The relatively small pond called the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) faced some ripples of controversy at its last General Assembly (GA). Here is one of them: on the second to last day, a minister brought a motion that urged the OPC to hire an organization called G.R.A.C.E. at a cost of $50,000 to assess the denomination with respect to any abuse problems that may exist within it. While the motion eventually failed, I would like to explain and analyze this recommendation by highlighting two different areas of concern: the origins of the motion and the organization included in the motion.
For those unfamiliar with the OPC, it is a denomination founded upon biblical, reformed theology in principle and committed to Presbyterianism in polity (polity refers to how an organization determines to govern itself). Every officer ordained in the OPC publicly affirms this question: “Do you approve of the government, discipline, and worship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?” As it pertains to the Assembly, chapter 15.6 of OPC’s Form of Government says this: “The general assembly shall seek to advance the worship, edification, and witness of the whole church. It shall seek to resolve all doctrinal and disciplinary questions regularly brought before it from the lower assemblies (emphasis mine).” This requires that any business taken up at the GA first passes through several layers of review before coming to the body for consideration. Some may object to these rules of procedure, but they are vital for the long-term work and lasting order of the church. Concerning work, these procedures keep the Assembly focused and guard it from being driven by individuals. With respect to maintaining order, bear in mind that to pursue and maintain order is a clear biblical commandment (1 Cor. 14:40, Col. 2:5, Titus 1:5).
The motion brought was unexpected by the Assembly, but it did not arise out of a vacuum. In other words, it was ‘de novo’ (from the new), but not ‘ex nihilo’ (out of nothing). On April 5, 2021, this public statement appeared online: “This is the truth: it is clearly time for the denomination to hire a professional third-party investigative team, like G.R.A.C.E. Here is a revised letter that I have sent to a number of church officers in the OPC. It is an urgent plea to shepherd the flock by seeking the help we need.” I have no knowledge if the bringer of the motion received this letter. Regardless, some at the GA claimed the motion was germane to the business since we had already dealt with a judicial matter that involved abuse. However, the Assembly concluded its judgment on that issue early Saturday afternoon; this motion did not arrive until Monday evening.
The April 5 statement continued: “…we need outside professional help for some diagnostic matters and care for victims. I know I am asking for something unprecedented. But that is what is needed now. We are way past the scenario of a few bad apples. The system is being used to protect abusers. I am seeing more and more victims ready to move to advocacy now. The OPC doesn’t have two years or even one year to take this through the usual process to GA.” It is difficult not to see a connection between these public statements, the circulated letter to undisclosed officers, and what eventually made it to the floor of the Assembly. As I said, ‘de novo,’ yes, ‘ex nihilo,’ no.
The Organization G.R.A.C.E.
Bottom line up front: G.R.A.C.E. is an organization founded and populated by people who hold theological views fundamentally different than those of the OPC. Before opening our doors and giving Christ’s money to any organization in this fashion, we must ask, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). In this section I will focus on two important people connected with the organization.
The founder of G.R.A.C.E. is an attorney named Boz Tchividjian. Though still on the board of directors, he recently resigned from the organization in order to provide legal counsel for people who have been sexually abused. That goal notwithstanding, it is vital to consider whether he and the organization he founded is congruent with the OPC. Some of Mr. Tchividjian’s public comments betray a deeply flawed theology and Christology. Here he posts this statement by Peter Gomes approvingly, “It still shocks some Christians to realize that Jesus was not a Christian, that he did not know ‘our’ Bible, and that what he preached was substantially at odds with his biblical culture, and with ours as well.” I remind the reader that Jesus, the Incarnate Word (Jn. 1:1, 14), is the One about whom all the Scriptures were written (see Lk. 24:44). Recently, he made this statement, “Presbyteries are wholly unqualified to investigate allegations of clergy sexual abuse. While we’re at it, the Book of Church Order should never be the guide to investigating abuse in the church.” Does the OPC really want to put an organization like G.R.A.C.E. in a position of influence over our church, when its founder supported LGBT disruption of a Christian organization and referred to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a hero? [Update: We can also add the following image to the public actions of Mr. Tchividjian to take into consideration. Romans 14:22, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”]
After the vote at GA, I spoke with several brothers who supported the resolution, and none of them had any idea about the views advocated by the man responsible for G.R.A.C.E. My hope is that most of the positive votes were given out of ignorance.
