What Church Leaders Should Know About Responding to Abuse

I was recently interviewed by the Hagerstown, MD Harald-Mail as a part of a series of articles covering an abuse coverup at a prominent Christian school there. I spent quite a bit of time with the reporter on the phone, and she did an excellent job putting this together. The newspaper article is largely just reporting her interview with me.

In the interview, I say some things that I think all church leaders should know about responding to abuse. If you are a church leader, I encourage you to read the article and leave a comment if you would like more resources.

Thanks so much to Tamela Baker for her excellent work on this story, and to her colleague Alexis Fitzpatrick who teamed up with her on this project to break the story of abuse and coverup at the school there. In the process, they show the important role that journalists play in shining light on the truth when institutions fail to do that. The greatest recent example of this was the Boston Globe’s reporting in the Spotlight project, which blew the lid off of the clergy abuse scandal in this country. A fantastic movie was made about this that every Christian should watch. While this set of reporting will not likely end up on the silver screen, it demonstrates the vital role that local journalists play. Remember, it was the journalists at the Indianapolis Star, who were willing to run with the story that Rachael Denhollander was pitching them, that exposed and eventually took down Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics.

Here is the article. I hope it both informs and challenges you.

Misconceptions About Homosexuality in the PCA

Some have argued the PCA is on a slippery slope toward sexual perversion. I hope that this article will demonstrate that this is not the case. The main reasons for this are three-fold: 1: We have confessional standards that are up to the task and are being adhered to; 2: We have an excellent AIC report on human sexuality that I heartily commend to you; and 3: We have robust church courts that are doing their job.

Next week the Presbyterian Church in America gathers in St. Louis, Missouri for its 48th General Assembly. This is after a year of COVID and a postponed GA in 2020, so there is a lot on tap. One of the main items of concern within the PCA is the perceived threat of homosexuality encroaching on the PCA. Many things have been said about this threat, both in terms of what currently exists within the PCA and what might exist if we slide down a slippery slope.

The PCA stands for biblical morality. Those biblical positions are spelled out clearly in the Westminster Standards and our Book of Church Order. Westminster Confession of Faith 24:1 states, “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband at the same time.” Additionally, Larger Catechism 139 forbids gay sex in any form. In 2019, BCO 59-3 was made constitutionally binding and was amended to state the following, “Marriage is only to be between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24,25; Matt. 19:4-6, 1 Cor. 7:2), in accordance with the Word of God. Therefore, ministers in the Presbyterian Church in America who solemnize marriages shall only solemnize marriages between one man and one woman.” Further, our Westminster Standards give us an excellent theological foundation for considering the issues of temptation, desire, indwelling sin, and sanctification.[1]

In 2019, the 47th General Assembly commissioned an Ad interim Committee to study and report on the issues of human sexuality (hereafter AIC). The resulting report is excellent, giving us a thoroughly confessional report that is informative and pastorally sensitive. I heartily commend this report as the answer that the PCA needs in order to remain faithful in this challenging time.

Given our strong confessional and constitutional foundation and the excellent AIC report, the PCA is on solid footing regarding the issue of homosexuality. Nevertheless, there are many within our denomination and without who are raising the alarm about “homosexual pastors” in our midst. I have personally seen several allegations about certain PCA pastors and elders that I believe to be untrue. As a confessionalist and as an ordained pastor, I am bound by vow to preserve and promote the truth and the good name of my neighbor, as well as to defend the innocence of those falsely accused and to discourage tale-bearers and slanderers (WLC 144). Indeed I would be sinning if I were silent in a just cause and held my peace when correction of untruths was called for (WLC 145). In this article I am seeking to keep my vow by laying out what I know to be true against some of the misstatements and rumors that have been circulating. I would remind my readers that the Larger Catechism likewise calls all of us to not stop our ears against a just defense (WLC 145) and to readily receive a good report regarding the innocence of our neighbor (WLC 144).

I will address the most important of these misconceptions section by section. In doing so, my earnest desire is to preserve and promote the purity, peace, and unity of the PCA. I have dialogued both in public and in private with several individuals and groups on the issues I am about to report on. The purpose of this article is to inform those who have not been as intimately involved in these discussions as I have so that they can judge rightly as we come to the General Assembly next week.

Gay Christian – Some have articulated that there are Pastors and Elders in the PCA who call themselves Gay Christians, or otherwise claim a Gay identity, and teach others to do the same. I am acquainted with quite a few pastors and elders in the PCA who experience unwanted homoerotic temptations, and yet I am aware of no pastor or elder in the PCA that identifies this way. There is a reasonable misunderstanding on this point because of a Christianity Today testimony in which the author uses the word “gay” 12 times.[2] However, a careful analysis reveals that he only refers to himself as such in the past tense. The opening line of the article is, “Bill, I’m gay.” Rather than being a declaration of his present identity, this is a testimony of how as a newly converted Christian he confessed his struggle for the first time to his campus minister. This is supported by the same pastor’s repeated clarification that he does not presently, and has not over the past 20+ years, used the term Gay or Gay Christian to identify himself.[3] His preferred term is “same-sex attracted,” though he realizes that term comes with some baggage from the ex-gay movement.[4] There are some PCA pastors and elders who will use the term “gay” as a descriptor in certain situations, specifically when talking with non-believers, but they emphatically reject that it is a core aspect of their identity. They claim their core identity to be in union with Christ.

