When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517, the unexpected result was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Luther still believed in purgatory, the supremacy of the Pope, the immaculate conception, and even the right use of indulgences at that time. His intention was to attack the abuses of the indulgences only. His 95 Theses were still Catholic in doctrine, but were Protestant in spirit. That distinction provides us with a framework for analyzing the Ad-interim Study Committee Report on Human Sexuality. While the theology of the Ad-Interim Committee Report is orthodox, the spirit of the pastoral sections of this report is Critical Theory.
The Report is Not a Sola Scriptura Document
Having been tasked with writing a report on human sexuality—especially homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and transgenderism—it would seem that the Ad-interim Committee would have studied Scripture first, since the PCA claims to believe in Sola Scriptura. Sadly, the report does not include any detailed exegetical work on the locus classicus concerning homosexuality, Romans 1:18-32, or any of the Old Testament passages which condemn homosexuality. Why does that matter? Because Romans 1 defines homosexuality as a judgment of the Lord in giving people over to unnatural sins. Heterosexual lust is natural. Homosexual lust is unnatural. Both are sinful, but not all sins are equally heinous in the sight of God (Shorter Catechism Q & A #83). Thus, the committee report ignores that important distinction between natural and unnatural lusts.
During my years on the PCA’s SJC, I was increasingly disturbed by the refusal of that body to allow the Scripture to be referenced in deciding cases. Their argument was that the Scripture is not part of the PCA’s Constitution. That is true, but the Constitutional documents are all referred to as subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Scripture is the great touchstone of truth. A Church cannot be Protestant in spirit without referencing the Scripture in all matters of controversy. As Westminster Confession of Faith 1.10 says:
The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other than the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture.
There were other Scripture passages that should have been examined in detail by this committee, but were not. It is not sufficient that the committee referenced certain Scripture verses in various parentheses or in footnotes. The Scripture must be front and center or else we do not really believe in Sola Scriptura. The Scripture is not front and center in this report.
The Report is Inconsistent and Contradictory
For nearly a year, I have told people that the committee would do exactly what they did. I said they would uphold the doctrinal views of the Westminster Standards while permitting practice that is inconsistent with that doctrine. I also told people that they would combine both into one report so as to give both the conservatives and progressives in the PCA what they wanted the most. Someone could divide the theological sections of this report from the practical sections and the two parts would seem like two different reports. One part would appear to be the majority report and the other would appear to be the minority report. For instance, consider the following statements from the report:
“To juxtapose identities rooted in sinful desires along side the term Christian is inconsistent with Biblical language and undermines the spiritual reality that we are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)” (p. 11).
“Nevertheless, we recognize that Christians may use the term “gay” in an effort to be more readily understood by non-believers” (p. 12).
“Some Christians might describe themselves as gay merely as a way of articulating that they experience prominent and persistent attractions to the same sex, using terminology our culture is familiar with” (p. 29).
I could give other examples, but that should be sufficient to show the inconsistency even on such an important question of whether our identity is in Christ or still in our sin? That is, is it okay for Christians to refer to themselves as “gay” Christians. The report comes down squarely on both sides, but Jesus said, “Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil” (Matthew 5:37).
There are conservatives within the PCA, and some without, who are rejoicing in this report because of the Twelve Affirmations while overlooking the rest of the report. The Affirmations are good as far as they go, but they are countered in the report by various equivocations. That begs the question, which part is the main part and which part is the deflection. The reader should realize that if the Affirmations were the point, and the only point, of the report, there would never have been any equivocations. Instead, the rest of the report would buttress with further arguments the Affirmations, but that is not what this report does. The equivocations in this report are more important than the Affirmations and will prove to be so over time. The Affirmations are a feinting maneuver in my opinion to distract from the erosion of orthopraxy within the PCA through the accommodation and acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex attraction. I agree with Larry Ball. This report gives Missouri Presbytery and Greg Johnson everything they could desire at this time. And it sets the denomination up to make further equivocations in the future.
This Report Promotes the Critical Theory
The Critical Theory (CT) or Critical Race Theory (CRT) is the application of neo-Marxism to the Church and society. CT is advancing at warp speed within the PCA at the moment. This theory views society (and the church) in terms of the oppressed and the oppressors. It engages in class warfare. That perspective is identified in the Preamble of this report:
One set of fears is that we will be harsh and unfeeling towards people who have been wounded and deeply hurt—and often by the Church. A hard-sounding stance toward them at this moment may only make it easier to discredit the Church in people’s minds. As a consequence, many are afraid that the Church will speak in ways that only support the powerful cultural narrative that orthodox Christian belief is toxic for hurting and struggling people (p. 4).
That quote promotes a Critical Theory view of the matter. Homosexuals are the oppressed. The Church is one of the oppressors. Perhaps, there are churches that have wounded and deeply hurt homosexuals by being unwilling to evangelize them and lovingly call them to faith and repentance. Perhaps. But I have never seen that and this report does not provide a single documentation of such. It is easy to make such generalized accusations when facts do not have to be quoted. The spirit of this report is that the Church has been wrong to the homosexual community and must now take a different approach—a more loving approach.
