OldLife » Confessing Sin One Church Officer at a Time

Over at OldLife.org, Dr Hart has published a brief article by Pastor Jonathan Inman, a fellow Elder in the PCA. According to the introductory comment, Pastor Inman submitted this to the PCA denominational periodical, ByFaith magazine, but they declined to publish it.

Fully a third of our BCO is devoted to how our courts should deal with our members’ sin, and one section in particular, BCO 38-1, spells out how our courts should receive confessions of sin. I do not begrudge anyone’s earnest attempts to deal honestly and graciously with the sins of God’s people. I am calling upon the officers of the PCA to do so in a fashion to which we’ve all agreed.

If you think you have sinned, and not just a little, or in some ordinary fashion, but in an especially heinous sort of way, then 38-1 is totally the way to go. Serious sins, public sins, sins perpetrated by officers of the church – if ever there were occasion for serious, public and official confession and judgment, wouldn’t this be it? And all without the rigmarole of process!

Read Pastor Inman’s brief and thought provoking article at Old Life!

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Summary Critique of the New PCA Agenda

A friend asked me to summarise my critique of the new PCA Agenda. What follows is a very brief summary of my critique based on many weeks of Sabbath School discussions ranging across the broad sweep of the proposed agenda. It is by no means exhaustive, but is intended to be brief and summary.

There are typically three subjects used as motivations urging the PCA to adopt a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural agenda of ‘diversity’ and racial reconciliation. Those subjects are statistics, bible examples, and history. In relation to our history, it is argued that we must repent and demonstrate our repentance by specific actions. I’ll address these one at a time. Continue reading

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What’s the big deal with intinction? Who cares?

Bread CupLast week at the Tennessee Valley Presbytery meeting, we had the opportunity to take up the matter of intinction. Intinction is the practice of serving the two elements of the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine, in a mixed form typically by dipping the bread into the wine.

The 2012 General Assembly passed an amendment to our Book of Church Order (BCO) to clarify that intinction is not a proper way to administer the Lord’s Supper. Before that amendment can become an official part of our church order, it must be approved by 2/3 of the Presbyteries. So, this was the matter before us.

Now, the BCO is already sufficiently clear as it states that the bread is to be distributed with distinct biblical instruction prior to the distribution of the cup which also has distinct biblical instruction. However, that is not clear enough for the many who are practising intinction in the PCA.

Sadly, we voted down the amendment leaving the current wording in place without clarification. There was no real opportunity for debate, either. What time was permitted was taken up with a great deal of fussing and fuming over the fact that this matter was even being discussed at all. Much was said against the amendment, but before any answer could be given, someone called for the vote and it was over.

Since there was no opportunity afforded in Presbytery to answer the questions and comments opposing the amendment, I’d like to take the opportunity here. I’ll enumerate many of the arguments raised and provide an answer for each.

  1. ‘The men who are practising intinction are doing a work of evangelism where others are not and we should not hinder them.’

    A: How is intinction a tool for evangelising those whom others have not reached? Are the men practising intinction using it in ‘open’ communion and calling the unreached to come and partake? Surely not. If the sacrament is being served only to those who have made a profession of faith and have been admitted to the table, then how is intinction related to more effective evangelism at all? This would appear to be a bit of a red herring.

  2. ‘These men are actually trying to be more biblical by having a common cup. But to avoid concerns over germs and disease they have to use intinction.’

    A: It is not at all clear that a common cup is more biblical, but even supposing that it is, the common cup does not require intinction. There are other ways to use a common cup without overthrowing the plain instruction of Christ to serve bread separate from wine in two separate sacramental actions. There are other solutions.

  3. ‘How can we address this detail of the Lord’s Supper when there are so many other details that might also be called into question, such as reclining at a table rather than sitting in pews, using wine rather than grape juice, using leavened or unleavened bread?’

    A: This is the fallacy of suggesting that we must do nothing unless we can do everything. That is simply false. By all means, let us consider these other issues in their turn to see if the Bible is as plain about them as it is about intinction! But we have not been asked to address everything. We have been asked to address one thing. Let’s do that.

  4. ‘What about the utility of intinction for ministering the Lord’s Supper to shut-ins or the to infirm?’

    A: The Lord’s Supper is to be administered in public worship and never in private ceremonies (WCF 29.3-4). Consequently, it’s unclear to me how the shut-in question makes sense here. But even if a private ceremony were permissible (and it is not), it would not require intinction. In the case of the infirm, assuming that there is difficulty in eating and drinking, a small flake of bread may be given rather than a full piece, and a small drop of wine on the tongue rather than a full swallow. So, even if intinction were biblically acceptable (and it is not), there is no practical advantage to it here.

  5. ‘I can’t believe we’re even talking about this! Why does this matter at all?’

    A: First, the right administration of the Sacraments is one of the marks of a true church. This is one of the reasons why Presbyterians are not Lutherans or Baptists. The details about the Sacraments matter. Second, the Sacraments are the Gospel in visible form. Getting the details of the Gospel right is important whether in the preached Word or in the visible Word. Third, the Lord’s Supper is a memorial of Christ crucified. Christ did not say, ‘Do this for better outreach,’ or ‘Do this however it is most meaningful to you.’ He said, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me.’ It is a memorial of Christ crucified and we should lovingly care about the details of how He said to remember Him right before He took the full bloody wrath of Hell for us. The details of this should matter to us.