Similarly, there are no PCA pastors or elders who embrace “Gay Christianity” as an alternate culture or community in the church. Those who do so are outside the bounds of the PCA and not adherents to our theological system or polity.

There may be members of the PCA, including seminarians, candidates under care, and staff members of PCA churches, who stray into some of these problematic areas. The AIC report advises the following pastoral response in those cases:

“Given this conclusion, how should we respond to fellow believers in our churches who may use such language? First, we ought not start from the assumption that they are being unfaithful or living in active rebellion to God. Rather, in the context of established relationships, pastors and leaders in the church ought to ask questions and seek to understand each individual’s story. Why do they use that language? Have they thought through the relative benefits and dangers? Noting the range of possible meanings of terms like gay and gay Christian, we would do well to seek understanding before imparting advice. In practical and plain terms, the issue of terminology is more likely a matter for shepherding in wisdom, and not in and of itself grounds for discipline.”[5]

Homoerotic Attraction and Sin – There is also a similar misunderstanding that there are PCA pastors and elders who teach that homoerotic attraction is not in itself sinful.[6] This is also not the case. There are no PCA pastors or elders that I am aware of who teach this. Specifically, in a recent presbytery investigation, one pastor stated, “I agreed that same-sex sexual attraction—even resisted—is of sin, is sinful, and is a movement of indwelling sin.”[7] He later stated:

“I don’t recall saying that same-sex attraction is a morally neutral condition. I have repeatedly stated otherwise. Any time I sense an internal sexual or romantic pull toward anyone God has not given me—including any male by definition—I have to recognize that pull for what it is. It is an effect of the fall, yes, but more precisely it is the pull of what St. Paul terms the flesh. It’s a motion of the internal corruption that remains in the believer throughout this life. “This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated” (see WCF 6.4-6). This temptation is “original corruption” and is “properly called sin,” even when it does not lead to “actual sin.” Apart from Christ, I would carry the guilt of original corruption.”[8]

All PCA pastors and elders that I am aware of affirm the theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter six on sin and of statements 3-6 on sin in the AIC.

On the subject of sin, PCA pastors and elders affirm that homoerotic orientation is sinful and therefore is the subject of repentance and mortification. PCA elders and pastors also affirm that temptation to sin is itself sin. Again, I am aware of no pastors or elders in the PCA who would deny these doctrines.

Furthermore there is a misunderstanding among some that some PCA pastors and elders teach that there is an aspect of being gay that is not of sin or that should be celebrated. In the report cited above that same minister stated, “Owning your sin does not equal celebrating your sin…. If a believer were celebrating their fallen sexuality, then there’s obviously a problem with that.”[9]

Sanctification – There are also reports that there are ministers in the PCA who teach that there can be no growth in sanctification for those who experience homoerotic temptation. This is largely a misunderstanding related to the possibility of orientation change. There are pastors in the PCA who teach that orientation change is rare. However this does not mean that no change whatsoever is possible for a Christian who experiences unwanted homoerotic temptations. When someone asserts that orientation change is extremely rare, he is referring to a change where someone moves from having only attraction towards the same sex to only having attraction to the opposite sex; in other words, from being 100% gay to being 100% straight.

This shift is very rare, according to those who have been ministering in these areas for decades. “In January 2012, Alan Chambers, the last president of Exodus International, an organization representing over 270 ex-gay ministries, stated, ‘The majority of people that I have met—and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them—have not experienced a change in their orientation.’ He later clarified that the 0.1% represented a woman who later told him she was bisexual. Mike Rosebush, former vice president of Focus on the Family and director of Exodus International’s Professional Counselors’ Network—himself a psychologist working exclusively with same-sex-attracted men—has said that he has yet to identify a single instance in which same-sex attraction disappeared. Longtime HarvestUSA director Tim Geiger has stated that he has also never seen same-sex attraction go away—in himself or anyone else.”[10]

On the subject of orientation change the AIC has stated:

The error of some Christian approaches to same-sex sexual desire has been to tie faithfulness to the elimination of homosexual temptation (or even the development of heterosexual desire) as though if Christians really did enough therapy, had enough faith, or repented sufficiently, God would deliver them in some final and complete way, changing their orientation. This perspective reflects a sort of over-realized eschatology—a view that what we will be finally and fully in the new creation will be realized in that way in the present life. Against such a view, our Confession reminds us that even in the regenerate, the corruption of sin remains in this life (WCF 6.5). The task for believers is to pursue faithfulness and obedience in this life, holding in view our new creation selves into which we are progressively, though often with many fits and starts, being conformed.”[11]

However, this does not mean that those who experience unwanted homoerotic temptation do not change at all. In the presbytery investigation mentioned above, the pastor stated that some who experience unwanted homoerotic temptations are, by God’s grace, able to see their desires change to the point that they can marry a member of the opposite sex and have children. For those who aren’t able to experience this kind of change, the expectation and reality for the believer is that those unwanted sinful desires would diminish over time both in frequency and intensity. Thus, it is not true that PCA pastors are teaching that believers who have experienced homoerotic temptation should not expect to change.

This is in agreement with Statement Seven from the AIC report on Human Sexuality:

We affirm that Christians should flee immoral behavior and not yield to temptation. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the ordinary means of grace, Christians should seek to wither, weaken, and put to death the underlying idolatries and sinful desires that lead to sinful behavior. The goal is not just consistent fleeing from, and regular resistance to, temptation, but the diminishment and even the end of the occurrences of sinful desires through the reordering of the loves of one’s heart toward Christ. Through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, we can make substantial progress in the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Rom. 6:14-19; Heb. 12:14; 1 John 4:4; WCF 13.1).

Nevertheless, this process of sanctification—even when the Christian is diligent and fervent in the application of the means of grace—will always be accompanied by many weaknesses and imperfections (WCF 16.5, 6), with the Spirit and the flesh warring against one another until final glorification (WCF 13.2). The believer who struggles with same-sex attraction should expect to see the regenerate nature increasingly overcome the remaining corruption of the flesh, but this progress will often be slow and uneven. Moreover, the process of mortification and vivification involves the whole person, not simply unwanted sexual desires. The aim of sanctification in one’s sexual life cannot be reduced to attraction to persons of the opposite sex (though some persons may experience movement in this direction), but rather involves growing in grace and perfecting holiness in the fear of God (WCF 13.3).”[12]

Lastly, on sanctification, there are are a minority of voices in the PCA who insist that true repentance and regeneration should result in the total elimination of homoerotic desires. Frankly, this position is out of accord with our system of doctrine in what it teaches on sanctification (WCF 13.2-13.3). This view seems much closer to Wesleyan Perfectionism than the Reformed view of progressive sanctification.

Orientation – There are some in the PCA who have argued that no Christian should say that they have a “homosexual orientation.” However this is contrary to the AIC report, which states:

How then should we think of the language of sexual orientation? Insofar as the term orientation is used descriptively to articulate a particular set of experiences, namely the persistent and predominant sexual attractions of an individual, it can remain useful as a way of classifying those experiences in contrast to the experiences of the majority of other people. However, insofar as the term orientation carries with it a set of assumptions about the nature of that experience that is unbiblical (e.g., overemphasized rigidity, its normativity, etc.), then the terminology may require qualification or even rejection in some circumstances.”[13]

Given what I have stated above regarding PCA pastors’ teaching on the possibility and expectation of real change for believers who experience homoerotic temptation, we should assume that those leaders in the PCA who describe themselves as having a homosexual orientation are doing so in the first sense mentioned by the AIC.

The Above Reproach Qualification – Some in the PCA have argued that anyone who states that they experience unwanted homoerotic temptation is automatically disqualified from being an ordained officer in the PCA. This is stated on the basis of BCO 8-2 and BCO 21.c.1.1, which cite 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These two biblical passages state that elders must be “above reproach.” The Greek word used in both instances is ἀνέγκλητος, which denotes being guiltless or blameless. Moreover, 1 Timothy 3:7 states that an elder must have a good reputation with unbelievers. The Greek word in that case is μαρτυρία, which means to have a good witness or testimony. In both these instances it seems that these refer to outward instances where a person would incur guilt or a bad reputation because of their actions. Given what we have seen in the AIC report regarding the issues of sin, sanctification, right use of terminology, and orientation, which we have all covered above, it would seem that some other act or aberrant teaching would need to be in play to make someone fail to be “above reproach.” As we have stated above, I am not aware of any pastor or elder in the PCA who would hold unacceptable positions on these matters.

Furthermore, the AIC states, regarding whether a man who experiences homoerotic temptation is ordainable, “Insofar as such persons display the requisite Christian maturity, we do not consider this sin struggle automatically to disqualify someone for leadership in the church (1 Cor. 6:9-11, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9; 2 Pet. 1:3-11).”[14]

In citing 1 Corinthians 6:9, the committee is presumably referring to Paul’s injunction that those who “practice homosexuality” will not inherit the kingdom of God. In verse 11 Paul states, “such were some of you.” Some in the PCA have argued that anyone who experiences unwanted homoerotic temptation is not a subject for ordination because the verse says “such were some of you,” and those men still experience the temptation. However, 1 Corinthians 6:9 does not say “those who experience homoerotic temptation,” but, “those who practice homosexuality.” The confusion may lie in that both the NASB and the NKJV translate the verse as saying “homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.” However, as the ESV footnote points out, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.” The AIC report concurs with this in saying:

