Why do I really struggle when preachers bounce around the Bible when preaching? Because doing so can often miss the point of what the Bible author is communicating, what the original audience would have understood and how it fits in with the overarching story of the Bible.
I was walking and talking with my wife yesterday discussing one of the latest books that I’ve read. One of my comments about the book was how I liked that the author went to different parts of the Bible to show common themes and to highlight certain details. My wife responded with something like “so the book did what you hate happening in sermons?” Correct, let me explain.
I am sold 100% on expositional preaching, which basically means that the preacher should let the Bible do the talking. Expository preaching walks through a Bible text and expounds what it says. I’m sold on that kind of preaching as the regular diet of a Christian because it is, in my opinion, the best way to disciple people. Expository preaching gets people to hear what God intended in His Word and not my latest hobby horse or the newest trend in the world of global church. If expository preaching is done well then a church will touch on most issues that we face in life as they naturally come up in the Bible rather than shoehorning a topic in.
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By Graham Heslop — 3 months ago
Contrary to my notions about sin always needing to be rebuked, here Jesus calls on his followers to search their own hearts and minds—to assess their lives and identify sin. They might have done something that led to a brother or sister holding something “against them” (Matthew 5:23). They may very well have sinned against someone else but no rebuke was issued. Just as in Matthew 18 Jesus calls for us to rebuke sin with the aim of repentance, in Matthew 5 he commands us to confess our sins to one another—to seek reconciliation (Matthew 5:24).
There are many reasons Christians don’t rebuke one another. But perhaps the one that runs deepest is that we just want people to like us. We fear coming across as self righteous, imagining that by calling out sin we will be alienated from other Christians. This is not an unreasonable fear. For even among Christians it is not difficult to be labelled judgmental and scorned for interfering in other people’s personal affairs. However, when sin is apparent, that is precisely what Jesus calls us to do: if someone sins against you, go and tell them. Naturally this must be tempered, as Christians navigate between rebuking sin and becoming judgmental or hypocritical. That being said, Jesus’ directive for us to rebuke sin stands.
For many years I treated Matthew 18:15-20 as if it was the only thing Jesus said about dealing with sin—both our own and others’. My operating assumption was that the sin-rebuke dynamic ran in one direction: if someone is sinned against then they must rebuke the offender. This led me to making remarks such as: ‘If Tim has an issue then he should bring it to me,’ and, ‘If Jeffrey thinks I’ve sinned then he must say so.’
Admittedly, it is wonderfully convenient to live like this, for at least two reasons. We’ve already touched on the first: most Christians are afraid to rebuke sin. Thus as long as I’m waiting on other Christians to identify and call out my sin, rebukes and any related repentance will be rare. Secondly, it doesn’t require me to evaluate my own actions or words, for this is the responsibility of others rather than my own. Furthermore, I can easily dismiss my conscience and make light of sin, since most Christians battle to rebuke one another.
“Confess Your Sins to One Another”
But this operating assumption was recently dashed as I read through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, especially Jesus’ teaching on reconciliation. Jesus says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go” (Matthew 5:23-24).
By Jason Piland — 2 years ago
I am convinced that removing the present wording of the statute of limitations in BCO 32-20 will lead to other serious problems and unintended consequences. The proposed amendment will potentially open up members to harassment by the courts; it will allow the shepherding from elders to become lax; it will allow courts to settle for evidence that has been corrupted by time but fits a preconceived narrative; and, ultimately, it will harass and harm untold members of our congregations.
Removing the “Statute of Limitations” from the Book of Church Order (BCO) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is a serious matter, and I am concerned that last summer’s General Assembly hastily began that process without counting the costs. If we move forward with the proposed substitute to BCO 32-20, I fear there will be significant unintended consequences. I write in hopes that Presbyters across the PCA will better appreciate the wisdom of having a statute of limitations and, with Anton Heuss, I hope that the proposed replacement of BCO 32-20 will NOT be approved and that better language will be put forward.
