City Church Pastor Fred Harrell: the man the PCA refused to discipline...

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Inspired by the work he had seen at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Senior Pastor Fred Harrell moved with his wife Terely to San Francisco to start a church that would be in the city and for the city. - The Story of City Church

Pastor Fred Harrell of City Church, San Francisco, just announced his elders have embraced sodomy and will grant sodomites access to membership in the church and full communion at the Lord's Table.

Pastor Fred Harrell planted San Francisco's City Church back in 1997. For our purposes, the thing worth noting is that Harrell's City Church was a church plant of the Presbyterian Church in America inspired by the PCA's flagship congregation, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Thus from the beginning City Church's DNA has been all Tim Keller, from its "in the city, for the city" tagline to the gender-bending sexual indeterminacy that is the heart of Redeemer's schtick.

Almost a decade after its planting, in 2006 City Church petitioned the PCA's Northern California Presbytery for dismissal to a more liberal denomination called the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Harrrell and City Church made it clear they wanted to move to the RCA because they were determined to rebel against the Word of God in the matter of the appointment of women to teach and exercise authority over men in their congregation. Specifically, they said they were determined to ordain women as church officers and the RCA would approve of this rebellion. Carrying it out as Tim Keller had been doing for years back in New York City might create a bit of awkwardness among fellow PCA members and officers. It seemed better for this small congregation across the country from its patron not to force the issue within the PCA, but simply to depart.

Harrell and his session did not have the number of attendees, money, or fame Keller had, so the decision was made to...

find a more hospitable home where rebellion against God's Creation Order could be embraced without Redeemer's doublespeak, mincing, and prancing protected by its status and wealth.

Pastor Harrell and his officers were committed to violating their Book of Church Order and Scripture by ordaining women church officers. This was their reason for asking the PCA to dismiss them to the RCA. It may seem too obvious to have to say it, but the request for dismissal could have been refused. The PCA could have declined to dismiss Pastor Harrell and his session and congregation to the RCA, instead placing them under discipline for their expressed intent to rebel against God. The PCA could have dismissed the congregation to the RCA, but placed Pastor Harrell under discipline for his expressed commitment to lead his flock into rebellion against God. There were a host of options the PCA had in dealing with Pastor Harrell and his leadership of his congregation into rebellion, but the PCA chose none of them.

Instead, the PCA's pastors and elders made nice and granted both Pastor Harrell's and his congregation's requests. And so it was that the PCA's court of jurisdiction, Northern  California Presbytery, gave Harrell and City Church their blessing, dismissing them to the ordination of women officers within the RCA.

It was as if submission to the Westminster Standards and the Word of God concerning the Biblical doctrine of sexuality did not matter to the men of the PCA. "Let them go," they said, "why make a fuss? They want to leave? Let them." Even conservative pastors commended Pastor Harrell and City Church's integrity in leaving, causing us to post an article denying that Pastor Harrell and his City Church officers had anything of the sort. It was not integrity to proclaim one's commitment to lead one's entire congregation into rebellion against God's Order of Creation. It was the destruction of souls, and rather than being lauded it ought to have been disciplined.

In light of what's gone down under Pastor Harrell's leadership of City Church in the eight years since their blessed departure from the PCA, it's instructive to go back and read that post and the comments following. Note particularly the comments of the PCA pastor named Brian Prentiss, pastor of Portlandia's Intown Presbyterian Church. Here are some excerpts:

This post makes me so sad. That one's HONOR is questioned because they change their views on an issue and then VOLUNTARILY report it to Presbytery is outrageous. If Mr. Harrell's change in views is as serious as you suggest, why is your heart not breaking over a sheep who has gone astray?

...I read this post this morning and my heart has been heavy all day. To me, this exhibits the sad state of our denomination: ministers are call[ed] dishonorable because they change their views... I realize that Mr. Harrell is not under your care or in your peer-circle, but if you are willing to condemn him so publicly, I pray you have first gone to this brother privately before you have told it to the church (and anyone else who might be interested).

[I hope my comment] might be used to help us see the gospel more fully - that the charity and love that Jesus has shown us might be shown to our brothers and sisters who see things differently than us.

* * *

Are you seriously equating a man who subscribes to biblical inerrancy, has never wavered from adhering to WCF, who personally and whose church is regularly winning radically-secular people to Christ with the Pharisees and Judaizers?! Do you really think that this analogy fits? [all emphases original]

Pastor Harrell and his City Church were permitted to leave the PCA and the men of Northern California Presbytery refused to discipline him, instead working hard to smooth his departure so it would be as peaceable as possible. Pastor Harrell's fellow PCA pastors out on the West Coast fought a good retreat action for him, declaring before the watching world that Pastor Harrell's actions were honorable and peaceable. Pastor Harrell was Biblically orthodox—an inerrantist, even—and he had demonstrated unbelievable effectiveness at seeking the lost and "winning radically-secular people to Christ."

