Dining Out on The Lord’s Day

My father grew up in the borough of Brooklyn, in a neighborhood just north of “Bed-Stuy” called Williamsburg. Those familiar with the neighborhood know that in the early 1900s with the completion of the bridge that bears the nabe’s name, Hasidic Jews from the “Lower east Side” began populating the community along with other immigrants like my Italian grandmother and great grandmother. Eventually, Williamsburg became the most populated neighborhood in the United States.

As a boy, my father could earn a penny on Saturdays from any number of Hasidic Jews for turning on a light in an apartment or hallway. (To put things in perspective, when my father was eight years old the Williamsburg Houses initially tenanted for just under 2 dollars per week for a single room. A busy Saturday of flipping switches could earn a day’s rent!)

Without getting into possible Jewish rationale for such a seemingly pedantic Shabbat restriction – whether it be tied to kindling a flame, creating something new, or just mere tradition – it’s not hard to discern a legalistic and hypocritical Jewish mindset. 

First, let’s dispel a common sentiment. Legalism is not tied to obedience, lest Jesus was a legalistic. No, legalism pertains to trying to earn that which can only be received by grace. Legalism also pertains to finding loopholes in order to “obey” or not “disobey” by way of technicality. It is the second kind of legalism that I have in mind.

The Jews got the electricity turned on without themselves flipping the switch. How? They paid someone else to break their law for them. So, technically speaking, they didn’t break the letter of the law; they got someone else to break their law for them, hence their legalism.

The hypocrisy is due to believing they were more obedient than my father because they would never do what he had done for money. Their money!

The point is not that certain Hasidic Jews believed wrongly they may not turn on electricity on the last day of the week. In other words, whether their law was according to God’s word misses the point. The point is these Jews were all too willing to violate their own personal moral convictions by paying someone else to do what they believed was forbidden by God. I trust that’s obvious,

Now let’s play with some analogies:

I may not pray to false gods, but I may pay someone else to pray to false gods for me. As long as I don’t commit idolatry, I have not broken the moral law.

I may not murder, but I may pay someone else to murder for me. As long as I don’t pull the trigger, I have not broken the moral law.

I may not steal, but I may pay someone else to steal for me. As long as my accountant falsifies the tax forms, I have not broken the moral law.

I may not lie or deceive, but I may pay someone else to lie and deceive for me. As long as I don’t speak false words, I have not broken the moral law.

The legalistic hypocrisy is glaring. Obviously, we see the absurdity.

Now for a blind spot to something no less obvious:

Most elders in Reformed churches take exception to the Reformed view of Christian Sabbath recreation as taught in the Westminster standards. As unfortunate as that is, many among that number go even further by going to restaurants and ordering out food on Sundays, which pertains not merely to rest or recreation but to the law of God as it relates to unlawful work on the Lord’s Day.

Now for one more absurdity:

It’s neither necessary nor merciful for you to wait on me, but as long as you’re willing to do so, I’m happy to be the direct occasion for your sin, just as long as I am fed well. Although you should not wait on me, let me contribute to your temptation by paying you. That’s on you, Server. I’m not sinning, though you really should have been at church this morning rather than getting ready for work in order to serve me lunch. Now please tell the chef to hurry up with my Veal Cacciatore. I’ve got to get a nap in and be back for evening service. And, hey, don’t forget my Chianti!

Do we see that absurdity as clearly as all the others? Or is our position that on Sundays, other than performing works of necessity and mercy, I may not work but I may pay someone else to work for me. In other words, as long as I’m not the line chef, the server, the bartender or the delivery person who works Sundays, I have not broken the moral law.

Bobbin’ N Weavin’:

This is usually where people begin to ask things like, what’s the difference between cooking for yourself or family, and a restaurant doing it for you? There are easy binary considerations pertaining to commerce and what entails “going to work” but such principles are usually wasted on Pharisaical types who are straining for any loophole to justify sins of convenience.

Some things just need to be said sometimes:

Is it not incongruous, while praying over a meal at a restaurant, to give thanks to God for those who break His commandment so that we might be fed?

To cloak or defend sin by claiming liberty of conscience is not Christian but antinomian.

There’s a vast difference between exercising liberty of conscience and operating according to a seared conscience. 

To be faithful in upholding the Confession that reflects biblical precepts is not legalism; nor is it to try to steal another Christian’s joy.

Let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking we have scruples against working on Sundays (other than out of necessity or mercy), if we are willing to allow others to work for us on the Lord’s Day.

Going to restaurants and ordering out food on Sundays is not analogous to hiring someone who might end up choosing to use honest pay for improper use. Rather, it’s a matter of directly paying someone to do something clearly forbidden in God’s word so that we might receive some perceived benefit and immediate gratification.

Rejoinders to common objections:

For those who have been misled by men like Lee Irons who have promulgated that unbelievers may work on Sundays, I offer this:

For those who have been misled by men like R.C. Sproul who obfuscate and engage in revisionism on this issue, I offer this:

Divorce, censure, and session responsibility

We synthesize particular biblical principles in order to compose theology that is biblical, practical and compassionate.

Under the gospel of Christ there exist two permissible reasons for divorce: adultery and willful desertion. (Matt.19:8,9; 1 Cor. 7:15)

Elders often have to judge whether certain acts of the flesh constitute adultery. Elders also have to decide whether certain patterns of life constitute willful desertion. This entry is concerned with the latter provision for dissolving the marriage contract, along with proper ecclesiastical oversight regarding the willful desertion provision.

