Instead of expressing sympathy towards the legitimate concerns of thousands around the PCA, the Open Letter highlights a slanderous claim that “the PCA is ordaining practicing homosexuals,” a claim that I’ve never heard. Not even once. Rather than give attention to the real pressing issues facing the PCA, the Open Letter regrettably diverts the reader’s attention to a Red Herring.
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is at a crossroads. Nobody likes it. Everyone recognizes it. It’s gut-wrenching, especially for seasoned PCA presbyters and longtime church members. The Open Letter, written by a plurality of anonymous PCA teaching and ruling elders and published on June 2, 2021, is further evidence of the division and strife that have been growing among us in recent years. To date over 600 PCA teaching and ruling elders have signed the letter, including former moderators and several ministers of prominent churches.
First of all, any impulse to foster peace and unity in the PCA is a good one, a biblical one (John 17; Rom. 15:5–6). I, too, long for Christian unity. Like the authors and signers of the Open Letter, I want to sincerely declare with the psalmist (regarding the PCA), “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” I want the sublime metaphor of Psalm 133 to be true of our denomination (both objectively and subjectively); that just as the “precious oil” was poured on Aaron’s head and ran down his beard and robes, so Spirit-wrought unity would run from our living head, Jesus Christ, down to His body, the Church. Isn’t this the Spirit-filled longing of every genuine disciple? If not, it certainly should be. It must be! But here’s the thing:
True unity is impossible apart from unity in the truth. Biblical fidelity and confessional integrity serve as the glue that holds the PCA together. Without it, we will eventually come apart.
Now, I recognize that no one is arguing against this glue. So-called conservatives and progressives (unfortunate labels—we are brothers in Christ!) both profess to uphold the Scriptures and our Reformed Confession. Nevertheless, it’s our different interpretations and applications of the Scriptures and Standards that divide us. It’s our disparate visions for the future health and extension of the PCA, especially in light of present cultural challenges, that separate us. It’s our divergent views of Christian mission and discipleship that foster division. The Open Letter alludes to these differences, appropriately highlighting worship and mission. The different ways we interpret and apply our Reformed Confession, however, do not make us enemies (though, sadly, we sometimes behave like they do). But if we are honest, they do foster more than a little discord in our presbyteries and churches.
Is there a way forward for the PCA? Yes! Is genuine unity possible? Yes, of course, it is! But unity must always be grounded in truth and held together by love.
At best, unity that marginalizes truth and forgets love is a superficial unity that has us wearing the same uniform but playing on different fields. At worst, a superficial unity will be the undoing of the PCA—a heartbreaking prospect. Incidentally, the Open Letter calls for unity while simultaneously dismissing the legitimate concerns of a large contingent of PCA elders and laity (e.g. Revoice doctrine, sanctification, Critical Race Theory). I deeply appreciate the authors’ appeal for peace and unity in our denomination as we head to the 48th General Assembly in St Louis. O Lord, may it be so! However, unity is impossible apart from unity in the truth. Unity cannot be accomplished merely by strong calls to unity for the sake of the church. The Doctor was right:
We must never start with the visible church or with an institution, but rather with the truth, which alone creates unity. — D. M. Lloyd-Jones
The following is a humble response to the Open Letter.
A mentor of mine once shared some helpful ministry advice. “Never read a critical letter without a name attached to it.” Now, I understand that there might be exceptions to this rule. In general, however, if someone doesn’t have the courage to own their letter, no one should feel obligated to read it or take it seriously.
The Open Letter is written by a mysterious “group of pastors and elders” who love the PCA. Okay, fair enough. The problem is that the letter is filled with strong assertions and opinions, and is having a widespread impact among PCA elders and congregations. Not that strong assertions, opinions, and the impact that they create are wrong. But wouldn’t we all agree that transparency is important? Whether it was three men or twenty, the authors of this Open Letter to the PCA should publicly own it, and not just sign their name to it with hundreds of other signatories from across the PCA.
One of the purposes of the Open Letter is to admonish those who are causing unnecessary and harmful division in the PCA. Ironically, the letter deepens the divide with its uncharitable assumptions, patronizing dismissiveness of real concerns, and its call for signatures. The signature page is in fact heightening suspicions and speculations in the PCA, and not decreasing them.
In our recent GRN Conference, “O Church, Arise,” we expressed genuine concerns over the influence of Revoice (Side B Gay Christianity), Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, and confessional integrity in our churches and presbyteries. Almost every orthodox denomination in America is, in some measure, experiencing the pressure and effects of present-day cultural revolutions (i.e., sexual revolution and CRT). However, instead of expressing sympathy towards the legitimate concerns of thousands around the PCA, the Open Letter highlights a slanderous claim that “the PCA is ordaining practicing homosexuals,” a claim that I’ve never heard. Not even once. Rather than give attention to the real pressing issues facing the PCA, the Open Letter regrettably diverts the reader’s attention to a Red Herring.