A Return to Folly

volume 19, number 1, January 2, 2020

“I will hear what God the Lord will say; for He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones; but let them not turn back to folly.” -Psalm 85:8

Psalm 85 is a post-exilic Psalm, written after Israel’s return from their Babylonian captivity. The Psalmist is reminding Israel of God’s faithfulness to them, in spite of their long history of unfaithfulness to Him. Yahweh has once again showed favor to the land, having restored the captivity of Jacob (God’s people). He has again forgiven them of their sin. He has withdrawn His fury toward them. After rehearsing God’s grace, the people together beseech Yahweh to restore them and to remove any lingering indignation toward future generations. They ask the Lord to revive them, to breathe into them new life. Ezra, also writing after the exile, confesses his sin and the sin of God’s people, asking Him for a reviving to raise up the house of  Israel from its bondage, that the ruins of their once great nation would be restored (Ezra 9:8,9). The Psalmist then declares that he will wait on the Lord, to hear if He will answer, believing that he will again hear words of peace and reconciliation. However, no matter how Yahweh chooses to answer their prayers, they most certainly must never again return to the folly of their former ways. They must never again presume on God’s covenant faithfulness to His people. To return to folly is the height of stupidity. Folly is the fruit of fools and fools are like a dog which returns to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11).  

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) began well. The first General Assembly was held in December, 1973 at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The vision was for the PCA to be a denomination true to the Scriptures, to the Reformed faith, and the Great Commission. At one point the PCA was the fastest growing denomination in the U.S. and was sending out more missionaries per capita than any denomination in the U.S. The PCA, despite its still small size, has always had an influence in the Christian church far beyond its numbers. The PCA came out of the PCUS, the Southern Presbyterian Church. The issue was theological liberalism[1] in the PCUS which manifested itself in political action in the form of PCUS pastors engaging in Anti-Vietnam war demonstrations; and supporting the Black Panthers and giving money toward the legal fees of Angela Davis, a Marxist and member of the Communist Party, who was charged with engineering a prison break. She was later acquitted.

We left the folly of liberalism and God was richly blessing us. It now seems to me, however, that we have returned to our folly. “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool returns to his folly,” (Proverbs 26:11). No Teaching Elder (TE) or Ruling Elder (RE) in the PCA would be so bold as to deny the inspiration, infallibility, or inerrancy of the Scriptures. No TE or RE would say that he no longer subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) or the Larger and Shorter Catechisms; but this my friends, without doubt, is happening regularly. You see, the liberalism of today is different from the liberalism of the 1960’s. Today’s theological liberals are Postmodern. They are language deconstructionists. Words can mean whatever someone wants them to mean. Do you remember President Bill Clinton famously denying his affair with Monica Lewinsky as he said, “I did not have sex with that woman.”[2] Sex can mean several different things in the Postmodern context. When PCA progressives say that they subscribe to the WCF they do so with their fingers crossed.

So, how has the PCA lost its way? How has it returned to folly? 1) We tolerate so-called “Side B” homosexuality. That is, a man can lust after another man and it is not sin as long as he does not engage in actual intercourse with the man. We now have at least one TE in the PCA who is a self-confessed homosexual, and the issue is this—will this pastor be censured by his Presbytery or the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) of the PCA? Don’t bet on it. 2) Though the PCA took a strong stand against Federal Vision theology[3] several years ago through a study committee report, the fact remains that many within the PCA hold to this erroneous teaching and they are not being disciplined. 3) The National Partnership, a secret organization within the PCA which seems to be decidedly progressive in theology and politics, boasts that they can win every vote at the General Assemblies by messaging their members on how to vote on each issue. 4) Though a strong and Biblical study committee paper came out a few years ago on women in the ministry, reaffirming the truth that women are prohibited from serving as elders or deacons, we nonetheless still have women serving in many congregations as de facto deacons, though not ordained to the office. We have women serving communion, which is clearly the responsibility of elders. The point here is that study committee papers have no power to make any church or Presbytery do what they teach. 5) There is a growing presence of the Social Gospel, Critical Race Theory, and Intersectionalism, which is grounded in Marxist ideology[4]. These are pervasive at our denominational seminary and college, and these cloud the true reconciling power of the gospel, pitting the so called oppressed against the oppressor. In this line of thinking, every white man was a racist, is a racist, and always will be a racist. He simply cannot help it. This line of thinking only perpetuates racial division whereas the gospel clearly teaches that the middle wall of separation is broken down through the gospel of grace so that we can be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has also forgiven us (Ephesians 2:14-16, 4:32).

