As the 88th General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church convenes in the coming days, one of the items on the agenda is Overture 2 from the Presbytery of Ohio. This overture proposes that the Assembly take three principal actions: 1) form a committee of seven to study abuse and report back to the 89th Assembly, possibly with recommendations; 2) authorize the committee to “invite Christians knowledgeable on the topic of abuse to assist the Committee as non-voting consultants;” and 3) fund the committee with a budget of $15,000. In this article, I will seek to highlight some relevant history behind this overture, discuss its grounds, circle back to the actions being proposed, and conclude with some loosely related reflections.
This article provides some important details about last summer’s Assembly which are closely related to Overture 2. Last year a commissioner made the following motion:
“That the General Assembly determine to:
- Resolve more effectively to minister to victims of abuse in the church by retaining the services of G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to conduct an organizational assessment of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and authorize the Stated Clerk to execute the agreement necessary to effect this relationship, with a budget of $50,000.
- Form a special committee of five, to be appointed by the moderator, with a budget of $1000 to:
- Assist G.R.A.C.E. in their work, upon their request.
- Receive and review, in consultation with select members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, G.R.A.C.E.’s reports and recommendations.
- Present G.R.A.C.E.’s reports and recommendations to the 88th General Assembly.
- Propose to the 88th General Assembly such other recommendations related to G.R.A.C.E.’s findings as may serve the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”
After debate, the Assembly ruled a related substitute motion out of order, though sixteen commissioners requested that their positive votes be recorded in the minutes. While last summer’s motion differs significantly from Overture 2, the connection is obvious.
The overture provides four grounds (i.e., rationale) for the proposed committee, all of which I am eager to hear explained during the presentation at the Assembly.
Ground 1 provides what appears to be the overture’s working definition of abuse: “misuse of power of various kinds (commonly termed ‘abuse’).” I briefly discussed the deficiency of this definition here. The overture states that both allegations and instances of abuse “raise complex legal, theological, and pastoral issues we cannot minimize, ignore, or dismiss.” While this is true, notice that the end of this sentence is framed negatively. In other words, we cannot do nothing. However, that begs the question of not only what the church ought to do, but how she ought to do it. This is the critical point. It appears that Ground 3 more positively addresses how the church ought to respond to allegations and instances of sin.
Ground 2 attempts to lay an exegetical and confessional foundation for the overture’s aim. Careful interaction with each passage will relegate this article to the bin of TLDR, so here are two comments. First, I am very interested to hear the explanation for these passages. While some apparently support the thrust of the overture, others are rather puzzling (like Exodus 21:15). Second, it is interesting that among the references to the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC 135, 139, 151), the fifth commandment receives no mention, especially WLC 130.
Ground 3 properly assigns responsibility for dealing righteously with “such sinful behavior” to the elders of Christ’s church, citing the OPC’s Book of Discipline I.3. The antecedent to “such” seems to be “sins of abuse” mentioned in Ground 2. No minister or elder who loves Christ and has sincerely vowed to serve in His Church will ever deny that we must deal with sin, including sins aggravated by abuse. Nevertheless, as I pointed out in a previous article, we must be clear regarding the standard by which elders measure offenses and the purposes for which elders address them. The Book of Discipline rightly states that the standard is the Word of God. The purposes are to honor Christ, purify the church, and reclaim the offenders. We must also remember that our sin is first and foremost an affront to the holy God (Psalm 51:4), and secondly against our neighbors (Matthew 22:34-40). Commissioners to the Assembly need to ensure that we do not make decisions because “the world is watching” (as I have so commonly heard), or while being unduly influenced by secular psychology. We must act in accord with the Word of God and with the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Ground 4 is worth quoting entirely: “Giving careful study to the complexities and consequences of abuse will help us recognize and remedy gaps in our theology and practice in order that we might more effectively minister to victims of abuse with the hope and consolation of the gospel and more readily confront perpetrators of abuse with the need for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.” While this statement sounds humble, it carries the potential of a dangerous and subtle concession. Here is a critical question: what do the authors of this overture mean, not so much by gaps in practice, but by gaps in our theology? Certainly Westminster Confession of Faith I.6 is relevant to this question, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.” This confessional statement rests upon the inspired Word which says, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3). Are the alleged gaps subjective (i.e., deficiencies in elders) or are they objective (i.e., deficiencies in our system of theology itself)? This deserves close scrutiny and careful explanation. That we ought always to strive to be effective, Christlike ministers and elders is not in question. We must minister the balm of Gilead to those who have suffered much at the hands of others (Jeremiah 8:22). The key issue is how the committee—if established—would recommend the OPC do so, especially if it recommends changes to the church’s tertiary standards.
