Tom Hervey

A Brief Word on the Explicit Endorsement of Side B in the PCA

Though it may be true that no court has formally endorsed Side B in the sense of issuing a resolution that says something along the lines of ‘We the session of Generic Presbyterian hereby commend the school of doctrine known as Side B to our members, to our follow presbyters, and to the denomination at large,’ yet still some of our courts have lent other forms of support to the contemporary movement to normalize homosexual experience among us. That support has been no less real just because it has not taken the form of endorsement.

When the apostle John gave instructions on how to interact with heretics he did not say to give them no endorsement, but rather to give them no greeting (2 Jn. 10-11); and it needs but little comment that there is a wide array of different types and levels of support between privately saying ‘Hello, how are you?’ to a traveling heretic and publicly declaring one’s support of him to the church at large. It is disappointing, then, to find Tim Keller forgetting this prescient fact in his recent opinion that because no Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) court has endorsed what is called Side B,[1] therefore any view of the present state of affairs that regards that school as ascendant is mistaken.[2]
On this point we must politely but forcefully demur, for though it may be true that no court has formally endorsed Side B in the sense of issuing a resolution that says something along the lines of ‘We the session of Generic Presbyterian hereby commend the school of doctrine known as Side B to our members, to our follow presbyters, and to the denomination at large,’ yet still some of our courts have lent other forms of support to the contemporary movement to normalize homosexual experience among us. That support has been no less real just because it has not taken the form of endorsement; if anything, considered solely from the perspective of practical consequence, that support has been more helpful than any mere statement of approval.
With all due respect to the gentleman, and much respect is due him, it must be pointed out that one of our churches has allowed its property to be used by the Revoice conference and by individuals in other circumstances, at least one of whom advertised his event with graphic homoerotic imagery.[3] Thus at least one session has given practical support to such things, and when others in the denomination have complained that session’s presbytery declined to reprove or restrain the behavior in view and even suggested that some of the complainants should examine their own hearts, whether there they might be guilty of sin.[4] Thus at least one presbytery has lent practical support to the movement by refusing to restrain it.
But lay this aside for a moment, relevant though it is, and consider instead two things. One, Satan is cunning, and when he first seeks to corrupt the church he does not do so with open claims that would reveal him, but rather with subtle, careful, intentional moves that aim to lay the groundwork for corruption without evoking too much opposition. Hence Paul says that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14) and that “his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (v. 15). In seeking to lure Eve into rebellion he did not begin with “your eyes will be opened and you will like God” (Gen. 3:5), but rather with the crafty, obfuscating question of “did God actually say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” (Gen. 3:1). So also when the devil tempts us on this matter we should not expect him to send his minions introducing constitutional changes that deny marriage is between one man and one woman, but rather with something more subtle that will let his minions begin the process of working apostasy without revealing their true nature.
Our ‘did God actually say?’ moment came when we were enticed to have these controversies at all. ‘Did God actually say that “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you” (Eph. 5:3), or that this sin so displeases him that he names it by euphemisms (Lev. 18:22), or that this sin occurs in societies whom he has given over to licentiousness as punishment for their impiety (Rom. 1:24-28; comp. Lev. 18:27)?’ Yes he did, and by having this discussion at all we disobey him and disregard the testimony of his word, which teaches that the corruptive power of sin is so contagious and apt to pollute even its enemies that it must be handled, even in opposition, with utmost care (Gal. 6:1). I do not thereby say that all who have been involved are therefore apostates, for there is such a thing as stumbling into error that afflicts true believers (Matt. 16:23; Gal. 2:11-13); yet the sin is real, irrespective of whether it is done by a believer or by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And it is a sin that many in our denomination have committed.
Two, the movement to normalize homosexual experience represents a moral revolution, and such things, in the nature of the case, move rather quickly. In 1996 another Presbyterian denomination adopted a change to their constitution recognizing marriage as between one man and one woman. In 2011they reversed their position and declared their support for so-called same-sex marriage, and as of today they seem to be straining with the utmost fury to ‘be on the right side of history’ (if not of its Lord) by embracing so-called transgenderism, a thing which was almost unheard of before several years ago. That denomination is the PCUSA, and those of whatever faction should pause and ponder the rapidity and completeness of her infidelity on this point before they entertain any thought that ‘We’re the conservative PCA: that won’t happen here any time soon.’ “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
In light of these two facts people like Tim Keller and others of like mind should not be hasty to dismiss any perspective that regards the PCA as drifting into error as regards sexuality and morality. Already it has become rather common to hear people describe themselves with terms taken from the LGBT movement (e.g. ‘gay’), whose hostility to our faith is obvious. Already concepts from that movement, including especially that of an effectively immutable orientation, are in use among us and have achieved a fair amount of acceptance. Already it is regarded as appropriate to give occasion for people to share their experiences of lust and how it affects their professed faith, as if their experiences, however emotional, are anywhere near as important in such matters as the objective authority of scripture. Already we have deemed this matter sufficiently important to warrant a study committee and report and have deemed it prudent to allow people who profess to experience homosexual lust to be a part of that committee.
The language, subjective emotional experience, and hamartiological and anthropological doctrine and framework of those that profess to experience same-sex lusts have all been effectively normalized, as evidenced by the fact that they are used even by many of the opponents of such concepts and that this use has nowhere been meaningfully resisted or judicially condemned. All of this has occurred without official endorsement by any PCA court, and in all of it there has been much harm done to the church’s fidelity, some of it by some of her erstwhile defenders. Weep and pray, dear reader, for God condemns not only those that advocate sin but also those that are derelict or halfhearted in their opposition to it (1 Sam. 2:22-36; Prov. 25:26), and we have been hitherto slack in meaningfully opposing the leaven that so rapidly spreads among us.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.

[1] If indeed this school is errant in its doctrine, as I believe it is, it would be irreverent to affix this term to ‘Christianity,’ hence why I refrain from doing so.
[2] Keller, Tim. “What’s Happening in the PCA?” By Faith Online, March 21st, 2022, https://byfaithonline.com/whats-happening-in-the-pca/
[3] Pruitt, Todd. “Doctrinal Latitude and the PCA.” Reformation 21, March 14th, 2022, https://www.reformation21.org/blog/doctrinal-latitude-and-the-pca
[4] Shaw, Jim. “An Open Letter to the PCA Missouri Presbytery.” The Aquila Report, May 24th, 2019, https://theaquilareport.com/an-open-letter-to-the-pca-missouri-presbytery/
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A Sheep Speaks: A Testimony to the National Partnership, Part 5

If you will accept it, this is written not in belligerence and quarreling, nor to fulfill a salacious need to ‘fight a culture war’ or engage in doom-mongering, but to give you a frank, unfettered testimony to how your deeds appear to someone in the pews; and judging by the conversations and correspondence I have had with other members, this perception of you is by no means unique to me. Repent of your secrecy and of your scandalous deeds.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
A Final Concern
You seem to regard alcohol with excessive fondness. In speaking of a candidate for moderator you speak of his service and virtues and say that “this is not to mention his collection of whiskeys and his willingness to kindly share them.” In praising the vigor of the new members of your organization you say that they “were asking good questions, crafting motions, present for every major vote, worshipping well at the evening services, and keeping up with our whiskey consumption,” while elsewhere gratitude is extended “for working together, and for stepping into the gap when it was needed on committee reports, microphones, bottles of bourbon and cigars” and a reference is made to “a well-deserved beer after a long business meeting.” An observer may be forgiven for thinking there is something a little inappropriate in elders regarding themselves as ‘deserving’ a beer after doing denominational work, or in equating an elder’s possession of a fine whiskey collection with his years of service, to say nothing of putting “worshipping well” and “keeping up with our whiskey consumption” alongside of each other.
Now maybe you will object and note that you forewent beer in order to vote, as is stated several times, but it is curious that this seems to be, not so much restraint, but a practical necessity to advance your agenda: take a break from your drinking to come and vote, not because it is inappropriate for an elder to be out on the town during a week that he is supposed to be doing the grave, consequential work of the church of Christ but because the agenda needs your support. It is curious too that these rejoinders to abstain are frequently accompanied by an assurance that it will be compensated for by an occasion for communal drinking later, and that it is often enjoined that voting times are not a good time to get a beer, but somewhat less frequently that they are poor times to get coffee, read a newspaper, go for a stroll, make phone calls, or any of the other things an elder might be expected to do between assembly sessions.
Laying aside that this comes across as simply immature and juvenile, there are some pointed statements about such things in Scripture. As for your newer members doing well by keeping up with the whiskey consumption of the old hands, Isaiah testifies “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink” (5:22); while for his part Hosea condemns the faithless inhabitants of Israel because they “cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding” (Hos. 4:10-11). In Prov. 31:4-5 Lemuel says that “It is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” The principle applies to elders as well: for as kings were the civil shepherds who were responsible for the temporal order, justice, and wellbeing of the people, so are elders responsible for the order, discipline, and fidelity of the spiritual commonwealth that is the church – yet their need for sobriety is greater, for they deal with questions of eternal significance, rather than ones of a merely earthly nature.
The New Testament supplies further instruction on this point, for it says of the man qualified to be an elder that he is “not (one who lingers) beside (his) wine” (1 Tim. 3:2, Hendriksen-Kistemaker commentary translation), while it elsewhere states that “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Rom. 14:21). That last verse establishes the duty that all believers have to respect the rights of conscience of their brothers in matters that are unessential to the faith (v. 17), a duty you seem to forget in this matter. There are and have been numerous Presbyterians who are teetotalers, both within our denomination and in others such as the ARP, and to see your cavalier attitude toward drink is no doubt a source of offense to them. In addition, there is a much larger body of people, again within our denomination and outside its fold, that have struggled with alcohol addiction and abuse, and your behavior provides a terrible example and testimony to them. In this matter you disobey the great principle of Romans 14, and you ought to give thought that your actions may well lead others to stumble or otherwise limit the effectiveness of your ministry.
Perhaps you will rejoin that the talk of hardy drinking is all in jest; fair enough, but does Scripture condone such coarse jesting as appropriate for those that would rule Christ’s church? Does it not rather say that “All impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” and that there should be “no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking” (Eph. 5:3-4)? Or perhaps you will say that drinking is no sin and that it is excessive drinking that is the problem that ought to be foregone. There are sins besides excessive consumption that come into play in relation to alcohol: an excessive fondness of it (especially one that values it above good testimony and brotherly respect) or an excessive tendency to look to it to relieve distress (as in ‘deserving a beer’) are also faults in this respect, and they seem to show in your speech about alcohol. Then, too, excess is not always a question of drunkenness, as there are occasions where any consumption of alcohol is inappropriate, most notably in handling matters of great importance, whether temporal or eternal, civil or ecclesiastical. Our society frankly worships alcohol and our job as believers should be to extol its responsible use and a right attitude about it, and this is undercut when you join in the beer and whiskey worship yourselves.
Last, in this your behavior in this matter is like that of the old liberals in the PCUS, who loved drink and made wide use of it. Kennedy Smartt says in his I Am Reminded that some of them even gave drink to underage assembly attendants, and that the disgust this lawbreaking engendered was part of the impetus for desiring to be separate from such people, while an early PCA history mentions how the groups that laid the groundwork for the PCA sometimes received the PCUS liberals’ bar bills by mistake.
A Final Objection
Now you may object that much of this criticism proceeds on the assumption that the National Partnership is one, where in fact you have – and celebrate! – diversity of thought, voting habits, and manners of internal and external expression. You are both one and many. You have one purpose, one program, one agenda, and while there may be some diversity of thought or voting, it yet occurs within the scope of achieving the one, agreed-upon aim that you all share of giving the denomination the character you desire. As for those of you who have qualms with some of the precise behavior of some of your members that I have criticized here, consider the instruction God gives you: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Cor. 15:33). You are the company you keep (comp. Prov. 13:20), and as for those of you who do not approve some of the behavior or beliefs condemned here, why persist in keeping such company or in following the lead of those that do such things? Is it safe or wise to do so, or is it rather likely to bring you trouble (like Jehoshaphat allying with Ahab, 2 Chron. 18:1-19:2) and needless grief?
A Final Appeal
If you will accept it, this is written not in belligerence and quarreling, nor to fulfill a salacious need to ‘fight a culture war’ or engage in doom-mongering, but to give you a frank, unfettered testimony to how your deeds appear to someone in the pews; and judging by the conversations and correspondence I have had with other members, this perception of you is by no means unique to me. Repent of your secrecy and of your scandalous deeds. You have done an outrageous thing in Israel and have left a bad testimony to others both within and outside of our fold. You have despised both shepherds and sheep, and have sought to use our denomination for your own ends, rather than to serve it in humility and submission for the good of the sheep. Time will fail to tell of your failure to “be above reproach” (1 Tim 3:2) in these things; and however much you may be inclined to deny that, as you have for years, there is no sense of that phrase which is met by your secretive doings or by many of the things you have said or done. Repent in haste, with fullness of heart and sincerity of purpose, for this word stands, and it should give us all an occasion to fear: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17).
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.

