Many men rightly pointed out that we’ve had people who mortify the lust of SSA for many years within the PCA. What doesn’t occur to them is that this is the first time this has come up as a controversy. Why? Because nobody, prior to a few years ago was saying and platforming that SSA is like the man born blind. No Presbytery was judging, until a few years ago, that an illicit desire is not sin itself until one actually lusts for it. Nobody, until years ago was not only adopting Roman Catholic views on sin but promoting conferences within our Churches that outsourced sanctification about a particular lust to a conference of notionally Reformed and other semi-Pelagian (including Roman Catholic) views on sanctification.
The 48th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was held in St. Louis last week (June 29-July 1) and so far, the dust has not yet settled. Having missed a year because of the COVID crisis many of us were eager to address issues which had been causing controversy in our denomination since the first Revoice conference in the summer of 2018 (hosted by Memorial PCA in St. Louis).
The importance of two overtures especially helps to explain the record attendance of commissioners. The final number of commissioners registered was over 2,100. To put that in perspective, the previous high was just over 1,600. Bottom line, we were there to vote on a few very specific matters.
The incursion of Revoice theology into the PCA has caused great division and confusion in our churches. We have been told to accept as an “orientation” what God’s Word calls “contrary to nature” and “dishonorable passions” (Romans 1:26-27). Some of our own Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders have made and continue to make the claim that homosexual desires are akin to blindness; a disability not a moral problem. Please understand that such a claim represents a bold contradiction to the witness of God’s Word. In equating dishonorable passions to a physical disability, they deny that homosexual attractions are sinful in and of themselves.
We are told that those who experience but do not physically act upon their unnatural affections are “brave” and “self-denying” for abstaining from sin. But are “brave” and “courageous” the right words to describe abstinence from abominable sin? Would we describe the man who does not commit adultery as courageous for not doing so? Mortifying sin is not courageous; it is the duty we owe our King.
We are told by some pastors in the PCA that those with unnatural affections will almost certainly not experience a change in those affections. Indeed, the belief that those enslaved by unnatural desires for the same sex can actually see those desires changed by the sanctifying power of God’s grace was described as “Wesleyan” and “Keswick” spirituality. We were told that any expectation that God’s sanctifying grace can re-order a sinful affection was “not Reformed.” Such a claim reflects, at best, a lack of understanding concerning what the Bible and our confessions actually teach about sanctification.
The weak and ineffectual doctrine of sanctification taught within the “Side B homosexual” and Revoice camps leaves no real hope for the one struggling with unnatural desires. We’ve been told by one of our pastors that “Jesus didn’t make me straight.” We’ve been told that the homosexual “orientation” will not or is highly likely not to change. And rather than lament such a sorry state, we’ve even been told that there will be “queer treasures” in the new creation. Is this what now passes in the PCA for a biblical and Reformed doctrine of sanctification? Does the gospel offer no hope for these men, other than life-long celibacy and childlessness?
There are implications for ordained office as well. For the first time the PCA has ordained men who identify themselves as gay, with the understanding that this “orientation” is in and of itself not a sin to be mortified but only the lusts or actions that may spring from that “orientation.” This sort of linguistic and doctrinal gymnastics is what happens when contemporary therapeutic categories shape our interpretation of Scripture.
Enter Overtures 23 and 37. After much debate both overtures passed in Overtures Committee with strong majorities and were passed on the floor of the Assembly with similarly overwhelming majorities. The Overtures are as follows:
Overture 23 is a motion to amend the Book of Church Order (BCO) 16 by adding the following clause:
16-4 Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.
Overture 23 was passed by the Assembly by a vote of 1438 to 417.
Overture 37 is a motion to amend BCO 21-4 and 24-1 by “clarifying the moral requirements for church office.”
Therefore be it resolved that, for the examination of Teaching Elders, BCO 21-4 be amended to add a new sub-paragraph 21-4.e, as follows, with the subsequent sub paragraphs [21-4.e-h] re-lettered [to be 21-4.f-i] (addition underlined):
e. In the examination of the candidate’s personal character, the presbytery shall give specific attention to potentially notorious concerns, such as but not limited to relational sins, sexual immorality (including homosexuality, child sexual abuse, fornication, and pornography), addictions, abusive behavior, racism, and financial mismanagement. Careful attention must be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires. The candidate must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending on this work of grace to make progress over sin (Psalm 103:2-5, Romans 8:29) and to bear fruit (Psalm 1:3; Gal. 5:22-23). While imperfection will remain, he must not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness, but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 6:9-11). In order to maintain discretion and protect the honor of the pastoral office, Presbyteries are encouraged to appoint a committee to conduct detailed examinations of these matters and to give prayerful support to candidates.