Doug Wilson’s Failure to Safeguard Children

by Mike Sloan and Beth Hartthe-good-shepherd

[Authors’ Note: Even before we wrote this article, ink has been spilled over the language “sexual stimulation” with regard to Sitler’s interaction with his baby. These words could be taken to imply molestation or rape, but not necessarily, and not in our opinion given the current evidence. It seems what was intended is that Sitler was himself sexually stimulated by thinking about his baby. And yet we stand by our labeling this “alleged sexual abuse”. It stands to reason that this was more than simply a fleeting temptation given the state’s response. It seems most likely they were an intentional indulgence by Sitler. So while this is not a criminal act in the state of Idaho, by a Christian moral standard this is horrific child sexual abuse, as Sitler was allegedly using thoughts of his own baby to gratify himself sexually. Using a baby as an object in this way is a disturbing act of abuse. Whatever the case this has no bearing on the truth that Sitler should be no where near any child, even his own.]

Doug Wilson’s leadership decisions directly led to the endangerment and alleged sexual abuse of a baby. In August, 2015, the baby’s father, a convicted sex offender and clinically diagnosed pedophile, Steven Sitler, failed a polygraph that revealed “heinous” violations of his probation with regard to his own infant child such that the Idaho Department of Correction ordered him to have no contact with the baby.

Wilson has come under criticism as he provided pastoral care for Sitler who is a member of Wilson’s church. Why should Wilson suffer criticism when Sitler is the offender? The criticism has merit because abuse happens through the actions of abusers as well as through the negligent actions of adults who do not properly safeguard children.

In three critical arenas, Doug Wilson acted irresponsibly, and his actions allowed a serial pedophile access to a vulnerable baby. This access led to preventable endangerment wherein Sitler used his baby for “sexual stimulation.” In the first arena, Wilson advocated for limited legal accountability for Sitler’s crimes when he was originally tried and convicted in 2005. In the second arena, Wilson officiated Sitler’s ill-advised wedding in 2011. In the third arena, Wilson’s public responses to Sitler’s most recent legal trouble reveal his teachings about pedophilia, accountability, child protection, and grace that create a culture where children are exposed instead of protected.

Despite Wilson’s dereliction of pastoral duty, the evangelical and Reformed church community remains silent on this issue of child sexual abuse. Silence in the face of child sexual abuse only helps to maintain the status quo, a status quo that led to a pedophile’s easy access to a vulnerable baby.

Arena #1: Wilson Advocates for “Measured and Limited” Legal Accountability

Two measures of genuine repentance for pedophiles is their awareness of the damage their actions cause and their ability to own full accountability for that destruction. Offenders typically only confess when they get caught, like Sitler. When pedophiles are caught (as opposed to them proactively seeking help before they have offended), they display an extreme lack of awareness about how their attitudes and actions bring incredible harm, and their repentance must be judged with great care and wisdom. Offenders are masters of deception and manipulation, often saying what people want to hear so that they attract attention and compassion toward themselves and away from their victims.

Moreover, regardless of anyone’s judgment about their repentance, people who have abused a child show they are capable of harming children and must never be allowed access to children again. Never. Full stop. Not once. No exceptions. Children are too vulnerable, and pedophilia is too serious a crime for exceptions. There are no measures too drastic in order to keep a child from the evil of sexual abuse. Repentant offenders will realize their danger and will insist on strict accountability, including no access to children. Sitler originally received a fair and just life sentence for his crimes.

In 2005, as Sitler was being sentenced, Wilson wrote the judge asking for leniency in the realm of civil penalties, arguing that he believed Sitler was genuinely repentant. Among Wilson’s evidence for this assertion was Sitler’s willingness to sit through a handful of sessions with Wilson, including the completion of assignments (which included reading books). Wilson also assessed that Sitler was “completely open and honest” with him and that Sitler was growing in his awareness of his problem. In other words, Sitler confessed to certain wrongs, and Wilson believed that this confession was the whole story, demonstrating Sitler’s change of heart.

Wilson, in the letter, does not explicitly factor into his assessment how Sitler was caught in his crimes. Sitler, nonetheless, has been deceiving people since he was a young man, serially abusing children (a court document filed by his defense references Sitler’s “volume of offenses over the years”). With training, Wilson would know that offenders typically only admit to as little of their crimes as possible. Offenders also know the language that pastors expect to hear. No doubt Wilson would agree that repentance is more than words, and yet, in this case, he seems to have accepted these few talks with Sitler as establishing enough repentance to advocate for “measured and limited” punishment. The Bible is clear that, at best, words are only the beginning of repentance, and that repentance is a heart change that must bear fruit over time in actions (Luke 3:8-14). In fact, a repentant pedophile would not argue for a limited punishment, but instead, accept the full legal consequences of the crimes.

