It's not every day a pastor of the Presbyterian Church in America is put to death. But now it has happened twice in successive Septembers.
September 3, 2003, Paul Hill, one-time PCA and OPC pastor and graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, was executed by the State of Florida for the killing of abortionist John Britton and bodyguard James Barrett in 1993.
His death passed without comment within the PCA and Reformed Seminary communities. No mention of his execution (or connection to the PCA) was made on the PCA web site. No emails asking prayer for his wife and young children made the rounds of PCA presbyteries. To the best of my knowledge, no PCA church volunteered to hold a memorial service for his grieving family.
A student at Reformed Theological Seminary's Jackson campus told me the day following Hill's execution that he was unaware of a single official (or unofficial) reference to Hill's death on the Reformed campus; the execution of the school's most famous graduate passed like a thief in the night. It was as though he had already ceased to exist for the Reformed community; having repudiated him in life we ignored him in death. He died unlamented, unnoticed, not even remarked upon as a negative example.
September 22, 2004, a PCA pastor disappears leaving behind suicide notes. His body is found September 29. His death--his murder--comes by his own hand. Yet how different our reaction to this death....
On its home page the church he pastored ("...the flagship Presbyterian Church in America congregation" within its region) "praises God for his life and that he is now in God's loving hands." Messages of condolence and words of love flow from throughout the PCA. A large memorial service is planned. A member of the church's staff is quoted in the local paper: "We trust in God and know that he's there with him."
Is it sin to kill man? Is it truly always murder to kill extra-judicially what is created in God's image? If so, then are some extra-judicial killings more sanctified than others? Should we refrain from speaking against extra-judicial killing whenever the murderer is also the murdered? Could it be that fear of man drives our voice in these matters--fear of the consequences of examining the underlying issues in either of these deaths? Why the disparity in our treatment of these two men, both of whom were at one time PCA pastors, both of whom put men to death, both of whom died as a consequence of their own extra-judicial acts of killing?
Praise God that His grace is sufficient to reclaim killers, for the apostle Paul and King David who give us evidence of God's abounding grace to killers. But where is the Church's "NO" to the sin of suicide? If we have said amen to the execution of Paul Hill, should we not be equally careful to note the sin of the second PCA pastor before speaking words of comfort and granting what appears to be absolution of his sin?
Tim forwarded an email from a good friend questioning my post on extra-judicial killing last Friday. I appreciate Skip Gillikin taking the time to question what I wrote (and the gentle spirit of his criticism), and I've asked his permission to place my response here.
Thank you for taking the time to express your concern with what I wrote on our blog.
by David and Tim Bayly on October 9, 2004 - 8:22am
A father of our presbytery has fallen. Pastor Petros Roukas, who served as senior pastor of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church, took his own life leaving behind hundreds of souls who looked to him as their shepherd, his fellow elders of Ohio Valley Presbytery (PCA); and most sadly, his wife and their two children.
Meeting just now in our fall stated meeting, Ohio Valley Presbytery adopted the following memorial. Please note, particularly, the words in the final paragraph concerning the sin of suicide and the hope, even in the face of this sin, that we have in the blood of Jesus Christ. (For those struggling for a biblical understanding of suicide, I commend these two sermons by the early nineteenth century Princeton Seminary professor and presbyterian pastor, Samuel Miller.)
Memorial for Pastor Petros Roukas
Ohio Valley Presbytery
The teaching elders, ruling elders, and churches of Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America are saddened by the death of our friend and brother Petros Roukas on September 22, 2004. We intercede before the throne of grace for God's comfort and strength for his wife Jan and children Nicholas and Elizabeth and for his parents Konstantine and Evangelia Roukas in Greece. We also pray for the congregation of Tates Creek Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky where he was serving at the time of his death as well as the previous congregations he served - Westminster PCA in Muncie, Indiana and Calvary PCA in Bricktown, New Jersey.
Petros was born in Greece in 1953 and received a Bachelors of Religious Education at Reformed Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and a Masters of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He was ordained in 1978 by the Midwest Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. He served faithfully at Calvary PCA from 1978-1984; Westminster PCA from 1984-1999; and Tates Creek PCA from 1999-2004. His pastoral ministry was marked by effective preaching and teaching of the gospel, helpful application of the gospel in pastoral counseling settings, strengthening the shepherding ministry of ruling elders, building community in the congregation, and leading numerous cross--cultural mission teams--especially to Jamaica and Mexico.
Throughout his twenty years in Ohio Valley Presbytery of the PCA (previously part of Great Lakes Presbytery) he served on numerous committees. Especially noteworthy was his long term service on the Shepherding Committee where he helped numerous pastors and congregations look to Christ for both the purity and unity of the church.
While the tragic events surrounding his death at his own hand were certainly related to his long struggle with depression--they were also what Petros himself called "sinful and inexcusable." While Petros' grip on the truths of the gospel he preached and ministered so faithfully grew weak in his final actions, we are confident that God did not lose His grip on Petros. We hold that Paul's words in Romans 8 that "if Christ is for us, who can be against us" and "nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus" apply to God's adopted children--even when they are the very ones who are against themselves. As elders of Ohio Valley Presbytery--may God give us the grace to go to Jesus as we are weary and heavy burdened and may God also give us the grace to not only minister to others but to receive ministry from one another as well.
(Memorial gifts, including financial support for Mrs. Roukas, may be sent to Tates Creek Presbyterian Church at 3900 Rapid Run Drive, Lexington, KY 40515.)
by David and Tim Bayly on October 9, 2004 - 8:03pm
Thinking about a friend's death at his own hand, it has struck me that he was the first to face a question that many, many of my baby-boomer generation will face: shall we age and die by faith?
Shall we submit to the suffering the Lord makes us stewards of, "working out our salvation with fear and trembling (knowing) it is God who is at work (within us), both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12,13)? Or shall we be self-willed, spurning God's tool of suffering and making ourselves masters of our own destiny?
Make no mistake about it--this question will become personal as we suffer the breakdown of our bodies and feel the weight of old age as Solomon here describes it:
by David and Tim Bayly on October 14, 2004 - 10:58am
Following last week's memorial service for PCA pastor Petros Roukas I received a copy of the text of Bryan Chapell's funeral sermon titled, "Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit." The sermon, though well-intentioned, was a gloss on the first beatitude (Matthew 5:3).
Mr. Chapell did speak of Petros's suicide as sin. And though Mr. Chapell rightfully held out biblical hope for Petros's salvation, he spoke clearly of the act of suicide as sinful, an act of Biblical fidelity for which I am grateful.
Yet, poverty of spirit is fundamentally different from depression. Poverty of spirit, in fact, is depression's cure and the answer to the suicide's despair. And though it is understandable that Mr. Chapell would wish to give comfort and hope on such an occasion, his use of this text as the basis of his message was disingenuous.
I suspect Mr. Chapell knows that "poverty of spirit" is not the kind of hopelessness which drives us to despair of God's faithfulness and thus to make violent end of ourselves, and had Mr. Chapell not seen fit to permit the publication of his sermon I would have thought these things privately without commenting on them here.
Unfortunately, Mr. Chapell has chosen not only to permit public dissemination of the text of his sermon, but the editorial staff of By Faith Online, the Presbyterian Church in America's online news site, recently made his sermon the most prominent link on their home page.
It would be fitting to memorialize a martyr who died by faith this way. But this was suicide. This was sin. And in his sermon Mr. Chapell comes perilously close to describing such faithless despair as "blessed" of God. And now this sermon has been published. I wish it had not. I wish By Faith Online had not given it such prominent treatment.
But it must now be said that Mr. Chapell's sermon is misleading, and that despite his looking into the pit by proclaiming suicide a sin in his sermon, he did not look long enough or hard enough, and whatever wounds he healed by preaching thus are likely healed lightly rather than fully. I say this because Scripture is clear: "The just shall live by faith."
In the meantime, what is poverty of spirit? According to Thomas Watson:
by David and Tim Bayly on October 15, 2004 - 11:47am
As another example of ending well, submitting to God's dispensation of decrepitude with a willing and usually cheerful spirit, I would hold up my dear father and mother-in-law, Ken and Margaret Taylor. What joy and love we have received from them through the years! And how faithful they have been to demonstrate bearing up under the sorrows of life (and now the limitations of old age) with submission and faith.
