The Aquila Report

Encore: Evangelicalism from 2000–2020

In November, Christ Over All offered a decade-by-decade engagement with evangelicalism. We would encourage you to go read many of those fine essays. In this two-part “Encore Essay” by Mark Devine, we return to our November theme, Engaging Evangelicalism, because of its many applications for our January theme: Roe v Wade after Dobbs.
While Evangelicals should not define themselves by politics, they have had an outsized role in political affairs throughout America’s history. Therefore, to understand evangelicalism one must grapple with the various ways politics, and especially the Pro-Life movement, have intersected with one another. To that end, Mark DeVine follows the last twenty years of evangelicalism to show the cross currents which have blown through our country.
Picking up a theme introduced by Jeff Robinson in his two-part narrative, the most significant movement among young evangelicals in North America between the years 2000 and 2020 was the resurgence of Reformed theology. Heading into the 2000’s Mark Driscoll and his Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 church planting network influenced a broad swath of young evangelicals with Reformed theology. On the other coast, it was New York City pastor and The Gospel Coalition co-founder Timothy Keller who greatly influenced the Reformed resurgence among young evangelicals—what Colin Hansen called the “Young, Restless, and Reformed”—penetrating even the largest evangelical denominations and publishing houses. In the middle of the country were streams identified with the preaching of John Piper in Minneapolis, Don Carson’s writing and scholarship in Chicagoland, and Albert Mohler’s institutional leadership at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Perhaps the most surprising development in these yearly years of the Reformed Resurgence was its embrace by entity heads from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).[1]  Likewise, representing the rising generation of multi-site church pastors, Matt Chandler understood and shared with younger SBC-ers the staying power of institutions. At a 9Marks at 9 event, he said, “movements come-and-go, but institutions stay.” In this way, the staying power of this Reformed resurgence would occur largely within the safe harbor of larger denominations such as Keller’s own Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) the immense SBC.
1. Despite an abundance of anti-Calvinists present at all levels of the Southern Baptist Convention, Keller’s gospel-centered appeal to a rising generation of Calvinists in SBC seminaries and other institutions led to an ever-widening embrace of the Keller movement.
In what follows I will give a broad brushstroke of this movement along with some of its key thought leaders.
Making Calvinism Cool
The Reformed Resurgence found rich soil in the theological ground cultivated for decades by bestselling theologians John R. W. Stott, J. I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and John Piper—men who led movements of their own. But by the mid 2000s, Driscoll—who also gained notoriety for his work in the emerging church—was arguably the face of the burgeoning recovery of Calvinism among young evangelicals sweeping the country. One impressive feature of the movement was its effective targeting of notoriously resistant contexts for gospel advance—the great cities of America. 20- and 30-somethings in skinny jeans were in cities across the nation, by the tens of thousands, happily sitting under candid preaching about sin, hell, and predestination. Through his nationwide reach, Driscoll helped make Calvinism cool.
Multiple scandals that eventually came to a head in 2014 led to the demise of Mars Hill and the dimming of Driscoll’s once bright and rising star. But other Calvinistic preachers continued preaching and leading, and one of them rose to greater prominence: Timothy Keller.[2] Keller had amazed church planters across the evangelical world by his success in Manhattan, and once The Reason For God appeared in 2008, Keller emerged as a nationally recognized star, a uniquely gifted apologist for the faith, and a church planting guru. With keen cultural awareness, Keller’s engagement within the context of a metropolitan city not only opened doors to share the gospel in New York—and in The New York Times—but it also resonated with Christians across the country hungry for a doctrinally-based approach to evangelism.
2. While it’s difficult to assess popularity, a rough metric in google trends (which shows how often certain terms are searched for by millions of people online) shows the general rise of Driscoll and then his eclipse by Keller after 2014—as measured by search results of “Mark Driscoll” and “Tim Keller.”
Indeed, both Driscoll and Keller sought to advance a robust Reformed theology in urban settings. But Keller’s strategic posture could hardly have contrasted more sharply with Driscoll’s. Driscoll assaulted Seattle audiences with an at times in-your-face, confrontational brand of preaching. Keller’s relaxed, open, comforting dialogical style prioritized the approach commended under the “About Us” tab on The Gospel Coalition website. What is true of the organization he co-founded is also true of himself—Keller strives to provide resources that are “winsome and wise, and centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
When Cool Begins to Freeze Evangelical Light
By 2016, the Keller movement—at least in its theology of a sovereign God, its church planting philosophy, its Christocentric preaching method, and its apologetic posture toward the culture—found itself deeply ensconced within both the PCA and the SBC and many other centers of evangelical influence. Keller had released one bestselling book after another and had become for evangelicals something of a national sensation. Yet in 2016, Keller and his movement found itself the subject of unrelenting and withering criticism, not from the politically progressive communities they served, but from their conservative theological siblings who charged them with accommodating their message to the progressive urban cultures they inhabited.
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Worship, Polity, & the PCA

