Posted by: reformedmusings | March 23, 2013

Secret hearts and sorry tales in the PCA

Where’s the love we talked about?
Where’s my sunny sky?
Secret hearts and sorry tales
will never help love grow.
– Paradise/The Spell, Uriah Heap

TEs Andy Webb and Kenneth Pierce wrote excellent responses to the discovery of a new secret society in the PCA – the National Partnership. Innocuous sounding name, but the intent behind it? Not so much.

I find it interesting that those who claim to be the “broadly Reformed” keepers of the “original vision” of the PCA wish to start a secret (sorry, confidential) society. As TE Webb so eloquently explained, the conservatives (whatever that might mean in anyone’s mind) have not found it seemly to form a secret (sorry, confidential) society. As one who would probably be labelled a TR, conservative, or whatever, I’ve never been invited to a secret (sorry, confidential) meeting of any kind in the PCA. We don’t operate that way. We don’t see the love for our denomination or its peace and purity in that course.

As a TR by the labelling of some, I take the Scriptures seriously and avoid using wax nose techniques to obtain a reading favorable to our whims or the culture at large. TE Webb covered the latter alternative well. In Galatians 2:11-21 we learn that the apostle Paul had a beef with Peter and the circumcision party who would impose Mosaic regulations on Gentile converts. Rather than form a secret (sorry, confidential) society, Paul openly challenged Peter, and then the group. The model for the church would be in Acts 15 where all those who wished to be were heard equally as individuals and then decided under guidance of the Holy Spirit. All was decided openly and in good order.

Interesting coincidence that at about the same time as the secret (sorry, confidential) announcement of the National Partnership, an article appeared on the PCA’s denominational magazine site about how we should blog. While generally a worthwhile article, the author took a number of conservative blogs with which he obviously disagreed to task. Yet, not a single blog by PCA officers where PCA ad interim committees and their members were trashed, and where those of differing opinions were called demons and equated to Satan, warranted even a passing mention. No Ninth Commandment or Larger Catechism issues worth mentioning there. Really? Is that what it means to be “broadly Reformed?”

Don’t bother looking for those old posts, though – they were deleted when the (unrelated to the 9th Commandment) trials started. So, it seems that only those blogs advocating the preservation of the REAL original vision of the PCA – Loyal to Scripture, Faithful to the Reformed Faith, Obedient to the Great Commission – are worth condemning. And that one-sided post was accepted on our denominational magazine’s website. As Mr. Spock would say, fascinating. I’m not feeling the love.

The stated nature of the National Partnership is to “…to participate in the committee work where most helpful and to speak, even on the floor of the Assembly, when necessary. We expect you to share resources that you find helpful and to prepare for the work of the Assembly months in advance with us. ” With us? The last time I checked, that’s pretty much what political parties do. So, now some are  starting (secret) political parties in the PCA? Really? Where’s that in Scripture or the BCO? Is that what it means to be “broadly Reformed?” I’m just not feeling the love.

Of course, there is precedence for secret hearts and sorry tales in theological circles. The Biblical Horizons secret (sorry, confidential) Yahoo group is still very active amongst Federal Vision adherents to the tune of about 1500 messages a month. It boasts a number of current PCA officers who correspond about the PCA and do theology without accountability to their denomination. We know all this because a series of messages was leaked and posted a few years ago – very interesting reading. Yet, nothing came of that information. I don’t see anyone at our denominational magazine website condemning the divisive disparaging of PCA officers and even parts of the Westminster Standards fomented in secret on the BH Yahoo group. Of course, the subsequent messages are all secret (sorry, confidential) and beyond the reach of denominational accountability, just like the National Partnership. I only read admonishment of brothers who love the PCA with their open discussions under full accountability. I guess that only the liberal or aberrant get a pass.  I’m still not feeling the love.

Which brings me back to the opening quote from an old Uriah Heap song. I have the same questions as the song. Where is the love in dividing the PCA with secret (sorry, confidential) political parties? The condemner of conservative blogs with which he disagreed accused those conservatives of sowing division. At least those he condemned had the courage to work openly. But who actually sows divisiveness, those who openly discuss the issues or those who work in secret (sorry, confidentiality)?

Where’s the love? I’m just not feeling it in the National Partnership. Secret hearts and sorry tales will never help love grow. Not just a line in a song, but truth in a broken world where the Reformers taught that all truth is God’s truth. TE Pierce called secret hearts sin, and so they are. But will we see repentance, or simply more care in the next National Partnership emailing? May I recommend Numbers 32:23 for consideration?

