JC Ryle on Prayer
I dare not say that anyone believes until they pray. I cannot understand a dumb faith. The first act of faith will be to speak to God. Faith is to the soul what life is to the body. Prayer is to faith what breath is to the body. How a person can live and not breathe is past my comprehension, and how a person can believe and not pray is past my comprehension too.
JC Ryle’s little book – A Call To Prayer – is a great and easy little read. Here he is on private prayer as a mark of genuine conversion:
This is one of the common marks of all the elect of God, “They cry unto him day and night.” Luke 18:1. The Holy Spirit who makes them new creatures, works in them a feeling of adoption, and makes the cry, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15. The Lord Jesus, when he quickens them, gives them a voice and a tongue, and says to them, “Be dumb no more.” God has no dumb children. It is as much a part of their new nature to pray, as it is of a child to cry. They see their need of mercy and grace. They feel their emptiness and weakness. They cannot do other wise than they do. They must pray.
I have looked careful over the lives of God’s saints in the Bible. I cannot find one whose history much is told us, from Genesis to Revelation, who was not a person of prayer. I find it mentioned as a characteristic of the godly, that “they call on the Father,” that “they call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I find it recorded as a characteristic of the wicked, that “they call not upon the Lord.” 1 Peter 1:17; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Psalm 14:4.
I have read the lives of many eminent Christians who have been on earth since the Bible days. Some of them, I see, were rich, and some poor. Some were learned, and some were unlearned. Some of them were Episcopalians, and some were Christians of other names. Some were Calvinists, and some were Arminians. Some have loved to use liturgy, and some to use none. But one thing, I see, they all had in common. They have all been people of prayer.
I have studied reports of missionary societies in our own times. I see with joy that lost men and women are receiving the gospel in various parts of the globe.
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The Bible’s Plan for Sexuality Isn’t Outdated, Irrelevant, or OppressiveBy Tim Challies — 12 months ago
Pure is a good and helpful book that insightfully analyzes the shortcomings of the purity movement and offers a much better, much more compelling, and much more biblically-grounded vision for singleness, dating, marriage, and sex.
Do you remember the purity movement? Or perhaps it’s better to ask this: How could you possibly forget the purity movement? Though in many ways its aims were noble—sexual purity among teens and young adults—its methods were more than a little suspect and, in the long run, often even harmful. It framed sexual purity as a method that would gain a spouse rather than as obedience that would honor God; it led people to believe that those who had lost their virginity (or who had had it taken from them) were second-class citizens; it led those had maintained their virginity to believe they should expect God to reward them with a similarly virginal spouse and, once married, a wonderful sex life. Though these messages may not have been stated explicitly, they were not far under the surface. Not surprisingly, the movement left a trail of harm in its wake—one that the church is still reckoning with.
Dean Inserra witnessed this movement as an evangelical teen and now, years later, reflects on it in Pure: Why the Bible’s Plan for Sexuality Isn’t Outdated, Irrelevant, or Oppressive. This is not an academic examination of the movement but rather a kind of “now what?” analysis. “The purity culture of my youth launched a type of prosperity gospel wearing the disguise of piety. If I remain a virgin until marriage, God will give me a future spouse who did the same. In fact, they don’t deserve me if they failed to do what I did. The aftermath of this anti-gospel thinking is a trail of human brokenness.” With this trail of brokenness as his starting place, Inserra plots a better path toward purity and a better reason to maintain the Bible’s teaching on sexuality.
Does the PCA Ordain Homosexuals? Well, “Yes, But” or “No, But”By James Bruce — 8 months ago
When asked, “Does the PCA ordain homosexuals?” we cannot say, “We can neither confirm nor deny that the PCA ordains homosexuals.” We must either say, “Yes, the PCA ordains homosexuals, but men must claim celibacy from homosexual conduct in order to ordained,” or we will say, “No, but there may be men who count that amongst the temptations they resist.” Put succinctly, we will either be a “Yes, but” or a “No, but” denomination.
Overture 15, answered by General Assembly in the affirmative as amended, places Item 1 before the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Item 1 proposes the addition of a new, fourth paragraph to the Book of Church Order (BCO):
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.
In what follows, I’ll argue that Item 1 should be answered in the affirmative, for four reasons. The addition of this paragraph is (1) appropriate and (2) needed; (3) the issue it seeks to address is unavoidable; and (4) voting in the negative perpetuates one problem and creates another.
Overture 15 Is Appropriate
First, it is appropriate to add this paragraph to BCO Chapter 7: Church Officers-General Classification. Each paragraph in Chapter 7 deals with the disqualification of someone who may be accepted as a legitimate candidate for ordination in another denomination, but not in ours. Over its history, the PCA has used Chapter 7 to clarify whether church offices are open to charismatics, women, and those preferring a different church government.