All is not well in the way worship is conducted in the PCA. Even as observance of the Lord’s Supper becomes more frequent in our churches, it seems that errors in its conduct multiply. These include the bizarre and biblically-unfounded practice of intinction (where the bread is dipped in wine and the two actions of the supper become confused), distribution of elements by unordained persons and even children, and so-called “young child communion” where some churches regularly admit children as young as four years old to the table. 
The state of worship in the Presbyterian Church in America is arguably better than it has ever been, at least as far as liturgy goes. More churches now use recognizably Reformed liturgies than at any point in the denomination’s history. These are liturgies that include the biblical elements of worship—they are not just the standard evangelical format of  “30 minutes of singing/30 minutes of preaching.” What may be lacking though are the hard-to-define (but essential) qualities of reverence and awe. What may be trending is leadership of worship that does not comport with or support presbyterian polity. And what may be chipping away at the foundations of proper worship are errant and novel practices, mostly regarding the Lord’s Supper.
Granted, most PCA churches employ liturgies that have more in common with those of the Continent rather than those of the holy presbyterian isle, Scotland. A standard PCA liturgy looks something like this, with minor variations in order and terminology:
Call to worshipHymn or psalmInvocationLord’s PrayerConfession of sinDeclaration/assurance of pardonConfession of faithSinging of the doxologyPrayer and offeringPastoral prayerScripture readingHymn or psalmScripture readingSermon (with prayer before and after)Lord’s Supper (weekly or monthly, bookended by additional prayers)Closing hymn or psalmBenediction
This is scripturally-regulated worship made up of biblical elements. The dialogical pattern of God speaking by his Word and his people responding in prayer, praise, and confession is obvious. There are many prayers and lots of scripture. Rearrange the order, change a term or two, and you have a liturgy that is common not only to most PCA churches, but also to most of the confessional churches affiliated with the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) and, indeed, to most conservative Reformed churches the world over for the last five centuries. But otherwise-solid liturgies may be undermined by things done, left undone, or done improperly—additions, omissions, and errors.
What are some examples of tangible and intangible things which have been added to liturgies, to the detriment of simple, biblical, Spirit-and-truth Reformed worship? We would propose the following:
First, an overly horizontal, man-centered ethos may be reflected in informal or casual approaches to the service, which could include announcements or presentations that break up the dialogical-biblical flow and tone of the service. These might focus on service opportunities or might amount to promotional pitches complete with video presentations or distribution of materials. Fellowship times in the middle of the service (sometimes called “passing of the peace” or even “halftime.”) might succeed in establishing a familiar or homey feel even as they distract from the holy purpose of worship. Children’s activities or the departure of children from the service at some point may also prove disruptive. Other unwelcome additions include showy musical performances, loud or complex musical accompaniment or leadership (which may also dominate visually as a central focus),  or other inappropriate visual elements. Too often, we also find whole seasons imported to the simple, ordinary,  and biblical Reformed tradition, like Lent and Holy Week. Somewhat related are the eclectic additions of the Anglican-attracted, which includes complicated and variable clerical garb and vestments, crossings, bowing at prescribed times, or turning to face a cross, bible, or procession. Finally (and possibly most destructive) we may bring “the warfare of the world…into the house of God,” as J. Gresham Machen lamented in the 1920s. In his day the imported social and political issues included “things that divide nation from nation and race from race…human pride…the passions of war.” Little has changed in the last 100 years since Machen published Christianity and Liberalism. The battle for spiritual worship continues.
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Comparing Overture 15’s Dissenters to Presbytery Votes

To date (January 25, 2023), 51 presbyteries have voted on Overture 15, with 30 voting to pass and 21 voting not to pass, under the two-thirds threshold to bring the amendment to the floor of the 50th General Assembly. Overture 15 has passed in 81 percent of the presbyteries without a dissenting commissioner (17-4), while it has only passed in 47 percent of the presbyteries with a dissenting commissioner (14-16).
 