As it stands today, BCO 32-20 begins, “Process, in case of scandal, shall commence within the space of one year after the offense was committed, unless it has recently become flagrant.” This amounts to what some, including the SJC and an important commentator, have called a “Statute of Limitations” for church discipline, at least for cases of “scandal.” The new proposal sent to Presbyteries for their advice and consent removes this language altogether and only codifies the right the accused already has to object to indictments and names “degradation of evidence” as one possible ground for objection.
Overture 22, which gave rise to the proposed language, and Howie Donahoe, the esteemed moderator of the 47th GA, raise a number of objections to the current BCO 32-20, but neither account for the significant costs of removing a statute of limitations altogether. Nevertheless, I share their concern about abuse and other private sins that are not immediately known or discovered. I wholeheartedly agree with criticisms of the current BCO 32-20 on this point, but this does not warrant overthrowing a statute of limitations altogether when an exception could be built into the BCO that provides a way to bring before the court cases of past abuse.
We need to remember why we have a statute of limitations in the first place, and I posit that there are at least three significant reasons to retain a statute of limitations for church discipline.
To Protect the Accused
A statute of limitations protects every member of the PCA from all kinds of harassment by the courts. If a court declines to bring charges against a person, it can’t hold the possibility of charges over that person’s head in perpetuity.
Consider another situation. Suppose a pastor or Session believes a church member is guilty of a particular sin, and, with a clear conscience, the church member does not believe he has committed it. Or suppose a church member believes he is repentant of a certain sin, but his elders don’t think so. What happens then? Often in cases like these, the church member hears continual, frank, and strong counsel about how he needs to own up to his sin or to biblically repent of it. The shepherds are doing what they believe is right: rebuking strongly from time to time, bearing with the individual over the long haul in a “pastoral” manner, calling him to be faithful to Scripture’s teaching, and seeking to keep the rest of the church pure from the potential defilement of sin.
But the actions of the elders wear down the church member. The elders don’t want to bring charges, so they are “patient.” They don’t realize how the church member feels like the life is being squeezed out of him. In these cases, forbearance isn’t the answer. When the church member and Session legitimately disagree after prayerful dialogue and counsel, the pastoral answer is not to wait it out and hope the church member changes his mind. The loving and right thing is often for the Session to bring charges. From the Session’s perspective, he is in conscious sin, and it must be addressed immediately. From the church member’s perspective, he has the right to have his case heard not just by his Session, but also to have it reviewed by the higher courts of the church. It is a merciful thing that the church member has his day in court to vindicate himself and to appeal to higher courts for assistance. We are Presbyterians, and this is Presbyterianism at its best. This is good for both the Session and the church member because there will be resolution to the disagreement.
A statute of limitations requires Sessions to bring charges sooner rather than later. It protects the accused from a forbearance in the name of pastoral kindness that ends up being harmful. Where legitimate disagreement exists, a statute of limitations puts an end to it by requiring action, and it protects the accused from all kinds of potential harassment by the courts of the church.
To Encourage Diligent Shepherding
If a court is not able to bring a charge on day 366, it is forced to be diligent in shepherding its flock in the first 365 days after a disciplinable offense takes place. When a court knows that a sin cannot be addressed through process after one year, a statute of limitations actually compels action. We want to encourage the shepherds of the church to conscientiously care for the hurting and wandering sheep and not to let a sheep walk away from the fold for years before beginning the process of bringing him back.
When someone commits an offence of the sort that often gives rise to formal discipline, it often takes several months for the dust to settle, for the church to understand what happened, and for the offender and the offended parties to appreciate the fallout. The spiritual realities are not usually immediately clear. So the statute of limitations ought not be too short to require the court to act before it can shepherd the parties through these early days and gain clarity of the situation. But it seems that a year has been plenty of time in the PCA to understand what happened, counsel the parties, assess their responses, and determine if formal process is fitting. These situations are difficult, and courts must be diligent shepherds to adequately care for its members. A statute of limitations requires them to be engaged intentionally from day one, and that is a good thing.
To Ensure Accurate Evidence
As time goes on, the quality of evidence degrades. Memories fade. Witnesses move away, die, or otherwise disappear. Documentary evidence, whether digital or physical, corrupts or goes missing. The immediacy of the offence is lost to time, and the accuracy of the remaining testimony decreases in quality. Overture 22 admits as much. Of course, there is no certain time where good evidence goes bad, but the principle still stands: It is better to call upon witnesses and use evidence when it is as fresh as possible so that the accuracy and truthfulness of that testimony is best preserved and conveyed.