We’re all sinners saved by grace. Perhaps it is time for all of us to repent and rededicate ourselves to glorifying God in all that we think, do, and say. I don’t see how secret (sorry, confidential) denominational political parties fit into that glorifying part. Maybe I missed that part of the BCO.


Responses

  1. Hi Mr. Mattes,

    Thanks for penning your thoughts about my article at byFaith — I appreciate the feedback (directly and indirectly) throughout your post, and I’m grateful that you concluded that mine was a “generally worthwhile article.”

    May I mention a couple of things that might bring clarity to some of the questions you raised above? I think they will fill in some of the gaps, if you will, and help us all to avoid misunderstandings.

    I received an e-mail from Richard Doster, the editor of byFaith, in late January. I’ve written for byFaith before, and Richard and I are friends; he was writing this time to ask me to write a piece about blogging. According to him, Mike Ross had requested such an article at the Cooperative Ministries Committee meeting, particularly expressing interest in something like a set of guidelines. I replied to Richard that I would gladly write such an article, and was honored to be asked.

    And so I set about writing. I cannot say that I did extensive research for it; in fact, apart from looking up some specific details about the Kathy Sierra events, I did essentially no research on the internet (clearly there also was some cursory “research” to be done in Scripture and the WCF/WLC for what I wrote). When it came to citing examples of things that had troubled me, I called on my own personal exposure to such things; I wasn’t trying to focus on certain particular factions in the PCA (“conservative” vs. “liberal/progressive”, etc.) and did not mean to do so. I just thought through things that had happened to people I knew, or in presbyteries I had been involved in, and sadly that provided sufficient material.

    Along those lines: you concluded that I “obviously disagreed” with the blogs that I had in mind. In a cursory review of my own article, I can’t see how sufficient information about my views (generally, or with regard to the particular cases I vaguely mentioned) could be derived. However, for the record I will say this: of the handful (by my count, 5 or maybe 6) specific cases referred to, I agreed with the concerns or positions of the writers/bloggers in about half of them; it was the manner, timing, or both that I take exception to in my article.

    Similarly, you mentioned several blogs and/or blog posts wherein ad interim committee members were dealt with in a manner that would properly find itself under indictment by my article, and complained (is that fair to say?) that these weren’t also called-out, so to speak, in my piece. This is actually because I was unaware of them, or else — I assure you — I would have made a similarly vague reference to them as well. I confess that I simply don’t read a lot of blogs or websites about PCA “stuff” for this very reason: it just discourages me too much about the way my brothers sometimes/often treat one another. So, again, you saw in my article those occurrences that involved me or someone I know, and it was not intended to be exhaustive; merely exemplary.

    Also, you mentioned in your fourth paragraph that the appearance of my article was an interesting coincidence with the revelation of a secret/confidential group that has, apparently, recently emerged — then, throughout the rest of your post, you seem to see the two as linked, perhaps even suggesting a “correlation/causation” relationship. However, the links from your blog post are the first I’ve heard of any National Partnership! As I said above, I was asked in late January by the editor of the magazine to write this article, and he was asked for it during the Cooperative Ministries Committee meeting (hardly a secret gathering). I haven’t been included in any e-mail distribution or other communication, and knew nothing of the National Partnership until I read of them through your blog today. So, while the appearance of my article may seem an interesting coincidence, I assure you that to derive any connection would be to commit a “post hoc ergo propter hoc” false cause fallacy.

    I hope these clarifications serve to dispel any misunderstandings that may be present. If I may conclude with this: I believe I might detect a hint of defensiveness in your post, which I hope is not the case; if so, however, I ask your forgiveness, as I did not intend to set anyone into a defensive posture. While I believed some particular examples were necessary for my byFaith article, I tried very hard to present them ambiguously enough that few would recognize many, if any, of the examples I used. In some cases some recognition is probably unavoidable, but even there I hoped to avoid singling anyone out, or making anyone in particular feel singled out. I hope that isn’t the case with you, but if it is then I sincerely apologize and ask you to forgive me.

    • Hello TE Eubanks,

      Thank you for your comments and for coming here to provide some background. I tried to reply to your article on the ByFaith site, but they apparently rejected my comment. I was writing a post concerning that rejection of dialog by ByFaith when I received your comment here.

      I find it interesting that Mr. Doster asked someone with zero blogging and little Internet experience to write about blogging. While certainly an unmarried elder may conduct marriage counselling from an intellectual standpoint, a married elder brings more to the table in the way of actual experience. I’m sorry that you were put in that position, but it led directly to some of the problems that I highlighted.

