Good News from General Assembly

As the world around us continues to race headlong into the darkness of immorality and confusion, it is important for the Church to stand firm and speak clearly the truth of God’s Word.  Last week, during its annual General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) voted to do just that by declaring the Nashville Statement as a “biblically faithful declaration.”  By this action, the PCA joins several other evangelical institutions in appropriating the Nashville Statement to  articulate its convictions on sexuality and gender.

The Nashville Statement articulates the teaching of Scripture regarding gender, sexuality, and marriage, but, more importantly, aims to bring glory to God by proclaiming the truth of God’s Word and calling all people to repent and seek salvation in Jesus Christ alone.  The statement was produced by the Counsel on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and has 14 articles of affirmation and denial.  The Biblical references are listed at the end of the statement.  For more information on the statement, to see who has signed it, please visit the CBMW website.

Article 1

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.

WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

Article 3

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.

WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.

WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

Article 5

WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.

WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

Article 6

WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.

WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

Article 7

WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.

WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

Article 8

WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.

WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

Article 9

WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality— a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.

WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Article 11

WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.

WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his imagebearers as male and female.

Article 12

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

Article 13

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender selfconceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.

Article 14

WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.

WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.


Scripture References*

Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15-25; 3:1-24; Ex. 20:14; 20:17; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Dt. 5:18, 21; 22:5; Jdg. 19:22; 2 Sam. 11:1-12:15; Job 31:1; Ps. 51:1-19; Prov. 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:1-27; Isa. 59:1; Mal. 2:14; Matt. 5:27–30; 19:4-6, 8-9, 12; Acts 15:20, 29; Rom. 1:26–27; 1:32; 1 Cor. 6:9–11, 18-20; 7:1-7; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 5:24; Eph. 4:15, 20–24; 5:31–32; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; 1 Tim. 1:9–10, 15; 2 Tim. 2:22; Titus 2:11-12; Heb. 13:4; Jas. 1:14–15; 1 Pet. 2:11; Jude 7

* Scripture texts are not a part of the original document but have been added subsequently for reference

Update from General Assembly

As I logged into my blog to write this update, I realized my last post was from back in April.  My apologies! I know I have had several new subscribers to the blog and no new content.  All I can say is I hope to do better, but life has been a whirlwind as of late.

The 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America is officially concluded, and early at that, so as I have an entire day in the airport waiting for my flight home, I thought I’d give you an update on the events of GA.  In a nutshell I’ll say this: This General Assembly is why I joined the PCA!  The worship was God-centered, the preaching Biblical, informative, Spirit-filled, and convicting, the deliberation passionate yet collegial, and the results were encouraging.  My first two experiences at General Assembly left me frustrated and dismayed, but this year there seemed to be a different attitude among the commissioners, and I believe God was glorified in the work of His church.

The greatest concern of this Assembly was the very low turn out of Ruling Elders.  In a congregation that was established with the understanding of a plurality of elders, a shared authority of Ruling and Teaching Elders, there is not a staggering disparity in the Assembly.  There were 1,400 commissioners this year, but only 300 were Ruling Elders.  We need to pray and work for a way to include more Ruling Elder in the Assembly in coming years.

The biggest and most profound outcome of the Assembly is the decision to give a portion of the Directory of Worship’s instruction on Marriage full constitutional status.  In case you are unfamiliar with the government of the PCA, our Book of Church Order includes a Directory of Worship, that is given as an “approved guide” but without the force of law (except for the chapters on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).  Leading up to the Assembly, there were several overtures to give the chapter on marriage full constitutional authority. Their reasoning was, among other items, 1) in a culture that is currently redefining marriage, the church needs a clear, constitutional definition of marriage, and 2) giving constitutional status to the chapter on marriage would provide clarity and protection for our military chaplains.

As is our procedure with all overtures, these overtures were sent to the Overtures Committee who for review and recommendations to the Assembly.  Surprisingly, the committee recommended that the Assembly answer in the negative, essentially denying the changes.  Now please understand, this would not have meant that the PCA was changing it’s position on marriage, only that the chapter on marriage would not be given full constitutional authority.  Again, there were a variety of reasons why they recommended answering in the negative, most having to do with the finer details in procedures and records of marriage in the chapter, none having to do with the actual definition of marriage.

When the Committee presented their report and recommendation to the Assembly, there was also a minority report, that sought to refine the original overtures. What came out on the floor, then, was the reality that there was a third way.  The Assembly recommitted the overture to the committee, who then met and came back with the following recommended overture:

“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.”

This paragraph was approved by the Assembly and given full constitutional status.  The vote was an overwhelming 764-12.  The next step will be for all of the Presbyteries to vote on this overture, and if it passes a supermajority of Presbyteries, it will be voted upon again at the next Assembly.  This is really good news!

In other business, there were several overtures that sought to give organizations in the PCA, such as RidgeHaven, Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary and others, the ability to open a minority of seats on their boards of directors to unordained men and women.  Currently, those boards are comprised of Teaching and Ruling Elders or Deacons of the Church, and are seen as extensions of the Church in ministry.  These overtures were an avenue to allowing women to serve in official capacities on the Boards.  While it was made clear that there are many ways that women give advice and counsel to these boards, the church maintains that these ministries are extensions of the Church, and as such, under the leadership of ordained officers of the Church.  The committee recommended the overtures be answer in the negative, and the Assembly agreed.

The other major discussion on the floor of the Assembly had to do with the review of Presbytery records, particularly one Presbytery that had examined a minister, heard his differences with the Westminster Standards, ruled that his differences did not “strike to the heart of the religion,” but then ruled that, while he could hold his views, he was not allowed to teach them.  While I cannot say that I understand the full ramifications of the action or discussion, I did find it concerning that the Assembly would seek to make a judicial ruling on an action of a Presbytery without any process. In the end, the Committee of Review received their minutes with an exception on this matter, which requires the Presbytery to give a response explaining their decision.

Overall, it was a very encouraging week in Atlanta.  New friendships were formed, and old ones renewed.  I was particularly moved by the worship service on Thursday evening and the preaching of Joe Novenson, I’ll be ordering a copy for those who are interested in checking out and listening to it. I thank you for your prayers, especially those of my congregation who have graciously provided me the opportunity to attend and be a part of such a great experience in the Church.

Pray for a safe flight home!

Grace and Peace

Martin Luther: On Marriage

The following are some quick quotes from Martin Luther on the estate of marriage (quotes are copied from “A Monk Marries” from Christian History Magazineissue 39, 1993).

  • There’s a lot to get used to in the first years of marriage. One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow that were not there before.
  • If I should ever marry again, I would hew myself an obedient wife out of stone.
  • I have been very happy in my marriage, thank God. I have a faithful wife, according to Solomon: “They heart of her husband doth safely trust in her” (Prov 31:11). She spoils nothing for me.
  • When one looks back upon it, marriage isn’t so bad as when one looks forward to it.
  • Married fold are not to act as they now usually do. The men are almost lions in their homes, hard toward their wives and servants. The women, too, everywhere want to domineer and have their husbands as servants.
  • Of course, the Christian should love his wife.  He is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love.
  • When that wise harlot, natural reason, looks at married life, she turns up her nose and says, “Ah, should I rock the baby, wash diapers, make the bed, smell foul odors, watch through the night, wait upon the bawling youngster and heal its infected sores, then take care fo the wife, support her by working, tend to this, tend to that, do this, do that, suffer this, suffer that, and put up with whatever additional displeasure and trouble married life brings? Should I be so imprisoned?”
  • The Devil cannot bear to see married people agree well with each other.
  • It is impossible to keep peace between man and woman in family life if they do not condone and overlook each other’s faults but watch everything to the smallest point. For who does not at times offend?
  • Some marriages were motivated by mere lust, but mere lust is felt even by fleas and lice. Love begins when we wish to serve others.
  • The purpose of marriage is not pleasure and ease but the procreation and education of children and the support of a family… People who do not like children are swine, dunces, and blockheads, not worthy to be called men and women, because the despise the blessing of God, the Creator and Author of marriage.
  • To have peace and love in a marriage is a gift that is next to the knowledge of the gospel.
  • In domestic affairs I defer to Katie. Otherwise, I am led by the Holy Ghost.

Burning the Word

“As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words were afraid, nor did they tear their garments.”
Jeremiah 36:23-24

In Jeremiah 36 there is an amazing account of Jehoiakim, the wicked king of Judah, actually burning the Word of the Lord. Without getting into too much of the back story, Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, did evil in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 23:36), he “filled Jerusalem with innocent blood (2 Kings 24:5), and he even rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, leading to his capture and imprisonment.  Throughout the writings of Jeremiah, we also see that Jehoiakim had a strong dislike for the prophet of God.

Jeremiah had been threatened with death, banned from the house of the Lord, he had been ordered not to prophecy, all under Jehoiakim’s authority.  It is surprising then, that in chapter 36, the Lord tells Jeremiah to write down all the words that the Lord had spoken against Israel and Judah, so that the house of Judah would hear, “so that everyone may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and sin” (Jer. 36:3).  After all the rebellion, after all the idolatry, after all the wickedness, God is still merciful and sends His word that they may turn from their sins and be healed.

