Confessing Sin One Church Officer at a Time

A call for PCA members to confess their sin of racism by the book — that is, by the Book of Church Order.

I would like for this year’s PCA Assembly to answer all the related overtures [on the sin of racism] by sending them back to the courts from which they originated to be dealt with according to our rules of discipline. Fully a third of our BCO is devoted to how our courts should deal with our members’ sin, and one section in particular, BCO 38-1, spells out how our courts should receive confessions of sin. I do not begrudge anyone’s earnest attempts to deal honestly and graciously with the sins of God’s people. I am calling upon the officers of the PCA to do so in a fashion to which we’ve all agreed.

 

The following from Pastor Jonathan Inman (Presbyterian Church in America) is a call for his communion to confess its sin of racism by the book — that is, by the Book of Church Order. (Pastor Inman originally submitted this to By Faith magazine but the editors decided against its publication.)

GA Commissioners: Please Lead by Example

To my Fellow Commissioners to the 44th General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in America,

Brothers,

Among the various items of business we have before us this summer, several presbyteries have requested the General Assembly confess and repent of sins past and present. Further, we are being asked to encourage our member congregations and presbyteries to do the same in their local communities. I am writing to urge all who support these overtures, and especially those presbyters who plan to be in Mobile in June, to lead others by example in confessing and repenting of your sin as individuals before your courts of original jurisdiction in keeping with the provisions of BCO 38-1.

I agreed with last year’s momentous decision to refer the matter to this year’s Assembly. A year later, it’s not as though the issues giving rise to this initiative have gone away or abated, and the opportunity for folks to think through the issues and consider how best to address them is welcome. But now it is time to act.

By “act” I don’t mean wordsmithing by committee, perfecting language few will read and fewer still will take as pious advice. Nor do I mean huffing and puffing at microphone 6, bewailing our own or others’ failings, or castigating – if only by implication – those who disagree with us. Nor do I mean we should do much more than we did last year – that is, refer the matter – except in a different direction, with more determined purpose, and with a more realistic expectation of effectual results.

I would like for this year’s PCA Assembly to answer all the related overtures by sending them back to the courts from which they originated to be dealt with according to our rules of discipline. Fully a third of our BCO is devoted to how our courts should deal with our members’ sin, and one section in particular, BCO 38-1, spells out how our courts should receive confessions of sin. I do not begrudge anyone’s earnest attempts to deal honestly and graciously with the sins of God’s people. I am calling upon the officers of the PCA to do so in a fashion to which we’ve all agreed.

If you think you have sinned, and not just a little, or in some ordinary fashion, but in an especially heinous sort of way, then 38-1 is totally the way to go. Serious sins, public sins, sins perpetrated by officers of the church – if ever there were occasion for serious, public and official confession and judgment, wouldn’t this be it? And all without the rigmarole of process!

Leaders in the church who believe they have so sinned – whether covenantally or generationally, jointly or severally – should lead by example by formally confessing their sins before their sessions and presbyteries, and asking for judgment to be rendered. Failure to do so suggests a lack of seriousness, either in their estimate of their sin, or their commitment to their ordination engagements.

No need to wait for the Assembly to give you permission; you’ve already agreed to this when you were ordained. There’s plenty of time between now and GA to get the ball rolling. And if you come to Mobile prepared, having discharged your conscience in conformity to the provisions of our constitution, it is reasonable for you to expect that others who share your concerns will have done the same.

Would you like the entire denomination to deal seriously with the substance of the issues presented in these overtures? Then have our elders, teaching and ruling, humble themselves to confess and seek discipline for their acknowledged sin before their brethren to whom they have promised submission. Have their sessions and presbyteries determine what is a full statement of the facts, render judgment, and mete out any censures. Far from superfluous procedures, these basic responsibilities executed by the courts would provide the blueprint for precisely the sort of appropriate responses on the part of the presbyteries and congregations called for by the overtures.

Whether you are for or against this or that sentiment in this or that version of these overtures, the best way forward would be for living men to lead the way, exemplifying how very concerned we are for Christ’s honor and our neighbors’ well-being.

And yet, if you personally vote to support some version of these overtures at this year’s assembly in Mobile, and if I see you next summer in Greensboro and you somehow haven’t yet invoked 38-1 for yourself, I might be willing to meet you at a lunch counter downtown and let you try to explain why you didn’t.

Jonathan D. Inman is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Grace and Peace PCA in Asheville, NC. This article appeared on the Old Life site and is used with permission.