Recording a dissent is an important feature of presbyterian polity. It allows officers to disagree respectfully with their fellow elders, expresses solemn opposition to a position held by a majority, and provides transparency and accountability in public record. While I’ve voiced my own approval of Overture 15, nonetheless I am grateful for the men who had the conviction to record their dissent, as well as for the process that allowed them to do so.
Although members of a court agree to submit to the outcome of a vote, the Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order allows for members of a court to record a dissent or protest (BCO 45-1). A dissent is “a declaration on the part of one or more members of a minority, expressing a different opinion from the majority in its action on any issue before the court, and may be accompanied with the reasons on which it is founded” (BCO 45-2).
Recorded in the minutes of the 49th General Assembly are the names of the commissioners who recorded their dissent from the majority that passed Overture 15 (see pp. 80-85 in the GA minutes).
Although the reasons for a dissent may be recorded to accompany the names of those dissenting (BCO 45-2), so long as it is “couched in temperate language” (BCO 45-5), no reasons accompany the names of those dissenting in the minutes. Since that time, various individuals have published their opinions and reasons for dissenting in writing.
Who are the dissenters?
Altogether, 199 commissioners representing 58 presbyteries recorded their dissenting vote. Ruling elders (44, 22%) were disproportionately underrepresented among dissenters relative to their presence in the court (663, 31%), while teaching elders (155, 78%) were disproportionately overrepresented by the same comparison (1499, 69%).

The data seem to suggest that REs are more likely than TEs to support the passage of Overture 15, though of course more research would be needed to confirm such a hypothesis. Given this pattern, it is also interesting to note the presbyteries where the number of REs dissenting exceeded the number of TEs dissenting (Evangel, Southern New England, Southern Louisiana, and Philadelphia, each with one more RE than TE dissenting).
Which presbyteries did dissenters represent?
Nashville presbytery had the greatest number of dissenters with 19 (7 REs, 12 TEs). Evangel (6 REs, 5 TEs) and Metropolitan New York (1 RE, 10 TEs) each had 11 dissenters, Missouri presbytery (3 REs, 7 TEs) had 10, and Northern California (1 RE, 7 TEs) had eight. Five other presbyteries had six dissenters each. Another 48 presbyteries had five or fewer, including 20 each with one dissenter.

Thirty presbyteries did not have a single commissioner recording a dissenting vote. They are: Arizona, Ascension, Canada West, Columbus Metro, Fellowship, Grace, Gulf Coast, Heartland, Heritage, Illiana, Iowa, James River, Korean Northeastern, Korean Northwest, Korean Southern, New Jersey, New River, Northern New England, Northwest Georgia, Ohio, Pee Dee, Philadelphia Metro West, Platte Valley, Providence, Savannah River, Siouxlands, Southeast Alabama, Southwest Florida, Warrior, West Hudson.
What is the status of these presbyteries with respect to Overture 15?
As recording a dissent indicates more impassioned opposition to Overture 15, it is reasonable to believe that these commissioners may be playing a role to that effect in their presbyteries. To date (January 25, 2023), 51 presbyteries have voted on Overture 15, with 30 voting to pass and 21 voting not to pass, under the two-thirds threshold to bring the amendment to the floor of the 50th General Assembly. Overture 15 has passed in 81 percent of the presbyteries without a dissenting commissioner (17-4), while it has only passed in 47 percent of the presbyteries with a dissenting commissioner (14-16).

Concluding Thoughts
As I’ve already stated, I have great respect for presbyterian polity, and the processes by which men debate issues at hand, vote, and even express disagreement with outcomes. It is therefore important for men elected to office to engage with the issues and participate in the process. This includes both teaching and ruling elders. Given some of the disparities on those dissenting, for good or for ill, ruling elders are the tillermen who will help steer the direction of the PCA by their participation or lack thereof.
Matthew Lee is a ruling elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, AR.
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Confused Classifications at Credo: Or, Hans Boersma Is Not Reformed

No matter how that question is answered, someone who favors regarding Scripture and tradition as being our proper rule of faith (regula fidei) over Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is channeling the beliefs of Rome rather than the Reformation, and may not be justly termed either evangelical or Reformed – or for that matter, Protestant, his formal church affiliations (the Anglican Church in North America) notwithstanding. 

