A New Exception to the Westminster Standards?

At the 2002 General Assembly, the PCA adopted what is deemed as “good faith subscription.” This gives each presbytery the right to determine whether a candidate for gospel ministry has stated differences with the doctrinal standards of the PCA that are acceptable or not, so long as the differences do not “strike at the vitals” (BCO 21.4). As a result, it has become common practice for candidates to take two exceptions to the Westminster Standards: (1) recreation on the Lord’s Day and (2) what constitutes a violation of the Second Commandment. These are so common that it’s rare in many cases to see any pushback from the presbytery floor during an examination on these exceptions. Whether or not adopting this practice was the right decision by the Assembly is beyond the purpose or scope of this article. Like it or not, that ship has sailed.

However, with the advent of Revoice and Side B Christianity, it seems a new exception has come to our presbyteries, at least in practice—an exception to the teaching that some sins are more heinous than others. Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 83 asks, “Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?” I would venture to say that many evangelicals—and dare I say many Presbyterians—would answer with something like, “Yes! All sins are equal in the sight of God. We all need grace.” Obviously, we all need the grace of God. We are all justly deserving of damnation, even for the smallest of sins. But that’s not the answer to the question. Divines give the following answer: “Some sins, in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.”

Expanding on this teaching, the Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 151, gives numerous aggravations that make a sin more heinous. The list is extensive and includes many things worthy of note (e.g., sins on the Lord’s Day). Among those aggravations listed that make some sins more heinous are those against the Holy Spirit (including His witness and workings), those that harm the weaker brother, those that are of continuance, and those that are against the light of nature.

As the PCA affirms, homosexuality is condemned as a sin against nature in Romans 1. However, Side B theology states (at least in a loud majority) that sexuality is not something you choose but part of your overall personhood, or said another way, sexuality along with gender, nationality and ethnicity are all features that make up ones composite identity.[1] This was the main point of contention at the 2019 PCA General Assembly as Greg Johnson took issue with Article 7 of the Nashville Statement, which denies that “adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation.”[2] Not only that, but according to some proponents of Side B theology, orientation and desires don’t (normally) change.[3] Even if we were to grant this as the case, a proper Reformed understanding of concupiscence would lead us to see that this is a sin of constancy that denies the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification, as we are essentially being told that sexuality is something that the Holy Spirit either can’t or won’t change.

As we have seen recently from prominent proponents of Side B theology, many who identify as gay Christians see “gay” as a culture that has many redeeming qualities. As one Revoice Conference speaker recently tweeted,

“LGBTQ+ is not reducible to sexual behaviors or sexual desires, and can include a whole relationality, culture, community, history, and distinct way of being in the world, etc. We need reassurance that our lives will not only be survivable, but that we will be able to truly thrive. And that has to include a recognition that our lives can be joyful and full of giftedness, not despite being LGBTQ+, but precisely because of it.”[4]

Substitute LGBTQ+ with the words “white supremacy” or “pedophilia.” Does it still work?  Of course not! To attempt to be a part of a culture or community that is directly opposed to nature and has at its root a fundamental misunderstanding of the work of the Holy Spirit is dangerous. At that point you are not merely a part of some kind of subculture, but diving deeper into the quicksand of heinous sin. As Thomas Watson so aptly quipped, “We pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ but do we lead ourselves into temptation? Lot was the world’s miracle, who kept himself fresh in Sodom’s Saltwater.”[5]

In no way would I want to convey the idea that overnight perfection is expected, but as the PCA Ad Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality rightfully pointed out, under Statement 8, we should see the “regenerate nature increasingly overcome the remaining corruption of the flesh…”[6] Paul encouraged early believers, who faced struggles of all kinds, that God’s will for their life is their sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3), and that they have been saved by the “washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Far from being a theology of “pray the gay away,” this is a high view of the work of the Holy Spirit who can do something that no one else can. To deny that an orientation can change is to deny the witness and the works of the Holy Spirit and to bring scandal upon the church. At some point, we need to come to a decision on whether we believe Side B theology and, therefore, self-styled “gay Christianity” to be a sin of a more heinous nature. With so much at stake, is this the new kind of exception to the Standards one we (as a denomination) are ready to accept?

This is not only a matter for those who would identify as gay, but also for those who would support the ordination of such men. It is not loving for us to continue to allow those who identify as a “gay Christian,” or those who don’t recognize their especially heinous error to serve as elders. Those who teach are subject to a stricter judgement (James 3:1). Let us lovingly encourage and walk alongside those who are fighting against their sin, as their shepherds but not as co-laborers. This means that we give not only rebukes, but also endeavor to walk alongside them, bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:4), and give ourselves to serving Christ’s church. However, I also believe that it also means voting “no” when men who affirm Side B theology come to the examination floor of presbytery. It also means showing up and voting accordingly at General Assembly. I urge you, as we head towards General Assembly, to consider the weight of the matters before us and the future that hangs in the balance.

[1] https://revoice.us/about/our-beliefs/statements-of-conviction/statement-on-sexual-ethics-and-christian-obedience/. See also Rosaria Butterfield’s quick and helpful definitions of both Side A and Side B:


[2] https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/

[3] Note Greg Johnson’s speech on the floor of the 48th General Assembly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkWdMBQyVkc

[4] https://twitter.com/TheGrantHartley/status/1391735360888229890?s=20

[5] Thomas Watson, The Art of Divine Contentment: In Modern English (Independently Published by Jason Roth, 2017), 122.

[6] https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AIC-Report-to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf