification is consistently undermined throughout the book. The cumulative effect of Johnson’s countless qualifications and reminders that change is “fairly rare” and that “the locus of our hope lies in the coming age” feels like death by a thousand paper cuts instead of blunt force heterodoxy. Either way, the sexual struggler is left with virtually no encouragement to war against his sin.
Is “Change” a Biblical Paradigm?
Any paradigm of “care” that does not manifest itself in encouraging one’s brother to pursue comprehensive, Spirit-wrought change is caring only in name. Calling on a fellow believer earnestly to desire and actively to seek change at the level of sexual desire is not abusive; it is our duty. As believers we are called to hate our sin, turn from it to God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience (WSC Q. 87) and to call on our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.2 Repentance unto life is the pulse of God’s people individually and corporately. No desire, no matter how consistent or persistent, is exempt from Scripture’s call to mortification and vivification. Consider Paul’s exhortations to the saints in Rome and Colossae:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Rom 12:2; emphasis added).
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5; emphasis added).
Paul didn’t seem to think that calling on believers to mortify evil desires in their hearts and minds was abusive, so who is Greg Johnson to say that it is? Paul’s call to “put to death” the earthly within sounds very differently from the way Johnson speaks about homosexual desire, “God has called me to steward my sexual orientation in obedience to him” (199). How can one steward that which Scripture commands be put to death? How can Johnson’s paradigm of care peacefully coexist beside Scripture’s obvious paradigm of change?3 It cannot.
Is “Change” a Confessional Paradigm?
Change, however, is not only the expectation of Scripture. It is the expectation of the Reformed churches. Consider the Westminster Standards’ stress on the necessity of holistic sanctification, i.e., change not in part but in the whole man. They taught that sanctification cannot be selective or piecemeal, it must be comprehensive. If we exempt a handful of our besetting sinful desires from the process of progressive sanctification then we are guilty of two perilous errors:

Thinking too much of the power of our sin;
Thinking too little of the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

In our Standards we confess God’s Word to teach:
WSC Q.35 What is Sanctification?

Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole manafter the image of God,and are enabled more and moreto die unto sin, and live unto righteousness (emphasis added).

WLC Q. 75. What is sanctification?

Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life (emphasis added).

WCF 13.2  This sanctification is throughout in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part: whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh (emphasis added).
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Actually, We Do Care (part 2): A Response To Greg Johnson’s ‘Still Time To Care’

Heterosexual lust and homosexual lust are not the same qualitatively. Though they are both fallen and fall short of the glory of God, they are not fallen in the same way or for the same reason, which distinction Johnson does not make clear in his writing. Here it becomes necessary to make a distinction between sins that are contrary to nature and sins that are not.

In the previous article, we saw how Greg Johnson used only select portions of his conversation partners’ comments on human sexuality for the purpose of holding them up as examples of heterosexual Christians who “have a very shallow view of their indwelling sin—their own internal corruption” (139). In reality, however, the two parties appeared to agree more than Johnson let on in writing. Further, whether or not one believes Johnson rightly interpreted their comments is immaterial to my point. The question that needs to be answered is this: does Johnson indicate in Still Time to Care that the sexual attraction of a man to a woman other than his wife is according to nature? The question is not whether it is a sin or whether it is “God’s good design for sexuality.” Let me be very clear and say that sexually desiring, longing for, or lusting after anyone other than one’s spouse is sin. Jesus said so in Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I agree with Johnson that God’s “good design for sexuality” is for it to “exist within marriage” and extend no farther. A man’s sexual attractions should be limited exclusively to his wife. This is the question: is the sin of sexually desiring a woman other than one’s wife contrary to nature? What does Johnson say?
At one point, he does use the word “natural” to describe heterosexuality, but not directly and not in the way that “natural” is traditionally used in discussions regarding human sexuality. Johnson writes:
Did God design Adam to feel an internal sexual pull toward his neighbor’s wife? To see another man’s wife and have sexual feelings for her? Was that our Father’s good design for sexuality? Or is that—like sexual attraction to a member of the same sex—also an effect of the fall? Is that not internal corruption? It that not overdesire? Is that not a natural longing for beauty or approval or intimacy that has been bent by the fall? (139; emphasis added).
In the first italicized statement Johnson draws a comparison between homo-sexual attraction and hetero-sexual attraction to a person that is not one’s spouse, saying they are both effects of the fall. With this I agree: sexual attraction to a member of the same sex and sexual attraction to a member of the opposite sex who is not one’s spouse are both sinful effects of the fall and require the blood of Christ to cover them. Praise be to God that, in Christ, when we repent and believe, he is faithful and just to forgive us of all our sin, whether it be expressed heterosexually or homosexually. Johnson and I agree on this point.
Let me also say, however, that heterosexual lust and homosexual lust are not the same qualitatively. Though they are both fallen and fall short of the glory of God, they are not fallen in the same way or for the same reason, which distinction Johnson does not make clear in his writing. Here it becomes necessary to make a distinction between sins that are contrary to nature and sins that are not.1
At its root, hetero-sexual desire is a natural, pre-fall gift of God that has become subject to the fallen imaginations and manipulation of sinful man. Heterosexuality is good in that it accords with nature (pre-fall), but it becomes bad whenever it is directed toward a person who is not one’s spouse (whether pre or post marriage). The compatibility of male and female reproductive organs, the potential for mutual pleasure when engaging in sex, and the ability to procreate are God’s way of indicating that this is the original, natural way, in which sex was designed to function—male and female. Heterosexual orientation is not the problem, in and of itself it is rightly ordered, natural, and good. It is only when heterosexual expression transgresses the bounds of monogamous marriage that we may talk about sinful heterosexuality, never before.
Though it is indeed a sad reality that hetero-sexual desire is often abused, the abuse of heterosexuality does not make the orientation per se disordered or contrary to nature as homosexuality is. Heterosexuality per se is not sinful. The abuse of heterosexuality is sinful. Heterosexuality is certainly subject to the consequences of the fall, but that does not make heterosexuality altogether fallen as an orientation. The abuse of a good thing does not thereby make the good thing cease to be good. For example, it is one thing to say that alcohol is a good gift from God and that one must be careful not to use it in a sinful manner (e.g., drunkenness) but it is another thing entirely to say that because alcohol, on this side of the fall, is so often abused that we should now regard it as a sinful, disordered substance. Yet, in multiple places, Johnson applies this sort of logic to heterosexuality as an orientation.
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See WLC Q.151. Notice that the prooftext for the clause, “light of nature,” is Romans 1:26-27.

Actually, We Do Care (Part 1): A Response To Greg Johnson’s Still Time To Care

It is my intention to demonstrate with these articles that Johnson’s book muddies the already muddied terminology regarding human sexuality and that he is not alone in using classic Reformed systematic-theological language in a novel manner to support his own conclusions.

Still Time to Care: Selective Quoting?
Greg Johnson’s Still Time to Care has garnered no small amount of attention since its release in early December 2021. Prominent voices in the Reformed and broader evangelical world have hailed it as the seminal text for a new era of ministry to same-sex attracted persons both within and without our churches. Out of the ashes of the ex-gay movement of the last 50 years has arisen, they say, a new (or if you ask Greg Johnson “revitalized”) paradigm of care. For a fuller treatment of the book’s contents I would heartily recommend Dr. Jonathan Master’s review. In fact, the reader may find it helpful to consult his panoramic view of the forest before reading what is my cross-sectioning of several noteworthy trees.
It is my intention to demonstrate with these articles that Johnson’s book muddies the already muddied terminology regarding human sexuality and that he is not alone in using classic Reformed systematic-theological language in a novel manner to support his own conclusions.
Throughout the book, Johnson puts what he calls “heterosexual orientation” and “homosexual orientation” side by side in an attempt to demonstrate how both are fallen, sinful orientations (139).1 Johnson is not shy in expressing his frustration with those who turn a blind eye to their own heterosexual sins and fixate instead upon the homosexual sin of others. To be sure, if a man is addicted to internet pornography, frequenting gentlemen’s clubs, or cheating on his wife, he is no place to identify specks or beams in the eyes of others when he has such a whopping beam in his own. Sexual sin is not the exclusive vice of the same-sex attracted. This is not up for debate, we are all in agreement. Men and women sin when they lust after a member of the opposite sex who is not their spouse.
As true as this is, Dr. Johnson so stresses the sinfulness of heterosexual lust that, at times, he obscures the Reformed distinction between sins that are against nature and sins that are not thereby obscuring the differing degrees of heinousness. 2 In one particular instance Johnson does so by bending the language of others to support his premise that “heterosexuality as experienced on this side of the fall is drenched in sin” (139). In the section titled “The Sinfulness of Heterosexuality This Side of the Fall” Johnson recounts the details of his interview on the CrossPolitic podcast.3
NB: What follows should in no way be construed as a defense of the people or theology represented by the CrossPolitic podcast or as a defense of others in Moscow, Idaho. Far from it. The reader should consider me squarely in the camp of those who are opposed to the pastoral abuses that have been documented and the reader should consider me opposed to the Federal Vision theology. My only intention in recounting this discussion is to demonstrate that Johnson engages in a subtle twisting of words to support his own conclusions and misconstrue the position of his discussion partners. To what end does all of this trend? To the blurring of the distinction between sins that are contrary to nature and sins that are not. In a follow up article, I will demonstrate how Johnson further blurs these lines in choosing to apply the word “disordered” both to heterosexual and homosexual lust, but never the descriptor “unnatural” to homosexual lust.
Johnson says:
I was once on a podcast with some church leaders who seemed to be of the opinion that a gay person who becomes a Christian can choose not to be attracted to member of the same sex anymore. I questioned them about their own sexual attraction to women other than their wives.4 Can you choose to turn that off? They scoffed.
“For one, heterosexual men don’t need to repent of being attracted to another woman,” one panelist said.
Another added, “Because that’s natural.”
A third agreed, “That’s the way God planned it.”
The first one then jumped in again. “What we need to repent of is being lustful” (139).
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Notes
1 My using the terms “homosexuality,” “heterosexuality,” and “orientation,” is not a wholesale endorsement of those terms. I find them problematic at a number of points. The purpose of their usage is to engage as directly as possible with Johnson’s line of argumentation.
2 See WSC Q.82 and WLC Q.151 s.3
3 The full interview can be found here. Please note that this is not an endorsement of the CrossPolitic podcast. For more on this podcast see the resources below, e.g., “The Smear Was Intentional” and “A Smear Memorialized.”
4 Please note that all emphases are my own.

The Three “U”s and PCA Overtures 23 and 37: Part 3

Rejection from the world because we teach and preach biblical truth is typical; why do we continue to think that otherwise? While I believe all officers in the PCA affirm this principle intellectually, it seems that some of us experientially may become unsettled by the potential rejection of our faith by the culture around us.

In previous articles we addressed the first two “U”s against Overtures 23 & O37 presented in the  “National Partnership Public Advice for Voting on Overtures 23, 37” (see Part 1, Part 1 continued, and Part 2), specifically the claim that the overtures are unclear and unnecessary. In this article I assess the third basic argument presented against O23 & O37: that the overtures are unloving toward those who struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA). The National Partnership (PA) Advice for Voting opens and closes with two primary concerns. First, how the world outside the PCA will respond to O23 & O37, and second, how SSA strugglers within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) will respond to O23 & O37.
Under this second primary concern I will highlight a number of public statements made by Dr. Greg Johnson, pastor of Memorial PCA in St. Louis, who is arguably the most vocal opponent of O23 & O37. My comments are not assessing his Christian character, not discounting the grace of God which is evident in his life of celibacy, or mischaracterizing his theological formulations. Doing so would be unnecessary and inappropriate. Instead, my comments are intended to demonstrate that frank and sincere disagreement and Christian love are not mutually exclusive. In this present debate before the PCA, we can take issue with an adversary’s rhetoric without being accused of holding to a “harsh and adversarial fundamentalism,” that, unfortunately, has been attributed to some in the PCA.[1] May God grant us all the ability to disagree with grace and humility.
Concern #1 The Response of the Unbelieving World
In the second sentence of the PA, the writers mention the Washington Times as being among the publications that “struggled to interpret O23 (BCO 16-4) and O37 (BCO 21, 24).” [2] In an age when journalistic integrity and objectivity are circling the drain, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the writer engaged in virtually no interpretation but simply recounted the events of General Assembly (GA) and cited various perspectives on the outcome.[3] The only “struggle” that I could identify was found in the title itself, “Gay men not qualified for ministry, Presbyterian Church in America votes.” Admittedly, the title could have been clearer. At face value, the title could give the impression the PCA had a standing practice of ordaining practicing homosexuals and that the 48th GA voted to do so no longer or that any person who admits to struggling with homosexual desires at all was automatically disqualified by these overtures.
So yes, the article’s title is confusing and subject to misunderstanding but is this necessarily the fault of O23 & O37 as the PA insinuates or is it possible that the reporter simply chose an unclear title for his article? By extension, should the PCA shoulder the blame any and every time a secular news outlet misinterprets or misrepresents the teachings and rulings of our denomination? The answer must be “No.”
Kellner’s article was by no means a tongue lashing and the concern surrounding it feels overblown. But, what if it had been a tongue lashing? What if Kellner did interpret O23 & O37 in the worst light possible and took the PCA behind the woodshed for its “homophobic crusade against SSA strugglers?” Would such strong pushback from a secular news outlet be clear proof that the GA failed to love SSA individuals by voting in favor of O23 & O37? No, in fact, it would be yet another realization of what the Apostle Paul said will ordinarily result when the Church faithfully proclaims the gospel of Christ—opposition.
Paul reminded believers in the church of Corinth, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). The very meat and marrow of our message, the cross of Christ, “is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). We are not to expect the unbelieving world to apprehend or appreciate the spiritual truths we confess, no matter how clearly and carefully we communicate them. For spiritual truth to be understood rightly one needs to be spiritually discerning, and for one to be spiritually discerning he needs to be regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”). Without this sovereign intervention of God’s Holy Spirit in the heart and life of sinners, faithful Christians will, in fact, come off as “a fragrance from death to death” to those who are perishing (2 Cor 2:15, 16).
Be that as it may, we are not to use the above passages as license to be as obnoxious or offensive as we please. The gospel by its very nature is already offensive to unbelievers; it is contrary to the world system and the two systems clash every time they meet (Eph 2:1-5). Indeed, Christians should be mindful of the manner in which they communicate the gospel. I’ve personally found it a helpful and humbling exercise when reflecting on an evangelistic conversation, to ask myself, “Did my tone communicate concern or contempt for the person to whom I was speaking? Were my words intended to heal or to hurt my neighbor? Was my neighbor offended by me or by the gospel?” Such self-reflection can be painful, but essential to effective gospel engagement.
Yet, as true as this is, we must not let the unbelieving world’s feelings about our message become the standard by which we measure the faithfulness of our witness. Consider the prophets (Matt 23:37), Christ himself (John 1:9-11), and the warning that Christ gave his disciples in the Upper Room Discourse:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 14:18-20).
We are not greater than our Master and so we should not expect a warmer reception from the world than Christ received himself. Rejection from the world because we teach and preach biblical truth is typical; why do we continue to think that otherwise? While I believe all officers in the PCA affirm this principle intellectually, it seems that some of us experientially may become unsettled by the potential rejection of our faith by the culture around us. At times, when our commitment to biblical truth is misunderstood by those living in darkness, it may result in losing book deals, or followers on Twitter, or forfeiting a seat at the table with cultural thought leaders. But when compared to the unfading glory and the riches of the gospel, we should consider all these earthly, fading treasures as rubbish. God’s approval is infinitely more valuable than the approval of man.
Concern #2 The Response Among SSA Strugglers Within the PCA
In the final paragraph of the PA, the writers argue, “These overtures will be heard and read by many faithful same-sex attracted congregants in ways that will make them feel more alone and isolated in our congregations.” This possibility should be taken very seriously by every shepherd in the PCA; it is an outcome that we want to avoid at all costs. And such a reading is indeed avoidable if ministers and elders in the PCA would accurately represent the spirit of the O23 & O37 and display their substantial agreement with the Ad Inerim Committee Report on Human Sexuality (AIC). In step with the AIC, neither overture automatically disqualifies a man who struggles with SSA from pursuing ordination in the PCA (see O23). Neither O23 nor O37 single out or “isolate” homosexuality or the attraction to members of the same sex as though they were unpardonable sins.[4] Like all the other sins listed in O37, if a candidate who confesses to struggle with SSA can demonstrate that his life is not dominated or by his sin, and that he is living an exemplary life of holiness through the power of the Spirit, then there is nothing stopping him from serving as a deacon or elder in good standing in the PCA. What SSA member of our congregations wouldn’t be encouraged by this? O23 & O37 cut through any confusion that may have been hanging over the heads of SSA strugglers in the PCA for years, “Can I live a life of holiness that is pleasing to God though I still struggle with this particular sin?” O23 & O37’s answer is a resounding “Yes.”
However, this positive perspective has been largely ignored by those who oppose O23 & O37. In fact, though they accuse their opponents of “fear mongering,” marching to the “drumbeat of fear,” and resorting to “Humpty Dumpty verbicide,” these same men have likely produced tremendous angst within SSA strugglers with their inflammatory language.[5] If Greg Johnson and David Cassidy so object to being called theological “liberals” on the grounds that it is untrue and uncharitable, then why do they continue to refer to those who disagree with them as “fundamentalists” and “pietistic Southern moralists” when this, too, is patently untrue and unloving?[6] If you are going to call on your brothers to love and assume the best of you, then please be consistent and extend the same love toward your brothers. If “liberalism” is off the table, then “fundamentalist” should be, too.
And this gets us to the heart of the issue—who or what determines whether our words are loving or unloving? The ultimate standard must be the objective truth of God’s Word (John 17:17). Whatever is prejudicial to truth is, by nature, unloving. We hate our neighbor when we lie or conceal the truth from him. Speaking the truth is a must, but it is only half of what we must do. Paul calls on believers to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). But this brings us back to the original question, “Who gets to decide whether my words are loving or not?” According to Greg Johnson, love is determined primarily by the ear and feelings of the listener and not the mouth or heart of the speaker. In a tweet published on July 16, 2021, Dr. Johnson wrote:
Dear pastors and elders. No matter how well intended, I’m rather afraid that your words are not always heard the way you think. Here, let me translate. (If you’d like to educate yourself, you can start here: http://stilltimetocare.com)

