Does it Matter?

After my last article on the Rise campaign and the Redeemer City to City church planting, I received comments that fell into two main categories. One group expressed concern over the churches that have been planted so far. The other group saw no problems and were happy that the gospel is being spread in New York. In this post, I’d like to address both groups.

First, yes, I am concerned about the churches that are being planted through Redeemer City to City and for various reasons. The majority of the churches that have been planted so far are outside our denomination (PCA) and our sister denominations (NAPARC). Many of the churches hold to doctrines and distinctives that are at odds with what our denomination teaches. The evidence from the Rise campaign and the various church websites is that the gospel being proclaimed is more social justice gospel and less Biblical gospel.

When I say that the majority of the churches are not PCA (or other NAPARC denominations), my concern is not promoting my “tribe.” The spread of the gospel through faithful churches is a very good thing. I view other Christian churches, not as competition, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m thankful for the work they do and the people they reach. I’m willing to pray for them and to work together with them in taking care of the needs of our communities. I recognize that godly men and women can disagree on various theological distinctives, and I don’t lament the need for denominations.

What concerns me is that when elders in our denominations take their vows they vow that they believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms “contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” If you believe that to be true, why would you want to plant churches that teach views contrary to “the system of doctrine taught in the” Bible? And these are not minor disagreements.

On the issue of baptism, the Redeemer City to City churches cover a wide range of beliefs. Some are paedobaptist. A couple have statements that indicate a level of belief in baptismal regeneration. Most are credobaptist. They believe that in order to be a Christian you must be baptized, by immersion, after making a profession of faith. Those who are baptized by sprinkling and those who were baptized as infants are not considered properly baptized and would have to be rebaptized in order to be received as members.

What that means is that my children who were baptized as infants and who have made professions of faith and been received as communing members could not become members or take communion at these churches. Why would you plant churches that would deny your children were baptized Christians? Despite the talk of cooperation and unity for the city, ultimately our covenant children would be excluded.

The other concern with planting churches outside our denomination is the issue of oversight. What happens when a Redeemer City to City church misbehaves? Is there any structure to protect the members of the congregations from a wicked pastor? Is there any protection of the other Redeemer City to City churches if one of the churches becomes known for rejecting Biblical truth?

I know that church polity and church discipline are not well-liked topics these days, and I know that discipline can be abused. But the structures that we have in Presbyterian churches were designed to protect the congregations and to protect the purity of the Church. Given the Redeemer City to City church that sees no problem with a gay man leading the Pastor’s small group, the concern over oversight is not merely academic.

Some will ask why these things matter as long as the gospel is being proclaimed. In answer to that, I have two points. First, if we believe that our doctrines and distinctives are faithful to Scripture, wouldn’t we want others to be taught in the most faithful way? Don’t we love others enough to want them to understand the Scriptures as we’ve been taught? Not to build our “tribe,” but so that they would worship and glorify God through their faith. Doctrine matters, and it has a profound effect on our lives and our relationships.

Second, what is the gospel being spread through the Redeemer City to City churches? I do believe that Redeemer and many of the other churches love the Lord and proclaim salvation faithfully. But in the Rise literature and in the materials from many of the City to City churches, the message is one of flourishing, justice, and making New York a better place.

Those are not bad goals. In fact, who would disagree with them? These are extremely popular ideas right now regardless of religious background. If you asked a pagan, an atheist, and a Buddhist, very likely they would all agree with a message of cultural renewal and social justice.

The Rise campaign explains their vision and purpose for planting churches:

We’re doing this for our city. Our longing is to see New York—and everyone in it—flourish. We believe the best way to serve the city is to embody the gospel in every neighborhood. The gospel doesn’t just change individual lives; it advances the common good. The increase in philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, integrity, and hope that occurs when more and more people live out the gospel is good for all of society, not just the body of Christ.

“Philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, integrity, and hope” are good things. But ultimately none of these things are the purpose of the Church. We are to be ambassadors for Christ calling people to repent and believe. Without reconciliation with God, which is only possible through faith in Christ, all the good things in the world are worthless. Our deepest needs are forgiveness of sins and peace with God. We cannot forget our mission as believers and as the Church.

 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corithians 5:18-20, ESV)

As these verses say, God is reconciling the world to himself, but our message is to implore people to be reconciled to God through Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and for His glory. What good are we as the Church if we are simply one more improvement program for the city?

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26, ESV)

If we aren’t preaching a message of salvation by faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone, we are not doing the lost around us any favors. What does it matter if the city is a lovely place if the people are still going to die and go to hell? Yes, let’s work towards better cities, but not at the expense of the souls of our neighbors. That’s not love.

The last thing I want to consider is the disservice we are doing to the people in our congregations if we are preaching a message of social justice and not one of salvation by faith through Christ. In the coming years, professing faith in Christ is likely to become more and more dangerous. Standing for the faith may mean losing your job or home or family.

If we are bringing people in with a popular message of social justice and flourishing, what preparation are they going to have for persecution? Are they being prepared for suffering because they are Christians? And not suffering in the sense of sacrificing their time and money, etc to minister to others, but being reviled and hated by the world simply because they serve Christ.

We should not forget that the world is going to hate us because it hates Him. No matter how kind we are or how much good we do, we are believers and the world is at enmity with Him. Let us love our neighbors enough to tell them the truth of their separation from God and their need of salvation from their sins. And let us love our congregations enough to prepare them for suffering.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved,what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12-19, ESV)

I would love to see Redeemer City to City focus all of their resources to planting and training pastors in our denomination. There is such a need for Reformed churches throughout our country. We need good churches proclaiming the gospel. There are so many lost people who need to hear the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins.

A day is coming when our work will be tested. Are we building on His foundation?

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15, ESV)

 

Tim Keller, Redeemer City to City, and the Rise Campaign

Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer New York (PCA) has announced this week that he will be stepping down as Senior Pastor in order to dedicate his work towards church planting in New York City:

Tim Keller is devoting the next decade of his life to this vision for New York. He will step down from his role as senior pastor to pivot into the strategic role of teaching and mentoring more leaders to do evangelism and church planting in an urban context. This shift will leverage his credibility and experience planting and leading churches in the New York context to multiply a church planting movement in every neighborhood of New York. He and his wife, Kathy, are dedicating the rest of their lives to serve and minister in New York.

This was also the launch of a new campaign, Rise, to raise funds for planting churches and training pastors through Redeemer City to City and the Redeemer City Ministry Program:

All funds donated to the Redeemer Rise Campaign will be stewarded and held by Redeemer with oversight by the Redeemer elders. The below chart represents our target $80M project budget. If funds raised are above or below that total, the elders in partnership with the staff leadership will determine the appropriate allocation of funds to projects and will report back to donors with those plans.

* We want to be sure you’re aware that a portion of any funds you donate to Redeemer as part of the Rise Campaign may be given to Redeemer City to City, a separate organization affiliated with and founded by Redeemer that has developed expertise in church planting and church leadership recruitment and development over the past 15 years; funds given to City to City will be used for planting non-Redeemer churches and for scholarships for potential non-Redeemer pastors. What portion of your funds is given to Redeemer will depend on a variety of factors, including the total amount raised and the purpose for which it is donated, but if we were to raise $80M, it would be somewhere around $22M.

What is Rise? The website details the campaign:

A gospel movement is rising in New York City. Rise is a campaign to accelerate it.

Twenty five years ago, the number of center-city New Yorkers in gospel-centered churches was 1%. Today that number is 5%. By 2026, we believe it can reach 15%.

Rise is the first part of a 10-year vision to accelerate toward a tipping point of gospel-influence in New York City —and through it, the world.

If more New Yorkers embody the gospel in how they live and work, it advances the common good. It will catalyze growth in philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, more humane workplaces, arts that promote hope, and less crime and institutional corruption.

The Rise website explains their goal and vision:

Tripling the body of Christ in New York City will take much more than a single church or a single denomination. It will take partnership between many gospel-centered church leaders and the start of many more churches to reach our neighbors. We’ve developed a strategic plan to plant 100 new center city churches in the next 10 years. We need to start with at least 10 churches this year and we need partners to help us fund them.

This is a 10 year vision, beginning this year. Redeemer’s own congregation raised more than $32M to support the project this last Spring. But we’re not done. We are excited to invite you into this vision. Will you join us today?

The movement will take many leaders and will be led forward by a new collaborative partnership between Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Redeemer City to City—both founded by Tim Keller.

They believe that if they can increase the percentage of Christians in New York City, they can bring about significant change for the city:

Our vision is to see the body of Christ in center-city New York triple to 15%—which we believe might amount to a tipping point that does more than change individual lives, but enhances the long-term life of our city for everyone in it.

The vision is an entire city renewed by the gospel.

If a critical mass of New Yorkers express gospel values—mercy, friendship, justice, hope—in our work, lives, and neighborhoods, we believe it will help the city flourish for everyone in it. We can’t reach a tipping point by building a bigger Redeemer. We need a people-driven movement of New Yorkers in every neighborhood rising to embody the gospel in how we live, work, and serve.

In order to do this, Redeemer, through the Rise Campaign seeks to plant churches and train leaders:

In order to grow the body of Christ in New York City from 5% to 15%, church planting is essential. We cannot reach a tipping point merely through the transfer of Christians from other churches—we must welcome and serve those who do not currently profess faith. New churches are shown to be the most effective method of reaching those not already part of a church, attracting three to six times more non-Christians than older churches. New churches are also the most effective way to spark renewal for existing churches. That renewal can catalyze blessing in every neighborhood as churches increase mercy and justice through meeting the needs of their neighbors across the city.

Why do Keller and Redeemer want to plant churches and train leaders? To see New York City flourish:

We’re doing this for our city. Our longing is to see New York—and everyone in it—flourish. We believe the best way to serve the city is to embody the gospel in every neighborhood. The gospel doesn’t just change individual lives; it advances the common good. The increase in philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, integrity, and hope that occurs when more and more people live out the gospel is good for all of society, not just the body of Christ.

If you aren’t familiar with Redeemer City to City, it is a church planting network focused primarily on planting churches in the New York City area and other “global cities”

City to City helps local leaders start gospel movements in cities.
We focus on global cities, and there’s no city more global than New York City.

The Redeemer City Ministry Program came about as a strategic partnership between Reformed Theological Seminary and Redeemer City to City with the goal to provide theological education and practical ministry training in New York City. RCM will prepare ministry leaders in the city for the city.  RCM involves RTS providing a Master of Arts complemented by a subsequent year of practical training called the City Ministry Year provided by CTC.

Redeemer City to City is a leadership development organization founded by Timothy Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

Redeemer City to City has a list of churches it’s helped start or partnered with to plant churches in the New York area. There are over 50 churches listed. Here are some demographics and details about the churches Redeemer City to City has planted or partnered with.

Many of the churches are either Baptist or non-denominational. Among the churches whose websites give their affiliation, there are PCA, EPC (formerly Metro NYC PCA churches), Lutheran, CRCNA, CMA, Evangelical Covenant, and Anglican churches. Several churches have women pastors or elders: Forefront, New Season, Sanctuary Fellowship, Trinity Grace, City Grace, Lower Manhattan Community, River, Trinity Grace Queens, Hope.

Many also have deaconesses, including all of the Metro New York PCA churches listed. Grace Redeemer PCA says of the diaconate:

From the earliest days of the New Testament Church, deacons and deaconesses have attended to the temporal needs of the church.

Many of the churches are credobaptist:

We believe that this body expresses itself in local assemblies whose members have been immersed upon credible confession of faith and have associated themselves for worship, instruction, evangelism and service. We believe the ordinances of the local church are believers’ baptism by immersion and the Lord’s supper.

And congregationalist:

We believe that each local church is self-governing in function, and must be free from interference by an ecclesiastical or political authority and is free to participate with other churches in efforts that are in line with our stated beliefs and purposes.

A couple are charismatic:

We believe that the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit did not cease after the Apostolic church but continue to this day. So we look to the Holy Spirit continually for the power, and direction, and love that we need to be effective witnesses for Jesus in the world.

One, Forefront, appears to be gay-affirming:

As we moved toward the door, he kind of winced, and then he spoke up. “I do have one question. I am a gay man, and my former church asked me to step down from my leadership roles because of it. I believe that God wants me to serve Him, can I do that here?”

Ryan, still seated and without hesitation, responded, “Of course. You can participate fully in our community.”

Eric is now my small group leader, and one of my most trusted and dearest spiritual mentors. He prays for me, speaks wisdom into my life, and teaches me how to listen to the Spirit of God as I lead in Ministry. The conventional wisdom of the American Evangelical culture says that a gay man cannot be a Pastor’s small group leader. But the spirit of God resides in him and flows out from him in profound ways.

We stand with Eric as Jesus stood with the woman in John 8, and now Eric stands with me as Jesus stood with the woman in John 8.

Eric is the love of God wrapped in flesh.

