Why is Theological Liberalism Okay But Not Homosexuality?

That’s the question Carl puts to evangelicals in the mainline (in Scotland)

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  1. As someone who trains COS ministers, evangelical one’s no less, I can honestly say that Dr. Trueman does not know what he’s talking about.

    • Mike,

      I can’t comment directly on what Carl says because I don’t have much experience with the COS but what he says describes many evangelicals in the PCUSA.

      They have been tolerant of theological error for decades and seem only to get up in arms when some immorality manifests itself. I recall L. Nelson Bell saying some years back, in an interview on television, “We’re going to have to do so something about our denomination [the PCUSA].” The assumption seemed to be that only now (sometime in the 80s) did problems demand attention!


  2. Scott,

    I think it is one thing to say that leaving the PCUSA/COS was a good idea (and many have gone that route), but it is another thing to say that those that stayed were complacent or gutless when it came to opposing theological liberalism. This is far from the truth. There is still a big and influential wing of evangelicals in the COS.

    I would like to see Trueman face up to Sinclair Ferguson and Eric Alexander, good evangelical COS ordained ministers, and accuse them of bigotry, hypocrisy, and complacency for all those years that they ministered in the COS.

  3. I am a PCUSA minister. I considered going to WTS but went to PTS. I read and was edified by RRC. I would also like to say that there are many in the mainline denominations who stay, perhaps uncomfortably, but not because of cowardice, and who are all to aware of the theological problems within our church(es). I stay, in part, because I’m not convinced that switching denominational affiliation really accomplishes much in the end. I’m sure others will disagree.

    However, it’s just unfair to suggest that those who do stay are just wimps, or worse, homophobic. Is it really that case that approving women’s ordination requires one to approve homosexual ordination? Does that make me homophobic? If so, there is an interesting point of agreement between the conservative sideline and liberal mainline. I hear from my liberal presbyters the very same argument.

    • Andy,

      I think Carl’s point, in saying “homophobic” is this: why is it that when the issue is homosexuality do conservatives/evangelicals in the mainline become exercised enough to do something but when it’s universalism or denial of the deity of Jesus or denial of inerrancy, or denial of the atonement, or denial of the virgin conception, or denial of hell or even the denial of the existence of God, historically evangelicals in the mainline have said, in effect, “Oh those crazy liberals! What will they do next?”

      Where have been the charges, the discipline cases, the confrontation of gross error? Maybe there have been such cases but I’m not aware of them.

      This was my response to Brad Longfield’s argument that Machen et al should have stayed in, that the mainline became worse after he was defrocked. 1) As Dan notes, Machen was thrown out. So, unless he submitted to an evil process he couldn’t have stayed. 2) Look at those who did stay, who (whether spoken or unspoken) cut deals with the old money power brokers in the mainline. Who changed whom? Is Fuller Seminary today more like it was at its founding or is it more like Princeton and the other mainline seminaries? Who has leavened whom?

      Consider Clarence McCartney. He stayed in for 20 years after Machen was defrocked. What did he accomplish? He helped to form the NAE. He was reduced to fighting a rearguard action. He kept his pulpit but he also kept his mouth shut in the courts of the church (didn’t he?). Where were the charges? Where was church discipline cases? He became a conservative evangelical but he saw what happened to Machen and he learned his lesson. If he fought like Machen he would lose his tall steeple and find himself in some mortuary (where some OPCs were forced to hold services) just like the obscure OPC.

      As to the logic of homosexual ordination, are not the arguments essentially the same? Having conceded that Paul’s prohibition of females from ministry is no longer binding, for whatever, reasons, the same logic can be used to sequester his teaching against homosexuality and hence homosexual ordination.

      I agree that the issues are not on the same level. Women in the ministry is one issue and the two natures of Christ are another. The conservative/evangelical folk in the mainline, however, seem to rally, like social conservatives, only for causes that social conservatives can understand.

      The real issue in the ordination arguments is about the truthfulness, reliability, and normativity of Scripture, in other words, sola Scriptura. That was the real question in the CRC. That’s why Bob Godfrey and others left the CRC in ’95 because Scripture was no longer normative, the subjective experience and leading of the Holy Spirit trumped the objective, perspicuous teaching of Holy Scripture as confessed by the churches.

  4. Dr. Clark, thanks for the response. You make a number of legitimate points, especially with regard to the failure of church discipline in relation to theological matters. The “who has leavened whom” question is well taken too. My point is simply that it’s not necessarily cowardice that causes someone to labor mightily to speak the truth in love to the church body that God has used to convert, disciple, call, and ordain, and to which one has sworn ordination vows.

    I don’t mean to begin a debate on women’s ordination (even less would I expect to fare well against you) but I do no think “the arguments essentially the same.” Rather, the “conservative mainliner” view, at least as I understand it, is that Paul’s prohibition of females from ministry is localized and directed to the pastoral needs of his audience, and so are not “no longer binding” but were always situational. Homosexual ordination, on the other hand, is different simply it is a sin, whereas being female is not. Again, I’m not necessarily expecting to persuade you, rather to clarify why conservative mainliners can draw a distinction between the two. I don’t think it’s nearly the slippery slope that you and, interestingly, Jack Rogers seem to think it is. (Cheap shot, I know!)