A Sheep Speaks: A Testimony to the National Partnership, Part Four

You also say that “strangers have attacked strangers behind the safe confines of computers, news agencies, and conferences,” which “proliferates fear and distrust,” and that “there will always be people who are all about power.” In all of this I remind you that you hide yourselves behind confines safer than the things you mention here, all of which are at least public, and that your organization has a clever scheme to use committee assignments and other machinery of the General Assembly and presbyteries to accomplish a desired agenda.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Argumentative Method and Use of Scripture
Your appeals are essentially emotional in nature and misuse Scripture, as seen in the following excerpts from “The Letter.” Perhaps you will say that this is no creature of yours, but it was written by one of your number, you discussed and commended it among yourselves, and it bears the signature of many of your foremost members who are known. He who signs a document attests his assent to the veracity thereof, and so the arguments of the Letter might be deemed your own, even if they are accepted by many others as well.
In the Letter you say that in the midst of our controversies “specific brothers in good standing have been labeled.” All offenses in the church are committed by people who are in good standing; if they were not in good standing they would not be in the church. You should not be zealous to use such an argument which was widely used by liberals in other denominations to deflect criticism. The, too, you seem to object, not so much to the particular labels used, but to the mere fact that polemic labels have been applied to some, since you draw a contrast between the labels and the “straw men” you say have been erected “even more frequently.” Labels are permissible in our discourse: Christ himself denounces the Nicolaitans, and he refers to a false prophetess as Jezebel (Rev. 2:14, 20).
You later say that “if the sins of unbiblical practice and unconfessional belief that are currently being voiced with such vigor were true, we would agree that they should be opposed.” Men are not known by self-testimony (Jn. 5:31), but by their deeds: “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). A professed orthodoxy that does not stand at the point at which truth is attacked is useless speculation, not the robust, active faith that confesses Christ before men. So it is with you in this matter, for the culture’s view of sexuality invades our communion and rather than joining the battle you criticize the war effort and plead the glories of making peace in parliament. You continue:
We hear the concerns of our brothers and rarely disagree with the principles behind them. We believe that we desire the same commitment to Scripture and our Standards that they do!
It is hard to see that there is as great an agreement as you suggest when you maintain a secret organization where others act publicly, and when you elsewhere dispute the propriety of public polemics and favor private interactions between those that disagree. In questions of polity there is of course utter disagreement between your view of subscription and that of others, concerning which it also makes for a strange claim that you have the same commitment to the standards when you consider the permissibility of taking and even teaching exceptions to be essential to the PCA’s effectiveness and assert it incessantly. You then denounce:
Social media characterizations that turn suspicions into speculations that become accusations without proof – to achieve political ends within our church. Where compromise or sin is true and can be proven, we have sessions, presbyteries, and judicial processes to engage.
As “wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matt. 11:19), so also do the nature and consequences of bad deeds testify against them, whether done in public or brought there by exposure. We do not dream up our criticisms, but use as proof that which you yourselves have furnished. A thing is not proved true by the judgments of the courts but can be witnessed and testified to by those who act outside of official processes. You continue:
If we do not find more ways of speaking charitably and biblically to one another in our national discussions, we run the risk of doing damage to the nuanced work of individual local churches.
“You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath that is to come? . . . do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (Matt. 2:7,9). Was John’s personal address there uncharitable? No, for he bore sound testimony to the Pharisees’ true nature – and no one who speaks truth rightly can be deemed uncharitable. Why then do you imagine we wrong you when we testify to the course of your deeds?
Instead of raising and publishing suspicions about brothers we do not know in other regions and presbyteries, it is far healthier and more biblical to trust our churches and sessions to follow our Standards, to believe that they were acting in as good faith as we were, when they took their vows to uphold the Faith. If we can prove otherwise, then we have processes to adjudicate error. But until error is proven, restraint of suspicious expression is a key mark of true faithfulness.
This demands a level of trust that the Holy Spirit works beyond our immediate setting – that pastors will continue to preach “the gospel of God’s grace,” and “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:24, 27), and presbyteries and sessions will address sin and sins as they and their sessions see fit in their contexts.
These are the next four verses of Acts 20:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
Blind trust in other professing believers is not a gift of the Spirit, nor is it a virtue. Discernment, however, is. Your point above directly contradicts the passage to which you allude and supplants true wisdom with a naïveté that is not commanded, but rather warned against repeatedly. As for your claim that “until error is proven, restraint of suspicious expression is a key mark of true faithfulness,” I remind you again that all process is instituted against men who are in good standing when charged. If we are not able to oppose the bad behavior of some because they are in good standing and the offense has not been proved by the courts, then you condemn, by implication, Peter’s rebuke of Simon Magus (Acts 8:20-22), Paul’s of Peter (Gal. 2:11-14), and John’s concerning Diotrephes (3 Jn. 9-10), in all of which condemnation of wrong was public (or via letter to a third party) rather than private, and in which it apparently occurred toward people who were in good standing who had not been censured under the prescribed form of the Matthew 18 process. You later say that:
Before the Internet connected everyone, and before online news agencies became conduits for agendas, we trusted local churches, Sessions, and presbyteries – We want to propose that we continue to see this as the most excellent way of caring for the Church, and to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
This is historically doubtful. What is done now via the Internet was done in print with equal vigor in previous generations – The Presbyterian Journal comes to mind – and far from trusting others, our forefathers organized and published against them, and eventually separated to form our present denomination. If you mean the period between the PCA’s formation and the popularization of the Internet, your remarks still run counter to what I have heard of the tone of our own polity in its early days. In addition, Jude’s enjoinder to recognize and resist heretics is twisted to say ‘trust other professing believers without question,’ the direct opposite of his point. You continue:
Yes, there will be inaccuracies, even heresy – not because we trust one another, but because God’s Word tells us that there will be. Demas will always be in the church (2 Timothy 4:10). There will always be wolves (Matthew 7, Acts 20).
Misplaced confidence in man does in fact allow the proliferation of heresy, which can only be stopped by decisive action (as is the church’s duty, 1 Cor. 5:1-6; 1 Tim. 1:20; Tit. 1:9, 11) or else divine judgment (Rev. 2:15-16). Such mistaken trust receives God’s censure: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength” (Jer. 17:5). As for Demas, whether or no he was a final apostate or one who stumbled temporarily, his failure recorded in 2 Tim. 4:10 was not being in the church when Paul needed him (“Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me”). As for the universality of wolves, that is no excuse to an apathetic trust, which is what you imply at several points in this letter. You say later:
When we pick apart words and statements, often out of context, we do damage to the fabric of our Witness – We are the better to not go there (and all of us have been guilty!), because to the watching world, we would no longer appear as a community that graciously holds forth truth, but one that is torn and divided – and this invalidates our proclamation.
What you call picking apart words is simply exercising prudence, and far from it being better to “not go there,” we are commanded to test all things in order to hold fast what is good and reject what is bad (1 Thess. 5:21-22). My own belief is that your statements have not been frequently taken out of context by others; and I can attest that I have done my utmost to avoid doing so myself, for I have scoured this letter and other primary sources for many hours and have excised many points, including several full paragraphs, because further reflection made them seem debatable. You also say:
When we speak in extremes, in order to press a position, we hurt those we love, and do damage to our Witness
Scripture deals in extremes: life and death, truth and falsehood, wisdom and folly, wickedness and righteousness. This is no quirk of Hebrew literature but is a true testimony to the nature of our world. There are many matters in which the question is one of two or more alternatives that are largely questions of preference, and which bear consequences that touch rather upon form than essential substance. It is not so with many of our present controversies, which touch upon the essential form of our denomination and the course it will follow in the coming years, not least the question of whether we will be faithful to the truth about sexuality or will follow after other denominations in increasingly tolerating wrong conceptions of it. You later say:
Under the flag of, ‘they said it publicly, so we can challenge them publicly,’ friends have been pitted against friends – with no attempts to contact one another personally!
If the friends in question, whomever they may be, are worthy of the name they will no doubt contact each other personally rather than allow strangers to stir them up to mutual distrust. Also, there is no mandate to speak privately with those whom one believes err publicly, and the scriptural data suggest the propriety of public confrontation when it affects third parties (Prov. 18:17; Gal. 2:11-14; 1 Tim. 5:20).
You also say that “strangers have attacked strangers behind the safe confines of computers, news agencies, and conferences,” which “proliferates fear and distrust,” and that “there will always be people who are all about power.” In all of this I remind you that you hide yourselves behind confines safer than the things you mention here, all of which are at least public, and that your organization has a clever scheme to use committee assignments and other machinery of the General Assembly and presbyteries to accomplish a desired agenda.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.