What unites these diverse churches is their love for the city of New York and urban renewal

The values of our church community are drawn out of the life Jesus embodied and our desire to emulate Him, so that Christ’s prayer of renewal “on earth as it is in heaven” may be a reality. Forefront

In fulfilling the great commission, Paul’s strategy was to plant churches in areas of influence to reach as many people as possible. Restoration Community Church

Join us in tearing away the layers of religion that have kept people from church for so many years and discover the joys of TRUE COMMUNITY with the family of God. Sanctuary Fellowship

Through a shared meal, authentic community, and the narrative of Jesus, we are transformed. We live lives of imperfect love and reckless generosity, engaging our neighborhoods in Brooklyn and beyond according to the gospel of grace. Because God invited us freely to his table, all are invited to ours. Hope Brooklyn

We hold a belief that God is at work to heal and renew the world that He created to be good. Our own lives are part of God’s renewal process, and God invites us into the work of making all things new. We do this by pursuing justice, engaging in social and cultural renewal, and being committed to prayer for the flourishing of New York City. Hope Midtown

As a church of Jesus Christ, Redeemer exists to help build a great city for all people through a movement of the gospel that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, the world. Redeemer NYC

Our mission … to create space where New Yorkers of all backgrounds can connect with God through Jesus Christ and move towards him as the center of their lives. We believe this is how we can experience Jesus’ promise of “life in all its fullness.” In John 10:10 Jesus described his own mission this way: “My purpose is to give people a rich and satisfying life.”  He made it clear that we can know God in a real and powerful way, and that this relationship with God is the source of “more and better life than you have ever dreamed of.” River

We believe that God’s unchanging message is so life changing, satisfying, and fulfilling that it must be communicated to each generation in contemporary, culturally relevant language, forms, and styles. Redeemer Montclair

This is consistent with Keller’s prioritization of urban ministry. As Dr. Keller says in his article “Understanding the City”:

Thesis: As much as possible, Christians should live, serve, and be deeply involved in the lives of our largest cities. They need to be involved in the life of the whole city, not just their own particular enclave. If you can live and serve in the city, you should.

The Christian church must concentrate the great portion of its resources on ministry to the city. It is our “reasonable service”. To fail to render it is as foolish as it is disobedient.

For more information on the Redeemer’s Rise campaign, click here.

Further discussion on General Assembly

The last couple of weeks there have been a number of articles written on various aspects of the events at General Assembly. For a basic overview of events, please see this article at the Aquila Report or this one by Stated Clerk Roy Taylor.

No Court of Appeals for the PCA?
The PCA GA has no mechanism in place for dealing with SJC decisions after they have been announced

These overtures were doomed from the beginning, although they do draw attention to the presence of major dissatisfaction within the PCA with how the case was handled. Many would like for this case to be retried for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the prosecutor, by his own admission, was persuaded of the truth claims of the Roman Catholic Church while trying this case.

Post-Mortem on the 41st General Assembly of the PCA

I was also heartened by the fact that the Committee of Commissioners for the Interchurch Relations Committee (ICR) pressed the issue regarding membership in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). The NAE is a seriously flawed organization. The ICR Permanent Committee will have to be more diligent in the coming year in reporting on what the NAE does. Perhaps when all those actions are put together in list form, it will become apparent to the PCA that we as a denomination have no business being part of that association.

The Insider Movement and the Word-Concept Fallacy
The love of God in Christ is a far more effective evangelism tool.

Why tell a Muslim something that we are just going to have to retract later on? … I do not believe it is helpful to start out by saying something that is grossly misleading at best, and heretical at worst. It is far better to tell them of the love of Jesus Christ, and to keep on directing them there. The love of God and the grace that Christianity offers in the Gospel is a far more effective evangelism tool.

Action on the PCA Insider Movement Report: Mutually Assured Destruction
An assessment of the PCA General Assembly’s consideration of the Insider Movement report

It is hard to see how the minority report can change unless it becomes even more indistinct and misleading. Perhaps it can apply more camouflage to hide the fact that it thinks that Muslims can remain Muslims and not leave the mosque. No amount of assurance that syncretism is avoided or that doctrinal standards required by the Bible are maintained can alter the fact that, at the end of the day, Islam remains but Christianity is not needed.

Debate Squashing at General Assembly– a PCUS Déjà Vu?
It looks more and more like our polity has devolved into nothing more than crass politics.

Wasn’t one of the reasons for leaving the PCUS (UPC, PCUSA for some of us) because the other side had secured all the political (committee) power – and then used that to squash the ability of “our” side to even debate matters!? I can’t help but wonder, how was the behavior at this GA from the one side any different than that which drove our fathers all out to form the PCA in the first place? One side, rather clumsily, tried to follow the procedures to at least be heard. The other side, much more effectively (think pro-football team playing against a beer-belly team), used the same procedures to squash any reasonable discussion whatsoever.

“What’s Happening to the PCA?”
Is the PCA on a similar path as the PCUSA?

And consider also the continuing discussion over women deacons. And what after that? The example of so many churches that have “gone liberal” charts a clear path. Women elders, then women teaching elders, then non-practicing homosexuals, then practicing homosexuals, then John Shelby Spong.

The PCA General Assembly, Cul De Sacs, and False Dilemmas
Certain facets of the PCA’s polity can create procedural cul de sacs that are making issues impossible to resolve

I also came away convinced we need to make some allowances at GA for our family system of suspicion. We can regret that all we want but it seems pointless to ignore it. One way is to consider a policy the Southern Baptist Convention has adopted. At their annual meetings the SBC use a trained, certified parliamentarian from outside their denomination to ensure full confidence in rulings from the chair.

My Thoughts on the 2013 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
What struck me as unique about this GA was the party spirit of those in control of things

There was little mood for unity evidenced by anybody at this GA. The mood was set by the opening sermon by the outgoing moderator, Mike Ross. It was a provocative sermon on the sin of conservatism. Rev. Ross has always been one of those whose style from the pulpit is confrontational; in any other context the sermon theme might be considered a healthy challenge to self examination. But sermons are not preached in a vacuum. Considering the obvious anxiety many conservatives had over the direction of the PCA coming into this year’s GA and the strained relationship the theme had to the text, it could not help but be heard as a direct attack. And it was.

Unjust Weights and the 41st PCA General Assembly
The principle of the use of unjust weights destroys trust in the church as it does in an economic system

Taking away PCA commissioners’ ability to debate and vote on issues in accordance with our RAO procedures destroys their trust in the underlying ecclesiastical system. Attempting to fix a vote’s outcome by changing voting order on the fly similarly erodes that same trust. Like unjust weights and balances, unjust political maneuvering should not be named amongst God’s people. Supporting and voting within established rules must be accepted and supported by all officers of God’s church.

The PCA Insider Movement Report: Times Are Changing, and Staying Exactly the Same
What most of them didn’t know at that small, somewhat shocking moment, is that this is just the beginning of a much larger seismic event that will shape the character and course of the PCA for a generation.

The recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America featured a brief, but heated argument about the seemingly inconsequential … issue of foreign missions. Particularly, whether to receive and approve the Majority Report of the Committee on Insider Movements or whether to receive, as well, the Minority Report, written by a single committee member. Having just been subjected to incredibly dull debates over coin-flips for committee appointments, I understand why the commissioners would have been asleep.

When Denominations Disappoint: Setting Priorities
The answer to denominational disappointment is to begin setting one’s house in order

There are other priorities that must be set too. Confession trumps church order. The latter is nothing but a tool to allow the church to do its proper work before the Lord. If a church order becomes so cumbersome and complex as to require canon lawyers, then we have lost a major Reformation battle. Remember, the Reformation inherited a highly complex canon law (the medieval Book of Church Order, if you will). Calvin addressed the problem of the authority of these documents in Institutes 4.10 in several sections (e.g., 1–5). He argued for the priority of the Word over church order.

Paedocommunion, Leithart and Meyers, SJC nominations, Insider Movement, Overtures, and a report on Child Abuse

The report from the Review of Presbytery Records committee began on Wednesday. There was debate over Pacific Northwest Presbytery’s allowing paedocommunion as an exception. The minority report was not adopted, and unlike the previous two years, Pacific Northwest Presbytery’s reasons for granting the exception in question were accepted by the General Assembly.

Central Florida Presbytery also had approved a candidate’s views on paedocommunion as an allowable exception. The action of the GA was to adopt the minority report and ask the Presbytery for an explanation regarding the reasons for granted the exception. The difference between this GA action and the one regarding Pacific Northwest Presbytery was due to the fact that this was the first time that RPR cited Central Florida regarding this action recorded in their minutes.  The ruling on Pacific Northwest was based on their response to concerns raised by recent assemblies.

The Assembly discussed a part of the report of the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) regarding what it was to report to the General Assembly on actions of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Last year’s GA had instructed the committee to report these actions to the GA. However, IRC construed the directive of the 40th General Assembly more narrowly than was intended. The Committee of Commissioners took exception to the more narrow interpretation presented by IRC and moved the original directive, “That the General Assembly further direct the permanent committee of Interchurch Relations to be alert for and report to the General Assembly any action or position taken of the NAE,” and the GA adopted this language.

The study committee on the Insider Movement presented Part 2 of its report; Part 1 was presented at last year’s GA. Part 1 dealt with principles for biblical interpretation and on divine familial names, and the second part was on the theology, gospel missions, and Insider Movements. There was also a minority report written by one member of the Ad Interim Committee. The majority report made three recommendations:

  1. That “A Call to Faithful Witness, Part Two: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements” serve as a Partial Report (Part Two of Two Parts).
  2. That the 41st General Assembly make available and recommend for study “A Call to Faithful Witness, Part Two: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements” to its presbyteries, sessions, and missions committees.
  3. That the 41st General Assembly dismiss the ad interim Study Committee on Insider Movements with thanks.

The Minority report added the following recommendation: “That the 41st General Assembly make available and recommend for study the paper in the Minority Report entitled “Addressing Realities on the Ground” to its presbyteries, sessions, and missions committees.” The Assembly passed the recommendation of the minority report and appended this report to the Majority Report.

Following this, there was a prolonged discussion of the meaning of one sentence in the paper the Minority Report that appeared to say that the God of the Bible and of Islam were the same:

Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God? Yes, when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fine-tuning to see Yahweh as He truly is takes place through Christ (Colossians 1:15).

The Assembly resolved this by voting to recommit the whole report to the Ad Interim Committee to give it an opportunity to clarify language and concepts in the report.

The Nominating Committee gave its report. After debate on the order in which to vote on the nominations, the Assembly voted for the customary order, to vote on the TE side of the ballot first. The Assembly then elected by omnibus all nominees who were unopposed. TE Fred Greco was re-elected to the SJC Class of 2017. TE Grover Gunn was elected to fill an unexpired term. TE Dominic Aquila lost re-election to TE Ray Cannata to the SJC Class of 2017, and RE EJ Nusbaum was also elected to the same class.

The Overtures Committee (OC) recommended that the moderator rule both Overture 19 and Overture 23, out of order because Standing Judicial Commission rulings are final. The Moderator ruled as recommended and was sustained. Overture 19 requested the GA to remand the complaint arising from Pacific Northwest Presbytery alleging that it erred in the conduct and its judgments in the trial of TE Peter Leithart. Overture 23 requested that the GA find the complaint in order arising from Missouri Presbytery on the conduct and judgments in the trial of TE Jeffrey Meyers and direct the SJC to adjudicate the case. The Assembly approved the recommendations of the OC on the remaining Overtures. The OC recommendations are available here.

Overtures 20, 21, and 22 were referred to the Standing Judicial Commission. These overtures all requested that the General Assembly assume original jurisdiction over TE Peter Leithart per Book of Church Order 34-1. The SJC will consider this request at its October 2013 meeting.

As a part of the Mission to the World (MTW) Committee report, TE Paul Koostra, MTW Coordinator, reported that a committee has been set up to search for a new MTW Coordinator. He said that the process could take up to eighteen months.

Earlier in the week, TE Mike Sloan presented a resolution on Child Abuse and the appropriate response and action that pastors and churches should take. The resolution was committed to the Overtures Committee to consider during the Assembly and report back. The final wording of the resolution as presented to the Assembly was changed substantially from the original resolution, particularly as related to the need for mandatory reporting by churches and pastors to the civil authorities. The Assembly voted to recommit the resolution to committee.

The General Assembly adjourned on Thursday late evening, June 20. It was announced that the 42nd PCA General Assembly will be held in Houston, Texas, June 17-20, 2014

Dr. Jason Lisle of the Institute for Creation Research to give a seminar today

The 41st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America begins today in Greenville, South Carolina. Already several of the committees have been meeting. The assembly officially opens tonight with a worship service and then the election of the moderator. Last year’s moderator, Dr. Mike Ross will speak tonight at the worship service.

There are also a number of seminars starting today.

Last year, Dr. Gregg Davidson gave a seminar on the age of the earth from an old earth perspective:

Dr. Davidson explained that his purpose in the seminar was to equip the pastors and elders so that they can better minister to their congregations. According to Dr. Davidson, there are many in the church who are taught that the evidence for an old earth is weak and that to be faithful to Christ one must hold to a young earth. This can become a stumbling block to the faith for many, especially young believers, who grow up and are then challenged when they discover that the evidence for an old earth is very strong. The evidence that Dr. Davidson presented in the seminar is designed to help prevent this potential crisis of faith.