“You shouldn’t identify with your sin” = “Get back in your closet”
“Your identity is in Christ” = “Fake it ’til you make it”
“God won’t leave you there” = “You haven’t tried/prayed/believed hard enough”
“You’re minimizing the power of the gospel to change you” = “You’re unbelieving”
“You can’t be gay and be a Christian” = “You are not saved”

In effect, Dr. Johnson’s tweet leaves virtually no possibility for a well-intentioned brother in the Lord to disagree with him or Side B Gay Christianity without inflicting emotional damage in the process. The tweet leaves the speaker with no words, no possibility of mutually beneficial dialogue. And because the hearer will inevitably hear “get back in your closet” or “fake it ’til you make it,” when we use the above language, it seems that we are left to conclude only the following: we must stop critiquing Side B Gay Christianity altogether lest we offend the SSA struggler and thereby be guilty of failing to love our neighbor. Far from a meaningful contribution to the furtherance of peace and unity in our denomination, Johnson’s comments read like a gag order to silence all objections. Such rhetoric only compounds our problems.
Dr. R. Scott Clark noted in an insightful blogpost on the above tweet,
“The receiver of the message is also morally bound to do his best to interpret the message sent in the way the sender intended…Where the receiver simply refuses to fulfill his part in the process, communication necessarily breaks down. This refusal is known as bad faith. Just as the sender is obligated to communicate in a way that can be understood by rational people…so the receiver is obligated to act in good faith by seeking to interpret the message as intended.”[7]
So long as the speaker is tuned to the frequency of biblical truth, clarity, and Christian love, any breakdown in communication is the sole responsibility of the hearer who refuses to tune to that same frequency. As I read Johnson’s tweet, the words of Heidelberg Catechism 112 came to mind,
“What is required in the ninth commandment? A: That I bear false witness against no one; wrest no one’s words; be no backbiter, or slanderer; join in condemning no one unheard and rashly.”
In my mind, the text that settles the issue over love as it relates to speech is Mark 10:17-22. Mark’s account highlights the heart of our Savior toward the rich young ruler:
“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
Should Jesus have been more careful with the words he spoke? Was he somehow at fault for the rich young ruler’s rejection of his exhortation to mortify his besetting sin of materialism? If the hearer has the final say on what is and is not loving, then we must conclude that Jesus didn’t really love the young man as Scripture claims he did. It is crucial that we do not allow crooked, sinful man to be the plumbline of truth and love.
Finally, Scripture teaches elsewhere that frank reasoning among Christians is not contrary to, but a genuine expression of, brotherly love. Often, when people cite the Golden Rule from Leviticus 19:19, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” they isolate these words from those that immediately precede. Beginning in verse 17, God said to Moses:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
According to Scripture, remaining silent while a prominent voice in our denomination continues to align with the troublesome Revoice conference would be a form of hatred. Failing to speak the truth to him and those who follow him would be cruel. This is why I, and countless others, have reasoned as frankly as we have online, out of love for a brother in Christ and love for those sheep who look to him and to us all as their shepherds. It is my sincere hope that my brothers in the PCA will receive my writing in the spirit that it was intended: love for Christ and love for his church.
Stephen Spinnenweber is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Westminster PCA in Jacksonville, Fla.

[1]https://www.semperref.org/articles/the-gay-threat-to-the-pca
[2]https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/jul/2/gay-men-not-qualified-ministry-presbyterian-church/
[3] Kellner is the Faith & Family reporter for the Washington Times. Previously, Kellner served as News Assistant Director and News Editor for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. From what I gather I assume him to be a sincere brother in the Lord.
[4] Some have argued that O23 does, in fact, single out SSA strugglers because it only mentions those identities by name that refer to homosexual sin. However, the language of the overture indicates that there are other identities that could undermine one’s identity in Christ (such as, but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms) and furthermore, no one is presently identifying themselves as “child abusing Christians” or “racist Christians” and so it would be superfluous to include these in the wording of the overture.
[5]https://www.davidpcassidy.com/blog/pca-at-the-crossroads
[6] Add my name to the list of those who object to anyone being called a theological liberal. There are no liberals in the PCA and such language is uncalled for. Though Dr. Johnson did not say “pietistic Southern moralists” but “pietistic Southern Moralism” in his July 2, 2021 tweet, I agree with Dr. Carl Trueman who wrote on Ref 21, “If someone claims that pietistic moralism is attacking the Reformed faith, as exemplified by the PCA GA decisions, then it is not misrepresenting that person to portray them as claiming that pietistic moralists are attacking the Reformed faith, as exemplified in the PCA GA decisions.” Full article: https://www.reformation21.org/blog/a-friendly-correspondence
[7]https://heidelblog.net/2021/07/this-a-trap/

The Three “U”s and PCA Overtures 23 and 37: Part 2

Claiming that the language of O23 & 37 is too “time-bound” and will become obsolete within our BCO signals a gross underestimation of the staying power of the issues before us. Do the members of the National Partnership really believe that the church will not be wrestling with these issues for years to come? Do they sincerely believe that terms like “identity” or “homosexual Christian” will fall out of use in the near or distant future?

In this article, we consider the second claim of those opposed to O23 & 37, namely that both overtures are unnecessary and should not be passed by Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) presbyteries. After reading and rereading the “National Partnership Public Advice for Voting on Overtures 23, 37” (PA) there are several arguments that fall under this “unnecessary” umbrella that deserve careful consideration.
Argument 1: O23 & O37 are unnecessary because our confessional standards already speak to the issue of same-sex attraction.
The PA reads, “The proposed additions to BCO 21 and 24 (O37) bypasses scriptural/confessional language entirely in favor of undefined terms that have no precedent or roots in our Standards. The proposed addition to BCO 16 (O23) is redundant: the 3 provisions that would actually disqualify a candidate are already contained in WCF and WLC” (I.1).
If it is true that the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) speak clearly and definitively on the doctrines of concupiscence (“…yet both itself [the corruption of man’s nature], and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin,” WCF 6:5), sanctification (WCF 13:2), and the sin of lust (WLC 139), then why would we not welcome the opportunity to bring our Book of Church Order (BCO) into further alignment with our confessional standards? Far from bypassing or “shifting confessional weight to the BCO and away from the WCF” (I.2) it seems that O23 & O37 are showing a tremendous deference to the Standards by looking to incorporate their theology and language into the BCO. Were we trying to amend the language of the Confession to better adhere to the language of the BCO, then the PA’s objection would have some merit. But as it stands, if there is a shifting of weight to be spoken of at all, it is very clearly the BCO shifting weight to the WCF and not the other way around. The contention that both overtures “degrade our doctrinal standards” has no merit.
Case in point, the PA claims that O37, particularly, “bypasses scriptural/confessional language entirely in favor of undefined terms that have no precedent or roots in our Standards.” This is simply not true. The overture speaks of “union with Christ,” “bearing fruit,” and cites more than 10 verses of Scripture. Obviously, none of these terms rival confessional or scriptural language but echo and extol their language.
Along the same lines, I find it ironic that the National Partnership critiques O23 for its “redundancy” when every officer in the National Partnership and the PCA has vowed to uphold the Westminster Standards which, according to the PA, are redundant. How so? Because the WCF, WSC, and WLC overlap in countless places. For example, the doctrine of justification is treated in WCF 11, WLC 70-73, and WSC 33. If we follow the logic of the PA, then shouldn’t we look to nix WLC 70-73 and WSC 33 for their redundancy since WCF 11 already speaks clearly on justification? What the National Partnership calls “redundancy,” others prefer to call “elaboration” or “reiteration” or “reinforcement.”  If the Westminster Divines thought it prudent to repeat themselves at key points, then it seems reasonable for us to do the same.
Additionally, the PA gives the impression that the Standards already speak on character issues as they relate to fitness for ordained ministry by citing WCF 6:5, 13:2, and LC 139 in the footnote. However, these citations do not deal directly with fitness for ordination nor the best way to conduct theological examinations. In fact, there isn’t even a chapter in the WCF that deals with Presbyterian polity as there was a diversity of views represented at the Westminster Assembly (Erastians, Presbyterians, and Independents were all in the mix). The Divines did not intend for the Standards to speak exhaustively on every possible matter and so we shouldn’t feel restricted or bound when we encounter areas wherein the Standards are silent. Instead, we ought to take the words of WCF 1:6 to heart and act in a prudent manner, “There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and 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.”
Argument 2: The language of O23 & 37 is too reactionary and will not age well within our standards
The National Partnership argues, “In the past, the General Assembly has not found it necessary or wise to address theological or cultural issues by adding language to our BCO. Federal Vision, views on Creation, charismatic gifts, theonomy, etc. are not mentioned in the BCO.” Elsewhere the language of O23 & O37 is called “confusing, litigious, and time-bound.” Claiming that the language of O23 & 37 is too “time-bound” and will become obsolete within our BCO signals a gross underestimation of the staying power of the issues before us. Do the members of the National Partnership really believe that the church will not be wrestling with these issues for years to come? Do they sincerely believe that terms like “identity” or “homosexual Christian” will fall out of use in the near or distant future? Do they believe that our covenant children will not be subjected to tremendous external pressure to compromise on matters relating to human sexuality? It would be naïve to think so. Such being the case, because all signs point to human sexuality and identity being perennial issues facing the PCA, her leaders have a moral duty to respond in a timely and biblically faithful manner. We mustn’t let a fear of being branded as “fearful” or “reactionary” keep us from responding appropriately to contemporary issues that threaten to disturb the purity and the peace of the church. In fact, it would be negligent of us to downplay the significance of these matters and to chalk Side-B Gay Christianity up as a passing fad. It is here to stay and so we need to address the matter now.
To remind the reader of just how timeless O23 & O37 are, notice that both overtures are careful not to mention Revoice by name as this would have introduced the kind of time-bound verbiage of which the PA is critical. Instead of naming the immediate diseased fruit (Revoice) which we hope will wither in the near future as did the Federal Vision, Insider Movement, and theonomy controversies, the overtures wisely focus on the those issues that are at the root of the Revoice conference (human sexuality as it relates to identity) which makes them readily applicable to times and circumstances beyond our immediate context. Just because we are responding to a perennial issue at a time when it is gaining traction in the broader culture does not mean that we are being “culture warriors,” it means we are embodying the spirit of the sons of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). It seems quite inconsistent for those who beat the drum of contextualization so loudly, who call on their conservative brothers to “understand the times” in which they live, to be so critical of overtures that engage the cultural issues of our day. Does contextualization mean that we can only affirm and never critique the culture? If so, then the prophets and our Lord Jesus were terrible contextualizers.
While it is true that we cannot point to specific chapters or verses where we find the words “identity” or “gay Christian” or “homosexual Christian,” that does not mean that these words undermine the words of Scripture. Consider the ancient creeds and our own WCF—where in the Bible do you find the word “Trinity?” What about “hypostatic union” or “sacramental union?” Because they aren’t biblical words, should we move to strike them? Would we be right to consign the Nicene Creed to the dustbin of history because it used the “time-bound language” of the fourth century to explain the relationship that the Son sustains to the Father in the ontological Trinity (being of one substance [“homoousian”] with the Father)? Words do not need to be lifted from the Bible in order to aid us in our understanding of the Bible. To say, “We don’t want to pass the overture because it uses non-biblical/confessional words” is the same line of argument that biblicists use to defend their “no creed but the Bible” hermeneutic. If the Early Church Fathers and the Westminster Divines could use the contemporary language of their day to address theological heresy, then we should be free to do so as well.   
Argument 3: The AIC study report already speaks to the issue and so we ought to leave it at that.
The AIC study report on human sexuality, as helpful as it is, is in no way constitutionally binding. If the members of the National Partnership are indeed pleased with the content of the AIC, then wouldn’t they welcome the opportunity to apply the wisdom therein to our ordination process? When I see men who sing the praises of the AIC and then in the same breath decry any effort to incorporate the spirit of the AIC into the BCO, the words of Beyonce immediately come to mind, “If you like it, then you should put a ring on it.”[1] So long as progressives in the PCA are content to date the AIC with no intention of putting a ring on it, it is fair to question whether these men truly appreciate the spirit of the AIC. I am not assuming motives, but merely pointing out yet another inconsistency between what the National Partnership says and what it does.
The PA goes on to say that the AIC “saw no need to recommend any changes to our BCO.” Prima-facie this seems like a weighty point. But if you look back at recent study committees, with the exception of AIC on women serving in ministry, recommendations to amend the BCO are rare. The Racial Reconciliation AIC, nor the Creation Views AIC, nor the FV AIC recommended amendments to the BCO. Were I to go back further I suspect the same would be true of earlier study committees. If every study committee did recommend amendments to the BCO, then there would be something to say about this AIC not recommending BCO amendments. But since this seems to be the rule and not the exception, the PA’s argument falls flat. Furthermore, even if the AIC went so far as to recommend that the GA not amend the BCO in light of its research, remember the difference between committees and commissions—committees make recommendations and commissions rule. The AIC answers to the GA, not the GA to the AIC.
Argument 4: O23 & O37 “set up an entirely new architecture for examining committees operating according to undefined terms and with undefined powers.”
This argument pushes back against the last sentence of O37, “In order to maintain discretion and protect the honor of church office, Sessions are encouraged to appoint a committee to conduct detailed examinations into these matters and to give prayerful support to nominees.” Notice key word “encouraged.” Nothing in this sentence mandates that every presbytery set up an “entirely new architecture” alongside its existing committees.[2] Instead it simply suggests that presbyters (at every level) explore the option of constituting smaller committees to deal with sensitive matters in a more personal and pastoral manner. How disorderly and humiliating would it be to address a candidate’s “potentially notorious sins” for the first time before a local congregation as they are voting to call him as their pastor or on the floor of presbytery during a licensure or ordination exam? But the objection will be raised, “Our examining committees already do this. Therefore, these sub-committees are unnecessary.” Fair enough. If you believe your examining committee is doing a good job at asking hard questions and deals with sensitive matters in an appropriate manner then don’t create such a committee; you are encouraged, not required to do so. But, could it be that the reason we are seeing so many men leave the ministry due to moral failure is because our examining committees are at present, for whatever reason, not dealing with these potentially notorious sins? If so, then can you blame the framers of O37 for suggesting that there may be prudence in creating additional committees to ensure that these matters are adequately dealt with before a man is ordained?[3] In short, if your committee is already doing its job, then keep doing what you’re doing. But if they refuse to deal with these thorny issues as it seems many have, then consider creating a sub-committee that will deal with them.
In the next article we will consider the final “U” leveled against O23 & 37. In that article I will address a number of public statements made by prominent voices in the PCA regarding O23 & 37 and the debate surrounding human sexuality generally.
Stephen Spinnenweber is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Westminster PCA in Jacksonville, Fla.

