Should we call City Church's Fred Harrell "honorable" in his departure from the PCA?
(by Tim) Deep in the comments under my brother David’s post, “Sincere Questions…,” a dear brother made a glancing reference to the departure from the PCA last year of City Church in San Francisco. Pastor Fred Harrell and his session petitioned Northern California Presbytery to allow them to transfer into the Reformed Church of America so they could be free to have women deacons, elders, and pastors. The deed was done and Mr. Harrell and his flock are now happily ensconced in the RCA.
Which all led Pastor Ron Gleason, one of the pastors most concerned and active in opposing feminism’s encroachments in our own denomination, to write: “What Fred Harrell did in San Fran was really honorable. He wanted to ordain women Elders; he understood that within the confines of the PCA that was impossible; therefore, he withdrew his congregation—relatively quietly—and went to the EPC.”
No, not “honorable;” and certainly not “really honorable.” In the Church, we can’t speak of a man’s tactics apart from his cause...
Mr. Harrell has led his flock into error while claiming his error to be God’s truth. He’s calling God’s “yes” “no,” and God’s “no” “yes.”
Scripture explicitly condemns Mr. Harrell’s error, lodging that condemnation in the pre-Fall order of God’s creation. And this error has the gravest consequences for every man and family, every moment of our lives. Sexuality is at the very core of man’s existence and God’s decree concerning it is lodged in the glorious Name and authority of the One to Whom our hearts cry out “Abba, Father.”
So exactly how do we call Mr. Harrell’s denial of the Fatherhood of God write large in creation and the Church, let alone his leading of hundreds of God’s “little ones” off this precipice, “very honorable?”
Well, we have accepted the status quo on this one, haven’t we? It’s not that any of us, let alone Ron Gleason, wants to join Mr. Harrell in his error, but that we no longer believe this doctrine to be central to Scripture, at the heart of sanctification or discipleship, or even useful in Gospel proclamation.
Mr. Harrell is not honorable. He’s a man claiming to be a true shepherd of Christ’s Bride who, there in Corinth, is denying the nature of the Fatherhood of God where that Fatherhood is most hated, and therefore most desperately needed. In fact, there in San Francisco—in The Castro, say?—the proclamation of the Gospel might best start with the Fatherhood of God.
Similarly in Boulder, Madison, Boston, New York, and Bloomington: the Fatherhood of God is arguably the most effective entry point for the Gospel. It’s the place where men with discernment, men who are culturally perceptive and engaged, will lead off their Gospel proclamation. Say, for instance…
Men of San Francisco, I can see that you are a very sensual people with temples to passion and lust on every corner. Your knowledge of sexuality is unlike any city on earth. You have raised sexual identity and fulfillment up to the highest throne. For you, physical intimacy is at the core of the meaning of personhood; it is the ordering principle of human life; it is the god to Whom you sacrifice your lives, but also the lives of your sons and daughters.
Why, doesn’t your own poet say…
Instead, faithless men mince and prance to the piper’s tune, betraying lost souls Jesus came to seek and to save. And in the process, they have the audacity to write, as Mr. Harrell puts it, that “(those opposed to women elders) live in places where their culture largely encourages female subordination (and) their missional context is not shouting at them at all to give good reasons for their continued prohibition of half the redeemed community exercising the gifts that God has given them with equality.”
“Missional context” indeed. It’s quite apparent that Mr. Harrell knows his context well, but is dead in the water, missionally, because in this foundational matter of the archetypal Fatherhood of God he’s abandoned Christ’s mission and sued for peace.
Kierkegaard put it well:
Imagine a fortress, absolutely impregnable, provisioned for an eternity.
There comes a new commandant. He conceives that it might be a good idea to build bridges over the moats—so as to be able to attack the besiegers. Charmant! He transforms the fortress into a countryseat, and naturally the enemy takes it.
So it is with Christianity. They changed the method—and naturally the world conquered.
-Soren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon “Christendom,” (Princeton Univ. Press, 1944), p. 138.
Yes, I understand the point my dear brother Ron was trying to make. But for myself, at least, a fight to the death between Mr. Harrell and San Francisco Presbytery would have been much more honorable—something along the lines of First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Calvin’s response to Cardinal Sadolet, or “Christianity and Liberalism.”
Any man sent to the city with support from our churches or presbyteries should demonstrate that he has a forehead "harder than flint" on this issue. It’s here a man’s faith is tested. It’s here he proves he’s not simply a professor, but a true confessor of Jesus Christ.
Yes, this one again:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point. (Martin Luther, attributed)
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(BTW: Interesting to see that, in the matter of City Church as in so many other matters, non-pastor pundit John Armstrong is rushing to keep up with all the wonderful things his wonderful friends and colleagues are wonderfully doing that men will write about for centuries to come.)