Doug Wilson has no professional licensing or accreditation in treatment for sexual offenders. Wilson founded a church, denomination, college, and minister training school, but evaluating a pedophile’s repentance is beyond his expertise. The professional evaluation of Sitler is that he is a “high risk” offender. A few sessions of pastoral counseling with a high risk offender should not be used to judge the genuineness of repentance. Sitler’s subsequent violations of his probation and failed polygraphs demonstrate how Wilson prematurely judged Sitler.

With more training in the dynamics of abuse as well as a dose of humility, Sitler could still be in jail instead of free to harm children. With training in the dynamics of child sexual abuse or consultations with an expert, Wilson could have recognized that Sitler was not demonstrating actual repentance, a costly failure on Wilson’s part. Pastors have a responsibility to protect the sheep in their flocks from dangerous wolves (Ez 34; Acts 20). The current publicity surrounding abuse and abuse dynamics makes it impossible for pastors to claim the excuse of ignorance. This is not just a mistake or oversight, but a grave dereliction of pastoral responsibility.

In 2005, excellent resources were available to understand from experts how predators deceive and how we can see through their deception and manipulation. Anna Salter, in her book, Predators, shows that 93% of convicted offenders identify as religious. Sexual offenders are common in the Christian environment because in churches they typically find easy targets. Offenders groom not only their victims, but their churches to see them as caring people, masking their true agenda. Christians tend to just trust that the people around them are wonderful people (because most of the time they are!). At the same time, this environment is also a recipe for abuse if Christians are not trained and following best practices in child protection.

Without informed training, pastors will not recognize pedophiles’ false repentance. The fruit of Sitler’s repentance is absent. Within months, the bad fruit in his heart resurfaced, including violating his probation and, most disturbingly, demonstrating the classic offender attitude of hubris and entitlement: “Mr. Sitler continues to do things his way, and continues to make disclosures and still fails the polygraphs, to which leaves one to think of how much he is not disclosing (emphasis added).” Despite these latest reports of Sitler’s deception and “heinous” violations, Wilson still holds on to the notion that Sitler is repentant as of Saturday, September 5, defending himself and Sitler, saying, “since Steven’s conviction and conditional release from prison and jail, Steven, as a penitent Christian, has been welcome at Christ Church, and has worshiped regularly with us since that time.”

Wilson should never have advocated for leniency because there is no solid foundation to claim Sitler is repenting. Advocating for a “measured and limited” civil penalty does not protect children in the community or help pedophiles walk in repentance.

Arena #2: Wilson Officiates Sitler’s Wedding

Before Sitler’s wedding in 2011, the Idaho Department of Correction did not support this marriage, and Sitler’s probation officer testified in court that if Sitler’s marriage produced children, he should be forced to live separately from his children. Although the judge allowed the marriage to go forward, this was against the advice of the Idaho Department of Correction. The Department of Correction knew that having Sitler in the home with his own child would pose a danger to the child. The representative from the Department of Correction correctly pointed out that if Sitler lived in the same home as his future child, there would be times when Sitler was unchaperoned around the child because his wife would have to sleep. Wilson had the opportunity to intervene on behalf of any future little children’s safety. Instead, he officiated the wedding.

As a pastor, Doug Wilson had a moral obligation to go above and beyond the protection that the state can provide. Despite the judge’s ruling, Wilson must answer to Jesus through whom God will judge the world, and who speaks strongly against anyone who harms a child, saying, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:6). In these words, Jesus acknowledges the inherent danger of anyone who has abused a child and the urgent need to guard children against these abusers through physical and permanent separation between the abuser and any child. Jesus never minimizes the danger an abuser is to children or risks exposing children to harm.

Jesus shows the church what grace looks like when responding to child abuse: children take priority. Grace rescues the vulnerable and oppressed (Ps 82:1-4). The church must immediately and permanently remove access to children for anyone who has abused a child.The church must diligently guard potential victims by ensuring that people who harm children never have access to children again. Such actions display God’s grace and kindness. The gospel of grace leads Christians to defend sheep from wolves.

If an admitted and diagnosed serial pedophile like Sitler is walking in repentance, he would demonstrate that repentance by renouncing the possibility of having children and thus marriage. Instead, Sitler proposed on the second date to his future wife and, according to the Department of Corrections, Sitler said having children was very important to his religion. Wilson, as a spiritual authority in Sitler’s life, should have intervened to hold Sitler accountable to his repentance. The most loving and gracious action toward Sitler himself would have been to seek to stop the marriage so Sitler would not be put in the potential position of harming another child. Wilson had a moral obligation to intervene for future victims and Sitler, but he did not.


