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Letter from Australia 97 – Robertson’s Point, Dad and Cigarettes, and an Unpublished Article on SSA

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It’s been a while.  Apologies.  We are in lockdown and I hate it – for so many reasons.  But one thing is its hard to remain focused and organised when the days just run into one another and you don’t meet people.   In this letter I want to share with you an article that I have just decided to publish here – rather than on any of my usual outlets – it’s just too controversial – but what do I have to lose?!

But before we do that I thought I would share this photo from one of my favourite places – Robertson’s Point in Cremorne.  It is so, so beautiful.

And as you can imagine I have been thinking a lot about my dad.  I was in a local newsagent yesterday and was quite amused to see the sign telling us that the NSW government want us not to go shopping for anything other than ‘essentials’ – but apparently, the lottery and cigarettes are essential!  It astounded me that a pack of 20 cost $20 (about £15)!    I was never really into cigarettes – the occasional cig on the school bus – but when I saw friends who couldn’t run the cross country because of smoking – it seemed to me to be a mug’s game.    However one time when Granny (mums mum) stayed with us I ‘borrowed’ her pack of cigs and shared them round with friends on the bus.  Suffice it to say that when Dad found out, I never did it again!   There was another time he discovered another pack in my school bag.  He went out with the shotgun and told my brother ‘pull’.  At which my brother threw them up in the air and my dad blew them to bits with the shotgun.  I think my second pack was the last  pack of cigarettes I ever had!

Let’s come on to this article.   I wrote it because I was really puzzled by what the PCA General Assembly did this year on the question of Christians who say that they are same-sex attracted.  One of the problems I have is that people get so angry and upset if you don’t agree with them and immediately label you.  The social media world, and US church politics and culture wars, are not a great combination.  So please forgive me if you read any of the following and are offended.  I’m just trying to think things through and understand – not label people or seek to join any particular party!  Anyway here is the unpublishable article.

Should Christians Who Identify as SSA be Ordained?

Sometimes it’s as though the Christian Church in the West has a death wish.  This month we saw the fast-declining Methodist church in the UK vote to speed up its decline by dropping the biblical definition of marriage in order to accommodate the current zeitgeist.  Now at the other end of the theological spectrum, the conservative Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) voted to prevent those who identify as gay Christians being office bearers.

After a lengthy debate at their General Assembly the PCA voted by an overwhelming majority for the following:

6-4 Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, ‘gay Christian,’ ‘same sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.”

  It sounds good, doesn’t it?  At least for those of us who accept the teaching of Christ that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman.  And surely it is important that all Christians find their identity in Christ and not in anything else?  Indeed, in today’s world of identity politics the less Christians identify by anything else the better. I too, share the discomfort of those who question why people would want to identify themselves in this way.  Yet I struggle with this Act?

To understand you need to dig a bit deeper.  When you do so you will see that this has more to do with church politics within the PCA, than it does to do with biblical understanding – although the two are often intertwined.  A group called Revoice has a specific mission to “support and encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians—as well as those who love them—so that all in the Church might be empowered to live in gospel unity while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”   There are some in the PCA who are concerned that this group is just the first step to undermining that historic Christian doctrine.  My concern is that in seeking to deal with this perceived threat they are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  Or to put it another way – there is a battle going on and a lot of innocent people are getting hit in the crossfire.

David Bennett, author of A War of Loves and someone who was a former gay activist from Sydney but is now a committed follower of Christ – is one of those who would be banned from becoming a PCA minister – if he so desired!   He was strong in his condemnation of these new rules:

“The Presbyterian Church in America has rejected from its midst those who in a particular way reflect Jesus’ own celibacy and sexual martyrdom, celibate gay or SSA Christians from their midst and from ordination. That is homophobia on steroids.”

He has a point.  The trouble is this act is singling out one particular group.   And it presupposes that people like Sam Alberry, Anne Witton and Ed Shaw of Living Out – https://www.livingout.org seek their primary identity in their sexuality.  They don’t.  Indeed, that is the point.  They are biblical Christians who are seeking to be faithful to Christ and his teaching – and to help others who struggle with the same problems.  The idea that simply by acknowledging that you are SSA, same sex attracted – you are sinning, or seeking your identity in anyone other than Christ, is wrong.  Of course there may be people like that – but then there are heterosexuals like that too.