Whenever a believer is loosed from the marriage bonds due to an unbeliever’s willful desertion, the believer is free to remarry even though the guilty party is beyond the pale of ecclesiastical censure by already being an unbeliever. (1 Corinthians 7:15)

In cases where both parties are regarded as believers, the only provision for divorce and remarriage is adultery. Mathew 5:32 enforces the point by teaching that if one divorces his wife for any reason other than fornication, the husband in such cases causes his wife to commit adultery. Furthermore, even the innocent woman’s future husband commits adultery by marrying her. In other words, under such circumstances not only is the husband culpable for his wife’s sin of adultery; the innocent spouse is not permitted to remarry, lest she commits adultery along with her future husband. Notwithstanding, there is good and affable news for the innocent spouse, if only sessions would do their job.

One may not divorce or remarry under the willful desertion clause as long as both parties are to be regarded as Christians by the church. Yet, if a professing Christian willfully deserts his spouse without cause in the face of Matthew 18 confrontation – then the deserting spouse should be declared an unbeliever. In such cases, the grounds for divorce would not be unbelief but rather willful desertion accompanied by ecclesiastical censure and unbelief. (1 Cor. 7:15). In other words, a believer may not divorce his spouse solely for the sin of unbelief since Scripture requires a believer to dwell with his unbelieving spouse as long as she desires to remain married. (1 Cor. 7:12-13). Nor may a believer divorce and remarry if deserted by a believer (i.e., one in good standing in the church). Rather, (aside from cases of adultery), a believer may only divorce and remarry if deserted by an unbeliever. The theological takeaway is that both conditions of (a) willful desertion and (b) status of unbeliever must be met for there to be biblical divorce and remarriage under the desertion clause.

Pervasive problem in the church:

It has become increasingly prevalent in the Reformed church today to condone divorce between professing Christians for emotional abandonment, in particularly verbal abuse. (This article does not address biblical fenceposts for such thinking. It recognizes there is biblical latitude and seeks to synthesize biblical principles in order to provide a coherent theological paradigm from which sessions might operate.)

When it is deemed by the courts of the church that a pattern of spousal abuse is tantamount to willful desertion, the guilty party should be censured to the utmost degree yielding a status of unbeliever. Only at which point may a professing believer be loosed from the marriage because now an unbeliever has departed. (Please internalize that point before reading further.)

Unfortunately, that is not what we always see, even within churches that practice discipline. Instead, we too often find an unbiblical accommodation for the offended party (assume the wife hereafter) who has suffered under emotional turmoil, which ironically can turn into a situation in which she deserts her husband without cause. (More on that later.)

We also observe instances in which the wife is not granted the ecclesiastical backing of the church that would rightly vindicate her and pave the way for a biblical release from the bonds of marriage.

In other words, one of two unbiblical accounts too often occurs. Either the suffering wife is granted at least tacit approval for divorce, yet without it having been deemed that her husband sinned enough to be excommunicated. Or else, approval for divorce is granted without her guilty husband having been excommunicated. In the first instance the abused wife is denied both the testing and privilege of sanctifying suffering; whereas under the second scenario the innocent wife is denied the peace the church was to have aided her in obtaining by ministering and declaring in Christ’s name that her unbelieving husband had willfully deserted her, and she is now loosed from the marriage.

No husband is to be considered having willfully deserted his wife to the degree in which his spouse may be loosed until there is such “willful desertion as can in no way be remedied by the Church, or civil magistrate” (WCF 24.6) In other words, whether willful desertion comes in the form of emotional or physical abandonment, a valid certificate of divorce presupposes the dissuasion of ecclesiastical and civil authorities has come to naught. Consequently, willful desertion that is sufficient for biblical divorce presupposes that one has already been officially declared outside the church, for how is it possible that one within the church – a Christian(!), can be beyond remedy?

In summary, it stands to reason that if the husband may not be constituted an unbeliever, then he has not yet willfully deserted his wife – in which case the wife has no biblical grounds for divorce. Yet if the wife has biblical grounds for divorce, then her unbelieving spouse has deserted her.

Excursus:

It is conceivable that if a spouse commits adultery and later repents, it can be biblically consistent for the innocent party to “sue out” divorce without an accompanying pronouncement of unbelief upon the spouse. The reason being, adultery is sufficient to file for biblical divorce, and repentance is sufficient to regain one’s standing in the church. Accordingly, one can truly repent prior to being excommunicated; yet notwithstanding the transgression allows the innocent party to sue out divorce “as if the offending party was dead”. (WCF 24.5)

A solution to no-fault divorce:

In cases alleging desertion, Sessions frequently condone divorces without sussing out the guilty party and sanctioning accordingly. Elders often excuse their neglect for reasons such as: (a) too few elders, (b) not knowing the circumstances of marriages in turmoil, and (c) “discipline won’t do any good”. Such excuses obviously have no place in the church, though they are commonly held among elders.

Admittedly, in desertion cases it is more convenient for sessions to vacate responsibility than adjudicate. Notwithstanding, sessions must function as courts of Jesus Christ. Sessions don’t have the luxury to close a blind eye to divorce in the church. Such dereliction of duty must stop. By heeding the call to exercise the keys of the kingdom, some professing believers will be excommunicated for not striving longer with their spouses; whereas others will be vindicated and loosed from their marriages as spouses are censured for willful desertion without cause.

Having to pronounce discipline forces sessions to abandon a de facto policy of no-fault divorce. Instead of abdicating its responsibility, sessions are to extend pastoral care. Here are a few things sessions are to do: (a) not leave divorce cases to the private judgment of individuals; (b) determine whether abused spouses have biblical grounds for a divorce; (c) excommunicate those judged guilty of emotional abuse tantamount to willful desertion; and (d) not tacitly approve divorce for those who have been abused to some extent short of that which warrants excommunication of a spouse; and (e) discipline wounded spouses who continue headstrong into divorce without biblical cause and against session approval.

A case study of Bill’s abuse of Sally:

There is an instance of unbiblical accommodation in prematurely approving Sally’s divorce without having adjudicated her case. Such accommodation can ironically end in Sally’s desertion of Bill.

When a session neglects its pastoral duty by not issuing warnings against willful desertion to women like Sally when Bill is not censurable, such women either are denied (a) the gift of sharing in Christ’s sufferings through perseverance, or else (b) seeing the manifestation of their own unbelief in the abandonment of the marriage in the face of ecclesiastical warnings not to pursue divorce.

In the final analyses, the Westminster standards teach that the only non-adultery grounds for Sally to divorce Bill entails that Bill is beyond remedy, which is not to be regarded as true as long as Bill is called a brother, believed to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit, receiving the word of God if not also the sacraments. If Bill is a church member in good standing and receiving the means of grace, then he is not “beyond remedy”, which means that Bill may not be regarded has having willfully deserted Sally. Consequently, Sally has no biblical grounds for divorce. Yet if Sally divorces under such circumstances, then it is she who has abandoned her husband. But if Sally truly has grounds for divorce, then Bill must be censured for willful desertion both for Sally’s vindication and the glory of God.

A charge to elders and sessions:

The only question now is whether ordained servants will be faithful to their ordination vows and challenge head-on those who willfully desert their spouse or pursue unbiblical divorce. Marriages are at stake and children are needlessly being torn from parents in the aftermath of divorce due to pastoral neglect.

Indeed, God-appoints difficult providences for all who are in union with Christ, but we must expect God’s grace to be sufficient for all his people to keep the marriage vow of “for better or for worse” unless one of two exception clauses can be met (adultery or willful desertion). Elders are to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. They are to love their flock according to understanding, which means they are to encourage the sheep under their care in the life of the cross to which we all are appointed. Elders must come along suffering spouses – labor with them indeed, yet censure those who willfully desert their spouses or pursue unbiblical divorce with a high-hand.

Let’s pray together for Christian marriages and that ordained servants might be faithful to their vows.

The Philosophical and Moral Impotency of Natural Law in Refuting Homosexuality

Although all men know by nature that homosexuality is sin, it’s only through Scripture that one can adequately defend the claim. (Natural theology types are free to try sometime.)

Since most people are autonomous in their thinking, it’s understandable why most cannot justify with any consistency and without avoiding arbitrariness, the claim that homosexuality is morally wrong.

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Although many straight people still find homosexuality unnatural – unnatural does not imply moral deviance. Even the claim that something is unnatural presupposes a network of beliefs about reality, truth, and ethical standards that cannot adequately be justified apart from Scripture. Whether homosexuality is sin is indeed a worldview question.

Sure, in general revelation there is natural law that pronounces guilt for sin upon all mankind, including guilt for homosexuality. Notwithstanding, natural law can grow increasingly dim in the minds of the ungodly. Yet even when natural law was shining more brightly upon social conscience, it was never to be interpreted apart from special revelation. With the rejection of the Bible, mankind is left to grope in darkness but not in search for moral standards – rather for moral standards that are philosophically defensible in the context of a larger worldview context that should be consistent, coherent and explanatory. On the authority of God’s word, we know it cannot successfully be done, which has been corroborated and verified since the time of creation.

Accordingly, two unhappy alternatives:

Apart from viewing homosexuality through the lens of Scripture, one is left with two unhappy alternatives: (i) a bigoted rejection of homosexuality or else (ii) condoning what is known in conscience to be morally deviant. In other words, apart from Scripture one either can judge correctly yet for sinful reasons, or else violate conscience (and live in moral conflict) by condoning in the name of love, no less, that which is an abomination in God’s sight.

Regarding natural theology, the church needs to wake-up from its Thomistic slumbers and distinguish (i) the universal knowledge of sin through natural law from (ii) the sole basis by which we might adequately defend the possibility of such knowledge. The former pertains to knowledge that permeates all moral creatures regardless of one’s worldview; whereas the latter relates to an epistemological defense that is unique to the Christian worldview. Without God’s word as the foundation for the only worldview that can reconcile moral absolutes with life experience, in whose name might we dare judge any behavior as sinful?!

In order to avoid imposing personal preference upon others, one is left to condone a practice that is contrary to God’s word. In other words, the “open minded” (to everything but God’s word, that is), if they’re to remain free from such bigotry, are constrained to not object to deviant behavior, “for who are we to judge?” Without God’s word, through the illumination of the Spirit, confirming to us that which we indeed know by nature to be sin, our beliefs would be reduced to subjective doubt and philosophical skepticism. Indeed, apart from the propositional revelation contained in Scripture we cannot adequately justify the knowledge we have, at least in any robust philosophical sense, that there even is such a thing as natural law. If that is not true, then God has not made foolish the wisdom of this world. (Again, Natural theology types are free to try sometime.)

In closing:

An insurmountable natural theology conundrum is that apart from special revelation, we’re consigned to non-authoritative personal preference, even though the Spirit unambiguously and universally testifies that homosexuality is sin. Perhaps the biggest irony in all of this is that without God’s word, ultimate autonomous virtue leads to defending deviant behavior against conscience. That’s where the world lives today. It doesn’t have a good enough reason to condemn sinful practice without being bigoted, so the world defends what God condemns.

In sum, apart from Scripture one is left either to go along with ungodly behavior to avoid personal prejudicial preference, or else undergo the conflicting guilt that comes with arbitrarily disapproving of a practice that is known to be morally wrong. At the end of the day, the Christian’s righteous disapproval of ungodly behavior is not available to us apart from values informed by Scripture and no amount of natural law can get us out of that Thomistic, humanistic predicament. No amount or natural law can get us to a defensible natural theology of sin. We must distinguish knowledge from the justification of the possibility of knowledge.

Yet Christians can rejoice in at least this: God is not mocked; the fool is confounded once again.

More on Reformed Apostasy

Many Reformed churches have progressed from (i) a lack of theological nuance to (ii) a disregard for doctrinal distinction to (ii) an actual repudiation of Reformed theology. It’s no longer that Reformed pulpits and sessions are merely being manned by elders who aren’t theologically keen, which eventually gave way to a general sense, if not firm philosophical conviction, that theological precision and confessional fidelity no longer matters. Today we are witnessing a third stage of downgrade in Reformed pulpits and sessions (and consequently our churches’ pews). We are seeing an outright repudiation of Reformed theology from within. With an insidious air of orthodoxy to accompany it, which lends an element of credence to the less discerning, we gradually slouch further toward Arminianism, Romanism and Secularism.

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Even the unqualified want to feel good about themselves:

Nobody enjoys living in tension, especially tension that exposes oneself as not gifted or just plain lazy. So, given a lack of theological understanding, we can see how one might adopt a mindset of Reformed theology doesn’t matter. Such a mentality protects the less gifted and the lazy from self-consciously accepting that they’re not well prepared to articulate, teach and defend the deposit of the Reformed faith. A more suitable alternative would be for the less gifted to remain humble and keep striving, and the lazy to apply themselves better, or else just step-aside. Unfortunately, a more honorable approach has not always been taken by too many. Instead, what we have found in the past several years is a return to pre-Reformation theology, which in the end cashes out as a rejection of the fullness and richness of Biblical Systematic Theology in light of the comparatively unsystematized and unsophisticated medieval and early church theology.

Knowing about the Reformation vs knowing the theology of the Reformation:

This is not surprising once we consider that the formal teaching of Systematic Theology has at many seminaries been relegated to history types rather than to analytical thinkers. This phenomenon has opened the door to subjective and more novel takes on settled theological matters of serious intricacy. The debates of the Reformation period have taken priority over the theology of the debates. Possessing vast acquaintance with multiple sides of any doctrinal dispute has become more academically impressive than possessing an intimate working-understanding of which doctrines are theologically correct and why. Consequently, reinterpretation of Reformed confessional boundaries is now both unavoidable and permissible if only accompanied by a fragile appeal to the standards being a “consensus document” or a scattered few seventeenth century theologians who held esoteric views that did not win the confessional day. The kicker is, one can now earn an honorary degree of “Reformed orthodoxy” merely by possessing an air of historical understanding without actually subscribing to Reformed theology, let alone robustly subscribing.

We may not avoid hard thinking. It inevitably leads to heterodoxy:

As for the minimally Reformed, anyone can assert the Bible teaches both A and B. Yet it’s how we reconcile A with B that leads us to doctrines C, D, E and F. One pastor I recently spoke with from a conservative Reformed denomination was admittedly pleased to teach A and B discretely, yet without further reflection or perceived need to understand the further implications of A alongside B. With all sincerity this ordained servant did not see a moral or pastoral responsibility to systematize the discrete A, B, C’s of Reformed theology so that rudimentary principles of doctrine might not just be consistent with each other but also demonstrate a coherent systematic whole that is worldview explanatory and beyond refutation. This is the unhappy state of the Reformed church. A most serious dumbing down, as it were.

For example, I have found that too many seminary students, graduates and ordained servants within the Reformed tradition affirm the following points of theology (most of them unwittingly), which aren’t just theologically incorrect but directly impinge upon other foundational doctrines and philosophical considerations to the left of the dash (–).

Hypothetical Universalism – The gospel and God’s numerically one undivided will

Libertarian Calvinism – God’s aseity, independence, unique eternality and exhaustive omniscience; moral accountability; compatibilism vs incompatibilism

Egalitarianism – Ministry of God’s Word; Equality vs Sameness; merely arbitrary vs naturally fitting gender functions that transcend church and family

Radical 2 Kingdom – Corruption of the Spirituality of the Church and the crown rights of King Jesus

Limited view of the Fall and Total Depravity – Roman Catholic nature-grace dualism; Pelagian tendencies; Concupiscence; Apologetic methodology; Natural Theology; Seeker sensitivity and worship practice

Sabbath Abrogation – Eschatological and sacramental-pedagogical (ESP) implications vs Perpetually Moral and Eschatological ramifications

Peccability of Christ – Hypostatic Union and Nestorianism; Narrowly Logical vs Metaphysical modalities

Those are just a mere smattering of false doctrine (and doctrines they impinge upon) held by Reformed servants, and often times they don’t even know it.

Suffice to say, it should be obvious; this is no small matter. A growing number of pulpits and sessions are at least partially manned by men who are comparative liberals relative to Puritans and Continentalists. Yet in the context of a distinctly pre-Reformation theology, these false teachings are now all in play.

A proposed preventative prescription:

To look for deep theology prior to the Reformation era is like seeking to nourish oneself from dumpsters behind fine food restaurants in the hope of finding some tasty morsel that is not on the menu. Obviously, it’s madness. Clearly, there’s much on the Reformed menu that does not entice.

Those with an insatiable appetite for pre-Reformation theology should at least put forth what they believe is lacking in Reformed theology, which by Reformed standards swallowed up any and all orthodoxy prior to the Reformation in toto! Until such time, one is wise to consider the patristic and medieval fad-rage a smokescreen for a multifaceted agenda that is just beginning to take form.

As a path forward, the new wave of Trinitarian theologians, who think they’ve unearthed some non-Reformed yet orthodox doctrine of God, should be scrutinized and held accountable to a deep confessional systematic theology that should be able to be articulated, taught and defended against the onslaught of doctrinal impurity from outside the Reformed tradition, to the end that Jesus’ sheep might be nourished by the pure milk of God’s word, if not unto meat.

Jonathan Edwards on the “necessity” of the divine decree

Our acts are free, though triggered by intentions that are caused according to God’s sovereign determination of the relationship between prior states of affairs and our intentions to act. Moreover, we approve of our intentions that cannot be other than what they will be.

Like us, God approves of his intentions and cannot act contrary to them. Yet, unlike us, God is most free, at least because his acts proceed from intentions that are not the effect of preceding states of affairs. So, unlike us, God is ultimate sourcehood and can do anything he can possibly desire.

There is no time in eternity, but even if time were uncreated, there could not have been enough time to have sequentially chosen a decree according to an intention that was chosen according to a previous intention ad infinitum. No, the divine intention is eternal, and a chosen intention is unintelligible.

Unsatisfactory objections with no solution:

With respect to Richard Muller and others, the world from an Edwardsian perspective is not (from itself) necessary but given the eternal decree, it is not narrowly-logically necessary but causally necessary being secured by the divine intention. Notwithstanding, creation itself isn’t essential to God, for creation is not a property of God, and God existed without creation. Should we find it strange that God cannot exist without some eternal intention to create or not create? Can God have no intention, even an intention not to have an intention? Surely God must exist with an intention he never did not have. That’s just built into God being God! Notwithstanding, that which God’s free intention contemplates is not a cause that acts upon God or his intention.

Room for freedom:

In conditional (Classical Compatiblist) terms, God could have not created this world had he so willed. Or, rather than contemplate hypotheticals that change a fixed future by altering the past, we might contemplate a different future that would entail a different past: Had God not created this world, he would have intended not to create. Either way, God’s intentions and acts are most free and agreeable to God according to a “mesh” of undivided will.

What’s the alternative, (i) a non-eternal intention? (ii) An eternally chosen contingent-intention (according to an eternally chosen or unchosen intention)? (iii) An eternal yet metaphysically contingent intention? But how does (iii) not make creation and God’s eternal will contingent, which is bound to lead back to (ii).

Impassibility of the contrary?

If nothing outside God acts upon God resulting in an intention to create, then God’s ultimate freedom to create is intact. That said, what’s the problem with Edwards on the necessity of the divine decree? What does the charge against Edwards even mean, that God is not most free unless another eternal intention could have been formed in God contrary to the eternal intention God eternally approved of for himself? Again, what’s the alternative to such freedom? If libertarian freedom is a philosophical surd, then how can God be libertarian free and not free in an Edwardsian sense?

As we teach our children, God can do all his holy will. (WSC 13)

Orthodox Presbyterian Church 88th General Assembly at Eastern University

I’m a bit surprised that some OPC Pastors and Ruling Elders are eager to maintain that the OPC did not prematurely acknowledge guilt at their 88th General Assembly.

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“The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly.”

OPC Statement

An example of denying what was purported:

The disgust expressed was at the sin reported. The most serious allegation involved a heinous expression of racial contempt and disgust. We wished to express disgust at the mere mention of such a sin. We never said that we committed it and we never intended to stop investigating it, whatever the university did (I will not publicly criticize them in this matter). We are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves and I believe that’s what we endeavored to do.

A prominent OPC man. (Bold emphasis mine.)

It’s one thing to be wise yet quite another thing to be crafty.

I’ll try to clear up some confusion surrounding the OPC’s premature acknowledgment of guilt, hopefully establishing, contrary to the thinking of a growing number, that (i) the acknowledgment of guilt did not pertain merely to the mention of the abstract possibility of sin having occurred, and (ii) these “reported” incidents were actually acknowledged as true, just as they were reported.