Arena #3: Wilson Responds Publicly

Wilson’s public responses have displayed no awareness of the damage his leadership has caused victims. In “An Open Letter from Christ Church on Steven Sitler,” Wilson places 100 percent of the blame for the situation upon Sitler’s shoulders. No doubt Sitler bears full responsibility for his actions, but Wilson played a key role in exposing children to a dangerous man. In the statement, Wilson denies the risk Sitler poses to his own child, and the part he has played in orchestrating the risk, saying, “Our ministry to Steven, in other words, has not been conducted at the expense of any children in our church community, or in a way that puts any of them at risk.” However, the church and Wilson have put Sitler’s baby at risk, so much so that Sitler has been ordered not to have any contact with his son until reliable chaperones can be secured. Then, moving forward, this child can only have contact with his father under a chaperone’s direct line of sight. This scenario is the very definition of high-risk as children cannot protect themselves from predators. Instead, they rely upon the adults in their lives to advocate for their safety. Wilson has been in a position to advocate for this baby’s safety but has not. It is also been noted that Wilson failed to inform his congregation in a timely fashion that Sitler was a danger to their children. Without raising any suspicion, Sitler could have easily gained access to their children because of Wilson’s failure to notify them. Wilson’s actions have put children at risk.

Wilson continues to defend himself by saying it is the church’s job to minister to sinners. Wilson writes, “the task of ministering to broken people is one of the central glories of the Christian church. For us, there are two causes of rejoicing in this. The first is that Christ came into the world for the sake of the screwed-up people.” However, not all sins have equal repercussions in this present world. A pedophile in the church is best described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. People who sexually abuse children prey upon vulnerable lambs as wolves do. If the church treats pedophiles like any other Christian who struggles with any other sin, then it will sacrifice all its precious little lambs to the wolf. The church must not minister to wolves at the expense of the sheep. Children pay the cost when leaders do not respond appropriately to pedophiles. Pastors commonly mistake child sexual abuse as just another sin. Doing so removes the urgency from proactive child protection and demands a high cost in children’s lives.

Furthermore, Wilson’s responses are a failure of empathy. In the five public statements (statement 1, statement 2, statement 3, statement 4, statement 5) Wilson has issued in the past few days, never does he mention sorrow for this vulnerable baby who has been the victim of his pedophile father’s “heinous” behavior. Instead, Wilson’s public statements argue that he is one of the victims, saying, “This is because he [Sitler] provides an easy way for enemies of our ministry to attack us.” Instead of showing empathy for the victim, Wilson claims persecution. He sees himself as a victim. Such a posture is hurtful to true victims and discourages true victims from coming forward.

It needs to be investigated whether other victims have not come forward in the Sitler case or others, because Doug Wilson has blamed victims (for example here, here, and here), and supported offenders in court (see public testimony here). Also discouraging victims from coming forward is Wilson’s minimization of Sitler’s crimes as only one count of lewd conduct: “The twittermob has been circulating numerous untruths, among them that Steven Sitler is a child rapist. He was actually convicted of one count of Lewd Conduct with a Minor under 16 years of age (Idaho Code 18-1508).” This is an inexcusable minimization of child sexual abuse. You can read the awful reality of what constitutes Lewd Conduct with a Minor in Idaho here. You can also read an account of a victim’s family in court records describing how Sitler lured their two year old into an isolated situation and forced the toddler to kiss his erect penis.

Without proactive leadership on child protection, kids in any setting are vulnerable. Leaders must speak strongly on behalf of victims. Ecclesiastes 4:1 captures the dynamic well, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.” Doug Wilson’s public statements defend himself; they fortress his power instead of humbling owning his errors, learning from experts in the field, and making changes for the future. When shepherds use their power to protect themselves, sheep are exposed.

Child sexual abuse hides in an environment of silence, shame, and fear. When leaders do not speak out and name these sins, offenders easily find victims, and most often children suffer in silence. Leadership must combat the silence, shame, and fear with vocal advocacy for safeguarding children and vocal support for victims. Wilson has failed to lead his people to this place of safety. Wilson helped create and lead this culture. He must own up to its failures and resolve to help change it.

A Plea to Leaders in the Reformed Community

As dismaying as Wilson’s actions have been, perhaps even more upsetting has been the silence from the Reformed corner of the evangelical church. There has been no outcry, no call of urgency for child protection, and no lamenting over yet another victim of preventable abuse. There are no voices taking up the cause of the voiceless (Prov 31:8-9). There are no rescuers to deliver the weak and afflicted from the hand of the wicked (Ps 82:1-4). There are no comforters for the oppressed. The oppressors have power, but victims have only their tears (Eccl 4:1). Victims in our churches are still waiting for those with power and influence in the Reformed corner of the church to come in on the side of the vulnerable and the oppressed.

Children would be spared the horrors of child sexual abuse if leaders would use their voice to call for child protection in our churches with urgency. Even though the powerful are not themselves at risk, are we willing to look beyond our own needs to the needs of others, even the little lambs that Jesus places at the center of his Kingdom (Phil 2:4; Mark 10:13-14)? Where are the voices of the leaders of Reformed churches and Reformed networks who can gain a hearing from Doug Wilson and influence thousands of other pastors in their denominations and circles of influence? Where are the voices from The Gospel Coalition? Crossway, why are you giving a voice to a man who will not use his voice for voiceless? Who is asking Wilson, “Where is your grieving heart for this baby and the other victims? What child protection training are you putting in place or experts are you consulting so this does not happen again?”