"Peace, peace." Everything was peace between Pastor Harrell and his fellow PCA pastors as he announced his commitment to lead his congregation into rebellion against God. As Pastor Prentiss put it, what's the big deal? Why should Pastor Harrell be rebuked or disciplined for a "change in [his] views on an issue." Pastor Harrell's change in views is not serious. Pastor Harrell is merely one of our "brothers and sisters who see things differently than us." He "subscribes to biblical inerrancy," Pastor Prentiss assured us; Pastor Harrell "has never wavered from adhering to the Westminster Confession of Faith" and is "regularly winning radically-secular people to Christ."

The belief implicit in such commendations of Pastor Harrell by his PCA pastor friends is that rebellion against God's Order of Creation is no big deal. That one can reject Adam's headship over Eve, ish's headship over ishah, woman's position as the glory of man and man's as the glory of God, the prohibition of woman teaching and exercising authority over man, Sarah calling Abraham "Lord," wives submitting to their husbands "in everything," the Westminster Confession's Scripture Proofs listing a wife or daughter's vow as prohibited by God if refused by her father or husband, and on it goes; all these things being rejected by Gospel ministers is no big deal. To declare one's rebellion against God's Order of Creation is merely one view among many, all of which are entirely within the boundaries of Westminster Confessional Biblical orthodoxy.

City Church transferred from the PCA to the Reformed Church in America, but Harrell and his pastors and elders (now including women) continued their close association with the PCA's Redeemer Church in Manhattan, another PCA church plant which has defined itself by its rebellion against Scripture's doctrine of Creation and God's Creation Order.

So what's happened since and who's responsible?

Pastor Harrell and his women officers just announced they will now accept practicing sodomites as members in good standing of City Church. Of course they don't use such gauche labels. It's the purportedly kinder and gentler vocabulary of "lesbian," "gay," "bisexual," and "transexual" – "LGBT" for short.

Pastor Harrell explains his elders have been asking the question:

What does the gospel require? Who belongs to Christ's body? And how do they belong?

And their answer?

We believe the thrust and focus of the gospel is the breaking down of former boundaries of exclusion and the expanding of the welcome of Jesus to all. 

Pastor Harrell contines,

Our pastoral practice of demanding life-long 'celibacy,' by which we meant that for the rest of your life you would not engage your sexual orientation in any way, was causing obvious harm and has not led to human flourishing...

As we consider the life of Christ, his example of love, his call to embrace the outsider and cast down, and his patience with those earnestly seeking him, what is a Christ-like response?

...the doors of this church are as wide as the arms of the Savior it proclaims.

We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining. For all members, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to expect chastity in singleness until marriage...

For sure, Portlandia's PCA Pastor Prentiss as well as the pastors and elders of Northern California Presbytery would agree that no one should be called a "sodomite" and no copulation should be called "sodomy" and no reference should ever be made to Sodom and Gomorrah or God's terrible judgment of them in the present debate seeking to normalize sodomy and sodomite marriage which is in the city and which the city is for.

Of course Pastor Prentiss and the soldiers of the Cross in Northern California Presbytery would speak of Pastor Harrell's latest rebellion as entirely different than his previous rebellion. They would claim vociferously that there is no connection between gayness and rebellion against God's Order of Creation; that no reasonable person would commit the fundamental error of logic of positing an association between women church officers and men being women and women being men. In bed.

Of course Pastor Prentiss and the soldiers of the Cross in Northern California Presbytery would deny that anyone could expect them to have seen ahead to the day when the consequences of their peaceful dismissal and benediction of blessing on Pastor Harrell would bear the fruit of Pastor Harrell's flock being led to Hell by their pastor.

And yet really, I wonder? Does any hip PCA pastor preening himself over his being in the city, for the city; any PCA pastor whose masculinity reaches its apex with his large plastic eyeglass frames and craft beer quaffing; any PCA pastor with gender-bending props in worship, women in leadership, and Tim Keller glibness; does any single PCA pastor in Northern California Presbytery believe he failed the souls of CIty Church when he voted to dismiss Pastor Harrell and his congregation to women officers in the RCA? Is there even one PCA pastor who sees his failure, his betrayal of souls he had a responsibility to guard and protect?

The cultivated ability of pastors, elders, and mothers in Israel in the PCA to deny the wickedness of rebellion against God's Order of Creation is one of the salient points in the PCA's exceedingly rapid Biblical decline we watch at the beginning of the twenty-first century. When the history of the Biblical church of our time is written, nothing will receive as much attention by orthodox scholars who love God and His Word as the studied indifference and know-nothingness of otherwise orthodox Reformed men concerning the Fatherhood of God writ large over His creation. And this starting with Adam's federal headship, his authority over Eve, and God's naming the race "adam."

Right at the beginning of the Books of (Church) Order of both the larger Presbyterian Church (USA) and its little sister, the Presbyterian Church in America, is this (fourth) Preliminary Principle of Presbyterian polity:

That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness; according to our Saviour's rule, "by their fruits ye shall know them:" And that no opinion can be either more pernicious or absurd, than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man's opinions are. On the contrary, they are persuaded, that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth, or to embrace it.

By their easy dismissal and blessing of Pastor Harrell and his congregation, Northern California Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America brought truth and falsehood on a level. So now they bear responsibility for the souls Pastor Harrell has led, is leading, and will continue to lead to Hell.

Our Lord put it this way:

And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?"  - Luke 12:54-56

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!