As we imperfectly love, instruct, and discipline our children, our heavenly Father perfectly loves, instructs, and disciplines us. God uses motherhood to fulfill His mission in us: to sanctify us and conform us to Christ’s image. We fulfill the mission of God as mothers as we glorify Him. When we serve our families, we are serving the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 3:24). Even before our efforts bear any other fruit, our obedience brings glory to God. This truth can bring encouragement when our parenting efforts feel futile.
When I was a teenager, my best friend and I loved to discuss parenting. We analyzed the parenting differences we saw in families around us and tried to connect the dots between parents’ actions and the children’s success. Sometimes the outcomes within a family varied widely, and we wanted to understand why. It’s no wonder that we both went on to be psychology majors in college.
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By David H. Linden — 2 months ago
Written by David H. Linden |
Monday, November 28, 2022
As a Side B lesbian, Rivera assists those who choose to become Side A, providing a stream of justifications for doing so. Her teaching is conducive to the LGBTQ way of life, part of the broad way: “… the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13). The narrow way, in her view, is littered with church inspired harms. By the end of Heavy Burdens, every moral and doctrinal barrier to gay expression has been knocked down, so that anyone bearing the name of Christ may, in “dishonorable passions” (Romans 1:26), live a vile life with a good conscience.
Heavy Burdens, Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church  By Bridget Eileen Rivera.
Bridget Eileen Rivera wrote Heavy Burdens to make a heartfelt appeal that Christians should allow differences of viewpoint concerning homosexuality in the church. She especially calls for a humble, gospel-centered acceptance of LGBTQ siblings who in facing exclusionary attitudes are very often rebuffed in the evangelical church. Rivera, “a celibate lesbian,” considers such exclusion a condemning dismissal of brothers and sisters in Christ who should be embraced as genuine children of God. She speaks only of those who profess faith in Christ and is not approving of all homosexual activity. Her pointed focus is on churches which profess the Christian gospel, and in great inconsistency refuse to include people Jesus has taken in.
Here I am trying to state themes in her book objectively and fairly, while not letting my readers know whether I agree with Rivera. My difference with her book is very broad and will appear in the pages that follow. To adopt her viewpoint, in my conviction, is to run though many biblical warnings into a darkness contrary to the bright holiness of God. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14), a warning which applies just as vigorously to heterosexual sin. Though writing to an evangelical audience, Ms. Rivera does not flinch in arguing for covenantal marriage between two persons of the same gender. It is not stated in an in-your-face manner, but the book opens a door to male with male marriage contrary to God’s creation and his law. She does not advocate promiscuity in anyone. She is not a proponent of the wild activity in a gay bar.
We should also note upfront that Rivera appeals that we cease treating gender as fixed by our biology, because, in her view, we cannot be so sure of what gender really is anyway. Towards the end of the book we find she targets the church’s rejection of both same-sex marriage and of gender identity established by biology. The two are often referred to together. Transgenderism is in; gender by creation out. She defers to those who switch gender and pronouns which convey gender. So “he” is not for a he who wants to be a she.
In Heavy Burdens, Rivera lays out seven harmful things done to gays or those with gender instability by various churches. The testimonies recount the experiences of 18 Christians. Some of the treatment they received is so repugnant as to make one wonder if any church with a smattering of grace could act in such a cruel fashion. These very emotional testimonies (all negative) lead to views Rivera is encouraging with much purpose. She does not dodge dealing with some biblical material and chooses her texts carefully. Concerning Romans 1:27, she gives much more on Roman culture than on Paul’s actual words in that chapter. 1 Timothy 1:9-11 receives no attention except as a reference. She interacts with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. But Leviticus 18 and 20 receive no mention at all. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). To omit Leviticus is to avoid a staunch text. She just avoids it.
A Review of the Burdens
Here is my condensation of the seven burdens Rivera highlights, with which, according to her, the church has harmed LGBTQ Christians:
Rivera says evangelicals do not require celibacy for themselves (they may marry another heterosexual). They insist on mandatory celibacy for gays, (a gay may not marry another gay) no matter their degree of burning passion. In this unkind way churches harm. Her effort to legitimize same-sex marriage begins here (p. 39).
Queer Christians are viewed as pathological sinners to whom grace is not shown by Christians, even though they too are sinners saved by the grace of God. The grace shown to many Christians by God is not extended to LGBTQ people (p. 63). (She does not use “queer” as a pejorative word.)
Many in the church, of all places, blindly treat homosexuals as the evil behind other evils. Thereby they act in contradiction to the gospel they supposedly espouse. Gays in their minds are the enemy, not fellow sinners who may partake of the gospel graciously extended to all (p. 84). 
“… Most heterosexual Christians believe the Bible to be incredibly complex when it comes to questions that they themselves ask about traditional teaching, such as the use of contraceptives. But when it comes to LGBTQ issues and how they read, the Bible is suddenly “clear” (p. 110).
On gender roles, she observes that the church argues for male dominance (meaning dominance over women), while the role of women is to be submissive. She thinks that these traits define men and women for many evangelicals.
All human beings are in the image of God (Genesis 1:26,27), nevertheless many Christians portray queer Christians as being in the image of their sex, and only in that degraded image, as if there were not more to being in the image of God. When their humanity is rejected, real humans are viewed as just monkeys (p. 158).
People who are neither cisgender nor heterosexual should be allowed to ask questions about their sexual feelings without being pounced on for revealing the “wrong” attraction or definition of themselves.  She continues, “This means that any question that an LGBTQ person might ask about sexual ethics and gender identity risks their eternal salvation. LGBTQ people must get it right from the start or go to hell” (p. 179, emphasis added).
It was a good exercise for me to see if I could express her complaints about the church accurately. What her book should do for those of us who reject homosexuality in any form (you now know my position) is to point the finger at pride in our “normalness” and expose sub-Christian attitudes toward people made in the image of God.
The gospel is mentioned frequently. Rivera never calls on gays to repent of their homoerotic inclinations or of sexual activity in bed. The gospel calls for faith in Christ. She affirms, “… We know that salvation is through Christ alone by faith alone through grace alone according to Scripture alone to the glory of God alone” (pp. 208-209). However, genuine faith cannot coexist with sin clinging to in rebellion to the Lord. Faith without repentance is impossible.
We begin with Romans 1. Right off we are coached that the background is the key to the text. Somehow Rivera claims the passage is not about men lying with men, because it could possibly be a text condemning only contraceptive sex. Yes, that is a surprise. True sex intending no offspring used to be more condemned than now. Interpretations change, so perhaps Romans 1 is simply opposing sex that is “nonprocreative.” She found support for this from a cleric in the 4th century. Of course, if that is what the apostle meant in Romans 1, homosexual sex is condemned also, because it cannot produce children. Rivera has grasped at a straw to divert attention away from what the text actually condemns. She transforms Romans 1:27 to: “It wasn’t the fact that two men or two women were having sex that horrified early Christians. Rather, it was the fact that they subverted procreation.”
In the section Contraceptive Sex (pp.102-104) she quoted Calvin on Genesis 38 where he spoke of sex designed to avoid conception. That again is the angle Rivera wishes for us to adopt in Romans 1. It is a red herring. She finds no support in Calvin when he speaks of what Romans 1:26 really means. In his commentary he says,
“ … Men have not only abandoned themselves to bestial desires, but have become worse than beasts, since they have reversed the whole order of nature … We must … take it that Paul is here dealing with those monstrous deeds which had been common in all ages, and were at that time universally prevalent. It is astonishing how frequently this abominable act, which even brute beasts abhor, was then indulged in.”
Rivera cannot say that the abominable act Calvin had in mind was nonprocreative sex. In 1 Timothy 1:9, Calvin refers to same-sex sex as, “shameful lusts,” and in 1Corinthians 6, gay sex is a “crime, the most abominable of all — that monstrous pollution which was but too prevalent in Greece.” Strong words. Calvin knew Scripture spoke about men with men and women with women.
“The Complexity of Scripture” 
Rivera thinks we are too quick to avoid other understandings of the text and that these texts, like Romans 1, are unclear, probably not about homosexual intercourse at all, but whether or not a couple is avoiding conception. She labors to show that scholars differ and wonders if it has all come down to just getting the right answers from opaque texts. In this way Heavy Burdens sidesteps the thrust of onerous warnings. She asks whether it is necessary to pursue answers to such questions just to avoid hell. She dismisses the need of right answers – why not say the need of truth – as if obedience to God is merely academic. What she will not admit is that the sexual activity of gays and lesbians, and the lusts behind it, is clearly sinful. 
To put a damper on Scripture, she boldly departs from reformed theology. The denial of biblical clarity is nothing less than rampant in Heavy Burdens. Near the end of the book, we are told, “Insisting that the Bible is ‘clear’ on LGBTQ questions, when, in fact it’s pretty complicated is one of the church’s greatest failures of the past century” (p. 198, emphasis added). She has replaced perspicuity with doubt.  It is a slice of the old “Yeah, hath God said?” Concerning 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, she says, “There is nothing clear about it!” (p. 95; see also p. 192). In this way she turns our all-wise God into a poor communicator.
To prevent the condemnation of same-sex marriage, a cloud of doubt is needed, and Rivera supplies it. She makes a huge difference between sin and righteousness comparable to different views we have about baptism. She pleads, “If we can differ in our understanding of baptism and other sacraments, certainly we can differ in our understanding of marriage” (p. 185). In other words, one’s view on same-sex marriage is not a basic element in Christian faith and life. We differ on baptizing infants, and we still consider those who differ as brothers when we believe the gospel. Rivera’s thought moves suddenly from the doubtful meaning in Scripture to certainty itself, so surely we can also differ on who may marry. That is a tremendous leap in certainty! Our salvation does not depend on a certain view of baptism, so she deduces that our different convictions on marriage should not matter much. Thus homosexual marriage becomes as acceptable as one’s view of how water meets a person being baptized. By this comparison a vile sexual union has been made trivial.
The problem is that Scripture is utterly clear on who may marry whom. Note how well the attack on biblical clarity works for her. The more things she can find with no consensus, the more comparisons she can use to picture varieties of marriage as acceptable including the homosexual kind. She has taken a huge step towards the forbidden, but then she comforts those she has frightened with, “That doesn’t mean we disagree on the essentials of the Christian faith” (p. 187). “Christianity doesn’t rise and fall over our beliefs about sexual ethics …” (p.187). If we adopt her reasoning, we join her in allowing pagan life into the church, while she accuses conservatives of pagan views of gender (p. 200). She speaks as an insider (Acts 20:29), conversant with the language of reformed theology.
To urge peace, a peace of accepting something God calls abominable in Leviticus 18:22, she counsels, “It’s time we learned to cooperate” (p. 187). Same-sex marriage is not a place to draw a line in the sand (p. 188). We must “make space for differences of belief on the definition of marriage” (p. 190). Goodbye to any requirement that marriage is between a man and woman. We should even allow gays married to their own kind into positions of leadership in the Lord’s church (p. 190) including the pulpit. Bridget Eileen Rivera angles for radical change, and it is happening.
Subjective Reasoning, an Alternative to Scripture
Heavy Burdens has disputed the clarity of Scripture, but Rivera must still find some positive support for the same-sex marriages she is justifying. So far she has majored in doubt, but her departure from tradition begs for help. She does not try to find it in the absolutes of the Bible, so she will head into an area outside objective truth – into the sin-defending depravity of a sinner’s heart, one unaware it has deceived itself.
Since in Rivera’s estimation “there is nothing clear about” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, how shall people know what the will of God is? She testifies, “I know few people who spend as much time as queer believers in searching Scripture for God’s revealed will …” (p.206). That, please note, does not indicate what passages convince them, so that those verses can enlighten others who think God designed marriage only for a man and a woman. We are left to accept her assurance that these students of Scripture are diligent and sincere to obey the will of God. She is convinced that in unbiased integrity they have arrived at truth about what the Bible really means. She accepts their testimony, and we should accept her persuasion of their sincerity. She counsels, “In the end, we must learn to embody our convictions in a way that is faithful to the Holy Spirit’s witness in our lives without denying the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of other people” (p. 187, emphasis added). Our Bibles we can read. This she has warned against elsewhere in Heavy Burdens as pretty complicated, so instead of the Bible there is the Spirit’s secret witness, which we cannot read, but it must be there (dare I say with clarity?) within the hearts of gays seeking to discern God’s holy standard. But do not worry about what the outcome may be, for Rivera continues to assure with, “Far from following their feelings or the tides of cultural change they [the LGBTQ Christians] want to submit to God’s will” (p. 206). She has lost touch with the reality of how very deceitfully sin works in us. Hear the counsel of God’s Word:
“The devising of folly is sin …” (Proverbs 24:9) So, “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly” (Psalm 85:8). “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7,8).
Rivera wants us to see how traditionalists have handled the Bible. Their “belief system” is simply an accommodation to their needs and desires (p. 193). So if harming churches can come up with an accommodating doctrine, perhaps homosexuals can also construct the kind of marriage that suits their desires! This is where Heavy Burdens has headed. She has turned against Sola Scriptura.
The solution for Rivera is simple; we must have good faith in the sincere efforts of gay Christians handling Scripture. On the same page she repeats her plea, “We can do our best to be faithful to the witness of Scripture while affirming the best efforts of our siblings in Christ to also be faithful to the witness of Scripture” (p. 187). This also assumes that those involved in abominable marriages are true siblings in Christ and are sincere in their study. To proceed, she thinks we should allow up front that same-sex marriage is not a place to draw a line in the sand (p. 188). We should just accept that the gays who say they are Christians really are. I reply if they really draw their convictions from Scripture, they can show there what convinces them so we may consider it as well.
Rivera says churches which have required “adherence to the heterosexual definition of marriage” have a long history of abuse toward LGBTQ people (p. 188). So she calls for “a radically different approach” (p. 189). She wants churches to make space for different definitions of marriage (p. 190, emphasis added). The way to stop the harm is to cave in to their demands on marriage and gender. She urges that we give LGBTQ Christians space to wrestle with Scripture to “make sense out of the biblical narrative” (p. 198). Apparently, the complicated Bible will be clear to them, even if unclear to most churches. Thus the objective Word of God committed to writing should yield to the subjective feelings of persons gripped by unnatural desire to decide for us all what is pleasing to God. To fail to do this, in her judgment, is tantamount to “denying the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of other people” (p. 187).
Rivera then recommends a dozen books. Half defend same-sex marriage and the other half defends same-sex attraction, a common euphemism for homosexual lust. In other articles I have mostly sought to refute the second set of authors, plus one on the 2021 decision of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those who want LGBTQ thinking welcomed in the church are on a roll.
Can A Person Be Both Gay And Christian?
Rivera often speaks of LGBTQ siblings in Christ and LGBTQ Christians, and does it so often that due attention is needed to this. On page 166 we read, “… Bryan conclude[d] that being both gay and Christian is impossible, contradicting the life-giving message of Jesus Christ…” Out of all hearts, and not just the hearts of wicked people, come such sins as: “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15: 19). We were all in our sin when we were saved. But the gospel is not God’s acceptance of us without the purpose to react to our sins. God is determined to change us; he gives his Holy Spirit to do so. When God calls, he grants repentance (Acts 11:18; 20:21) from impure desire. Our sin is weakened as God works repentance more and more. So yes, a person will continue to have impure desires which co-exist with our changed hearts in the new covenant, BUT the Spirit wars against our remaining carnality (Galatians 5:17), so that we become less and less a contradiction of sinfulness and righteousness. Anguish in such a situation is not surprising, and is not the fault of a church calling for transformation. We should never be at peace with any sin. The solution is not to cave to sin as just some everyday natural phenomenon, because “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Proverbs 4:18).
Rivera resolves the tension by rejecting shame and pointing the finger at the church’s requirement of righteousness. In her gospel paradigm, she argues that the Holy Spirit brings life not condemnation, and he does. But she forgets that “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). She fails to grasp that a desire for an abominable thing (Leviticus 18:22) is itself an abominable thing, and that shame for impurity is healthy and appropriate (Romans 6:21). To be without any transformation from sinful desires, or desire for such relief, is a denial of the Spirit’s life-giving work. Real change of heart is promised in the new covenant to all who have been united to Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; Hebrews 8:10; 10:14). To say, “My sexual desire for someone of my gender never diminishes, therefore accept me as I am” is to say, “The Spirit does not work in me,” and that is a way to proclaim that life in Christ has not begun. Instead of caving in to sinful desires, we must heed the apostle’s counsel: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2Corinthians 7:1) Paul’s call for cleansing expresses a true Christian ethic that lays duty on us, but gospel progress is a reality because God works in us to bring holiness to completion (Philippians 1:6). He does this in a ministry to us that enables the will of redeemed people to pursue what is holy (Philippians 2:13). Gayness will therefore fade in every Christian as well as desire for heterosexual fornication. Christians can say that Christ Jesus has made us his own. Perfection awaits the day of Christ, but until then we press on because of the upward call of God (Philippians 3:12-14). Rivera does not intend to proclaim shameless continuance in sin, but not calling for repentance in LGBTQ people fosters living in sin. 
Does The Holy Spirit Take A Pass On Certain Sins?
One issue we have seen in the PCA shows up in Heavy Burdens when Rivera speaks of “sin we never noticed and therefore never repented of.”  And more, we “will reach the end of our life with sins never addressed…” (p. 169). Others proclaim that the expectation of change in this life is an over-realized eschatology, a form of triumphalism which confuses eventual glorification with current progress in righteousness. When Rivera says, “Every child of God … grows in righteousness” (p. 169) she is right, but then (with blinders) she delves into exceptions, which in this book is whether same-sex sexual desire is sin. It is unrealistic that her book for “LGBTQ Christians” would speak of sin never noticed when homosexuality demands to be. The book is about sin which claims it is not sin. The sins Rivera prefers to target are those of churches which reject LGBTQ licentiousness.
This is part of an argument that the Lord will fix everything later, so let us admit gays to pulpits and cease resisting their self-serving interpretations of Scripture. Reformed teaching asserts that sanctification involves the entire person, so it is active in every area of life. God by his Spirit is making his sons and daughters to be like Christ.
Misrepresentations in Heavy Burdens
For me as a married male, the suggestion that we think that “femininity is an inferior expression of humanity” (p. 126) is revolting to hear. Real men love their wives, treasure them, and we would lay down our lives to protect them. We do not think there is anything inferior in being a woman. Women are not responsible for male lust (p. 194), though they can choose to provoke it. Our delight in our wives is not just a masculine expression of power. Most chapters in Heavy Burdens begin with a story of some harm, which could be factual, but are not realistic representatives of most Bible believing churches. Rivera does not argue from Scripture as much as from victims and builds a book upon them.
The gospel is often stated in positive terms. Saved, saving, salvation, and Savior come up throughout the book on many pages, but the saving power of Christ to liberate from a life of sexual sin (of every kind) is absent. Thereby our Lord is represented as a partial Savior.  The only way Heavy Burdens could overlook that in a book like this is because same-sex sin is not recognized as real sin. This is consistent with so much about unconditional love while warnings are absent. In this way, love itself is misrepresented. Love seeks salvation, but many want love of the approving kind, while rejecting the love that saves from sin. Warnings of eternal destruction are evaporating from the church, warnings it is unloving to ignore. Many will face pure terror when the Savior says, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
The way of holiness is now being moderated by the desires of the flesh. Straight males have a cure for their passions by marrying a woman in whom a man has a sexual interest. It is God in 1 Corinthians 7:9 who holds up marriage as the answer to that burning passion. Rivera argues: since celibacy is not forced on heterosexuals because they may marry, then gays must have the same right. Thus homosexual marriage is defended as a solution for homosexual passions. Avoiding the clarity of Leviticus 18:22, she argues that celibacy should not be forced on gays by a harming church. She has written a license to sin. And the church is a big bully if it seeks to prohibit it.
Bridget Eileen Rivera is a celibate gay woman; she knows what a woman is well enough to call herself one. On one hand, she has associated with Side B homosexuals who decline all physical sex outside marriage; most of them from a conviction that marriage by definition must be between a man and a woman. Rivera personally shares that tradition, but serves nevertheless as an apologist for the rightness of homosexual marriage. Rosaria Butterfield is right; there really is a “highway” from Side B over to Side A, and the author of Heavy Burdens is one of its builders. The Christian church is called by this prophetess to allow a new kind of holiness in the name of the Lord Jesus. Rivera has studied and worked hard to overthrow Biblical texts. She should be very sobered, even frightened by Romans 1:32: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
In Heavy Burdens a gay, celibate, single, young woman opens a door to darkness. As a Side B lesbian, Rivera assists those who choose to become Side A, providing a stream of justifications for doing so. Her teaching is conducive to the LGBTQ way of life, part of the broad way: “… the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13). The narrow way, in her view, is littered with church inspired harms. By the end of Heavy Burdens, every moral and doctrinal barrier to gay expression has been knocked down, so that anyone bearing the name of Christ may, in “dishonorable passions” (Romans 1:26), live a vile life with a good conscience. In the guise of grace, Rivera calls on the church to stop being Christian and to choose interpretations of Holy Scripture which accommodate sexual passions.
Those who eat from this tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in Rivera’s opinion, should still be considered siblings in Christ. And in her estimation they are people in love with Jesus. The Lord defines those who love him differently: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21) finds no home in Heavy Burdens. The real Jesus “restores my soul” and leads in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3). Salvation comes to the one who believes him.
