Rise Up, Man!
A Call to Young Elders
In 1643, George Gillespie traveled to London as one of the eleven Scots chosen to participate in the Westminster Assembly. Initially tasked by Parliament to revise the 39 Articles of the Church of England, one of the most contentious topics of the Assembly was the nature of the relationship between the church and state. On one occasion the renowned legal scholar and Erastian, John Seldon, argued for the spiritual subordination of the church to the magistrate. The logic of the elder statesman seemed so unassailable none rose to challenge him. Parliament had called the meeting, after all. But then, Gillespie heard the whispered voice of his friend, Samuel Rutherford, “Rise, George! Rise up, man, and defend the church which Christ has purchased with his own blood.” Gillespie stood and with scripturally-saturated wisdom, trumpeted Christ’s supremacy over his church and won the day, leaving an indelibly biblical mark on the ecclesiology of the Standards and the Reformation itself. He was 31 years old.
Gillespie’s bold example should serve as smelling salts in the nostrils of young churchmen in the PCA. Caught in the crossfire between a godly impulse to show deference to fathers in the faith and a culture of prolonged adolescence, it can be difficult for young elders to know their place and find their voice. When controversial issues like Revoice come knocking on the doors of our sessions, presbyteries and general assemblies, conventional wisdom kicks in, urging the greener presbyter to “Sit tight. Stay out of it. Let the older titans clash. ‘Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise’ (Proverbs 17:28).” For the assistant pastor whose livelihood is umbilically connected to the good graces of his senior minister and session or for the RUF minister, missionary, chaplain, or church planter whose support may come from a broad coalition of churches with conflicting visions for the future of the PCA, biblical boldness can have a steep price tag. But while there is a time for young elders “to keep silence,” there is also “a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
Brothers, that time is now.
The PCA ordains gay pastors. The commitment of men like Greg Johnson to abstain from homosexual activity is important, but their insistence on identifying themselves by their sinful desires — instead of renouncing them with holy hatred — is a tragic compromise. While the adoption of the Nashville Statement and the Report on Human Sexuality were encouraging psychological victories for those eager to guard the purity of Christ’s church, all actual judicial attempts to exercise discipline have proven unsuccessful. This, coupled with the recent failure of two-thirds of our presbyteries to approve overtures intended to slow the spread of Revoice theology, is symptomatic of a denomination in crisis.
The Ephesian church of Paul’s day faced similar challenges. False teachers had risen to prominence and infected the church with their “strange doctrines” regarding marriage, celibacy, and homosexuality, among others (1 Timothy 1:10 & 4:3). To resist these wolves and shepherd the Ephesian flock, Paul sent in young Timothy, urging him, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:10). You see, Paul knew that while “the splendor of old men is their gray hair,” “the glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29). He knew that “it is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27). He knew that Joseph was 30 when he entered the service of Pharoah and saved the world. He knew that Levitical priests were 30 when they started pleading for sinners before the mercy seat. He knew that David was 30 when he began to rule as king over Israel. He knew that Jesus was 30 when he came “into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14–15). Paul knew that a man’s usefulness to the Kingdom of God has never been determined by his age but by his faithfulness. Young elders in the PCA must know it too.
On June 28th 2019, a self-identified gay PCA minister Tweeted, “Last night [the Nashville Statement] won the battle, but they will lose the war.” After receiving blowback for his hostile rhetoric, he deleted the post and issued an apology. Nevertheless, I found his comment to be an honest, accurate, and obvious assessment of his intentions and the state of the church. He’s right; a battle is raging. A relatively small band of progressives have declared war against the PCA, demanding greater conformity, not to our confessional standards but to a version of the world’s standard of human sexuality in which one’s identity is determined by the sum total of their lusts. Their efforts have been magnified by the National Partnership; a highly organized, clandestine fraternity of block-voting progressives. While naïve moderates and confessionalists have been busy writing sermons and pastoring their churches, NP leaders have been mastering the art of denominational chess, stacking committees, distributing General Assembly voting guides, and maintaining anonymous mailing lists, closed Facebook groups, and password-protected websites.But rather than maintaining the PCA’s peace and purity by quietly transferring their credentials to a more like-minded denomination like the EPC, they have launched an offensive to seize control of the PCA and recast it after their own image.
In the face of similar threats to the church in Ephesus, Paul called young Timothy to, “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). But how does a young elder “fight the good fight” to the glory of God? Certainly not by “losing heart” or resorting to “disgraceful, underhanded ways,” but “by open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). We fight the good fight by combating error and contending for truth in our sessions, presbyteries, and assemblies “whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto [us] on that account” (Ordination Vow 6, BCO 21-5). We fight the good fight by getting off the bench and getting involved in the committee work of presbytery and GA. We fight the good fight by saying “ no” to nominees, transfers, licentiates, and ordinands who will not condemn Revoice theology by affirming that even the orientation to sin is itself sinful. We fight the good fight by renouncing passive-aggressive Presbyterianism through filing charges against false teachers and sending up overtures that strengthen and safeguard the purity of our denomination. We fight the good fight by being holy men who “make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14). We fight the good fight by preaching and teaching the truth.
With boldness and tenderness in our hearts, with fire and love in our eyes, without fear or favor we must take our stand on the Word of God. We must teach our people how deep the roots of sin reach and wrap around the heart, even around the “thoughts of the intentions of [our hearts]” (Gen. 6:5). In the eyes of a holy God who sees into the deepest shadows of our souls, “all of the motions of the fallen nature,” whether voluntary or involuntary, “are truly and properly sin” (WCF 6:5). That means we are more sinful than we could possibly imagine. It also means the “biblical sexual ethic” is more than a set of behavioral do’s and don’ts. Jesus said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28) because he wanted his people to know that the true “biblical sexual ethic” is not firstly a matter of the actions of the hands, but the attractions of the heart.
Only when people see the totality of their own sinfulness and the corruption of their hearts under the surgical light of God’s law will they be able to see, by that same light, the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the sinless Son of God, who came down from heaven to save us by dying on the cross for our sinful actions and our sinful attractions, and to make us new by the transforming power of his grace. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus saves us from both the penalty and the power of sin: “He breaks the power of reigning sin, He sets the prisoner free; His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood availed for me.” No longer slaves to our lusts, believers have been liberated and empowered by the Holy Spirit to cultivate Christlikeness and mortify sin. No longer defined by our evil deeds and desires, our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). And that is very good news!
I was baptized and raised in a PCUSA church, the muddy bottom of liberalism’s slippery slope. Jesus was commended from the pulpit as a wise sage and moral example, but not “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). That church was also unwilling to exercise loving discipline, and so self-identifying homosexuals were permitted to take positions of leadership. But by the grace of God, there was another Presbyterian church down the road; a PCA church that was “Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission” because fathers in that church were willing to take a stand and fight for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the glory of God. Will our children be able to say the same?
“Rise up, man, and defend the church which Christ has purchased with his own blood.”
 See Greg Johnson’s USA Today article, I’m a Gay Celibate Pastor of a Conservative Church. Here’s a Trick for De-Escalation.