Additionally, the further one is from an event, the easier it is to falsify documents or to produce fraudulent testimony. We minimize the risk of false accusations if we maintain a statute of limitations.
The substitute proposal includes an encouragement to courts to not entertain an indictment if the evidence has been too degraded, but such a question is far too subjective and could easily be answered to accord with the court’s view of the merits of the case. I question the wisdom of placing this as the only named backstop on the court’s ability to do adjudicate ancient cases. A bright-line statute of limitations takes this question out the hands of the court in the interests of fairness.
While I deeply appreciate the concern about some alleged offenses that may not be immediately known, I am convinced that removing the present wording of the statute of limitations in BCO 32-20 will lead to other serious problems and unintended consequences. The proposed amendment will potentially open up members to harassment by the courts; it will allow the shepherding from elders to become lax; it will allow courts to settle for evidence that has been corrupted by time but fits a preconceived narrative; and, ultimately, it will harass and harm untold members of our congregations.
There are better ways to word an amendment to handle the problem of alleged offenses in the church than to remove a reasonable and limited time period altogether, avoiding throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
I urge Presbyteries to vote against the proposed amendment to BCO 32-20 and then let us find a better solution to the perceived problem. Concerned members of the PCA can work to make sure a better alternative isn’t too far away.
Jason Piland is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as Associate Pastor of Redeemer (PCA) in Hudson, Ohio.
 See, e.g., Grace RPC Session v. Heartland Presbytery, Case No. 93-14, M23GA, 113–121; Morton H. Smith, Commentary on the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America, 5th ed. (Greenville: Southern Presbyterian, 2004), 313.
 The full text of the proposal is as follows:
The accused or a member of the court may object to the consideration of a charge, for example, if he thinks the passage of time since the alleged offense makes fair adjudication unachievable. The court should consider factors such as the gravity of the alleged offense as well as what degradations of evidence and memory may have occurred in the intervening period.
By Nick Batzig — 3 months ago
The rainbow is the sign that the Lord will preserve the present creation until the consummation of the covenant of grace when He will fully redeem His people from every tongue, tribe, and nation and bring them into the full enjoyment of a new creation. The sign of the Noahic covenant is therefore a gospel sign of the redeeming mercy of God in Christ (Isaiah 54:9–10).
Several years ago, my wife and I were driving back home from a trip out of town. At some point, we missed the exit sign on the highway leading to the town in which we lived. We drove for nearly thirty minutes before realizing that we were heading to the wrong city. We had completely missed the sign. Failing to see or to understand physical signs can result in unfavorable consequences; the same is true of failing to rightly understand God’s covenantal signs. This is evident today in the way many parade their sexual rebellion against God under the banner of a rainbow.
In redemptive history, the Lord established the covenant of grace with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ. With each administration of the covenant of grace, God gave various divine signs. He set apart the rainbow in the sky to serve as the sign of the Noahic covenant. The Noahic covenant was God’s pledge that He would sustain the created order (Gen. 9:9–13). Because of His promise not to destroy the earth, mankind could be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (Gen. 9:1). In this sense, the Noahic covenant was a unique administration of the covenant of grace in that it contained a principle of common grace.
However, the Noahic covenant was ultimately serving the redemptive purposes of God. God was renewing the covenant promise He made to Adam when He inaugurated the covenant of grace (Gen. 3:15). In the Noahic covenant, God was setting the stage for the unfolding of redemptive history. Christ was in the lineage of Noah (Luke 3:23–38). Noah stood as a type of Christ, the head of a new creation (Gen. 8:13–19; 9:1–7). The ark itself served as a microcosm of redemptive history. The clean animals in the ark belonged to the Old Testament sacrificial system and typified the sacrifice of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Gen. 8:20; Ex. 12; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19). Clean and unclean animals together represented the Jews and gentiles, for whose salvation Christ came into the world (Acts 10:9–48; 11:18).