Wheaton College is the alma mater both of my own father and mother and of Mary Lee's parents. Recently Wheaton's alumni magazine asked Dad Taylor to write a short piece for them--he could choose the subject. Here then is the piece he wrote, published this month. May God give all of us this same spirit during the years when the "almond tree blossoms" (Eccles. 12:1-7).
by Kenneth N. Taylor
(from the Autumn 2004 issue of Wheaton College's alumni magazine, Wheaton)
When Wheaton's editor asked me to write a short article, I guess I was feeling grumpy that day and tried to decline. But she is a good sales lady; and as she opened the possibilities ("You can write on anything you want to"), I began to think about the fact that not many people are old enough to write with authority on Old Age. This fact was further driven home when my wife of 64 years, Margaret, had only seven of her classmates plus spouses show up for their 65th class reunion at Alumni Weekend in May. So being one of the "last roses of summer," I surely should be able to share a few helpful thoughts.
The Friday before the presidential election, an as-yet-unidentified woman set herself on fire in front of a Berwyn Heights, Maryland, abortuary. Pouring gasoline over her body, she lit a match and died.
The woman had been a frequent protester outside the abortuary where she died. She left an envelope addressed to presidential candidate John Kerry. Presumably it was a suicide note explaining her political protest, but the police aren't allowing the note's contents to be revealed.
The self-immolation was seen by many people, including a bus filled with schoolchildren.
Imagine this had been a protest against the war in Viet Nam or the segregation of the public school system in Selma, Alabama, or the votes of a number of states banning sodomite marriage last Tuesday. Do you think the national news media would have squelched those stories?
Of course not.
But to report this news the Friday before our nation went to the polls to vote for the next president of the United States would have been so very impolitic, you know. It might further inflame the ignorant red masses living more than one hundred miles from ocean waters or major research universities.
Reporting deaths--any kind of deaths--that happen near an abortuary is never good for those who deny the death of the sweet and gentle babies sucking their thumbs in their mothers' wombs as doctors and nurses insert the knives and vacuum cleaner probes about to tear them to shreds.
And although we don't know, I can't help wonder what drove this poor soul to kill herself. And I wonder whether any evangelical Christian had been outside the killing place protesting, also, in the months prior to her death? Had they sensed her torment and spoken to her about the Lord Jesus Christ Who is, Himself, "the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (1John 2:2)?
Oh, Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
PS: On his blog, my friend David Talcott points us to the response of a University of Maryland student who witnessed the suicide.
by David and Tim Bayly on February 25, 2005 - 5:06am
The solipsistic end of Hunter S. Thompson is detailed here. Forget the verbal bouquets about the stoic writer embracing his destiny. Thompson shot himself in the midst of a quarrel with his wife.
He was a selfish man, funny from a distance, but miserably self-absorbed. He died as he lived. In the midst of a marital "tiff," his wife walked out on him. He asked her not to go. She left anyway. He called her at the gym where she had gone. They talked for ten minutes. She says he didn't say goodbye, instead she heard a click. The phone went dead. Club members saw her shaking. Minutes later Thompson's son called to say his father was dead.
His time of death, according to the medical examiner, was within minutes of the call.
A short time later Thompson's wife and a select group of friends gathered around the kitchen table where he'd shot himself (and still lay) drinking Chivas Regal in his memory.
All this from an article in today's Rocky Mountain News.
The article quotes Thompson's wife:
"It was very loving. It was not a panic, or ugly, or freaky... It was just like Hunter wanted. He was in control here."
Anita Thompson also echoes the comments that have been made by Hunter Thompson's son and daughter-in-law: That her husband's suicide did not come from the bottom of the well, but was a gesture of strength and ultimate control made as his life was at a high-water mark.
If only the Schiavo family had the "strength" of the Thompsons and their friends. What pain the world would be spared.
by David and Tim Bayly on September 12, 2008 - 6:25pm
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:15-20)
(Tim, w/thanks to Stephen) CCM artist Ray Boltz has given an exclusive interview to D.C.'s sodomite newspaper, the Washington Blade, for the purpose of coming out as a "gay" man. But gay he's not.
With close to five million CDs sold, Boltz's signature song is the sentimental favorite, "Thank You." Boltz had twelve number 1 hits on Christian radio stations (including "Watch the Lamb," "I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb," and "The Anchor Holds") which earned him three Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association.
The article in the Blade is truthful in many ways that bring into focus the tragic fact that this former confessor of faith in Jesus Christ has given up the battle. Here are some excerpts, followed by some pastoral comments aimed at helping us to understand and care for those who have given up the fight, or are thinking about it...