This year, Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research at the Institute for Creation Research, will give a seminar on Astronomy and creation from a young earth perspective:

Critics of the Bible have often attempted to use the methods of science to persuade others that the Bible is not trustworthy. We are told that the universe is a cosmic accident—a “big bang” followed by billions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these attempts to discredit biblical creation do not stand up to rational scrutiny. The science of astronomy confirms that the Bible is true. In this highly visual presentation, astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle shows powerful scientific evidence that confirms that our universe is not an accident, but has been designed and created by God as the Bible teaches in Genesis. The Christian can be encouraged that the Word of God is absolutely trustworthy on all matters. This includes not only matters of theology and morality, but matters of science and history as well.

I’m sure Dr. Lisle’s seminar will be worth attending. I encourage you, if you’re in Greenville, to stop by the ICR booth in the exhibit hall. A full list of the seminars and their descriptions is available here. A printable schedule is available here.

Supernatural Creation of Man: Dr. Belcher addresses the historicity of Adam and critiques Dr. Jack Collins’ “mere-Adam-and-Eve-ism”

Last week, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary hosted their Spring conference. The topic of the conference was “The Doctrine of Man:”

Reformer John Calvin wrote that the two most important things for any person to know are who God is and who man is. In order to know God properly, one must know the truth about himself. In our day, there is much confusion about who man is. Is the Bible correct that God made man in His image from the dust of the earth or were the first humans made from primal hominids? Was there human death before the Fall? What role do the creation mandates have in the church today? Because of the seriousness of these questions and others concerning mankind, the faculty and trustees of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary are devoting our 2013 Spring Theology Conference to the study of what the Bible says about man.

A number of men spoke on various topics related to creation, Adam, and the fall. Dr. Guy Water spoke on the Covenant of Works. Dr. Joel Beeke spoke on temptation and the fall. Rev. Matthew Holst discussed the issue of death before the fall. Dr. Bill Vandoodewaard discussed Thomas Boston’s “Human Nature in Its Fourfold State.” Dr. Nelson Kloosterman spoke on imago dei and the relationship between the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. Dr. Joseph Pipa discussed original sin and depravity.

Dr. Richard Belcher, Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte, opened the conference with a discussion of the “Supernatural Creation of Man.” Dr. Belcher focused his discussion on Genesis 2:7:

Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (ESV)

He spoke particularly about the current attempts by some to reinterpret the creation of Adam in order to reconcile it with some form of evolution. He cited the push to get Christians to accept evolution as the way in which God created. He gave the examples of Francis Collins and BioLogos, which Collins helped found. BioLogos states that they are “committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.” Bruce Waltke, in a video for BioLogos, said that the church must accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution or risk becoming a cult. Tremper Longman, in his book Science, Creation, and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins, wrote that Darwinian evolution doesn’t threaten Christianity. Peter Enns has written that evolution is a game changer which should cause the church to reinterpret Scripture. All of these men are Old Testament scholars and all have sold out to evolution. All of their arguments for reconciling evolution with Christianity depend on their interpretation of Genesis 2:7, how God created man.

Dr. Belcher stated that his goals in his address were to give an exegesis of Genesis 2:7, present some of the models that attempt to reconcile evolutionary theory with the Bible, discuss the hermeneutical principles that are sacrificed by those models, and consider the implications for the church.

First, Dr. Belcher spoke on the meaning of Genesis 2:7: the creation of man from the dust. Dust in this passage means dirt, dust, loose soil. Looking to other passages to support this reading, Dr. Belcher pointed out Genesis 3:19 “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (ESV)” Referring to Genesis 2:18-22, he noted that the creation of Eve shows that among the animals there were no helpers suitable for Adam. No other living creature would have been a match for Adam. Eve was unique in that she was created from Adam, and she represented the unity of the human family. All humanity comes from Adam. All humans are descended from Adam and Eve. This rules out the idea that Adam and Eve were a couple of existing hominids adopted by God out of a population of other hominids.

Next Dr. Belcher gave a brief overview of some of the current attempts to reconcile evolution with Genesis 2:7. Evolutionary theory teaches that life evolved gradually over time by means of natural selection and genetic mutations. This lead to lower life forms to develop into higher forms. Eventually this gave rise to hominids, of which humans are a part. The evolutionary models all accept that the genetic diversity found in modern human DNA could not have been the result of a single couple.

One evolutionary theory is that humans developed first in Africa and then spread out. Using this theory, some theistic evolutionists suggest that Adam and Eve represent a population of humans from whom the rest of humanity descend. This, in their view, would maintain Adam and Eve as the source of human life now.

Another evolutionary theory is that humans developed in different places around the world at the same time. With this view, theistic evolutionists suggest that Adam and Eve were a couple of neolithic farmers that God selected. God then gave them a spiritual awareness which set them apart from the rest of the neolithic farmers. Adam and Eve would then be the head of humanity, even though there were others who were physically the same around them.

Dr. Belcher then summarized the evolutionary theories as they relate to Adam and Eve. According to the theories, human like creatures existed before Adam, so Genesis 2:7 can’t be a literal account of how man was created. One option for reconciling the Scripture with evolutionary theory is that Adam and Eve were selected by God out of a group of humans. Another option is that Adam and Eve weren’t the first couple, and so they aren’t the source of all humanity. A third option is that Adam and Eve didn’t actually exist. Instead they represent a much larger population of people. This incorporates the genetic evidence. A further consequence of this attempt at reinterpreting the creation of man is that according to these theories there was no original pristine condition, physically or morally, since humans inherited their sinful tendencies from their animal ancestors.

Dr. Belcher moved on then to his next point. Since there is such a difference between how Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of man and the evolutionary theories on the origin of man, how does theistic evolution reconcile the two? This is where hermeneutics becomes key. According to Dr. Belcher, there are three ways theistic evolutionists seek to blunt the meaning of Genesis 2:7.

First, theistic evolutionists begin by identifying the genre of Genesis 1-11 as mainly symbolic. According to the theistic evolutionists, the purpose of Genesis 1-11 is to teach theology, not history. It’s story, not history. It’s stylized and symbolic. It’s purpose is to explain aspects of human life like marriage, toil and labor, pain in childbirth, and sexual desire. Genesis account of creation can’t be history since no one was there to witness it. Symbolic elements like the talking snake and the Garden of Eden seen as a type of temple illustrate that the proper genre for Genesis is not history.

Second, Genesis 1-11 should be read and understood in light of the other Ancient Near East (ANE) creation myths like the Enuma Elish. According to this theory, the author or authors of Genesis borrowed sequences, themes, and motifs from the ANE myths, including the creation of man from clay. Peter Enns has written that since the foundational stories of Genesis fit so well with the ANE myths, how can we claim that Genesis recounts revealed, unique events? Because these ANE myths are older, then they must be source material for Genesis. Genesis, therefore, can’t be the original events revealed by God. Dr. Belcher pointed out that this hermeneutical approach question both the historicity and relevatory nature of Genesis.

The third hermeneutical approach used by theistic evolutionists is to see Genesis 1 and 2 as contradictory accounts. According to this view, there are great and insurmountable differences between Genesis 1 and 2. Therefore, Genesis 1 has an unknown number of men and women created on day 6. Genesis 2 tells the specific creation of a single man and woman. Since they believe that the difference between Genesis 1 and 2 can’t be resolved, the best answer is that the creation accounts are symbolical not historical.

In summary, Genesis is mythical or symbolical, and Genesis 2:7 can’t be understood as a literal account of the creation of man.

So then, Dr. Belcher asked, what should our response be? There is a good solid response which Dr. Belcher called the historical, biblical, confessional view: Adam was formed from the dust as the very first human being. Dr. Belcher noted that Dr. Jack Collins had written his own response to the question of the historicity of Adam, Adam and Eve: Did They Really Exist? However, Dr. Belcher stated that Dr. Collins’ response falls short because he accepts too many of the hermeneutical assumptions that are foundational to the evolutionary approach to Genesis chapter 2.

The positive side of Dr. Collins’ book, according to Dr. Belcher, is that Dr. Collins wants some form of the traditional view of Adam to be maintained. However, Dr. Collins defines that traditional view as containing three things: the supernatural origins of mankind, Adam and Eve as the headwaters of human race, and an historical fall. Dr. Collins does not include in his traditional view the meaning of Genesis 2:7.

According to Dr. Belcher, Dr. Collins hermeneutical approach to Genesis is not that different from the theistic evolutionists discussed earlier. Dr. Collins accepts two of the three assumptions: Genesis as symbolic and the similarity of the ANE myths. He does not accept that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict.

Dr. Collins writes in his book that Genesis 1-11 are not straight history, but rather historical. By this he means that it refers to actual events, but it contains a high level of figurative and symbolic description. While Dr. Collins doesn’t believe that Genesis is myth, he does believe the better approach is to read it as symbolic.

Dr. Collins also agrees that Genesis 1-11 are best read in the context of the ANE origin stories. Like the ANE stories, Genesis refers to historical events, but in a symbolic way. Since we don’t take the ANE stories literally, we shouldn’t take Genesis 1-11 literally either. Dr. Collins concludes, then, that Genesis 1-11 contains an historical core. This core includes the historicity of Adam, but does not include the way in which Adam was formed. According to Dr. Collins we should not be too literal with Genesis 2:7. This approach is compatible with evolution.

Dr. Belcher gave an example from a Christianity Today article where Dr. Collins said that if the genetic evidence says that one couple can’t be the source of all humans, then Adam and Eve should be seen as a tribe with Adam as the chieftain. Also, in Dr. Collins book, Science and Faith, he writes that while he prefers the view of dust in Genesis 2:7 as loose soil, he can commend the view that dust is the body of a hominid. Dr. Belcher disagreed. Dust cannot mean the body of a hominid. He gave the example of a judicial case from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that addressed that very question. The OPC decision was that dust can’t mean the body of a hominid.

According to Dr. Belcher, Dr. Collins approach gives away too much hermeneutically. It can’t be used to support the historical, biblical, confessional view of Adam.

Dr. Belcher then offered his response. The literary nature of Genesis 1-11 is key, he said. Genesis should be read by it’s own literary character. There is no difference in genre between Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-50. The Hebrew narrative use of the WAW or VAV consecutive is consistent throughout the whole of Genesis. Dr. Belcher also said that it is a false dichotomy that narrative history can’t be theological. Genesis is narrative, historical, and theological. He also said that the exegesis of the passage must determine if there are symbolic or literary devices, not assumptions made about the text beforehand.

Dr. Belcher went on to say that it is a misuse to use the ANE myths as a guide for understanding Genesis. The similarities that exist between Genesis and the ANE myths are superficial and insignificant in light of the differences between the them. Genesis is not dependent on the ANE myths, nor are the ANE myths guides to Genesis. That approach downplays the supernatural relevatory nature of Genesis. Instead, Dr. Belcher said that the ANE myths should be seen as derivative from the original stories, the ones given to us in Genesis, handed down over time.

Dr. Belcher also pointed out that Genesis 1 and 2 do not contradict each other, but can be understood as a broad versus a narrow look at creation. Genesis 1 gives the broad view, and Genesis 2 focuses on the events in the Garden of Eden.

Lastly, Dr. Belcher spoke about the implications for the church in accepting evolution as the way God created. Most importantly, it affects other passages of Scripture. If Genesis 2:7 isn’t actually how God created man from the dust, then the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib is also out. However, Paul refers to the creation of Adam and Eve, and the specific details, like woman made from man. Was Paul wrong?

If Paul was wrong there, was he also wrong when he makes the great parallel between the first Adam and the last Adam, Christ? Paul’s use of Adam to explain the origin of sin and to contrast that with salvation through sacrifice of Christ argues for the necessity of an historical Adam. If Adam wasn’t the first human through whom all humans descend, then there is no salvation for those who are not descended from Adam. Christ took the nature of Adam and died for those in Adam. Any who are not of Adam would, therefore, not be saved.

Dr. Belcher closed with a call for the church to stand firm in preserving this truth. Pastors and seminaries must teach the truth. Presbyteries must be careful in examining men regarding their views on evolution and Adam. As he noted earlier, there are those who would say that they believe in the historicity of Adam but mean an evolutionary Adam. The confessions are clear on the supernatural creation of Adam.

Dr. Belcher also noted that given the changing nature of scientific theories it’s dangerous to attach ourselves to one of these theories as it could easily change in time. In our society, evolution has become a “sacred cow” which must not be questioned. When science and the Bible disagree, it seems that the Bible must always be the one to give ground.

However, opposing evolution is hardly the only unpopular view held by Christians. The church holds the minority position on almost all modern ethical debates. What we believe is abhorrent to society. Salvation by Christ alone is considered intolerant. Sex outside of marriage is seen as prudish. The ordination of men only is seen as out of touch. Believing homosexuality is wrong is seen as bigoted and hateful.

If the culture hates our views on all these, why then are we surprised that the view of the historicity of Adam is also seen as uneducated and out of touch with mainstream culture. Are we willing to stand for the truth of God’s Word even if that means we are looked down on as uneducated? The inerrancy of Scripture and the gospel of Christ are at stake. May God give us the courage to stand for His truth.

