If you are a God-fearing member of the Presbyterian Church of America (also see here) and you are not alarmed, you must not be paying attention. If you believed the PCA was safely within the group of Christian denominations considered “theologically conservative,” you are mistaken. An event happened a couple of weeks ago that is challenging the status of the PCA as a “conservative denomination.” If it is left unresolved, it will open a way to the gradual transformation of PCA from conservative to liberal, just like it happened a century and a half ago with the PCUSA. For the first time in the history of PCA – as far as I am aware – a PCA pastor publicly promotes outright statist and socialist policies. For the first time a PCA pastor takes the side of the socialist bureaucrats against other Christians and calls for government intrusion in areas that are outside of the jurisdiction of the state according to the Bible.
I am talking about the article by Tom Stein, the Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Richmond Indiana, “What do we do with home-schoolers?” Pastor Stein believes something must be “done” with homeschoolers. Why? Because, as he explains in the article, school administrators in Indiana cheat about their schools’ drop-out rates by convincing parents to sign a homeschool form. It is government bureaucrats who cheat, note that. And logically, Pastor Stein looks to the source of the problem: homeschoolers. Government bureaucrats wouldn’t cheat, apparently, if homeschooling wasn’t around. Or, to put it in another way so that fewer people get offended, if homeschoolers were under some “reasonable oversight and regulation.”
Oversight and regulation by whom?
By government bureaucrats.
It is in “the interest of the state,” he says, to “keep an eye on all this.” Of course. Who would doubt the government bureaucrats’ genuine interest in the proper education of kids? Who would think government bureaucrats would worry more about their drop-out stats than about education? They did so marvelously well with the government schools, so why not have them regulate homeschoolers some of whom are “lukewarm, negligent and unqualified,” according to Stein. Obviously, that’s why a mom stays home to homeschool: because she is “lukewarm.”
You don’t see the logic? That’s because there is no logic in Stein’s proposal. Maybe we shouldn’t expect it. As Pastor Stein admits about his teaching skills, “My kids surpassed my home-schooling skills somewhere around first grade.” His education at the seminary apparently didn’t qualify him to teach second grade. But he can preach and teach every Sunday at his church. His congregation is on its way to first grade, if we take Stein’s words for what they are.
But his lack of logic is the least of his problems.
His greater problem is theological and moral. Stein’s article doesn’t just describe a problem. As a matter of fact, if we investigate the statistical data, it may well be that there isn’t a problem at all, or that it is negligible. By its title and the bulk of its content, the article is promoting a policy. And since every policy is based on an agenda, Tom Stein is promoting an agenda. And that agenda has specific outcomes in mind – more control over Christian parents by the state.
Stein’s social theory is based on a principle: Whatever the problem is, call the legislators to fix it. That’s why he ends it with, “Hello, legislators. Anybody … home?” Even when the very state has created the problem, Stein calls for more of the same – more state intervention. He doesn’t think government schools shouldn’t exist in the first place because Biblically the state has no business in education. He thinks the problem is that there isn’t enough government intervention in education. This social theory is called Statism. When developed to its logical conclusion, it is called socialism. When applied in practice, it produces communism. Stein is a smart fellow. He certainly knows the logical conclusions of his own social theory.
But a social theory doesn’t come out of nothing. It is based on a theology: on a view of God, man, law and time. Sometimes the social theory doesn’t openly admit what theology it is based upon – just like Stein doesn’t say where he got his ideas for more government control. But it is easy to reconstruct the underlying theology by looking at the source of law for the social theory, and the source of sanctions. The source of law in a society is that society’s god; and the source of ultimate sanctions is also its god. Stein tells us where to find the standard for what is good and evil: it is the “interests of the state.” He also tells us who must impose the sanctions: the state. He doesn’t tell us where in the Bible he finds the “interests of the state” as a legitimate source of law. And he doesn’t tell us where in the Bible the state is given the prerogative to impose sanctions in the area of education. The Bible is not a factor in his social theory. The state is. Being under the state is not even considered “dependency,” since Tom Stein believes paying money to the state in fact frees us from dependency. As he says:
Yes, this addition to our bureaucracy will cost money, but how does that compare to what we pay for a lifetime of dependency?
The theology of Tom Stein is obvious: The State is god walking on earth. Law comes from the state, and all is done in the name of the “interests of the state.” Therefore the state must do something with the homeschoolers.
