Just to bring everybody up to speed on inside Presbyterian baseball: Greg Johnson is the ordained pastor in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) whose church has hosted REVOICE, whose mission is to “support and encourage Christians who are sexual minorities so they can infiltrate historic Christian traditions.” OK, they don’t actually use the word “infiltrate,” but they could have since what they actually say is “flourish.” They want sexual perversion to flourish (in a completely celibate way) in historically biblical denominations? This is the same Greg Johnson who CrossPolitic interviewed shortly before the first REVOICE conference and that was fun time, and who later “came out” in Christianity Today in 2019 as “not straight.” And he is the same man who was not disciplined or removed from office by his presbytery (The Missouri Presbytery), which presbytery was subsequently exonerated for declining to discipline him by the Standing Judicial Star Chamber of the PCA, the highest poohbahs of the denomination, last Fall.
But wait, there’s more: At the PCA’s general assembly last summer a monsoon of overtures and proposals came before the body, thrashing about like a fish in a net, trying to get the denomination to say something masculine and biblical about it all. The closest it got to that was making Greg Johnson cry by commending the Nashville Statement on sexuality, which was certainly a start [update/correction: this was actually back in 2019]. Then there was some sophisticated statement called the “AIC” that nuanced biblical sexuality into a pair of pink pumps that managed to say a number a relatively true things in such a campy way that it signaled the whole bar that while the PCA will not solemnize sodomy yet, they are not opposed to 80s mustaches and bowling in short shorts on Friday nights because there’s no verse about it.
Which brings us to the final piece of the puzzle: overtures 23 and 37 that made it out of General Assembly, proposals to modify the Book of Church Order, particularly in the examination of new ministers and their qualifications for office, with regard to sexual identities, temptations, and the process of sanctification (also summarized here). The overtures basically said that ministers in the PCA could not identify as same-sex attracted, gay, homosexual, and there needed to be clear signs that they were winning any battles against such temptations. Those overtures passed the General Assembly and then required a 2/3rds majority of the presbyteries to become codified. Both of those overtures failed to clear that supermajority threshold and are now at the PCA overture morgue awaiting cremation.
Consenting to Wholesome Words
It struck me recently that there are at least two ways for otherwise apparently godly men, churches, and institutions to fall from grace. Paul tells Timothy to watch out for two possible paths of compromise: one path is the direct attack on the truth while another path is a refusal to affirm the truth. “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (1 Tim. 6:3-5).
There are several things to note here: first, you might have men teaching “otherwise” or you might have men refusing to “consent to wholesome words,” you know words like: let’s not ordain effeminate men. Why? Because Jesus said so.
Second, Paul gets up on the top turnbuckle and does a pastoral piledriver on the whole mess, calling such people proud, know-nothings, strivers, and causing all manner of railing and disputing. And just when you’re about ready to pull Paul aside and encourage him to be more winsome and brotherlyloving, he pops off and says that the reason why people do this is because they’re in the ministry for ungodly gain. And then Paul goes full-blown fundamentalist and says from such people, get ye hence.
Now, some helpful Covenant Seminary graduate will no doubt take me to task for not taking the whole passage into account, but I was only just warming up to my theme, sir, and I’m so glad you brought the context up. But let me warn you that what follows will at first seem like a change of subject, but in fact, it will not be. So then: the context of Paul’s pastoral piledriver. The context of Paul’s admonition begins with these glorious words: “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort” (1 Tim. 6:1-2).
Well Now, and Well Now
Well now, my PCA friends, and I say it again, well now. But let us not limit ourselves or our well now to the PCA. And so, I hereby extent my well now to the SBC, the OPC, the URC, the CREC, and if there be any other C’s with a remnant of biblical dregs in them. These things need to be taught and exhorted throughout all of the conservative denominations. And if anyone teaches otherwise or refuses to affirm such wholesome words, that Buckwheat is proud, knows nothing, and is trying to stir up division among the saints. Have nothing to do with him.
Of course I might have lost some of you since I quoted from the King James, but here’s what it says in plain English: slaves need to serve their masters with all honor, especially Christian masters, so that the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed. But some of you are still not following me. You got lost at the well now.
