Better Together Steering Team Member Christina Brinks Rea has written recently on how she believes the call for a Third Way in the CRC on matters of sexuality is faithful, not sacrificing conviction. There is a lot to appreciate in what Rea writes. Rea talks about a fervent desire to see the CRC hold together. She speaks of a posture that is strongly convicted and yet sympathetic, loving, understanding, optimistic, hopeful, and striving to be faithful. This is an apt descriptor of everyone I am familiar with as we approach Synod 2023. I see lots of people aiming for and practicing these attributes, despite Rea's claim that many of these things are unique to Better Together.
But underneath all of that remain serious questions that don’t get answered by posture, but by choices or actions. I can strive to be all of those things listed by Rea and yet in the end I am still called to make choices in my personal life, when I am called as an elder to shepherd a congregation under my care, and when I meet with broader assemblies such as classis and synod.
In that vein, it is worthwhile, I believe, to dig a bit deeper than the rhetoric of unity and seek to understand how the description in Rea’s article plays out in practical ways.
For pastors and elders who are apt to accept new interpretations of Scripture that normalize homosexuality the path seems fairly straightforward under the Third Way: accept and promote practicing homosexuals in all areas of church life.
For pastors and elders who are convicted by the historically orthodox understand of God’s plan and prohibitions for human sexuality, the path is also fairly clear, but quickly becomes fraught: Continue to limit membership in good standing and church offices in the local church to those who are not practicing homosexuals and do not promote homosexual practice. But now the matter turns challenging.
Rea says: “Some of us are just as adamantly traditional, convinced that the biblical vision for holiness in marriage can only be lived out in the context of a union between one man and one woman. What is unique about us is that we are unwilling to disrespect, ostracize, shun, depose, or excommunicate one another because of our differing convictions.” [emphasis mine]
If a pastor or elder is convinced of the traditional understand of scripture, he will understand that homosexual sex is sinful, just as is consuming pornography or having an adulterous affair. If such a pastor or elder is also unwilling to “depose or excommunicate” we have a situation where we can only conclude that the pastor or elder is perfectly ok with sin being practiced and promoted in the church.
If the neighboring CRC to such a pastor or elder is promoting homosexuality, under this formulation they resolve to do nothing and just accept that some sin will not only always be present in the church but can also be celebrated, promoted, and practiced openly, all to God's glory. They have set their minds to allow sin to be openly promoted and practiced in the church for the sake of getting along, notwithstanding the language Scripture and of Articles 82 and 83 of the Church Order.
Article 82: All officebearers, in addition to being subject to general discipline, are subject to special discipline, which consists of suspension and deposition from office.
Article 83: Special discipline shall be applied to officebearers if they violate the Covenant for Officebearers, are guilty of neglect or abuse of office, or in any way seriously deviate from sound doctrine and godly conduct.
It is hard to comprehend how the inherent incoherence of holding strong convictions about sin while accepting the promotion and practice of that sin in the church is a “faithful” Third Way. Certainly that is not faithful to God. We will search in vain to find passages where God winks at sin or suggests that people should carry on in sin for the sake of getting along. Conversely, passage after passage militate against allowing the leaven of sin and false teaching to remain in the church. That is why we discipline in the church, including deposition and excommunication, when necessary.
Article 78: The purpose of admonition and discipline is to restore those who err to faithful obedience to God and full fellowship with the congregation, to maintain the holiness of the church, and thus to uphold God’s honor.
If pastors and elders who understand homosexual sex to be sinful allow it to proliferate in the church, just what or who are they being faithful to? Not faithful to their own convictions. Not faithful to the Holy Spirit’s work in their heart convicting them of sin. Not faithful to our mutual covenant and Church Order. Not faithful to the words and calls of Scripture. Not faithful to the God whose law is righteous and good. Not faithful to Jesus Christ, who bore the weight of our sin that we might not be slaves to sin any longer.
I can only see faithfulness to an institution, to a culture, to maintaining a comfortable place. Such a faithfulness by itself is not worthwhile pursuing.