It is curious to find an outsider discussing one’s group and its tenets. The thing is often helpful, since the outsider brings a different perspective that can help those within a given group realize where their beliefs are lacking in consistency or clarity, or where they have too much exaggerated their presumed strengths or understated or ignored their weaknesses. It is not particularly curious to find an outsider defining the nature of one’s beliefs or purporting to determine who is and is not a part of one’s group, however. When someone who is not a Presbyterian says that we are too prone to squabbling amongst ourselves, mere justice to the truth often compels one to grimace in pained agreement. But when a member of another tradition or an unbeliever comes along and tells you what you believe or includes within your communion someone you consider an outsider, the result is not amusement or begrudging agreement.
So it is with some annoyance that we find a Lutheran interim pastor and former professor at two Baptist institutions (Eastern University and Gateway Seminary), Carl Mosser, discussing what he calls the Reformed reception of the beatific vision in Credo. Of particular interest are the following statements:
Convinced departure from traditional Christian teaching about humanity’s chief end is adverse to healthy spirituality, Boersma and Allen seek to retrieve the doctrine for the sake of renewal. They are especially concerned for its recovery within the Reformed tradition.
And:
When theologians like Hans Boersma and Michael Horton unpack humanity’s chief end in terms of the beatific vision and deification, they are not importing exotic doctrines into the garden of Reformed theology.
Michael Horton and Michael Allen are professors at Reformed institutions, but Hans Boersma is not Reformed in any meaningful sense of the term, contrary to what these statements seem to imply, and contrary to what is implied yet more strongly in one of the footnotes:
Though historically a minority position within the Reformed tradition, Allen and Boersma both incline toward a Christological understanding of the beatific vision indebted to John Owen and Jonathan Edwards. 
Boersma holds the Saint Benedict Servants of Christ Chair in Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House, works especially in “patristic theology, twentieth-century Catholic thought, and spiritual interpretation of Scripture,” is motivated by his interest in what he calls “sacramental ontology,” and has published books like Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery about major trends in the Roman communion. He also quotes Pope Francis approvingly, refers to himself as a Christian Platonist, and is on record saying that the Reformation was a tragedy that should be lamented.
And while such things ought to suffice to dispel the mistaken notion that Boersma is somehow Reformed, the same issue affords material evidence that makes that fact yet more painfully obvious. Asked “who have been your most formative influences in theology and ministry?” Boersma replied:
I would say Henri de Lubac, the twentieth-century Jesuit patristic scholar, has been the most formative for me. His understanding of participation, his reading of the church fathers, and especially his reappropriation of spiritual exegesis is profound, and has deeply shaped my reading of Scripture and my entire metaphysical outlook. Beyond de Lubac, Yves Congar’s view of tradition (and its relation to Scripture) has also been important to me. It helped me leave behind a sola scriptura view and acknowledge the inescapable intertwining of Scripture and tradition—and as a result, I’ve come to have a much more receptive, appreciative attitude toward the Christian past.
Most Reformed people would answer that question with Calvin, Martyr, Bucer, Flavel, Sibbes, Watson, Rutherford, Owen, Chalmers, M’Cheyne, Hodge, Warfield, Lloyd Jones, Sproul, or some other reformer, Puritan, or later Reformed minister or theologian. With Boersma we get a Jesuit (!) and Yves Congar, a major and deeply controversial figure in the Roman communion who was heavily involved in Vatican II, as well as an unabashed admission that Boersma has abandoned sola scriptura because of what he regards as the “inescapable intertwining of Scripture and tradition.”
Now lay aside the thorny taxonomic question of the precise relationship of the Reformed and evangelical traditions of the Reformation, and whether they are utterly distinct (as R. Scott Clark would argue) or fundamentally intertwined, as many others would suggest (especially on the Presbyterian side of the wider Reformed tradition). No matter how that question is answered, someone who favors regarding Scripture and tradition as being our proper rule of faith (regula fidei) over Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is channeling the beliefs of Rome rather than the Reformation, and may not be justly termed either evangelical or Reformed – or for that matter, Protestant, his formal church affiliations (the Anglican Church in North America) notwithstanding.
And yet notwithstanding such a painfully obvious display of Romanist[1] inclinations as I have quoted above, Mosser on three occasions implies that Boersma is Reformed. You might be forgiven, dear reader, for thinking that such a blunder on his part and the part of Credo’s editors justifies being rather skeptical of everything else that Mosser writes when he purports to present the Reformed acceptance of the beatific vision. We shall consider that important matter in a subsequent article, but for now let it be noted that by such sloppiness in presentation Credo is unhelpfully skewing the lines of what qualifies as Reformed; and almost I begin to think that people who purport to “retrieve classical Christianity” from the medieval and early church, but who cannot accurately classify theologians in the here and now, are perhaps not fully to be trusted in the former endeavor either.
Tom Hervey is a member, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC. The statements made in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his church or its leadership or other members.

[1] My use of Romanist rather than Catholic when referring to the beliefs of the papal communion is not intended as an epithet, but arises because on a consistent Protestant view Rome is a false church and therefore has no right to present itself as catholic, inherent in which is the suggestion that we, who are outside her communion, are therefore severed from the true church of Christ. We would say that we are the true heirs of the catholic faith, and that Rome’s peculiar doctrines are later accretions that frequently undermine the true faith. Hence in Animadversions Upon Fiat Lux Owen speaks of affairs “when once Romanism began to be enthroned, and had driven Catholicism out of the world” (p. 260). Again, the term is used for reasons of conscience, not to promote hatred.
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Support of Overture 15: Amending the PCA’s Book of Church Order on Qualifications for Church Office

We do no favors to the members of our churches, nor to those men themselves who are entangled in the sin of homosexuality, when we allow such men to be ordained to office in the church, contrary to our Lord’s appointment. It behooves us, then, for the sake of everyone involved, for the purity and peace of the church, and for the glory of Christ, that we seek to strengthen our BCO on this issue.

Overture 15 seeks to amend chapter 7 of the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO) as follows:
7-4. “Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.”
The necessity and propriety of this particular amendment may be clearly demonstrated in a number of ways, only a handful of which will be considered briefly here. First and foremost, the most basic, fundamental biblical qualification for the offices of both elder and deacon is that a man must be found blameless. Our Book of Church Order must reflect the clear teaching of Scripture on this point.
The biblical qualifications for the office of elder or overseer are primarily found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. In 1 Timothy 3:2 Paul tells us that “an overseer must be above reproach . . .” (ESV). The rest of what follows (other than perhaps the ability to teach – v.2) is more or less an expansion and explanation of the kinds of things that such blamelessness entails.
The sin of homosexuality is one that clearly brings reproach upon a man’s character and reputation, and so it violates the most basic qualification for office in the church.
In Romans chapter one the Apostle Paul essentially singles out the sin of homosexuality as especially heinous in nature, even itself being “contrary to nature” (v. 26, ESV), and an evidence of the judgment or wrath of God. Romans 1:26 speaks of homosexual lust or desire in terms of God giving people over to “dishonorable passions,” and v.27 speaks of being given over by God to homosexual sin as a matter of such people receiving their “due penalty.”
Not only that, but God calls the sin of homosexuality an “abomination” (e.g., Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). That should get our attention. Now there are certainly a number of other sins that God’s Word refers to as abominations as well, but that should in no way lessen the force of the use of this word in relation to the various sins of homosexuality.
Are we to suppose that men who identify with the very sins that God Himself calls an abomination, and which are themselves in some ways evidence of His judgment, are somehow fit or qualified for office in His church? Do we think that we are wiser then God? What do we suppose God thinks – is He pleased with us if we approve of such things? It is the Lord Jesus to whom we will answer for how we conduct ourselves in the household of God (2 Timothy 4:1).
In addition to this, in Ephesians 5:3, Paul writes, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” What does this mean? Simply put, it means that when people think of the reputation of those who profess to be believers in Christ (much less office-bearers in the church!), sexual immorality must not be what comes to mind. That must not be the reputation of Christians, and so this is even more true when it comes to those who would hold office in the church!
But is this not precisely the spirit of what has come to be known as “Revoice” theology or so-called “Side-B gay Christianity”? Do such as hold to this heresy not quite literally “name” the sin of homosexuality among the saints, and even among the officers of the church?
This being the case, simply refraining from the outward, physical act of sodomy alone is in no way sufficient to render a man blameless in this regard. Indeed, that is not the biblical standard for repentance and holiness. Even the inward lust and the desire itself are sins that are to be repented of and mortified. If such sins truly have been and are being repented of, then they certainly should not be considered as somehow being part of the believer’s identity or defining characteristics.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul writes:
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (KJV)
Sexual immorality is not the only sin on the list, and of the various kinds of sexual immorality listed there, the particular sins related to homosexuality (i.e., effeminacy and sodomy) are not the only such sins that Paul mentions. All such sins, though, if not repented of, exclude the person from the kingdom of God. That is such a sobering truth that Paul adds, “Be not deceived” (v.9). It is far too easy, especially in our day, to be deceived regarding these things.
Thankfully, Paul goes on in that passage to speak of the power of Christ in saving even such sinners as these. In v.11 he writes, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (KJV). And so those sins were now of their past, not their present. Why? Because by the grace and power of God through faith in Christ, they had been washed, sanctified, and justified by the work of His Holy Spirit!
Now certainly Paul is not saying that these believers never struggled against sin after coming to Christ by faith, but are those who hold to the Revoice heresy not making far too little of the grace of God in the salvation of sinners in this regard? Some in this camp explicitly teach that a change in one’s orientation and desires is extremely rare, and even that it is unnecessary for a believer.
So-called “side-B gay Christianity” contradicts the clear teaching, not only of the Scriptures, but also of the Westminster Standards, which are the doctrinal standards of our denomination (the PCA). The Larger Catechism, for example, states the following in Q. 139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage; having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.”
Not only is the outward act of sodomy forbidden by the 7th commandment, but so are “all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections . . . .” And so even the orientation itself (if we may use such a term) of homosexuality is in no way neutral, but is itself a sin, and so it is to be repented of as such.
The common approach to handling this sin among some in this camp is also directly contrary to our Standards here. How often are we told that a commitment to life-long celibacy (i.e., refraining from sex entirely) is the proper way to handle this sin? And yet look at Larger Catechism Q/A 139 (above). It plainly states that among the sins forbidden by the 7th commandment are such things as “”entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage,” etc.
Chastity, of course, is to be observed by all outside of marriage, but heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman (and not celibacy) is the biblical answer for those who do not have the gift of continency. Q/A 138 states that marriage is one of the duties of “those that have not the gift of continency,” as well as “conjugal love, and cohabitation” then within the confines of marriage. The Revoice approach to this issue much more closely resembles that of Roman Catholicism than it does of the biblical, Reformed faith and practice.
The biblical and confessional teaching on these things is clear. And our goal here as elders in Christ’s church must be faithfulness to Christ and His Word, regardless of how that may or may not be received by a world that is increasingly hostile to the truth.
We do no favors to the members of our churches, nor to those men themselves who are entangled in the sin of homosexuality, when we allow such men to be ordained to office in the church, contrary to our Lord’s appointment. It behooves us, then, for the sake of everyone involved, for the purity and peace of the church, and for the glory of Christ, that we seek to strengthen our BCO on this issue.
For all of these reasons and more, I commend this overture to you, that you vote to approve it, so that it may be ratified at our next General Assembly.
Andy Schreiber is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Ramona Valley PCA in Ramona, Calif.
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Depravity Unleashed

