Rosaria Butterfield: Believers Are Not Defined By Their Sins

We must maintain that we who repent and believe stand in robes of righteousness as beloved sons and daughters of God, even as we do daily battle with any an all sexual lust and unbiblical desire that claims our affections. We are not our sin, and we ought never to let it define us. Read more»

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, “What is wrong with gay Christianity? What is Side A and Side B anyway?” (February, 2018)

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  1. Thanks for posting. Indeed, we are not defined by our sin. Up until last week I thought that this gospel truth was undisputed. In online discussions with several “B-Side” professing Christians this week, I found out that I was sadly mistaken. In these online discussions, I was asked “Who are YOU to determine what I choose to call myself?” Beneath the debate of whether or not it is proper use the label “Gay Celibate Christian” are profoundly different views of what it means to be a Christian and the very nature of the gospel. While I have compassion (truly) for B-Side Christians, their struggles with same sex attraction, and the challenge this presents to how they fit within the body of Christ, there are orthodox truths that cannot be forsaken without destroying the good news of the gospel. While I have yet to have found an effective way to communicate to B-Side Christians the necessity of ALL Christians to forsake old, sinful identities and labels solely for identification with Christ, we must strive to carry this message forward – for without repentance, without forsaking, turning from our sins, and turning towards Christ, both salvation and sanctification are impossible.

    • Greg,
      I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say, “Beneath the debate…are profoundly different views of what it means to be a Christian and the very nature of the gospel.” I’m afraid that in our individualistic culture, many are looking to themselves and the culture in defining the gospel and what it means to be a Christian, rather than the Bible itself.

    • Michael,
      I think you have identified the root of the problem. So “many are looking to themselves and the culture in defining the gospel and what it means to be a Christian, rather than the bible itself.” I think that is also the root of the problem in all areas of decline in the Christian church, including our worship. If God accepts me for what I am, as I define myself, not for the righteousness of Christ imputed to me, I am the one who determines what is right. Satan’s agenda never changes!

    • Greg, I appreciate this relational zone you’ve entered.

      Dr. Clark, Angela, How do we engage the rebellious propensity to define Christianity for ourselves? Aren’t we called to ‘fit in the body of Christ’ as we are defined by Scripture and the Confessions? We are sinners needing Grace. Pastors must faithfully preach the Gospel and promise to administer Church discipline according to His Word.
      In His Family I’m taught that I must grow in knowledge and dependence on Him, His Word, and His Church as He defines His Church in His Word. In these relationships that He established before the foundation of the world, He Glorifies Himself. How do we bring His Gospel and Judgment to our fellow man in his condition of sin?

    • Catherine,
      You raise a perennial question. Until Christ returns and purifies the church, it will be a mixed assembly. You only have to read the OT to see that corruption and falsehood has always been among God’s covenant people. In Jesus’ time, the Sadducees and Pharisees were the church leaders, and their great accomplishment was that they murdered their Messiah! Paul and the Apostles are constantly warning about the false teachers that were invading the churches! Imagine a church like the Corinthians! Look at the corruption that took over in the early church, and became entrenched under the Papacy! Should we be surprised that there are true and false teachers today? God assures us in His Word that this is used by God, to show who are those approved by God. 1 Cor. 11: 19 The church is always a mixed community, and things are often not what they should be.

      We need to be good Bereans, who compare what we are taught to the Scriptures, to see if it is true. The amazing thing is that the church survives at all. I think that is proof that God is in control, and He uses even man’s evil intentions for His ultimate Good, and Glory. As true Christians, we need to discern the truth and obey Him. For that we depend on His Word. Our confessions draw out the essential doctrines of the bible, and they provide a litmus test against which to test what we are taught. I am so thankful that faithful teachers, that God has given the Reformed churches, have provided these summaries of God’s Word. We also have a book of church order which allows ordinary Christians to question teaching they think is wrong, and to bring it before the ecclesiastical courts, if it can not be resolved at the local level. This is not just a right but a responsibility!

      Thankfully, our triune God is working out His plan that He determined from eternity. The Father loved us, and sent His Son to provide the imputed righteousness we require for glorified eternal life with God, and to suffer the wrath of God we all deserve. And now the Holy Spirit is working in us, to conform us in Christ’s image, which will be fully realized at the resurrection. It is all a supernatural work of God, and our personal striving toward faithfulness is the evidence that it is true of us individually. How He uses sinful people united into a church, to accomplish His purpose, is a mystery, but the existence of the Church is proof that it is so, and the gates of Hell will not stand in its way, because God is working in and through it. Eph. 1: 4

  2. So well said. We must never legitimate our sin by allowing it to define us. Rather we must identify what it is, and repent of it as sin that grieves God and calls for His wrath, but for the grace of God in Christ, who suffered and died in our place. Therefore, in love and gratitude to Christ, we battle against our sin, striving to obey God as beloved sons and daughters who live to please Him because we are accepted on the Beloved.