Paul coined the term arsenokoitai (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10) from the use of two related terms in the Septuagint version of Leviticus 18 and 20. The basic meaning is “man-bedders” or men who have sex with other men. The word malakoi can mean “soft” as in soft clothing (Matt. 11:8; Luke 7:25), or when used pejoratively of men it can mean “effeminate.” In the ancient Roman world, “The ‘soft’ man lack[ed] masculine posture, courage, authority, and self-restraint; he is like a woman.” Fredrik Ivarrson, “Vice Lists and Deviant Masculinity,” in Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses, eds. Todd Penner and Caroline Vander Stichele (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 180. Sexual passivity or penetrability is not the definition of malakos, but it is one possible connotation. Ivarrson, “Vice Lists,” 180-81. The combination of arsenokoitai and malakoi, uniquely used in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 6:9, likely refers most directly—as per the ESV footnote—to the active and passive partners in consensual homosexual activity. For more extended discussion, see Chapter 5 in Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).”[15]

Thus, Scripture does not say that those who experience homoerotic attraction will not inherit the kingdom of God, but those who act on those attractions by engaging in gay sex. Again, there is no PCA pastor or elder who teaches that any form of gay sex is lawful (whether in marriage or not) or engages in same-sex sexual activity. It is also very clear in our recent history that those pastors and elders who have come to that position have left the PCA for denominations who allow those views and practices.

Further, some in the PCA argue that homoerotic temptation itself disqualifies because the temptation is “unnatural.” This is argued on the basis of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, which call gay sex an “abomination.” I agree that gay sex is an abomination. But I would point out that the scriptures in their original languages do not say “those who experience sexual attraction towards the same sex are an abomination.” The scriptures uniformly say, “those who engage in gay sex are an abomination.” Leviticus 18:22 states, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” This is the act of gay sex. Leviticus 20:13 states, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” Again, it is the sex act that is an abomination.

Now some may argue that being tempted to engage in something that is an abomination makes one not above reproach. I would counter that there are other abominations in the scriptures. The conclusion of Leviticus 18 says this:

But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you 27 (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), 28 lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. 29 For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. 30 So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.”[16]

The list of sexual sins in Leviticus 18 is long. Are we going to say that if anyone is tempted towards any of these things it makes them not above reproach? Who will be left who is above reproach? Again, the end of Leviticus 18 calls all of them abominations, even the heterosexual sins. If someone has unbidden temptations of lust towards his neighbor’s wife, is he disqualified from ministry?

Deuteronomy 25 lists several sins related to the eighth commandment. “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. 15 A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 16 For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the LORD your God.”[17] Are we saying that anyone who is tempted to be dishonest in business is disqualified for ministry? These are abominations too.

Proverbs six lists seven abominations, “There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”[18] In Hebrew poetry, the last item in a list like this is the most important, in this case the most heinous. Are we saying that those who are tempted to be argumentative and sow discord, who struggle with this sin and even occasionally commit it are disqualified from ministry? Sowing discord is an abomination too. Is the temptation to sow discord also disqualifying?

All of this presents a purity test that none of us can pass. All of us are tempted to do things that the Scriptures call abomination. When we say that homoerotic temptation itself is disqualifying we are singling out that temptation to one sin against others. If we are consistent, then we are all disqualified.

Revoice – Many concerns have been expressed about the teachings of an interdenominational parachurch ministry called Revoice. Revoice is a conference that first met in St. Louis in 2018 in a PCA church. It was a new ministry that sought to be a place of encouragement, exhortation, and accountability for Christian believers who experience unwanted homoerotic temptation. A conference like it was needed due to the fact that a previous similar gathering called the Gay Christian Network (now called Q Christian Fellowship) had increasingly taken a stance that affirmed the goodness of same-sex relationships and ostracized Christians who still believed that homoerotic sex acts are sinful.[19] Revoice itself is a broad-tent organization that welcomes all Side B Christians regardless of denomination.[20] As such not everyone who attends or even speaks holds our Reformed views on sin and sanctification (or even anthropology).

As a broad-tent organization, and one that was in its infancy and trying to figure things out, mistakes were inevitably made. Due to the fact that the first conference was held at one of its member churches, Missouri Presbytery performed an investigation of Revoice and the PCA church that hosted it. In that investigation, some of the erroneous teachings were repudiated and warnings and admonitions were given to the conference and to the PCA church that hosted it. But on the whole, the Presbytery found that for an organization that was in its infancy, the conference did a lot of good, while it needed to be shepherded and guided by the Presbytery’s recommendations. In other words, the court of original jurisdiction, Missouri Presbytery, did its job in investigating and issuing repudiations, corrections, and admonitions. It is not the case that Missouri Presbytery has given cover for Revoice or the PCA church that hosted it, or any of its pastors or elders.[21]

There has been some discussion in PCA circles warning us about “Revoice Theology.” What is Revoice Theology? It’s hard to know what is meant by the label in absence of a systematic description by those who employ it. Revoice Theology is not a term that Revoice itself uses, instead it is a label that is intended to warn us of Revoice’s teachings. What does Revoice officially teach? You can read it for yourself (link provided below). We have to be careful not to take talks given at the first Revoice conference when the organization was still getting its legs underneath it as standing in for what the ministry definitively believes always and forever. This was one of the main points of the Missouri Presbytery report: Revoice needs to grow and mature.

