Friday, March 22, 2013

A Plea for Openness from the Center Right of the PCA

Like many others, I was more than a little disturbed when this letter was made public, touting a new "National Partnership" of likeminded PCA leaders purportedly advancing the "original vision" of the PCA.  I have been in the PCA ministry 15 years, and, in that time, I have lived through Vision 2000, PPLN, Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together, and now this.  I suspect there is a great amount of overlap between each of those "coalitions," though I cannot be certain, because the membership of this one is secret --oh, forgive me, not secret, but "confidential."  I did not check, but I am guessing Mr. Roget lists those as synonyms.

I absolutely detest secret societies  --they foster a "we're in, you're out" mentality, whether on college campuses or in society at large.  Certainly they have absolutely no place in the church.  None.  Categorically.

Lest you think I am some sort of angry hard-right "TR," let me do the appropriate postmodern thing and give you a bit of personal narrative.  I grew up in the Reformed mainline, Dutch variety.  I was happy to find a denomination with basic evangelical and Reformed commitments.  I would peg myself center right, probably a bit to the left of my friend Lig Duncan, but not far.  I like holidays, am not much concerned about stained glass, and we even use guitars and drums, albeit on Sunday nights.

 Unlike many conservatives in the PCA, I could probably function quite well in a broader denomination than the PCA.  I am thrilled to be in a denomination with Tim Keller and RC Sproul and Lig Duncan and Pat Morley and the CCEF guys and Schaeffer and Boice and Koop (all now in the PCA Triumphant).  I even like and appreciate Jack Miller.   I am less thrilled about some things going on in the "far left" of our denomination (although I hate such terms), because I've been there and don't want to go that way (I'm continually amazed that churches depart us to go to the dying denomination of my youth!).  Though my own confessional commitments are quite conservative, I can function in a denomination that is broader than I am as long as I can vote no and basically be left alone.  I don't think I ask for a lot.

I did once ask that a presbytery investigate a man who publicly stated that he had little use for our Standards, and seemed hell-bent on denying them, particularly on gospel bona fides.  I got an impersonal 14 page letter from his presbytery that in essence took me (and others) to task for not contacting the man personally (we had).  I kind of wish they had abided by their own standard and not tried me in abstentia.  But, I'm over that.  On good days, at least.

What I ask is for people not to be jerks.  In my opinion, there are jerks on the left and on the right, and they are ....  Just kidding, I won't list them.  Jerks are people who do not much like people who are not like them --not that they disagree with them, but rather that for them, everything is personal.  They resent being questioned.  They don't want to discuss.  They probably wouldn't be found around a round table with guys like me (believe me, I've tried to reach out).  Many are at the "top" of our profession, humanly speaking.  I have friends among those who are to my left, and those to my right.  I try to listen to them all.

I am particularly attuned to this because I've been a jerk all my life.  I am a repenting jerk, though by no means have I gained the victory.  Expertus Loquor.

By definition, this partnership is a "jerk" thing to do.  I have no idea if confessional types are represented among their number.  In one way, I surely hope so.  In another way, I would hope that confessional men would want nothing to do with anything done in secret.  Why not be out in the open? PPLN was out in the open, and, unlike many of my similar convictions, I supported much of that.  I've supported various vision plans, etc.  I've been a good soldier on a lot of issues.  My church supports the GA offices (though in rough financial years lately we have been unable to meet all our commitments), but, in principle, I believe in supporting a denomination of which one is a part.  I think one has no right to gripe unless he and his church are invested.

Why is it a "jerk" thing to do?  Is that a mean word?  No, it just fits the definition.  Much of this feels very personal, not against a virtual nobody (and happy to be so, most days) like me, but against other good men.  The point of this whole exercise is "we don't want to talk to people like you."  You don't count.  It is a good old boy club --the very thing that has plagued the PCA its whole existence.  We aren't really on equal footing as presbyters, not really.  It matters very much who you are.  Some of that is inevitable and natural.  Yet, when it smacks of intention, it is sinful.  Let's call it what it is --it's sin.

I have no doubt that much of what these men intend to do is noble.  I might even agree with a lot of it.  This is not an exception of substance.  Doing the right thing, however, in the wrong way, is sin.  The ends justifying the means is sin.  Let me add a few more words: sin, sin, sin.

I have plenty of sin of my own.  A lot of it is pride and jealousy and ambition.  I like to have a place at the table.  I got invited to a "secret" meeting once.  I loved being included.  I liked having a place at the table.  I thought it helped me understand some people better.  I thought a lot of it was sanctimonious whining.  I made a few acquaintances I can now ask "what are you guys thinking and why?" because they aren't the type to get in a tizzy because someone has the temerity to disagree with them.

Probably nobody is still reading this, but if you are, the best thing you could do was just do what you want to do in the light of day.  That's all I ask.


  1. I finished reading it Ken. Always interested in what you have to say. I saw these same things in the old PCUS. Now it seems you have new riders but the same old saddle. I'm not an Independent, but I am so happy that my denomination leaves me alone between meetings to preach the gospel and do the work of a pastor and teacher. I pray for the conservatives (center right) in the PCA that God will give you grace to "hold it together."

  2. Great post Ken! Live and work in the light of day bother.

  3. Ken, I am new to your blog but I like this post. I would probably place myself left of center in the PCA, and I agree with your analysis. When I first read about the National Partnership I was disturbed by the idea of creating a "confidential" sect in the PCA too. Thanks for speaking out so well.

  4. Amen and Amen.

    From another reforming and repentant jerk...

  5. I say this every time something like this comes up. CS Lewis' "The Inner Ring" should be required reading for every ministerial candidate. It is one of the first works I assign in my little Fellows group at my church of undergrads preparing for ministry.

    By the way, A. Taylor Rollo, I don't know you, but I am listening to one of your sermons as I write this. You are a very good preacher -- very clear, very articulate, and very passionate. You should have no problem finding a permanent call, I would think. Praying for God to lead you as I write this.

  6. Thanks for the post. AS one who for the most part is out of the loop, it is great to hear that someone else knows what is going on and isn't afraid to speak up about it. I guess I am about center myself, but I really to like the to politics of secret meetings that try to make a move on the rest of the PCA. Deal with in the open of don't deal at all.

  7. Great job, brother.
    After all these years, you'd think that we'd learn that the "secret" movements don't work (They haven't yet). So, why do we keep doing this stuff??

  8. Great job, brother.

    Berti Kona

  9. I read it to the end and applaud you for your thoughts and words.