Another significant associate with G.R.A.C.E. is Dr. Diane Langberg. I do not know Dr. Langberg personally. What I do know of her is that she seeks to assist those who have suffered much. This is unarguably commendable, and insofar as she has done good, I am thankful for her work. Nevertheless, theological views matter.
Consider this statement by Dr. Langberg as she describes the Lord Jesus Christ in a conversation with Julie Roys:
He’s a shepherd. And a shepherd leads his flock. A shepherd goes the right way so that those who follow him will go the right way. And if you think back about Jesus, who, of course, is the good and great Shepherd, He doesn’t rule. He says if you will follow Me, if you will be My disciples, if you will love Me, then this. There’s no coercion. He stands at the door outside and knocks. You have control over the door. It’s a completely different concept. We’ve injected cultural stuff and all kinds of things into it that have nothing to do with what the Scriptures say. And the word, in terms of husbands in the New Testament, is love. Not rule. Love usually means a cross, at least that’s what it meant in its ultimate [emphasis mine].
Her words concerning Christ and His rule—or lack thereof—raise this question: if He does not rule, how can Christ be King? The Scriptures declare that Jesus is “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21). Psalm 110:2 says, “The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!” Luke 1:32-33 prophecies, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Revelation 1:5 declares Jesus as “the ruler over the kings of the earth.” In Matthew 28:18 Jesus declares, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” See also Isaiah 9:6, Daniel 7:13-14, Philippians 2:9-11 (and the rest of the Bible). I am afraid that Dr. Langberg’s words effectively deny the Lordship of Christ (contrary to the OPC’s 4th membership vow). Additionally, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the latter half of her statement articulates classic Pelagianism, something condemned over 1,500 years ago.
Second, consider the ramifications of her statement on ecclesiology. If Jesus does not rule, why do we have ruling elders? Our Form of Government, chapter 10, says, “Christ who has instituted government in his church has furnished some men, beside the ministers of the Word, with gifts for government, and with commission to execute the same when called thereto. Such officers, chosen by the people from among their number, are to join with the ministers in the government of the church, and are properly called ruling elders.” Is it proper that our standards use the word ruling to describe this office? Was Paul in error when he wrote, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17)?
Third, it appears Dr. Langberg also has a deficient view of order and ethics, both in the family and church. In the same conversation cited above, she attributes the rule of the husband over his wife as part of the curse:
I find it fascinating because, you know, we’re okay with anesthesia for surgery if we’re going to have it. We’re okay for things that kill weeds in our lawn. Those, you know, those were part of the curse, right? But ruling over her is treated as if it weren’t part of the curse. (Laughter) So okay, you can rule over her because you’re told to do that. That was a curse actually.
To be clear, she is not saying that sinful rule is part of the curse, but the rule itself. If this is an accurate understanding of Scripture, why does the apostle require both elders (1 Tim. 3:4-5) and deacons (1 Tim. 3:12) to rule over their wives and children well? That husbands and church officers have sinned does not warrant any efforts to deconstruct the system of order in family or church.
I will be writing more in the coming months about these matters. For now, I repeat the question from Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” I urge my brothers in the denomination to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16). Our adversary the devil still prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, seeking to destroy Christ’s Church (1 Pet. 5:8). Do not be ignorant of his devices (2 Cor. 2:11). Guarding the government and order that Christ has established in His Church is no insignificant task. It is something to which all my fellow officers and I have taken solemn vows before God.