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What Does The PCA Need To Hear This Year?

1 Corinthians 13

A few years ago John Piper was invited to preach at the PCA’s General Assembly. I’ve wondered what I would preach if given just one chance to address the denomination. Apparently, Piper believed what we needed to hear most that year was the importance of doctrine. Really, Piper? Doctrine? Don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent sermon, but if addressing the importance of doctrine at the PCA General Assembly isn’t preaching to the choir, I don’t know what is. I was surprised that Piper picked such a safe topic, especially considering how he’s known as one who’s not afraid to ruffle feathers.

As I’ve watched the responses on the blogosphere to the proposed PCA strategic plan, it seems to me the one thing that we need to be reminded of most this year is the importance of loving our neighbor. Some of what passes as commentary on the strategic plan is little more than thinly-veiled libel and malice. Instead of judging the document on its own merit and putting the arguments and motives of its authors in the best light possible as the judgment of charity requires, some are imputing the worst motives possible.

Shortly after the PCA was formed, Francis Schaeffer published a warning to us regarding this very danger:

The failure of those who separated from the Presbyterian Church USA during the 1930′s extended beyond the loss of contact with those true Christians who stayed in the Church; it extended to the attempted organizational expression… [they] did not express or practice that mark of the Christian, the observable love among all true Christians. [emphasis added]

As we consider a strategic plan for the future, we would be wise to heed Schaeffer’s warning from the past. It’s not simply doctrinal infidelity that could put us under. Our very actions and attitudes towards each other could sink the PCA ship, even if our official doctrinal commitments remain sound.

So to all pundits who will soon become commissioners and voters, please remember: we’re not just watching what you say, but how you say it. We’ll judge the wisdom in your ideas in part by the manner in which you present them. After all, “wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:35 ESV)

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  • http://www.tpcjackson.org Ken Pierce

    Tim,

    First, glad for the new blog. More conversation is good. And, who can argue against being loving in our debates. I do fear, however, that sometimes love is in the eye of the beholder. The apostles had vigorous debates, and yet loved one another. We might have arguments in our households, yet love each other.

    Playing nice is not love. For one thing, as your dad so wisely told us in class at RTS, one of the things that outsiders misunderstand about the Deep South is that the politeness and love on the surface is genuine –people can be very kind to you, while they are conspiring to stab you in the back.

    So, yes we ought to watch how things are said, as well as what is said, but would you really vote against or for something because one of its advocates said something in what you judged to be an unloving fashion?

  • Tim Taylor

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks for posting. I think you're the first to post here (besides our official contributors). I think maybe we should have a prize for you or something. I volunteer Joe to bring you a nice fruit basket or something at GA. ;-)

    Yes, I agree that false kindness is not truly acting lovingly towards one another. I grew up in south MS, so I know exactly what you mean about the Deep South and false kindness. I think debate, even vigorous debate, is both good and necessary. The kind of “debate” I'd like to see end, though, is what I referred to as libel and malice. Disagreement is one thing. Attacking someone's character is something else. Winning the debate by demonizing the opposition is considered by many to be acceptable in politics, but it should never be accepted in the church.

    As far as supporting or rejecting an idea based solely on the manner in which it is presented: no, I would not do that (I hope). I said, “We’ll judge the wisdom in your ideas *in part* by the manner in which you present them.” Look at it this way: if group A acts in ways that often produce division and hate and group B instead acts charitably, which group should I listen to? I know that's an oversimplification and there are other important factors to consider, but for this particular blog entry I wanted to focus on the manner of our discourse.

  • http://mininggrace.com/ Joe Holland

    I'll get to work on the fruit basket. Ken, how do some Virginia peanuts sound? ;-)

    I also wanted to point out that I think you two are doing what you're debating at present—discussing two sides of an issue cordially. I'm wondering on a larger PCA scale if both of you would agree that the Keller-Duncan debate on women deacons at last year's GA was a good example of charitable debate over a significant issue. Quiet apart from the content, I know several men who commented on how well Duncan and Keller articulated their position in brotherly love. What do you think?

  • http://www.aprofitableword.com Andrew Barnes

    Greetings,

    I am a friend of Rae's and know Joe from his former presbytery.

    I don't believe we can separate the Piper from the Schaeffer. We are to speak the TRUTH in LOVE. That is clear. A commissioner or an elder in the PCA cannot give up either. To do so would be to say one of God's attributes is more important than another. God is truth. God is love.

    So when I come to the proposed Strategic Plan and criticize it for being not Biblical or being not Presbyterian. I hope I am doing so out of love. It might not feel good to some people who have worked hard and tirelessly on the Plan, but I do so with a love for the brethren and love for the Church. I believe if the Strategic Plan passes it will be to the downfall of the denomination. It is a business plan gone bad. It has left our Biblical principles at the door even though on the surface of things it seems to have considered Scripture. It has left our Presbyterian roots at the door even though it appears to consider that we are more Baptistic than ever, which I also agree with.

    So is this the plan we need? No. We do not need a business plan, we need a Biblical plan. We need a plan that our God would approve of. We need to follow Scripture, be faithful to Scripture, and not follow the world.

  • Ken Pierce

    Tim,

    I'll take Joe up on the peanuts –fresh from CulpepAH…

    The problem is perception. I tend to view many of the men who disagree with me as uncharitable, and really chafe at the way certain things are said. I probably wrongly misattribute to them sins, and probably I am right at least some of the time. I have seen conservative men shamefully treated on the floors of various courts at all levels.

    And, to be quite honest, I have seen guys to the “left” of me shamefully treated on the floor.

    So, maybe this is a long way of saying, “I agree, generally.”

    Is it okay to be jealous of Holland because he left MS for VA, whereas I left VA for MS? Not fair!

  • Tim Taylor

    Hi Andrew,

    I'd like humbly to submit that you've misunderstood me. I'm not creating a false dilemma between speaking the truth OR acting lovingly towards our brethren. I'm saying that the two must not be separated, but I'm also saying that speaking the truth does not always equate with being loving. It is certainly possible to speak the truth but in an unloving manner, and sadly sometimes we in the PCA are all too willing to do so.

    As far as the specifics of the SP, I deliberately did not address those issues because I didn't want it to distract from my main point. Truth be told, there are parts of the SP that give me pause. I'm sure someone here on Vintage73 will be brave enough to “tee up” that topic soon enough and we can all discuss the particulars then.

  • Tim Taylor

    Thanks, Ken. I certainly agree that no particular group within the PCA has cornered the market on snarkiness (spell check doesn't like this word but I'm going with it anyway). I've certainly been guilty of it myself. I was a philosophy major at Belhaven and many times lost sight of loving my brother in favor of winning the argument at any cost. I can't say I've completely shaken that tendency since then. I needed the reminder in this blog post as much as anyone.

  • Tim Taylor

    Joe, I wasn't present for that particular debate but I did listen to the audio afterwards. Yes, I think it was clear that though these men disagreed they clearly loved each other.

  • rschmidtberger

    Tim,
    Well said. Two things I really appreciated:
    1) your exhortation to examine the plan on its own merit and not presume ungodly motives of the drafters,
    2) that false doctrine and a lack of love can destroy a church, network, or denomination

  • http://www.aprofitableword.com Andrew Barnes

    Thanks for clarifying. You and Ken have already talked a little about one side of speaking truth. Specifically, how we view those who disagree with us. So don't discount my thinking through that and agreeing. However, I am also struck lately in our culture and in the PCA at what people mean when THEY say, “speak the truth in love.” Speaking the truth in love doesn't always look like a Keller/Duncan conversation (it wasn't really a debate). It might come in the form of righteous anger. We could think of Thornwell and his remarks toward Hodge. Or compare what in our day is typically thought of as speaking the truth in love and compare that with one of the Reformers. The Reformers and how they spoke of one another would be seen by many in our culture as very harsh and unloving. No one would dare write up a diatribe these days and yet, at least I believe, they were used out of love. The Reformers weren't necessarily unloving, they were contending for the truth and doing so with much zeal. But I am unsure if they were loving, I do not know their hearts (which is the big issue).

    All I am saying is that we can't allow our culture to determine what love is. God's love is shown to us with the rod and staff, in the form of swift and harsh discipline. Hebrews 12 says, The Lord disciplines those He loves us and SCOURGES every son He receives.” That's God's love. Yet in the PCA, typically, a love from us would never look like this in our speech. That in my opinion is sad. That we have forgotten the God who is love and how we are to be holy as He is holy. In other words, we have forgotten Who determines love. It is not the culture, it is not the PCA, it is the Lord God Almighty.

    *stepping off soapbox*

  • Frank Hamrick

    I'm no longer in the PCA so I have no dog in this fight…but Tim, this is it brother. Well said.

  • Tim Taylor

    Thanks!

  • Tim Taylor

    Thanks, Frank. I hope you'll continue to comment here. I think your unique perspective having recently come out of the PCA could really help us.

  • beingandyjones

    I can't help but chuckle at the fact that PCA ministers feel this necessity to “qualify” what is meant by love. I imagine we never talk like this with our wives, telling her what we mean and don't mean when we say that we love her. We are afraid to just say, “Let's love one another.” Perhaps we fear it will become mere sentiment and is dangerous if left undefined. Maybe. Maybe not.

    I will say that among all the stereotypes out there about reformed presbyterian ministers and our congregations, I don't think we are being pegged as overly-loving people.

  • Frank Aderholdt

    I'm opposed to the PCA Strategic Plan. I will do everything I can to defeat it, just because I love the truth and the brethren.

    Doctrinal precision and confessional fidelity have fallen on hard times in the PCA. Those of us who sound the warning will automatically be branded as “unloving.” It's the same old story. I've experienced it for more than forty years.

    -A concerned PCA Ruling Elder

  • http://www.aprofitableword.com Andrew Barnes

    Responding to 'beingandyjones' here to say that this is exactly why I am qualifying 'love'. It is because as Frank has said, those who sound a warning, who love the truth and the brethren, will be branded as 'unloving'.

  • beingandyjones

    What seems odd is that reformed guys (self included) seem to always qualify love as it relates to truth-telling. No one responds to this blog post and says, “Yes, we need to love if by love you mean being patient, kind, and long-suffering.” Those things surround the statement “rejoices with the truth” but don't seem to be as attractive to us reformed types. Sad.

  • bggjr

    I think we qualify because so much gets parsed to death.