Here is the question I have. After the Church accepts and accommodates “gay” Christians and same-sex attracted elders within her communion, what is next? Do we then have to move on to accept “prostitute” Christians or “lying” Christians or “murdering” Christians or many other categories of sins as identifiers of Christians?
The Report Makes No Recommendation of Discipline
There are many recommendations within this report, but they are mostly to the way the church should be loving and accommodating. One such “recommendation” is really just an opinion, but I fear it will have a measure of authority within the PCA. It concerns leadership in the church and says:
“Insofar as such persons display the requisite Christian maturity, we do not consider this sin struggle automatically to disqualify someone for leadership within the church (1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9; 2 Peter 1:3-11)” (p. 31).
That statement is an opinion which has no basis in Scripture. The Bible nowhere makes such a statement. The Scripture verses referenced in the parenthesis do not support such a statement. Yet, I can see people within the PCA quoting that statement as support for allowing ministers to publicly identify as a same-sex attracted Christian who is striving to be obedient through many temptations. Moreover, what court could prove that Greg Johnson does not meet the standard represented in that statement. Christian grace is defined as consistent with “prominent and persistent attractions to the same sex.” If anything, this report appears to give support for same-sex attracted officers as long as they can say that they are celibate. Thus, Side-B Christianity is sanctioned by this report and Side-A Christianity will not be far behind.
The Report Redefines Christian Experience and Lowers Ministerial Standards
There are various ways in which Christian experience is redefined, subtly but regrettably. It may not have been the intention of the Committee as a whole to do so. Nevertheless, these are some ways in which Christian experience has been redefined:
First, repentance is redefined because the particular sin is not described the way the Bible describes it—as an unnatural sin or an abomination to God. Cf. Romans 1:26, 27:
For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions, for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
By not defining this sin the way the Scripture defines it, this report has the effect of healing the wound slightly. Shorter Catechism Question #87 asks, “What is repentance unto life?” And the answer is:
Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
By failing to distinguish between heterosexual lust and homosexual lust, the Committee has also failed to present a true sense of the sin that is involved. Without that true sense of sin, those who struggle with these unnatural lusts will not have the requisite grief and hatred of such lusts and will not have the full purpose to turn from them. It seems to me, therefore, that the Committee has made the mistake of confusing love for the sinner with the desire to soft pedal the nature of his sins. Horatius Bonar once said rightly, “He loves you the most who tells you the most truth about yourself.”
Second, the shame that is a necessary part of true repentance is removed when sin is soft pedaled and repentance is weakened. Ezekiel 16:62, 63 describes what happens when a sinner receives the forgiving grace of God:
“Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know the Lord, so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done,” the Lord God declares.
A Christian should never boast in his sin. In fact, a Christian should be ashamed of his sins—whether natural or unnatural—and never open his mouth again except to boast in God’s forgiving love to such a wretched sinner. As the LGBTQ crowd is infiltrating the church, it concerns me that they are displaying the opposite of shame. They express themselves in terms of pride just as the LGBTQ community outside the church flaunts Gay Pride. Shame is a significant part of true repentance.
Ministers should be full of the Spirit, even as they were required to be in the Book of Acts. Malachi condemns divorce and says, “But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit” (Malachi 2:15). If divorce in the Old Testament indicated a lack of the remnant of the Spirit, does divorce represent anything less in the period of the greater effusion of the Spirit? And if the breaking of a natural bond of sexual intimacy indicates an absence of the Spirit, then what does entering into an unnatural relationship indicate? Can a person truly be filled with the Spirit if he has prominent and persistent attractions to the same sex? Such prominent and persistent unnatural attractions indicate the absence of the Spirit. As Romans 8:5 says:
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
The Church does not need pastors who are dominated by the lusts of the flesh. The Church does not need ministers who have prominent and persistent same-sex attractions or any number of other fleshly sins. The Church needs a spiritual ministry. The Church needs holy ministers who are filled with the Spirit. This report endorses compassion at the expense of a holy ministry. This report condones fleshly lusts of the heart and mind at the expense of the fulness of the Spirit in the heart and the mind. The Church should kindly and lovingly, but firmly tell ministers who are dominated by such prominent and persistent unnatural lusts to go away into a quiet place where they can grieve over their sins and seek the Holy Spirit. Then, they can reapply to be ministers when their holiness of heart, mind, and life indicates that they are indeed filled with the Spirit.
It grieves me that a denomination I love, the PCA, has so many conservatives falling all over themselves to rejoice in this report. It appears to me that there will not be a fight over this report at the 2021 General Assembly. Rather, it will probably pass with a super majority. Conservatives will rejoice that they won a major victory and will learn only too late that their votes sealed the doom of the PCA to become a progressive dominated denomination. That is what always happens when the Scripture is relegated to a secondary or tertiary place in a denomination.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL