Below is a report I wrote in 2021 assessing my denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, remaining a member of the global ecumenical body the World Communion of Reformed Churches. I wrote this as a member of the EPC’s committee on theology to assist our committee on Fraternal Relations to think through that membership in light of the EPC’s revised endorsement policy. At the 2022 General Assembly, the committee on Fraternal Relations was instructed (at their request) to formally evaluate the EPC’s membership in the WCRC and to bring a recommendation for action to the 2023 GA. While the official recommendation has not yet been made public, the expectation is that it will encourage us to end our membership in the WCRC. The WCRC is more aligned with mainline and liberal churches in North America and Europe (such as the PCUSA) than evangelical churches, and the North American and European contingents dominate the ethos and meaningful leadership of the WCRC. This is the real reason the EPC would consider leaving: the WCRC is not a good fit for missional partnership.
I believe the EPC should remain a member of the WCRC, though only if we’re willing to actually engage it. There is a significant shift happening on a global level in the church (e.g. the changes in the Anglican Communion and among the Methodists) where the leadership is moving towards evangelical churches in the majority world. I think the EPC could stand to benefit from being part of global council of churches committed to the Reformed tradition, especially as things are changing. So below is a lightly edited version of the report I submitted in July 2021.
In 2011 the EPC instructed the Fraternal Relations Committee to evaluate all of our fraternal partnerships. This included the WCRC. At the time, part of the concern over the WCRC was our sharing a membership with the PC(USA), which had just revised its ordination vows to accommodate homosexual relationships. The FRC’s report, adopted by the GA in 2012, said this about the WCRC…
Mark Jones has an article up at reformation21 on how same-sex attraction is itself sin. In general the article is solid, but Jones makes two crucial missteps that handicap its overall usefulness.
First, after Jones spends a larger portion of the article arguing that desires and temptations for sinful things arise from our sinful nature, he begins to address how the sinless Jesus was tempted. He says “Given the above, I hold that Christ was not ‘liable to temptations from within.’ If I may summarize the basic view of Reformed theologians, I would argue the following: Our temptations typically arise from within us, as we are lured away by desires that give birth to sins such as unbelief and sinful lust…” That “typically” gives away the whole argument. Yes, temptations to sin usually arise from a sinful nature within us, but not necessarily and not always.
Which dovetails into the second mistake, which is that Jones equivocates temptation, desire, and attraction :”If temptation is understood this way, then a proposal towards that which is evil (e.g., same-sex attraction) is sinful.” And,
Homosexual lust, even if it is not acted upon, is sinful. Even homosexual attraction must be mortified because it is not natural, but rather unnatural. It is a temptation towards that which is evil. So not just the act itself, but also the “deliberation” that arises from the “inclination and propensity” is sinful and needs to be mortified (Rom. 8:13). Inclinations need to be reoriented so that propensities are reoriented. In this way, the justified child of God is freed more and more from resolutions to sin.
Of course anything sinful arising from within our corrupted nature, including sinful thoughts, desires, and temptations needs to be repented of and mortified. And same-sex desire can fall into that category. However, gay Christianity’s Side-B (which acknowledges/embraces same-sex attracted identity in some form while also committing to chastity in the historic, orthodox sense of the term) argues that same-sex attraction is a temptation or condition that arises from outside us just as Jesus also faced temptation that arose from outside himself. Jones is either refusing to engage with Side-B thought, which means that he is not addressing their real arguments or concerns and is therefore talking past them, or ignorant of the specifics of their arguments.
In practice, the difference in application is whether we tell people they need to repent of the temptation or mortify the temptation. But telling people they are sinning without even acknowledging their theological framework means they probably won’t hear anything else you have to say.
Smoking Spiritualized. II
Ralph Erskine (1685–1752)
WAS this small plant for thee cut down?
So was the plant of great renown,
Which Mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco. 5
Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what ’s the power
Of Jesse’s flower?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco. 10
The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of faith conveys
What virtue flows
From Sharon’s rose:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco. 15
In vain the unlighted pipe you blow—
Your pains in outward means are so,
Till heavenly fire
Your heart inspire:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco. 20
The smoke like burning incense towers;
So should a praying heart of yours
With ardent cries
Surmount the skies:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco. 25
This an extended a theological essay that was written for my church last year. It is actually a substantially abridged version of an original (4k vs. 11k words) that was used as a conversation partner among LPC’s elders. The longer version had more exegetical and historical work, as well as engagement with the EPC’s Book of Worship (which I’ll probably post separately at a later date) and deeper analysis of the missional dimension of tithes and offertories.
How should the church think about money, especially when it comes to acts of giving in worship and honoring God with our resources? These are two inter-related questions: How should the church collect money? and What is God’s expectation for giving? What follows is a sketch of the biblical summary on these topics along with historical considerations. It concludes with principles for Langhorne Presbyterian Church’s practice.
Tithes and Offerings in the Old Testament
In the Mosaic law there were broadly three categories of tithes: the tithes to support the Levitical priesthood (Numbers 18:21, Deuteronomy 14:22-29, 2 Chronicles 31:3-5); the tithes for the celebrations at Israel’s festivals (Deuteronomy 12:6ff, 16:13-17; and tithes for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 26:12-13). Each of these kinds of tithes had a variation in the frequency in their collection. Notably the tithe to the Levites was explicitly premised on Israel living in the promised land (Deuteronomy 12:19, 26:1-4).
A common misconception is that tithing equated to 10% of an Israelite’s income. However, “Some [scholars] think the Israelites gave 14 tithes over seven years; others believe they gave 12. Regardless, when we add the required tithes together, the amount certainly exceeded 10 percent. In fact, the number was probably somewhere around 20 percent per year….
Read the article at ref21. Here is an excerpt:
Westminster Shorter Catechism 85 asks, “What doth God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?” This is a hugely important question! The answer comes in three parts: 1) Faith in Jesus Christ. 2) Repentance unto life. 3) An answer that may make any self-respecting, sola gratia & sola fide holding Protestant spit out their coffee: The diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.
There are things and our use of things that God requires for us to escape his wrath and curse. These things and our use of them is how Jesus gives us the benefits of redemption. In other words, this is how Jesus gives us salvation… This allows us to ask our question, “How is prayer made effectual for salvation…”