(Tim, w/thanks to Taylor) Read this account of the man traded for ten bats, and remember we actually are our brother's keeper. The men who dished out the merciless taunts, chants, and catcalls at Mr. Odom's last appearance in a baseball game were accomplices to murder.
We can spill a lot of words talking about justice and mercy, AIDS orphans, and being missional while not giving a tinker's cuss about the man next to us on the bus, in the carpool, or sitting by himself Sunday morning during Lord's Day worship.
If they checked John Odom's cell phone, would they find a single call from a follower of Jesus Christ during this poor man's last week of life? One of us had a chance with him. One of us knew--I'm sure of it.
by David and Tim Bayly on January 11, 2010 - 7:01am
(Tim) A friend writes: "These are actual quotes from people who have seen Avatar":
QUOTE: After reading though all 50 pages and debating if I should say
anything, I have decided that I will step up. I too have felt...different after watching Avatar. When the last scene
finished it felt like I woke up from a wonderful dream. At first I was
excited and full of energy but then I started to realize that none of
it was real and that I would never be able to visit Pandora or the
Na'vi. I have been feeling rather down every since and not much seems
to make it feel better, I just hope that it will leave in time. I am somewhat relieved to see that I am not the only one. It was
embarrassing for me to feel this way about a movie when no one else
around me felt the same. I constantly think about the movie wherever I
am, and doing so just makes everything seem so gray and sad. As dorky
as this sound there have been times where I just want to cry ><
do you guys also get the thoughts of sucidal? i dont mean to sound
creepy or emo...
(Tim, w/thanks to Kamilla) The Canadian Medical Association Journaljust published a study showing that, among women, "increasing parity is associated with decreasing rates of death from suicide." In other words, the birth of children causes women to be less likely to kill themselves.
Yesterday, Mary Lee and I visited two young mothers--one home with her day-old firstborn, and the other at about twenty weeks in her pregnancy, in the hospital fighting to stop premature contractions. Here's our observation: godly mothers love their children and live for them.
And although I'm a romantic who believes very much in conjugal love; generally speaking, married women who have no children would not take as much inspiration from their husbands.
Next month, CMAJ will be publishing a study documenting higher marital satisfaction among couples with no prior history of adultery.
Under another post, a longtime reader named Jay asks a question that seems worth answering on the main page.
* * *
Answering a question like this by writing rather than in person is very difficult, pastorally. How can I show you I love you and am very concerned that you know the mercy of God for your particular set of temptations, especially in a time and place when any condemnation of sodomy is seen as at least shrill, and likely smug, insensitive, and grounded in self-righteousness, to boot?
Still, I will work to answer you because you say others are unwilling to do so, and because you are a precious soul belonging to the Lord of us all Who bought us each with His Own Blood and has called us to be holy as He is holy. If you want, I can put you in touch with those struggling with your particular set of temptations who are a part of our church here in Bloomington and you may ask them if what I write here is from love or censoriousness? You may ask whether you’d find our church to be loving of all regardless of their particular besetting sin, or loving only of those with more acceptable besetting sins?
So on to the difficult work others have avoided.
You wrote, “I would not consider myself heterosexual at all. Is being straight a requirement?”
Let’s clarify the question. The opposite of straight is gay, so another way of asking the question would be, “My psychological and emotional identity and inclinations are completely homosexual, so can I be give in to them as long as I don’t go all the way?” Or another way of saying it would be, “May I give myself to gayness rather than straightness in everything but physical intercourse, and will this please God?”
Dear brother Brian was a good combination of crusty editor and loving pastor. Combined they're nearly the ideal of Reformed pastoral care. The editor isn't afraid of saying "wrong" and "no," and the pastor says it with (and from) love. Knowing Brian first in Great Lakes and then Ohio Valley presbyteries, his departure for Nashville was our loss.
Back in 1996 I went through some tough times connected with my second call to a troubled church and Brian was a great encouragement. He had equanimity about troubles and the presence of real sin in others and in me. Still, he gave me his affection and I was strengthened towards repentance and faith. Thank you, Lord, for your kind provision through my dear brother Brian.
There were quite painful things surrounding Brian's final years in Muncie. His senior pastor of the most productive years of his ministry, Petros Roukas, had departed for Lexington a few years prior to committing suicide, there...