Posted on Thursday, July 16, 2015 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
I remember when the word missional was new. It was filled with all the facial hair, slim-fit shirt, Avett Brothers cache that a single word could carry. If churches were not actively seeking how to be “missional” they were missing out on the next great thing. And no church wants to miss out on what’s hot. 
 
It has not been easy nailing down just what missional means. I have heard about as many definitions for it as there are people who have attempted to define it for me. But taking what I have been told and what I have read and cooking it all down I come up with this reduction: To be missional or to live missionally means that Christians live their entire lives (family, vocation, church, money, friendships, recreation) for the advance of the gospel beginning in the community in which they live.
 
If that’s what missional means then count me in. That is a bandwagon I’ll gladly hop aboard. Of course it sounds a whole lot like ordinary biblical Christianity but I digress. My dilemma is that (it seems to me at least) the word is often used to justify a pattern of ministry that reduces matters of biblical truth to the level of mere opinion. Vagueness or even silence about certain culturally privileged sins is justified as missional.  
 
The chief example of this in our particular moment is that of homosexuality (and along with it human ontology, original sin, and marriage). Many of us on the more conservative side of things are wondering if our more progressive counterparts truly believe what God has declared about homosexuality and human identity and marriage. And it is not because we are simply daydreaming about what they may believe. It is because of their own public statements which seem at least to suggest that Scripture is vague about gender, marriage, and sexual ethics. And given the number of once confessional pastors/churches who have joined their hearts to the spirit of the age it is a question worth asking. 
 
There is a scene in one of the early seasons of The Office (when it was still funny) where the hapless Michael Scott is explaining why he does not like to tell anyone what they don’t want to hear. Looking into the camera fully expecting his audience to understand he says, “If you were a doctor you wouldn’t tell someone he had cancer.”
 
A lot of the explanations I hear from pastors in confessional churches who are either silent or vague about issues like homosexuality and the abortion holocaust justify their approach by saying things like: 
“We’re not going to get political.” 
“We want people to know that our doors are open to all.”
“There are many LGBTQ people in our community and we want to reach them.”
 
In the end it sounds a lot like Michael Scott’s hypothetical doctor.
 
To be clear, I agree that churches must be careful about wading into political issues. A church should not allow itself to become a subsidiary of any political party or politician. Of course homosexuality and abortion are biblical, moral, and justice issues so to remain silent is simply irresponsible.
 
I also agree that a church’s doors ought to be wide open to sinners. If we close our doors to sinners then we all better stay home. I happily serve as pastor of a church that includes among its members former homosexuals and those who struggle faithfully against same-sex attraction. We have former adulterers, former gamblers, former self-righteous religionists, former racists, former drunkards, former gluttons, etc. You name a sin and you’ll probably find a former practitioner in our church. Every week I get to stand and preach before this gloriously redeemed collection of “formers.” 
 
I never want to tell sinners the truth about their sin. I like being liked. I hate it when someone gets mad at me. From time-to-time on certain Fridays I will edit out some lines from a sermon for fear of offending. So I am grateful for those times when by God’s grace I add those words back on Sunday morning. Pastors, doesn’t faithfulness to our calling require honesty, even about what the Bible calls sin? 
 
Let’s do a thought experiment. 
 
Suppose I was pastor of a church in South Carolina. And let’s suppose that during this hubbub with the confederate flag I decided to write something to my congregation on the church’s blog concerning racism. And suppose it went like this:
These are momentous days in South Carolina. With all the controversy swirling around the confederate flag and in light of the tragic deaths in Charleston many are no doubt wondering if we as a church have a position on racism. Well, as you know we love people at this church. Jesus loves everyone no strings attached. And he desires that we be united in the gospel. That means we should not divide over lesser issues. We major on the majors and minor on the minors. So we can afford to disagree on racism. And we certainly don’t want political issues to divide us.
 
In our church we have a variety of opinions on racism. Some say it is clearly a sin. They read certain passages of the Bible and interpret them to mean that any sort of racial prejudice is wrong. And they have good reasons for interpreting the Bible that way. Others however understand the Bible to say the opposite. They even cite studies that indicate that division among the races can lead to healthy self-esteem and more tightly knit communities. Others are still trying to make up their mind and wonder why some people make such a big deal about it.
 
Whatever your opinion on this issue we want you to know that you are always welcome in this church. Jesus and the gospel are far more important than whether or not we agree on politics. So let’s be known for what we’re for, not for what we’re against.  
 