God calls all of us to use our power to protect the weak and asks us, “Is this not what it means to know me?” (Ps 82:1-4; Jer 22:9). No matter how small the church we can choose to safeguard children. There is a silent epidemic of child sexual abuse in the church and those sitting in darkness are waiting for leaders with a voice to speak for them. How long will they wait?

Permission to republish is granted, provided the post is presented in its entirety without alterations and post is linked back to its original source.


Church Issues, Living Faith

Not Happy About Mars Hill

easter photos at Mars Hill

At one point, Mark Driscoll was the most influential pastor in my life. He preached in a refreshing way that cared more about a living audience than dead pastors. I admired his evaluation about the emergent church movement. As a guy coming out of a small, and very conservative denomination, his Spirit-filled boldness challenged my view that the church is always meant to get smaller and less important in the world.

At one point, I even tried to talk my wife into moving to Seattle and joining Mars Hill. It was her discernment at the time of our deepest loneliness that kept us from making what I now know would have been a mistake. It would have been a mistake because my understanding of how God interacts with people is very different than what Mars Hill taught. It would have been a mistake because the more I listen to Mark’s teaching the more differences arose.
Those differences and others, eventually put more distance between my ministry and my one-time pastoral idol. Slowly but surely I went from soaking up every sermon; to watching once in a while; to not watching. Finally, I began warning my church members about some of the things that I thought Mark and Mars Hill didn’t do well.

Where at one point the idea of meeting Mark was a boyish dream, later I decided not to join Acts 29, and I lamented with many others the dangers of what I perceived as masculine leadership gone of the rails.

I’ll try to give Mark the grace that I hope my parishioners give me on a regular basis. My sins are different than Mark’s, but my heart is no less deceptive, my motives not any less mixed.

Yet, if Paul could praise the proclamation of Christ even when done out of sinful motives, so can I.

But even more than Mark. I’m not happy about the damaged that has been inflicted upon the people of Mars Hill. I think far too many of us were enraptured with the tabloid-esque train wreck of the leadership, and we forgot that there were thousands of Christ’s people in the middle of the evangelical world’s version of a celebrity break up.

I’m in no way trying to downplay the insensitivity that moved at times through this church, or in any way trying to ignore the wounds suffered by many people connected to Mars Hill.

Sure maybe some members and leaders saw Mars Hill as a “Multisite Empire,” but I’m sure many more saw it as their church. The place where they were loved, challenged, and spurred onto deeper faith and obedience. When a leader resigns in shame, and a church falls apart afterward, it’s not a win for investigative bloggers, or for more traditional models or church, it’s a win for our enemy. If anyone read feels so inclined I’d encourage them to read the fourth chapter of the Book of James, especially verses one through twelve.

As the dust settles around Mars Hill, and as they prepare to become several local independent churches, I’m going to be praying for those folks. I’ll be praying that there is no bitterness; praying that those young believers know that the excess they felt is true of sinful people, but not of our Lord, praying that God’s grace might win out over our judgement. No one should be happy for the pain and heartache that is swirling around anyone at Mars Hills. I’m sure Jesus isn’t.


The PCA – Telling Secrets
and Picking Teams

Tom CannonBack in October I was nominated as the new Coordinator for Reformed University Ministries. Next week the PCA General Assembly votes to confirm or otherwise. The exigencies of a PCA Committee report don’t always lend themselves to full and thorough communication. So let me say something here.

I’ll start with a PCA joke. The corpus of PCA humor is not large. As far as I know it has only one entry. I’ve told this one a hundred times. You’ve probably heard it.

Question: What is a secret in the PCA?
Answer: You tell one person at a time.

Soon after I was nominated as RUM Coordinator a man who is sort of a somebody in the PCA approached a friend of mine and asked, “Is Tom Cannon a team player?” I’m pretty sure he didn’t want that getting back to me but, one person at a time, it did. When it did, I was emphatically not bothered at all he asked it. Nor did I take umbrage he didn’t ask me the question. I don’t know this man very well and he was doing his due diligence to figure out who I am. But it did get me thinking about how I would answer the question. Am I a team player?

That, of course, depends on what team you’re talking about. So let me tell you at least one team I’m on.

I am on the team that believes the PCA’s existence and survival is incidental to the work of the Kingdom. 

Mind you, if we go belly-up I will be sad and disappointed but I do not embrace the notion our denomination is essential (or even that important) to the commission Jesus gave his church to make disciples, baptize and teach. Now some may think that an odd attitude. Especially for someone who will, God willing, be entrusted with a leading a PCA agency. If you think that, you’d be wrong. That is exactly the attitude a person leading a PCA agency should have. Investing our denomination with even a modicum of importance is the womb which births a brood of pretentious nonsense. It’s also a lock guarantee to give you leaders who have a vested interest in projecting themselves as guardians of the realm, men who must do what it takes to make sure we take our place as movers, shakers, influencers and leaders. And I’ve been around the PCA long enough to know that leads to nothing good.