We are told then that Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, writes down all of the Lord’s words that Jeremiah had spoken, and takes the scroll to the house of the Lord.  When the scroll is read before the people, I believe the kings officials are grieved for their sins.  They are overcome with fear (Jer. 36:15), and they make plans to read the word to the king, after ensuring that Baruch and Jeremiah are safely hidden away.

However, as the scroll was read to Jehoiakim, “the king would cut (the columns) off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire… Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words were afraid, nor did they tear their garments” (Jer 36:23-24). In an ultimate act of defiance and rebellion, Jehoiakim destroyed the very word that was meant to give him life. Though the word of the Lord convicted him of his sin, it was only so that he and all the nation could turn from sin and be forgiven.

As the chapter concludes, Jeremiah has Baruch write another scroll with all of the words of the Lord. This time, however, there is no promise of forgiveness given to Jehoiakim, only one of judgment and doom.

I highly doubt that anyone reading this would ever be so defiant as to cut passages out of the Bible and burn them. But there are more subtle acts of defiance that are still as damning.

  • We bury our Bibles – not in the ground – but under layers of dust, under piles of other books.  Which is worse, to hear the word and throw it into the fire, or to simply stop listening to the word at all?  An old adage that I heard long ago says, “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”  We know that when we read it, the Bible will convict us of our sin, and call us to the righteousness of Christ, and so we don’t even pick it up to read it.
  • We edit the word – In order to justify ourselves, we often find ways to change the meaning of words or to relegate whole arguments to “cultural context.”  We’ve come to point where whole denominations can read “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh…” (Gen 2:24), and, with a straight face, say that marriage can be between two people of any gender. Is this not a greater sin? Jehoiakim didn’t try to twist the words of God, he just threw them in the fire.  Selectively reading or editing God’s word is the practice of the Devil, who first asked, “Did God really say…?”

The word of God comes to us to show us our sin, not that we would be overcome with guilt, but that we would be saved through our redeemer Jesus Christ.  Do not neglect His word, but daily read it, hear it, and let Him put to death in you the sin that separates you from God.  Do not try to justify yourself in the light of Scripture by twisting or overlooking God’s word, but allow His word to cut to the very core of your being (Heb 4:12), revealing your sin, but also cleansing you by His grace in Jesus Christ.  Come to the living Word, Jesus Christ, and know the forgiveness He freely gives to all who receive Him by faith.

SDG

Vote Your Faith

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,
and to God the things that are God’s.”
(Matthew 22:21 (ESV)

The first presidential debate of the 2012 election has just taken place, the lines are being clearly drawn between the leading candidates, and November 6th is rapidly approaching.  And while there may be some grand revelation that comes out in the next 30 days, chances are, you’ve already made up your mind and know who you are voting for – in fact, with early voting, you may have already voted.

But here’s something to think about: Has your faith influenced your decision at the polls this year?  Interestingly, the Family Research Council reports:

many believers don’t even consider their Christian values when voting, often choosing candidates whose positions are at odds with their own beliefs, convictions, and values.  A study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life a few years ago showed that 62% of Americans say their faith has little to do with their voting decisions.  That’s tragic because Jesus expects us to influence every part of culture and society as salt and light-including the democratic process.

Too often, we connect ourselves with a political party, and then begin to project our values and beliefs into that party.  We think, ”Well, if I believe this, and I’m a member of the party, then surely the rest of the party believes it too.”  We look to the “religious right” or the “progressive party” to affirm and fight for our values, when in reality, neither party can perfectly represent that which makes up the Christians hopes and expectations.  We must remember that we are sojourners here, that our nation, while perhaps the best experiment in freedom and liberty man has known, is governed by fallen man, and is, as such, liable and even prone to fall and fail at times.

The Family Research Council goes on to say,

Obviously, Christian “rulers” would have Christian values, right?  Not necessarily.  There are a lot of folks who use Christian lingo, but when you look at their positions and votes and their associations, it becomes evident that they do not line up with biblical values.  That’s why it is so important to do your homework on the candidates.  Don’t just listen to their campaign rhetoric, look at their records in office.  Don’t just watch their political ads, look at their positions on the issues.  Think about this: Every candidate has his or her own set of values and positions on important issues. Don’t you think that where a candidate stands on moral issues is far more important than the party he or she belongs to or the campaign ads and promises?  Shouldn’t we vote for candidates who share our moral values?