  3. “We are not our sin, and we ought never to let it define us.”

    Dr. Clark,
    Thank you for posting Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s helpful clarification, a warrior’s Truth in God’s ‘boot camp’, His Church and His World. I’ve also been blessed by the work God prepared for Sam Allberry, ‘Is God Anti-Gay’. As God’s people we confront sin; we must grow to see each other, in our battles, as He sees us, Christians saved by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ. Isn’t He making Himself known through His Victories in us. Soli Deo Gloria

  4. From my introduction to the thinking of Rosaria Butterfield, I thank God for her. Hers is a faithful voice for the truth and fulness of the Gospel. She thinks and writes lucidly, reasonably, compassionately, and with a profound grasp of the whole counsel of God. Such clarity in applying the truth of the Word is rare and precious in this age of proliferating “new” gospels, even from the community of the Reformed. May many have hearts and minds and wills turned to obedience and service of Jesus Christ through her words and prayers.

  5. Is the problem with those who want to cling to their sin and be identified with it a problem that one who is truly redeemed would have? Or are we trying to be inclusive of the unredeemed within the Body of Christ? If we have to resist the influence of those who want to alter the gospel should we really try to accommodate them or would excommunication be more loving and more evangelistic if it might bring about true repentence?

    • Bob,
      As Dr. Clark has pointed out again and again, the Reformed do not try to determine who is truly a believer, and who I’d not, because only God who sees the heart knows for sure. We see an outward and inward membership in the church, as those who truly believe and those who are reprobate We charitably accept people on their profession of faith. We recognize that it had always been the case that the church is a mixed community, and will continue to be so until Christ returns and purifies the church. We also exercise discipline, not as a punishment, but to bring seriously, unrepentant disregard for the moral law or sound doctrine to the sinner’s attention so that he might repent. We all have a responsibility to bring up serious disregard for the moral law and doctrine, as the bible explains. Of course that is especially true when ministers and elders are at fault. There is a proper procedure for that in the book of church order. Kudos to the North Florida Presbytery PCA who did just that, they brought ecclesiastical charges under the book of church order. Every member can do this, if it cannot be resolved at the local level. I think the problem is not just with errant leaders, but with apathetic members who would rather go along to get along. The courage of an elderly couple led to the condemnation of the Federal Vision, using the church order and the confessions to make their point, and going all the way to synod, in spite of being ridiculed and maligned on the way. They resolutely pursued their case and won. If more members had their courage, imagine what effect that might have in our churches!

    • Angela,
      What is the procedure for responding to false or evangelical teaching in a Bible or book study in an independent church that teaches the harmonized standards and is moving systematically toward membership in the URC synod? But has not arrived with full commitment to Reformed Theology on the part of Bible/book study leaders.

      • Catherine,

        Should a situation arise where a member of a congregation has a concern about something that is being taught, she should first sit down to talk with the person doing the teaching to make sure that they both agree as to what is being said. Once there is agreement on what is being taught, and should one be convinced that this teaching is contrary to Scripture, she should ask the teacher to reconsider and correct the teaching. Should the teacher be unwilling to do that the next step would be to approach a ruling elder or perhaps a minister in the congregation to express concern over the allegedly errant teaching. This expression of concern should probably be written down and the teaching should be expressed in the language used by the teacher in question. From there it is is a matter for the elders and minister(s).

        One of the drawbacks of a congregation or independent polity is that there is no court of appeal. Given that the congregation is moving toward the URCs, if there is already some relationship with a neighboring consistory (that is the language of our church order) the local elders and ministers (consistory in our order) might consult with them to get their advice.

        In any event, these things take time. The complainant should be patient and gracious. I hope this helps.

        • Dr. Clark, thank you. After reading your response I realized I needed to define the particulars of the situation, which you identified in Ch. 1, Where We Are, in your book: Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of WSC. Since I’m reading it on my Kindle, the pages do not correlate to your actual book.

          “Therefore, Reformed and Presbyterian folk do better to distinguish between those who are confessional and those who are non-confessional.14 By the former, I mean those who are defined by Scripture as understood by the historic Protestant confessions and catechisms.15”

          From your suggestions I hope to identify, define and discuss confessional and non-confessional distinctions related to materials introduced in book and Bible studies.

