Lessons from the ARP for the PCA

I was ARP born, I was ARP bred, but when I die I may be PCA dead! I transferred into the PCA two years ago after spending several years planting an ARP church. I went to Erskine College, spent months of my existence at Bonclarken, was a Camp Joy Counselor, etc. 

I also was in the ARP and involved with its denominational politics during a somewhat tumultuous period. From 2007-2017 I attended the ARP Synod almost every year, and I went to Presbytery meetings whenever possible. If you google my name you might find out that I was one of the students heavily involved in bringing concerns to the ARP Synod about Erskine College.

Imagine being a 21 year old college student and almost every Minister in the ARP knew you as “that troublemaker at Erskine”. Some liked that I was a troublemaker, others didn’t like it. Some Ministers would call me up to pray for me and offer encouragement. Others would verbally rebuke me. It seemed that this peaceful little denomination was split in two, I had something to do with it.

I don’t regret raising concerns about Erskine’s issues more than a decade ago. It led to some good results. Today, I would recommend Erskine to any Christian high school student so long as they had the financial help to attend a private liberal arts Christian college.

However, I do have one regret…breaking the 9th commandment against ARP Ministers and Elders. In my mind, voting for my side or cause at a meeting of Presbytery or Synod meant one was conservative, and a vote against my side meant one was a liberal. Only the faithful voted for my side. The compromised voted against my side.

In my heart, from my keyboard, and through my lips, I labeled many men as liberal, squishy, or some other insult.

But in a few years time I would regret those sins.

I discovered that a good bulk of men in my denomination were confessional. They were Reformed (some even more Reformed than me). They also wanted Erskine to be a faithful missional arm of the church. But, there were different rationales for voting on this or that issue of church polity. Not everyone is a strategic politician. Some think a bit more independently. Some had a different perspective than me.

How did I come to realize that I judged certain men too quickly?

I did something radical and other-worldly.

I met with them. Face to face.

We had meals. We had coffee. We went to conferences together. We laughed. We prayed for each other. We hashed out our differences.

Our disagreements remained in some cases. Some still jokingly said “You’re the reason we are in this Erskine mess.” But we became friends.

At one point, some men who I voted with and sympathized with concerning Erskine would imply that I was a ‘chameleon’. I just wanted everyone to like me. That is why I began to befriend those from ‘the other side’.

I admit my deep sin of wanting to be liked, but I don’t think it was a sin to enjoy the fellowship of brothers in my denomination. I don’t think it was sinful to repent of my slander against certain men.

I discovered that probably 80-90% of the ARP was basically in agreement on the core issues, but there was disagreement on how to accomplish certain goals in becoming a more faithful denomination.

In 2007, the ARP seemed deeply divided. But when I left the ARP in 2017, it was a very unified and peaceful denomination.

I think other men did what I did. They sought out those who voted differently. They came to the table together. They realized that they had misjudged one another.

As I look at the seeming divide in the PCA on the heels of the 2019 General Assembly, I see a lot of overlap between my experience in the ARP and my experience in the PCA.

I think 90% (or more) of our denomination is firmly solid on the biblical perspective on human sexuality. And I think we also want to love and care for LGBT folks, especially Christians trying to live faithful lives even with their ongoing struggle and temptation.

I think we love being Reformed and Presbyterian. I think we love our Westminster Standards.

But I also think we love demonizing each other within this 90%.

And the fringe voices, that last 10%, love to stir up this demonization.

In other words, we are more fearful and irrational about one another than we ever imagined, but we are much more united than we ever hoped. (Yes, that was a very bad Tim Keller joke.)

The most eye-opening part of the 2019 PCA GA was hearing Ligon Duncan during his GRN talk say that the PCA is not slipping into liberalism and is not deeply divided on the issue of human sexuality. He even defended Covenant Seminary and Memorial Presbyterian Church in saying that those institutions have not endorsed ReVoice.

I think Duncan is right.

We are much more unified, but we act as if we are miles apart.

I give credit to Satan and our flesh in creating this kind of fictional division. The Evil One doesn’t want Jesus’ church to be unified.

While the PCA is different from the ARP (size, geography, culture, etc) there are also enough similarities for me to think that the solution for unity in the PCA is the same as it was in the ARP.

We need to get together.

We need to invite people from ‘the other side’ to speak at our conferences and gatherings. We need to tear down our echo chambers. We need to say ‘no’ to the PR battles we wage with one another so as to please our constituencies. 

I am not a member of the National Partnership. I don’t have anything to do with the GRN. My GA Trading Card names me ‘The Mole’. (Is that better than a chameleon?) If tomorrow I was offered a high ranking position in any denominational political organization, I would turn it down. I’ve been there and done that in my previous denomination.

Next year when GRN does it’s luncheon, maybe a Greg Johnson or a Scott Sauls should be part of a panel discussion.

Maybe RTS and CTS do a joint luncheon?

Maybe when we debate the human sexuality study committee report someone might say, “I disagree with Greg Johnson on some things, but I am glad he is serving in our denomination and reaching LGBT people for Christ.” Maybe a National Partnership person can say, “I praise God he has given us men in the GRN.”

A few things bothered me about ReVoice. (Last week when I met Stephen Moss I told him that I am a friendly critic of ReVoice.) A few things bothered me about how the GRN conference came about this year and how the Nashville Statement debate went (though I have no problem calling the Nashville Statement an, overall, biblically faithful document).

More than ReVoice, the GRN, or the Nashville Statement, I have a much bigger problem with how Satan is tearing us apart and sewing fear mongering and lies among us.

I have no influence in the PCA, but I guess I will take a little credit if at the 2020 PCA GA I see some of my above prophesies come true.

May the Holy Spirit bring the PCA to the to the table and begin the work of living peacefully so far as it depends on us. (Rom 12:18)

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Sin vs Self-Love

From Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory, page 88,

Sin is not only a preferring the body before the soul, but it is also an unmercifulness or cruelty against ourselves, both soul and boy, and so is contrary to the true use of the indelible principle of self-love; for it is a wounding and abusing the soul and defiling the body in this life, and casting both on the wrath of God, and into the flames of hell hereafter, or a dangerous venturing them into the way of endless damnation and despair, and a contempt of those insufferable torments. All these parts of malignity and poison are intrinsical to sin, and found in the very nature of it.

The Devil in Temptation

From Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory, Chapter III, Part I, page 78,

Take every temptation in its naked, proper sense, as coming from the devil, and tending to your damnation by enticing your hearts from your subjection unto God: suppose you saw the devil himself in his instruments offering you the bait of preferment, or honour, or riches, or fleshly lust, or sports, or of delightful meats, or drinks, to tempt you to excess; and suppose you heard him say to you plainly, Take this for thy salvation; sell me for this thy God, and thy soul, and thy everlasting hopes; commit this sin, that thou mayst fall under the judgment of God, and be tormented in hell with me for ever. Do this to please thy flesh, that thou mayst displease thy God, and grieve thy Saviour: I cannot draw thee to hell, but by drawing thee to sin; and I cannot make thee sin against thy will; nor undo thee, but by thy own consent an doing: therefore I pray thee consent and do it thyself, and let me have thy company in torments. This is the naked meaning of every temptation: suppose therefore you saw and heard all this, with what detestation then would you reject it! with what horror would you fly from the most enticing bait! If a robber would entice you out of your way and company, with flattering words, that you might fall into the hands of his companions, if you knew all his meaning and design beforehand, would you be enticed after them? Watch therefore, and resolve when you know beforehand the design of the devil, and what he intendeth in every temptation.”

Fruitful Obedience, Bitter Disobedience

From Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory, Chapter III, Part 1, page 77,

Forget not the fruits of your former obedience and disobedience, if you would be kept in an obedient frame. Remember that obedience hath been sweetest afterward; and that you never yet found cause to repent or be ashamed of it. Remember that the fruit of sin was bitter, and that when your eyes were opened, and you saw your shame, you would fain have fled from the face of God; and that then it appeared another thing to you, than it seemed in the committing. Remember what groans an heart’s grief it hath cost you; and into what fears it brought you of the wrath of God; and how long it was before your broken bones were healed; and what it cost both Christ and you. And this will make the very name and first approach of sin, to cast you into a preventing fear. A beast that hath once fallen into a gulf or quick-sand, will hardly be driven into the same again: a fish that was once stricken and escaped the hook, will fear and fly from it the next time:  bird that hath once escaped the snare, or the talons of the hawk, is afterwards afraid of the sight or noise of such a thing. Remember where you fell, and what it cost you, and what you escaped which might have cost you, and you will obey more accurately hereafter.”

Jesus Prays For Us

From Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory, Chapter III, Part I, page 68,

In this case, what an excellent remedy hath faith, in looking to the perpetual intercession of Christ. Is he praying for us in the heavens,  and shall we not be bold to pray, and expect an answer? O remember that he is not weak, when we are weak; and that it concerneth us, that he prayeth for us: and that we have now an unchangeable Priest, who is able to save them to the uttermost, or to perpetuity…If you heard Christ pray for you, would it not encourage you to pray, and persuade you that God would not reject you? Undoubtedly it would.”