Now to be clear, the statement of theology provided below is not right in line with the Westminster Confession. As I said above, Revoice is broadly Christian, welcoming in all sorts of folks who want to be committed to the Biblical sexual ethic. Not everyone in Revoice believes that orientation itself is sinful. They believe that it is a result of the fall and any conscious lusts or actions that flow out of it are sinful. But, let me be clear, PCA ministers and elders do hold the teachings of the Westminster Standards on sin, sanctification, and repentance. PCA ministers and elders who may attend or speak at Revoice do believe that homoerotic orientation is sinful, as I’ve already quoted above.

Revoice statement of theological conviction

In conclusion: Some have argued the PCA is on a slippery slope toward sexual perversion. I hope that this article has demonstrated that this is not the case. The main reasons for this are three-fold:

1: We have confessional standards that are up to the task and are being adhered to;

2: We have an excellent AIC report on human sexuality that I heartily commend to you; and

3: We have robust church courts that are doing their job.

We should be proud of our denomination and its steadfast commitment to biblical truth. We should be thankful for those men and women who have experienced unwanted same-sex attraction and who have heroically stood for Christ and his teachings in the midst of a world that calls them traitors and self-haters for daring to believe in Jesus and do what he says. I, for one, am proud to call them friends.

If you found this article helpful, you might also consider visiting A Faithful PCA.


[1] See WCF 6 on sin, 13 on sanctification, and 15 on repentance.

[2] See https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/may-web-only/greg-johnson-hide-shame-shelter-gospel-gay-teenager.html

[3] See Missouri Committee to Respond to Memorial (Hereafter CRM), p. 63, lines 41-45, “Personally, I have never referred to myself as a “gay Christian” or “homosexual Christian.” And I have not described myself as “gay” in the present tense since the 1990s. It’s always past tense as part of the arc of my personal testimony. I don’t mind when others use the term of me, but I myself have always stated that “I was a gay atheist, became a Christian, and my sexual orientation never changed. I am still same-sex attracted.”” This report is public and can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/18_vvpZg2PwRFwBjwAg4fGp-bhJXh8Mhm/view 

[4] See PCA GA AIC on Human Sexuality (Hereafter AIC),p. 29, lines 35-38 and note 57, “Others find the term gay to be an important part of being honest about the reality of their sexual attractions, especially given that other terms like same-sex attraction are perceived by some to be associated with “ex-gay” or orientation change approaches,” and “See for instance Greg Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books), 61, 63, where he says, “By talking in terms of attraction instead of sexual orientation, ex-gay advocates were better equipped to treat homosexuality as a passing phase…Because of this linguistic history, I couldn’t help cringing when people referred to my sexual orientation as ‘same-sex attraction.’”” This report can be found here:  https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AIC-Report-to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf

[5] AIC, p. 30, lines 31-39. Emphasis added.

[6] I use the term homoerotic attraction to make clear that there is a sexual aspect to the attraction being described. The AIC report uses the term same-sex attraction, and I intend this to be synonymous with that.

[7] Missouri CRM, p. 16, lines 22-24.

[8] Missouri CRM, p. 18, lines 7-14. Emphasis added.

[9] Missouri CRM, p. 27, line 1 and lines 6-7.

[10] This section is quoted from a trusted source off the record.

[11] AIC, p. 25, lines 11-20.

[12] AIC, p. 10.

[13] AIC, pp. 30 line 42 – 32 line 4.

[14] AIC, p. 31 lines 29-31.

[15] AIC, p. 6, footnote 4.

[16] Lev. 18:26-30

[17] Deut. 25:13-16

[18] Prov. 6:16-19

[19] These two stances were given a short hand of Side A and Side B, with Side A believing that same sex unions were blessed by God and Side B believing that same-sex sexual acts are sinful. Note that Side B is a very broad-tent with some believing that the orientation itself and temptations are not sinful while others believe that they are. All PCA Side B proponents would profess our Reformed teaching that both homoerotic orientation and temptations are inherently sinful. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_Christian_Fellowship

[20] See the above footnote for a definition of Side B.

[21] The text of that investigation can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1XyxAwY-ACZsVS-pe_barvg2_wI9BBJsB/view

Re-Blog – Five Misconceptions about Reformation Day

Today is Halloween, better known as Reformation Day. I jest. Kidding aside, this is an important day in the history of Christianity. But just how important is it, and why?

I wrote this post three years ago at the 500th anniversary of the event. I think the points I draw out still have some relevance.

I would like to point out that my logging of these misconceptions is not simply an exercise in pedantry. These things matter because those misconceptions not only shift the way we think about that day itself, but the medieval church and the conditions in which the reformation started. By clearing away those weeds we can discover fruit that both the medieval church and the Reformation have to offer. This project allows us to see the Reformation more fully and richly as we perhaps discover and glean from the medieval church for the first time.