A Sheep Speaks: A Testimony to the National Partnership, Part Three

And so also do some say that such people in our own midst experience this lust unchosen, that it is largely fixed and unlikely to ever dissipate in this life, and that it would be unfair to deprive them of participation in something that others are allowed to experience. You seem to accept this position, or at the least to not think it is one that deserves condemnation, and you put your efforts into opposing those that seek to combat things like Revoice.

Read Part 1 and Part 2
The Dangers of Activism
There is danger in approaching the church as you do. He who engages in denominational politics, regardless of his faction, must heed this danger, for it is easy to become so bogged down with politicking that the common work of ministry is drowned out. In this you do poorly, and I fear the direction and consequences of your labors, that they tend to evil.
Perhaps you will appeal to the example of the Reformers and say that you only follow after their example in the spirit of semper reformanda. But they did not work to change a church that was faithful, but one that was false and in a state of “Babylonian” captivity. You approach the church as though it is a thing that you might fashion according to your own preferences. You seem to forget that the church belongs to Christ, and that he is a jealous king who will not share his glory with another. He is the dread majesty who “is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) and who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16).
Those who rule in his church ought always to remember that they should do so in his manner, openly and honorably, and they must never forget that all power and dominion in the church is his alone and that we are not free to do with or in the church as we will, but are mere stewards and servants of him who is the “only Sovereign” (1 Tim. 6:15). Consider the advice of one who was zealous in sundry activities, but who strayed from God in the midst of his doings:
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. (Ecc. 5:1-2)
The church is God’s house, and they who deal with it should not be hasty in seeking to administer its affairs or in setting her policies and form at the highest levels (Lk. 14:10). Much unintentional harm has been done in this world by those that meant well but who could not see the consequences of their actions. Who can say where this activist spirit will lead, or what others who learn from its example will do? The temper of a thing often lingers after its immediate purpose is forgotten, and it may be that the activist tendency endures long after the present debates in the PCA are relics of the past.
The Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy transpired long ago, and yet the same spirit that reorganized Princeton Seminary is still at work in the PCUSA, albeit yet more faithless, and it leads her to follow the culture at every step, even into her own oblivion. Can you be sure that this activist spirit that you embody will not break free of restraint and lead you or others in bad directions? Is it not perhaps better to forego such a tendency and do the work of an elder in simplicity, giving little heed to politicking and instead keeping the faith as it has been delivered to us?
A Contemporary Failing
There is concern also in your position regarding Revoice. You believe that homosexual lust does not disqualify one from office and that the church would effectively wrong those that manifest it by refusing to ordain them. Does office exist for those that desire it? Is it not rather a position of service that places those that hold it in subjection to the needs of the sheep? No one has any right to office, and the denomination wrongs no one if it determines that the nature of someone’s lust prevents him from serving effectively or makes him morally unfit. In this you think along worldly lines, regarding the individual as possessing absolute rights to do as he wishes, and regarding it as unfair if others object or attempt to assert their own rights in turn. “This is the age in which thin and theoretic minorities can cover and conquer unconscious and untheoretic majorities” (G.K. Chesterton). It is an age in which the individual is everything and the corporate body nothing, in which a radical individualism prevails and says that the individual’s personal fulfillment is everything and that collective bodies have no rights of their own and exist only to assist individuals in finding their own career fulfillment or emotional acceptance (by self and others), or other such notions of personal wellbeing (or “flourishing”).
You upset the proper relation of things and seem to regard the church as existing to give the individual an occasion to labor, not the office holder as existing to feed the sheep (comp. Mk. 10:42-45; Jn. 21:15-17; Eph. 4:11-14). How else can we explain your horror that the PCA might refuse to ordain men who experience persistent homosexual lust or even remove them from office? In this two things are especially concerning.
One is that you have sworn to your acceptance of our form of government as part of your ordination, a form of government which says “every Christian Church, or union or association of particular churches, is entitled to declare the terms of admission into its communion and the qualifications of its ministers and members” and that even if it errs in doing this “it does not infringe upon the liberty or the rights of others, but only makes an improper use of its own.” You like Preliminary Principle I, because you think it elevates individual conscience above corporate conscience, the minister over the denomination that ordains, invests, and supervises him. But you seem to ignore Principle II, which qualifies principle I and establishes the practical rights of the corporate church body.
It is further concerning that the basic argument that some in our midst use is the same as that which was successfully used to normalize immorality in society. It was repeated ad nauseam that homosexuals are such because of an orientation that is immutable and unchosen, and that it was wrong to deprive them of things that others could experience because they did not choose this orientation. It was felt to be unfair for society to determine the nature and qualifications of its most basic institution of marriage.
And so also do some say that such people in our own midst experience this lust unchosen, that it is largely fixed and unlikely to ever dissipate in this life, and that it would be unfair to deprive them of participation in something that others are allowed to experience. You seem to accept this position, or at the least to not think it is one that deserves condemnation, and you put your efforts into opposing those that seek to combat things like Revoice. Thus do you participate, for all intents and purposes, in a contemporary movement to normalize homosexuality in the church. God says this is an abomination that should not be tolerated or even mentioned (Eph. 5:3), and that he has delivered men from it (1 Cor. 6:9), but you say it does not unfit one for office and that those who think it does are the ones who act unreasonably and unfairly.
Thus, do you effectively excuse what God condemns; and if you elsewhere teach an orthodox position you ought to consider that such an inconsistency cannot long exist (Matt. 6:24; 12:25) and that one of the principles must eventually win out to the utter exclusion of the other. You cannot espouse an orthodox view of sexuality and marriage on the one hand and then accept the concept of homosexual identity and put great energies into asserting a “right” for self-professed homosexuals to lead in the church on the other, especially when the basic argument that is used to normalize such lust and the basic conception of those that experience it is invading our denomination’s public discourse from the wider culture and is not gleaned from God’s word. We are only having this debate because the culture has already done so, and if it had not done so we would not be doing so now, for the impetus for it comes from culture and not from Scripture.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.

A Sheep Speaks: A Testimony to the National Partnership, Part Two

In your reaction against others in the denomination you have given yourselves to a form of organization and methods that are not acceptable, and now the only way that you can you remove the offense of your unjustified secret political machinations is by openly repenting of them. Write a letter and post it at A Faithful PCA, ByFaith, or some such suitable place.