    Thanks again, love the blog!

    • The evangelical acceptance of the “situational” (that was then, this
      is now) approach to Paul is exactly what I mean. They’ve accepted a
      hermeneutical premise that conservatives don’t want to apply but don’t
      have good reason not to apply. It’s just a matter of will.

      You’re making Carl’s case for him. That’s why he played the rhetorical
      “homophobia” card. Opposition to homosexuality is selective. When
      “conservatives” in the mainline get used to homosexual pastors — just
      as small town Nebraska has gotten used to nice, female ministers; the
      opposition to them was rooted to sentiment rather than principle, then
      the “conservatives” in the mainline will continue to lag behind the
      liberals by time, following the same path, the same continuum. That’s
      why “conservative” and “liberal” is the wrong paradigm.

      Time to jump the tracks.

      Thanks for reading the book.

      Have you read Hart’s Lost Soul? That should be next.

  5. Dr. Clark, thanks for your response. I wonder if you will humor me a bit longer; I suspect that for you this is a bit of a tiresome debate. My iron is being sharpened, however. And, I’d like to feel like I’m properly articulating my position, which I’m not sure I am doing.

    Let’s move up a little further up the slippery slope. “Slaves, obey your masters.” How does opposition to slavery not fall victim to selectivity? For me, there is Biblical evidence that warrants opposition to slavery, just as there is Biblical evidence (which I realize is not persuasive to you) for women in ministry. However, there is no persuasive Biblical argument for homosexual ordination. Aren’t we just being selective in different places, based upon arguments from Scripture we find compelling?

    So, you say “opposition to homosexuality is selective.” Assuming you oppose slavery, couldn’t one argue that your opposition to women’s ordination is also selective? And therefore, your opposition “misogyny”? (Note: I do not believe this about you.) After all, once one deems that the clear biblical commands for slaves to obey masters are “situational,” couldn’t an argument like Dr. Trueman’s be used: “Indeed, they have absolutely no grounds upon which so to do; and it just looks like [misogyny] to the onlooking world. Too little, too late.”

    Still not sure I’m saying what I really mean. I look forward to learning from you response.

    I’ve not read Lost Soul, but think I am familiar with the argument, having heard it here and elsewhere. As I understand it, I think there is much to commend it.

    • Andy,

      I can’t speak for Dr. Clark, and forgive me for interrupting.

      Regarding slaves and masters: I don’t suppose that in the 1800’s in America that Paul would have been writing a letter to the church in Alabama calling on slaves to revolt. I think he would have said the same thing, “slaves, obey your masters”.

      This was part of how the Christian slave was a compelling witness, bringing glory and honor to God. Slavery is unjust. However, if a slave can obey his master from the heart in an unjust situation, even when no one is looking (as is commanded in Col 3), then CLEARLY that slave has a hope for the age to come. His obedience to his master speaks volumes about his faith, and it’s a compelling witness. Thus Paul commanded this as a profession of faith before men.

      What makes it a compelling witness is precisely that it’s an unjust situation. Paul is telling slaves to endure the unjust here and now of this present evil age, knowing that they have a Master in heaven who has purchased the inheritance (slaves never inherited anything) of eternal life for them. This is the same, in principle, message that is being told to the entire Church, whether slave or free. We’re called to suffer as Christians, who are constantly referred to in the text as “slaves”.

      Opposing slavery is the farthest thing from Paul’s mind.

      The only thing about this that’s situational, as you say, is that there are no longer slaves per se. But if there were, I’m sure Paul would command them to obey their masters, just as he did once upon a time.

      To be sure, an individual Christian is absolutely at liberty to oppose slavery, and certain passages of Scripture might even help him come to those conclusions. Nonetheless, it is not the mission of the church as the church to tell slaves to revolt or to demand of the government that slavery cease.

      To use a more modern day example: take abortion. Individual Christians are crazy not to be against it. It’s clearly the ending of a human life, which is explicitly forbidden in Scripture. “Thou shalt not kill”. Parents do NOT have the right to put their children to death. Clearly there is an injustice taking place here.

      But this is not an issue for the Church to take on as the church. Individual Christians are welcome to go picket an abortion clinic. But for a church to organize their congregants to go and picket as a church – this should not be done.

      And why shouldn’t it be done? For the same reason that the Pope shouldn’t have authority over kings. We westerners learned the lesson of the separation of Church and State the hard way. And the lesson is this: the Church is not here to bring about justice, but to proclaim the gospel. The State is the one that provides justice, or is supposed to, in the here and now. The Church, is to preach a message of forgiveness, a message that has to do with the age to come.

      So no, Paul does not say anywhere explicitly that slavery should come to an end. In the same manner, ministers today ought not to be commenting on illegal immigration. This is not being selective about which passages we honor and which we overlook.