Let’s take each paragraph in turn. From 1789, American Presbyterians have rejected the continuation of miraculous gifts. But the 1973 proposed text lacked a statement about gifts related to new revelation, something the PCA wanted to address directly. The second General Assembly adopted a pastoral letter on the issue suggesting that “any view of the tongues as experienced in our time which conceives of it an experience by which revelation is received from God is contrary to the finalized character of revelation in Scripture.” Unsurprisingly, then, the final sentence of BCO 7-1 says, “Such officers and gifts related to new revelation have no successors since God completed His revelation at the conclusion of the Apostolic Age.” PCA History notes, “The current PCA text dates to 1974 and the wording of this paragraph is that which was proposed by the Ad-Interim Committee on Charismatic Gifts.”
It’s appropriate for the PCA to inform those who think they have a special gift of divine revelation that they cannot seek ordination in the PCA. That’s not to exclude them from a PCA church; it’s to be helpfully honest about what they can expect. Remember, Chapter 7 of the BCO is on church officers, not on church membership or attendance.
Similarly, it’s appropriate for the PCA to inform women who think they are called to ordination that they cannot seek ordination in the PCA. Hence this sentence at the end of BCO 7-2: “In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only.” The change occurred in 1980. Since that time, women have not been excluded from PCA churches. On the contrary, they have flourished. Remember, Chapter 7 of the BCO is on church officers, not on church membership or attendance.
Finally, BCO 7-3 notifies would-be archdeacons, archbishops, cardinals, and popes that office holders in the PCA cannot “usurp authority” in the church, by claiming more than one vote in a church court, and that they cannot “receive any official titles of spiritual preeminence, except such as are employed in the Scriptures.” That’s not to exclude them from a PCA church; it’s to be helpfully honest about what they can expect. Remember, Chapter 7 of the BCO is on church officers, not on church membership or attendance.
Given the multiyear conversation about homosexuality we have had in the PCA, it’s appropriate for the PCA to speak on this issue, and the seventh chapter of the BCO is the place to do it. To put it another way, even if you think this particular change should be rejected, its location in the BCO can’t be a reason to reject it. If it’s needed, it’s appropriate to place this sentence in BCO 7, as that chapter serves as the place to clarify, lovingly, those who cannot pursue ordination in the PCA. If it belongs anywhere, it belongs here.
Overture 15 Is Needed
But is it needed? That’s the pressing question. The answer is yes. This paragraph achieves the compromise we have been seeking.
Though I voted for it on the floor of General Assembly, I did not add my name to the minority report as a member of the Overtures Committee, in part because I wondered whether Overture 15 was tight enough. I worried that this overture could provide an admittedly hypothetical person with the following defense: “I should be ordained, in spite of being completely beholden to homosexuality, simply because I do not describe myself as a homosexual.”
I think my initial reservations show how the language of this paragraph is a helpful compromise. Its adoption can help heal the divisions we face in the Presbyterian Church in America.
Think about the two sides of this controversy. One side of the debate worries we are sliding into gospel-abandoning cultural accommodation. I share that concern. It’s always a threat. But the other side of the debate fears we are illegitimately and ungraciously tightening our ordination requirements in a misguided culture war. I share that concern, too. It’s always a threat.
Overture 15 addresses both these concerns. This paragraph may not make anyone completely comfortable, but that’s a feature, not a bug. We are a deliberative assembly, after all.
First, saying that the PCA disqualifies some men because of what they say about themselves shows one side of the debate that the PCA is still a denomination willing to speak with the Bible against the culture. They can rest assured that Presbyteries in large metropolitan areas will not overlook an issue that has caused public scandal in their churches.
Similarly, focusing on what a man actually says avoids the concerns the other side has raised about witch hunts and psychobabble language. If a man has engaged in same-sex activity in the past or struggles against current same-sex attraction in the present, the addition of this fourth paragraph will serve as a protection for him if he seeks ordination. Saying that a man does not now describe himself as a homosexual mitigates against a Presbytery’s inappropriate allergic reaction to this particular sin. Those on this side of the debate can rest assured that, if this overture passes, then Presbyteries in Southern, seersucker parts of the country cannot illegitimately raise the requirement for holiness on this particular sin by itself.
Presbyteries should affirm Item 1, as Overture 15 helpfully addresses an issue we must address.
Overture 15 Addresses an Unavoidable Issue
Let’s be clear: This issue is unavoidable. If Item 1 fails, does anyone really think we won’t face other overtures again next year? There may be some who say they will always vote against any proposed change to the BCO that mentions homosexuality. I find this commitment demoralizing and unwise.
First, I find a commitment never to speak on this issue demoralizing because — forgive me — I want to stop talking about it. We have spent a not insignificant amount of time discussing this issue, and I don’t think I am the only one growing weary. We have been discussing it since 2018. Students can graduate from college or medical school in four years, and law school in three. Can’t we find something new to argue about?
Second, I find a commitment never to add language in the BCO on homosexuality unwise. Such an attitude preemptively denies what we hope to achieve in a deliberative body. If it’s not this particular overture, then what about something next year, or the year after that? It’s also unwise because if the principle is simply that we can’t speak against the ordination of any particular group, it cuts against the grain of the three paragraphs already in BCO 7. It also suggests that we may not need to add another paragraph at some time in the future about another issue, which is something we shouldn’t rule out in advance.
I am hopeful that the addition of this paragraph in the BCO will end our multiyear debate.
So, in summary, Item 1 is appropriate and needed, and it addresses an issue that is unavoidable.
Answering Overture 15 in the Negative Perpetuates One Problem and Creates Another
Now let’s turn from the benefits of answering this proposed amendment in the affirmative to the costs of answering it in the negative. Answering Item 1 in the negative will perpetuate one problem and create another.
First, answering this item in the negative will continue the confusion of what is expected of men who have same-sex attraction as part of their biographies. Continued uncertainty does a disservice to those coming forward for ordination. A man with a sensitive conscience may think himself ineligible for ordination when, in fact, he would sail through ordination in any Presbytery and could even serve as a model for holy living.
Imagine a man who is forthright about his struggles, in the appropriate context, but who affirms, along with the justly acclaimed Ad Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality, that “we name our sins, but are not named by them.” This man would never describe himself as a homosexual; adding this paragraph in the BCO will help him. Voting against this proposed addition deprives him of guidance and leaves us all in a crisis of ambiguity.
Second, we should recognize that answering this item in the negative will generate a new problem. The General Assembly has placed the denomination in a precarious position — in a way I did not realize when we voted last summer. If we say we will not add a paragraph saying that “men who describe themselves as homosexual” are disqualified from holding office, then it suggests, though it does not logically entail, that the PCA is comfortable with men describing themselves as homosexuals. I say “suggests” and not “entails” because to reject the addition of something does not require anyone to accept the addition of its opposite.
Even still, voting in the negative will suggest to people that the PCA is comfortable with its officers calling themselves homosexuals. When asked, “Does the PCA ordain homosexuals?,” we cannot say, “We can neither confirm nor deny that the PCA ordains homosexuals.” We must either say, “Yes, the PCA ordains homosexuals, but men must claim celibacy from homosexual conduct in order to ordained,” or we will say, “No, but there may be men who count that amongst the temptations they resist.” Put succinctly, we will either be a “Yes, but” or a “No, but” denomination.
Item 1 places before us a stark choice: Will we be a yes-but or a no-but denomination? “Yes, we ordain homosexuals, but . . .” or “No, we don’t ordain homosexuals, but . . .”? Will we be a denomination that ordains men who call themselves homosexuals, with caveats, or will we be a denomination that does not ordain such men, with caveats?
I voted in the affirmative on Item 1, because I think the PCA is a no-but and not a yes-but denomination. If we add this paragraph to the Book of Church Order, we will be able to say, when asked whether the PCA ordains homosexuals, that anyone calling himself a homosexual is disqualified for office, per BCO 7-4. If we do not add this paragraph, our people will continue to wonder what kind of denomination we are — and I will, too.
James Bruce is a professor of philosophy at John Brown University, the director of the Center for Faith and Flourishing, and an associate pastor of Covenant Church PCA in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Inerrancy and the Gospels: How to Handle Narrative DifferencesBy Jack Lee — 1 year ago
Defending the inerrancy of scripture can be a challenging task for the unprepared Christian. In the world today, there is no shortage of critical voices speaking out against the authority of scripture. Even within Christendom, some seem determined to undermine the bible’s inerrancy in every instance. Therefore, Christians need to be equipped to defend, not only their faith but also the scriptures on which the only true, ancient religion is based upon.
Due to the narrative-centric nature of the gospels, seeming contradictions can be troublesome for even the most devout of believers. The gospels give us 4 different representations of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Because of this, the same event can be recorded multiple times. What do we do when there appears to be a contradiction between two or more narratives?
A notable example of this can be seen in The Centurion Servant. If we compare the narratives in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, questions can be raised between the two accounts. Most notable is the role of the “elders of the Jews” and the centurion’s “friends”. As Vern Sheridan Poythress, Westminster Theological Seminary Professor, rightly points out in his book Inerrancy and The Gospels, “Luke does not indicate that the centurion meets Jesus face to face. By Contrast, in Matthew 8 there is no mention of the intermediaries. What do we say about this difference?” (pg. 19).
Poythress goes on to point out the possible explanations for this seeming contradiction. He guides the reader to think critically about the texts, nuances, authorship, and literary features. He points out that, due to the author’s background and objective, certain emphasis may be added in specific areas. Such instances are not meant to contradict but complement one another. Citing South African Theologian, Norval Geldenhuys, Poythress explains that likely “there were several stages in the encounter between Jesus and the centurion. The centurion first sent elders of the Jews, then sent friends, then came in person (pg. 19). Luke was led to emphasize different aspects of the narrative when compared to Matthew. The example sets the stage for the entire book.
I don’t often read a theology book in a single sitting. However, I did just that with Inerrancy and The Gospels. I highly recommend Poythress’ book to anyone desiring to understand the harmonization of the gospels better. The book is largely broken up into two sections. The first is centered on the basic principles for studying harmonization, and the second examines specific gospel problem texts. I found the principles section to be the most useful part of the book. It creates a brilliant groundwork for the reader to approach the gospels in a logical, practical, and faithful way.