      Most distressing is that part of the inexperience showed in your selection of examples. Most, if not all, were easily recognizable by someone like myself that spends a moderate amount of time on the Internet. If I sounded defensive, it was probably because those bloggers that I recognized are all friends of mine and elders who love the PCA. They had also put their negative experiences behind them, at least until your post hit the ByFaith website. Their identities weren’t as vague as you apparently believed. If I could pick them out, many others could as well. As none were liberal/progressive, it seemed a logical conclusion that they were chosen for their views. I accept your statement that you don’t blog and therefore did not realize how obvious some of your examples are. Unfortunately, the damage cannot be undone.

      I’m not a believer in coincidence, so the appearance of your article on blogging with the examples used and the existence of the National Partnership secret society struck me as interesting. That said, just because you didn’t know about the National Partnership doesn’t mean that your article wasn’t intended as part of a broader campaign. We don’t know how long this secret partnership has been in the works. The timing of the two articles actually worked against the secret partnership, since it was never intended to be public. I’m still mulling all this over.

      A few words may be in order on the Kathy Sierra events that took place over five years ago. First, that incident involved graphic sexual assault and death threats by anonymous blog commenters. None of the blog examples which you cited allow anonymous commenters to post and would never, ever allow threats of any kind. You essentially researched a nuclear war when writing about water pistol battles. While some general comments may be appropriate to both, many won’t be. Also, Kathy made peace with the two website owners on whose sites some of the offending comments appeared. Again, your lack of blogging and perhaps broader Internet experience did not serve well in this case.

      I’m genuinely sorry that you were asked to write about a topic with which you had no experience. As I said in my article, I appreciate the general sense of your article and certainly don’t disagree with that general sense. However, though not your fault, I was and am genuinely grieved by the transparency and one-sidedness of the examples used. For me, and from my email today others, felt those examples gave an unintended slant to the piece. After receiving your comment, I see that you in no way intended such a slant. Again, I regret that this happened.

      Thank you again for stopping by to engage in a dialog over this.

      Blessings,
      Bob

  2. Mr. Mattes,

    On the contrary, I have a good bit of experience both with blogs and with writing in general. I’ve written a handful of articles for byFaith, as well as a few for other publications, and have blogged myself for nearly a decade on several different sites. One of the articles I wrote for byFaith was about online “communities” and how/whether they are beneficial to Christians (which is probably why Richard Doster thought of asking me to write the more recent article). And I read a substantial number of blogs on a regular basis, with several hundred RSS feeds in my reader. I’m not unacquainted with blogs or with the writing of them.

    My point about not being as familiar was with particular regard to the more PCA-centric blogs. I recognize yours as one that I was aware of, as well as some of the other blogs and websites that were cited in my article. I am not ignorant of these sites, and occasionally visit them to “check in” on them, so to speak.

    Perhaps it would be clearer to say it this way: of the couple-hundred blogs and websites that are in my feed-reader, only one or two of them are sites that regularly discuss the PCA or denominational issues. Of the dozens of hours that I spend online in a given month, probably an average of 2 or 3 are actually spent reading “PCA news” or discussions directly about PCA-related matters.

    Also, I believe you missed the point of my Kathy Sierra example, as it was not so much the event itself as the response to it that I wanted readers to get the sense of: that no level of guidelines, however benign or common-sensical, would be tolerated in our “no censorship” culture. I wasn’t trying to compare the examples of the PCA bloggings to the Sierra situation, though I think categorizing those as a “water pistol battle” is downplaying the problems I AM trying to address; if fighting for our love for one another, and the expression of it online, is merely a “water pistol battle” then I probably need to re-think my reading of John 14-17.

    Therefore, as I said in my first comment, if my examples gave a slant or apparent bias to the article, it was definitely unintended — which is to say, I want/wanted bloggers and writers on all “sides” (conservative, centrist, progressive, whatever) to feel both chastened where necessary, and also urged generally, toward a more loving approach to blogging. When I preach on any given Sunday, I don’t consider individuals in my congregation, thinking, “he/she really NEEDS to hear this!” Instead, I actively work against such an approach, and trust that God will bring conviction where it is needed. Such is how I sought to approach this article, as well — and clearly I failed (at least in your view) simply in the breadth of examples, which could lead some to assume that they weren’t the intended audience for any particular challenge or corrective. I pray that they are wise enough to apply it to themselves anyway.