To be consistent, the PCA would have to legislate against all kinds of self-identified sinners becoming pastors.  Would an alcoholic who attended AA meetings where he/she states ‘I am an alcoholic’ be excluded?  After all the same arguments apply.  You don’t seek your identity in anything other than Christ?  Don’t you realise that Christ cleanses from all sin? Don’t you accept ‘progressive sanctification’ or believe in ‘Spirit empowered victory’?  Surely in admitting you are an alcoholic; you are not endorsing drunkenness. In admitting you are SSA, you are not endorsing sexual immorality.

There are other ways that we identify ourselves.  Should anyone in the PCA who identifies as American be banned from being ordained?  What about churches that fly the American flag in their buildings?  The flag is after all a symbol of an identity that is not de facto Christian!  But being an American is not sinful.  That’s true.  But there is a sinful pride in some nationalism, and a replacement of biblical Christianity with a cultural nationalistic ‘Christianity’ which is far more harmful to the Church, than someone admitting that they are attracted to people of the same sex.    I remember one American missionary giving his testimony to a somewhat bemused Scottish audience – stating ‘I became a Christian and a Republican in the same day’.   When did our identity in Christ and political identity become so intertwined?  Perhaps the PCA should start to deal with that form of seeking identity out with Christ?

What about those who identify as millionaires?  It’s not necessarily sinful to have a lot of money – but we ignore the bible’s teaching that ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’ at our peril!

And then there is the apostle Paul who at various points identified himself as a Jew, a Roman Citizen or unmarried.  He once even described himself as ‘the chief of sinners.  Did he not understand ‘progressive sanctification’ or ‘Spirit filled victory’?!

Or take those who admit that they are attracted to people of the opposite sex?    I confess to that.  But I also seek to live my life according to the teachings of Christ – that I am to be faithful to my wife, not even to look upon other women lustfully, not to exploit, abuse or even use sexual innuendo.  In today’s sex-obsessed world, with my sinful nature, it’s not always easy to keep oneself pure!    I see my brothers and sisters who are SSA doing the same thing and fighting the same battles – except I suspect that for them it is even harder.   So why does the Church make it even worse?

I have a number of friends in the PCA.  It is a denomination I admire and have spoken in many times.  This new rule will have to be endorsed at next year’s General Assembly before it becomes church law.  My hope and prayer is that the ‘fathers and brethren’ will have a rethink and realise that this is not the way to go.  This matters for those of us outside the American scene, because when the American church sneezes, the church in the rest of the world catches a cold.    We want and need the US church to prosper – but when it engages in the culture wars of its own particular secular culture, I suspect that there will be a lot of straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

We are trying to argue that whilst we uphold, love and practice biblical teaching on sex and sexuality – we are not homophobic and seek to be welcoming to all. When churches take actions like this, they provide ammunition for our enemies (whom we love) and make our task more difficult than it already is.    I have a great admiration for those Christians I know who struggle with their sexuality.  They are my brothers and sisters.  I am honoured to serve alongside with them.  We are together in our relationship in Christ.  Why would we want to divide the body of Christ on the basis of sexuality?   Is that not itself ‘identity politics’?

I found this discussion with Tim Keller and Kevin De Young very helpful….

https://byfaithonline.com/keller-deyoung-discuss-report-human-sexuality/

For a different perspective  read this from Todd Pruitt on Reformation 21 https://www.reformation21.org/blog/a-clear-message-from-the-48th-general-assembly-of-the-pca

What I find fascinating in this is the greatly increased attendance at the PCA Assembly because of this and one other issue.  If that is true it is somewhat disturbing.  Would such passion and interest be shown if they were discussing evangelism?   Also if that is the position of Reformation 21 and the PCA – I guess that’s my invite to speak at PCA churches gone – not that there were lots of them!

See you next week – if I can get my act together!

Yours in Christ (and in lockdown).

David

Letter from Australia 96 – An Encouraging Funeral, a Tribute, a Shetland Pony, Guns, the Sabbath and Prophecies

Is Christianity Homophobic? Christian Today Apologetics 101 – No.15

 

 

 

 

 

 

36 comments

  1. Well said. Thank you.
    There are so few voices that seek to speak in between the two polarities that one can begin to believe that to do so is to forsake the faith. I was hoping when I saw the title of your article that you would not land on either side and you did not disappoint. Many thanks.

  2. Dear David, I have so often found myself in agreement with you in your writings, thank you. As a member of a church in the PCA I respectfully disagree with you here. I would point you to articles such as https://gospelreformation.net/historic-biblical-christianity-contemporary-progressive-christianity/ and many others on the GRN page as a far clearer explanation than any I can hope to give. Biblical fidelity has been a huge concern for many of us in the PCA. You recently quoted Wesley in your piece on the Methodist church, “What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace”, the UMC didn’t get to where it is today overnight and neither did the PCUSA or the CRC and on and on….

  3. Bless you for this David. One small, but very important caveat! Alcoholics Anonymous tell their subjects, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic” and “Every day is a battle”!! Frankly this is not true, and tends to demean the power of the Gospel and Triune Godhead. I was once (before I was saved) an adulterer, fornicator, blasphemer and alcoholic; but when I was born again I was delivered from all that, because God’s Word is true where it states “The old is gone and the new come”! Like you, I daily struggle with the flesh, as my fleshly nature finds attractive young women tempting; but because I now have the power of God working in my life I can & must resist & reject & repudiate that temptation which God promises to give me in His Holy Word.
    I know ex homosexuals who have been delivered by the power of the Gospel & Godhead, who are now happily married with children & a family as God intended. It is dangerous in tackling one extreme position, to enter the equally dangerous diametrically opposed other extreme position. We need balance based on the truth(s) of God’s Word which only His grace mercy & power can give us. Romans 1 appears to give us the reason we enter into these desires for SSA, in that we worship the creature rather than the Creator who is for ever to be praised. They need to repent & be saved & delivered. Amen!

  4. Further, I than God for giving me a faithful & loving wife who stood by me all the years I made her life hell before I was also saved, and who healed our marriage to the extent I now love her more than the day I married her when neither of us knew the Lord. Halleluyah!

  5. “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge”

    Often, erroneously, attributed to Carl Jung.

    But it seems true.

  6. An interesting article. Probably need to read it again and think about it more. I wonder if the problem is that the PCA should stick to actions (i.e. a person should not be committing sexual immorality etc), rather than things like “identity”. The concept of “identity” is very slippery. The person them self may not truly know what they think, and as humans we can (and should) judge actions, but judging thoughts is something that is beyond our capabilities. Only God is equipped to judge thoughts. Of course, there are times when we have to make an assessment of motives, but we should be very wary of codifying this into any “law”. One might even say we that in adopting talk of identity we are adopting the woke agenda! Anyway just a few random and not fully formed thoughts!

  7. The question remains, if Christians identifying as SSA is acceptable in the Christian church, why not those sexually attracted to animals or children?

    How long before we have men in pulpits in so called evangelical churches who are struggling [but not acting on] sexual attraction for their pet Alsatian or their 5 year old niece?

    Disgusting isn’t it?

    Allberry, Shaw and Roberts etc are trojan horses, they need repentance and not positions of leadership.
    .

      1. And that is the way it should always be weeflea.

        There is a huge lack of wisdom, as well as a great lack of the fear of God, in sharing your filthy thoughts with God’s people from a pulpit, this is probably why we do not see in Church history ministers declaring their sexual desires for other men.

        Living Out needs to get back in the closet.

      2. Those in pulpits have the same struggles as the rest of us. However, they have the extra responsibility of leading the flock & giving a good example & being of good repute.
        Dale’s point seems to be those who are not acting Biblically on their struggles. I would also suggest we should not be giving any form of lip service to any form of sin, including sinful thoughts as identified by Jesus. We (and leaders in particular) must be giving & preaching clear Biblical Doctrine which renounces ALL forms of sin, and proclaims deliverance & sanctification from ALL forms of sin through Jesus & the Holy Ghost following repentance & forgiveness of ALL forms of sin.

  8. Though you won’t find anyone calling themselves an alcoholic Christian. Which makes the point, as the resolution does, that something has gone badly wrong when ministers identify themselves by a sinful disposition.

      1. I did not say there are no people who are alcoholics and Christians. My point, which is key to the PCA resolution, is whether such people call themselves alcoholic Christians. Do they find their identity in their alcoholism, do they fail to mortify it, do they say it is desirable? Is it an adjective that identifies them?

      2. No – they do not find their identity in their alcholism any more than those like Sam Alberry (and the others in Living Out) find their identity in their sexuality…Do you ask people if their being an American identifies them?

      3. But this is precisely the background of the controversy in the PCA: people finding their identity in their sexuality.

        Living Out are not the group in the sights of the PCA resolution.

        And last time I checked being American wasn’t a sin.

      4. If you read the article you will see that that point is dealt with (being an American)….but I agree with you about the rest – this is about internal church politics in the PCA – not what is sin or not…

      5. If you are an alcoholic you are addicted to alcohol, the same as being an adulterer thief or blasphemer or any other sin. Once we are saved we are no longer a sinner, but a saved sinner; and our past is completely dealt with by the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross.
        I suggest you cannot be a practicing habitual sinner and a Christian. That becomes a contradiction. We may have been “ex alcoholics”, but not present ones. A subtle but very important distinction!

  9. I thoroughly agree, David. Unfortunately, there are still some Christians who fail to recognise that sexuality is an unaccountable happening. I had a friend who told me he once was sexually excited by the rear view of a person in bicycle tights and long black hair, with shaven shapely legs, and a pert backside. When the person turned around, he realised to his horror it was a bloke. He learned from this that there is no accounting for sexual attraction, and that it is what we do with it that has any significance. We are sexual beings, and can be aroused by any sexualised image. The idea that there are three sexualities – hetero-, homo-, and bi- – is nonsense.

  10. Dear David

    There is a difference between:

    a Christian who has homosexual inclinations, and who, through the Holy Spirit, repudiates that and chooses to live a celibate life, and who identifies as a Christian first, foremost, and in totality;

    and a person who professes to be a Christian, but who embraces their “gayness” whilst remaining celibate, embraces the gay culture and participates in much of it, including celebrating its presence in society, and in almost all aspects endorses this as compatible with Christian culture.

    I know I have not expressed that perfectly, and neither has PCA. But I think I know what PCA means. I do not think they would deny ministry to Sam Alberry or Vaughan Roberts.

      1. Thats not what many PCA ministers are saying – which just goes to show that the whole thing is a confused (and unnecessary mess) more to do with US church politics than anything else…

  11. Well argued David. I wonder if our over reaction to the cultural issues of our time (SSA, BLM, etc) makes us even frame the Gospel non redemptively. “If you have not chosen the kingdom of God, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.” (CS Lewis). I can’t see what’s controversial in your article, except you deal with the sins of sex, greed and political idolatary too 🙂

  12. Thanks David.

    Even as Christians we all have to live with indwelling sin which can tempt us in all kinds of directions. This is precisely why we are callled to ‘put to death the deeds of the body’.

    The presence of indwelling sin does not debar us from ministry in the body of Christ, a failure to mortify it does.

    We are not called to take a ‘holier-than-thou’ approach to the sins of others rather spiritual men are to deal with these remembering that they may also be tempted. If this is so when others sin how much more should we avoid an attitude of superiority and judgementalism for what is temptation and not sin.

    I cannot avoid the flesh. I can avoid living by the flesh.

  13. In my previous comment I argued that we have all a fallen nature that tempts us to sin. A fallen nature with its temptations does not debar us from ministry. If it did who could stand.