      I think if this distinction is maintained, your “charge” that the reformed are being selective about women’s ordination will go away.

      Besides, I’m not sure you really mean to imply that churches can just make the Word of God to mean whatever they want. I’m sure you would argue that God inspired the Scriptures, and that there’s only one correct way to interpret them.

      So either the Bible says that women can be ordained, or it says that they cannot be ordained. It’s one or the other, not both.

      And Paul couldn’t have been more clear if he wanted to be. He said women shouldn’t even speak in church, nor should they have any authority over a man.

      Now you CAN argue, I suppose, that it was just a special situation, but Paul grounds it in the very nature of creation, saying, “FOR man was created first,” etc (1Tim 2:12-13). Your situational argument necessarily dies on those words. Furthermore, in 1Cor 14:33-35, Paul says that it’s that way in ALL the churches, and that the Law (the Old Testament) says nothing different. He’s deliberately demonstrating the universality of the un-ordainability of women. Please tell me how it could possibly be more clear!

      Because this stuff is so very crystal clear – and has been for 2000 years of competent, believing people who also read the Bible and wrote commentaries on it and preached it – why is it that suddenly in the 20th century, people begin to think that women should be ordained? It’s quite simple.

      Luke 24:25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”

      The problem is unbelief. For 2000 years, everyone reading the Bible had the same conclusion, women shouldn’t be ordained. Paul says in no uncertain terms that they can’t have authority and that they should be silent in church. For 2000 years it was clear as a bell to anyone who was literate.

      Suddenly, in the 20th century, for the very first time ever, people started understanding that when Paul said women should be silent in church, it means that they should actually do the preaching, and that when he said they shouldn’t have authority, it actually meant that they should.

      The problem isn’t the text, the problem isn’t classic, centuries old theology, the problem is unbelief flowing from our wicked hearts. The problem is as old as dirt. Jesus said that that was the problem with his disciples, and it’s no different now. We’re sinful, and we just don’t want to believe the Bible. Plain and simple. Oh, we understand it just fine. But we convince ourselves that we don’t because we just won’t accept what is written.

      The ordination of women is a violent overthrow of the rule of the Word of God in his Church. Christ ceases to be the king of such a church, because his Word no longer bears any authority. The problem is unbelief. And when the church stops believing, it’s not the church anymore, because the church consists of a believing people, united only by their common profession of faith.

      Ordination of women = overthrow of Word

      Overthrow of Word = apostasy

      Ordination of women = apostasy

  6. Echo,

    I have some questions, since everything is so gosh-darn clear as a bell to you.

    If you (rightly) believe that Paul would not exhort slaves to disobey their masters now because to endure an “unjust” situation is “a compelling witness, bringing glory and honor to God,” then then why do you exhort those of us in wayward denominations to leave? Why not exhort us to endure loyally, patiently, lovingly and forthrightly?

    And, speaking as a subordinationist myself, why can’t female ordination be construed as wrong instead of fast-tracking it to apostasy? Are you suggesting that to anathmetize the gospel (read: Trent) is the same as wrongly reading the NT as to the qualifications of those who may preach, teach and defend it? Is confiding emotionally in and carrying on in other ways short of physically with a woman other than my wife the same thing as adultery, or is it really poor judgment? If the latter, should my wife be exhorted to leave me or endure my reckless behavior?

    And since you brought it up, while I agree that picketing abortion clinics for individuals is perfectly a matter of liberty (same as it is for one to work for Planned Parenthood), doesn’t wisdom also play a role? How wise is it to behave like an activist instead of participant in the wider world? Isn’t one more in keeping with childish behavior and the other more with adult comportment?

        • Zrim,

          Yes, I think so. Nothing wrong with an honorable secular vocation but PP is beyond the bounds of the moral law. The nature, intent, and function of PP is to practice genocide. If a woman’s life is jeopardy, she does not need PP, which exists for the purpose of social engineering rather than human services.

          • RSC,

            Ah. Well, I suppose if one considers PP in such a light I can see how liberty becomes questionable. But I’m not convinced that is really a fair interpretation of PP.

            I have a mainliner friend who works as a counselor for PP. I have other Fundamentalist friends (and family) who labor for Pregnancy Crisis Resource Centers. The former only counsels young people and women, she doesn’t participate in terminations (which is where I think the line is clearly drawn). The latter does very much the same, with the obvious exception. Though I’ve never spoken to either specifically but only generally, I feel fairly confident that each thinks the other is engaged in questionable and manipulative practices; to the extent that each institution seems an extension of certain and competing socio-political (even religious) activism, I don’t doubt that each is quite vulnerable to and guilty of this. But I think both can be honorable secular vocations, even though I have considerable skepticism of both for various reasons. In this way, it seems to me that they each have more in common with each other than either does with me (sound familiar?).

            And to suggest that all PP exists for is “social engineering and genocide” seems like suggesting all PCRCs exist for is “perpetuating patriarchalism and the suppression of individual rights of women.” Yeesh. I’m not sold on such language. I guess that’s why I’m a really bad activist or sympathizer. I’d rather let folks have their liberty so that I might keep mine and be able to question freely and fairly how some might apply theirs.

            • Hi Zrim,

              Have you looked into the history of PP or the way they do business? PP
              was built on a foundation of racism and eugenics (Sanger) and is
              perpetuated on a basis of misinformation, manipulation, and if I dare
              say it, murder.

              Do pro-life clinics sometimes go over the top? Sure, but abortion has
              become a sacrament for the sexual revolution and women’s lib movement.
              If the pro-life folk manipulate, at least they don’t kill human
              beings. The same cannot be said of PP.

              • RSC,

                No, I can’t say that I have looked into that history (though I have heard what you are suggesting). But my point had more to do with an individual’s liberty of conscience, not the history of an organization s/he chooses to support however dubious it may be. So I can see the PPer and CPRCer having significant differences with each other, but I still can’t see why one should be afforded less liberty.

                • Zrim,

                  Christian liberty is circumscribed by the moral law, is it not? Let’s
                  assume that, for the sake of discussion, PP is dedicated to committing
                  infanticide. Surely, in that case, you’re not arguing that working at
                  PP is a matter of Christian freedom are you?

                  • RSC,

                    Surely liberty is circumscribed by the moral law, and certainly a believer cannot be involved in “committing infanticide.” That’s why I said I think when it comes to vocation with something like PP the line would be drawn at terminating pregnancies. (Of course, I think terminating pregnancies is part of a medical vocation that sometimes is justified, e.g., life of mother, but that may be another conversation.)

                    But I think it’s a matter of interpretation to say that the organization is “committed to infanticide.” I certainly understand that interpretation and think it has merit—it’s one of my own skepticism’s about this particular organization. But it still seems to me that a person’s ideology (or an organization’s history) is in the dock here and not what an individual has done “in the body,” as it were. If an organization’s history is the problem here I think perhaps individual membership in something like Operation Rescue (I’m thinking of organizations that have targeted the lives of abortion providers, I don’t know that OR is actually one) could be also scrutinized. But I think the question is when does someone “pull a trigger” one way or another, not their membership in an organization someone else doesn’t like. Could it be that you are simply opposed to PP’s ideology and in the meantime liberty is threatened?

                    • Zrim,

                      PP is the nation’s largest provider of abortion services. In 2007, by their own report, PP provided 1.2 million abortions in 2007. In the same period they made just 4,912 referrals for adoption. They claim that only 3% of what they do is abortion but the financials tell another story. 67% of their expenses are “medical.” Their most significant medical procedure is abortion. Just for giggles, here’s their most recent IRS filing. Abortion is the primary reason for PP’s existence. Contraception and other services are widely available from other service providers. If abortion were restricted, PP would cease to exist.

                      Interpretation? Well, at some level, all of life involves interpretation. The moral law must be interpreted and applied to given situations. The question is: through what grid are we going to make moral decisions?

                      What I’m about to say may seem over-the-top, but consider that those who lived near Buchenwald and Auschwitz had to “interpret” their experience. When the locals trudged home after a hard day at the furnace or digging ditches for burial, they too had to “interpret” their lives and callings. Obviously, those who cooperated in those enterprises made a most serious error. They cooperated with or tolerated the taking of innocent human life on a horrific scale, but of course, PP has made Buchenwald and Auschwitz and all the rest of the camps look like amateurs. The Nazis didn’t have multi-color glossy brochures by which to advertise their services. A recent series of videos, however, suggests that, behind the scenes, things aren’t so pleasant.

                      Without dispute, the moral law says, “You shall not murder.” Without dispute the taking of legally, civilly considered, innocent life is murder. Without dispute, infant, natal, fetal, humans in utero are legally innocent.

                      Nature, science, and biblical revelation agree that human begins conceive and give birth to humans. At no point after conception, during fetal development are we anything but human. The most consistent application of the natural/moral/creational law is that it is, with one exception, murder (the unjust taking of a legally innocent human life) to kill human beings in utero.

                      I grant that, in extremis, a physician might have to kill an infant in utero, if that infant is threatening his mother’s life. No state in the union forces a woman to carry an infant to term if a physician determines that the pregnancy would be fatal to the mother.

                      If a member of our congregation worked at PP I would counsel them to quit immediately. If they refused I would bring another member to complain. If they continued to refuse then I would complain against them to consistory on the grounds that such a person was guilty of the sin of murder.

                      As to being a “member” of such an organization (by which I take it one provides financial and other support) I would ask whether one could legitimately serve in the ladies auxiliary for a death camp? After all, the soldiers working there put in long, hard days. They need relief too. Of course not. To aid and abet murder is criminal and indefensible.

                      As with the death camps, everyone knows what PP does. Perhaps in the 70s it was reasonable to be morally muddled about the whole thing. The OPC report, for example, was muddy (as I recall) but we knew a lot less then than we know today.

                      I do not see validity of the comparison between OR and PP. Of course no ostensibly pro-life organization has the right to take the law into its own hands. No private organization may do the work of the civil magistrate. Any organization that targeted the lives of abortion providers has committed murder. The only difference between such an organization and PP morally considered is a matter of scale. There’s no defense for their actions. No one should aid and abet such actions.

                    • RSC,

                      I understand the comparison to the Third Reich to make the point. But it’s one I usually find less compelling and more complicating. I realize this will sound equally over the top, but I just don’t think they are two phenomena that are as similar as many seem to assume. Yes, “innocent” (read: those who have nothing to warrant their death) human beings die in both cases, but I don’t think that warrants the connection. To be honest, I think the reach may have more to do with tapping into 20th century American fears about a time and place we really don’t understand very well but are quick to indict. (I’m as 21st century American as you and as mystified by what many did, but I hesitate to imagine that I could be somehow beyond participating in something that also morally repels me.)

                      Like I said, you don’t really have to sell me on the dubious nature of PP. I get it. I’m not trying to go to bat for PP, but rather examine what it really means when we say we champion liberty. So, the nature of an organization still isn’t the question for me so much as what an individual has “done with his/her own hands or in his/her own body (and mind, for that matter).” To your mind, what is the difference between the indirect aiding and abetting the sin of murder you charge those who work for PP and those who vote for political candidates with choice politics? Should the latter also be pursued with discipline, or is there a difference between counseling Christian Jane how to handle her unwanted pregnancy and how she should vote when she leaves your study? What about legislators with choice politics, should they be chastised the way Pelosi was by the Pope? If so, where would you draw the line between ecclesiastical bullying and church discipline?

                    • Zrim,

                      To my mind, there is a distinct moral difference between voting for a
                      candidate who favors liberal abortion laws and working for PP.
                      Politics is a messy business. One might, conceivably vote for a for a
                      variety of reasons. It might be unavoidable. E.g. Believing that
                      abortion is a states’-rights issue (under the 10th Amendment) doesn’t
                      necessarily make on pro-abortion. A politician who voted to fund
                      abortion services or who voted to support late-term abortion will have
                      to give account to God for his vote.

                      That is a little different than processing a woman into a PP clinic
                      with the intent of terminating a human life. That person too will
                      stand before God to give account but there is a considerably less
                      moral ambiguity in the second case than in the first, and even in the
                      first, the candidate or office holder who facilitated late-term
                      abortion, except in the most extreme cases of threat to the mother, is
                      unambiguously supporting murder.

                      Do you accept the premise that human beings conceive and give birth to
                      human beings?

                    • RSC,

                      But my friend doesn’t “process a woman into a PP clinic with the intent of terminating a human life,” any more than by CPRC friend “manipulates women into decisions.” I know that you strongly oppose the ideology of PP, but I still don’t know why that means she should be disciplined. Are you saying that a politician who votes to fund abortion services or who voted to support late-term abortion is somehow more accountable than a person who votes for that person? If so, I don’t follow. Politics is messy business, yes, but so is counseling people in difficult situations. I guess I don’t understand why those who vote get relieved of their mess while others who counsel are held accountable, unless voting is somehow less human than counseling. I don’t think it is.

                      Yes, I do fully accept the premise that human beings conceive and give birth to human beings. I also have states’ rights politics when it comes to this issue. My view is that the question isn’t so much the currently controlling one “may she or mayn’t she?” but rather “who gets to decide?” And after the latter question is allowed to be the dominating one, is answered correctly (states), I answer the former question with, “She mayn’t.” But if another state answers that “she may,” so be it; the more important question has already been asked. The problem with Roe wasn’t that it legalized abortion, but rather that it robbed states of their rights to govern themselves. Obviously, I agree, having states’ rights view doesn’t make me “pro-abortion.”

                    • Zrim,

                      IF (note the conditional) it is the case that logic requires me to
                      discipline both the pro-life politician AND the PP worker, I’m willing
                      to do it. I need to think about it a bit more, but that’s where the
                      moral law takes me.

                      If humans conceive and gestate and give birth to humans, and
                      If human beings are the image of God and
                      If the image of God in humanity is under divine protection in the
                      civil sphere, and
                      if it is unjust for anyone to take a legally innocent human life, then
                      abortion is a violation of the creational/natural/moral law, then
                      no civil magistrate or civil law may violate the 2nd table of the
                      moral law, and
                      any magistrate who advocates or facilitates murder is acting contrary
                      to his office.

                      I’m willing to accept whatever follows from these premises and

                      Christian liberty does not extend to the violation of the moral/
                      natural/creational law.

                    • RSC,

                      IF (note the conditional) it is the case that logic requires me to
                      discipline both the pro-life politician AND the PP worker, I’m willing
                      to do it. I need to think about it a bit more, but that’s where the
                      moral law takes me.

                      (I think you meant pro-choice politician.) I think that is fair enough. What confuses me is why discipline would escape one person who is indirectly responsible for a thing while another doesn’t (and I sure don’t understand why a constituent would escape discipline while a politician wouldn’t). Of course, I don’t think being indirectly responsible is grounds enough for discipline. Close, as they say, counts only for horseshoes and hand-grenades.

                      If humans conceive and gestate and give birth to humans, and
                      If human beings are the image of God and
                      If the image of God in humanity is under divine protection in the
                      civil sphere, and
                      if it is unjust for anyone to take a legally innocent human life, then
                      abortion is a violation of the creational/natural/moral law, then
                      no civil magistrate or civil law may violate the 2nd table of the
                      moral law, and
                      any magistrate who advocates or facilitates murder is acting contrary
                      to his office.

                      That is why, when the right question is actually asked and answered (Who gets to decide? States.), I answer that “she mayn’t.” I’m not holding my breath, though, for the literal reversal of Roe. But in the meantime, I don’t think it wise to side with those who would still by-pass the right question and push back as hard as Roe shoved.

                      Christian liberty does not extend to the violation of the moral/
                      natural/creational law.

                      Quite agreed. I don’t think we are arguing that so much as how is such a violation defined or when someone is so guilty.

                    • Zrim,

                      Yes, I meant “pro-choice.” The difficulty is why I posited the
                      condition. The pro-choice politician is more remote from the act of
                      murder. He may be a facilitator and it may well be the right thing to
                      vote against him on the basis of his pro-choice policy. A staffer who
                      counsels a woman to get an abortion that is not medically necessary
                      (i.e. her life is not in jeopardy) is essentially handing the vacuum
                      to the abortionist. The politician is funding the equipment. Perhaps
                      they are equally guilty? As I say, if that’s where the logic of my
                      starting point takes me, I’ll go there.

                      When I think of Christian liberty re voting and politics etc I think
                      of second order (penultimate) issues. Life and death is not a
                      penultimate issue. There’s considerably more leeway on fiscal policy
                      or foreign policy or what have you than on life and death issues.

                    • RSC,

                      I admit, I’m not all that versed on just what PP staffers do. But it is my understanding that they do not actually counsel women to have an abortion; in fact, from what I understand, PP counselors are happy when women choose to carry because their main concern is that a woman has been able to choose for herself. And, from what I understand, CPRC counselors do not directly counsel women to have their children. My understanding of both is that they practice a good faith counsel to simply support and offer the necessary information. I don’t think it’s fair to portray either, as a general rule, as manipulating women one way or another. Does that happen? I’m sure it does. And is the sort of counsel in both situations slanted? Sure. But, like I have said, until someone “pulls the trigger” I am not convinced that is enough to level discipline. I know the next response may well be to suggest something about women in the Nazi auxillary making soup for the SS troops, but, again, not only do I think the comparisons are way too riddled with differences, but I also can’t see disciplining women for making soup just because it shared space with a phenomenon that scares the stuffing out of 21st century Americans (including me).

                      I agree with you that voting and politics are penultimate. So is counseling. In fact, the two seem to have a lot in common. I think it might be fairly convenient, though, to suggest fiscal policy and political philosophy on something like reproductive non/rights are so different. Fiscal legislation affects real people just as much as reproductive legislation. My sense is that often times in this conversation we don’t distinguish very well between moral and political considerations.

                    • Zrim,

                      have you seen the several undercover videos shot at PP clinics?



                      My experience with this lot suggests that they need women to have
                      abortions. They do, in fact, counsel women to have abortions. The
                      undercover videos shot over the last few years suggest that they
                      encourage under-age teens to have abortions.

                      Some of this is rooted in Margaret Sanger’s eugenics movement.

                    • Scott,

                      I freely conceded that less than good faith practices can happen in these quarters. It’s as repulsive to me as it is to you. But I still do not see how that translates so easily to “a PP counselor should be immediately exhorted to clock out and if s/he doesn’t s/he should be disciplined.” Now, if our brother/sister is caught on tape encouraging these things it may be quite another matter. But my friend doesn’t do this. Why should she be disciplined?

                    • If I recall correctly, your friend works for an agency the chief
                      purpose of which is to put and end to infants in utero. That’s not
                      quite like working for GM.

                    • Scott,

                      I suppose we’re back to square one then. I have one final complaint, if you don’t mind. I’ve had this same conversation with others. When the Third Reich card is played I think the conversation gets thrown into an almost impossible project. It doesn’t seem too unlike when revivalists claim our criticisms are moot because to resist them is to reveal being unconverted in the first place.

                    • Scott,

                      But China has a forced abortion policy, and many Chinese Christians serve in the Communist government that enforces such policy. Should they all be disciplined also? Just trying to find the consistency in your spirituality of the church.


                    • Todd,

                      I don’t think church discipline violates the spirituality of the
                      church. If x is murder, and someone is guilty of that sin then they
                      ought to face church discipline of some sort. How is that a
                      contradiction of the spirituality of the church?

                      I agree that the state-enforced infanticide is a great evil and it
                      puts Christians in a most difficult position, but I cannot see how the
                      fact that it is state-enforced changes the moral law. If a
                      totalitarian state requires us to violate the moral law then we obey
                      the law rather than the state and we suffer the consequences. We may
                      also appeal to lesser magistrates (assuming we know who they are) to
                      reverse an unjust law.

  7. Gee, MB for someone who goes about promoting NT Wright ‘s Baxter like take on justification (contra the WCF) all the while claiming to be ‘Reformed’ ,you sure are a bit touchy.

  8. Zrim,

    You said: “If you (rightly) believe that Paul would not exhort slaves to disobey their masters now because to endure an “unjust” situation is “a compelling witness, bringing glory and honor to God,” then then why do you exhort those of us in wayward denominations to leave? Why not exhort us to endure loyally, patiently, lovingly and forthrightly?”

    Echo: Because it’s not the church anymore. If they were still THE Church, you’d owe them loyalty. But the fact is, they aren’t anymore. Their lampstand has been removed, so to speak, when the URC folks left through parted waters on dry ground.

    What you’re suggesting is something more akin to the Israelites wondering if they owe Egypt any loyalty. Notice that too was a slave-master relationship.


    • Echo,

      I don’t know that any ecclesiastical body has declared the CRC “not a
      church.” I don’t know that the exodus of confessionalists and
      conservatives to the URC made the CRC “not a church.”

      • Dr. Clark,

        If the CRC is still part of The Church – then how is the URC’s exodus justified?


        • Echo,

          Your question assumes that connectionalism is of the essence of the
          church. According to the URCs, connectionalism is of the bene esse but
          not the esse of the church.

          The URCs explained themselves in this document.

          If connectionalism is not of the essence of the church, then when
          congregations withdrew from the CRC, they did not leave the “the

      • By the way, does the URC serve communion to members of the CRC who are visiting that Sunday?

        • E,

          practice varies in the URCs. At OURC we restrict communion to those who are:

          Communicant members-in-good-standing of congregations in the United
          Reformed Churches in North America.

          Communicant members-in-good-standing of congregations with whom the
          United Reformed Churches have ecclesiastical relations as members of
          the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council: Associate
          Reformed Presbyterian Church, Canadian Reformed Churches, Free
          Reformed Churches, Heritage Reformed Congregations, Korean American
          Presbyterian Church, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church
          in America, Presbyterian Reformed Church Reformed Church in the United
          States, Reformed Church of Quebec, and Reformed Presbyterian Church of
          North America.

          Those who are not members of one of the above, but who:
          1. Believe in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.
          2. Have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
          3. Are communicant members, not presently under church discipline, of
          a confessional Reformed or Presbyterian congregation.

    • Echo,

      I see. You’re working with the assumption that the CRC is a false church instead of a wayward denomination. But I’m still with RSC here; I know of plenty of individuals who think it, but I don’t know of any ecclesiastical or academic body that has made such a declaration. Again, I think there is a significant difference between a wayward denomination and a false church. And I don’t think you are making this distinction at all.

      (I know as a charter member the CRC was kicked out of NAPARC, but is that the same as declaring her a false church? I don’t think so. I think it’s more of a wake-up call for the CRC.)

  9. Echo, you suggest that orthodoxy in the mainline denomination is akin to “Israelites wondering if the owe Egypt any loyalty.” This reminds me of Ephraim Radner’s suggestion that a better analogy might be that orthodoxy in the mainline is akin to Israel in Babylon. Yes, the exile is God’s judgment on the church, but the faithful response is not to flee the exile, but submit to it, trusting that God’s providence is at work. So, instead of making our own exodus, we instead “pray for the peace of the city into which we were sent into exile.”

    • Andy,

      I appreciate the analogy but I disagree with its application. This
      side of the consummation, all Christians are in exile, not just those
      who remain voluntarily in the mainline churches. The biblical
      application of Babylon, in the Apocalypse, suggests a more cosmic
      analogy. In that case, shouldn’t those believers, who remain
      voluntarily in the mainline, consider Christ’s letters to the 7
      churches as his analysis of their situation?

      • Dr. Clark,

        First of all, I commend you for nimbly juggling the various conversations filling this thread!

        I’m not sure I understand what you are implying (or if you are implying anything). I agree with everything you wrote, but I am not seeing how those verses call me to anything other than faithfulness in a fallen church. Can you spell out for the hapless mainliner what you intend by directing me to those passages?

        • Andy,


          Your approach assumes what is in question, i.e. that the PCUSA is still a church. I’m not ready to grant that premise. In order for you to be a prophet to the Northern Kingdom (which is a notion to which conservatives in the mainline have been appealing for decades) the PCUSA has to still be “the Northern Kingdom.”

          Even more to the point is that the better way to apply the analogy of babylon is to say that the whole church is in exile, not just the PCUSA.

          Finally, as I read the letters to the 7 churches (Rev 1-3) I can imagine that more than a few passages speak directly to it. You must be as familiar with those letters as I am. They speak to all congregations, to be sure. We are all warned and comforted by them, but there is a level of institutional unfaithfulness in the mainline that puts them in direct risk not of being Israel in exile, but of not being Israel at all.

          If conservatives and confessionalists are going to remain in the mainline, I would like to see them prosecute their case more vigorously.

          Are there any Machens in the mainline or have they all become McCartneys?

          • Dr. Clark,

            I really appreciate your continued engagement.

            I fully agree that the whole church is in exile. Indeed, I’d go further (with Radner) and suspect that this exile is even God’s chastening judgment upon our unfaithfulness, as it was for Israel.

            That’s exactly why leaving the denomination makes little sense to me. There is nowhere I could go that would place me beyond God’s chastening (and redeeming) judgment. Surely even in exile and judgement, God’s people do not fail to be so by their own unfaithfulness. If God has sent his people into exile, our denominationalism is perhaps itself the punishment, and not the remedy?

            I am personally convicted and challenged by your admonition to “prosecute our case more vigorously.” This is a word that needs to be heard.

    • Andy,

      If someone in the PCUSA is in Babylon, then my question is, what are you doing in Babylon when your brothers are back in the land rebuilding the temple?

      Come to the sideline. We’re not Babylon, and we’re right down the road.


  10. Scott,

    So all the Christians who hold positions in the communist Chinese government are in sin and should be disciplined? Just trying to understand your position.


    • Todd,

      No, not necessarily, unless they are facilitating mass murder. This is
      a fallen world. Governments are going to do wicked things. Caesar did
      wicked things, but that didn’t mean that no Christian could serve in
      the Roman government. We know that some Christians did serve in the

      The question is whether Christians, who serve in a government, are
      bound to a moral law beyond the laws promulgated by a government? If
      they are then there are some limits as to what they can do.

      The Christian doctrine of vocation has always said that Christian may
      pursue any honorable vocation, any vocation that does not entail, in
      the nature of the work, the violation of the law of God.

      Football players, who have to play on the Sabbath have to make a
      choice. Musicians whose orchestras play on the Sabbath (to entertain
      the now unchurched, formerly mainline, upper classes) have to make a
      choice between their commitment to the Sabbath and the means of grace
      on the one hand, and how they practice their craft on the other.

      • RSC,

        I think it’s always hard to take another time and/or place and render what can be rather easy conclusions. Some in other countries might consider that a Christian soldier in Iraq violates the law of God. But I’d have as much hesitation with that as I would with sitting over here and saying a member of the Chinese government should probably divest himself of that service, etc. I’m no pacifist, I have no problem with believers being cops, judges, soldiers or CIA agents. But should one of our soldiers be disciplined for carrying out bombing campaigns on “innocent” Iraqis? I’m not so convinced, but it sure is funny how this sort of question enjoys diverse views while everyone knows exactly what to do with the PP counselor or member of the Chinese government or the women making soup for SS troops 60 years ago half way around the world.

        I appreciate the points you are trying to make, but I think they simply raise more.

        • Zrim,

          I assume Augustine’s “Just War” theory. States being in a covenant of
          works with one another, when one state violates that covenant, states
          have a right to protect themselves. If military commit crimes in the
          conduct of a just war, they should face sanctions. That’s why we have
          a UCMJ. No officer may command a subordinate to violate the UCMJ or
          the laws of war.

          The application of laws is not always easy, but there are laws for
          these things.

          I’m not sure what distance or time has to do with it. The great thing
          about the moral law is that it is universal. It applies to Nazis in
          the ’40s as much as it applies to China in the 2000s.

          If a soldier commits a crime, he should face the appropriate
          sanctions. If he’s penitent, then the church accounts for this. If he
          is not, then church should account for that.

  11. Dear R. Scott Clark,

    I was doing a google search and I happily found this blog post. I want to deeply thank you for blessing me three times. One, pointing me to Carl Trueman’s short essay. Two, your varied responses to your interlocuters on this fascinating and wide-ranging thread. And lastly, reading your excellent review of Longfield’s book.

    Thank you again Professor Clark.

  12. I realize that this topic was started a few months ago and has been fairly well explored as shown in the comments above. Also the topic here is really about how messed up people’s priorities can be at nominally Christian churches.

    So what I’m wondering is at best tangetial to this topic.

    All the same, here goes.

    In some scholarly circles, the concept of friendship is now being boldly if not confidently defined with a homosexual hermeneutic a la Alan Bray. (See http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?pid=271172 where the book Love, Friendship and Faith in Europe, 1300-1800 is described along with its basis in Alan Bray’s book The Friend (Chicago, 2003).

    These aren’t merely cranks as far as I can tell. This appears to be what passes for first rate scholarship these days.

    I don’t see any conservative Christians (Reformed or otherwise) criticizing such ideas. Does a lack of Reformed criticism mean Alan Bray’s work and supporters aren’t very notable? (Maybe there’s some criticism out there and I missed it.) Hardly anyone in Reformed circles (minister or laymen) is thinking about “academic” definitions of friendship, so it’s not really an issue affecting the Reformed churches? (I suspect this second question raises the actual reason for a lack of concern.)

    • The total number of confessional Reformed folk in N. America is about 500,000. Of those a handful are academics. Of those an even smaller group are probably working on such issues.

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