The Slow Work of Sabbath Rest
Lord’s Day worship imperceptively reorients our affections towards heaven and away from earthly concerns, towards the eternal rather than those things that are passing away, to the way of the cross instead of our own comfort.
Whenever I get the opportunity to speak about worship in either a Sunday School series or an Inquirers class, I try to work in the following thought from Hart and Muether’s With Reverence and Awe:
God’s intention was to bless his people through the constant and conscientious observation of the [Sabbath], week after week and year after year. Believers are sanctified through a lifetime of Sabbath observance. In other words, the Sabbath is designed to work slowly, quietly, seemingly imperceptively in reorienting believers’ appetites heavenward. It is not a quick fix, nor is it necessarily a spiritual high. It is an ‘outward and ordinary’ ordinance, part of the steady and healthy diet of the means of grace.
In a world of quick fixes, easy steps, emotionalism, and intellectualism, Hart and Muether remind us of the slow and quiet work of the Spirit in congregational worship.
As the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches in Q. 88:
Q. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
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Actually, We Do Care (part 2): A Response To Greg Johnson’s ‘Still Time To Care’By Stephen Spinnenweber — 1 year ago
Heterosexual lust and homosexual lust are not the same qualitatively. Though they are both fallen and fall short of the glory of God, they are not fallen in the same way or for the same reason, which distinction Johnson does not make clear in his writing. Here it becomes necessary to make a distinction between sins that are contrary to nature and sins that are not.
In the previous article, we saw how Greg Johnson used only select portions of his conversation partners’ comments on human sexuality for the purpose of holding them up as examples of heterosexual Christians who “have a very shallow view of their indwelling sin—their own internal corruption” (139). In reality, however, the two parties appeared to agree more than Johnson let on in writing. Further, whether or not one believes Johnson rightly interpreted their comments is immaterial to my point. The question that needs to be answered is this: does Johnson indicate in Still Time to Care that the sexual attraction of a man to a woman other than his wife is according to nature? The question is not whether it is a sin or whether it is “God’s good design for sexuality.” Let me be very clear and say that sexually desiring, longing for, or lusting after anyone other than one’s spouse is sin. Jesus said so in Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I agree with Johnson that God’s “good design for sexuality” is for it to “exist within marriage” and extend no farther. A man’s sexual attractions should be limited exclusively to his wife. This is the question: is the sin of sexually desiring a woman other than one’s wife contrary to nature? What does Johnson say?
At one point, he does use the word “natural” to describe heterosexuality, but not directly and not in the way that “natural” is traditionally used in discussions regarding human sexuality. Johnson writes:
Did God design Adam to feel an internal sexual pull toward his neighbor’s wife? To see another man’s wife and have sexual feelings for her? Was that our Father’s good design for sexuality? Or is that—like sexual attraction to a member of the same sex—also an effect of the fall? Is that not internal corruption? It that not overdesire? Is that not a natural longing for beauty or approval or intimacy that has been bent by the fall? (139; emphasis added).
In the first italicized statement Johnson draws a comparison between homo-sexual attraction and hetero-sexual attraction to a person that is not one’s spouse, saying they are both effects of the fall. With this I agree: sexual attraction to a member of the same sex and sexual attraction to a member of the opposite sex who is not one’s spouse are both sinful effects of the fall and require the blood of Christ to cover them. Praise be to God that, in Christ, when we repent and believe, he is faithful and just to forgive us of all our sin, whether it be expressed heterosexually or homosexually. Johnson and I agree on this point.
Let me also say, however, that heterosexual lust and homosexual lust are not the same qualitatively. Though they are both fallen and fall short of the glory of God, they are not fallen in the same way or for the same reason, which distinction Johnson does not make clear in his writing. Here it becomes necessary to make a distinction between sins that are contrary to nature and sins that are not.1
At its root, hetero-sexual desire is a natural, pre-fall gift of God that has become subject to the fallen imaginations and manipulation of sinful man. Heterosexuality is good in that it accords with nature (pre-fall), but it becomes bad whenever it is directed toward a person who is not one’s spouse (whether pre or post marriage). The compatibility of male and female reproductive organs, the potential for mutual pleasure when engaging in sex, and the ability to procreate are God’s way of indicating that this is the original, natural way, in which sex was designed to function—male and female. Heterosexual orientation is not the problem, in and of itself it is rightly ordered, natural, and good. It is only when heterosexual expression transgresses the bounds of monogamous marriage that we may talk about sinful heterosexuality, never before.
Though it is indeed a sad reality that hetero-sexual desire is often abused, the abuse of heterosexuality does not make the orientation per se disordered or contrary to nature as homosexuality is. Heterosexuality per se is not sinful. The abuse of heterosexuality is sinful. Heterosexuality is certainly subject to the consequences of the fall, but that does not make heterosexuality altogether fallen as an orientation. The abuse of a good thing does not thereby make the good thing cease to be good. For example, it is one thing to say that alcohol is a good gift from God and that one must be careful not to use it in a sinful manner (e.g., drunkenness) but it is another thing entirely to say that because alcohol, on this side of the fall, is so often abused that we should now regard it as a sinful, disordered substance. Yet, in multiple places, Johnson applies this sort of logic to heterosexuality as an orientation.
See WLC Q.151. Notice that the prooftext for the clause, “light of nature,” is Romans 1:26-27.
Christ over DoctrineBy Stephen Wellum — 6 months ago
If the church is to fulfill her calling to know and glorify God, we must return to sound theology, and this must begin with a proper understanding of who the triune God is in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ. In its most basic sense, systematic theology, or dogmatics, is the orderly, comprehensive study of the triune God and all things in relation to him. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism rightly answers the all-important question—“What is the chief end of man?”—“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” There is nothing more urgent for humans as God’s creatures than knowing God. And especially for God’s redeemed people in Christ, there is no higher calling than delighting in our triune God in all of his majesty, beauty, and holy splendor. The life and health of the church is directly dependent on our knowledge of God, which is central to the theological task.
PCA Committees and Agencies Received At Least $13.5 Million From the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program in 2020By Staff — 10 months ago
A quick search of the PPP databases suggests that hundreds of local PCA churches received relief funds as well. One large PCA church with an associated school was approved for almost $3.2 million. Others, such as Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL, never applied for funds.
The agencies, institutions, and committees of the Presbyterian Church in America were approved for at least $13.5 million in relief from the U.S. Small Business Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in 2020. All the loans appear to have been forgiven according to publicly-available information.
A few mentions of the loans were made in last year’s General Assembly minutes and reports, but a complete picture is not yet available. Also unknown is how many (if any) of the loans were repaid or returned in part or in full.
According to the U.S Department of the Treasury website:
The Paycheck Protection Program established by the CARES Act, is implemented by the Small Business Administration with support from the Department of the Treasury. This program provides small businesses with funds to pay up to 8 weeks of payroll costs including benefits. Funds can also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.
The ProPublica website, one of many tracking the PPP loans, reported that 11.5 million loans were approved and $714 billion out of $793 billion approved were forgiven.
A quick search of the PPP databases suggests that hundreds of local PCA churches received relief funds as well. One large PCA church with an associated school was approved for almost $3.2 million. Others, such as Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL, never applied for funds, and Briarwood pastor Dr. Harry Reeder wrote forcefully against taking the Federal funds in April of 2020.
Discussion of the ethics, advisability, and wisdom of churches or church institutions, agencies, or committees receiving Federal funds of this type has been scant. Decisions to apply were taken quickly, lest the funds run out. There is anecdotal evidence of churches receiving funds and quickly returning them for reasons of conscience or as it became obvious that funds would not be necessary for the continued operation of churches during Covid.
Doubtless, some churches suffered greatly in 2020 and 2021, but there are many stories of churches whose giving stayed constant or increased in the same period. The non-effect of Covid on finances was also evident in the case of the PCA Administrative Committee, according to a report included in this year’s General Assembly Commissioners’ Handbook. And the PPP funds were part of the reason for an increase in “income.” After noting strong contributions, the report said:
The higher Earned Income was, of course, driven by the largest General Assembly in our brief history. All of this was enhanced by the “Below the Line” income (the earnings from investments and the PPP Grant) of $367,374, enabling Total Net Income for the year to reach $418,918.
The Stated Clerk’s report to this year’s General Assembly suggests the PCA was more generally blessed:
Remarkably, despite some early pandemic shudders, (local) church giving has been strong overall. Total PCA disbursements were up $25 million, approaching $1 billion. Total contributions were down $43 million last year due to some unusually large gifts in 2020 but are still trending up significantly for the 5-year period. Despite the downturn in church attendance due to Covid, giving in most of our local churches has stayed strong. Those always faithful have seen the necessity of their generosity in a tenuous time, and have continued faithful, particularly to local church efforts. Per capita giving has actually risen during the Covid years.
The question may seem like Monday-morning quarterbacking, but it must be asked: Did most PCA churches, agencies, committees, and institutions who took the PPP funds even need them? As many have noted, those public funds were not “free money.” Public funds are more properly thought of as the taxes our neighbors have paid if not the public debt our grandchildren will inherit.
The PCA’s 49th General Assembly will meet next week in Birmingham (June 20-24, 2022), and though the exact disposition of PPP funds received is unclear, there are a host of committees of commissioners who will examine minutes of the denomination’s agencies, committees, and institutions and question their officials and leaders. Faithfully fulfilling this duty of oversight may help prepare the denomination for the next crisis.
Here are the amounts of the PPP funds approved and “forgiven” by the Federal government for PCA entities:
Two loans of $270,684 and $116,289 for the “Presbyterian Church in America” and “Presbyterian Church in America, Inc.” in Lawrenceville, GA, assumedly for the Administrative Committee (and possibly another committee) totaling $386,953
Committee on Discipleship Ministries – $108,063
Reformed University Fellowship – $5,325,019
Mission to North America – $877,000
Mission to the World – $1,918,630
PCA Retirement and Benefits, Inc. – $351,601
Covenant College, Inc, – $3,240,522
Covenant Theological Seminary – $1,102,300
Ridge Haven (camp and conference center) – $196,700
Denominational total: $13,506,788