    At the same time the Bible does not encourage us to identify ourselves by our old fallen nature but by who we are in Christ. Sanctification flows (at least in part) from living in our new identity and not our old. Thus Paul says to those to believers in Rome ‘You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit…. live according to the Spirit’.

    Our ‘identity’ is ‘In Christ’. We are ‘new creation’. I remember a discussion with some believers who insisted on describing themselves as sinners. It seemed to allow them to be at peace with sin. I tried to say the Bible describes believers not as sinners but saints and says ‘be what you are’.

    I understand that for a variety of reasons it may be necessary to describe oneself as ‘gay, an alcoholic etc’ but I think we should normally avoid defining ourselves by these terms… we so easily become what we think we are.

    If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation old things have passed away and all things have become new.

  14. The Anglican Lambeth 1-10 resolution is balanced and fair. It can be skewed or applied unfairly, when parties from polar opposite positions on SSA distort it, but it’s a decent attempt to apply the bible accurately and humanely. It’s also brief-not always a point of strength when evangelicals lay out doctrinal statements. There are always subtle strands to tease out on moral arguments, plus some very unusual surprises, as the CBRUK website article by Christian Hacking about a Fulham billboard reminded me (‘News and Media’ section post on July 21). SSA may be filled with similar threats and opportunities for the Church, sometimes hidden, or just so unusual that it takes a long time to see them?

    1. And Lambeth 1.10 has worked out really well ensuring unity and a faithful witness and godly ministry in the Anglican church in the years that followed….

  15. Amen to John Thomson’s comment above!
    The sad fact is virtually all denominations & so called Christian Institutions have (and are) falling into apostacy as predicted by Jesus & His Word. They can make all the fine sounding ‘Statements of Faith’ and ‘Declarations’ etc. they like, but Jesus makes it clear we will be known by our fruits, namely the way we lead our lives, not just our word – though even our words will be held to account.
    We have had so many sad & painful experiences being caught up in these denominations & institutions which seem & sound fine, until one discovers their teaching doctrine & PRACTICE are dodgy & not Biblical; resulting in false shepherds leading the flock astray, and sooner or later a decision has to be made whether we embrace such false teaching doctrine & practice or not.
    The current situation of the Methodists & Baptist Union are typical, along more recently with the FIEC (Federation of Independent Evangelical Churches) which have become so un-Biblical true Christians can no longer be associated with them. That’s sadly the history of the Church for the last 2,000 years, and Israel in the Old Testament. Many involved are not truly “born again” so do not have the Holy Ghost operating in their lives & congregations, or even in their Ministers in many (or most) cases.
    But, praise God, He has always had “a remnant” determined to be faithful to Him & Him alone. This is not ‘elitism’ as some would brand us, but we all have to decide “Choose you this day whom you will follow, the Lord or Baal”! “As for me & my household, we will follow the LORD”!

  16. My understanding is that Revoice and its apologists are the ones who are seeking to redefine long-established Biblical doctrines, not the PCA. The PCA saw the danger and acted appropriately and while some think they may have gone too far in prohibiting Revoice enthusiasts from entering the ministry, they have simply taken steps to ensure that their established beliefs aren’t watered down or set aside.
    By declaring themselves as a minority group, Revoice are saying they want to be accepted on their own terms – I am what I am and I can’t change – and yet the Gospel is for all because all are sinners. In so doing they diminish Gospel proclamation, set aside repentance and sorrow for sin (including desire and temptation to sin as part of our fallen nature), mortification of the flesh and the unity of the church. They are not different from anyone else even although they like to write, talk and highlight their struggles. Section XV of the Westminster Confession of Faith is worth reading again.
    The PCA didn’t make this about identity, Revoice did.
    And for what it’s worth, fifty years ago I was a member of an evangelical Baptist church in London where everyone was accepted and participated in the life of the church without any need to have a label. Our identity, individual and shared, is in and through Christ.

    1. Amen Brother! Well said with clarity. Every blessing in our precious Lord Jesus Christ.

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