    But don’t blame that slant, however unintended, on Richard Doster; it was my fault, and the result of my own failure to look for a broader set of examples. At very least, I should have stated something to the effect of, “to name a few instances that I have personally witnessed, either in my own presbytery or in a situation involving an acquaintance of mine.” Maybe that would have couched the cases I used in a little less polarizing manner.

    At any rate: I reiterate my apology and my plea for forgiveness. I will look for you at General Assembly this summer, with the hopes that I might greet you and shake your hand in brotherhood.

    Regards,
    Ed

    • Hi Ed,

      I apologize for misreading your earlier response. Thank you for elaborating on your Internet experience. I’m a bit dense today (must be the snow), but understand now. I’m truly sorry for missing your point.

      I think that we’ll have to agree to disagree on the Kathy Sierra comparison. I see precious little connection between what happened in that circumstance and the PCA blogs. I agree with your point in general about people’s sense of entitlement and empowerment on the Internet via anonymity, though. The PCA blogs to which you alluded were all very careful to moderate their commenters. Moderation was/is critical. I know that we banned a number of folks who got out of hand and deleted or cleaned up their posts on blogs which I helped moderate. None of the commenters were unknown to the moderators. You didn’t see all that, so perhaps did not know.

      I again appreciate your willingness to dialog on this issue, and still appreciate the general thrust of your original article. I again apologize for misreading your original article’s direction and your initial response to my article. I do not believe that you need to ask for my forgiveness, but I freely give it anyway. I do hope that we can find each other in Greenville this summer and perhaps share a few minutes over beverages of choice.

      God bless,
      Bob

  3. […] (sometimes known as a ‘Beltway Bandit’). Bob served on the PCA’s Committee to Study FV/NPP. This article first appeared on the Reformed Musings blog and is used with the author’s […]

  4. The PCA becomes more Romish by the day.
    Now we have a Presbyterian Skull & Bones Society?!
    More secret meetings, secret oaths, secret handshakes?

  5. I’m surprised that you could cite only one confidential society. BTW, the conservatives, — as you said whatever that means — , once did capitalize on a prior public society (Concerned Presbyterians) and formed Concerned Presbyterians II to the chagrine of the founders of the original CP. Finally, please excuse this officious nit-picker. The words you wanted were “sowing” and “sow.” “Sewing” division is actually the humoerous contrary of to what you were describing.

    • Hi Vaughn,

      CP was in the PCUS, and I never heard of the second one in the PCA. Can’t find it referenced in Google, either. Perhaps I don’t get out enough.

  6. […] confidential) political party started last year in the PCA. I wrote my thoughts on that abomination here, where along with TE Kenneth Pierce I called it sinful. TE Andy Webb’s thoughts can be found […]

  7. […] confidential) political party started last year in the PCA. I wrote my thoughts on that abomination here, where along with TE Kenneth Pierce I called it sinful. TE Andy Webb’s thoughts can be found […]

  8. […] confidential) political party started last year in the PCA. I wrote my thoughts on that abomination here, where along with TE Kenneth Pierce I called it sinful. TE Andy Webb’s thoughts can be found […]

  9. […] Perhaps just as bad, progressive political parties now operate freely but in secret in the PCA, outside of any accountability to the church courts. The National Partnership and Original Vision Network seek to turn the PCA into a “broadly Reformed” denomination without defining “broadly Reformed.” Given their tolerance of intinction, paedocommunion, female deacons, etc., I think that we can guess which way they lean. I sincerely believe that the word “confessional” is used as an byword in their secret emails and meetings. Secret hearts and sorry tales will never help love grow. […]

  10. […] Perhaps just as bad, progressive political parties now operate freely but in secret in the PCA, outside of any accountability to the church courts. The National Partnership and Original Vision Network seek to turn the PCA into a “broadly Reformed” denomination without defining “broadly Reformed.” Given their tolerance of intinction, paedocommunion, female deacons, etc., I think that we can guess which way they lean. I sincerely believe that the word “confessional” is used as a byword in their secret emails and meetings. Secret hearts and sorry tales will never help love grow. […]

  11. […] Perhaps just as bad, progressive political parties now operate freely but in secret in the PCA, outside of any accountability to the church courts. The National Partnership and Original Vision Network seek to turn the PCA into a “broadly Reformed” denomination without defining “broadly Reformed.” Given their tolerance of intinction, paedocommunion, female deacons, etc., I think that we can guess which way they lean. I sincerely believe that the word “confessional” is used as an byword in their secret emails and meetings. Secret hearts and sorry tales will never help love grow. […]


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