Rivera’s inclusiveness is in tune with the spirit of the age. The wrath of God already exists, though restrained in his patience and mercy. It will descend on those who disobey (and rewrite) the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). It is better to tremble now (Isaiah 66:2) than quake later (Revelation 6:15-17). In the Apostle’s words, the Lord gives an appraisal of this kind of libertine thinking in this book when Paul wrote:
For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret (Ephesians 5:5-12).
David Linden is a retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America; he lives in Delaware.
 Published by Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. Page numbers are from this book.
 Leading with personal testimonies which express pain is a trend in arguing social issues lately. I wrote of the change in The Presbyterian Church in Canada; their communication on homosexuality began in the same way: https://theaquilareport.com/the-tormented-decision-of-the-presbyterian-church-in-canada/
 Rivera references Rosaria Butterfield’s article Are We Living Out Romans 1? | Desiring God. I recommend Rosaria’s article. Rivera does not. It helps to know what she is rejecting.
 I use “homosexual” as it is used in popular speech. Rivera does not use that word for gay people. She has a good point. The Bible condemns same-sex activity, but does not assert that gay orientation is a real category.
 Wise theologians never present the image of God as having any impact on us physically. It is totally a likeness apart from our bodies, things like conscience, creativity, love, and justice.
 A cisgender person claims the gender determined by his or her biology. Essentialism, another word in this context, identifies gender by biology alone.
 A phrase found in p. 192
 One of the more pathetic debates in the PCA is whether the desire for an abominable thing is itself an abominable desire. Of course, it is.
 Since Rivera has much in common with Presbyterian tradition, we note that the Westminster Confession of Faith says in 1:7: “Not all things in Scripture are equally plain in themselves or equally clear to all. Yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly stated and explained in one place or another in Scripture, that not only the educated, but the uneducated, may gain a sufficient understanding of them by a proper use of ordinary means” (emphasis added). From this clarity Rivera has departed. Pray for her.
 Rivera mentions baptism 28 times in pp. 183-188. It became her favorite analogy.
 The Tormented Decision on Homosexuality of The Presbyterian Church in Canada
 See the excellent article on identity by David Garner: https://gospelreformation.net/a-response-to-greg-johnsons-interview/
 On p. 168, Rivera sees that “the work of Christ entails a change of heart.” That is good Christian teaching, but will she admit that a change of heart by biblical definition involves cleansing from dishonorable passions (Romans 1: 26)? She is resolute in not connecting sanctification to homosexual desire. She then speaks in the same sentence of “a spiritual circumcision that secures a person’s belonging to God” (p. 168, emphasis added). For all of her detailed acquaintance with reformed theology, she has blundered into reversing sanctification and justification. We belong to Christ based on his obedience and sacrifice, which occurred outside our lifetime. We contribute nothing to secure our “belonging to God” by means of our walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). This is so even though our spiritual circumcision is the Spirit’s work in us. Rivera has reversed an irreversible order. Sanctification is a promised blessing which flows from a change of status we did nothing to secure. In every Christian, the Spirit weakens the Christian’s remaining sin.
 I have written on sanctification much more in The Aquila Report in two articles: Undiminished Sin: Missouri Presbytery’s Fading Doctrine of Sanctification (Part 1), and also Another Assessment of Missouri Presbytery’s Response to Homosexuality and the Christian Life (Part 2).
 Rivera is well versed in a reformed terminology. Elsewhere, she speaks in detail of the PCA, the Presbyterian Church in America, and has familiarity with its documents and issues. I am a minister in the PCA. End note 10 of chapter 7, p. 226 reveals her firsthand acquaintance with the PCA, of which she may even be a member. She and I are on opposite sides in the ongoing PCA debate. The church in St. Louis in the middle of this debate voted on November 18 to leave the PCA.
 Carl Trueman observes, “One can valorize the gay movement and its categories but only on the basis of destabilizing those of the old regime—those heterosexual norms of behavior and identity against which the gay movement defined itself.” https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2022/10/gay-vs-queer
 The Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 30: Q. Do those who seek their salvation or well-being in saints, in themselves, or anywhere else, also believe in the only Savior Jesus? A. No. Though they boast of him in words, they in fact deny the only Savior Jesus. For one of two things must be true: either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or those who by true faith accept this Savior must find in him all that is necessary for their salvation.
By Ryan Biese — 5 months ago
The mere abstinence from sodomite conduct – while at the same time speaking about, attending conferences focused on, and writing about one’s sodomite lust – is hardly to be considered “above reproach” (cf. 1 Tim 3), to “adorn the profession of the gospel” (cf. BCO 21-5, 24-6), or to be “free from all taint of what is lewd or salacious.” Bare abstinence from all sexual conduct does not meet the minimum standard for Christian behavior. All Christians – whether single or married – are called to chastity, so the claim of celibacy is not enough to show oneself called and qualified for church office.