Take up and read: https://theopolisinstitute.com/five-misconceptions-of-reformation-day/

Re-blog – 5 Reasons Why the Ascension of Jesus Matters

I had a bit of a family day yesterday, so I neglected to post, but yesterday was the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus, commemorating his ascension into heaven 40 days after his resurrection. We are now in the novena (nine days) of the Spirit, a time to pray for the Spirit to come and fall fresh on us.
Ascension is one of the more overlooked holidays on the Christian calendar, so I share this old post with you.

Today the church celebrates the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into his glory in heaven, to sit at the right hand of God the Father and rule as King over the entire universe.

Why is that Christmas and Easter are such big deals in our culture, but Ascension and Pentecost are largely ignored? Have you ever thought about that? I think that the reason for this is that Christmas and Easter do not confront people with the lordship of Christ the way that his ascension does. Christmas is the easiest to accept for our culture. It’s just a sweet little baby born on a manger. Nothing there to confront me. Nothing there to make me take stock in my life. Even if we come to terms with the fact that this baby in the manger is actually God incarnate, it is still easy to sentimentalize and ignore. Baby Jesus. Sweet little Jesus. Tame Jesus.

Read more….

Image credit: Rembrandt, The Ascension of Jesus, 1636

Did Augustine really say, “The Church is a whore,”?

I hear this quite frequently, “As St. Augustine said, ‘The Church is a whore, but she’s my Mother.”

The problem is that St. Augustine never said that.

If you try to run down the source of the quote, the trail ends in a book written by Tony Campolo. In Letters to a Young Evangelical, chapter 6 he writes, “I would urge you to consider this carefully, and to think about the words of St. Augustine, ‘The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.’ That statement brilliantly conveys how I feel about the church.” He goes on to argue that despite all the failures and sins of the church, she is still our mother, and thus we should be a part of her. Where Campolo got that quote is a mystery because he gives no citation. But if you look further back you will not find it, because it does not exist.

How do I know? Well first off, as someone who has read an awful lot of Augustine and an awful lot about Augustine, I have never come across that quote, and that quote just doesn’t seem like something he would say. A few years back after I heard it yet again I decided to try and find the source. That’s when I discovered that the trail went dead at Campolo. Luckily, as an academic I have access to better search engines than Google.

I went to two of the best search databases for Christian Latin texts, the Patrologia Latina and the Brepols Library of Latin Texts. Between the two of them they contain pretty much everything written by ancient Christian writers in the Latin language. I searched for church (ecclesia) and mother (mater) using several different synonyms for whore (meretrix and prostituta being the main ones) and nothing came up exactly like the quote. That leaves me 99% sure that Augustine never said that.

The closest I was able to find is from Sermon 213 on the Creed. What he says there is significant so I’ve translated it for you:

Let us honor the Catholic Church, our true Mother, the true Bride of her Husband, because she is the wife of so great a Lord. And what shall I say? How great is that Husband and of singular rank, that he discovered a prostitute and made her a virgin. Because she should not deny that she was a prostitute, lest she forget the mercy of her liberator. How can it be said that she was not a prostitute when she fornicated with demons and idols? Fornication was in the heart of everyone; a few have fornicated in the flesh, but everyone has fornicated in his heart. And He came and made her a virgin; he made the church a virgin.*

Here we find the concepts mother, church, and whore, but we do not find that direct quote we are seeking. In fact there is a significant difference between the quote Campolo gave us and what Augustine actually said. Augustine here is saying that the Church was a whore because she formerly lusted after demons and idols. She is no longer a whore because her great husband, Jesus Christ, has liberated her from her thraldom, forgiven her sins, and made her his virgin bride.

Campolo is trying to make the point that although the church fails she is still the church. That is right and good. However, that is not Augustine’s point. Augustine is preaching about the glorious redemption that the great Husband of the church has accomplished. She is praised because of what He has done in and for her. She is our Mother because He is her Husband and because He has sanctified her. To make Campolo’s point resonate with what Augustine actually said, we should love and cherish the church, in spite of her failures, because she is Christ’s bride. Because she is his only bride. He found her, liberated her, sanctified her, and married her. That’s why we love her even when she is imperfect, because she is the only bride Christ has. He makes her great.

It is then grossly wrong to say that the Church is a whore. In fact that is blasphemous to say. Augustine himself says so in Sermon 10, which I found when searching for this supposed quotation:

I read in the Psalm, “The one who disparages his neighbor in private, I will destroy,” (Psalm 101:5).  If it is right for [God] to destroy the one who disparages his neighbor in private, then how much more right is it for Him to destroy the one who publicly blasphemes the church of God? When he says “She is not who she is!” When he says, “What is ours is partial.” When he says, “She is a whore.”**

 

UPDATE: Cyprian wrote concerning this concept in his treatise On the Unity of the Church. Since Augustine cites Cyprian extensively, even from this treatise, it is likely that he learned this concept from the African great himself.

The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church.

*My translation from the Latin text edited by G. Morin: Sancti Augustini Sermones post Maurinos reperti in Miscellanea Agostiniana, vol. 1, 1930, p. 447.