So this hear, I encourage you to vote your values.  This may be a risky vote, because it may mean voting for a third party candidate, and the third party seldom has a chance to win a national election.  But win or lose, our loyalty must be with the Lord Jesus; we must vote his values.  This means, at the very least, voting for those who protect and defend the sanctity of human life, especially that of the unborn.  This means voting for those who protect and defend marriage as between one man and one woman, and will support the central institution of our society, the family.  This means voting for those who will defend the freedom of religion, the freedom of religious expression, religious practice, and religious assembly.

Next Week – What to do When You Don’t Like Either Candidate?

SDG

A time to study…

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh..
(Genesis 2:24 (ESV))

Last week the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted on an amendment to change the definition of marriage from “one man and one woman” to “to persons,” a move that would allow ministers in the PC(USA) to perform same-gender marriage.  Surprisingly to everyone, the vote failed – but only barely.  The vote was 308 for and 338 against.  Many in the church today give thanks to God for this act of preserving grace, but are all too aware that the issue will be before the GA again in 2014.

Interestingly, the GA did pass a recommendation for churches and presbyteries to commit to two years of “serious study and discernment” regarding Christian marriage. It is hard to say what will become of this study, other than to further entrench positions on either side of the aisle.  I have a difficult time believing that the Rainbow Stole wearing delegates will be convinced, nor are open to persuasion, that they have been mistaken in their argument for “redefining marriage,” nor do I consider that I could ever be convinced to change my understanding of what I believe the Bible clearly states is God’s intention for marriage.  In a post-modern society where every individual is the final authority on what is real and what is right, is there anyone listening to the forsaken prophet, crying in the wilderness, “Thus sayeth the Lord…”?

Still, having an opportunity to study the meaning of Christian marriage is never a bad thing, and I encourage you to take any opportunity to do so.  I am sure that there will be studies forthcoming from a General Assembly task force, and from para-church organizations – some in favor of the traditional teaching on marriage, some not.  But don’t depend on those sources, study this for yourself.

Try this – starting in Genesis 2, see how marriage was giving as a blessed union between a man and a woman, then look forward through scriptures to see examples of how marriage works.  Sometimes it is broken and dysfunctional – there are patriarchs with multiple wives and concubines, who have adulterous affairs, there are women who are unfaithful to their husbands – all because of the exceeding sinfulness of sin.  But notice also the faithful and committed husbands and wives who demonstrate what marriage ought to be.  Look at what Jesus taught about marriage, notice also how Paul saw marriage as a parable for our relationship as the church with Christ.  Let us develop and Biblical understanding of marriage, then let us allow that understanding to shape and heal our own marriages.

Next, here’s some suggested reading:

The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller – I’ve only just started this myself, but I highly recommend it.

The Pittsburgh Declaration on Marriage – read through this and consider signing it yourself.

Theology Matters – May/June edition – One of the best briefs on marriage, considering the arguments for revision, and then presenting a solid argument for the Biblical understanding of marriage.

Foundations for a Curriculum on Marriage, Part I – Mary Naegeli is the Director of the Presbyterian Coalition and writes a great article on the differences of perspective as we enter this season of discussion.

Happy Studies!

Worth the Read (6/8)

As a pastor I do a lot of reading on a lot of topics from a lot of sources.  I began to realize lately that perhaps I should be passing these readings along to you.  So each Friday – Lord willing – I will assemble sort of a “Best Of” reading list, highlighting some of the stuff that’s come across my desk (or screen) this week.  Enjoy!

15 Things Wives Should Stop Doing – What do your words and actions say to your husband about your love for him?  by Mary May Larmoyeux.

Ugly Dies – by Doug Wilson.  On the topic of killing the “old self.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.  This is a good reminder on the meaning of taking up our cross and following Christ.

Why Obamacare Fails to Get God’s Vote – by Bill Blankshaen.  This article (or series of articles) discusses the Affordable Healthcare Act of the Obama administration from and covenantal perspective.  Its interesting, and perhaps looks at the debate from a perspective many have not considered.

North Dakota Woman Marries Herself – from the Huffington Post.  One wonders if this isn’t just a gag, but it has all the makings of a real story.  It only serves to demonstrate how important it is that the church take an active role in defending the Biblical teaching that marriage is ordained by God for one man and one woman.

By What Standard – an excerpt from the documentary called Collision, where Douglas Wilson debated Christopher Hitchens on Is Christianity Good for the World?

And Finally,

A friend on Facebook linked this video, and it just has to be shared again.  Sing along, you know you want to.