First, when behaving rationally, we don’t communicate “grief, sorrow, and disgust” over the mere possibility of incidents. No, we lament over incidents we have already judged true. After all, it is always possible that such incidents occur. Therefore, mere abstract possibility is never sufficient to articulate such feelings, at least when thinking clearly.

Imagine an accusation of murder or adultery against a loved one. I would not (nor could I!) emote “grief, sorrow and disgust” over such an accusation unless I thought it was actually true. What triggers a package of actual “grief, sorrow and disgust” is not abstract possibility but cognitive conviction that certain supposed incidents reflect concrete realities. Actual lament presupposes actual acts, unless, of course, the lament (and communication of lament) is disingenuous.

A second point of confusion among several is in thinking that if “grief, sorrow, and disgust” are according to “reported” incidents, then “guilt…” could not have hastily been prejudged as true (on the basis of the incidents having been merely reported incidents). Well, whenever guilt is acknowledged, it is always according to a report (or testimony) of some sort having to do with past alleged incident(s). Consequently, it’s a downright matter of special pleading to suggest that reported incidents, even if not yet thoroughly investigated, cannot possibly be prematurely judged. After all, hasty verdicts are commonplace, not just in the world but sadly in the church too. Moreover, further investigation can occur even after a matter is prejudged, especially when cooler heads eventually prevail.

Again, the OPC’s statement:

The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly.”

The fact of the matter is, the incidents were unambiguously acknowledged as true, hence the measured communication of actual “grief, sorrow and disgust” over the reported incidents. Secondly, that the report was not thoroughly investigated does not imply that the OPC withheld judgment, or that the report was not prematurely acknowledged as true and guilt informally rendered. Rather, the carefully worded statement supports the fact that the report was indeed received as true, hence lament, yet without proper procedure in confirming the report’s truthfulness.

Confessional issues:

Borrowing heavily from the Westminster Larger Catechism, which OPC church officers have vowed to uphold, I submit that the premature acknowledgment of guilt was not promoting truth among men; nor speaking truth and only truth in matters of judgment. We are to strive for charitable esteem of our neighbors (even if they’re in the OPC!), and have an unwillingness to admit an evil report concerning them. In short, the statement passed unjust sentence – for even if the accusations are true, there was no basis to have received them as such.

To express “grief, sorrow and disgust” over sin that was reported while in the same breath saying the OPC was not admitting guilt that sin was actually committed is at best equivocal. I’ll merely say to that, the OPC’s standards also speak about equivocal language in light of the Ninth Commandment.

Final thoughts:

It would be egregious if the OPC offered a disingenuous apology in order not to be kicked out of Eastern. Yet some I’ve spoken with believe the motive to continue the GA may have been sufficient cause to give Eastern what they were perceived to have wanted yet without proof. But if the statement was not an intentional admission of guilt, then was it intended to mislead Eastern into thinking guilt was being acknowledged when it wasn’t? If not, then how did intelligent men carefully craft a calculated statement that communicated guilt without intending to do so?

In the final analysis, assuming I am to take the statement according to the plain meaning of words, the OPC seems to have cracked under pressure by formulating and approving such a statement that communicated guilt prematurely. Yet if it was not their intention to acknowledge guilt, then two unhappy alternatives are left – either willful deception or incomprehensible incompetence.

It’s unclear why the OPC offered a premature apology that is now not just being contested by some as a mistake but actually being denied as being the admission of guilt that it is! However, what is abundantly clear is that the OPC needs to come clean on a few things, including not correcting a leader’s misuse of Jesus’ words:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Matthew 10:16

What do Elf and Certain NAPARC Churches Have In Common? (A parody too close to home.)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism is to be updated this fall for the “Totally Reformed” who actually believe in the appointment and engagement of Sessions, regional Presbyteries and General Assemblies to govern the church, even in cases alleging abuse.

This minority of churches, now called TR churches for short, are going to add one more question to the Shorter, making the child’s catechism a total of 108 questions. One TR pastor from Holland Michigan noted, “Although we realize it’s going to put additional strain on children memorizing the catechism and on homeschool moms and dads, we think it’s best for our children’s future.” It’s the hope of many that for Q&A #108 the OPC’s very own Tom Tyson might provide stick-figure illustrations of both Shorty and the team at the GRACE organization, which is representative of other abuse prevent organizations that function as provisional Presbyteries when called upon by the church at large.

The 2022 amendment to the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q 108: What does the movie Elf have in common with a growing number of NAPARC churches in 2020 through 2022?

A 108: The eagerness to abdicate responsibility.

An uncanny analogy:

Session: Okay, picture this: We bring in Miles Finch.

Pastor: The Miles Finch?

Session: The golden ghost. We bring him in. He’s written more classics than Dr. Seuss. It ain’t gonna be easy, but I think it’s worth a shot.

Pastor: My two top writers, my crack team, my fun squad… you came in here pitching me the idea of hiring another writer?

Session: Yeah, Miles Finch.

Pastor: I like it.

IMG_3828.JPG
Miles Finch, Consultant

Let’s now get serious with some food for thought. If an abuse prevent organization is staffed by OPC Elders, would the organization be ill-qualified to investigate an OPC church? If not, then why abdicate outside the denomination? If yes, then what qualifies one to serve in such spiritual matters?