**My translation from the Latin text edited by Michael Petschenig, CSEL 53, p.177, available here: https://archive.org/stream/CSEL53#page/n269/mode/2up

 

 

A Non-Anxious Presence

Over on the Carver Project blog (Carver Connections), they’ve published a short essay of mine in their current series of daily reflections during the COVID-19 crisis. Check out my essay and the others, and learn about the Carver Project as well, a worthy ministry on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

Here’s the opening of the essay.


This is a nerve-racking time. As a pastor I spent hours and hours the week of March 8 making plans for a safe worship service. But by the end of the day that Sunday, March 15, all that labor was obsolete. I spent the following week getting up to speed on live streaming and pulling off our first ever digital worship service for our folks at home. Throughout this time, I had to make countless decisions, big and small. It left me exhausted.

I now find myself constantly checking my New York Times app for the latest numbers, declarations, and congressional activity. Then I switch to a local news website to find the latest local information. Then I check my email and Facebook. Then I’m compelled to do it over again. It’s the digital loop of the anxious person.

Maybe you’ve felt something similar over the past four weeks.

There’s a lot to be anxious about: infection rates spreading, people dying, and major institutions shutting down. How will we keep our work going or meet our responsibilities? How will we continue to care for, serve, and educate those under our charge? Will there be a disruption in the financial provision of my family? What if someone I love gets sick? What if I get sick?

Nerve-racking indeed.

Read more….

Re-post: Holy Saturday Homily – A Great Silence and Stillness

I enjoy reading this ancient Holy Saturday homily each year. It is rich with biblical theology. It makes very powerful and sophisticated connections between the sin of Adam and the redemption of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

We do not know who wrote this homily. It likely dates from the 2nd. c.

I think the theme of stillness resonates with us in this time of COVID-19. A stillness that erupts with resurrection victory on Easter morning.

We are longing for that day to come.

Read here: An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday

Into the Darkness

Click here for this year’s Advent Prayer Guide.

The light fades earlier and earlier this time of year and darkness falls upon us. Darkness can easily be associated with evil in antithesis to light, but in the beginning it was not so. In the beginning, God created the heavens in the earth and separated the light from the darkness and said it was good. Total darkness is not good. Only darkness is not good. But darkness followed by light followed by darkness is good. God said so, in the beginning.

The fact that there is more darkness this time of the year is also good. God created it this way. It is good. On the fourth day God made two lights, the greater to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night. He also made stars to be co-regents of the nighttime sky. Thus Night is never totally dark. We are not meant to dwell in total darkness. Even in the deepest night there are lesser lights ruling over it reminding us of the greater light to come. When God placed these greater and lesser (and even lesser) lights in the sky he said it was for “signs and for seasons.” This means we are to learn from the darkness; it is a sign for us. This means that the changing seasons are also good. This dark part of the year is the way God made things. It is good. We are to meditate on what this means.

It’s hard for us modern people to think about the meaning of darkness because we never really have to be in it. Our world is always lit. Darkness is rather foreign to us. But if we think about the world without modern amenities, the darkness is a natural time to rest. Without light we cannot work. We can think. We can pray. We can talk. We cannot work. Darkness implies the need for rest. Darkness also implies the need for quiet. It gets quiet at night. You can become aware of this if you are out in the woods just before dawn, especially in the late fall or winter when the bugs are no longer active. It’s quiet. Deafeningly so. And then just before dawn, when the light begins to grow in the sky, noises start happening. Birds start chirping. Squirrels start messing about. The noises are distracting, but the night is quiet. Quiet for meditation and prayer. This is how Jesus spent his last night before the cross. And he implored his disciples to join him, though they became overwhelmed with sorrow.

Watch and pray. This is the theme of Advent. Advent is not preparation or prelude for the babe born on Christmas morn. Advent is a watchful expectation for the King to return and dispel darkness and usher in his kingdom of light. We inhabit the darkness. We watch and pray in the darkness. And we know that after darkness, the light will come.

Many of us have had much to mourn this year. Many have experienced pain and loss. Many suffer under the weight of depression and anxiety. Many endure profound sadness due to unrealized dreams and unanswered prayers. Many have seen the lives of loved ones shattered by oppression and violence. We should mourn these things. Part of mourning is leaning into the reality of death and the brokenness of this world we live in: that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Advent is a season to cry out to God to come and deliver us from our pain; our sadness; from sin. The prayer of Advent is, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

The word Advent is from the Latin word advenire, which means “to come to.” Advent is about the various comings of Jesus. He came 2,000 years ago as God incarnate of the Virgin Mary. He will come again in glory to set up his everlasting kingdom over the new heavens and the new earth. But there is also a very real sense in which Jesus comes to us today, in the in-between-time. Jesus shows up every Sunday when we worship him. Jesus also shows up to intervene in various ways in our lives when we call out to him. So when we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we are not asking for the end to come. We are crying out for him to show up now and deliver us in our present situation.

As we enter into Christ’s life, we enter into the life of God’s people who have been trained through the millennia to hope and pray for peace, security, justice, and welfare (Psalm 122). Have we expected too little? Have our hopes been dulled by our sorrow? Great David’s greater Son is coming! Can we set our hopes to the whetstone of the Word, renew our sharp edges, and hope for something preposterous?