[Note: Conference audio may be purchased by emailing bookstore@gpts.edu, or by calling the seminary at (864) 322-2717.]

Connecting the Dots: the NAE, the PCA, and BioLogos

Over at WORLD Magazine, Marvin Olasky has an interesting piece about a new collaboration between the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE ) and the  American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the purpose of building “better dialogue and understanding between the scientific and evangelical communities.” Dr. Olasky’s concern is whether there will be real dialogue or whether the goal of the collaboration is to sell evolution to evangelical holdouts:

Dialogue, sure: But let’s make it a real dialogue, with proponents of Intelligent Design not frozen out. Better understanding, of course: But let’s focus on God and not make Charles Darwin a god. ‘Collaboration’? Not if the goal is to sell evolution to the three-fourths of evangelicals who still keep faith with the Bible’s teaching that God made Adam from the dust of the earth. Is this overly critical of what could be a good thing? Not if we take into account the 2006 AAAS ‘Statement on the Teaching of Evolution,’ which sees critiques of evolution as ‘attacks on the integrity of science.’ Not if we take into account Templeton’s ‘Science for Ministry’ funding of ‘programs that will help ministers and the congregations they serve to move away from … simplistic solutions and polarizing stereotypes.’

Dr. Olasky points out that this new venture comes on the heels of the criticism that the NAE received for its $1 million partnership with an organization that promotes contraception for unmarried couples. He notes that the NAE has since announced that it will not continue that partnership. His question “is a collaborating NAE once again trying to sway evangelicals rather than represent them?” is a very good one.

Dr. Olasky doesn’t, however, connect all of the dots regarding the AAAS, the NAE, and the Templeton Foundation. Here are some things that I think are relevant and that explain my own concern with this new collaboration.

First, the AAAS does indeed have a grant from the Templeton Foundation. The Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion program (DoSER) is an almost $6 million grant program which “engages the public on a range of questions in science and religion, including evolution, cosmology, astrobiology, and human evolution. The program seeks to establish stronger relationships between the scientific and religious communities and promotes multidisciplinary education and scholarship on the ethical and religious implications of advancements in science and technology.”

Note the very important inclusion of “human evolution.” The AAAS has argued strongly against any attempt to teach Creationism or Intelligent Design in the classroom as part of a science program because, according to them, religion shouldn’t be taught in a science curriculum.

Second, in addition to funding the DoSER program, the Templeton Foundation also funds the BioLogos Foundation. This year’s grant from the Templeton Foundation for BioLogos is entitled “Celebrating the Harmony between Mainstream Science and the Christian Faith.” This new grant states it’s purpose:

A significant number of Americans hold views contrary to certain well-established scientific facts. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 40% of Americans believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” Anti-evolutionary, young-earth views are even more pervasive among evangelical Christians than in the public at large. Many Christians believe evolution is inherently atheistic and therefore incompatible with their faith. This mistaken belief is frequently reinforced by militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and repeated by fundamentalist Christians like Ken Ham. In addition, the media repeatedly frame science/religion stories as though the two are at war. The BioLogos Foundation exists to turn the tide. In just two years BioLogos has made remarkable inroads into the evangelical community and broader culture by influencing key opinion leaders, scholars, pastors, and educators, and by reaching out to the general public.

This proposal builds upon those foundations as follows: First, we will sponsor a series of annual workshops for leaders of evangelical Christianity (scholars, scientists, pastors and para-church leaders) to dialogue about specific topics at the interface between science and Christianity. These will be patterned after the Theology of Celebration gatherings that we have hosted in 2009 and 2010 and will host in early 2012. Second, we will make significant improvements to the BioLogos website: 1) We will create a resource center with multimedia content to meet the unique needs of various groups such as pastors, teachers, parents, and students. 2) Through increased moderation of our blog comments, we will ensure that our website remains a place where people can gather to respectfully dialogue about topics of interest and relevance to science and evangelical Christianity. 3) We will better articulate our core beliefs and values to maximize our trustworthiness among Evangelicals.

I have previously posted about the Theology of Celebration gatherings from 2009, 2010, and 2012. At the gathering this year, the concern was raised that so many evangelicals reject evolution. Dr. Tim Keller, host of all three of the Theology of Celebration workshops, was interviewed afterwards:

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. ‘We have arguments, but they have a narrative,’ noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is ‘the job of pastors,’ Keller said.

After the 2012 Theology of Celebration workshop, BioLogos announced a new grant program, Vision for Change, to focus on ways pastors and other church leaders can help their congregations learn to accept the “truth of evolution”:

As our regular readers well know, the majority of evangelical Christians reject one of the most well-established of scientific theories—evolution. Evolution lies at the heart of many scientific disciplines; it is as fundamental to biology as 2 + 2 = 4 is to mathematics or as E = mc2 is to physics. If these basic truths were found to be false, entire disciplines would collapse. To the majority of Evangelicals, however, an anti-evolutionary view of origins is equally fundamental. In their view, it affects how we read Scripture and understand the Gospel itself—the very heart of our identity as Christians. If evolution were found to be true, it would be disturbing indeed.

While Christian scholars and scientists have actively worked on evolutionary creation and related topics for decades, their work has mostly failed to leave the ivory tower, creating a vacuum in the church. Well-meaning public figures have moved into the vacuum to proclaim that much is at stake if Christians ever yield to mainstream science. These figures preach that scriptural authority, Christian theology, and Christian morals and values will all collapse if believers accommodate their thinking to the discoveries of ‘man’s historical science.’

It’s time for things to change.

The AAAS and the BioLogos Foundation, both funded by the Templeton Foundation, are actively working to promote the acceptance of evolution, including the common descent of man, by evangelical Christians. You may say that this is all well and good, but what difference does it make and why should I care? Well, that gets to my last point.

In addition to the fact that the best known pastor in the PCA, Dr. Tim Keller, is hosting these BioLogos workshops and is calling for pastors to promote the BioLogos view, the Stated Clerk of the PCA, Dr. L. Roy Taylor is the Chairman of the Board of the NAE. That means that my denomination, the PCA, is not only a member of the NAE, but has someone in the executive leadership of the organization. That makes their decisions, our decisions. In an endorsement statement by Dr. Taylor, he says:

The Presbyterian Church in America is part of the NAE because it is consistent with our doctrine of the Church. Fellowship and cooperation with other evangelical Christians is consistent with our theology. The NAE enables us to have a wider ministry, and it enables us to have a broader, more effective influence. Our fellowship, interaction, and cooperative ministry with our fellow evangelical Christians such as those in the NAE help us to serve Christ and the Church in our challenging times.

While I appreciate the usefulness of working together with other Christians in various organizations, it seems to me that the NAE is moving towards pushing certain views rather than representing the interests of the member churches.