The Apostle Paul wrote to churches which existed in pagan cities filled with all manner of sexual license, greed, idolatry, and injustice. And yet his letters are crystal clear about the sins that abounded in those cities; sins which many of the members of those churches had once practiced. Was Paul being an insensitive pastor to condemn those sins so clearly? By writing that homosexuals and drunkards were going to Hell, was Paul risking his opportunity to reach them? 
 
I pastor a wonderful congregation in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. While Virginia is not the Deep South like Mississippi or Alabama it is nevertheless blessedly south of the Mason Dixon Line. Suppose for a moment a significant percentage of my community proudly unfurled confederate flags in their front yards every morning. Suppose that many in my community lamented desegregation and longed for separate water fountains. What does missional mean in that case? What should it look like to reach out to such folk? What should they hear from the pulpit of the church I serve? 
 
Is it missional to be silent or vague about the sin of racial bigotry? Could I justify my silence by saying something like, “We want to be like Jesus so we do not condemn anyone”? Would I need to add to our lexicon terms like “same-race attracted” in order to not use an insensitive clobber term like “racist”? 
 
What would my progressive pastor friends think about my competence if an unrepentant racist could attend my church for two years and never once be called to abandon his bigotry? What would be the verdict on my ministry if the only indictment I leveled against racism is that it may not be optimal for human flourishing? 
 
There is a whole complex of activities I may have to employ in order to reach such sinners as these. But one thing I think we all agree upon is that I must not welcome them to remain unchanged. I must not in any way suggest that Jesus is agnostic about their sin or that they can claim Christ as Lord and remain racist while maintaining membership in our church. I must call their racism what it is. To do less would be to fail as a pastor.
 
What is your community’s most popular sin? Is it racism or greed? Is it the idolatry of education or leisure? Perhaps there are members of your community who make a lot of money in pornography or abortion. Or maybe the rainbow banners of homosexuality decorate the neighborhoods around your church. 
 
If being missional means not addressing clearly a city’s most beloved sins then count me out.
 
Posted on Monday, July 13, 2015 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
I don’t like controversy even though I write things which, judging by my inbox, get me into a little hot water now and again. We are a soft generation so I understand how any willingness to confront error or rebuke one who spreads it seems to be mean-spirited, Pharisaical, or lacking in compassion. But it seems to me that the church’s new standards for compassion are shaped more by our culture than what is actually modelled in Scripture. 
 
Please understand that I believe God’s people ought to abound in compassion. We have been shown breathtaking compassion by our Lord most especially by his dying for our sins. Daily we are recipients of God’s compassion. So compassion ought to characterize our lives. Like God, we ought to be slow to anger and abounding in love. This should be so not just in the case of those who are kind to us but to those who have mistreated us. In fact, we owe compassion to our neighbors (all of them). As recipients of the greatest act of compassion in the history of the universe we are obliged to be overflowing in compassion to others.
 
But God is not merely compassionate. He is also holy and just and jealous. In our own lives compassion must not go un-complemented by biblical clarity, jealousy for God’s glory, zeal for holiness, and love for the peace and purity of the church. This is why we see many exemplary acts in Scripture that would not typically be described as “compassionate” in our day. 
 
• Were the prophets being compassionate when they railed against the unfaithful shepherds of Israel?
• Was John the Baptist being compassionate when he called a group of sinners “vipers”?
• Was it compassionate for Jesus to publically rebuke the teachers of the law for their biblical ignorance and lack of mercy?
• Was Jesus being compassionate when he made a whip and physically drove swindlers from the temple?
• Was Jesus compassionate when he compared Peter to Satan? 
• Was it compassionate for Peter to preside over the deaths of Ananias and Saphira? 
• Was Paul being compassionate when he publicly named individuals who were troubling the church?
• Was he compassionate for commanding the Corinthian church to kick out a member for sexual sin and “turn him over to Satan”? 
• Was it compassionate for Paul to invite the judaizers in Galatia to emasculate themselves? 
 
I could go on but you get the picture.
 
I am not saying that we ought to recommend self-mutilation for every person guilty of error. But it is clear that compassion for the church and compassion for sinners will at times be expressed in strongly worded rebuke toward those who traffic in error or otherwise harm the people of God and distort the good news. 
 
That means that compassion sometimes requires that we wade into the thick of controversy. Sometimes our presence should offer a soothing word to quiet unnecessary thunder. There are times however when a soothing word is the opposite of what compassion requires. I can think of not a single example in Scripture where those teaching error were dealt with politely. And why? Because of compassion for the flock of God. Compassion for the church will lead to clear rebuke for those who trouble her. Those are the times we discover that men who are “personally orthodox” but unwilling to contend for the truth do more damage than those who are actually peddling the error.
Posted on Monday, July 13, 2015 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
I have never seen a time when discussions and debates about homosexuality and gender identity were more ubiquitous as they are today. And with those discussions have come much confusion, error, and sin. We all know about denominations like the PC(USA), the United Methodists, Disciples of Christ, and Episcopalians who have in one way or another normalized and celebrated homosexuality. And while denominations like the PCA and SBC continue to remain faithful to the Bible’s teaching about human sexual ethics there are nevertheless some confusing messages coming from otherwise faithful churches. 
 
Some evangelical churches seem to have blindly accepted worldly categories for human personhood. Specifically, an increasing number of evangelicals (Baptist and Presbyterian) have taken up the world’s categories of “gay,” “LGBTQ community,” “sexual orientation,” etc. But these terms are deeply misguided and carry with them a fundamentally unbiblical understanding of human ontology and original sin. 
 
I was greeted this morning by this little gem from a PCA church in Portland which illustrates the confusion to which I am referring. Notice how the writer simply accepts the world’s categories of human identity which are a simulatneous rejection of the Biblical categories. He then sweeps such issues as the nature of marriage, human identity, and sexual ethics away as relatively small things upon which we can all agree to disagree. He relativizes the Bible’s clear teaching while making ultimate the blithe sentimentalities of, “some of us feel…”
 
In her new (and excellent!) book Openness Unhindered Rosaria Champagne Butterfield writes:
Ideas shape worldview and worldview shapes culture. Freud was a product of German Romanticism. The Romantic period is typified by an uncontested embrace of personal experience, not merely as self-expression or self-representation, but also as epistemology and personal identity (who I am, ontologically)…
 
Romanticism claimed that you know truth through the lens of your personal experience, and that no overriding or objective opposition can challenge the primal wisdom of someone’s subjective frame of intelligibility. In Romanticism, this knowing and being known is identity-rooted and identity-expressive. Romanticism went beyond a solipsistic me-centered understanding of selfhood. Solipsism is the belief that only one’s own mind and its properties are sure to exist. Romanticism took this one step further to declare personal feelings and experiences the most reliable measure and means of discerning truth. 
 
Both a theological and philosophical issue is at stake here. The theological issue is the development of a category of personhood that rejects Original Sin…The philosophical issue is epistemology and the role of personal experience…
 
The nineteenth-century category of sexual orientation reflects Romanticism’s claim on epistemology, redefining men and women from people who are made in God’s image with souls that will last forever to people whose sexual drives and gender identification define them and liberate them and set them apart…Thus, ‘sexual orientation’ is what we call a neologism, and it creates fictional identities that rob people of their true one: male and female image bearers. Sexual orientation is a word that extends the definition of sexuality beyond its biblical confines. Biblically speaking, sexuality is always teleological – that is, sexual desire implies a desired object and sexual practice implies a necessary outcome…
 
If we privilege secular categories of personhood over and against God’s, we are doubting the Bible’s ability to understand humanity, and we are denying to ourselves our Maker’s instruction. Freud did not invent or discover or name something true about humanity that the writers of the Bible missed. Categories we use to represent image bearers of a holy God matter. Words, like kitchen washrags, carry and distribute history (and bacteria) with each use, and the category-invention of sexual orientation brings much bacteria with it.
 
Posted on Friday, July 10, 2015 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
Pastors, like all Christians, struggle with sin. And, like all Christians, pastors need grace. But when a pastor falls to those sins which disqualify him from this role of spiritual overseer he also needs the correction and accountability of the church. He needs clear speech and direction not sentimental sweets. 
 
In recent months several high profile pastors from various denominations have acknowledged committing adultery. I had not planned on commenting on this. In fact after one such public fall I thought to myself, “Don’t touch it with a ten foot pole!” However, the problem with remaining silent is that many of the responses to these public failures have been sadly misguided and potentially dangerous. Also, some of the confessions from these pastors have been, quite frankly, wholly inadequate and even deceiving. 
 
Adultery is the grossest violation of the marital bond. In fact the violation of adultery is so great that God, who hates divorce, nevertheless allows it in cases of adultery. Adultery fouls relationships and brings ruin to entire families. When a pastor commits adultery the consequences are exponentially more damaging. Whether he thinks it is fair or not, a pastor’s sexual sin opens the door for the mockery of the gospel. The adulterous pastor does untold damage to the public witness of the church and invoking God’s sovereignty and grace cannot soften or in any way excuse that fact. 
 
In at least some Presbyterian denominations, pastors make public vows not only to uphold the doctrine of their church’s confession but to live exemplary lives. When those vows are flagrantly violated there must be proper acknowledgment of the sin and clear evidence of repentance. Otherwise, grace is mocked and sin is trivialized. 
 
As I considered these heart-breaking situations and one particular public statement from a recently fallen pastor I jotted down a few thoughts… 
 
1. Sin is grievous primarily because it is an offense against God.
Evangelicals have become so steeped in therapeutic language and categories that they seem scarcely able to see sin as anything other than a private issue of personal flourishing. In other words, contemporary evangelicals seem to no longer understand sin as an offense against God and an insult to the grace of Christ. Even in reformed-ish circles we have been told that we have “Three Free Sins.” 
 
King David was a great sinner but he was and remains the quintessential model of proper repentance. Psalm 51 is his prayer of repentance after the prophet Nathan confronted him for his adultery and murder-by-proxy. Incidentally, Nathan did not rush to David to say, “You sinned but don’t feel bad because, you know, grace!” 
 
When a well-known and beloved pastor falls to sexual sin it is considered bad form to actually grieve for what his sin has done to the reputation of Jesus and the witness of the church. Any public statements must be limited to expressions of cheap grace for the offending pastor whether he has repented or not. 
 
When David repented he gave expression to that most heinous aspect of his sin.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.  (Ps 51:4)
 
We may want to quibble with David over the fact that his actions were indeed against others as well. However, the point of David’s confession is that sin is first and foremost God-ward. That is, while sin almost always has deleterious effects on other people, it is more than anything else a mutiny against God. 
 
2. The world is a spiritual battlefield.
“…Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). Those words to Cain ought to ring in the ears of every believer and especially those who are pastors. Our enemy who is likened to a thief, a liar, a murderer, an angel of light, a deceiver, a menacing lion, and much more takes no holidays. He is fighting with all the spitting anger of a defeated tyrant. Let us not be surprised by the ferocity of the battle or the cunning of Satan. 
 
Pastors should not only be unsurprised by the heat of the battle but they should expect it. Their position will not insulate them from the arrows of the enemy. Indeed the fact that their reputation impacts the reputation of Christ ought to cause them no small amount of trembling. Pastors are walking targets in a spiritual war. 
 
Do not listen to those who, while holding forth the beauty of justification, say nothing of sanctification. Do not listen to those who sneer at calls to holiness as though such pleas are by very nature legalistic. I think we may reliably conclude that making too much of holiness is not the chief problem within evangelical churches. 
 
3. We are not as strong as we think we are.
None of us have arrived. All believers, no matter how mature, will continue to battle indwelling sin until that glorious day when we see Jesus. But until that day no Christian is untouchable. Sin will still entice and promise what it cannot deliver. We ought to have very modest opinions of our strength against such temptations. When a pastor falls let us not for one moment flatter ourselves with the notion that we are beyond such sin.  
 
4. My heart is deceitful. 
When a pastor falls there is something in my heart that wants to say, “I’ll never do that!” And depending on who it is that bites the dust I hear a voice in me that says, “I knew that guy was a creep!” Of course, that voice in me is me. It is a reminder that I must daily put to death the temptation to think too highly of myself. 
 
5. Call sin what it is.
When it comes to naming sin we are masters of euphemism. We want to soften sin’s reality by calling it something other than what it is. But none of our careful parsing can ignore the fact that sin is so wicked it required the shedding of blood. Sin is so evil that in order for sinners like us to be forgiven Jesus had to be our dying substitute to bear the just wrath of God on our behalf. We show disdain for that breathtakingly beautiful sacrifice when we euphemize sin with such words as imperfection, mistake, or inappropriate relationship. 
 
6. Don’t rationalize your sin. 
“My wife is a mess so I sought comfort in the arms of another” is not repentance. Again, we learn from David’s confession of sin – “my sin,” “my iniquity,” “I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight,” etc. There is never a good reason for a pastor to commit adultery. There is never a mitigating factor that somehow makes adultery a reasonable or understandable act.
 
7. Yes, doctrine does matter.
Pastors all along the theological spectrum fall to sexual sin. Liberals and conservatives, Baptists and Presbyterians, Charismatics and Catholics have tarnished the name of Christ by their sexual sin. So, no single doctrinal system or error can be blamed for the problem of adultery among pastors. Nevertheless a robust doctrine of sanctification is vital for spiritual health. A theological system which largely ignores the imperatives in Scripture and leaves little room for a deliberate pursuit of holiness deprives men of one of the very means God uses to conform them to Christ. Three Free Sins theology does not and cannot promote holiness among God’s people. 
 
8. Romans 6 still stands.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (vv. 1-2).
 
Yes we are forgiven in Christ. Yes we are justified wholly by the living, dying, and rising of Jesus. No, there is nothing we can do to lose our justification. We must preach these truths. We must live in these truths. But these blessed realities must never be used as a license to sin or to minimize the need for repentance when we do sin. 
 
The same man who wrote Romans 8 also wrote Romans 6. The same Jesus who canceled the curse of sin has also broken the power of sin. Sin is no longer our commander-in-chief. In Christ we are no longer totally depraved. Our brokenness is, by the power of Christ, being mended.
 
9. Presbyterian pastors ought to be Presbyterian in practice. 
Sessions and Presbyteries exist for a number of reasons, one of which is to provide fellowship, encouragement, and accountability for pastors. When a Presbyterian pastor does not faithfully engage (either because he is too famous or too “busy”) in the structure provided by Presbyterian government then he is removing from his life one of the means the Lord has provided for his spiritual and emotional health. 
 
10. Celebrity Christianity is dangerous. 
Celebrity culture has invaded the “reformed” community of churches just as surely as it did broader evangelicalism. This has been disastrous. It is a dangerous thing for a pastor to have fans. Friends? Yes! Encouragers? Yes! But fans are dangerous because fans are after something. Fans are after the sheen of their hero’s fame. Fans will never say the hard thing or ask the inconvenient question. 
 
Incidentally, Presbyterianism properly applied makes celebrity status rather difficult for a pastor to achieve. This is so because, in theory, a Presbyterian church surrounds the pastor with men who care for him, in part, by setting healthy boundaries, reminding him of his limitations, and holding him accountable to his calling. His brothers on the session and in the Presbytery are his friends, not his fans. 
 
* Fallen pastor, keep a low profile. In the name of all that is decent, get off social media. We do not need your triumphal tweets about the great things you are learning about grace since violating your most sacred vows. You are no longer a brand. You should never have been a brand in the first place. You have given mockers a greater reason to profane the name of Jesus. You have heaped scorn upon the church. Quit acting as though you still have a legitimate platform from which to teach. You can demonstrate the genuineness of your repentance by quietly placing yourself under the authority of a church where you can humbly learn in anonymity. 
 
11. Not all sins are equal.
While it is true that all sins are equally damning, not all sins do equal damage in this life. We know this both from Scripture and experience. For instance, there are certain virtues that must characterize the lives of overseers (1 Tim 3; Titus 1) precisely because there are certain moral demands placed upon those who exercise oversight in the household of God. Gloriously, a pastor who commits adultery, if he repents, can and should be restored to fellowship within the church. Indeed, to refuse restoration to a repentant sinner is itself a grievous sin. But fellowship and service within the church are quite different from having the responsibility of spiritual oversight. Restore the repentant adulterer to fellowship by all means. But he has disqualified himself from being a pastor. Jesus has removed the curse of sin. But so long as we are south of heaven we still must bear many of the temporal consequences of sin.
 
Adultery is a moral disaster. It brings ruin to reputations. It is in the words of John Armstrong, “the stain that stays.” The pastor who falls to adultery has disqualified himself by virtue of the fact that he is no longer of good repute. That there are many who believe adultery does not disqualify a man from the office of pastor (or elder) reflects more on their discernment than on the real nature of adultery.  
 
* On this week’s Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit, we discuss the importance of godliness in the lives of pastors. 
 
Posted on Friday, June 19, 2015 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
So much can and should be said in response to the horrific murders that occurred in Charleston, SC at Emanuel AME Church. But one thing is for certain, the actions of the murderer cannot be adequately described in anything less that theological language. What the murderer did was evil. Yes, it was sick and criminal and revolting. But above all it was evil. It was sin. It was an affront to a holy and good God. It was an evil act committed against men and women who were gathered to pray. And adding to the wickedness of the killer's actions is the fact that these brothers and sisters in Christ welcomed him into their midst and by his own admission showed him kindness.
 
One is tempted to apply the word “incomprehensible” to the event. But we must recognize that the murder of those nine souls is not altogether incomprehensible. Indeed it is all too comprehensible. Man has been murdering man since he has lived east of Eden. As Jesus taught us, murder is in our hearts. It is the sinful engine of our anger. There may well be a complex of issues that motivated the murderer in Charleston. Certainly racist hate was a glaring factor. There may also be links to psychotropic drugs, alienation, and a steady diet of violent images. But above all what drove the murderer’s evil acts was his willful dismissal that he was accountable to God. On the evening of June 17 in a prayer meeting in Charleston, SC he declared himself to be his own sovereign; his own god. 
 
The sin and evil which drove the Charleston murderer was a species of that evil which drove the first man and woman to shake their fists in the face of their Maker (Genesis 3). 
 
God’s answer to that evil so long ago is still the answer to man’s evil today: Jesus Christ and him crucified. And it is here where we continue to need theological language and categories. Our brothers and sisters in Charleston have been pouring out their lament in prayer and song just as God’s people have done for thousands of years. Their sorrow is the sorrow of those who long for “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). 
 
There have also been extraordinary acts of mercy in response to Wednesday's evil. For example, the son and daughter of Sharonda Singleton have already breathed out forgiveness to the man who murdered their mother. Remarkable. Mere sentiment cannot explain such beauty. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ is able to provide these sorts of glimpses into the age to come. 
 
The following are the names of those whose lives were taken as they prayed on Wednesday June 17, 2015:
Sharonda Singleton
Pastor Clementa Pinckney 
Cynthia Hurd
Tywanza Sanders
Myra Thompson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Daniel L. Simmons
Depayne Middleton-Doctor
Susie Jackson
 
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
(Revelation 21:1-4)
 
Posted on Monday, June 15, 2015 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
I recently read a publically posted message from a fellow PCA pastor wherein he graciously welcomes all kinds of folks to attend the church he serves as pastor. He invites the young and old, male and female, married and single, white and black. You get the picture. It’s the right message particularly if that welcome is backed up by action. The church must offer a generous welcome to those on the outside as a reflection of the gracious offer God has made to us in Jesus Christ. Hospitality from the church is the fruit of the hospitality God has extended to us through the Lord Jesus. 
But there is a glaring problem with the welcome that was posted. Among the many different categories of people to which this brother pastor extends a welcome are those who are “gay and straight.” And in this I believe he stumbles rather badly.
Don’t misunderstand. I firmly believe we need to welcome, enthusiastically, the unregenerate. The doors of our churches ought to fling open wide for those who do not yet know Jesus; to those who have not yet repented of their sins. And in this welcome we must be ready to receive those who struggle with all manner of sin including homosexuality and drunkenness and greed.
The problem with the publically posted welcome is that there was only one sin mentioned (and it is not identified as a sin) among the different types of people listed. Being white or black, male or female, a walker or driver, young or old are all perfectly ethical designations. “Gay” is listed as just one option like being female or young. It would have helped had he welcomed sinners of all sorts – adulterers, liars, swindlers, drunkards, and the greedy. But they receive no welcome. I hope you can see the problem with this. The pastor would probably be very careful in welcoming adulterers and liars and the greedy without including some sort of qualification. He would probably want to make it clear, however gently, that these sinners would be welcomed and called to a better and holy way of living. Of course this is speculation because all other manner of sinners did not receive a public welcome. 
The pastor commits an error concerning homosexuality that is running rampant in the church. He gives away too much ontological real estate to the culture. He grants the culture’s category of “gay” rather than the biblical category of “homosexual offender.” He also accepts the culture’s category of personal identity – that being “gay” is on par with being old or male or black. But "gay and straight" are not synonyms for biblical language. They are cultuaral categories which stand in direct opposition to biblical revelation concerning personshood and sin. In the Bible there is "natural" and "unnatural" (Romans 1:18ff). There are no "gay" or "straight" persons. Once we abandon the categories God has given us for personhood and sin then we have already lost. 
Of course my fellow pastor may not have intended any of this. I hope he did not. But you can see the problem I trust. His statement is at best confusing at a time when, for the sake of sinners, the church must be exceedingly clear. Students especially, having been nurtured in a system that condemns as intolerant and bigoted God’s standards of personhood and sexual ethics, need clarity from the church. What a tragedy it is that, for many of them, their churches have failed to guide them into God’s truth and in some cases actually added to the error. 
Clarity on the issue of homosexuality is vital. It is a sin that marks the lower rung of man's degradation and self-worship. It is a profoundly damaging sin destroying both body and soul. Our culture has never been so confused and openly rebellious as it is today against God’s clear commands regarding sexual ethics and holiness. And sadly, too many Christians are adding to the confusion rather than bringing biblical light. Ironically, it is called gracious to be unclear to homosexuals about their sin and its consequences. However, clouding the truth that God has made clear is nothing less than spiritual violence.
Perhaps the chief reason why those pastors erring on this issue are not corrected or held accountable is because so many of them are nice fellows. They are kind. They are compassionate. They are well motivated. They are the sorts of men who will rush to meet you in the hospital room when you are sick. They excel in many pastoral graces. But in the current storm over homosexuality they are wrong. And their error is serious. Most heresies are generated by a desire to remove obstacles to belief. Many of the pastors who were on the wrong side of the Presbyterian conflict in the early part of the 20th century were nice men. But that did not change that fact that they were leading their churches into apostasy. 
So churches, let us make a sincere, generous, and broad welcome to our community. Let us say “Welcome!” to those who do not yet believe, to those who do not yet know Jesus or his saving benefits. Let us embrace those who are still trapped in the clutches of sin. Let them hear from us the good news of a Savior who died to redeem sinners. But they must also hear that the Jesus who removes the curse of sin also breaks the power of sin. 
 
On the Monday evening prior to the PCA’s General Assembly there was a gathering called “An Evening of Confessional Concern and Prayer.” I would encourage you to listen to the audio HERE. Listen especially to David Strain’s address on homosexuality. It is clear and compassionate and steeped in truth and pastoral grace. 
 
Posted on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The evangelical world has been not-so-rocked by Tony Campolo’s recent declaration of support for homosexual unions. Specifically he has joined the cacophony of voices calling the church to embrace as members practicing homosexuals; to pronounce as wholesome the sin of homosexuality.

Others have already pointed out that Campolo’s departure from God’s Word is not at all surprising. For years he has been firmly ensconced among the evangelical left. He has campaigned for and aided politicians who champion both the homosexualist and abortion agendas in American public life. And while for some time Campolo has sought to carve out a niche within the left which would allow him to hold, however tenuously, to biblical orthodoxy, his chosen cohort will simply not allow for such conviction. And now we know that Campolo’s orthodox convictions were not nearly so strong as he once claimed.

There are so many troubling and nonsensical elements to Campolo’s statement that I will not try to chase them all down. However, evangelicals should be particularly attuned to the following:

“It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.”

Campolo opens the statement on his blog with an explanation of his grievously flawed “red letter” hermeneutic by which he pits some portions of the Bible against other portions. But it is that which Campolo identifies as his ultimate authority which I want you to take special note. Campolo is calling the church to place its benediction upon that which God has called an abomination. And why? Because he has prayed about it. He has studied it. He has gone through emotional turmoil over it. You see, Tony changed his mind about homosexuality because his praying and study and turmoil led him to accept a position contrary to God’s clear Word.

Effectively, Tony Campolo has placed his subjective feelings and experiences over the settled testimony of God’s Word. The arrogance is quite stunning. And the danger to his own soul is enormous.

As I have already mentioned, Campolo’s announcement is no big shock. It is newsworthy to be sure. But surprising? Not at all. It is however a reminder that for those churches and denominations continuing to submit to God’s Word the number of cheerleaders is shrinking exponentially. The days are over when it required no courage to simply agree with biblical sexual ethics. Pastors must be preparing God's beloved people to receive the world’s malediction for their refusal to bless the sin of homosexuality. For many of them it will mean the loss of a job, educational opportunities, a place on the team, and political representation. Faithfulness is always the harder choice. 

You may listen HERE to audio from a recent series of messages addressing the reasons behind God's prohibition of homosexuality.

 

Posted on Monday, June 01, 2015 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
Like many of you I find myself wondering from time-to-time why it is that Joel Osteen is able to attract such massive crowds to his church and stadium events. And those books! How is it that there are more than a dozen or so people willing to buy his books? 
I think I have the answer.
I have been reading Matthew Crawford’s new book The World Beyond Your Head. It is a fascinating study of the nature of attention, distraction, and Western Civilization. Crawford, who is a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, spends his spare time fabricating parts for custom motorcycles. In his previous book Shop Class as Soul Craft Crawford makes an appeal for competence in manual labor. Now, in The World Beyond Your Head, Crawford appeals for a similar sort of competence in our mental habits.
So what does all this have to do with Joel Osteen? How is it that so many professing Christians (millions of them!) prefer cheap, sentimental, clichés over the robust and nourishing doctrines of God’s Word? Well, for the same reasons we tend to prefer Cheetos to broccoli. 
Crawford writes:
If you were to regularly air-drop Cheetos over the entire territory of a game preserve, you would probably find that all the herbivores preferred them right away to whatever pathetic grubs and roots they had been eating before. A few years later, the lions would have decided that hunting is not only barbaric, but worse, inconvenient. The cheetahs would come around eventually – all that running! – and the savannah would be ruled by three-toed sloths. With orange fur.  (p. 18)
 
Posted on Thursday, May 28, 2015 by Todd Pruitt on 1517
By now you have no doubt heard the troubling news concerning Josh Duggar of the immensely successful television program 19 Kids and Counting. Many others have weighed in already. It is an important story not least of all because it gives the church another opportunity to think about how it should react to sexual abuse. I wanted to wait a few days before making my thoughts any more public than my own living room. 
In no particular order, I do believe it would be helpful for us to consider the following:
1. Sexual abusers are found among Christians, atheists, Muslims and Mormons. They are found among liberals and conservatives. Sexual abuse occurs in traditional households and leftist communes. When a well-known Christian or famous atheist falls to sexual sin or is found to be guilty of sexual abuse there is no room for boasting from any camp. 
2. Sin is birthed in the heart long before it is coveted with the eyes or acted upon with the body. Surrounding Josh Duggar with girls clad only in ankle length denim jumpers could not have kept him, or anyone else, from lust. 
3. The church and Christian families must never tolerate or in any way seek to cover up sexual abuse. Among Christians, sexual sin which does not violate the law can and should be dealt with through the means of church discipline (Matt 18; 1 Cor. 5). Illegal sexual activity, however, is never an in-house matter for the church. Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities. That means Christians are accountable to God to report any sexual abuse to those authorities God has entrusted to administer justice (Rom 13:1-7). A failure to do so is a sin both against God and the victim. 
4. That God can and does bring beauty from ashes should never be used as a covering for the guilt of an offender. That God promises to work all things together for good for those who love and are called by Him must never be used to diminish the horror of sexual abuse and the pain experienced by the abused. It is therefore bad form (a gross understatement) for an abuser or the family of an abuser to publically rejoice in all the “good” that God has brought about through the abuse. 
5. The church must never demand that victims of sexual abuse quickly forgive their abuser. It is worth noting that in the Bible forgiveness is always (always!) predicated upon repentance. The church needs to understand the unique nature of sexual abuse. It is a profoundly heinous sort of crime and the victims must therefore be cared for in a way that reflects the horror of what they have suffered. That means they must be protected from their abuser. For some this may mean never having to be physically present with the abuser again. For others it may mean giving victims considerable distance in time before counseling them to consider forgiveness and this only in response to repentance. It must also be understood that forgiveness, especially in cases of sexual abuse, is not a simple one-time event. For the victim, forgiveness is typically a long and painful process. And while the mercy of Jesus certainly offers both the rationale and the power to forgive, the victims must never be expected to move through this quickly. 
6. Beware of your virtue. I was always more than a little uncomfortable with the way that the Duggars were presented as models of virtue. Who among us can withstand such garish displays of our own decency? I am not suggesting that we abandon any notion of piety or public morality (1 Peter 2:12). Far from it! Rather, I am suggesting that celebrity based upon one’s own morality is a dangerous arrangement. 
7. There are families around the world who suffer the pain of knowing their child has committed sexual crimes. But God is gracious beyond our imagining. Jesus is a Redeemer of people and the damage we do and that which is done to us. I hope Josh Duggar knows this. I hope his parents and siblings know this. But it seems to me that among the various ways of appropriately responding to the sorrow of having a sexual abuser in your family, running for public office, signing a contract for a reality TV show, and presenting one’s family as moral exemplars would not be among them.
8. Our witness does not ultimately rest upon lives without sin and families without failures but upon the power of the gospel of Jesus. While it is certainly true that there ought to be a visible congruence between what we proclaim and how we live, this congruence will be, for as long as we are south of Heaven, incomplete at best.
 
Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 by Todd Pruitt on 1517

The following are some books that I have read in the past few months. Each one is well worth reading.

The Happy Christian by David Murray
Those looking for simplistic sentimentalism should look elsewhere. But for those who would like a robust and hopeful theology for a life that is happy in Christ, The Happy Christian is a terrific read. 
Unashamed Workman edited by Rhett Dodson
I try to always be reading a book on some aspect of pastoral ministry. This new volume on preaching did not disappoint. 
Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves
I’ll read anything by Michael Reeves. In his new book, Reeves offers us a blessedly old and non-innovative call: Look to Christ. This is a book to read and read again. 
Spugeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine
Sorrow is inevitable in this life. For some, the times of sorrow can be crushing and long lasting. This wonderful little book is a sort of guided tour through Charles Spurgeon’s periodic battles with sorrow and depression. Through Spurgeon's experiences the reader is offered biblical guidance on how to be hopeful when the way seems dark. 
But for the Grace of God by Cornelus Venema
An excellent little exposition of the Doctrines of Grace. Appropriate for personal devotional reading, small group discussion, or for introducing someone to a vital dimension of the Reformed faith. 
Christians must understand and be ready to explain the Bible’s witness regarding human sexuality. This new book by Kevin DeYoung is readable, brief, and as helpful as anything I have read on the subject. 
The Quest for the Historical Adam  by William Vandoodewaard
An important new volume on the importance of affirming the biblical narrative of man’s origins. This scholarly yet readable study is a welcome contribution to the current debate over the historical Adam. Along the way, Dr. Vandoodewaard offers excellent guidance on related matters like the authority and reliability of the Bible.