Both the cosmic and personal nature of Christmas both motivates and tempers our politics. Empowered by the Spirit, we love our neighbors by upholding the creational truths Jesus’ birth affirms. Yet our activism is tempered by the reality of what we can actually accomplish in a cosmos still groaning for redemption. Only Jesus can bless “far as the curse is found.”
It’s the time of year when Washington, D.C., sits largely quiet and empty, its inhabitants emptied out and headed home to their families. The politicians head home and even the most rabid partisans seek to escape the messiness of politics.
Yet the real story of Christmas is inescapably political. The young virgin who bore Jesus understood what her miraculous conception meant. She listened to the words of Simeon in the temple as he cradled the newborn in his arms. Jesus would, “be a sign that will be opposed—and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (Luke 2:34-35).” The incarnation, then, is more than mere sentimental Hallmark vibes, but a cosmic disruption, an intervention by God into His creation.
Even as Christmas is inescapably political, our politics should be inescapably oriented around Christmas. If what Christians believe about the incarnation is true, then that truth must necessarily shape our public theology. The ethicist Oliver O’Donovan rightly asserts that “the whole created order is taken up into the fate of this particular representative man at this particular moment of history, on whose one fate turns the redemption of all…the sign that God has stood by his created order.”
You Might also like
By Rick Plasterer — 3 months ago
The World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH) was established to advance gender ideology as the scientific and professional viewpoint. Any health professional with a different viewpoint is speaking against the professional associations if they give voice to their dissent. Thus, the professionals that distressed parents will turn to will likely recommend the denial of a child’s true sex as the proper treatment.
Gender ideology, the basis of transgenderism, was the topic of two presentations at the recent Southern Evangelical Seminary’s Apologetics Conference in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Jay Richards, Director of the DeVos Center for Religion, Life, and Family at the Heritage Foundation discussed the philosophy itself, while Christian apologist and author Frank Turek, President of CrossExamine.org, discussed its radical inconsistencies and disastrous consequences.
The Fracturing of Marriage and Sex
Richards said that the sexual revolution is “a fracturing of things that are meant to go together.” Today, the dominant culture in practice and law and rhetoric is pulling apart what God intended to go together, and thus “all sorts of bad things are unleashed.” What is pulled apart is “the organic unity of marriage, sex, and the sexual act and childbearing.” Sex and childbearing are held together in traditional Christianity. The sexual revolution pulled these things apart, not only intellectually, but also technologically. Indeed, Richards maintained that the sexual revolution was not possible until the advent of the birth control pill, which made practical the separation of sex and childbearing. He compared this to the Protestant Reformation and the printing press. Advancing the Bible against prevailing religious doctrines and practices was greatly facilitated by the new availability of Bibles and literature supporting the Reformation.
In our day, the smartphone has had a dramatic impact on social relations and behavior. Technology likewise enabled a worldwide shutdown of society in 2020. With the separation of sex from childbearing, marriage is seen more as an affectional relation than the basis of procreation and a family. A 50-state enactment of unilateral (or no-fault) divorce followed. This made a marriage contract easier to break than a business contract. People take these changes “for granted,” but they were “unprecedented though for most of Christian history.” The deregulation of sex resulted in an increase of unwanted pregnancies, which led to a demand for legal abortion, which the Supreme Court decreed in 1973.
These changes, Richards said, were not only in the United States, but worldwide. The coupling of people in marriage “only makes sense” if there is understood to be a “complementary nature of male and female,” and that as a basis for procreation and a family. Without this basis, there is no reason why two people of the same sex might not marry each other. But once same-sex marriage was decreed, “the logic of monogamy fell apart.” There is no reason why a relationship not focused on the union of male and female need be only between two people. Indeed, without the union of male and female being essential for marriage and the family, the way is open to attack the division of humanity into males and females. After the Obergefell decision in 2015, it was as though “everybody had a memo” to start talking about transgenderism. The sexual revolution is “the logical outworking of an original revolutionary idea that was enabled by technology.”
Richards said that there is a difference in people’s ability to comprehend these changes based on age. Baby boomers and “gen Xers” find these changes “so discontinuous” with the world that they knew “that we tend to not quite get what’s being said.” On the other hand “gen Zers” have “sort of been steeped in this stuff.” Young people from many public and even private schools have been “bombarded” by gender ideology for some time, and the new ideas do not seem as strange. Indeed, gender ideology is taught to young children not yet able to read. This is truly radical, because, Richards said, among the things a young child needs to know to “navigate reality” are “the difference between an adult and a kid, and the difference between a boy and a girl.” Because the difference between male and female is so basic, it is important to “queer” or destabilize the beliefs of young children to further the objectives of self-determination and moral autonomy.
Many teens today follow social media “influencers,” who sensationalize the ideas of gender ideology. Early adolescents disturbed by changes to their bodies or psyches are vulnerable to the valorizing of transgenderism, and its basic claim that their bodies are at war with their souls. They are told that with pills and surgery their bodies can be made to conform to their sense of self. This has resulted in a massive increase in the number of minors presenting with “gender dysphoria.” This he defined as “the intense sense of distress and discomfort with your sexed body.” It is not really a false belief about one’s body, but only discomfort with the body one has.
