We all struggle with the darkness of all types of sins. My entire case for submitting the original overture is that the “public” announcement (like in Christianity Today) of constantly struggling with any particular sin disqualifies a man from holding office in the church. The key word here is not the word “struggles” or even the word “sin,” but rather the word “public.” What is public is a man’s reputation. A man may fight privately with all types of sin which do not have dominion over him, but once he comes out of the closet and names those sins publicly to the whole world, he loses his eligibility to hold office.
I appreciate the recent article in The Aquila Report, Clarity on Overture 15, by Ryan Biese. It provided more precision in stating what Overture 15 actually says. In this post, he takes issue with a public statement recently made by the PCA Stated Clerk summarizing the Overture as meaning that “the desire itself is disqualifying.” On the contrary, this Overture speaks of “men who describe themselves as homosexuals….” Mr. Biese is correct. There is a big difference here.
Our Stated Clerk refers in this same public presentation to the fact that he had brought together in the same room those who are in opposition to each other on this issue. Supposedly, this discussion produced a compromise resulting in Overtures 29 and 31. However, the Stated Clerk misjudged the PCA as a whole. Overture 15 came out of nowhere like a misfired missile.
Well, I was not in the room! I have always been an outlier. Maybe I should have been in the room, since I was the originator of Overture 15 that came from Westminster Presbytery (in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee). It originally came from the Session of my former Church who asked for my advice before they submitted this overture to our Presbytery several years ago. The Overture was approved by our Presbytery, and then in good and proper parliamentary fashion disappeared at the 48th General Assembly in St. Louis. This was what I call the first disappearance.
Early this year (2022) before the meeting of the General Assembly in Birmingham, I submitted the overture again to Westminster Presbytery, but it was lost when it was sent to a Committee. I think it was inadvertently lost in the transmission from the Clerk of Presbytery to the Chairman of the Committee. This was the second disappearance.
Because it was lost, I later reminded Presbytery that it had vanished. I also reminded them that I had submitted it at the previous Presbytery meeting. At this point I had finally made a decision to withdraw it altogether. I was thinking that the Lord must have a purpose in what appeared to be some type of providential evaporation of this overture. So, the overture was sent back to the same Presbytery committee to act upon my request to withdraw it from any further consideration. Later, a member of that Committee, representing the Committee as a whole, called me and asked that I not withdraw it, and that it be presented to Westminster Presbytery a third time. I agreed, and it was adopted by Presbytery and sent to the General Assembly. So, the “big one” (now Overture 15) almost did not make it to the General Assembly. God works in mysterious ways. Just think—and we would never have heard the famous speech by Dr. Palmer Robertson!
As I have mentioned before (Overture 15 – The Tipping Point for a Split in the PCA? – July 18) in The Aquila Report, I expect BCO Changes in Overtures with numbers 29 and 31 to be to be adopted by 2/3 of the presbyteries and then pass by a majority vote at the next General Assembly. Victory will be declared and everything will go on the same in the PCA, except there will be a few more churches leave our denomination. From a statement that Greg Johnson made on the floor of the General Assembly this year, he appears to be able to live with these changes in the Book of Church Order, so that should tell you all you need to know about them.
Let me add a little more precision to the meaning of the original overture which was slightly edited by the Overtures Committee in Birmingham. The word “Identify” was changed to “describe.” Evidently, for some major reason, the word “identify” is a bad word in this context. Better to speak of those who “describe themselves as homosexuals.” I don’t particularly like this change in wording, but the Overture belongs to the Church now and not to me.
My original intent in what has become Overture 15 was not to disqualify from office in the PCA anyone who struggles with sin, either homosexuality, incest, or even bestiality (or even theft or murder). Don’t be shocked about incest and bestiality, especially as some college students are now taking litterboxes with them to their classrooms. This is not the reason I submitted the original overture. I do believe that homosexuality, incest, or even bestiality are more heinous sins. They are perversions of God’s created order. They are more specifically called abominations by God. However, even this was not the reason I submitted the original overture.
We all struggle with the darkness of all types of sins. My entire case for submitting the original overture is that the “public” announcement (like in Christianity Today) of constantly struggling with any particular sin disqualifies a man from holding office in the church. The key word here is not the word “struggles” or even the word “sin,” but rather the word “public.” What is public is a man’s reputation. A man may fight privately with all types of sin which do not have dominion over him, but once he comes out of the closet and names those sins publicly to the whole world, he loses his eligibility to hold office. The biblical basis for this is that a man who holds office must be of “good repute with those outside of the church” (1 Tim. 3:7). In a wicked society like today, this public announcement that a man is a homosexual may be viewed with admiration by those outside the church, but in the context of the biblical era, it was shameful. Letting people know that we struggle with sin in general is biblical (Rms. 7), but once we begin to name them particularly and talk about them all the time, then we move beyond the exemplar of the Bible.
Thus, I believe that a man may struggle constantly with homosexual desires and still hold office in the church. As long as it is private and he keeps it private. We all have private sinful thoughts and tendencies that are only known to us and to God. However, if we have concluded that they do not have dominion over us, and by God’s grace we can handle them in a biblical fashion, then we may legitimately deduce that we are not disqualified from holding office. There is no biblical requisite that we publicly broadcast our particular struggles. Once a man comes out of the closet, especially as he identifies himself with the genre of homosexuality in terms of dress and various other signals, he loses his reputation and the right to speak God’s Word authoritatively.
Contrary to the PCA Stated Clerk, the mere existence of the desire of homosexuality is not the issue. The issue is neither self-identification (or self-description) as long as that self-identification is private. However, public acknowledgement to the world is a whole different matter. At least it was to the Apostle Paul. My intent of the proposed amendment to the BCO was specifically about those who publicly describe themselves as homosexuals. The publication of the existence of a man’s lust to those outside the church makes it very dangerous to the individual, to those who sit under his oversight, and to young people who are tempted to experiment with the unknown. It will definitely change the attitude of the next generation. It spreads like cancer, especially in a woke culture. In addition, it hurts the reputation of the church. It damages the gospel of Jesus Christ. It disqualifies a man from being an ordained representative of our Savior.
A generation known for humility and extreme privacy (such as the World War II generation) has produced a generation that appears to need public recognition, whether it be for righteousness or for sinfulness. So, it is not a matter of temptation, sinful thoughts, or even private self-assessment. It’s a matter of the public reputation of a man who has been given the right by the visible church to speak publicly in the name of God.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tenn.