Phil Ryken's errors alive and well four months later...

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(Tim) Back on June 15, I wrote Phil Ryken, pastor of Philadelphia's historic Tenth Presbyterian Church, to point out two significant errors in a sermon he gave at Tenth later published as a commentary on 1Timothy by P&R as a volume in their Reformed Expository Commentary series. Then I followed up our private correspondence with a public post warning the church at large of these errors.

After the post, Phil and I exchanged several private e-mails in which I asked Phil to correct his errors by amending the PDF offered on his church's web site and inserting an errata sheet in any future copies of his commentary shipped by P&R.

It's now four months later.

A week ago at our Ohio Valley Presbytery meeting we received a document justifying woman officers in the PCA. Phil's commentary was cited with errors intact and prominently featured in the document's arguments. One of Tim Keller's Redeemer churches distributed the document as justification for the statement to us by their session that "It remains the conviction of Redeemer's session (Indianapolis) that there is no scriptural basis to differentiate between men and women serving as Deacons under the authority of the Session." (Emphasis in the original. Here's an article giving some of the past history of Ohio Valley Presbytery's work with Redeemer in Indianapolis.)

Seeing these errors continue to be cited by churches not in conformity with our Book of Church Order, I wondered whether the PDF on Tenth's web site had been corrected? On the way home, I pulled up the PDF from Tenth's web site and found...

the errors remained precisely as they'd been from the beginning. (Here's a copy downloaded from Tenth's web site today, October 16, 2008 at 1:45 P.M.)

(NOTE: And here's a copy downloaded from Tenth's web site today, three and a half years later, on March 7, 2012 at 7:41 PM.)

Those who watched the battle over woman deacons at this year's PCA General Assembly know Tenth Presbyterian Church and its presbytery figured prominently in the work to change the PCA's constitution to allow woman deacons. The effort to have a study committee appointed was not approved by the assembly, but the issue isn't going away.

If my years in the mainline PC(USA) taught me anything, it's that those seeking to loosen denominational standards are predictable in the areas they focus their efforts. One need only read the op-ed pages of the New York Times to learn which Biblical doctrines our nation's elite hate most. Then it's child's play to predict the deforms that will be proposed as reforms in local congregations, presbyteries, and general assemblies.

Chief among those hatreds for several decades now has been the Biblical doctrine of sexuality--that Adam was created first, and then Eve; that it wasn't Adam who was deceived, but Eve; and that the Holy Spirit has decreed that these historic facts are given by God to teach us that woman is not to exercise authority over man. "If Christians want to be taken seriously," warn our cultural betters, "they'll have to give up their Neanderthal ways with women."

There are significant pressures, then, bearing down on northern PCA churches, pushing them to compromise. "How can I get city-dwellers to come to my church if I don't tip my hat to the new constitution? Do we really need martyrdom at the breach in the wall, today? No. What we actually need is careful contextualization. Then, you'll see how objections melt away and the masses flow in our church doors. Forget the scandal part of the New Testament. We live in a better day when there's a beautiful openness to the Gospel."

"Properly contextualized, of course. By me."

It can be quite painful to suffer the disdain of the Information Class, particularly if one desires a congregation of Ivy League alumni who are cosmopolitan and will soon make partner. Why allow the Biblical doctrine of sexuality to kill the sale, turning off our audience to larger and greater truths? You know, truths like...

Well, there's always grace, isn't there? Not grace for anything in particular, you understand. Just grace by itself. Or maybe grace for being too narcisistic and not thankful enough. There's lots of time for the other things, but not until we've set the hook.

So the race is on to hide the Fatherhood of God and Adam's federal headship in as many areas as possible while stopping short of the shamelessness of the mainline denominations. Snip around the edges, trim here and there as long as the trimming remains invisible to simple souls who might be scandalized were they to realize the true scope and purpose of the trimming enterprise.

Of course, the trimmers claim noble reasons for amending the Book of Church Order. They tell us they're only trying to restore the historic, Biblical practice of the church. But as I've said before, the movement for woman deacons in the PCA today bears almost no resemblance to the practice of the Early Church or the office of deaconess spoken of by John Calvin or B. B. Warfield.