    • Bob and Angela,
      While I understand, (I think) the Reformed Church’s position of not trying to determine “salvation” I still think Bob’s question is a good one. What if somebody who “identifies” as a “gay celibate Christian” wishes to pursue membership but clings to that label as defining their Christianity and is not repentant of their homosexual identity? Do you let them pursue membership? They are Celibate, so they are not acting upon sin, so that should not disqualify them. And I personally do not think sex attraction disqualifies them – because we are all tempted by some sin. But, and here is where I am looking for discernment, what if they glory in and cling to their homosexual identity (as the Side-B “Christians” appear to do), and do not repent? Should the church let them pursue membership? What do you think? This is a critical question – and an area where I think activists are pushing boundaries.

      • Greg,

        Should someone who self-identifies as “Gay” in the highly technical way it’s being used in the current discussion, I would discourage them. They’ve identified themselves by their temptation and qualified their Christianity with it. Their identity is not “Gay,” it is “baptized, believing sinner.” We all have our temptations but they are not our identity. When we are baptized into the name of the Triune God, we are given a new identity that we did not pick for ourselves. We are given a name that was chosen for us. That’s a very important point.

        In general I think we should probably take longer than we do to catechize new members.

    • Greg,
      The problem with someone who defines themselves as gay, celibate, and does not repent of identifying themselves as gay, wanting to be accepted as a church member, even though they are not repentant of their sin, is a contradiction of a sincere profession of faith, which would include repentance of their sinful desires. I would object to receiving such a person into membership unless they repent of their sinful desire, and demonstrate that they are sincerely striving to overcome their temptation.

  6. Angela: The North Florida presbytery did not file any ecclesiastical charges. They commissioned a committee study report. Chaplain Chuck Williams filed ecclesiastical charges against pastor Scott Sauls whose church hosted the conference in question in 2015. The Nashville presbytery dismissed the charges saying that same sex attraction is not sinful. As of yet no charges have been filed against any member of the session of Memorial Presbyterian who hosted the Revoice conference. Church discipline in the PCA has not been a remedy against those promoting doctrinal error. We only need to look at the mainline Protestant churches to see what happens when you keep wolves as pets. The unsaved within the church are a different matter from those openly teaching another gospel. The latter must be dealt with sternly.

    • Bob,
      Thanks for setting the record straight. I think you are right, the problem is that many of our Reformed churches are not demonstrating the third mark of the true church. Consequently we have leaders within the church openly, and with impunity, teaching doctrinal error and disregard for God’s moral law. I think that a good part of the blame should be placed with the ordinary members in the pew, who tolerate this state of affairs. The people get what they want, and when they want the wisdom and culture of the world, rather than faithfulness to God’s Word, God will exercise judgment by giving it to them, just as He gave Israel over to rule by kings when they demanded it. The history of the church, from Adam to the present, is marked by periods of gross apostasy followed by God’s judgment and punishment, by allowing the people to be taken into Babylonian captivity. That is God’s judgment on the unfaithful people. And when God has exercised His judgment, He alone will be the one who rescues the church from her debauchery, on His terms. As individuals and churches, we can only use the means God has ordained, and then leave it up to God deal with the church. I think we are being tested for our individual and corporate faithfulness to God in this age of decline.

      • In reply to Angela and Bob, I agree with Angela that the blame also lies with church members who, seeing error, division or wrongdoing, do not go through Matthew 18. I believe members of the body have an obligation to see personally to the peace and purity of the church, insofar as it lies with them, by speaking privately with the person at fault. Their complaint must be gracious, biblically grounded and in pursuit of repentance, grace and growth for the body of Christ. If the person repudiates the charge and/or mistreats the offended person bringing the charge, then the elder board or the organ of the church tasked with church discipline should be informed. From there to the presbytery, and if necessary to make an appeal to a higher body, if necessary to the highest ruling body. On the other hand, Bob has a point in a manner of speaking; members of a church sitting in a pew may not know how and/or may not have the courage to speak, even in critical matters. Keeping silence wishing to avoid exclusion with pain and loss is indeed costly, but not sufficient to justify silence in knowledge of undermining of steadfast faithfulness to the Gospel, to a life of godliness and to the health of the body of which Christ is the head. We have three experiences which ended the complainant’s fellowship within the membership, and all were deeply painful. But it seems to me that what lays the axe to the essential principles of the Gospel must not be regretted in bitter or fearful silence. My husband and I are presently enjoying the most blessed fellowship in a church that confesses the creeds, sings Psalms, observes the Westminster book on worship – and at the same time appears to look with favor on some of the proponents and tenets of the Federal Vision. Those in authority don’t seem to see a disconnect between FV statements now dispersed through Reformed churches and the Sccriptures, the confessions, the catechisms and orthodox history. It is difficult for me, too, to see clearly what tools lay to our hand to address questionable teaching and sources given.

    • Angela: By and large I agree with you. I will have to take exception to your statement: “I think that a good part of the blame should be placed with the ordinary members in the pew, who tolerate this state of affairs.” There is no mechanism for the ordinary members to exercise any authority over the elders of the church. In the PCA there is the extreme step of a congregation removing a pastor (TE) by a congregational vote but this would only be done in case of criminality or extreme moral failure. The only other alternative is to vote with one’s feet and leave the particular church. The sheep can’t be held accountable for the actions of the shepherd. This isn’t a matter of a particular denominational polity but comes directly from scripture:
      Hebrews 13:17
      17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

      • Bob,

        In P&R churches, members do have the right to complain against erring elders and ministers (e.g., session). They may do that without violating the moral law God. The assembly/court of the church may rule against them and if that happens, they have the right and liberty to appeal that judgment to a broader/higher assembly. Again, if they act in conscience, without violating the 9th commandment, they may do that without fear of reprisal or discipline.

        It’s not a “hill to die on” but a mark of the church.

        In my own federation, had laity not done this, we would not have begun to address the FV errors when we did.

    • Bob,
      Actually there is a mechanism for members to exercise authority over their elders, as Dr. Clark describes in his answer to Catherine’s question, above. The problem is the will to do what they can.

      The Federal Vision controversy is a good example of what ordinary, faithful Christians can do, armed with the authority of our confessions and the book of church order. An elderly couple, ignoring threats, ridicule, and intimidation went all the way to synod to show that this teaching was contrary to our confessions, and proved their case. It took years, but finally the church leaders at synod listened and acted on it. This was the most painful chapter of my life. I didn’t know the proper procedure, so I contended with the Federal Vision leaders that had taken over my church, and complained to pastors in other churches in our denomination, writing lengthy letters to them, but because my efforts were not according to the church order, these efforts were wasted. I felt so alone! While there were one or two other members in my church that sympathized, no one else, to my knowledge, even took the step of talking to these leaders. I finally voted with my feet, as it were. I would like to think, that had I known about the procedure in the church order, I would have done what that elderly couple did. How much sooner might this controversy been resolved if many more members had stepped up to the plate the way this elderly couple did. In fairness to the pastors and elders in the denomination, it takes time, and due biblical process must be followed to bring charges against an elder. To try to do it any other way, is to revert to human expediency, failing to submit to God’s will, in disobedience to God’s Word.

    • Angela: There are reasons why church discipline is set up to flow downwards. If holding our elders to account is the hill you want to die on you’re welcome to it. They are accountable to God so that’s a task I’ll leave to Him. Call me a coward if you wish but to risk excommunication is a pretty steep price in my estimation.

    • Dr. Clark: I’m glad you are confident that church discipline will work the way you say. I see the same men who are either responsible for error or for excusing it being the same ones who would sit in eccliastical judgment of those who would challenge them. The church courts have only as much integrity as those who sit on them. At this point, having seen them in action, I don’t share your confidence. Maybe some can point to successes, but I have seen too many actions I would deem as unjust. Therefore I will do whatever I can to avoid coming under their judgment even if the cause is just.

      • Bob,

        Sometimes the system breaks down. If an entire denomination refuses to stand for one or more of the marks of the true church, then it is no longer a church and it is time to separate. If a denomination proves itself over time to be incorrigible and unwilling to submit to God’s Word, then it is time to separate.

        Until then, however, ordinarily, we ought to make use of the avenues of complaint and appeal available to us. I understand that things can seem daunting and they may indeed be so but we have to trust the Lord as we seek the reformation of the church. I’m grateful for men like Machen and later Bob Godfrey and others who stood up and paid the cost. How can we do any less?

  7. Lola,
    That is exactly how the Federal Vision managed to sneak into my church. by giving the impression that they were not only Reformed, but uber Reformed. Watch out! Many were deceived. You must be a good Berean and discerning of what you hear, comparing it to the confessions, the Reformers, and above all the Word! Especially pay attention to what they teach about justification. Dr. Clark has an excellent series of lectures on the nine points against the Federal Vision on the Heidelcast. I urge you to listen to these very carefully and compare what is being taught in your church.