Of course we have a study committee working on the issue of same sex attraction and perhaps they will present their findings at the General Assembly in Birmingham in June, 2020. Let’s assume they come back with a strong statement, affirming what Larger Catechism Q and A 139 states, that lust (the Latin word bantered about in the discussions is concupiscence), not merely the act, is sin. Okay, that’s very good. But does this guarantee that self-professed “Side B” homosexuals will be censured? Have the strong study papers on Federal Vision and women in the ministry stopped these aberrant theologies and practices? No, not at all. Why not? Because study papers have no authority. Our authority, our doctrinal standards are the Book of Church Order (BCO) and the Westminster Confession of Faith, but these are now largely ineffectual in governing our Presbyteries and pastors. Why? Because of “good faith” subscription which came into the PCA in 2002. In essence good faith subscription allows, by a mere majority vote, Presbyteries to grant exceptions to our doctrinal standards as long as these are not out of accord with any fundamentals of our system of doctrine and are not hostile to the system nor strike at the vitals of religion (BCO 21-4). What does this mean? Nobody knows for sure. Every Presbytery basically does what is right in its own eyes. Some Presbyteries are theologically “tight” while others are “loose.” Missouri Presbytery, for example, is supportive of “Side B” homosexuality while Westminster Presbytery is not.

My friends, we have returned to our folly. We are right back where we started in 1973. We are increasingly a liberal, progressive denomination. I pray daily for revival in the PCA, but that revival would mean a wholesale change in our current practices. We would need to repent of Critical Race Theory, discipline homosexual TE’s and RE’s, root out and discipline Federal Vision adherents, fire seminary and college professors who embrace these false teachings, and dismantle the bureaucracy in Atlanta. Could it happen? Yes, I pray that it will, but at the same time it is entirely possible that we have already crossed the Rubicon.

1. This theological liberalism sometimes was very subtle. It followed the Neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth who denied the plenary inspiration of the Bible but believed in an existential word of God. That is, the Bible contains the word of God and it very well might become the living word to an individual at any particular time. Consequently the same Biblical and theological words were used as with the “old school” Presbyterians. The Neo-orthodox pastors and seminary professors spoke of the the cross, Christ, sin, heaven, and hell but these words slowly took on very different meanings. As time went on from the 1930’s until the early 1970’s, a growing distrust in the reliability of the Scriptures to speak to the issues of life became pervasive. By that time men coming to their Presbyteries for ordination would often outright deny the Virgin Birth of Christ and His penal substitutionary atonement and pass into the PCUS without difficulty. 
2. Contending that his statement that “there’s nothing going on between us” had been truthful because he had no on going relationship Monica Lewinsky at the time questioned, Clinton said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” 
3. Very simply put, the Federal Vision believes that the baptism of infants saves and the proof of that is the obedience of the person as he grows up in the church. This is a denial of justification by faith and brings a form of salvation by works. For a detailed analysis of Federal Vision theology, I commend to you Dewey Roberts book Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision.
4. I commend Rob Dreher’s article “Postmodernism Destroyed His Church,” December 10, 2019 <theamericanconservative.com> for a quick look at the issue. This article will also refer you to another by Dreher entitled “Race, Identity Politics, and Evangelicalism.”

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