Both sex and gender are several hundred year old words, but starting in the 1960s, academics and other theorists of sex began referring to the biological difference of male and female as sex, and its psychological and social aspects as gender. But this distinction was then replaced by gender ideology as it currently exists, which denies biological sex and distinguishes between “sex assigned at birth” and “gender identity.” Gender identity is supposed to be the “internal sense of our gender.” But this definition defines gender in terms of itself, so that it has no objective meaning. It is claimed that sex based on body parts or structure is only a “social construct… associating certain body parts with stereotypes, called sexes.” The determination of sex when a child is born is thus only an arbitrary assignment. Although it strains credulity to believe that sex determination based on body parts is arbitrary, this is in fact what is being maintained.
By Jacob Crouch — 5 months ago
Most hymnals will group the songs by theme. For instance, you want to sing a song about the resurrection. You can look at the themes in the back of the hymnal or at the top of the pages and find whole sections of songs about the resurrection of Christ. Or what about songs about God’s goodness or God’s word? Find that section in your hymnal, and there are almost always multiple songs grouped together underneath that theme.
God tells us emphatically, “Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises” (Psalm 47:6)! I love that God commands us to do things that are so enjoyable. I love to sing. One practical tool that we have at our disposal is a hymnal. I love hymnals. It’s been a habit of mine to collect hymnals for years. Some are good and some are… well, let’s just say we won’t be singing all of the songs in some hymnals in glory. But there are some great hymnals. It’s amazing to be able to sing songs that the Reformers sang. It’s a privilege to sing songs that have passed the test of time, both the content of the songs and the character of the authors. When we sing these old songs, we are able to confess the truth of God’s Word hand in hand with those who have gone before us. Wonderful stuff. (I love new songs too, but I’m getting to the point).
Often people are intimidated by hymnals. Maybe you think that you have to be able to read music to really enjoy a hymnal. Maybe you think you need to be able to play an instrument (or carry a tune) to sing those songs. I hope to dispel those rumors! I want to give you some practical ways to use a hymnal in personal, family, and corporate worship.
Enjoy the Poetry
Good hymn writers take the beautiful words of God and turn them into beautiful pieces of poetry. Here’s an example: “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free, His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me” (O For a Thousand Tongues). Or what about this one from John Newton: “Now let us join with hearts and tongues, And emulate the angels’ songs; Yea, sinners may address their King, In songs that angels cannot sing. They praise the Lamb who once was slain; But we can add a higher strain; Not only say, “He suffer’d thus, “But that he suffer’d all for us” (Men Honoured Above Angels).
By Jason Piland — 2 years ago
I am convinced that removing the present wording of the statute of limitations in BCO 32-20 will lead to other serious problems and unintended consequences. The proposed amendment will potentially open up members to harassment by the courts; it will allow the shepherding from elders to become lax; it will allow courts to settle for evidence that has been corrupted by time but fits a preconceived narrative; and, ultimately, it will harass and harm untold members of our congregations.
Removing the “Statute of Limitations” from the Book of Church Order (BCO) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is a serious matter, and I am concerned that last summer’s General Assembly hastily began that process without counting the costs. If we move forward with the proposed substitute to BCO 32-20, I fear there will be significant unintended consequences. I write in hopes that Presbyters across the PCA will better appreciate the wisdom of having a statute of limitations and, with Anton Heuss, I hope that the proposed replacement of BCO 32-20 will NOT be approved and that better language will be put forward.
As it stands today, BCO 32-20 begins, “Process, in case of scandal, shall commence within the space of one year after the offense was committed, unless it has recently become flagrant.” This amounts to what some, including the SJC and an important commentator, have called a “Statute of Limitations” for church discipline, at least for cases of “scandal.” The new proposal sent to Presbyteries for their advice and consent removes this language altogether and only codifies the right the accused already has to object to indictments and names “degradation of evidence” as one possible ground for objection.
Overture 22, which gave rise to the proposed language, and Howie Donahoe, the esteemed moderator of the 47th GA, raise a number of objections to the current BCO 32-20, but neither account for the significant costs of removing a statute of limitations altogether. Nevertheless, I share their concern about abuse and other private sins that are not immediately known or discovered. I wholeheartedly agree with criticisms of the current BCO 32-20 on this point, but this does not warrant overthrowing a statute of limitations altogether when an exception could be built into the BCO that provides a way to bring before the court cases of past abuse.
We need to remember why we have a statute of limitations in the first place, and I posit that there are at least three significant reasons to retain a statute of limitations for church discipline.
To Protect the Accused
A statute of limitations protects every member of the PCA from all kinds of harassment by the courts. If a court declines to bring charges against a person, it can’t hold the possibility of charges over that person’s head in perpetuity.