Men and institutions are leaders because they say and do things that others want to follow. Not because they simply aspire to leadership and especially not because they announce they are leaders. Let me state clearly that I do not care if the PCA is perceived as a “leader denomination”. By the grace of God I’ve seen things happen in the PCA which have become genuinely influential in the wider church. There have been individuals who do reach a constituency beyond our denomination. But in each case (and I mean every case) this happened quite separate from carefully planned efforts to achieve that.

There is another noxious side effect to the idea that doggone-it-the-PCA-should-matter. We begin to despise those who we think get in the way of that. This is a broad spectrum phenomena. When saddled with “We need to get the job done” we see those we think are holding us back as being a hurdle that needs to be removed. If we see think the PCA should matter as custodians of a Reformed Golden Age (which may or may not have existed) we see the less theologically precise as compromisers and interlopers who are hastening decline.

I think the Middle Ground Fallacy is just that. On disputed matters we all can’t be right and our unity can’t be based on simply agreeing to hold positions somewhere in the middle. I believe with what we have and who we are we pray, work and as best we can minister faithfully as those entrusted with the gospel. When we disagree we should do it with full throat (easy for me) but with integrity, humility and respect (not so easy for me). And then we see what happens. It may end well. It may not. I’m completely OK with that.

I put this on public display for a reason. There may come a time when I completely ignore all of this. In that case I may need to be tied to a chair and have this read to me for a few days. That’s another way of saying what I’m aspiring to should involve scrutiny. Lot’s of it. And if I devolve into a denominational apparatchik that scrutiny should be high, hot and relentless. It should wash over me like a mighty river. As I glibly mix metaphors.

See you in Houston.

Tom Cannon
Birmingham, AL
June 9, 2014

Saddlebronc at he Calgary Stampede Rodeo Finals on July 12, 2009.
Church Issues, Editorial

Dr. Keller, the City, and the World

I sat next to Dr. Keller once at a conference dinner. It wasn’t planned. We both happened to get stuck at the last table to fill up.
We chatted for a few minutes and then our other table mates chimed in, hoping to talk to the most famous guy in the room. I realize now that I could have said, “you know sir, you’ve influenced my ministry more than any other pastor. My wife and I stayed in Pittsburgh, because of your teaching on the value of the city.”

I wanted to start here because, I want to make it clear, that I have a deep respect for Dr. Keller, and that his teaching has been highly influential in my life and ministry. In fact, it might be fair to say that Dr. Keller is one of the most influential pastors living today.

To date, lists him as the 15th most popular author in their “Religion & Spirituality” category (for comparison Max Lucado is 17th, and Joyce Meyer is 23rd). His most recent book targeted at church leaders is Center Church, according to Amazon it’s ranked as the 6th most popular book in their “Pastoral Resources” category. His style and thoughtfulness have made him accessible and very popular.

Dr. Keller is the Helena of Troy of church planting. He is the mock turtle neck which launched a thousand new churches.

But it’s his popularity which has caused me to turn a sharper focus towards his teaching. I’d venture that every evangelical church planter (or hopeful church planter) in America has read something by Dr. Keller. Until Center Church came out, Why Plant Churches? was probably his most ubiquitous work on the topic. This six page paper has been downloaded countless times and is available for download on over 290 websites. When I re-read this essay recently, I was surprised to find Dr. Keller’s rationale for church planting is directly tied to his emphasis on urban ministry. Continue reading

Living Faith

Happy Church Planting Day – 6 Protestant Lessons from a Catholic Saint


I have never had a shamrock shake from McDonalds.  I have never drank a single pint of green beer.  And I do not observe any Saints days.  But I do love St Patrick’s Day!  

I love it because I am a church planter.  And Patrick is perhaps the greatest of our tribe since the apostolic age ended.  His record of church planted has never been equaled.  His life is an inspiration to many even a thousand years after his death.  What he accomplished for God is remarkable. And if you care about planting churches, you should love St Patrick’s day as well!

Here are a few of the many lessons we can learn from his life.

1. God most often calls us to minister among people that you know

 Patrick knew the Irish.  he lived as a slave amongst them for many years prior to his escape.  His calling was based on his knowledge of these people.  Their needs, weaknesses, virtues, culture, language were already known to him.  And out of this knowledge came his passionate desire to share Christ with these people.  Some people do receive  Macedonian calls.  And the Holy Spirit has transported one man into the desert to share Christ with someone.  But these are for the most part the exception.

So while God may call you to move to another country for his work it is more likely that he wants you to share the Gospel with the other parents of your child’s hockey team.  Reach out to those closest to you and that you already know.  After all you already speak their language and understand their context.

2. Train the Called

Patrick did not begin as a trained pastor, church planter or  missionary.  He began as a man with a passion for the Gospel needs of a specific people. And a willingness to obtain the tools and education necessary to fulfill this calling.  He spent years in preparation and was sustained in this season by his knowledge of how great the need was.

Our modern practice seems to be to recruit future church planters for a specific city from among seminary students or recent graduates.  Nothing wrong with this, but the lesson from Patrick is that sometimes the man best suited to the particular ministry is already called, but not yet trained.

3. Go under the authority of the Church

Patrick had a burning passion to reach the Irish people.  And he was knowledgeable about the local context.  He knew the people & he was confident in his call, but he still waited for proper ecclesiastical sanction before he began his mission.

Some of the worst church planting shipwrecks are men that are supremely confident and knowledgable.  But they rush ahead of the process of discernment and ordination that their church has established.  By waiting Patrick went with the confidence that can only come from the confirmation of your call.  This doesn’t probably seem like a big deal when you are eager to get started.  But when it is time to face down the pagan kings of your culture, it makes all the difference in the world to know that you have brothers at your back.

4.  Never go alone

Some estimate that Patrick headed to ireland with as many as seventy on his ministry team.  He had ordained priests, seminary students, widows, and deacons.  His team had the full set of ministry skills necessary to serve as a fully functioning church.  And although having team equipped to that degree is not feasible in most contexts, the principle is valid.

Your team should include those on the ground with you committed to the ministry vision.   Both men and women serving locally.  And a virtual team of prayer supporters, donors, and fellow presbyters, and coaches that are assisting from afar.

5.  Give your life to your call

There was no going back for Patrick.  He was all in.  The mission to the Irish was his life.  It wasn’t just a stage in his ministry career plan.  His retirement plan was to continue ministry as long as he had strength to do so.

I know that God sometimes calls us to a specific work for a season.  but we should approach every call as if we intend to be there for life.

6. Build a gospel multiplication movement.

The Irish model was to plant a new congregation in a village or town.  And out of each congregation new leaders were identified to be trained for future church plants.  In this way each congregation joined in the long term mission of sharing the gospel with all of Ireland.

Planting a local congregation is not the ultimate goal of a church planting ministry.  It is a step in the overall mission of the Church.  And taking the gospel to world requires every congregation to take part in God’s mission.

So when St Patrick’s day rolls around each year, by all means enjoy your corned beef and your green beer.  But be sure to remember what his life was really about.  Preaching the gospel to those that need to hear it, and launching the greatest church planting movement in history.

Living Faith

A Year Ago Wes White Called Me…

It was a winter afternoon. I was working in my office, and the phone rang. I didn’t know immediately who could be calling me from South Dakota, but my phone service automatically screened the call. I heard the caller record his name, “Wes White.”

I paused…

I tried to recall the last controversial thing I had said online. I thought, “well now you’ve done it, you’ve got yourself in the crosshairs of the TR blogosphere.”

For some reason I took the call (of course it wasn’t just some reason, it was the Spirit nudging me toward Christ). I greeted Mr. White and we began one of those awkward cold calls which ministry leaders have from time to time. I kept thinking, “watch what you say! Be careful, or your presbytery will be getting a letter of concern!”

But a funny thing happened, Wes wasn’t looking for dirt, he was reaching out.  On several occasions, before this, we had volleyed emails back and forth, but none of them had ended well.  I had challenged him about his blog, and more specifically the comments he allowed on a site which carried his name. From those interactions, we seemed to have fundamental and irreconcilable differences. But on this day, he was calling to offer peace and to thank me for my pursuit. He was seeking to repair the bridges which he had burned in the past (I’ll let Wes be the one to tell you about the other people he contacted).

Eventually, we got over our awkwardness and began to talk honestly with each other. We talked about life and ministry. We soon found that for every one of the things we disagreed upon, there were ten or fifteen things we shared. After two hours we ended the call, but promised to speak again soon. I’m glad to say that we kept that promise, we spoke the next week, and the next week, and the next.  Over those weeks Wes and I disagreed, sometimes on significant issues, but we kept talking. We even found that on some issues he is the progressive and I’m the TR!

Eventually Wes removed his blog, seeking to redouble his efforts towards local ministry. By and large, I did the same.  But we kept calling each other. Month after month we talked.  Our interactions slowly moved from seeming like peace talks between warring tribes. They became talk between brothers and friends.

Now before you think that this post is just one long extended humble brag – let me say: Wes has helped me follow Christ way more than any of my emails helped him. He has encouraged and challenged me, and I’m glad to say that he is a friend. Wes is one of the first people I call when Im thinking through things in ministry. I praise God that he called, and that I was willing to answer my phone.

The next time you receive a call from someone you don’t want to talk to, consider what the Spirit might be doing. Remember, the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is at work in His church. He can redeem the most broken situations.  Our God is even powerful enough to bring redemption in the blogosphere.

Wes and his beautiful family


James KA Smith
Church Issues, Current Issues, Editorial

What the PCA Could Learn from James K.A. Smith

The PCA is filled with Godly men, influencing the church and culture around us. The legacy left to us by men like Francis Schaeffer and C. Edward Koop, and continued on in projects like the Chalmers Center are some of the strengths of the PCA. Yet we are not perfect and have a lot that we can learn from men outside our specific tradition. We too need the larger body of Christ. One such man who has been shaping the thinking of many of us here at Vintage ’73 is James K.A. Smith. Continue reading

Ministry Praxis: Infant Baptism in Oklahoma City
Church Issues, Church Polity, Editorial, Living Faith, Theology, Uncategorized

Ministry Praxis: Infant Baptism in Oklahoma City

One of the “deal breakers” when planting a Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City is infant baptism. Though this is a scriptural practice, baptismOklahoma has the highest percentage of Southern Baptist churches in the world. Most Oklahomans have never seen an infant baptism. In fact, this is one thing that continually gets lumped with dry, liturgical tradition that is a carry over from the Roman Catholic Church and something the Reformers did not have enough Scriptural grounding to change both the mode and recipients of this sacrament.

Continue reading


What We Can Learn from Evangelicals

Yesterday’s post was the first one I’ve written that warranted a text message from a dear friend who loved and hated it. While my friends and fellow presbyters who know me well know I am not fond of US Evangelicalism, I do believe there are things that we, in the PCA, can learn from them. (Note bene: this list is not an attempt at fully objective provable assertions, just personal observations and experiences and tons of reading) Continue reading

Church Issues, Current Issues, Editorial, Uncategorized

You Can’t Beat the Market

“If we start spending time with them, we’ll eventually be able to gain some influence and have a say.”– Said Every Presbyterian Wanting to Beevangelical Liked By the Cool Kids Ever Remember when the PCA used that oft-repeated claim “fastest growing denomination in the United States?” I am not sure if that applies any longer, but I still see it on many websites. I wish I’d never seen that phrase but I did use it to justify to concerned friends and family that I was not joining a cult when I left my Baptist roots to join with the “baby sprinklers.” There is something about the PCA when it comes to its relationship to American Evangelicalism, though. Our denomination seems to really crave the acceptance of Evangelicals. But, no matter how hard we try, we never seem to gain full admission. Continue reading

Debate in the 2013 Overtures Committee
Church Issues, Church Polity

Mandatory Reporting, Cooperation, and the Confessions

The hot topic at last month’s General Assembly of the PCA was the personal resolution on Child Sex Abuse offered by Pastor Mike Sloan. Bobby wrote extensively and clearly about the details of the argument and the rise and ultimate recommittal of that resolution. In the comments on Bobby’s article, and in the debate of the Overtures Committee, two issues with the resolution have appeared.

Without question, none of those who argue against the resolution do so in support of abuse. They are men who want to do what is best for the Church and the children in their local churches. The question is not on whether or not the PCA is against child abuse. The opposition raised centers on the validity of such a resolution or overture; can the General Assembly legislate the activity and policy of individual churches in this matter.

The first objection deals with the nature and extent of cooperation with the Civil Magistrate.

The paragraph in question is the second of the “Resolved” in the original document. It reads:

RESOLVED that we pledge our commitment to work and fully cooperate with duly appointed God-ordained government officials in exposing and bringing to justice all probable perpetrators, who morally and criminally harm the children placed in our trust, and not in any perceivable way display reluctance in fully cooperating with lawful authorities by attempting to handle the issue internally by subjecting either the supposed victim or alleged criminal perpetrator to private “church discipline” or relational “restoration” apart from the fulfillment of our mandated reporting duties to God-ordained government authorities; and be it further

This paragraph was quickly redacted as the Overtures Committee set to work on the resolution. Some folks are suspect of any sort of cooperation between the church and state. This was voiced by one commissioner at the Overtures Committee who said, “I know I am a southerner, but I find any mandatory cooperation with the government less than desirable. And I think that the GA mandating it won’t go over well where I am from.” Even among Two Kingdom advocates, this perspective is extreme, given the question at hand. Others claimed confessional support by saying that WCF XXXI only requires us to cooperate with the civil magistrate only when we are requested. This likely comes from WCF XXXI.5 This chapter pertains to the role of Synods and Councils and requires them to limit their time to ecclesiastical matters and not civil affairs. The original resolution is intended to address matters (possibly) inside our churches. The issue of child abuse and reporting is not simply an “out there’ problem, it is present, unfortunately, in our churches. This issue has far more to do with WCF XXIII than it does XXXI. Still others fear that since the law regarding mandatory reporting is different in every state, a national policy could create confusion and problems.

When it comes to the issue of mandatory reporting, the resolution does not go into detail on how you should handle mandatory reporting, just that you should handle it. This is vague enough to fit into any states laws, while specific enough to avoid situations that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church as well as the allegations against Sovereign Grace Ministries. In short, the resolution has teeth.