But here’s the point of the well now. Which Bible-believing denomination has been teaching these things? Which things? The things that Paul insists that Timothy teach and exhort, namely that Christian slaves must honor their masters, especially the Christian slaveholders, because the name of God and His doctrine are at stake. The closest thing I know of this would be my own denomination where Pastor Douglas Wilson has taught openly for decades that Christians must not be embarrassed by any passage of Scripture, including all the naughty parts about slaves honoring masters and working hard for them, especially the Christian slave masters, including any that might have lived in the antebellum American South. Man, don’t you feel a little naughty just reading those words?
Of course, should an overture appear in the PCA even venturing to quote the Apostle Paul’s admonition regarding Christian slaves and slave masters, it would be shouted down before you could say “Bob’s your uncle.” Paul calls his instructions regarding Christian slaves and Christian masters “wholesome words,” and he says that the name of God and his doctrine are on the line. But we can’t get a supermajority of the PCA presbyteries to affirm that all ministers in the denomination should be chaste heterosexual men. I’m not saying for sure what the Apostle would say, but if he said what he said about slaves and masters, what would he say about dudes who want to come out of the closet about how sometimes they’re tempted to fantasize about other dudes but that’s wrong so they try not to (most of the time) and “Jesus loves gay people.”
All the Excuses
Of course there are all manner of excuses for the men who voted and argued against the overtures. Some called these overtures forms of “neo-fundamentalism” which sounds like a bad word that we’re supposed to be afraid of, but I’m sort of warming up to it. In fact, like the way the name “Puritan” has been dragged through the mud (even though they were often the most exuberant members of the Reformation movement), I’m more and more at peace with going to my grave tagged a Neo-Puritan Fundamentalist. I think that means I’m somebody who believes every verse in the Bible, and I drink beer. This same criticism gives lip service to the need to fight important battles, but primarily calls for peace and unity, saying that it is time for swords to be beaten into plowshares in the PCA. To which the Apostle Paul would say something like, “Hell, no” (in Greek). And speaking of fundamentals: these peaceniks are constantly warning us that the gospel is not at stake in every controversy. But if the name of God and His doctrine were at stake with slaves and masters, how much more so is the name of God and His doctrine at stake when we are talking about more fundamental human realities like maleness and sexuality and qualifications for ministry? Surely, no one wants to argue that master-slave relations are more fundamental? Anyone? Anyone?
Other excuses and arguments have included things like: if we start listing specific sins and temptations to be guarding against in potential ministers, when will it stop? To which, I almost wanted to call that man’s mother and offer my sympathies and thank her for trying. When will it stop? When will it stop? I would say that it will stop when we get to Heaven, my friend. That’s when we don’t have to be on guard against sin anymore. And in the meantime, if you want to be a pastor or an elder in the church of the Living God, your job is keep listing all the sins that might destroy the souls of the sheep you’ve been entrusted to watch over. And please note here that we’re talking specifically about the list of sins and temptations that we should cover with potential ministers of the gospel. We’re not even talking about the sheep here; we’re talking about potential shepherds of the sheep. Could you imagine a General in the military asking whether all that training is really necessary? When will it stop? Somebody fire that guy.
Other excuses and arguments have tried to sound sophisticated, arguing that the Bible and the confessions are sufficient, and we need not make our Books of Church Order redundant. But here’s the thing: all of our confessions and creeds and church orders are redundant. They are all spelling out particular matters already addressed if not specifically, certainly in principle in Scripture. So it’s not as though we are coming up with brand new things in our man-made documents. The question is not whether we will be redundant. The question is only on which matters must we be redundant for the sake of clarity, peace, and purity. I haven’t checked the PCA BCO recently, but I suspect there are already a number of qualifications listed for men to be ordained, things like knowledge of Greek and Hebrew or credits or equivalents in pastoral care or counseling. And let us simply point out that there are no Bible verses for those qualifications (even though I generally agree with their necessity), and yet there are piles of Bible verses about sodomy, effeminacy, lust, chastity, friendship with the world, and what Jesus promises to do with cowards.
So let us recap: the PCA’s highest court has declined to discipline a minister who has come out publicly as “not straight,” and the presbyteries have declined to pass by a supermajority requirements designed to eliminate those kind of men from consideration for ministerial call. In other words, the PCA has covenantally declined to affirm such wholesome words, you know, words like “ministers must be chaste male, heterosexuals and should be examined on their views and chastity.”
Go and learn what this means: how was it that the name of God and His doctrine are at stake in the relationships between slaves and masters? And if that is the case, and those who refuse to affirm those wholesome words are proud, corrupt, and destitute of the truth, what does that make people who are reluctant to make it clear that “non straight” guys must not be pastors?