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Protest Filed Against PacificNW Presbytery Decision

The Rev. Jason Stellman was the prosecutor in the case examining the Rev. Dr Peter Leithart. I was disappointed that the Pacific Northwest Presbytery ruled against the prosecution in that case, but I am encouraged that orderly procedures continue in this case in keeping with our Book of Church Order. The Rev. Jason Stellman is filing a protest against the ruling and has begun publishing portions of that protest on his blog at the following links.

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Statistics and the PCA Strategic Plan

The Strategic Plan relies heavily for its justification upon certain numerical trends presumably exposed through statistical analysis. Consequently, there is some discussion in the blogosphere of whether the analysis is accurate. That’s a worthwhile point to consider: is the underlying statistical analysis used to justify this Strategic Plan actually inaccurate and flawed?

But I have a more fundamental concern with all this. While statistical analysis may be interesting, I am deeply troubled by this kind of application of it in the spiritual realm. I think there is a problem with how we are using statistical analysis if the result is that we think we must be doing something right or wrong based on that analysis. The Church does not fit a business or manufacturing model of any sort, and she has no mechanical processes that can be relied upon to provide a specific ‘positive growth’ result when properly deployed. Relying upon this kind of statistical analysis as an indicator of health is, at best, a category error — at worst it implies a crass Finneyism.

I am not suggesting that we ought to ignore the statistics altogether. It is certainly good to have access to such information. But this information is no reliable indicator of the health of a denomination. The call of Christ upon the Church and her ministry is not to watch the numbers, but to be faithful in the means of grace. God does not promise us any kind of a mechanical correspondence between such faithfulness and numerical growth. It is a dangerous error to rely upon outward results, especially numerical results, as an indicator of faithfulness. When we see a change in the numbers we do not need ‘some new plan.’ Whether the numbers go up, down, or stay the same, our duty and calling as a Church does not change. We are always and ever to remain steadfast and immovable in the faith, pouring out the Gospel in all its fulness. Yes, God is pleased to bless His means, and we ought not to expect His blessing apart from His appointed means. But God does not bless His appointed means mechanically. The numbers are no indication one way or the other with regard to obedience.

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2010 PCA Strategic Plan

I wish I had time to do a full and running critique of this sad and misguided proposal. The 2010 PCA Strategic Plan has been two years in the making and it shows. There is an abundance of detailed and wrong-headed thinking on display here. The distillation of what the GA will be asked to adopt is found here. I’m tempted to call it unprincipled and pragmatic, but it’s not really unprincipled. It’s simply not guided by principles that can be called Reformed and Biblical in any recognisable way.

Thankfully, several men have been interacting with this radical programme for further reshaping of the PCA. These men have offered some poignant comments and suggestions. Among those are some remarkable things coming from Northwest Georgia Presbytery!

Dr R. Scott Clark has a run-down of these in an entry on his Heidelblog, but the most remarkable, I think, is the ‘17 Points for PCA Renewal’ proposed by the Rev. Dr Jon D. Payne of Grace Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, GA (about 20 miles west of downtown Atlanta). (By the way, check out that Church’s web site! I did not know that there were other PCA church’s like Brainerd Hills PCA, especially not in the Southeast. I would differ earnestly with them on their uninspired worship song and the musical accompaniment, but it clearly and otherwise holds forth a model of Reformed worship.)

You should check out Dr Payne’s prefatory thoughts, too, on the page where they were originally published, but here for your edification I feel compelled to include Dr Payne’s 17 Points.
Continue reading

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Difficulties for a quasi-confessional Church

Those who opposed the so-called good faith subscription model that was officially adopted by the PCA General Assembly several years ago warned of this. A TE from Eastern Carolina Presbytery was denied a transfer to Mississippi Valley Presbytery. The Aquila Report provides the following details from the article Report of Actions at Mississippi Valley Presbytery (PCA) on May 4th, 2010.

The Credentials Committee then gave its report and brought before it two men. One for transfer from Eastern Carolina Presbytery and one for licensure (a minister in good standing from the SBC). Rev. Perry McCall (from the SBC) was examined and preached from Joshua 1:1-9. His licensure was approved. The man who was seeking transfer had a difficult exam. He took exception to WCF 4.1 on creation days. However, by his examination it showed he also held views holding to women deaconesses and women reading Scripture in Public Worship. The Presbytery saw these two were exceptions as well. Following this, the Presbytery voted whether or not to approve his transfer and he was denied despite his willingness to submit to the brethren on these issues.

At the close of the article is the following note.

Editor’s Note: The Aquila Report has requested comment from a large number of members of the Presbytery concerning denying transfer to a TE from another PCA Presbytery based on MVP’S not granting exceptions that are frequently granted in other Presbyteries and had previously been granted within Mississippi Valley Presbytery itself. We will print those comments in a few days, after we have had time to gather then.

The difficulty described here in relation to the transfer of credentials is merely a symptom of the larger problem — that the PCA has no objective standard for unity in doctrine and practice. The PCA’s de facto confessional standard is an unspecified set of ‘vitals of religion’ presumably found somewhere within the commemorative documents we call the Westminster Standards. According to the PCA’s ‘good faith subscription’ model, every court of original jurisdiction defines these vitals, or non-negotiable doctrines, as it sees fit.

While the constitution of a confessional Church is supposed to establish an objective standard of unity in doctrine and practise, the PCA’s model effectively removes that objective standard. As a result, the courts of the PCA will find it increasingly difficulty to function as a single denomination. This is to be expected precisely because the PCA has transformed itself into a loosely connected set of regional mini-denominations called presbyteries, each with its own version of the PCA’s unwritten constitution.

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