NAPARC Infidelity

This is a follow-up post to Seeds of Apostasy and Congregant Responsibility.

It’s staggering to consider how far a preponderance of NAPARC churches have drifted from Reformed confessional theology. If the shepherds won’t protect the sheep, the sheep better get better at protecting themselves.

Today’s obsession with egalitarianism, critical theories, and medieval philosophy by “historians” posing as philosophical theologians is more a result of confessional infidelity than a reason for it. In other words, when confessional theology doesn’t grab you, something else will. Something must fill the void. Like a vortex – enter Thomasts, Davenant Institute, Egalitarianism, Aimee Byrd, Diane Langberg and others. You can almost hear the sucking sound. Again, something must fill the void.

Unwittingly and to their surprise, the new breed of moderates are working on the same side of evangelicalism, the New Life church movement and other thin complementarians who are together dumbing down, diluting and denying the confessional faith and practice of NAPARC. “Really, Ron?” Well, you tell me. For instance, is today’s gospel more about healing broken relationships and making the abused whole, or is it more about vicarious penal substitution that exhausts the unmixed wrath of God so that sinners might find forgiveness and righteousness in Christ? How can we find so much in the text of Scripture that’s not actually in the text of Scripture, yet we can’t seem to find, or at least make application from, the cross of Christ? Is it because culture and social media is framing ministry rather than Word and Spirit working in and through broken vessels? Are church leaders leading the sheep or responding to felt needs and critical theories with a new social gospel? If shepherds are indeed shepherding, then ask yourself two questions – with what and toward what?

In no particular order, below are some of the more significant theological departures from NAPARC ordained servants. But first, as I stated in my previous post:

Most congregants don’t care about many teachings of the historical Reformed church. As sad as that might be, one might still hope that all congregants would be concerned if their overseers were untrue to their ordination vows… If not, then how would the sheep not deserve the shepherds they’ve elected?

It’s one thing not to affirm confessional doctrine, or even teach contrary to the Reformed confessions to sheep who aren’t well versed in the truth. But to posture oneself as confessional in the process is to intentionally mislead the sheep, now hypocritically, while sowing the seeds of apostasy.

Knowing full well that most congregants aren’t theological, let alone passionately so, I offer the following for prayerful reflection.

* By denying theological determinism, one loses claim on the Reformed tradition as it relates to (i) God’s eternal decree; (ii) God’s aseity; (iii) God’s exhaustive omniscience; and that (iv) God is most free and absolute. That’s the theological implication of not internalizing and embracing WCF 3.2. Now that needs to be internalized!

* By denying the regulative principle of worship, one betrays the Reformed tradition as it relates to (i) upholding Christian liberty of conscience, (ii) maintaining wine at the Lord’s Supper, and (iii) forbidding women to pray and read Scripture during congregational worship services. (WCF 20:2, 21:3,5; 29:5; WLC 109)

* In cases of divorce, by not rendering ecclesiastical verdicts, including censuring the guilty and vindicating the innocent, no-fault divorce is condoned, which denies the Reformed teaching that divorce is not a matter of private judgement but requires public and orderly proceedings. It also denies the Reformed teaching that divorce is only lawful for adultery and willful desertion that is beyond the remedy of church and state. (WCF 24:6; 30:2)

* By affirming contemporary 2 Kingdom theology, the Reformed position on Christ’s kingly reign over all creation including all civil magistrates is denied. (WCF 19.4; WLC 108)

* By not “fencing the Table” from non-communing members of evangelical churches, the Reformed doctrine of the visible church is denied. (WCF 25:2,3; 26:2)

* By intimating that children of professing believers actually join the church upon profession of faith is to deny the Reformed doctrine of baptism and the visible church. (WCF 25:2; 28:1)

* By not disciplining delinquent church members who depart and don’t in due time join another evangelical church, the doctrine of the visible church is violated. Also, the solemnity of lawful oaths and vows are compromised. (WCF 22:3,5; 25:2)

* By condoning movies, books or nativities with images of Jesus, the Reformed teaching on the Second Commandment is denied. (WLC 109)

* By condoning going to restaurants on Sunday, even under pretense of unbelievers being permitted to work on Sunday, the Reformed teaching on the Fourth Commandment is denied. (WLC 99, 117)

Again, these departures do not bother the average congregant. I get that. But neither did they bother those who remained in the pews of the now apostate PCUSA, a denomination with less outward pomp and glory than Roman Catholicism, yet a synagogue of Satan just like her.

Are these seeds of apostasy or a just musings of a pedantic blogger?

Check out part 3.

Dr. James Anderson Dismantles Opposition to Presuppositional Apologetics, Theological Determinism and Christ’s Kingly Reign Over All

It’s never pleasurable to read (i) caricatures, (ii) misunderstandings, (iii) reckless treatment of opposing views and (iv) badly formulated arguments – especially by other Christians. It is pleasurable, however, given such grave misfortune, to read precise interaction with such positions.

One wonderful thing about James’s work is his points of disagreement are always precisely articulated. (My prayer is that people will engage and if warranted change their views. I’ve never known James to bite or gloat.)

James interacts here with Davenant Institute’s attempt to interact with Pesuppositional Aplogetics.

