Culture and even the church, has been influenced (propagandized) through television, music, films, and public education by claiming that homosexuality is not sin and should be accepted. It’s now just another legitimate choice. Not only is it possible, but it is entirely likely, that candidates for church office may not even consider their views to be contrary to our Standards. The notion that homosexuality is to be considered sinful is no longer an issue, thus the wording of O29 would be satisfied nicely. Thus, O15, with its clarifying wording, is needed to ensure that candidates for church office must examine their character based on Scripture and not common cultural definitions.
In a recent article (https://www.semperref.org/articles/why-i-am-voting-against-overture-15), Pastor Jim Weidenaar gave his reasons for voting against Overture 15 on the grounds that it “is too general and undefined to offer constructive guidance here. Beyond this, the addition of Overture 15’s language [“Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.”] to the Presbyterian Church in America Book of Church Order (BCO) would be destructive by wrongfully depriving the church of godly and qualified shepherds, by creating an atmosphere which stifles rather than guides biblical repentance and fellowship among those who experience this category of sinful temptation, and by encouraging the church’s ordained elders to model a heretical understanding of the gospel in which the spiritually mature have moved beyond the need to confess sin.”
He begins by asking four questions about another overture, specifically, Overture 29, since it deals with the same topic of qualifications for church office. He asks, “What does Overture 15 add to Overture 29 that makes it a necessary addition to the BCO?” His four questions, which are actually objections, are:
- Is it the literal use of the term homosexual in his description of himself?
- Is it the fact that the candidate tells anyone about this aspect of his sin/temptation/sanctification experience?
- Is it to single out this sin (or, that someone has this sort of temptation experience as opposed to any other)?
- Is it about ontology?
In his first objection, Pastor Weidenaar claims that Overture 29 (O29) covers what is required in the character of an elder. According to him, all Overture 15 (O15) adds is the word homosexual and a few other phrases. But his objection rests upon a like-minded culture shared by the church and the culture at large. That may have been generally true 40 years ago. But over all these years, there has been a shift in how homosexuality is defined and accepted. Culture and even the church, has been influenced (propagandized) through television, music, films, and public education by claiming that homosexuality is not sin and should be accepted. It’s now just another legitimate choice. Not only is it possible, but it is entirely likely, that candidates for church office may not even consider their views to be contrary to our Standards. The notion that homosexuality is to be considered sinful is no longer an issue, thus the wording of O29 would be satisfied nicely. Thus, O15, with its clarifying wording, is needed to ensure that candidates for church office must examine their character based on Scripture and not common cultural definitions.
In his second objection, Pastor Weidenaar claims that O15 is designed to silence individuals from confessing their specific sins. He claims that Paul’s example of calling himself the chief sinner is scriptural proof that we must do the same. Thus, with this understanding, not only is O15 wrong but it is heretical. My sense is that there is some exegetical sleight of hand in using this argument. Paul’s intent is not to mention his specific sins but to express his sinful nature, much like how expressed it here: “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (I Tim. 1:15, NASB).
One cannot prove the specific from the general. I did find Pastor Weidenaar’s summary conclusion concerning this point troubling. He states, “And by encouraging the church’s ordained elders to model a heretical understanding of the gospel in which the spiritually mature have moved beyond the need to confess sin.” Does this mean that those who support O15 are heretics? Is this a veiled charge that serves as a warning?
In the third objection, he asks whether O15 intent is singling out one sin as opposed to other sins. The simple answer is, Yes, it is. I take great comfort in the scriptural wisdom of the Westminster Divines. Consider these two questions from the Larger Catechism:
Q. 150. Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?
A. All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.
Q. 151. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
A. Sins receive their aggravations, (Reasons 1, 2, and 4 omitted here.)…3. From the nature and quality of the offense: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation: if against means, mercies, judgments, light of nature, conviction of conscience, public or private admonition, censures of the church, civil punishments; and our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or men: if done deliberately, wilfully, presumptuously, impudently, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance.
Homosexuality is an offense against the light of nature. It violates the creation ordinance concerning marriage, family, and filling the earth. It violates the seventh commandment (see Westminster Larger Catechism, question 139).
So, yes, Pastor Weidenaar, it is good and proper for the church to single out this sin, regardless of how it is accepted and defined by secular culture.
Pastor Weidenarr reserves the bulk of his article in question four. He states, “We are all familiar with the rhetoric of our culture which closely ties the personal experience of gender and sexuality to the essence of personhood.” The statement “I am,” can be a mediocre statement denoting a fact, such as “I am tired.” That has no bearing on who I am as a person. But it can be a powerful statement that communicates inner truths.
Jesus used the phrase to describe himself and to communicate deep truths about his person and work.
- Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35).
- Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12).
- Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58).
- So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7).
- “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
- Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).
- “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1).
When I say I am an America, I’m not just saying that I was born in a certain country in North America. I’m saying that I am proud to live in this country and that I love life, liberty, and justice for all. When I say that I’m Italian, I am not saying that I was born and raised in Italy. I understand that I am proud of my ancestry; that my grandfather, as a young teen, made his way to the U.S. and made a life for his family.
Given all the lack of clarity on ethical issues in our society, a person who says, “I am gay’” or “I am a gay-Christian,” is communicating that he has chosen a certain way of life. Like Lot’s wife, who looked back to Sodom, he’s communicating where his true heart and allegiance are. To pretend otherwise is sophistry.
In his summary Pastor Weidenarr states that O15 “would be destructive by wrongfully depriving the church of godly and qualified shepherds.” This is a pragmatic rationale and must be rejected. Jesus Christ is the head of his Church and he will see to its care. I am indebted to Pastor Weidenaar for this article in that it highlighted for me how the church is losing its sense of biblical grounding. And it shows me how important it is for me as an elder to instruct the members of the church in the foundational truths of Scripture. If we fail to provide and act on this ethical grounding we will lose the next generation.
O15 is needed at this point in the history of the Church to provide clarity on biblical sexual ethics.
Al Taglieri is a Ruling Elder in the Providence Presbyterian Church (PCA) in York, Penn.