Debate in the 2013 Overtures Committee

Debate in the 2013 Overtures Committee

Further, a close look at WCF XXIII should give us the sense that mandatory reporting is not just allowable by the Confession, but encouraged by it. One of the primary purposes of the Civil Magistrate listed in WCF XXIII.1 is “for the punishment of evildoers”. (cf. 1 Peter 2:14) Failing to engage in mandatory reporting robs the civil magistrate of their God ordained office. Later in XXIII.3 the Confession says, “It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person…that no person be suffered…to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever:” It is the job of the civil magistrate to protect citizens from one another. The civil magistrate exists as a minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath on those that do evil. (Rom 13:4) To harbor, or protect, or even fail to report abuse would be a perversion of justice and a violation of the 9th Commandment as well as WLC 145.

For those who would still contend that the church should only cooperate with the civil magistrate in the cases where the magistrate request it, state laws mandating reporting should be seen as a standing and proper request.

The second area of concern among opponents of Pastor Sloan’s resolution is that the General Assembly would be overstepping its bounds. Some argue that the Assembly should not intervene and interpret at this level of detail. Others believe that the Confession and Scripture are sufficiently clear on this and no broad statement is needed. While we are a grassroots denomination, the PCA has seen fit to apply Scripture and the Confession in several areas in the past. With resolutions and position papers on Abortion (’78), Divorce (’79), Freemasonry (’87/’88), Pornography (’86), and Women in Combat (’01/’02) the Assembly has done just that. These national policies have been helpful guidelines for the churches in the PCA.

May God give the PCA strength to adopt a resolution with the teeth of Pastor Sloan’s original in Houston next year. It is both confessionally and scripturally sound; not to mention it being the right thing to do.

Church Issues, Current Issues, Uncategorized

Outraged by a Lack of Outrage


The 41st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America ended last Friday. As usual, it was a week of close votes, parliamentary procedure, worship services, committee meetings, old friends reconnected, new friendships formed, positive results, negative results and lots of commentary in the post-GA wrap up. While our denomination talks a good game at the institutional level about cultural influence, I believe we missed the most important vote that would have made us a leader denomination and, most likely, united us as an Assembly.

When I was about six or seven, I really wanted to join our church’s after school club. My parents, however, forbade me. I spent months begging to join, but they said they were firm. There was something about the man who was in charge, they said. We do not trust him.
It was a hunch, for sure. Then, he left our church under a cloud of mystery and rumor. He showed up again, four or five years later, at a soccer game I played. He tried to recruit a couple of our players for his indoor league. A few months later, he was on the news due to an arrest for child molestation. This man moved from church to church and ministry to ministry, leaving just in the “nick of time,” only to get caught years later with shattered lives in his wake of his sexual sins against children.

What does that have to do with the 41st General Assembly? We debated the merits of whether or not paedocommunion is an allowable difference. Some, who spoke against this view, cited the protection of children as a reason. Yet, when we had the opportunity to pass Mike Sloan’s solid statement concerning the protection of children from sexual abuse [see here], it was dismantled in the overtures committee and presented to the Assembly in such a way that it offered little in terms of protection [see here]. The resolution was recommitted. Some sexual abuse watch blogs have had a field day with this and friends, who have been abused, have asked me “why?”

Some may argue that our standards already view sexual abuse as a sin and a crime. Others may say that we typically do not speak to social justice issues. My contention is this: had that been the case during the later Old Testament period, we may not have the writings of Amos, Joel and other minor prophets. The prophets wrote to people who were not following God’s law in loving him or their neighbor. The minor prophets recast the Law and the promises of the Messiah to folks whose Torah “already dealt with those issues.”

Sexual abuse is rampant within the United States and within churches. Whether you recognize it or not, most, if not all, of our churches have people who attend whose stories have been marred by sexual abuse. This is a social sin. This is a sin that is sometimes covered up within churches. This is a sin that is wrongly handled “in house.”

We must speak prophetically to this issue. We must not mince words. We must let our churches and members know that the PCA is a denomination that will fight for the safety and protection of our children. We must implore our churches that we will follow the law concerning the reporting of abuse. We should be outraged at the lack of outrage concerning this issue. Christians should be leading the way, not lagging behind.

As a denomination, we profess that we believe God loves children. We go further than our Baptist and Evangelical friends in our commitment to children because we baptize infants and declare that the Scriptures teach that the children of believers belong to God. We ought to be known as a group that loves children so much that our churches are viewed as communities where children are safe, believed and loved.

Psalm 23 describes Yahweh as a protector who guards his sheep with a rod and staff. As a pastor, I am called to protect the sheep as well. One way my church has done that is to have every single member undergo sexual abuse training and anyone who works with children undergoes background checks. When we planted, one of the first things we did was to develop a policy that would guard children. We talk about protecting our children in our new member’s class and publicly throughout the year. We love kids and follow the law.

My prayer for the PCA is that, over the next year, all of our presbyteries will adopt overtures that prophetically call each church to protect children. I am confident that next year’s General Assembly will see multiple overtures that we will adopt that declare to the world that we are for children – we are for reporting abuse – we are for shalom.

As we continue to engage in the post-GA wrap-up, let’s not get caught up only in the propositions and procedures – let’s remember people.