Read Part 1
The Practical Consequences of Secrecy
In your activism you have been very zealous; but “desire without knowledge is not good” (Prov. 19:2), and the knowledge that you lack is the knowledge that forming a secret organization offends your brothers, causes scandal, and is not an acceptable way of achieving your desired ends. You wish to see the PCA make inroads into previously underrepresented areas and groups, but in so doing you approach the matter wrongly and offend those who are already your brothers for the sake of unbelievers who may never repent. One should “give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32), but should labor carefully after the example of Paul (v. 32; comp. Acts 24:16) and others to “give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Rom. 12:17) and to avoid giving offense insofar as it is possible (1 Tim. 3:15; 1Pet. 2:12-17).
This is not what you have done. You were under no obligation to form your organization at all, much less to do it in secret, and much less still to persist in this secrecy for years and in the face of much criticism. This is not striving to “live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18) or pursuing “what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (14:19). This is offending the brother and stirring up strife needlessly. Such secrecy gives a poor testimony: if one is right, it is cowardice and hiding one’s lamp (Matt. 5:14-16); and if others are wrong, it is failing to confront them appropriately in a suitably blunt, manful way.
A Further Objection Considered
Perhaps you will object and say that the reason for your secrecy is to avoid slander, because others are in the habit of publicly misrepresenting your character. In such a case you have two recourses. One, you can avail yourself of the process of reconciliation that our Lord has prescribed for us to deal with personal offenses (Matt. 18:15-20), appealing to the church courts if personal admonition proves insufficient. Two, you may elect to forbear the offense, knowing that the sufferance of slander is a mark of the believer’s life in this world, and that it is a gracious thing (1 Pet. 3:13-17) to endure it patiently. Scripture does not say that you are permitted to withdraw into secret enclaves to avoid slander, and as a practical question such secrecy rather gives more occasion to the suspicion of others than reduces it.
An Apology for this Letter
But perhaps all of this is too much. You little like such blunt public criticism of your secret doings. What offense has anyone done you in criticizing or opposing you? Have we not labored to faithfully reprove you for what we believe are your failings? Is such not our duty to you as fellow members of Christ’s church? Perhaps we are wrong to one degree or another, or as regards some matters, or in some of our methods. Perhaps some have even descended from just confrontation to something as heinous as slander, as you allege. I do not make excuses for that, if indeed it is true – I know nothing of such incidents to judge either way – but speak for the many who have disagreed with you whose intent and aims have been good. If you like not the plainness of our speech or its content may it be fairly asked whether the source of offense lies in the remonstrances or in the ones who receive them?
Test your hearts and consider whether there be any pride there that prejudices you in this matter and that closes your minds and hardens your hearts against reproof. You set yourselves up as the proponents of a ‘beautiful orthodoxy’ and ‘a faithful PCA,’ and you write public letters of disagreement defending yourselves, while at all levels of the church courts you work ceaselessly to fashion its polity as you will. Is it unthinkable this has made you blind to your own faults or to the justice of the criticisms that others level against you? It is hard, as a matter of practical human nature, to zealously work for a great scheme of reform without becoming proud, stubborn, and slow to listen. Have you considered whether this is the case with you? Have you tested yourselves and taken the logs out of your own eyes, or do you make haste in assailing others?
It is the latter. Your sincerity is not doubted, nor, for that matter, are some of your claims. The Presbyterian Church in America is a human institution, rife with weakness and sin. It has, as such, many grounds upon which it may be criticized and sundry points at which it needs to amend its deeds. It is not denied that we have often had a poor record in our dealings with various groups, nor that we are prone to complacency, pride, and sundry sins that involve how we conceive of ourselves and relate to others and to material things.
A Call to Repentance
But where some have fallen too far to the right into worldly respectability and have come perilously close to a dead orthodoxy that is but a veneer over a substance that is more of a piece with a WASP-ish country club than the church of Christ, your danger is to fall too far in the other direction. In your reaction against others in the denomination you have given yourselves to a form of organization and methods that are not acceptable, and now the only way that you can you remove the offense of your unjustified secret political machinations is by openly repenting of them. Write a letter and post it at A Faithful PCA, ByFaith, or some such suitable place. Sign it and declare yourselves openly, and as a part of it renounce secrecy and promise to surrender office forever if you are caught in it again and to faithfully reveal anyone whom you know that persists in or returns to it. Apologize also for the offense you have caused your brethren and extol others to not follow in the way of your wrongdoing. Such is the way of honor and honesty, and if you will not take it there are many who will think of you as guilty of impenitent contumacy against the peace and purity of the church.
Further Concerns
It is not only your secretive tendencies that are an occasion for concern. To be blunt – not in an effort to be rude, mind you, but in the interests of speaking the truth faithfully – you come across as rather arrogant and hypocritical. You are rather snidely dismissive of others that disagree with you: The Aquila Report is just a “gossip outlet,” a mere handful of writers against your own robust multitude of elders, while the concerns of others are repeatedly brushed aside as just so much social media outrage. The Nashville Statement is, not a faithful summary of historic teachings about sexuality, but rather “simply the latest stick being used to whack away the unclean,” and it stretches the bounds of credulity to think that anyone regards it as anything “more than empty words.” Any notion of the PCA sliding into liberalism is just a “myth” that you regard as an inconvenience, as it requires you to justify your deeds to others, while in discussing homosexual lust you sarcastically ask whether those that experience such lust should not be “allowed in the fellowship of half-blind [donkeys] looking for the Glory of the Lord?”
There is little charity in such statements, casting aspersions upon the motives and character of others as they do. If The Aquila Report and other sites are just “gossip outlets” aren’t you implicitly accusing their proprietors and contributors of sin? And as for calling your fellow Presbyterians “half-blind [donkeys],” you seem to have forgotten the testimony of Scripture on this point, that “if anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (Jas. 1:26), and, further, that you ought to “let your speech always be gracious” (Col. 4:6) and “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up” (Eph. 4:29). It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks (Lk. 6:45), and so, by extension, that the fingers type.
But perhaps the best example of arrogance can be seen in a tweet by your founder, in which he retweeted a video of a sheep perpetually running into a ditch and becoming stuck each time it was freed, a video whose original comment was a bit of foul language unacceptable in the eyes of many unbelievers, and which received the further comment from your founder that this was “the pastoral care process, explained.” God says that you are to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you . . . not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3) and that you are to “show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned” (Tit. 2:7-8). He does not commend that you use bad language and make light of your holy calling and arrogantly belittle the sheep in the process. By your words here you sound rather like the shepherds of Israel whom God condemned for arrogance and selfishness (Eze. 34), for you have fun at the expense of those whose slaves you are (Mk. 10:42-45).
As for your hypocrisy, you speak with much emotion of our common brotherhood, with many pious phrases decrying division and extolling unity and peace in both public (e.g., “The Open Letter” at A Faithful PCA) and in your own midst, yet by your deeds and other internal statements – such as those mentioned above – you draw all of this into suspicion. Again, you want the PCA to be a big tent that includes within its midst every substrata of American society, but you seem little concerned that in your desire for expansion according to your tastes you are actively alienating many of our own members and churches even now, and in some cases inducing them to leave.
At the 2019 General Assembly one of your number stated, in effect, that we should be greatly concerned that the world thinks our foremost trait is hatred of homosexuals and that we should work to rehabilitate our image; and yet when fellow PCA elders attempt to remonstrate with you over your perceived failings you dismiss them pretty much categorically as engaged in so much fear mongering and alarmist nonsense. Thus do you say that we should listen to the wicked who are blinded by the lies of Satan, and yet you would also close your ears to the reproofs of the faithful. Do you believe that you may pay lip service to unity while acting in a dismissive way that makes it impossible, or that you may leave your ears open to culture, even unbelieving and wholly immoral culture, and yet close them to your fellow presbyters and not come to a bad end?
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.

A Sheep Speaks: A Testimony to the National Partnership, Part One

Now in discussing this we come to the question of the email leak and to the objection that it was an unlawful act of trafficking in confidential intellectual property that discredits the leaker and makes any criticism of you that is built upon the leaked materials illegitimate. The leak was unsavory, and on its first occurrence I regarded it as an open question as to whether it was appropriate or whether, it having already occurred, it would be appropriate to peruse the leaked materials. Upon reflection I have concluded that you have suffered no wrong in this and that the leak, though unpleasant, was justified.

“You shall reason frankly with your neighbor” (Lev. 19:17). It is in that vein that this testimony is given to you concerning your deeds.
The Nature of Your Organization
First is your secrecy. You have set yourselves up as a shadow presbytery, with a confidential membership and an agenda and doings that are known largely only insofar as you have failed to maintain your cover. There is not a single line in Scripture that justifies this secrecy of yours, in which you persistently hide your deeds from the church. The Beatitudes do not say ‘blessed are the secret activists,’ nor do any of the ethical instructions of the New Testament commend secretive activities. I search the qualifications for elders in vain for the suggestion that skill in political machinations is a desirable virtue, and I find equal difficulty in locating the advice of Proverbs, the command of the Law, or the worthy example from Israel’s history that teaches the propriety of such things.
To be sure, Scripture does allude to secrecy, but apart from unpretentious piety (Matt. 6:3-4, 6, 17-18), the innermost thoughts of man (Ps. 44:21; 51:6; 90:8), and God’s hidden counsel (Deut. 29:29; Lk. 8:10; Rom 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7), it does so in only two broad circumstances. In the first case the faithful use secrecy to avoid persecution (Acts 9:23-25). This secrecy is mitigated, however, by two factors. It was a passive secrecy intended to avoid the persecution of others, not an active secrecy that involved plotting against them. When the early disciples hid from the Jews they are not recorded as having plotted to achieve influence to stymie the persecution-prone Sanhedrin or Herod, but rather as having gone through the normal expressions of piety in seeking deliverance (Acts 12:12; comp. v. 5). In addition, this secrecy was often willingly foregone in favor of public ministry and an acceptance of the suffering that might accompany it. The prophets, our Lord, and the apostles all suffered openly because of their public testimony to the truth. They sometimes eluded those that wished to persecute them, but they were consistently bold in their public ministries and in the patience with which they endured corresponding suffering.
The second occasion in which secretiveness appears is in seeking to conceal wrongdoing. It is a mark of false teachers that they conceal their true nature. Jude says of them that they “crept in unnoticed” (Jude 4), while Peter says that “they secretly bring in destructive heresies” (2 Pet. 2:4) and Paul describes his opponents as “false brothers secretly brought in – who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:4). Ezekiel records how the elders of Israel committed idolatry in secret (Eze. 8:8-12; 14:1-11), while the probability and danger of idolaters secretly enticing others to infidelity was so great that the Law prescribed a harsh remedy to defend against it (Deut. 13:6-11).
Alas, in their sin the faithful have sometimes stumbled and looked rather to concealment than to grace for deliverance. Adam and Eve hid themselves after the Fall (Gen. 3:8-10), while Abraham and Isaac concealed their true identities from foreigners whose power they (mistakenly) feared (12:12-13; 20:2; 26:7-11) and Peter concealed his own discipleship (Lk. 22:57-60). Yet in such cases this was a sinful departure from their faithfulness, a faithfulness which was elsewhere proven by their deeds (Gen. 22:1-18; 26:25; Acts 1:15-22; 2:14-40; 4:8-14, 18-20; 5:29-33, 40-42; 10:34-48; 12:2-17; 15:7-11).
It is not so with false teachers, for whom secrecy is their typical modus operandi, nor with their master, Satan, who ever disguises his true nature and works secret mischief (Gen. 3:1-5; Cor. 11:26). Does it not bother you that your way of doing things is exactly the same as that of Satan and false teachers, and that it is the precise opposite of how Christ and the apostles conducted themselves? It should keep you up at night and move you to examine yourselves closely and to seek God’s face in utter humiliation and heartfelt repentance. Judging by your persistence in this way for nearly 9 years now, it seems that you have not come to such a knowledge of the true nature of your deeds or of the right attitude concerning them.
Understand that there is no excuse or justification for your secrecy, since you do not do it to avoid persecution but to hide yourselves from others whom you extol as brothers with whom you desire good relations. The PCA was not apostate and likely to persecute you for pursuing your agenda had you begun as a public organization in 2013; nor is the present PCA faithless and inclined to use persecution against you, even when we lay aside the prescient fact that it is not within our power to persecute in the same way that unbelievers did the early believers.
An Objection Considered
Now perhaps you will object and say that this is all a misunderstanding and that yours is not a secret organization but a private one. Perhaps you will say that you also need privacy in order to do your pastoral work. In this you assert principles that, if consistently applied in ethical matters, would be disastrous. In common use private and secret are not strictly synonymous: what is private is the legitimate concern of its subject only, whereas what is secret is intentionally (rather than coincidentally) hidden from certain others because its being known by them would cause conflict. Secrecy carries it with the connotation of willful, deliberate concealment, whereas what is private is the concern of its subject as a matter of course. As an insignificant citizen my domestic life is private, but it is so absent any special attempt to keep it to myself. But my email password is a secret, as I put conscious effort into keeping others from discovering it.
Consider another example. If a man beats his wife behind the pulled shades of their bedroom is that a private matter or a secret one? It is not a legitimately private matter, for the commission of violent offenses is a public concern that involves not only the immediate perpetrator and victim but others as well, such as the rest of their families and the punitive agents of the state. If an abuser plead as defense that what transpires within his own home is without exception his private business the district attorney would laugh him to scorn and proceed with charges.
Why? Because the matter, though kept secret until it is discovered, is not limited in its effects to the immediate participants. Private actions that bear a public effect are not truly private, regardless of the circumstances in which they occur. Their influence on others – even (or perhaps especially) others who may not know about them – makes them matters of public concern and redress.
And so it is with your organization and its doings. If you were merely an invitation-only club that meets to play checkers or discuss 13th century Hungarian literature yours would be a private organization, since those things will have no significant effects upon the church you serve. But it most emphatically does affect others when you dream up agendas that you then act out when the opportunity arises, and which will have significant effects upon every PCA church, perhaps for many generations or in perpetuity.
Also, you fail to see that privacy is not wholly separate from public recognition, unlike secrecy, which wishes for the wider public to be oblivious as to the very existence of the thing hidden. Private property, for example, is recognized as such by the law and by the community: each parcel has a tax number and its address, owner, purchase history, boundaries, etc. can be learned by other citizens even if the owner has fortified the property against entry (after the contemporary fashion) with fences and rude signage. But secret property – as for example, a moonshine still – is that which the owner endeavors to conceal from being known about by the wider community at all. Now you are not pristinely secret, as your existence has been discovered, but neither are you a formal, open organization; your doings and most of your membership still remain in the shadows in an intentional attempt to elude public knowledge, which qualifies you as secretive, not private.
Also, office is ipso facto public and should, as such, be exercised in a public, accountable way. It is not appropriate for anyone to hold both public office and membership in a secret organization that seeks to influence the actions of public officeholders and the outcomes of public assemblies. Officeholders, as beneficiaries and stewards of the public trust of the people whom they serve, ought to take care to keep that trust and not betray it or give occasion for suspicion, which is what is done when one maintains membership in a secretive organization.
The Question of the Email Leak
Now in discussing this we come to the question of the email leak and to the objection that it was an unlawful act of trafficking in confidential intellectual property that discredits the leaker and makes any criticism of you that is built upon the leaked materials illegitimate. The leak was unsavory, and on its first occurrence I regarded it as an open question as to whether it was appropriate or whether, it having already occurred, it would be appropriate to peruse the leaked materials. Upon reflection I have concluded that you have suffered no wrong in this and that the leak, though unpleasant, was justified. Here is why:

Privacy is not separable from legality. No one has a right to privacy in wrongdoing: to the contrary, participants have a duty to testify to the wrong deeds of unlawful enterprises. To persist in concealing their existence and transgressions because of that strange notion of brotherly loyalty that is common in such organizations is not honorable; to turn state’s evidence is. Your organization is unlawful and is nowhere provided for by Scripture, prudence, a common sense of ethical propriety, or our constitution. It is in every way contrary to the ethos of such things and stands condemned thereby. The leaker did not violate your right to privacy in this – for you have none. Rather, he acted in accord with his duty to turn from the illicit organization and its deeds, and to reveal them to those who are affected by them (Lev. 5:1; Zech. 8:16-17; Eph. 4:25; comp. Prov. 29:24 and 2 Kgs. 5:31-32).
The leak was an act of defense, a response to your own conspiratorial doings. It is often lawful to respond in defense with the same type and nature of thing with which one has been assailed. It is lawful to use force to repel force. So also is it lawful to respond to secrecy with deeds that are of a like nature. One who strikes in defense is righteous where one who strikes in cruelty is not. One who secretly infiltrates a conspiracy is similarly justified, whereas the original offenders are not.
Necessity justifies in some circumstances what is unlawful in others (1 Sam. 21:6). The leaker was compelled to his action by your own secrecy. There could have been no knowledge of your doings in the dark except by infiltration and exposure. His deed was provoked by your own and could not have occurred apart from it. You created the necessity and have, as such, no ground upon which to complain.

We may plead all of this against you, for we act in defense; you, the instigators, may lay claim to none of it. The leaker has but done his duty by informing the rest of us of your doings that will affect us. He who uses craft and secrecy can little object if others do so more adeptly in response. And an organization that has secretly set itself up in the midst of another cannot object to others secretly infiltrating it in response, at least not without being hypocritical.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.

A Response to David Coffin Concerning Overtures 23 and 37—Part Three

And so the end result of it all is that we find a member of our high court saying that more harm will be done by barring self-professed homosexuals from office than by allowing it to them, and doing his utmost to plead their case in the guise of speaking as a disinterested ecclesiastical judge. Let the reader ponder that, weep, and pray earnestly to God that he opens our eyes and grants us repentance.

In the previous installments (Part One and Part Two) we considered David Coffin’s arguments against Overtures 23 and 37 to the Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order (BCO). Now we conclude by responding to his final arguments against Overture 37 (O37). In this section we find Coffin objecting to the requirement that “in an examination for office, with respect to personal character, the court is directed to give ‘specific attention to potentially notorious concerns.’” He says “the phrase ‘potentially notorious concerns’ is problematic for a rule to give guidance to an examination” and that it is “a peculiar requirement, as it is hard to see how potential notoriety is a relevant concern in this context.” Why is it odd to consider how a man’s character and reputation might be perceived by others, both within the church and without (1 Tim. 3:2, 7; Titus 1:6-7)?
Coffin says that “what follows is a parade of horribles, beginning with ‘relational sins.’ I must confess that I haven’t a clue what ‘relational sins’ refers to.” The section of O37 that Coffin is referencing is meant to modify BCO 21-4e. Compare BCO 21-5, Q. 7:
Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, whether personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the flock of which God shall make you overseer? (emphasis added)
It is reasonable to conclude that “relational” has the same meaning in O37 when it is attached to “sins” as it does in the current BCO 21-5 when it describes a minister’s duties. If relational duties are those that touch upon how an elder relates to his church, presbytery, etc., then it follows that relational sins are ones in which an elder does not stand in a right relation to the various people and courts to which he is bound by oath and possession of office. One might be forgiven for thinking that Coffin, as an officer who has answered BCO 21-5’s ordination questions, and, yet more, as an SJC member, ought to understand the meaning of the term.
He continues by objecting to O37’s parenthetical elaboration of “sexual immorality” with such examples as fornication and pornography use, asking “why these, and not other forms of sexual sin?” and “what is the standard for inclusion?” He objects to such a list, saying that “when you have a list, as part of a rule, the question provoked is always, what of the matters left out?” He admits the overture’s mitigation (“such as, but not limited to”), but thinks it insufficient:
Whenever one puts such a list in a rule, the question is always, are there other concerns or not? And if there are other concerns, why are these more important than the ones left out? Do these have some special significance that others do not have? Such language introduces significant uncertainty as how the rule is to be interpreted.
In this objection the TE Coffin ‘misses the forest for the trees.’ His objection fails to recognize the important fact that a list can be intended to give an idea of what is meant without trying to be a complete catalogue. The use of non-exhaustive lists is an accepted type of legislative style, and it appears already in the current BCO (e.g., 34-7).
Coffins says that, “The last defect to consider, and it strikes me as fatal, is found in these words: ‘While imperfections 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.’” This means simply that men shouldn’t have bad reputations or be conspicuous for their tendency to always modify ‘Christian’ with an adjective describing a sinful lifestyle when they describe themselves. Yet Coffin regards it as insurmountably difficult. A thought: maybe the problem lies rather with the critic than with the language? He continues his objection here:
This requires the examining court to have some way of discovering both how a person is seen by others (some others, or a majority of others?) and how a person speaks about himself (some of the time, or most of the time?). Is he known by others according to his remaining sinfulness (some or mostly?) and does he speak of himself with respect to his remaining sinfulness (some or mostly?) rather than the work of the Holy Spirit?
Coffin’s quarrel isn’t with Overture 37 at this point: it’s with the Apostle Paul. Apply Coffin’s argument that such careful examination of reputation/character is impracticable to 1 Tim. 3:2 (“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach”) and 3:7 (“Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil”), both of which set high standards that require diligent verification, and you can see the impropriety of his objection.
Indeed, Coffin’s quarrels with our current standards, as BCO 21-4 already establishes that a presbytery is to carefully examine a candidate’s “acquaintance with experiential religion, especially his personal character and family management (based on the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:6-9).” And in so far as O37 and BCO 21-4 are essentially based upon Paul’s admonitions concerning the character of elders, Coffin comes near to having a critical attitude to the substance, if not the letter, of Scripture itself.
But perhaps the most curious thing about Coffin’s objection here is that it brings him into contradiction with himself. Near the end of his piece, he quotes the portion of BCO 21-4 that I have just quoted and says that this “and the like language in BCO 24-1, has been, and will continue to be, sufficient to set forth concisely the examining court’s Scriptural responsibility.” Follow the logic here. When O37 suggests a rigorous examination of a candidate’s character and reputation Coffin launches a flurry of detailed objections that he thinks make it impracticable. When our current standards already require such a rigorous examination, he thinks it makes them perfectly sufficient and lovely. The only difference between Overture 37 and the current BCO 21-4 is that Overture 37 seeks to elaborate upon the required examination, and to give some detailed instruction as to what it should include.
In continuing his line of argument Coffin makes a curious claim, for he says this of examining a man’s reputation:
This presents the court with a remarkably difficult and complicated task. Consider, for example, Rosaria Butterfield, a same-sex attracted woman who, by God’s grace, came to faith in Christ, and has done wonderful work in sharing her testimony. Let us imagine she was a man, and thus potentially qualified for office. The sentence under review, it seems, would exclude her from office because she is surely known by reputation and by her self-profession according to her remaining sinfulness. She is, of course, known for more. However, the text requires “not be known” by remaining sinfulness “but rather by” the work of the Holy Spirit. This phrasing presents a false dichotomy.
It is not “remarkably difficult and complicated” to determine whether men are known by their sin rather than by the work of grace in their lives when they very conspicuously describe themselves as ‘[insert adjective for sinful lifestyle here] Christians’ in front of the whole world. That notwithstanding, look at Coffin’s claims about Rosaria Butterfield. I have never read or heard where Mrs. Butterfield regards herself as ‘same-sex attracted’ or wishes to be known as such by others, and this runs contrary to all I have ever heard from her on this point. Indeed, I am confident that she would not appreciate being called a “same-sex attracted woman,” and on her website she describes herself as a “former professor” and “homeschool mother, author, and speaker,” whose mentions of her former life seem to always to speak of it as past, not present.
It is, to boot, a weird argument – if Rosaria were a man . . . but she’s not, and if she were it does not follow that she would either desire office or consider herself fit for it. It is hard to escape the feeling that Coffin just wanted an excuse to mention Butterfield and try to (mistakenly) claim her as an example for his side. And even if we grant his argument, substituting, say, Sam Allberry (as David Cassidy does), his conclusion is meaningless: for many men of talent and virtue are yet not fit for office, it being restricted to the narrow class of the called and qualified, and there being more to the qualifications than some virtues and talent. In this same vein Coffin quotes Kyle Keating’s Assembly speech:
I don’t believe it was the intent of those who put forth these overtures to disqualify men like me from ordained office. I think, however, that these overtures are worded in a way that they could very well be used to accomplish that purpose. Does the Body really wish to put this language in our Book of Church Order that could potentially be used to disqualify men in good standing who are a part of the kind of work that put together this report on human sexuality?
Here plainness of speech is needed, and I bid you remember, dear reader, that such bluntness is no arrogance or unkindness, but rather in keeping with the injunctions of Scripture (e.g., Lev. 19:17). Those of us that believe the denomination needs a strong response to our worldliness in these matters believe that this language is intended to divest and bar from office all men who experience homosexual lust, including Mr. Keating. Maybe we are wrong in interpreting it that way, but I ask: if divestiture and prohibition is not the intention, what do Keating and Coffin or anyone else think the point of Overture 37 is?
For his part Coffin asserts that Keating’s speech “should have carried the day” and says that it “is my hope that his speech will now help us to remedy our error.” In this he shows he is a partisan, not an objective ecclesiastical legal ‘expert,’ a thing which the reader ought to bear in mind as he ponders Coffin’s arguments.
In concluding let me note that I have argued against certain elements of Coffin’s opposition to Overtures 23 and 37; I am not directly arguing for the overtures. Much good will hopefully come from them if they pass (as seems likely, if not certain), but there are also good reasons for being suspicious of or even opposed to at least Overture 23, and perhaps 37 as well (see Larry Ball’s “Why I Plan to Vote Against BCO Homosexual Changes”). Those reasons are not for the most part Coffin’s reasons, however. The concern here was not that Coffin and others oppose the overtures, but on what grounds, and of what this says about their theories of polity and practice. It seems we are bent on worldly respectability at any cost and sneer at God’s Word with its plain statements on these matters. We pride ourselves on our love of litigiousness, ‘decency,’ ‘maturity,’ and ‘order,’ little realizing that we do but glory in our shame and blinding ourselves to the baleful influence of the world, the flesh, and the cunning devil, all of which lie near in these matters. And so the end result of it all is that we find a member of our high court saying that more harm will be done by barring self-professed homosexuals from office than by allowing it to them, and doing his utmost to plead their case in the guise of speaking as a disinterested ecclesiastical judge. Let the reader ponder that, weep, and pray earnestly to God that he opens our eyes and grants us repentance.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, SC. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the leadership or members of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church.

A Response to David Coffin Concerning Overtures 23 and 37—Part Two

Time will fail us to fully consider other elements of the OMSJC, such as its requirement in 2.10, partly quoted by Coffin himself, that every SJC member is to “perform the duties of his office with impartiality and shall be diligent to maintain the impartiality of the Commission” and that each member “must be objective and open-minded with respect to all issues and parties.” It is a little hard – lo, impossible – to be impartial, open-minded, and objective when you have publicly come down on one side of an issue.

In the previous article we looked at David Coffin’s arguments against Overtures 23 and 37 to the Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order (BCO), and now we will consider what is entailed in him, a member of the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), publishing an article against said overtures. Coffin includes a disclaimer in which he asserts that the SJC’s Manual (OMSJC) permits him to publish this sort of article of opinion, and in so doing he interprets OMSJC 2.6 as sufficiently tempering the other provisions of the manual to allow him to do so. Here is the full text of that section:
So long as he complies with Section 2.5 above, a member may make public or private statements in the course of his duties as a presbyter or Session member with respect to biblical teaching, confessional interpretation, the principles of the form of government and discipline, the requirements of the BCO, the Rules of Assembly Operation, Robert’s Rules, and may explain Commission procedures.
Note that it is section 2.5 that modifies 2.6, not the reverse. That is significant because Coffin first quotes 2.5 in his disclaimer and then says, “that notwithstanding, I am permitted to,” and quotes the bulk of 2.6. Consider that Coffin’s article is not an example of doing the bulk of things which he is allowed to do by 2.6.  It is not explaining “the Rules of Assembly Operation,” “Robert’s Rules,” or “Commission procedures.” It is not a bit of exposition of “biblical teaching” or “confessional interpretation,” as he only alludes to the Westminster Standards once to say they don’t include the term identity, and as he only alludes to two passages of scripture (1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9) as a parenthetical remark noting they are the scriptural basis for BCO 21-4’s requirements. He somewhat explains current requirements of the BCO, but only as part of a larger endeavor to argue against proposed amendments to the same BCO. It seems doubtful that the “explaining the requirements of the BCO” that the OMSJC allows is intended to allow that explanation in the course of a polemic article, an objection we might also bring to his explanation of “the principles of the form of government and discipline.”
The question then is this: is publishing an article of intradenominational political opinion a part of one’s “duties as a presbyter or Session member”? It seems doubtful, at best. It would be one thing for him to circulate this article among his session, congregation, or presbytery, but to publish it generally is to put it in a different category. The duties of a presbyter, as explained in BCO 8.1-3, for example, do not include telling the whole denomination how it should vote outside of a stated meeting of a church court, and BCO 11-4 seems to limit the sphere of elder operation to session and presbytery, and even then, only to the matters that are properly in their jurisdiction. Trying to persuade people in other presbyteries how to vote when their presbyteries vote on this question is not exactly respecting the division of jurisdictions or doing what presbyters are formally intended to do. In other words, Coffin’s article seems to be, not an example of official discharge of presbyterial duty, but rather a piece of personal opinion, the giving of which is by no means limited to presbyters. Now look at the introductory text of OMSJC 2.5:
A member of the Commission shall not make any public or private statement that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome of a pending matter or impending matter in any court of the church (BCO 11-4; 39-3).
This section goes on to give the definitions of pending and impending, saying in 2.5b that:
An impending matter is a matter that is reasonably expected to (a) become a case of process or (b) otherwise be brought before an appropriate court for consideration. “Reasonably” refers to the judgment of one in possession of all the relevant facts, which facts are subject to a fair-minded assessment.
And now consider what Coffin says in the fourth paragraph of his second section: “I do not doubt that this question [of Overture 23’s sentence structure and terminology] will give rise to controversy and litigation in this matter.” Or again, consider the statement of his disclaimer that “nothing I have said in this essay is intended to intimate, hint, or suggest which party should prevail in any case that might come before me under our current BCO, or under these proposed amendments, should they be adopted.” Coffin himself seems to think that litigation related to the overtures is likely. Indeed, why would he include a disclaimer at all unless he believed it’s very probable they will pass and come before the SJC of which he is a member?
Now if Coffin himself seems to think that Overture 23 and 37 related litigation is quite probably impending, why then is he writing such an article at all, seeing as OMSJC 2.5, as he admits, prohibits giving such public statements on impending cases? If this seems to be stretching impending a little much as regards potential future litigation viz. the overtures, note, again, that 2.5 prohibits any statement that will affect the adoption of any matter now pending or impending before any church court. Presbyteries are church courts (BCO 10-2), and the question of adopting Overtures 23 and 37 is now pending with dozens of them (and by extension, the sessions of their constituent churches, which are also courts, BCO 10-2). Coffin is at odds, then, with the requirements of OMSJC 2.5. Also consider the full text of OMSJC 2.8:
Notwithstanding Section 2.5 above, a member of the Commission may fully participate in a judicial matter before the Presbytery or Session of which he is a member and advise his Presbytery or Session in judicial matters.
Mark that carefully. He may participate in something like debating the overtures before his own session and presbytery only. He may not participate in debating them beyond the bounds of those courts, a thing which he does when he publishes an article arguing against them in an online magazine.
Time will fail us to fully consider other elements of the OMSJC, such as its requirement in 2.10, partly quoted by Coffin himself, that every SJC member is to “perform the duties of his office with impartiality and shall be diligent to maintain the impartiality of the Commission” and that each member “must be objective and open-minded with respect to all issues and parties.” It is a little hard – lo, impossible – to be impartial, open-minded, and objective when you have publicly come down on one side of an issue. Cue 2.10d:
A member shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which the member’s impartiality might reasonably (see Section 2.5.b) be questioned, including but not limited to the following circumstances:2) The member . . . has made a public statement, other than in a court proceeding, judicial decision, or opinion, that commits or appears to commit the member to reach a particular result or rule in a particular way in the proceeding or controversy.
By publishing his article Coffin has ensured that he will have to recuse himself if, as he suggests is rather probable, cases come before the SJC regarding these overtures.
Now one may object and say that I have not properly interpreted and applied some of the elements of the BCO and OMSJC to which I have appealed here or even that I am not competent or qualified to undertake such arguments. Perhaps there are established precedents that have caused us to determine the interpretation of some of these individual clauses I have quoted and to give them a different meaning than I have given them here.
Lay that aside and lay aside also my belief that I have faithfully interpreted all of this in accord with the plain meanings of the words. Look not at the minutiae of legal clauses and interpretations, whether mine or others, and look rather at the large picture. Can it seriously be maintained that it is an ethically proper thing for a member of the SJC to argue against these measures? Maybe our constitution does not fully mandate a separation of powers in which SJC members are required to only judge cases that come before them and are strictly required to keep silent about legislative questions related to the adoption of this or that measure or BCO amendment. Maybe it is lawful for David Coffin to publish an article such as this by the current standards of the BCO and OMSJC (though I think I have dispelled that suggestion). But is it right? Is it an example of upholding the spirit of orderly church government, or of keeping aloof not only from wrongdoing but also from any hint or appearance of the same? Is it not rather likely to strike many of our members and ministers, and probably more than a few outside observers as well, as a rather odd way of doing things that reeks of conflicts of interest and imprudence? And is it not the sort of thing that causes our members, when made aware of it, to have less confidence in the impartiality and integrity of our courts, and of our form of government generally?
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, SC. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the leadership or members of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church.

A Response to David Coffin Concerning Overtures 23 and 37—Part One

One, it is not merely a local problem, for the church is one and what happens or is tolerated in one section soon infects the others. This statement is essentially a denial of Scripture’s teaching that the church is a lump leavened by the barest amount of leaven (1 Cor. 5:6-7; Gal. 5:9). It takes – as with C.A. Briggs in the PCUSA or Robertson Smith in the Free Church of Scotland – but one bad professor or minister in one seminary or presbytery to implicate the whole church in a sinful tolerance of evil, which, once tolerated, comes to infect the whole church. The church has, as such, a duty to not tolerate bad doctrine and practice, with any failure bringing the censure of her Lord (Rev. 2:14-16, 20-23).

By Faith, the official online magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), recently published a two part series of articles concerning the proposed Overtures 23 and 37, which would seek to modify the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO) to forbid from office, amongst others, those that proclaim a homosexual identity. The article urging the rejection of the overtures was written by David Coffin, a member of the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission.
In his introduction Coffin says that “a book of church order is not designed to settle all the questions or controversies that may come up in the life of the church.” This is true, but it misses the point. We have before us a controversy regarding the essential nature of office and of who is to be allowed to hold it, i.e., a constitutional question. As the BCO is our constitution it is both appropriate and reasonable to seek to amend it accordingly to bring about a satisfactory resolution to the present constitutional controversy. He says further that “changes in our organic law should only be proposed and adopted when our regular order is shown to be deficient or has failed in some way.” The present order has failed, clearly: current law has not kept proud sinners out of office and has rather taken their side. He continues with a little theoretical reflection, praising “stability of law” as an essential item that “should not be disturbed except under necessity.” Again, this is agreed, and again he misses the point. We are under great necessity at present. Also, effectiveness of law is essential in any good government, for a weak government that cannot (or will not) enforce its own laws is doomed for displacement by one that will, even if it be only the hard rule of utter chaos.
Coffin titles his first section “The Overtures Lack Mature Consideration,” in which we see his first broad reason for opposing them. Lay aside the somewhat uncharitable intimation that they were then the result of immature consideration and note what he says in his first sentence here: “Our General Assembly’s care for our Constitutional order, with the consent of the presbyteries, should not be used to satisfy the demands of social media.” What about the demands of justice and of fidelity to our Lord and his word? This is not merely a matter of people using contemporary platforms to espouse their opinions: those opinions, however expressed, are well-grounded in an understanding of our present case and of our sin and danger in allowing office to those that ought not to hold it. He goes on with a little more waxing eloquent as to our theory of polity and says that what he calls “mature consideration” “cannot come at first glance, or in the urgency created by allegations stirring popular fears.” I confess I do not know what he means. First glance? This thing has been going on for years now, the first Revoice conference having been in 2018. As for urgency being bad, what, one wonders, does the he make of something like this?
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Cor. 5:1-5, ESV)
That is an example of excommunication conducted in absentia via letter, without any proceedings, and without appeal. We are not apostles, granted, but is it too much to say that the principle of decisive urgency Paul embodies – and the Corinthian church with him, it being the immediate agent of excommunication – is one we ought to emulate rather than one we should casually deprecate as “immature?”
TE Coffin continues by saying that “to attempt to remedy what is in the first instance a local problem, by a Constitutional change, is a violation” of that mature order he so values. There is much misunderstanding of the situation here. One, it is not merely a local problem, for the church is one and what happens or is tolerated in one section soon infects the others. This statement is essentially a denial of Scripture’s teaching that the church is a lump leavened by the barest amount of leaven (1 Cor. 5:6-7; Gal. 5:9). It takes – as with C.A. Briggs in the PCUSA or Robertson Smith in the Free Church of Scotland – but one bad professor or minister in one seminary or presbytery to implicate the whole church in a sinful tolerance of evil, which, once tolerated, comes to infect the whole church. The church has, as such, a duty to not tolerate bad doctrine and practice, with any failure bringing the censure of her Lord (Rev. 2:14-16, 20-23).
Two, this is, again, a constitutional question affecting the practice of ordination/investiture of office of the whole denomination. Three, it is no violation of Presbyterian polity to adopt constitutional measures to defend against an offense as heinous as the desecration of office by allowing it to be held by those who have no business there. Our polity and constitution are meant to defend against the church becoming corrupt. We are Protestants, after all, and our church has come into being because of the corruption of the medieval church wherewith our ancestors were associated. Four, Coffin’s objection makes the processes more important than the end for which such processes are constituted. Coffin would have us value order –or better: the laborious, tedious inefficiency that he calls careful and mature order – above the end of holiness and fidelity to Christ for which our system of government has been erected.
In his next sentence he says that such a suggested change as the dual adoption of Overtures 23 and 37 “subjects our government to frequent change driven, not by necessity, but by ephemeral concerns of parties in the church.” It is doubtful that this issue is going away any time soon. Cultural acceptance of sexual sin will not change soon, and perhaps not for many generations (if ever before Christ’s return). In addition, if it be ephemeral it will only be because we will move on to the question of allowing the next sin. The momentum of increasing infidelity is not ceased by compromising with it or waving our hands and sneering, “Oh, but that is just how one party in the church feels. They’ll be over that sentiment soon enough.” Today the controversy is about celibate but attracted; who can doubt but that tomorrow it will be about the question of actively practicing individuals who desire office?
Farther along he says that “the proposals now before the presbyteries could not have been subject to serious reflection and careful deliberation in the Assembly.” A light rejoinder: could anything be as vigorously deliberated as it ought when we tried to do the whole denomination’s business in about 3 days, and that after we had canceled the previous General Assembly? This is not an objection to the measures, but to our present form and practice of General Assemblies.
He continues with this argument, saying that the overtures “were taken up by the Assembly after a very long day of deliberation and debate, late in the evening, with weary commissioners showing increasing signs of impatience with prolonged consideration” and thus he believes “the Assembly was clearly not at its best in the actions taken.” This objection is weak. When lawfully convened the actions of the General Assembly are themselves lawful and authoritative, regardless of the time of day they were decided or the physical and emotional state of the messengers. A meeting is to be assumed competent unless clearly proved otherwise. Coffin continues on this line, however, and says that “the actions on the Overtures appear to put the Assembly at odds with itself in its declaration that the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality is biblically faithful.” This too is a rather weak objection. For a legislative body to be at odds with itself is unsurprising and it proves, not that the first act was right and the second wrong, but only that legislating and administering the affairs of a large denomination is hard for weak men wracked by the noetic effects of sin.
In his next statement the TE Coffin says, “It is instructive to note that the Ad Interim Committee could have recommended BCO changes, if any were deemed warranted.” Yes and the Assembly could have either accepted or ignored such recommendations, or, as has actually been the case now, taken action on its own without regard to the committee. Coffin seems to forget that the higher body constitutes the lesser, and that in constituting a committee an Assembly lays aside none of its rights and can do as it will with the committee and its recommendations and reports. When he then continues to say that the AIC “judged the BCO to be adequate with respect to the matters under consideration,” we can safely rejoin that the whole Assembly judged otherwise, as was its right.
Coffin further opines that “this attempt to amend the BCO is futile with respect to the controversies now troubling the PCA.” This will only be so if a) the measures do not pass; and b) future courts fail to apply the overtures rigorously and faithfully when they are adopted as part of the BCO. Coffin elaborates by saying that “it is unlikely anything in these amendments, had they been in the BCO before 2018, would have changed the ruling of the SJC in 2020-12 Speck v. Missouri.”
This is a deeply concerning statement. Suppose, as is eminently probable, that the overtures pass and charges are brought against an elder to divest him of office because he boasts of his celibate homosexual identity. Now one of the presbyters sitting to hear the case has read this article, as is also probable, and as he deliberates in his own mind he remembers this statement that the overtures are not likely to change the SJC’s opinion on such matters. So rather than vote in a way (guilty) that he thinks will lead to the accused elder appealing to the SJC, he alters his vote accordingly to put the matter to rest and save what seems to be needless hassle. In such a case what Coffin will have done by publishing this article is to have poisoned the well. He is guiltless of harm so long as his position wins out. But if it does not he may well be guilty of swaying the minds of others in how they vote in future matters related to the overtures and their application.
If we move from such hypothetical (but credible) scenarios to a more general consideration of his work, it strikes an observer as odd that someone who will probably have to judge cases arising because of the adoption of these overtures would be chosen to present the case against adopting them. A further consideration of this element of Coffin’s article will be considered in the next article in this series.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, SC. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the leadership or members of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church.

Thoughts on the Present State of the Presbyterian Church in America: A Series of Theses Presented by a Concerned Member—Part Four

That they who desire our denomination to be diverse in its practices – that is, to be a so-called ‘big tent’ and nationwide church – ought to take heed, for this exulting in practical diversity lends itself quite easily to a spirit which regards a broad church as being more important than a doctrinally sound one. History everywhere attests that such a latitudinarian disposition ill serves denominations of all stripes, and that union among those with different doctrines or practices – as between the Old and New Schools, or of the northern church after its union with the Cumberland Presbyterians in the early 1900s – stirs up all manner of difficulty and frequently leads to doctrinal decline.

[Read Part Part One, Part Two, and Part Three]

That a group of elders meeting in organized fashion to discuss or decide upon the affairs of the church or of some part thereof may be rightly termed a presbytery.
That the National Partnership, as it meets the criteria above, may be fairly termed a presbytery.
That presbyteries should be formally organized and should operate according to normal prescribed processes, as provided for by the constitution of the church.
That the normal affairs of presbyteries should be reasonably public and open, and that secrecy should be used only in cases of true need, as for example to protect the privacy of individuals involved in ministry in hostile nations, or in the early stages of discipline.
That irregular presbyterial operations, such as the use of secrecy when it is not needed, are out of accord with the practice of good church government.
That internal factions undermine the good order, unity, and peace of the church and confound its operations by leading men to form strong opinions on various issues prior to and apart from discussions upon them at stated meetings conducted for that purpose. What is meant to be done by the church in her courts is instead done by sundry factions behind the scenes, the courts being then not occasions for deliberation but rather occasions to act out what has already been decided.
That secretive formal or de facto factions within the denomination among her ministers and members were not intended by the founders of the church, and are not provided for by its constitution.
That the constitution not providing for such factions ought to call into question their validity and propriety, and that some such groups, if not formally unlawful, are yet contrary to the spirit and right practice of presbyterian polity, and threaten to undermine or corrupt it.
That needless secrecy in political organization cannot be defended in the Christian church, unless it be to avoid grave persecution by hostile governments or by others who would afflict God’s people. The avoidance of slander or unpopular controversy alone is not reason enough to act clandestinely, for the sufferance of such things is a part of the Christian life, and because there are means available to redress such sin if one is assailed by it.
That the publication of anonymous manifestos or open letters is out of accord with the conspicuous and forthcoming honesty that ought to characterize ministers of the gospel and other leaders in the church.
That the use of unnecessary anonymity bespeaks a spirit of cowardice or mischief and ill intentions – for why should a man hide his identity from his brethren if his words be true?
That the use of anonymity breeds distrust and suspicion and destroys all credibility as regards a letter’s claims or as regards the personal character of its author if he is discovered.
That the use of anonymity insults the audience, for it intimates that they are so unfair in judgment that they cannot be trusted to know an author’s name. It further denies them the opportunity of a personal response; for to whom does one address a response to an anonymous letter?
That the use of anonymity and secrecy, as they have recently been used by some in the denomination, is indefensible and suggests a poor character for those involved, and a probable unfitness for office.
That any right to secrecy in political organization in the Presbyterian Church in America is forfeit owing to the fact that the denomination from which we separated, the former Presbyterian Church in the United States, is believed to have been hastened in its doctrinal decline by the politicking of the clandestine “Fellowship of Saint James.”
That those who hide their machinations can little object if others, feeling suspicious because of their secrecy, are moved by an understandable concern to disregard their imagined right to privacy in such matters and to avail themselves of their secrets when they are brought to the light.
That they who accuse others of bad faith and ‘toxicity’ for prying into their secrets ought to consider that they should have no such secrets into which to pry, and that it was their own bad faith in clandestinely organizing that provoked such behavior in others. He who acts dishonorably has but little ground for complaint if others do likewise.
That such secrecy may be interpreted as involving its participants in undermining the peace and purity of the church, and that the denomination would be within its rights and the dictates of prudence to legislate against it going forward, and to punish judicially those that are involved in it.
That the National Partnership meets the foregoing description and owes it to the church either to disband, or else to at least forgo its secrecy and to do as honor and honesty demand and come forth into the public eye as an open organization.
That those organizations and groups which have a formal, public character must take great heed lest they fall and become mere political factions whose efforts are wholly taken up with questions of intradenominational politics.
That this, which applies to such groups, applies also to the individuals associated therewith. Many a man has ruined his effectiveness as a minister by giving too much of his effort to polemics.
That the slowness by which the courts of the church operate is neither just nor wise, and is a disservice to all parties involved. He who would remove leaven from a lump must move quickly, else the possibility of doing so is lost. For the church to move as slowly as it has hithertofore done is to yield the momentum to wrongdoing, which has much occasion to multiply itself while awaiting the adjudication of cases involving it.
That the slowness and ineffectiveness of our courts demoralizes the pious, who see in the advance of wickedness and the weakness of all official responses to it the certain triumph of such wrongdoing.
That the apparent slowness wherewith God often moves in judging wickedness provides no warrant for the church to move with equal slowness. For God is longsuffering and patient, and he has his purposes which are often hidden from us or that are best accomplished by forbearing the prevalence of wickedness for a time. The judgments of God’s people are often quick (Ex. 32:25-28, Nov. 25:6-8, 2 Sam. 4:11), a principle that the Presbyterian Church in America ought to embody as well, lest she be found to be guilty of sloth and a lack of the commanded zeal for holiness.
That no one has any right to office, office existing rather for the benefit of those who are served than for that of those who would hold it (Mk. 10:42-45).
That many yet act as though there is a right to office, and that any qualifications respecting it are an infringement upon their rights, not least their rights of conscience.
That those who elevate their own rights above the rights of the church, whether as a whole or in its sundry presbyteries, proceed from a principle that is contrary to the heritage of the Reformed churches and which owes its character to other, more radical Protestant traditions, and to the values of contemporary American society at large.
That the standard of ordination is not the practice of other denominations, least of all those that are looser in doctrine or broader in practice than ourselves. Many men of great talent and just character are yet not eligible for ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America because of their incomplete adherence to our doctrinal standards, or for other reasons determined by the presbyteries.
That the freedom of the conscience applies to those things which are either contrary to Scripture (as some of the practices of Rome), or else ungoverned by it (Book of Church Order, Preliminary Principle 1).
That the individual’s conscience is not free in those matters – as questions of vital doctrine or gravely consequential practice – in which God has endowed his church with ministerial power or with the power to govern itself. No man may teach whatever he deems right and expect for it to have the approval of the church, for it is the essence of church government that it exists to provide good order and to suppress the teaching of that which tends to cause confusion or disorder.
That presbyteries may sometimes exercise this power to forbid the teaching of that which is not obviously false, if it is thought that such teaching would have an ill effect upon the church. For not all truths are equally profitable, and the manner in which they are taught matters greatly.
That they who desire our denomination to be diverse in its practices – that is, to be a so-called ‘big tent’ and nationwide church – ought to take heed, for this exulting in practical diversity lends itself quite easily to a spirit which regards a broad church as being more important than a doctrinally sound one. History everywhere attests that such a latitudinarian disposition ill serves denominations of all stripes, and that union among those with different doctrines or practices – as between the Old and New Schools, or of the northern church after its union with the Cumberland Presbyterians in the early 1900s – stirs up all manner of difficulty and frequently leads to doctrinal decline.
That the bluntness of speech of these theses, and of other dissenting opinions, is not motivated by hatred.
That these theses are not intended to offend anyone, but are offered as a humble and sincere reproof. For both Scripture and common human experience teach that flatterers are vile and that it is a kindness to speak frankly with one who has erred. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6).

Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Simpsonville, S.C.

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