[1] Pleas  note my honest attempt at contextualization.
[2] Committees are certainly not “entirely new” to the PCA. If the PCA knows and loves anything, we love our committees.
[3] Matters including “relational sins, sexual immorality [including homosexuality, child sexual abuse, fornication, and pornography], addictions, abusive behavior, racism, and financial mismanagement.”

The Three “U”s and PCA Overtures 23 and 37: Part 1 Continued

When Overture 23 uses the word “professing” it is clearly modifying the word identity. Confessing on the other hand is admitting that one still struggles with a particular behavior. Professing says, “This is who I am.” whereas confessing says, “This is what I do, but I hate it and my sin does not define me.”   Neither overture in any way discourages ordinands from being honest about their wrestling with remaining sin. In fact, the wording of Overture 37 presupposes that every man will continue to struggle with his sin and encourages the candidate to be transparent about God’s work of grace in his life.

In a previous article, we examined the first of the three “U”s leveled against Overtures 23 and 37 (O23 and O37); specifically, the assertion that both overtures are unclear and should not be approved by PCA presbyteries. In this article we address the other side of the “unclear” coin by asking: “Will O23 and O37 exclude any and all who struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA) from ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)?”
The First “U”—More on “Unclear”
Much of the “National Partnership Public Advice for Voting on Overtures 23, 37” (PA) opposition to O23 centers on the word “that.” To what does it refer? How far does “that” extend within the overture? Does it extend to that which precedes the first parenthesis or to all that follows thereafter? If I understand their question correctly, the writers are functionally asking:
Would O23 disqualify a man who professes an identity such as, but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms regardless of his Christian conduct? In other words, is professing to be a “homosexual Christian” or a “same sex attracted Christian” by itself enough to disqualify a man from ordination? OR—
Would O23 disqualify only those men who profess such identities and are not “above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character”? If so, then are those men who profess to be “homosexual Christians” or “same-sex attracted Christians” able to be ordained so long as they affirm the sinfulness of their desires, affirm the reality of progressive sanctification, and pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sin?
If my rephrasing is basically correct, then I believe the question itself is guilty of setting up a false dilemma. The two options to which the PA artificially limits the reader are these:
Option 1. Those candidates/fellow elders within the PCA who are honest about their struggle with SSA will be immediately disqualified from holding ordained office along with any others who confess their struggle against “persistent sinful desires.” Referring to Overture 37, which deals with the examination of ordinands on their Christian character, the PA reads
The proposed addition to BCO 21 (O37) fails to provide clarity about what constitutes the disqualifying self-profession. Under these rules, any brother who self-professes any “remaining sinfulness” of “struggle against sinful actions” or “persistent sinful desires” puts his ordination in jeopardy – not necessarily because he is living a sinful life, but because he confesses that he still struggles with lusts, anger, ambition, family/work balance, bitterness, etc. The consequences of adopting this standard into our Constitution is either to tempt every man who wants to keep his ordination to be less transparent, and to put a weapon in the hand of every aggressive person or party that wants to control a church or a presbytery (II. 1).
In essence, the above quote believes that O23 and O37 are doomed to function as cudgels wielded by “aggressive persons” against SSA strugglers, and if passed they will not only force SSA strugglers to be less transparent when examined on their Christian character but also countless others who wrestle with lusts, anger, ambition, family/work balance, bitterness, etc. Needless to say, I respectfully disagree with the first sentence of the above quote; O37 is crystal clear about what constitutes a disqualifying self-profession (but more on that later). The second option the PA offers is:
Option 2. If a man professes to be a “gay Christian” or a “same sex attracted Christian” and is not living in a sinful manner but affirms the sinfulness of his desires, the reality of progressive sanctification, and is pursuing Spirit-empowered victory over his sin, then the phrasing of this overture inadvertently leaves space for ordained officers to continue to identify themselves as “gay Christians” or “homosexual Christians.” The follow up question then would be: “Aren’t these the very terms that so chafe the conservatives who voted up O23 and O37? How then can you vote for an overture that allows for the use of those terms that you categorically deny?”
As mentioned previously, there is a world of difference between identifying sin so as to mortify it and identifying by our sin. Hitching modifiers like “gay” or “homosexual” as sidecars to our Christian identity ought be unthinkable to believers as such terms obscure and minimize the work that Christ has done (justification) and is doing (sanctification) in our lives. If a Christian affirms that SSA itself is a sin, that progressive sanctification is real and true, and if he is pursuing Spirit-empowered victory over his sin, then in what world would it make sense for this person to continue to identify himself as a “gay Christian” or a “homosexual Christian” (or by any other sin for that matter)? For example, would a Christian who left a white supremacist prison gang be wise to refer to himself as a “white supremacist Christian” even after he’d been delivered from the bondage and guilt of that sin? Certainly not! Why? Because white supremacy is absolutely antithetical to what he now believes as a Christian (see Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…”)! Why then would a repentant Christian continue to identify himself as a “gay Christian” even after he’d been delivered from the bondage of that sin? Some may say that I am advocating for language tests, but I am not. I only desire that my brothers on the other side of this issue be as careful with their language as they desire for me to be with mine.
Consequently, the second option can and should be dismissed immediately. If a man refuses to humble himself and refrain from using ambiguous and scandalizing identity language (e.g., “I am a gay Christian,” “I am a queer Christian,” “I am a transgender Christian”) it is either because he does not believe SSA to be a sin, or denies the reality of progressive sanctification, or is not pursuing Spirit-empowered victory over his sin or because he lacks the wisdom, discernment, and maturity requisite for holding ordained office.
Along these same lines, there is an all-important difference between “professing an identity” as a gay Christian and a man who “confesses that he still struggles with lusts, anger, ambition, family/work balance, bitterness, etc” (PA II.1). “Confessing” and “professing” are not identical terms and the PA’s using the two interchangeably reads like an attempt to obfuscate.
When O23 uses the word “professing” it is clearly modifying the word identity. Confessing on the other hand is admitting that one still struggles with a particular behavior. Professing says, “This is who I am.” whereas confessing says, “This is what I do, but I hate it and my sin does not define me.”[1]  Neither overture in any way discourages ordinands from being honest about their wrestling with remaining sin. In fact, the wording of O37 presupposes that every man will continue to struggle with his sin and encourages the candidate to be transparent about God’s work of grace in his life. Consider the wording of O37
Careful attention must be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires. Each nominee must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending upon this work of grace to make progress over sin (Psalm 103:2-5; Romans 8:29) and to bear fruit (Psalm 1:3; Gal. 5:22-23). While imperfection will remain, he must not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 6:9-14 11).
O37 does not disqualify a man from holding church office because he is a sinner, it only disqualifies those who are unwilling to pursue victory over their sin.[2] Contrary to specious claims made on the floor of GA, the language of O37 in no way tips its hat to Wesleyan Perfectionism or Keswick theology. The overture goes out of its way to say, “imperfection will remain.” Struggle, not sinlessness is the expectation of O37. So long as a brother who struggles with SSA can demonstrate that he indeed hates his sin, that he is depending upon the power of the Spirit in his fight against that sin and is bearing fruit in an exemplary fashion, then there is no reason to believe that O37 as written will disqualify such a man from ordained office. I struggle to find what is unclear.
The same is the case with O23. If a man denies the sinfulness of fallen desires, the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or fails to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over his sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions, he is obviously not fit for office. However, if a man confesses that he struggles with SSA and affirms the sinfulness thereof, believes that God’s grace not only pardons but gives him power to war against his sin (progressive sanctification), and is pursing Spirit-empowered victory in every sphere of his life then this overture would say that such a man is qualified to rule in Christ’s church.
Therefore, those who claim that all SSA strugglers will be purged from ordained ministry if O23 and 37 pass would do well to abandon that line of argument. Neither the “intention” nor the “words written”[3] set up a second Great Ejection of those ministers who honestly struggle with and mortify their sin.
But, there is another word in O37 that the NP believes to be perilously unclear—reputation. What does “known by self-profession or reputation according to his remaining sinfulness” mean? During the minority report delivered at GA, RE Trevor Lawrence (the lawyer, not the quarterback) explained some of the minority’s reservations surrounding this particular word in O37.
Does the phrase “known by reputation” mean that the candidate must not be publicly known for acting upon same-sex desire or for embracing same-sex attraction as a good or morally neutral aspect of his fundamental identity? Or does the language in question mean that a candidate who discloses unwanted, repented of, and daily mortified same-sex attraction and has this disclosure publicized—whether willingly or unwillingly—is disqualified because his remaining sinfulness has become a matter of public knowledge and, presumably, part of his public reputation?
What if a candidate names his experience of same-sex attraction before his Presbytery and explicitly professes that his identity is in Christ, but an online outlet publishes a report of the disclosure of his same-sex attraction while inadvertently neglecting to mention his affirmation that his identity is in Christ? What if the omission of his affirmation of Christ-rooted identity is the work of malicious actors intending to spread a false report? Would these scenarios constitute a disqualifying reputation?
Or consider this possibility: a man practiced homosexuality prior to becoming a Christian, at which point he trusts the gospel, reorients his self-conception around his union with Christ, and even marries a godly Christian woman. Over the ensuing years, this man writes numerous faithful books to minister to others experiencing same-sex attraction, speaks to large crowds about same-sex attraction and the gospel, and reaches a global audience even as he experiences persistent and unwanted same-sex attraction. If such a man were to pursue ordination, would he be disqualified? He is recognized around the world as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction. Though some presbytery members might claim that his fundamental identity is in Christ, could not others reasonably object that this man is “known by reputation…according to his remaining sinfulness”? Would the General Assembly wish to see this man deemed disqualified? What in Overture 37 would prevent it?
I must say that I appreciated this brother’s thoughtful questions. They have tremendous merit and they forced me to think. Below are my answers to the above questions
Question: “Does the phrase “known by reputation” mean that the candidate must not be publicly known for acting upon same-sex desire or for embracing same-sex attraction as a good or morally neutral aspect of his fundamental identity?” 
Answer: Absolutely. See O23.
Question: “Or does the language in question mean that a candidate who discloses unwanted, repented of, and daily mortified same-sex attraction and has this disclosure publicized—whether willingly or unwillingly—is disqualified because his remaining sinfulness has become a matter of public knowledge and, presumably, part of his public reputation?”
Answer: No, because every member of the PCA already publicly discloses that he or she is “sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy” when they take their membership vows. To a degree, every Christian’s remaining sinfulness becomes public knowledge. But we mustn’t be known simply by that continued sinfulness, but by our daily repentance, by the work of the Spirit in our life. So even if the particular sin with which this brother struggles does become public knowledge, as long as he bears the marks of genuine repentance, he would not be disqualified from ordained ministry. He would simply be doing that which is expected of a genuine Christian who loves his Savior.
Question: “What if a candidate names his experience of same-sex attraction before his Presbytery and explicitly professes that his identity is in Christ, but an online outlet publishes a report of the disclosure of his same-sex attraction while inadvertently neglecting to mention his affirmation that his identity is in Christ? What if the omission of his affirmation of Christ-rooted identity is the work of malicious actors intending to spread a false report? Would these scenarios constitute a disqualifying reputation?
Answer: No, he would not be disqualified. Even he who was sinlessly perfect was subject to slander and false reports (e.g., Matthew 9:34; Mark 14:56, 59). Being above reproach does not mean that you are immune to accusation or reproach—it means that no amount of reproach will stick because your character is blameless and Christlike. No overture, no matter how precisely worded, can safeguard against every attempt to tarnish one’s good name. To be sure, examining committees and presbyteries need to be extremely discerning if they receive a negative report concerning a candidate’s character. It is imperative that they abide by the wisdom of Proverbs 18:13, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and his shame,” that they hear all sides of a story before taking action. But, in no way does O37 jeopardize this careful, prayerful process or necessitate a rush to judgement. Trust your committees and presbyteries to have the wisdom to discern truth from lies.
Question: “Or consider this possibility: a man practiced homosexuality prior to becoming a Christian, at which point he trusts the gospel, reorients his self-conception around his union with Christ, and even marries a godly Christian woman. Over the ensuing years, this man writes numerous faithful books to minister to others experiencing same-sex attraction, speaks to large crowds about same-sex attraction and the gospel, and reaches a global audience even as he experiences persistent and unwanted same-sex attraction. If such a man were to pursue ordination, would he be disqualified? He is recognized around the world as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction. Though some presbytery members might claim that his fundamental identity is in Christ, could not others reasonably object that this man is “known by reputation…according to his remaining sinfulness”? Would the General Assembly wish to see this man deemed disqualified? What in Overture 37 would prevent it?
Answer: No. Notice that the minority report stops at “according to his sinfulness.” This is only half of the sentence and the omission of everything thereafter is significant. The rest of the sentence reads, “but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 6:9-14 11).  Again, the defining mark of a Christian is not that he is a sinner, it is the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. Clearly, the above individual has accepted the grace of Christ and is living in dependence upon the His Spirit. He “trusts the gospel, reorients his self-conception around his union with Christ, and even marries a godly woman.” His repentance is seen by all! What more could we ask for? He is exemplifying the kind of Christian character to which all of God’s people ought to strive. If selectively quoted, I can see how one might think O37 would disqualify such a man from holding office, but when the overture is considered as a whole I see no reason why this person could not be ordained and enjoy a fruitful ministry within the PCA.
In the next article we will address the second “U” leveled against O23 and O37— that they are Unnecessary. The PA has much to say about redundancy, the Confession, and the inclusion of time-bound, cultural language into our confessional standards; We’ll consider and answer these objections.
Stephen Spinnenweber is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Westminster PCA in Jacksonville, Fla.

