I contend that the Bible is clear that neither Side A or Side B are acceptable to God and should not be declared acceptable in the PCA. There is one clear and certain biblical note that must sound throughout all PCA churches: that professing believers are to find their identity in Christ.
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is currently embroiled in a debate over self-proclaimed same-sex attracted and celibate homosexuals among PCA pastors, officers and members. This debate was ignited when a PCA congregation in St. Louis, Missouri hosted Revoice 2018. Since then there have been public statements by a PCA pastor affirming the vision and mission of Revoice, with other elders supporting his stance. The issues promoted at Revoice gave rise to significant debates at the 2019 General Assembly, much of which continued afterwards throughout the church.
The PCA General Assembly approved a number of overtures, including a Statement on what the Bible plainly teaches on biblical sexual ethics, commending the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America’s report, “Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation: A Theological and Pastoral Analysis”, as well as creating a committee to study biblical sexual ethics.
What is at stake for the PCA and for those who are members and leaders in the church? Some are saying it is merely a difference of interpretation of which types of sins are acceptable for professing believers to struggle with. Is this issue just one where we agree to disagree? For many in the PCA it is more than merely agreeing to disagree.
It is my contention that nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake in this debate. After all, a PCA pastor stated that he disagreed with the Nashville Statement because, as he claimed, it is not inherently sinful for professing believers to self-identify as a homosexual. I would argue from Scripture and plain reason that this pastor is wrong and unhesitantly affirm that it is inherently sinful for professing believers to adopt a homosexual self-conception, or, for that matter, a self-conception of any sinful disposition or behavior.
All sins are an affront to God and rightly deserve his displeasure and judgment. Homosexual sin is singled out as an abominable act in the Old Testament (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Deut. 23:18). For male homosexuals they could incur the death penalty; for females it meant excommunication. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their sexual debauchery, including homosexuality (Gen. 19).
In the New Testament the condemnation is no less direct (Rom 1:26-27). So clear is the biblical record that no one is arguing that sodomite practices are acceptable in the PCA; what is being argued is that self-identifying as a sodomite is acceptable as long as it is not practiced. This view is referred to as Side B: that professing believers can be same-sex attracted; acknowledge that homosexuality is not God’s design for sexual expression and is a disorder resulting from the Fall; that some can and will marry, while others will choose to be celibate but will continue to identify as “gay-Christians.” Side A defines homosexuality as appropriate for professing Christians to engage in; that homosexual practices in the context of same-sex marriage are honorable; and that the Church should allow homosexual relationships as an acceptable expression within the Christian faith.
I contend that the Bible is clear that neither Side A or Side B are acceptable to God and should not be declared as acceptable in the PCA. There is one clear and certain biblical note that must sound throughout all PCA churches: that professing believers are to find their identity in Christ. Jesus calls us to follow him implicitly when he stated: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). To make a claim of salvation is to claim that our identify is completely in Christ, and that this identity comes through our union with him by faith alone. Jesus’ declaration makes it clear that there is no other way to be his disciple.
The Apostle Paul lists some sinful self-identifiers to the believers in Corinth: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” He concludes this list by confirming that the Corinthian believers had been redeemed from the stranglehold of sin and transformed by Christ’s redemptive power: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:9-11).
What was true for professing believers who lived in pagan Corinth, is just as true for professing believers in of our present pagan culture. Professing believers in Christ no longer live proudly with their former sinful identity; they have been completely changed by virtue of their present union with Christ. They celebrate that they were saved “from” sin, not “in” sin. And they rejoice in the truth that if any person is in Christ, he or she is now a new creation, no longer in bondage to any self-identity associated with their past sin.
The Side B view capitulates to the notion that the sinful disposition of self-identifying as “gay” is the only one that cannot be changed. This notion is contrary to biblical teaching. Consider how Side B errs: It perverts the power of regeneration (that transforms the disposition of the sinner from death to life); the bondage breaking of justification (that breaks the power of reigning sin and brings us into union with Christ); and the renewing grace of sanctification (that enables us to be renewed unto conformity to the likeness of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit). To advocate that professing believers can claim that Jesus can’t make us straight, and that self-identifying as “gay” Christians is the only alternative, by extension could also apply to the former liar, thief, blasphemer, idolater and adulterer. In other words, all believers could make the claim that they are so overwhelmed by their former particular sin that they can’t help but self-identify with it. What an insipid view of saving grace (“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Rom. 6:1-2, KJV).
Professing believers are either regenerated and made new, are in union with Christ and identified with him, or the whole notion of union with Christ is a farce. Thus, it is not possible for professing believers to claim another allegiance or to assert a self-identity that is contrary to the one they have received in Christ. It is a contradiction that is an abomination to God and his plan of redemption. Our union with Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is the one and only identity professing believers need.
The Westminster Larger Catechism Question 75 summarizes the biblical teaching on sanctification clearly and succinctly:
Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.
Dr. R.C. Sproul said on the floor of General Assembly several years ago during the Federal Vision controversy, that what was at stake in dealing with this theological error was nothing less than the Gospel itself. In opposing the false Gospel of the Federal Vision, Sproul pointed to the historic formulation of the doctrine justification and said, “Brothers… this is the Gospel!“ Brothers and sisters , if the PCA affirms that professing believers can continue to self-identify as homosexuals (Side B), claiming that this particular sin is the only unchangeable one for its members and ministers, then we will have lost the Gospel.
I rejoice that the 2019 PCA General Assembly by a super majority vote took strong actions supporting a biblical sexual ethic. At the same time, I am disturbed, along with many of my brothers and sisters in the PCA, that a significant minority opposed these various biblically affirmative statements by expressing their approval of the public statements of a PCA pastor who affirmed his homosexual self-identity in Christianity Today and on the floor of the General Assembly.
Join me in praying for the PCA that it will maintain a faithful witness in conformity with our doctrinal standards. Pray, too, that the Study Committee on Biblical Sexual Ethics will produce a clear, final, unambiguous, unanimous statement on what the Bible says about homosexuality and the importance of all professing believers self-identifying in Christ alone. May we in so doing preserve the peace, purity, and unity of the PCA.
Dr. Paul S. Sagan is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Covenant PCA in Fayetteville, Ark.