How does all of this fit into the larger picture of the battle for sexual orthodoxy in Christ's Church today?

Well, as liberals demand sodomite marriage, conservatives demand that women be free to lead and teach men. Is one a worse violation of the plain teaching of Scripture than the other?

No. Both are contrary to the Creation Order and both demonstrate rebellion against God.

Those in the PCA who advocate for woman deacons are at the forefront of a broader deform movement led by churches in which women do everything except serve as ruling elders and preach during Lord's Day morning worship. Across the country, such churches (including those identifying with Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) have an oft-stated guideline that reveals the deformity they practice and promote: "A woman can do anything a non-ordained man can do."

This rule is their ordering principle. So we find churches where women exercise authority over men as small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, seminar leaders, Bible teachers, and theology teachers; women lead the worship liturgy, administer the Lord's Supper--women do everything except serve on the session and preach Sunday morning.

Former members of Church of the Good Shepherd here in Bloomington have (and do) hold membership in these PCA churches. One visited Bloomington, recently, and summarized the culture of her church's Lord's Day worship this way: "Women do everything in morning worship. They give the announcements, read the Scriptures, lead in prayer, serve the Lord's Supper... The only time a man leads is sometimes our songs, and then the sermon."

While I'm guessing historic Tenth Presbyterian Church has not gone this route since I last worshiped there, our friend's description of woman's leadership in her own congregation would be echoed by members of congregations across the country that are working towards woman officers receiving the approval of our General Assembly.

For years, the PCA has maintained her commitment to Scripture, not allowing women to exercise authority over men. On the other hand, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has always been explicit in her willingness to deny God's Word in these matters. Everyone has known that churches wanting women to exercise authority over men as officers (deacons, pastors, and elders) should choose the EPC rather than the PCA. This is the reason almost all the churches departing the PC(USA) in the past couple of years have chosen the EPC. They couldn't conceive of repenting over their unbiblical practice of ordaining woman officers.

It's also the reason many churches (including my former Wisconsin congregation, Grace Presbyterian Church) chose the PCA when we left the PC(USA). We considered the EPC and the CRC, but it quickly became clear neither of these denominations were willing to stand on the Word of God's doctrine of sexuality, so we united with the PCA.

Sadly, almost sixteen years after we left the PC(USA) for the PCA, sexuality is again the hot-button issue as many work to lose their savor and hide their light under a bushel.

Such churches consider themselves to be the leading edge of evangelistic methodology. They aim to present a kinder, gentler face to the world, a contextualized Gospel more user-friendly in an egalitarian cultural ethos. Their pastors argue that they're providing a prophetic witness against hidebound legalists incapable of thinking the sophisticated thoughts contextualization requires.

If Tim Keller is the pope of the PCA north of the Mason Dixon line, Phil Ryken heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called upon to provide conservative credentials for this deform movement. No one's going to win brownie points pointing out the errors of such evangelical megastars. Yet there the errors are, in plain sight and still being cited by the agents of change within the PCA.

So what to do?

One possibility was simply to send another private e-mail to Phil, hoping to accomplish something different by doing the same thing once more. But as I thought about it, it became evident that the failure to correct these errors has now become the more serious issue. Why such resistance to admitting and correcting the errors?

Now, though, these errors have a life of their own as they continue to be circulated across the PCA and the broader reformed world. They've already misled many thousands about one of the most controverted issues faced today within our denomination and there's no reason to think the errors won't continue to be circulated across the English-speaking world for decades to come. Who in their right mind would think to Snope Phil Ryken's quotations of B. B. Warfield to see if they're true?

With the above explanation providing the context for this request, will our readers each do his part to warn against the false quotation of B. B. Warfield in the service of the current movement to get the PCA to approve woman deacons? If you see a Warfield quote, don't trust it. Click here to download a PDF of the original made available on this blog back on June 4, 2008, then compare the quote you read in the secondary source to Warfield's actual words in the primary source. Pay particular attention to Warfield quotations citing Phil Ryken as their source.

But beyond quotations, let us trust the power of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word of God for repentance and faith--particularly the repentance and faith of world-weary sophisticates for whom the proclamation of the plain doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and man may be the first time they've ever been spared the pandering of sycophants.