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.

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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.

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.