A Eulogy for a Blog

Pastor Wes White announced yesterday on his blog that he is retiring from the blogosphere. He plans to focus more of his time and energy on local ministry. I can certainly attest to the amount of time it takes to maintain a blog of that size, but I am very sad to see him close up shop. I thought I’d share a bit of my own story and how Pastor Wes’ blog played a role in it.

A couple of years ago, my family and I were happily ensconced in a good-sized PCA church. We were very active in the various ministry opportunities, and we had lots of friends there. We had never really heard of Federal Vision or New Perspective on Paul. We knew N.T. Wright’s name, but only had a vague idea who he was or why anyone would care what he had to say. We were fairly happy in our ignorance.

Then we began to notice a shift in the messages. It was subtle and hard to pinpoint, but something seemed off to us. We started reading and researching to understand what this new emphasis was and where it was coming from. That led us to N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. After we left that church and began to look for a new church, we continued to read and research to understand the issues within the PCA and to give us a better idea of what to look for in our next church. God has blessed us with a wonderful church now. We are truly grateful to hear the Gospel proclaimed so clearly.

It was during this time that I came across Pastor Wes’ blog. He had so much information and discussion on the very issues I had been researching. I contacted him to ask for some additional resources. He was very gracious in responding and helping me. This is when I began to research and write for the blogs. Pastor Wes gave me my first opportunity to publish my thoughts. He has been a great source of encouragement and support.

We will all miss Pastor Wes’ blog very much. I have been honored to have been a part of it. I know there are many people like me who have been helped and encouraged through his words and through the other commentators there. I pray that I can be a help to others through my work here.

PCA’s Stated Clerk Issues Statement on “Human Sexuality and Ordination”

Last year, after the mainline Presbyterian church (PCUSA) removed the “fidelity and chastity” requirement from their ordination standards, there was some confusion by the public over what the PCA believes regarding the ordination of homosexual clergy. In order to clear up this confusion, Dr. Roy Taylor wrote a paper explaining the PCA’s stance on the issue. The paper explains:

The PCA requires that all candidates for ordained office practice what we believe God requires of all persons; that is, that single persons are to live chaste lives, that “marriage is to be between one man and one woman,” and that fidelity in marriage is God’s will revealed in Holy Scriptures. The PCA has not changed nor is it considering any changes in its requirements for ordination.

Dr. Taylor goes on to explain the difference between the PCA and PCUSA and to give a brief history of the founding of the PCA. He then refers to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as the Standards that all elders and deacons must affirm in their ordination vows to receive and adopt:

Although there are theological differences within PCA, these differences are along a conservative-evangelical spectrum and within the doctrinal parameters of The Westminster Confession, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. All PCA Teaching Elders (Ministers), Ruling Elders, and Deacons, affirm in their ordination vows that they “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scriptures.”

The paper concludes with references to relevant sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms as well as statements made by the General Assembly on various occasions that might be helpful in understanding the PCA’s position.

While I am thankful for Dr. Taylor’s work to clarify the PCA’s teachings on sexuality and ordination, I can’t help but wonder why we couldn’t have done a similar thing to clarify the PCA’s teachings on theistic evolution and the historicity of Adam.

The Grown-up Solution

Yesterday, I posted an article by Pastor Matthew Kingsbury about the PCA’s vote not to make a new statement on the origins of Adam and Eve. Pastor Kingsbury wrote that the “grown-ups” in the PCA had prevailed.

Tim Phillips, pastor of an ARP church in Louisville, KY, has written a response to Pastor Kingsbury’s article. The week before the PCA’s General Assembly, the ARP had their annual meeting. At this meeting, they overwhelmingly passed an overture affirming the non-evolutionary origins of Adam and Eve. Pastor Phillips’ church was the one to submit the overture.

In his article in response to Pastor Kingsbury, Pastor Phillips takes issue with the “somewhat offensive” title of “Grown-ups Prevail at the PCA General Assembly. While he agrees with the basic premise that the Westminster Standards “are comprehensive and clear and have full authority,” he believes that the Standards could not anticipate all potential heresies:

However, there is one major deficiency in the Standards: they do not have the ability to travel through time into the future. Thus, various movements and challenges and heresies will arise over time that will seek to undermine what the Standards teach — things the Standards might teach about, but don’t directly address.

He also points out that even with the clarity of the Standards, heresies, such as the Federal Vision, have arisen and have needed to be dealt with:

Yet, as clear as this statement [on justification] is, the errors of Federal Visionism have arisen within the very churches which claim to hold to the Westminster Standards. Therefore, in order to address such concerns, sometimes church courts will make official statements. Sometimes these come through committees, sometimes they are made on the floor of the assembly, sometimes they come through memorials/overtures sent up by the presbyteries. There is nothing unusual about this.

And,

Once again, the Westminster Standards are not a time machine. They were written two centuries before Darwinism and natural selection and 19th century attacks on Scripture. Should they be sufficient to address these issues? Yes, but we all know perfectly well that the history of Presbyterianism is littered with ministers and elders who took took vows to affirm the Standards and yet openly taught against them. To say, “we don’t need statements, we already have the Confession” is almost along the lines of “We don’t need creeds, we have the Bible!” It fails to realize that there are those who might interpret statements differently from others, even if they claim to be biblical and/or confessional. There might be a “baptistic” sentiment here, but I think the pastor is mistaken where it is coming from.

Pastor Phillips also believes that while we should use the judicial processes available to us, pastors need to be careful to protect the sheep:

Sometimes issues arise that require strong statements from Presbyterian bodies. There is nothing childish or baptistic in that approach. God’s people should be guarded by their leaders. If a product is potentially harmful to my child, I expect to see a warning label. It is not exactly comforting for someone to tell me that I first need to wait on a lawsuit to settle the matter.

He gives, as an example, two potential pastoral scenarios that I thought really helped illustrate the issue:

First Scenario

Visitor: Pastor, I’m interested in church membership, but I first want to know where the denomination stands on the issue of creation.

Pastor: Well, we have the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, even though they predate theistic evolution. We tried to have a statement declaring the special creation of Adam passed at the national level of the denomination, but that failed. Now we’ll have to wait to see if anyone teaches theistic evolution and then wait for a judicial case to be decided for there to be anything definitive.

Second Scenario

Visitor: Pastor, I’m interested in church membership, but I first want to know where the denomination stands on the issue of creation.

Pastor: I’m glad you asked. Our General Synod recently passed a memorial that affirms the special creation of Adam. As a matter of fact, it was our church that wrote the memorial and our presbytery that sent it along to the General Synod, where it was passed overwhelmingly.

I highly recommend that you read the full article.