Consider another situation. Suppose a pastor or Session believes a church member is guilty of a particular sin, and, with a clear conscience, the church member does not believe he has committed it. Or suppose a church member believes he is repentant of a certain sin, but his elders don’t think so. What happens then? Often in cases like these, the church member hears continual, frank, and strong counsel about how he needs to own up to his sin or to biblically repent of it. The shepherds are doing what they believe is right: rebuking strongly from time to time, bearing with the individual over the long haul in a “pastoral” manner, calling him to be faithful to Scripture’s teaching, and seeking to keep the rest of the church pure from the potential defilement of sin.
But the actions of the elders wear down the church member. The elders don’t want to bring charges, so they are “patient.” They don’t realize how the church member feels like the life is being squeezed out of him. In these cases, forbearance isn’t the answer. When the church member and Session legitimately disagree after prayerful dialogue and counsel, the pastoral answer is not to wait it out and hope the church member changes his mind. The loving and right thing is often for the Session to bring charges. From the Session’s perspective, he is in conscious sin, and it must be addressed immediately. From the church member’s perspective, he has the right to have his case heard not just by his Session, but also to have it reviewed by the higher courts of the church. It is a merciful thing that the church member has his day in court to vindicate himself and to appeal to higher courts for assistance. We are Presbyterians, and this is Presbyterianism at its best. This is good for both the Session and the church member because there will be resolution to the disagreement.
A statute of limitations requires Sessions to bring charges sooner rather than later. It protects the accused from a forbearance in the name of pastoral kindness that ends up being harmful. Where legitimate disagreement exists, a statute of limitations puts an end to it by requiring action, and it protects the accused from all kinds of potential harassment by the courts of the church.
To Encourage Diligent Shepherding
If a court is not able to bring a charge on day 366, it is forced to be diligent in shepherding its flock in the first 365 days after a disciplinable offense takes place. When a court knows that a sin cannot be addressed through process after one year, a statute of limitations actually compels action. We want to encourage the shepherds of the church to conscientiously care for the hurting and wandering sheep and not to let a sheep walk away from the fold for years before beginning the process of bringing him back.
When someone commits an offence of the sort that often gives rise to formal discipline, it often takes several months for the dust to settle, for the church to understand what happened, and for the offender and the offended parties to appreciate the fallout. The spiritual realities are not usually immediately clear. So the statute of limitations ought not be too short to require the court to act before it can shepherd the parties through these early days and gain clarity of the situation. But it seems that a year has been plenty of time in the PCA to understand what happened, counsel the parties, assess their responses, and determine if formal process is fitting. These situations are difficult, and courts must be diligent shepherds to adequately care for its members. A statute of limitations requires them to be engaged intentionally from day one, and that is a good thing.
To Ensure Accurate Evidence
As time goes on, the quality of evidence degrades. Memories fade. Witnesses move away, die, or otherwise disappear. Documentary evidence, whether digital or physical, corrupts or goes missing. The immediacy of the offence is lost to time, and the accuracy of the remaining testimony decreases in quality. Overture 22 admits as much. Of course, there is no certain time where good evidence goes bad, but the principle still stands: It is better to call upon witnesses and use evidence when it is as fresh as possible so that the accuracy and truthfulness of that testimony is best preserved and conveyed.
Additionally, the further one is from an event, the easier it is to falsify documents or to produce fraudulent testimony. We minimize the risk of false accusations if we maintain a statute of limitations.
The substitute proposal includes an encouragement to courts to not entertain an indictment if the evidence has been too degraded, but such a question is far too subjective and could easily be answered to accord with the court’s view of the merits of the case. I question the wisdom of placing this as the only named backstop on the court’s ability to do adjudicate ancient cases. A bright-line statute of limitations takes this question out the hands of the court in the interests of fairness.
While I deeply appreciate the concern about some alleged offenses that may not be immediately known, I am convinced that removing the present wording of the statute of limitations in BCO 32-20 will lead to other serious problems and unintended consequences. The proposed amendment will potentially open up members to harassment by the courts; it will allow the shepherding from elders to become lax; it will allow courts to settle for evidence that has been corrupted by time but fits a preconceived narrative; and, ultimately, it will harass and harm untold members of our congregations.
There are better ways to word an amendment to handle the problem of alleged offenses in the church than to remove a reasonable and limited time period altogether, avoiding throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
I urge Presbyteries to vote against the proposed amendment to BCO 32-20 and then let us find a better solution to the perceived problem. Concerned members of the PCA can work to make sure a better alternative isn’t too far away.
Jason Piland is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as Associate Pastor of Redeemer (PCA) in Hudson, Ohio.
 See, e.g., Grace RPC Session v. Heartland Presbytery, Case No. 93-14, M23GA, 113–121; Morton H. Smith, Commentary on the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America, 5th ed. (Greenville: Southern Presbyterian, 2004), 313.
 The full text of the proposal is as follows:
The accused or a member of the court may object to the consideration of a charge, for example, if he thinks the passage of time since the alleged offense makes fair adjudication unachievable. The court should consider factors such as the gravity of the alleged offense as well as what degradations of evidence and memory may have occurred in the intervening period.