Will you join me in entering into the darkness this Advent season? To watch and pray? To rest? To simplify? To be still and quiet? To mourn? To see the moon and stars and believe that dawn is coming? To cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus?”

May you have a blessed Advent season.

For more Advent reflections, click here.

Featured image: St. Francis in Meditation by Francisco de Zurbarán. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lent Prayer Guide 2019

Here is a PDF copy of the guide along with sound files of all the music in the guide.

Lent 2019 Prayer Guide

To learn more about Lent, click here.

Lent Guide Music MIDI Files
Click on these files to hear the tunes for the songs in the guide.

 

Special thanks to John Hendrix who made the art for the guide.

 

Come, O Root!

Download my 2018 Advent prayer guide.

O Radix Jesse… These are the opening words of the traditional antiphon on Dec. 19 each year (that the cover art of this prayer guide depicts). In English the prayer is worded this way:

    O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;

    before you kings will shut their mouths,

    to you the nations will make their prayer:

    Come and deliver us and delay no longer.

The “Root of Jesse” is an image used by the Prophet Isaiah in his eleventh chapter. This “Root” will come and deliver the people Israel and extend their territory to the ancient boundaries promised to the Patriarch Abraham. Paul quotes Isaiah 11 in Romans 15:12 and interprets the prophecy not to be about the extension of the kingdom of Israel, but the gathering of the nations into the Church. Just as in Micah 7:11-12, Isaiah’s prophecy, and indeed the Lord’s promise to Abraham, is fulfilled in the Church, whose boundaries extend to the ends of the earth and whose inhabitants include every tongue, tribe, and nation. The above prayer then is for the prophesied One to come and deliver us. The need is urgent. “Delay no longer!” we cry.

Root. Radix. The interesting thing about the concept of the Root of Jesse in the text of Isaiah is that it is not entirely clear who the Root is. Is Jesse the Root from which Christ springs? 11:1 certainly leads us in this direction. Or, on the other hand, is Jesus the Root from which Jesse springs? Verse 10 leads us in this direction. The answer to the question is, “Yes.” Jesus Christ is both the Root and the Shoot, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the author and the finisher of our faith. He is Ancient of Days and yet lately born. He ushers in the beginning and also the end. Jesus is the Root, the ancient ancestor of Jesse and also the Shoot, the one who springs forth from Jesse’s lineage to usher in the everlasting kingdom and the renewal of all things. Jesus is David’s son and David’s Lord.

Radix. This Latin word for “Root” is where we get the word radical. Jesus is radical. Jesus gets to the root of things and he calls us to get to the root of things. The word radix is also where we get our modern abbreviation for medicine. Rx is an abbreviation for radix because many ancient medicines were made from the roots of things. Jesus is radical. He gets at the root. He is our medicine. Come, O Root, and deliver us!

The most important thing to remember about Advent is that Advent is not Christmas. The word “advent” is from the Latin advenire which means “to come to.” Advent is a season reflecting on the “comings” of Jesus. There are three distinct comings of Jesus that are in view in the season of Advent. The first coming was in the past and was the birth of our Lord Jesus. The second coming is at the end of history and is the bodily return of Jesus Christ to judge the earth. Yet there is another coming of Jesus that we should not miss. The third coming is how we long for Jesus to appear and visit us now, in the present, to right wrongs and advance the kingdom of God in this world. In Advent we do cry out for Jesus to come again. But we also look for his coming to us today in his Word, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and in the faces of our brothers and sisters in Christ who bear his image. Christ comes to us in all these ways, and we need him to come. We need him to visit us this Advent. Come and deliver us and delay no longer!

As we look around us we see a great need for The Root to come and deliver us. We have our own personal needs. We have the needs of our church and our community. There are national crises that we should be concerned about. We need the Lord to come. Now! we cry. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. This is the spirit of Advent.

The Good News is God will answer our cry for deliverance. The Root has come to set us free. The Root will come again to renew all things. And the Root promises to meet us in the here and now. He promises to be present with us through His Word. He promises to be present with us through his sacrament. He promises that when two or three of us are gathered together in His name, he will be smack dab in the middle of us.

This Advent let us commit ourselves to preparation and prayer in joyful and hopeful expectation that King Jesus will come and deliver us. Let us watch and pray and not give in to despair, though it seems he never hears us and never answers us. Many times, when we are praying we are expecting a big act of God, a mighty work, a life changing event. But often God, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to give us a sustaining grace instead of that life changing event we prayed for.[1] We may wonder why he does this, when we know he has the power to move mountains and stop time. Maybe he does it because His greatest desire for us is that we would be satisfied with what he daily gives us in his regular, ordinary comings to us: The very substance of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is enough. Let us be satisfied with Him.

[1] I credit my friend, Pastor Thurman Williams for this idea.

Cover art by Sister Ansgar Holmberg. Click here to order her Advent art series.


Download my 2018 Advent Prayer guide here, and bookmark the link to listen to the tunes for all the psalms, canticles, and hymns: http://christourkingcolumbia.org/advent/