Could this committee honor Jesus Christ, help the OPC, her members, the broader church, and even our world? Or could it be a hindrance? That will depend upon the men who serve on the committee. If approved, it must be populated by men resolutely committed to the sufficiency of the Word of God and the gospel of free grace in Jesus Christ. They must be unwaveringly committed to Reformed doctrine, piety, and ecclesiology. They must not be spastic, reflexive, or therapeutic, but biblical, analytical, and pastoral. They must not seek to subject the OPC to a governmental substructure like what is happening in the SBC.
The other critical element for this committee—if appointed—is who they would invite to be “non-voting consultants.” The qualifier in this overture is that invitees must be “Christians knowledgeable on the topic of abuse.” That strikes me as an exceedingly broad proviso, especially considering last year’s attempt to hire G.R.A.C.E. How will the committee measure the quality of their knowledge? Will it be required that these Christians hold reformed convictions? The kind of people invited will certainly be determined by the convictions of the men elected to the committee.
I do not know whether the Assembly will pass this overture, so with Proverbs 18:13 in mind, here is my preliminary perspective: a committee like this could be helpful only if it can provide biblical, wise, and godly helps for the church. If not, it could very well lead to disaster.
I believe that the greatest need the OPC has right now is not another committee, but rather men in leadership and members in our churches who are committed to true and decided piety. This stands as the chief necessity for the eldership and the Christian life (1 Timothy 3:2, 1 Peter 1:16). John Calvin provided this definition: “By piety, I mean a reverence for God arising from a knowledge of His benefits” (Institutes, I.2.1).
Here are some sober reflections for myself and all my fellow elders, not only in the OPC, but throughout the broader church. Anemic preaching, neglect of shepherding and discipline, a habit of non-evangelism, departure from the prescribed means of grace, prayerlessness, ministerial pride, and other things contribute massively not only to problems in the church, but in the world. Preaching that does not engage the heart creates a “Christianity” that neither honors Christ nor affects the world. A church without ardent love and earnest holiness will soon be without a lampstand (Revelation 2:5). A nation without the light and salt of Christ’s witnesses will soon find itself spiraling into the darkness of His judgment (Matthew 5:13-16). Remember that judgment begins at the household of God (1 Peter 4:7).
Fellow elders, we must be men who can look at the members of our flocks, with sincerity in our eyes and integrity in our hearts, and say, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). We must be able to open our homes in biblical hospitality without fear of being “found out” (1 Timothy 3:2-7). We must shepherd faithfully, gently and tenderly binding up the wounds of the broken (Ezekiel 34:1-4). We must guard both our hearts and the sheep entrusted to us (Acts 20:28). Piety displayed exclusively in public is no piety; that is hypocrisy. Earnestness conjured up during public exhortation is not true zeal; it is merely heat with no true light. Our greatest need is for God to bring true revival of piety into the church through an outpouring of His Spirit and the preaching of His Word. This will change the church—and the world.
 Too long, didn’t read.
 Q. 130. What are the sins of superiors? A. The sins of superiors are, besides the neglect of the duties required of them, an inordinate seeking of themselves, their own glory, ease, profit, or pleasure; commanding things unlawful, or not in the power of inferiors to perform; counseling, encouraging, or favoring them in that which is evil; dissuading, discouraging, or discountenancing them in that which is good; correcting them unduly; careless exposing, or leaving them to wrong, temptation, and danger; provoking them to wrath; or any way dishonoring themselves, or lessening their authority, by an unjust, indiscreet, rigorous, or remiss behavior.
 BD I.3 – Judicial discipline is concerned with the prevention and correction of offenses, an offense being defined as anything in the doctrine or practice of a member of the church which is contrary to the Word of God. The purpose of judicial discipline is to vindicate the honor of Christ, to promote the purity of his church, and to reclaim the offender.
 Francis Schaeffer wrote this caution in 1994 in The Church at the End of the 20th Century, “Beware, therefore, of the movement to give the scientific community the right to rule. They are not neutral in the old concept of scientific objectivity. Objectivity is a myth that will not hold simply because these men have no basis for it. Keep in mind that to these men, morals are only a set of averages. Here, then, is a present form of manipulation which we can expect to get greater as one of the elites takes more power.”
 One concern I have is the broad and uncritical acceptance of intersectionality and standpoint epistemology. Intersectionality refers to the concept that “someone who belongs to more than one oppressed or marginalized group…experiences such oppression or marginalization in a particularly intensified way thanks to the ‘intersection’ of those social forces” (Scott David Allen, Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice, 66). This idea gives rise to standpoint epistemology, which means “one’s social position relative to systemic power confers additional insight or access to knowledge(s) that allows the oppressed to understand both oppression and the society or systems it operates within better than the privileged are able to so” (James Lindsay, New Discourses, emphasis mine). At root, both concepts are postmodern ideologies that undermine biblical objectivity of truth and knowledge.