  8. Dr. Clark,
    Thank you for posting the FV links. Now it is easier to study the ‘good work’ of leaders who labored to equip His saints with distinctions. To be effective and stand in the battles, Eph 6: 10-12, ‘ordinary laymen’, who love God’s Word and hold to the doctrines stated in the Catechisms, Confessions, Creeds and Cannons, require a clear picture of the battlefield and ground. Our battle is not with flesh and blood, it is a spiritual battle with the sword of Truth. Thank you, Catherine

    • Catherine,
      I totally agree with your comment. I am so thankful to God, that He has sent Dr. Clark to enable ordinary Christians, like you and me, to better understand the Reformed faith through its history, confessions, theology, piety, and practice. Since I discovered the Heidelcast and Heidelbog, two years ago, it is like taking a course of study in a seminary, and his book, Recovering the Reformed Confessions, has been my text book. you can get a copy, on line, from the West. Cal. book store. Using the instructions, above, on using the Heidelbog effectively, you can access a huge library of resources on Reformed theology. Happy studying!

      • Angela,
        Dr. Clark’s mission impacts our Pastors and congregation as we commit to confessional, Reformed Theology. I am thankful he came to our Church last year; his presentation inspired me to study Church History and the Heidelberg Catechism.

        Thank you for your devotion to Covenental, Confessional, Reformed Theology as a ‘Battle Buddy’ (a term for young marines who go on leave, two-by-two) in His Family, for His saints in our various Churches where strange ideas arise. I believe we are called not to be ordinary lay people, but to be equipped as humble, prayer warriors for our Pastors, Elders, and saints with accurate, recorded, historic information regarding Scripture and Reformation Doctrine. I hope I am on your path. Recovering the Reformed Confession, along with Reformed Confessions Harmonized and Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of WSC are my handbooks. I also rely on the Heidelblog and the Heidelcast. (Currently I am researching the FV material, since that confusion seems to have infected some of the congregation who left. It abounds without our ability to discern it and then cast it out rather than the people.)

        I treasure how our Lord prepares us to stand on His Righteousness by Grace Alone with the Truth of His Word through faith using the strong support of the Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms, and Cannons of the Reformation to uncover and face the ‘lies and confusion’ burdening people. My focus: develop perceptive, simple questions that get to the heart of the matter with gentleness and kindness. Please pray for me.
        With gratitude to God and great respect for you and for Dr. Clark.

  9. Catherine,
    Thank you, battle buddy, and prayer warrior. Yes, I had Covenant Justification and Pastoral Ministry, and Guy Water’s book on the Federal Vision when I faced my battles, along with John Otis’ book on the Federal Vision. These were very helpful too.

    Sometimes there must be divisions to show who is approved. Ironically this controversy did me a lot of good in that it really made me search the Scriptures, study the confessions, read the Reformers, and pray for God’s guidance. It almost destroyed my church, and I am afraid it destroyed my confidence in the URC for years. It was only when I got on the Internet, two years ago, that I discovered that this heresy had really been dealt with, so I returned to my church. It is a miracle that it survived, as there was only a small handful of members left, but God sent us a faithful minister, and it has been slowly increasing in membership over the last ten years.

    The Federal Vision is nothing but a repudiation of the truths recovered in the Reformation, and a return to Rome. The devilish confusion and divisions it causes, is nevertheless used by God to separate the goats from the sheep. I am thankful that God has purged my church of this heresy, in spite of the pain it caused. I am always praying for my church and my denomination now, and will be praying for you and your church, and all of our members, ministers and elders. I’m right behind you, battle buddy!

    • Angela,
      Thank you for sharing these books on the Federal Vision. The testing of your faith and His Faithfulness to you during the battle for His Church benefits everyone who communicates in the Heidelblog. I appreciate the assurance and healing He’s given you in Him, your denomination and the Church. Being able to think through challenging conditions and situations in His Church is so important.

      As I study the records of the trials resulting from the Federal Vision in the WSP and the URC, I see His work through His saints to hold firm to His Word and the Confessions in the face of lies and deceit. Therefore I trust God, who established His Church, to hold us together by His Spirit in us and for us; though the battles test us He promises the gates of Hades will not overtake His Church. You see, our independent, confessional Reformed Church is moving toward affiliation in the URC. Thank you for your prayers.

      Your encouragement strengthens me to love and pray for His Family, His Church.

      You are definitely my battle buddy!

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