Written by Stanley D. Gale |
Monday, January 30, 2023
What we see unleashed in our society today is not the product of an enlightened mind, but rather a willing descent into the darkness of sin, fueled by an aspiration to be as God. The lid has been lifted, giving license to depravity. As the biblical diagnostic puts it: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Eph. 4:19–20).

Before Pandora was a personalized radio service, she was a figure of Greek mythology. She was given a box with the instruction not to open it. Curiosity as her key, she lifted the lid and so streamed miseries, maladies, and all sorts of malice into the world to plague mankind.
The expression “opening Pandora’s box” relates to that story to warn of consequences and ramifications of certain actions. It provides counsel for avoiding unwanted trouble. It also suggests a metaphor for the unraveling moral fabric that endangers American society.
God’s diagnosis of the human heart is not an optimistic one. He speaks of the heart in bondage to sin, filled with wickedness, and inclined to evil.
Theologically speaking, human hearts are totally depraved. Not that people are as evil as they could be, but there is nothing in the operating system of people’s inner being that is unaffected and uncorrupted by the fallen condition of sin. Sin warps. It distorts. It incapacitates for honoring God and pursuing righteousness.
Parents are told that this waywardness, this misalignment, is bound up in the heart of a child. Therefore, they are to guard and guide their children. To protect a child from the foolishness bound up in the heart is to exercise love, as is direction in the way of righteousness.
Just as God has given parental authority to safeguard children, so He has given governmental authority to safeguard citizens. Societal structures represent common grace to restrain evil, to keep people from self-destructive behavior, and to promote community well-being.
When these restraints are lifted, depravity is unleashed.
Wickedness advances by being tolerated, then accepted, then promoted, then imposed. Psalm 1 traces this sort of progression.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night….
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Trinity & Paradox (A Defense Of Orthodoxy Against Modalism and Polytheism)

If God is one and all three persons of the Trinity are God, how does orthodox Christianity adequately deflect charges of modalism and polytheism? In other words, if the Father is God and the Son is God, how is the Son not merely an appearance of the Father if there is only one God (monotheism). Yet if the Father and the Son are not transitory manifestations of God but coexist as distinct divine persons, how is orthodox Christianity not another religion of the gods?
Before trying to address this conundrum, it might be helpful to consider some implications of an ancient Trinitarian creed.
We may distill these catholic claims from the Athanasian creed:
1. The Father is God2. The Son is God3. The Spirit is God4. The Father is not the Son5. The Father is not the Spirit6. The Son is not the Spirit7. There is only one God
An apparent contradiction is in view:
A. f = g (premise)B. s = g (premise)C. f ≠ g (premise)D. f = s (from 1 and 2, by the transitivity of identity)
Contradiction or Paradox?

It seems to me that these conundrums can be dealt with adequately by supplementing additional biblically informed premises alongside the ambiguous ones. Simply augment some of the abbreviated premises with more biblical truth and paradox disappears, yet without being able to uncover the mysteries of the Trinity. (The solution is rational but ought not to be considered rationalistic.)
Is, =, and the law of identity:
It should be noted up front that there is a semantic difference between is and =, for x is y in common parlance does not necessarily imply y is x. Whereas x = y always is equivalent to y = x. For instance, Jim is human obviously does not mean the same thing as human is Jim. However, in some instances, the word is can imply a bidirectional truth or equivalent identity. For instance, there is an equivalence between Joe Biden is the 46th POTUS, and the 46th POTUS is Joe Biden. All that to say, we must be careful to discern what is intended by the verb is. Sometimes the meaning is one directional (e.g., Jim is human), and at other times the meaning is bidirectional (e.g., Joe Biden is the 46th POTUS). In the latter sense, is can be substituted with equals (=).
With that appreciation in place, we can now observe an undisclosed disconnect from what x is, (found in 1-7), to what x equals, (found in A-D). The basis for the inference found in A-D is sufficiently vague, which I trust will become apparent below. In other words, what does it mean that the Father is God? Does it, also, mean that God is the Father?
Points 1-3 (which utilize “is”) may merely suggest that three distinct persons all share the one divine essence and occupy “the same divine space” (perichoresis). Moreover, there is a qualified difference between each of the three persons when they are individually identified as God. Accordingly, the word “is” ought not to be taken to imply strict philosophical identity (in a creed no less!) without having first defined “God”.
Points A-D that follow (which utilize “=” instead of “is”) either creates, or uncovers, confusion (and possible paradox). Points 1-3 and A-D must be nuanced, for 1-3 does not imply the conclusion of A-D, which entails not only an apparent contradiction but rather, in light of 1-7, an ambiguity that keeps it (A-D) from being either coherent or contradictory. A-D suffers from an improper inference from 1-3. It needs clarification in light of the creed. The creed is not saying anything like God is not God, or the Son is not the Son! Hence, we may with confidence accept 1-7 without assuming it entails the paradox or actual contradiction implied in A-D.
Vague terms lead to unreliable conclusions:
If by God we mean the triune God, then obviously it is false that any divine person is God (i.e., the triune God). For instance, the Holy Spirit is not the Holy Trinity. Consequently, 1-3 is clearly false if God as Trinity is in view.
If by God we mean a divine person among other distinct divine persons, as opposed to a notion of the divine person, then 1-7 is orthodox, and D’s: f = s is not implied, alleviating the paradox in view. In other words, if each person of the Trinity is a distinct divine person (e.g. D1, D2 and D3), qualifying each as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit respectively, then the personal properties of each person undermine the transitivity maintained in A-D.
Implicit modalism put to rest:
Not only can God mean Trinity, which the Son is not, God can also mean the person of the Holy Spirit, which the Son is not. Finally, God can mean the person of the Father, which the Son is not. Accordingly, to say that “the Son is God” and the “Father is God” without further qualification can be equivocal, and if taken in light of the law of identity, (as inferred by A-D without defining God), implies modalism because identity is transitive. The Son and the Father would be one and the same person, which the creed does not imply.
We may say in a colloquial-theological sense the Father is God just as we may say the Son is God, as long as we have the biblical backing that an unshared personal property of the Father is that he is unbegotten while the Son is eternally begotten etc. Being distinct persons, there are differences of eternal origin among all three persons of the Trinity who are one in being. The Father is divine, but doesn’t exist apart from his intra-Trinitarian begetting of the Son. That to say, the Father is not God apart from being a distinct divine person of the undivided Trinity. These Trinitarian relationships are necessary and eternal properties of personhood, not essence (lest the Father is the Son etc). They undermine any serious charge of modalism.
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Amos, A Laity Model and Prophet for Our Times

Unfortunately, there are some who have succumbed to the lure of secular culture and promote those values as if biblical. And gladly in the midst of this, many lay elders, deacons, and congregational members remain faithful and speak to the current issues. They need to be heard, heeded, and respected.  Their “prophesying,” like Amos, on behalf of God’s Word and Christ’s commands deserves careful attention.