James interacts here with J.V. Fesko’s attempt at Reforming Apologetics.

James interacts here with Richard Muller’s attempt to unhitch the Reformed tradition from theological determinism and its compatibilism implications.

James interacts here with David VanDrunen’s attempt to make sense of a 2K paradigm.


The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18:17

Seeds of Apostasy and Congregant Responsibility

If you’re not grieved by the infidelity of the church, then with this post you’ll find little relevance.

Churches don’t become apostate overnight. Apostasy begins with elders having a faith and practice that is contrary to their confessional standards.

Within the confessional pale, elders don’t typically deny their ordination vows overtly. It’s rare that an elder takes the initiative of disclosing conscious theological shifts in faith and practice since the assumption of his ordination vows. A contributing factor to the rarity of such truthful disclosure is the pervasive practice of ordaining unqualified men to the office of elder.

Apropos, if an elder doesn’t internalize what he vows to uphold, how can he state any differences – if not now, then later? Can a man announce a change in conviction without first having conviction? Can a man contend for that which he is so unfamiliar? If a man cannot teach his Confession, how can it be discerned by himself or others whether he truly grasps it? How many elders are apt to teach their Confession? Which is not to ask whether one is capable of uncritically parroting A.A. Hodge or G.I. Williamson on the Confession, which too can be rare.

The deception of self and others entailed by not considering the weightiness of entering into ordination vows soberly and fearfully cannot but end in sin, including full blown apostasy unless God grants repentance. Consider, did the apostate overseers in the PCUSA fall away from truth embraced, or is it more likely they never cherished the truth they vowed to have received and adopted? Congregant beware. Mere casual acquaintance with a church’s Confession has no place among ordained servants. Yet can one truthfully maintain that’s not where much of the Reformed church finds herself today? How do churches become apostate? What’s their attitude along the way? How are our NAPARC churches doing in 2022? What’s the responsibility of congregants?

There are innumerable understandings, teachings and practices within “confessional” NAPARC churches that constitute not just stated differences but outright exceptions to the Westminster standards and the Three Forms of Unity. Yet too often the elders who approve, teach, and practice such things say they don’t take exceptions to the Standards. Such ordained men, at best, are guilty of denying their vows in ignorance rather than knowingly – until such time they’re confronted for the first time with their confessional ignorance and infidelity. Then, the lesser violation gives way to greater, unless God grants a change of heart. Again, consider for instance the PCUSA. Consider from whence we came, including the need for the Protestant Reformation. When doctrinal exceptions are intentional, there’s usually a self-ascribing of nobility from elders who seek to liberate themselves and the oppressed from the bondage of passé dogma that has in their estimation fulfilled its purpose. Neither Confession nor conscience walls in such crusaders. That’s why congregants need eyes to see and ears to hear.

A charge to congregants:

Most congregants don’t care about many teachings of the historical Reformed church. As sad as that might be, one might still hope that all congregants would be concerned if their overseers were untrue to their ordination vows. In other words, if the average congregant’s lament isn’t with a particular teaching or practice from within that opposes the church’s stated doctrinal standards, shouldn’t their grievance at least be with the integrity of the shepherds who deny what they vowed before God to uphold? If not, then how would the sheep not deserve the shepherds they’ve elected?

This is not to shift blame from pulpit to pew, but it is the foolish congregant who does not care whether her overseers uphold confessional doctrine that she is indifferent to or even opposes. We’re no longer talking merely about an elder’s doctrinal convictions but instead the caliber of his Christian character. It’s one thing not to affirm confessional doctrine, or even teach contrary to the Reformed confessions to sheep who aren’t well versed in the truth. But to posture oneself as confessional in the process is to intentionally mislead the sheep, now hypocritically, while sowing the seeds of apostasy. It’s a fair question to ask whether the average layperson has become more concerned with constitutional representation from our civil leaders than confessional fidelity from our spiritual ones. Again, what’s the congregant’s role in any of this anyway?

Creaturely concerns and the 3 C’s vs confessional standards:

For most congregants, what seems to matter most is what I’ve recently coined the 3 C’s: Community. Comfort. Convenience. When such creaturely concerns of congregants take precedent over another 3 C’s (a confessional cause for Christ), it’s just a matter of time until the proverbial frog-congregant cooks in the kettle.

A settled willingness to float downstream affords great latitude for pastors and preachers to push agendas rather than faithfully explicate God’s word in accordance to confessional standards. Under such conditions, the congregant whose utmost allegiance is to Christ rather than the 3 C’s will peaceably and appropriately voice concerns, leave or both. It’s not a Christian option to idly stand by as apostasy sets in.

History repeats itself:

In this one respect, the Reformed church resembles Romanism. Not to know what your overseers are to believe and teach is to follow glibly after both nothing and anything. As the old adage goes, if you don’t stand for something eventually you’ll fall for everything.

Did the PCUSA become the harlot she now is without first flirting with doctrinal infidelity? Again, how do churches become apostate? What’s their attitude along the way? How are our NAPARC churches doing in 2022? What’s the responsibility of congregants?

Be in prayer for the forthcoming NAPARC General Assemblies. Pray for your elders, and perhaps pray most earnestly for yourselves to discern according to your gifts of understanding and respective places of calling.

Infidelity Part 2, check it out.