Post-GA: Resources For The PCA Between Now And The Next Presbytery

I. Post-GA Wrap up

Presbycast’s Brad Isbell (RE) has a post-GA wrap up podcast.

II. Some Sins Are More Heinous Than Others

It seems that there is a division of opinion within the PCA about whether there same-sex attraction (SSA) is sinful per se or not and whether there is a distinction to be made between sins, i.e., whether some sins are more heinous than others. Remarkably, the Westminster Larger Catechism asks and answers this question at length:

Q. 150. Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God?

A. All transgressions of the law are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

Q. 151. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?

A. Sins receive their aggravations,

1. From the persons offending; if they be of riper age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.
2. From the parties offended: if immediately against God, his attributes, and worship; against Christ, and his grace; the Holy Spirit, his witness, and workings; against superiors, men of eminency, and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto; against any of the saints, particularly weak brethren, the souls of them, or any other, and the common good of all or many.
3. From the nature and quality of the offence: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation: if against means, mercies, judgments, light of nature, conviction of conscience, public or private admonition, censures of the church, civil punishments; and our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or men: if done deliberately, willfully, presumptuously, impudently, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance.
4. From circumstances of time, and place: if on the Lord’s day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these, or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages: if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.

Those who subscribe the Westminster Standards are obligated to affirm that some sins are more heinous than others. No explanation of WLC should be accepted that somehow leads to the conclusion that some sins are not more heinous than others. What is it that makes some sins more heinous? The divines gave us four marks:

1) The age, gifts, or office of the person committing the sin. E.g., Thus, presumably, when a minister confesses to having an immutable same-sex attraction (presuming that we agree that SSA is inherently concupiscent, i.e., it is an inherently corrupt desire. On this see the resources below), he has a “place” or an “office” and is a “guide to others, whose example is likely to be followed by others.” SSA meets the first test of a more heinous sin.

2) The parties offended. The divines give two classes, God and humans. Among the latter are those who are “particularly weak.” Those who counsel with those plagued by SSA know that it is a very difficult lifestyle with which to break. It is a web of relationships and a community of acceptance that typically replaces broken family relationships (particularly abusive or absent parents).

3) The third test is the nature of the offense itself. One of the measures specified by the Divines is “the light of nature.” SSA is manifestly contrary to the light of nature. This is a category of analysis that seems largely unfamiliar to many American evangelicals for whom grace (redemption) more or less wipes out the category of nature or creation. The Divines, however, were traditional Christians who understood that God has instituted two great spheres in life, nature (creation) and redemption and that he continues to operate in both spheres. SSA is manifestly against the order of nature or creation. Until very recently this was obvious to all rational persons.

4) The fourth test is concerned mostly about the profanation of the the Lord’s Day and public worship. Those sins that desecrate the Lord’s Day and/or public worship are to be regarded as more heinous.

A minister or candidate for ministry who professes SSA and especially one who affirms that his SSA is an immutable condition or who qualifies his faith with that orientation (e.g., “Gay Christian”) would seem to meet at least some of the tests of WLC 151. Certainly the language of the Larger Catechism cautions us against the pious sounding but false bromide “all sins are the same in the eyes of the Lord.” That claim is not axiomatic, it is not confessed in the Standards nor should it find support among those who subscribe the Standards (e.g., ministers, candidates for ministry and ruling elders).

III. Get Your Mind Right

Those who hope to see the PCA continue to uphold the traditional Christian sexual ethic must endeavor to understand:

1. The biblical doctrine of creation. I am not referring here to the length and number of the creation days. I am thinking of creation as a category of thought. By this I mean a way of understanding the world, its relation to God, and our place in it. When the early post-apostolic Christians defended the faith against the Gnostics and the Marcionites, they appealed to the existence and goodness of creation. This was their chief use of the creation days: to defend the existence of a creational order and the essential goodness thereof. For many American Christians this is a foreign way of thinking but it was no accident that the Apostle John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1–3; ESV). The Spirit is saying, through John, that God the Son is not only Redeemer but he is also our Creator. We affirm both nature and grace, creation and redemption. The traditional Christian was to speak about these categories is to speak of nature and grace. The Side-B proponents lack the traditional doctrine of nature. The Apostle Paul, however, rejected both SSA and homosexual behavior on the ground that it offends against nature and is unfitting for those redeemed by grace (Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 6:12–20).

2. The arguments of the so-called “Side-B” or “Gay Christian” ethic. The Revoice/Side-B arguments are readily available. Both TEs and REs should familiarize themselves with the arguments of the Side-B case from the advocates themselves.

3. There is an approach to SSA and the LGBTQ issues that is both compassionate and orthodox. It is not a point of view that one will find among the Revoice/Side-B advocates. It is represented by, Rosaria Butterfield among others. You should familiarize yourself with Dr Butterfield’s critique of the Revoice/Side-B case. She has been assiduously ignored and even derided by the Revoice/Side-B apologists because she (and those who share her story) do not fit the Revoice narrative that SSA is an immutable characteristic that must be accepted by the church.



    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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  1. Time to get Johnson out and start reading our Confessions. Most of these overtures and BCO amendments were unnecessary with plain reading of the standards and Bible. We also need to stop letting laity and parachurch organizations promote unnatural (strange) theologies within our denominations.

  2. Perhaps some of the most crucial overtures to the PCA GA are ones which were not heard. The overtures asking the Standing Judicial Commission to assume original jurisdiction in the case of pastor Greg Johnson won’t be addressed until the SJC rules on them. When they do, we will see if presbyteries are considered as ultimately sovereign or whether they are subject to the higher court of the General Assembly, namely the SJC. It will be interesting to see how the SJC treats these overtures given the clear message sent by the GA meeting in St. Louis regarding overtures about SSA candidates for ordination. Several years ago we saw the SJC order a presbytery to conduct a trial of a TE who was teaching Federal Vision. The presbytery which had originally refused to indict and prosecute the TE, held a pro forma trial and promptly exonerated the TE. The question of whether the GA must tolerate consistently rogue presbyteries is a question of perhaps greater import.

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