In the Presbyterian Church in America, it seems we disagree on where “the line” is to be drawn for church officers and what it means to be “above reproach.” Our presbyteries are debating whether to ratify Overture 15 (Item 1) which reads:
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.
I believe the debate centers on the extent to which worldly concepts and ideas are permitted to shape the way potential officers conceive of and describe themselves. We disagree on how closely a man may come to describing himself according to his unnatural desires and still be qualified to serve Christ and His people in ordained office. It seems some see this debate as centered on simply, how worldly can a man be and not be disqualified?
I. The Main Debate: “homosexual”
Some argue there is nothing wrong with an officer who experiences sodomite lust being described by the national media as “gay.” They see nothing necessarily wrong with a man who conceives of himself as a homosexual ministering as an ordained officer in Christ’s Church. One side of the PCA insists a man who confesses to be homosexual is simply acknowledging unwanted same-sex attraction, which is no worse than a man acknowledging an unwanted attraction for a woman not his wife.
But others insist that while we may name our sins, we are not named by our sins. They argue for a man to describe himself according to his sinful lusts disqualifies him from ordained ministry. Their concern is that describing oneself as “gay” or “homosexual” indicates the man has bought into – or at least is unduly influenced by – a Post Modern Worldview in which the self and sexuality are virtually indistinguishable. Carl Trueman’s diagnosis is helpful to explain the concerns of many of those in the 54% of the General Assembly who voted to pass Overture 15:
The idea that sexuality is identity is now basic and intuitive in the West, and this means that all matters pertaining to sex are therefore matters that concern who we are at the deepest level. Sex is identity, sex is politics, sex is culture.1
As Trueman explains, the culture in which we minister views sex as fundamental to identity. Thus, many in the PCA argue a potential officer who describes himself according to a disordered and unnatural sexuality crosses the line of propriety and reveals such a man has succumbed to the disease Trueman has diagnosed in the wider society.
But there is another, less considered, part of Overture 15 (Item 1).
II. An Overlooked Aspect of the Conversation: “celibacy”
One recent author has claimed2 the PCA and other Bible-believing denominations have had same-sex-attracted ministers for generations who have ministered faithfully to the church in a lifestyle of celibacy.3
But the PCA constitution requires more than celibacy for faithful Christians and especially of men called to be officers in Christ’s Church. Celibacy for unmarried Christians is only the beginning of sexual faithfulness.
I am aware in our Post Modern Age that appealing to a dictionary for a definition is a rather risky proposition, but nonetheless: Merriam-Webster defines celibacy as follows:
not engaging in or characterized by sexual intercourse; abstaining from marriage and sex especially because of a religious vow.
But our confessional standards require more than celibacy, but rather chastity:
The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labor in all our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto (WLC138).
In our hyper-sexualized society, it might be easy to conflate celibacy and chastity, but they are not strictly synonyms.4 While they do have significant definitional overlap, they are different, yet related concepts. Merriam-Webster on chaste:
implies a refraining from acts or even thoughts or desires that are not virginal or not sanctioned by marriage vows; innocent of unlawful sexual intercourse; pure in thought and act; free from all taint of what is lewd or salacious.
Single Christians and married Christians are alike called to chastity. Chastity includes not simply abstinence from fornication, but also the setting of a guard over our thoughts, desires, and company that they all be chaste.
1 Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 299.
2 n.b. the author’s use and appropriation of historical sources has recently been called into question by M. D. Perkins and the Presbytery of the Ascension (PCA).
3 Greg Johnson, Still Time to Care (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2021). See also this podcast episode for a similar claim.
4 Indeed Merriam-Webster does seem to note the words are becoming conflated. But our Confessional Standards nonetheless recognize a difference between the requirements of chastity versus celibacy.
By Kim Riddlebarger — 7 months ago
The prophet will endure the three days and nights as a man made ready to receive and obey YHWH’s call. Having completed his ordeal and preparation, the sovereign God will ensure that Jonah’s mission resumes.
The Fate of the Reluctant Prophet
It is impossible to imagine the misery Jonah endured for those three days and nights he spent in the belly of a huge fish–both his tomb and his salvation. Jonah’s distress is great–it is that of a dying man. Yet, Jonah is not dying. Beyond all human expectation, YHWH sent a huge fish to rescue the “reluctant prophet” from certain death in a watery grave. Jonah’s entombment in the fish is neither the end nor even the high point of the Jonah story. But it is the literary hinge upon which the story turns from Jonah’s flight from YHWH to the fulfillment of his prophetic mission in Nineveh.
The Prophecy of Jonah opens with YHWH commissioning Jonah to go and preach to the Ninevites, something which Jonah refused to do. Attempting to flee from YHWH’s call, Jonah boarded a ship bound for Tarshish. But YHWH sent a great storm which threatened both Jonah’s ship and its crew. Realizing that it was his sin that was the cause of the storm, Jonah was confronted by the pagan crew–whose own gods were of no help in calming the storm. Unless the storm ceased and soon, all onboard would be dead. Jonah told the crew who he was, what his mission entailed, and that unless the crew threw him overboard, they would not be spared. The frightened crew did exactly that–they threw Jonah into the sea where he was certain to drown.
The moment Jonah was off the ship, YHWH relented, calmed the storm, and delivered the crew, who witnessed YHWH’s great power. The grateful crew offered YHWH sacrifices of thanksgiving. But unbeknownst to them, YHWH miraculously rescued Jonah. At this point, Jonah’s story turns from an account of his flight from Nineveh, to a time of prayer and repentance (chapter 2), which are the preparation for the fulfillment of YHWH’s greater purpose that the gospel be preached in Nineveh (chapter 3), Jonah’s ultimate mission.
As we have seen in prior installments, the Book of Jonah is neither an allegory nor a moralistic fable designed to teach the reader that opposition to the will of God is futile. No doubt, attempting to run from God is one of the most foolish things we can do. But the underlying message of Jonah is not the usual moralizing object lesson–obey God’s call or else suffer the consequences. The Prophecy of Jonah reveals that it is YHWH’s redemptive purpose to save Gentiles who are outside of his covenant with Israel. While dwelling in Canaan (the promised land) YHWH intended his people (Israel) to serve as witnesses of his holiness and righteousness to the neighboring Gentiles nations. Once the unified nation of Israel (as in the days of David and Solomon) was divided by a civil war and the Northern Kingdom became more and more apostate and disobedient to YHWH’s covenant, Israel was no longer a faithful witness, but instead became a sad illustration of happens to those who reject YHWH’s gracious covenant promises and protection in exchange for a helping of pagan porridge.
As Israel failed in its role as YHWH’s witness, covenant judgment came upon the nation as foretold by the prophet Amos and described by Hosea, the last of the prophets YHWH sent to the Northern Kingdom). During the days of Hosea’s ministry (he appears shortly after Amos and Jonah) the Assyrians invaded and conquered Israel, decimating its people. Since Israel failed to be YHWH’s witness to the nations, YHWH calls Jonah to serve as a prophetic witness to the Gentiles–Jonah is to preach in Nineveh, the very heart of the pagan Assyrian empire.
Jonah the Patriot
But Jonah was a Jewish patriot and deeply hated the Assyrians (Israel’s current enemy). Jonah even claims that he would rather die than see the Assyrians converted through his preaching (Jonah 4:3). So, like the nation from which he hailed, at least initially, Jonah also fails in his role as YHWH’s witness to the neighboring Gentiles. He refuses to obey YHWH’s prophetic call and attempts to flee to Tarshish only to discover that you cannot escape from YHWH. YHWH’s word will be preached in Nineveh, by Jonah, and to great effect just as YHWH decreed.
Jonah’s reaction to his miraculous deliverance from certain death is revealed in the second chapter of his prophecy. Somehow surviving in the belly of a large fish appointed by YHWH to save him, once inside the fish Jonah might have thought it would have been far better had YHWH simply let him die. It is hard to think of a more uncomfortable and miserable environment. In this “song of deliverance” (Jonah 2:1-10) also known as “Jonah’s prayer,” we learn of Jonah’s change of heart which leads him to go to Nineveh and preach in fulfillment of his divine call. Jonah shows himself to be quite familiar with the Psalter as his words and expressions frequently echo well known passages from the Psalms. In this, Jonah models how Christians ought to face pain and suffering–clinging to God’s words and promises. We also see Jonah’s expression of thanksgiving unto YHWH for delivering him from certain death, as well as an indication that now confined in the most difficult of conditions, Jonah will become a student of YHWH’s ways, and of YHWH’s mercy.