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What will it say?

The PCA and the flood of the sexual revolution

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What will it say?
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Churches that were once rock-ribbed defenders of Biblical inerrancy today find themselves troubled by fashionable causes. My denomination, The Presbyterian Church in America—formerly home to stalwarts like D. James Kennedy and R. C. Sproul—is debating whether a man who identifies himself as a “gay Christian” can be a church officer in good standing.

Happily, our most recent General Assembly approved an overture that unequivocally prohibits self-identified homosexuals from holding office. But now it is passing through the presbyteries, and its ratification is not assured.

How could this happen in a denomination that claims that the Bible is without error? The cultural tsunami known as the sexual revolution is what has happened, and many people in conservative churches are alarmed by the sensation of water lapping around their ankles. Somehow, the floodgates have failed and the tide is rushing in.

In part, the water got in through subtle misreadings of doctrine. Since Presbyterians are Reformed, unsurprisingly, a key misreading concerns the doctrine of grace. Since we’re not saved by works, it follows our works are equally powerless to save us. So far, so good. But there’s an obverse side to this. There’s a tendency to see sins as equal, even interchangeable. “You’re tempted to have intimate relations with someone of the same sex? Well, I’m tempted to cheat on my taxes.”

No difference, right?

Not so fast.

Personal salvation isn’t the only consideration. It isn’t even the primary issue in some instances. If right and wrong can be cut to fit a Procrustean bed of personal salvation, where does that leave the rest of the world?

As important as personal salvation is to you, the Bible addresses your salvation within a larger set of concerns. One of those concerns is the created order, another is the new creation. And when it comes to those things, the structure, meaning, and trajectory of creation are directly tied to procreation and family life. Grace doesn’t destroy those structures, it restores them.

We must not worship the spirit of the age. We serve the God who transcends it. And with him sometimes both/and isn’t an option.

A subtle misreading of grace can occur quite subtly. We can see how misreadings happen. How did such confusion enter the church? Pragmatism was one avenue. It was behind the use of data from the social sciences borrowed in order to understand church growth back in the 1970s, and in part I think pragmatism is behind the current confusion.

The empirical nature of the social sciences resulted in an emphasis on technique. It was a short step from that to focusing on mere marketing. What followed was endless market research, and church leaders zealous to follow the current zeitgeist to see which way the winds were blowing so that they could set their sails.

There’s something vaguely Hegelian about this. Perhaps you’ve heard of the 19th century German philosopher? Hegel believed that God is developing and truth is unfolding. You could say that in Hegel’s view God is into self-improvement. The idea is now so influential that a recent Ligonier survey revealed that 48 percent of self-identified evangelicals believe that God keeps up with the times.

It seems democratic and fair-minded to look for the good in everything—even the sexual revolution and identity politics. Take a little of this, combine it with a little of that, and you might get the next big thing—maybe the next big church. Sometimes it goes by the name “winsomeness.” Sometimes it’s just heresy.

We must not worship the spirit of the age. We serve the God who transcends it. And with him sometimes both/and isn’t an option. Sometimes things really do come down to either/or. And sometimes things are fait accompli—for example, “male and female he made them.” That’s a truth we’re supposed to build a world on. And it’s more than the basis of family life, it reflects the world to come. Remember, the New Jerusalem is a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2).

And this is just one of the reasons why some men are disqualified from holding office in Christ’s church. Those who self-identify with a distortion of nature keep us from seeing what grace restores.

Some of my winsome brothers worry, What will it say if we pass the overture? I worry, What will it say if we don’t?

C.R. Wiley

C.R. Wiley is a pastor and writer living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of The Household and the War for the Cosmos and In the House of Tom Bombadil.

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