[1] See Romans 7:15-25 for a picture of sanctified honesty and wrestling with remaining sin. See also Carl Trueman’s excellent treatment of identity vs. behavior as it relates to human sexuality in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, p. 51.
[2] “…with full purpose of an endeavor after new obedience” (WSC Q.87).
[3] Quote from the PA opening paragraph.

On the Conversion of Children

Do not let the world around you move you off of the unshakable promises that God has made to his church. Pray for the next generation. Pray that God would convert our children.

Several months ago the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus provoked the ire of many with their controversial song, “We’ll Convert Your Children.”
You think that we’ll corrupt your kids,if our agenda goes unchecked.Funny, just this once, you’re correct.
The song continues,
We’ll convert your children.Happens bit by bit.Quietly and subtly.And you will barely notice it…
We’ll convert your children.We’ll make them tolerant and fair…
Your children will care about fairness and justice for others.Your children will work to convert all their sisters and brothers.Then soon we’re almost certain,your kids will start converting you.
In response to the tidal wave of criticism, chorus members released a statement claiming that the song was mere satire, tongue-in-cheek humor that was obviously lost on their hysterical traditionalist objectors. However, further comments demonstrate that lurking behind this veil of “humor” is indeed an agenda that has its sights set on the children of believers:
After decades of children being indoctrinated and taught intolerance for anyone who is ‘other,’ from using the Bible as a weapon to reparative therapy, it’s our turn. We have dedicated ourselves to being role models, teaching, spreading the message of love, tolerance and celebration through our music.[1]
Before the shock of this event wears off on us completely (if it hasn’t already), we would do well to stop, reflect, and ask ourselves the evaluative question, “What can we learn from this?” In the moment, we all felt a great deal, everything from righteous indignation to fear for our children’s future, but what are we to do now?
First, we need to remind ourselves that there is no reason for the church to fear or despair even in the face of such pervasive wickedness. The LGBTQ+ message is radically opposed to our own and holds more sway in our post-Christian culture than ever before—but it isn’t altogether new. What we’re seeing now is nothing but another wave of Romans 1 idolatry dressed in 21st century clothes:
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done…Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:28, 31).
None of what we’re seeing today takes God by surprise. This alone ought to comfort the fearful parent and concerned church member. Yet God’s Word doesn’t just describe the problem, but prescribes manifold ways in which the church can forewarn and forearm its children against the lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:5). God has not left us to fend for ourselves. He has given his church grace to endure before, and so we are assured that the immutably holy, wise, and gracious God will give his 21st century church everything necessary to flourish even in the midst of cultural upheaval.
How then should the church respond to the mounting pressure being applied to our children? Using the baptismal vows provided in the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO) as a guide, I want to address two groups—those parents whose children are still living under their roof and those who either have no children of their own or whose children have grown and since left the nest—and provide concrete ways for all to participate in this work of discipleship.
Christian parents need to take seriously their responsibility to train their children to be mature men and women in Christ. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). The members of the men’s chorus are right—the slide into sin and apostasy happens “quietly and subtly”, so subtly that we “hardly notice it.” Due to the Fall, by nature we all tend toward spiritual declension, not improvement, and our children are no exception. Growth in godliness on the other hand is anything but subtle or passive, it is a supernatural work of God’s grace in the heart that works against the grain of our sinful nature. Thomas Watson reminds us, “Weeds grow of themselves; flowers are planted. Godliness is a celestial plant that comes from the New Jerusalem.”
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The Three “U”s and PCA Overtures 23 and 37: Part 1

There is a world of difference between identifying our sin so as to mortify it and identifying by our sin as a component part of our Christian identity. Every Christian is called to identify his sin, take it to the cross in faith and repentance, and ask God for an increase of grace to war against the desires of the flesh. Far from singling out our brothers and sisters who struggle with SSA we are simply calling on them to join the rest of us who are no less committed to being renewed in the whole man after the image of Christ.

The approval of Overtures 23 and 37 at the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly (GA) in St. Louis, Missouri was a watershed moment in the history of the PCA. To the surprise of many, Overtures 23 and 37 received overwhelming support at GA; Overture 23 passed by a vote of 1438 to 417 and Overture 37–1130 to 692. It wasn’t even close (77% and 62%). Denominational conservatives went home feeling as though they’d scored a game-winning touchdown when, in fact, the encouraging results of GA are more akin to a first down than a touchdown—there is still a lot of ground left to cover.
In order to amend the Book of Church Order (BCO) two-thirds of the denomination’s presbyteries need to vote in favor of these overtures, and the 2022 GA in Birmingham, Ala., will need to pass the overtures by a simple majority vote. So, as important as the 48th General Assembly was, if the overtures are indeed approved by the presbyteries, the 49th GA will prove to be even more pivotal for the future of our denomination.
Of late, the National Partnership (a group of progressive-minded elders within the PCA whose members voiced their full-throated opposition to Overtures 23 and 37 on the GA floor) are making something of a goal-line stand. Hoping to dissuade presbyteries from voting in favor of the proposed BCO amendments, the National Partnership released a public document titled, “National Partnership Public Advice for Voting on Overtures 23, 37” (hereafter PA) While I do not share their concerns, I sincerely appreciate the NP’s transparency in making their reservations public. Lord willing, the process of iron-sharpening iron will prepare us all for profitable debate both at the presbytery level and at next year’s GA.
There have already been a number of helpful resources produced that offer reasons to vote in favor of Overtures 23 and 37 (hereafter O 23 & O 37). TEs Dr. Dominic Aquila and Fred Greco provide a dialogue on the merits of O 23 & O 37. Additionally, TE Todd Pruitt’s GA wrap-up at Ref 21 provides information to understand the issues at play in the O 23 & O 37 debate.
My intention for this series is to address common objections raised in the PA and on social media. Since GA, I have had friendly correspondence with several brothers who are opposed to O 23 & O 37. Though we still do not agree, interacting with these brothers has proven helpful to me in assuming best motives and clarifying my own thinking on the issues at hand. These conversations together with the PA lead me to believe that there are at least three primary objections to O 23 & O 37 that undergird all others. I call them the “Three “U”s: The overtures, they argue, are: 1. Unclear; 2. Unnecessary; and 3. Unloving. Each article will address one “U” with the hope of bringing clarity to what feels like a dizzying array of dissent. It is my sincere hope that my brothers in the PCA will receive these critiques in the manner that they are intended—in brotherly love for them and those sheep under their care.
The First “U”—Unclear
The introductory paragraph of the PA aims to erode the reader’s confidence in O 23 & O 37 by suggesting that the language of the overtures is open to “broad interpretation.” “Many in the PCA are divided on the meaning of the overtures…The proper interpretation of the BCO is based on the words as written, not as they may have been intended. The GA did not adopt reasons, much less codify reasons, for these revisions. Any Overture that immediately instigates this much constitutional confusion is unworthy of our Standards.”[1]
Elsewhere the document reads, “The proposed addition to BCO 21 (O37) fails to provide clarity about what constitutes the disqualifying self-profession” (II. 1).
“This creates an ambiguity in BCO 16-4 that no one perceived in the heat of the moment. The ambiguity is caused by the uncertainty of the word “that” after the first parenthesis. Does the “that” which disqualifies from pastoral office refer to what is within the parenthesis; i.e., those who profess an identity “such as, but not limited to, [etc.],” or, does the “that” refer to the explanatory clauses following it: i.e., those who profess an identity “such as but not limited to ‘gay Christian,’ ‘same sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ are disqualified only if they express their identity in ways contrary to the standards?” (II. 2).
Having served on the Overtures Committee (OC) and agreeing to reconvene for the purpose of perfecting the language of Overture 23, the assertion that no one caught the perceived ambiguity “in the heat of the moment” gives the impression that the OC was guilty of a rush job. The fact of the matter is that commissioners debated O23 & O 37 for hours and down to the level of punctation and syntax. There is not a jot or a tittle that was not fussed over by the OC. Hats off to our intrepid OC chairman, TE Scott Barber, for keeping track of all the moving parts!
To answer the question posed in II. 2 surrounding the word “that” and to give the reader a sense of the care and attention given to the language of O23, the exact wording is copied below:
BCO 16-4. Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.
To clarify, the “that” above does not set up a situation in which it is permissible for a PCA officer to continue to identify himself by his remaining sinfulness (i.e., “gay Christian,” “same-sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms) even if he refrains from the behaviors listed thereafter (1. denying the sinfulness of the fallen desire 2. denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification 3. failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory). Why? Because continuing to identify ourselves by our remaining sinfulness necessarily “undermines and contradicts our identities as new creations in Christ.”
We must be clear, there is a world of difference between identifying our sin so as to mortify it and identifying by our sin as a component part of our Christian identity. Every Christian is called to identify his sin, take it to the cross in faith and repentance, and ask God for an increase of grace to war against the desires of the flesh. Far from singling out our brothers and sisters who struggle with SSA we are simply calling on them to join the rest of us who are no less committed to being renewed in the whole man after the image of Christ.
According to the PA, O23 is guilty of introducing “magic words” into our tests for ministers and officers. But this is not the case; forbidding men from identifying themselves by their remaining sinfulness is simply bringing the words of Scripture to bear in our examination process.
Consider the words of the Apostle Paul, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:9b-11). To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Eph 5:3).
Furthermore, as our Confession of Faith teaches, when we are adopted by God we are “taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; and have His name put upon us” (WCF 12). What a precious privilege, to have God as our Father, to be called by his name! In light of such a privilege, why then would we sully this new identity by continuing to identify ourselves by the sins for which Christ died? Paul wrote, “such we were some of you” not “and so you will remain forever.” Therefore, Christians ought to steer clear of terminology that gives the impression that Christ’s blood hasn’t cleansed them from all their sin. “Gay Christian” and like terms do exactly that.
But, what about the Ad Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality (hereafter AIC)? The PA quotes the AIC, “In practical and plain terms, the issue of terminology is more likely a matter for shepherding in wisdom, and not in and of itself grounds for discipline” (p. 30). Does this sentence make our objections to one identifying himself by his remaining sinfulness litigious? Are we looking to trap examinees in their words? Certainly not.
To better understand the AIC quote above we need to keep in mind its original context. This quotation falls under the AIC section titled, “Biblical Perspectives For Pastoral Care—Discipleship, Identity, and Terminology.” This section offers practical advice to shepherds on how to effectively care for sheep who struggle with SSA. The context is pastoral care, not theological examinations nor the language that ought or ought not to be used therein. In the paragraph immediately preceding the selected quote, the AIC states:
There is an understandable desire among some celibate Christians who identify as gay to utilize the common parlance of our culture as a missional or apologetic tool, hoping to redefine for our culture a way of being gay that in fact submits those desires to the lordship of Christ. However, there is a substantial corresponding risk of syncretism in such an approach. This potential danger toward syncretism can manifest as an over-identification with the LGBT community (over and against a primary identification with the church) or even the formation of an LGBT subculture within the church. In view of the twin dangers of misunderstanding and syncretism, we believe it is generally unwise to use the language of gay Christian.
Here’s my logic. If the AIC’s recommendation to shepherds is for them to dissuade their sheep from using unwise identifiers like “gay Christian,” then how much more should we expect a man who aspires to be a shepherd to refrain from using these same identifiers? If a man refuses to shed a sinful self-conception in the interest of safeguarding against, at best, misunderstanding, and at worst, syncretism, does he really embody the spiritual qualities laid out in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 for those who aspire to ordained leadership (e.g., temperate, not quarrelsome, being examples to the flock)? Wouldn’t he be guilty of using unclear language and sowing seeds of confusion among the flock, and not those of who object to his unwise use of terminology?
I argue from the lesser to the greater as I do because James reminds us that all those who rule in the church will be held to a higher standard. James wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Notice that James writes this in the context of Christians needing to tame their tongues. Words mattered to James and they ought to matter still, especially to those entrusted with the ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4). We must be careful not only in what we do, but also in the way we communicate who we are in Christ.
In this post I have dealt with only one side of the “Unclear” coin. In the next article I will maintain that neither O 23 or O 37 as written necessarily disqualify a man who struggles with SSA from being ordained in the PCA.
Stephen Spinnenweber is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Westminster PCA in Jacksonville, Fla.

[1]Please note that all directly quoted statements are in italics, all those underlined are my own.

A Weekly Honeymoon

God calls on us to refrain from participating in those activities which are not in themselves sinful, but will inevitably distract us from the purpose of the day (WSC Q.60). Only once we realize that God’s calling us away from doing our own pleasure is in the interest of calling us to the higher pleasure of communion with him will we begin to see the Sabbath as among God’s chiefest blessings and not an unwelcome burden.

When I first learned of the ongoing obligation to keep the Sabbath day holy, it felt like a bucket of ice water being dumped over my head— I was shocked and gasping for answers. “How could I have missed this for so long? What do I do now? What do you mean I’m not allowed to do x, y, or z?” My experience is not unique. As a pastor, I have had countless conversations regarding the 4th commandment and been asked questions in the same vein as my own. It is that third question, “Why can’t I?,” that I have had to think through carefully and ask God for wisdom to respond in such a way that it will help the inquirer to call the Sabbath a delight.
The question itself, “Why am I not allowed to do x, y, or z?” betrays an exclusively privative view of the Sabbath day. The individual is fixating upon the relatively few things to which God says “no” and in so doing misses the many things to which God says “yes.” When Scripture speaks of the Sabbath, it presents it in an overwhelmingly positive light, as a divinely appointed means through which true and lasting rest and satisfaction are communicated. It is toward this positive end that we need to direct our conversations regarding the Sabbath if we hope to convince our brothers and sisters to love it and observe it as Scripture commands. Persuasion is to be preferred over coercion.
I like to illustrate this positive attitude toward the Sabbath using my own honeymoon as an example. When my wife and I married 8 years ago, we went on a nine-day Caribbean cruise for our honeymoon. These floating cities come standard with all manner of creature comforts (pools, theaters, all you-can-eat buffets), save two— no internet connection and no cell reception. However, despite not being able to scroll through my Facebook feed, respond to emails, or check sports scores, I was not complaining in the slightest because what I was able do was far more satisfying than what I was not able to do. The focus of my honeymoon was my wife and I drawing closer together as one, not all the things that we left behind in order to do so. Because my focus was all on her, all else naturally faded into the background.
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