Amos is considered a minor prophet in the canon of Scripture. However, Amos asserted he is not a prophet: “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs.  But the Lord took me from following the flock and the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to the people of Israel” (Amos 7: 14-15).
Amos had been accused by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel to King Jeroboam, king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel . . . Then Amaziah said to Amos, ‘Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah and there eat bread and there do your prophesying!  But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.” 
Then Amos replied to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of a sycamore figs.  But the Lord took me from following the flock and the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.”
In today’s language here is a layman addressing a warning to the people of God, and he is then rebuked by a cleric.  Does that not speak to some similar situations in the church today?  Many clerics are coming out of what are considered conservative, orthodox seminaries, yet with cultural ideologies that are counter to biblical principles and truth.  And so it is left to lay leaders to stand up for maintaining  biblical principles and truths.
The book of Amos is applicable to today and a reminder that God is sovereign and will choose whom he wills to address serious issues confronting his covenant people both in the Old Testament and in the universal Church today.
The Church in every generation is confronted with false teachings of every type. The present time is no exception where specific issues like race and sexual identity are front and center. By whom are these issues usually framed? Sadly, mostly by those who are clergy and the seminaries that influenced them. As a result, it falls to lay leaders lay church members to resist these incursions into the church. They desire to remain steadfast to the divine revelation of God regarding human depravity, that all, regardless of race or sexual identities, “…have fallen short of the glory of God.” And further, that God created male and female and instituted marriage by which they would express sexual relationships. 
There is no intent here to discount the importance of clergy in the life of the church; many are faithful to God’s divine revelation and historic, orthodox Christianity. Unfortunately, there are some who have succumbed to the lure of secular culture and promote those values as if biblical. And gladly in the midst of this, many lay elders, deacons, and congregational members remain faithful and speak to the current issues. They need to be heard, heeded, and respected.  Their “prophesying,” like Amos, on behalf of God’s Word and Christ’s commands deserves careful attention.
Here is my plea to church leaders: recognize the voices of the laity, don’t silence them; listen to them.  They too are God’s instruments and servants to keep Christ’s Bride faithful to her Groom.
The message for us today is listen to Amos, a simple herdsman and grower of sycamore figs, not to Amaziah, the priest and the cleric; Amos is a forerunner and model for today’s Church. And to lay leaders: be faithful as Amos to your churches today.
Helen Louise Herndon is a member of Central Presbyterian Church (EPC) in St. Louis, Missouri. She is freelance writer and served as a missionary to the Arab/Muslim world in France and North Africa.
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On Eagles’ Wings

The Lord is teaching you to fly. To trust him. And if you fail, there is a gracious safety net. Look back and remember “what you yourselves have seen”—how the Lord has borne you up on eagles’ wings so many times before. Remember how he did it for Israel, not just here in the wilderness but countless times throughout their history.

In Exodus 19.4 God says that he bore his people on eagles’ wings. What does that mean? It’s a picture he returns to in Deuteronomy 32.11, where he says he dealt with Israel Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions…
When an eagle judges that its young are ready to fly, it pushes them out of the nest, forcing them to flap their wings and try to fly. If the eaglet isn’t able to do this immediately, it will drop like a stone. But the eagle swoops down underneath and catches its young and bears it up to safety. Then the process is repeated until the young bird learns how to use its wings. It sounds cruel—but it’s for the eaglet’s good. It needs to learn to fly and that will never happen in the security of the nest. But the mother is watchful, strong and swift to come to the rescue if needed.
That’s the Lord’s own description of those two or three months Israel has spent in the wilderness since leaving Egypt. The Lord has been disciplining his people, testing them and training them to trust him. Perhaps at times his methods have seemed harsh, even cruel.
Think of how he led the Israelites in a circle until they were trapped, with the Red Sea behind them and the whole Egyptian army racing towards them. How distressing that must have been for them! How damaging for their mental health! Ex 14.10 says that they ‘feared greatly’. But the Lord swooped down to catch them, parting the Red Sea and bringing them safely through.
Think of how he led them for three days with no water—right on the brink of what the human body can endure. He brought them to Marah where there was water—only for them to find the water was bitter! The Lord is tossing them out of the nest. Will they flap their wings of faith and fly? Will they trust him? No—so he swoops down to catch them and makes the water sweet.
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The Pastor as Steward

The same word is used in Titus 1:3, “And at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior.” Paul’s emphasis on this metaphor shows its importance for understanding the nature of ministry as a stewardship. Modern readers have a grasp on the meaning in the English, but to truly understand the text one must examine what it meant to Timothy. 

There are many metaphors for the pastor in the New Testament. He is compared to a shepherd, farmer, soldier, and a workmen to note a few. One often overlooked metaphor is the pastor as steward. The New Testament uses metaphors because they are a powerful communication tool that illicit a visual response in the readers mind and make a simple connection to clarify and sharpen the thing to which they are compared. The image not only invokes information but emotion.
Although, there are many metaphors in the pastoral epistles, I would argue the controlling or dominating picture is the estate stewardship metaphor. Paul states his purpose and his occasion in 1 Timothy 3:14, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.” Paul’s reason for writing is that he is concerned he may be delayed in coming to see Timothy and needs to make Timothy aware of what the church should be doing at Ephesus. The purpose of the letter is to stand in place of Paul himself to provide instruction how people are to behave in God’s house.
It is the introduction of this metaphor, the church as God’s household, that would strike the original reader. Modern households are anything but structured or uniformed, but first-century households conformed to strict rules according to the household code. Specifically, Paul is communicating specific instructions as one in authority to a subordinate.
The Apostle Paul was writing to Timothy to entrust a deposit that Timothy was then to steward according to the instructions of the letter. This stewardship language of “entrust” is used multiple times in Pauls’ epistles.
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