This is a blasphemous theology, it is heresy, and PCA must deal with it decisively. By “decisively” I mean the original etymological meaning of “decision”: cut it off from its midst. By his article Tom Stein poses direct challenge against the Law of God and the Biblical position for the proper place of the civil government. He calls for the replacement of the Law of God with the law of the state, and he calls for sanctions imposed by unrighteous bureaucrats upon righteous Christian parents. PCA must find the strength and the resolution to respond by affirming the Law of God and imposing the sanctions of the church upon Tom Stein. He cannot continue to pastor a PCA church, and he cannot continue to represent a conservative denomination with his radical statist views. His radicalism must meet radical rejection in the conservative denomination of the PCA. Anything else would be a betrayal of the very purpose and mission PCA was created for. The PCA cannot afford theologically liberal voices using its pulpits, unless it wants to become just like PCUSA.
Tom Stein must be asked to repent and resign, and if he refuses, he must be excommunicated. If PCA doesn’t find the resolution to discipline Tom Stein, it is opening itself for liberal invasion. When the “interests of the state” become a standard for social policies, every possible kind of government action becomes morally justified. (Ask someone from Eastern Europe.) The “interests of the state” may also include proper preaching in the churches. So why not have some “reasonable regulation and oversight” there? True, it is going to cost us a little more money, but how does that compare to having the wrong sermons preached from the pulpit? What about making sure we spend our money wisely? Isn’t that a legitimate part of the “interests of the state”? Then why not have some “reasonable regulation” there too – submitting forms as to what we are planning on buying for the next year, and get permissions from bureaucrats? There are so many things that the state can declare within its “interests.” If Tom Stein is not placed under discipline, what will stop other radicals in the future recommend even further invasion of our lives by the government?
The PCA must act, and it must act quickly.
The problem is, it probably won’t. And this is not because there are no committed, God-fearing Christians in the denomination – to the contrary, there are plenty of them in it. The problem is, there is no standard by which PCA can discipline Tom Stein. The only available standard is the Law of God and what it says about the proper place and role of civil government. Outside of the Law of God there is no other standard that limits the civil government within its Biblically mandated sphere; there is no other standard that declares certain areas of life immune to government intervention. In short, in order to be able to declare a position, the PCA must become openly theonomic. Without Theonomy, the PCA cannot tell Tom Stein, “You are wrong, you must repent, or your place is not among us.”
But where is that Theonomy in the beliefs of PCA? The Law of God – even though it had such a prominent place in the theology of John Calvin and the Puritans – cannot be found in any of the foundational documents of PCA. It isn’t present in its “Beliefs.” It isn’t in their “Vision.” It isn’t mentioned in the mission and vision statements of its missionaries or mission organizations. There is nothing about it in the PCA’s education and publication resources website. Yes, the Law of God takes a very prominent place in the Westminster Standards, but whatever that prominent place was 400 years ago, it didn’t really register in the modern documents of PCA. So, what standard will PCA use to respond to radicals like Stein?
But the situation is even worse than that.
The PCA’s silence concerning the Law of God is not morally neutral. It doesn’t just mean, “We are neither for nor against it.” If the Bible places the Law of God at the center of God’s covenant with men, such silence is a moral decision against the Law of God. By never mentioning the Law of God as a standard for justice and righteousness, for individual and social action, PCA in practice declares its allegiance to a rival view: The Radical Two Kingdom Theology (R2Kt). According to that theology the Law of God is not applicable to the world outside of the church. There are two kingdoms, and there are two laws. The Law of God applies to the church, and the “natural law” applies to the culture. And since the holy book of that “natural law” has never been found, all we are left with is the law of the state.
And here is the problem concerning Stein: Under the principles of the R2Kt, he is safe. By calling for more government intervention in the lives of righteous Christian families, he is only applying the R2Kt to the civil world. Indeed, if the PCA is silent about the application of the Law of God in the society, it must be because society is a different kingdom with a different law. What other law should apply there? Stein has an answer: The law of the state. Nothing can be done against him. The Bible cannot be used against him, because, remember, it only applies to the “kingdom of the church.” He is only consistent with what most Presbyterians believe anyway. Not only is his article not against the basic PCA beliefs, it is in fact in full conformity with them, and is a logical consequence of them. Who can say Stein is not applying the Two-Kingdom Approach in a right and legitimate way? And what will stop future socialists from using the pulpits of PCA to apply it in even more radical ways?
Therefore Stein’s article places the whole PCA in the valley of decision. There can be no “business as usual” anymore. If the PCA remains silent and doesn’t discipline Stein, it will start on the road to becoming theologically liberal, politically statist organization. Stein is only an early bird of what’s to come. We have seen that before. It happened to PCUSA. (Remember how the PCUSA financed Marxist rebels like Mugabe and the Sandinistas in the 1970s and the 1980s? You think the PCA is immune?) The old Presbyterianism couldn’t find the moral courage to cut off liberalism from its midst. By the time J. Gresham Machen started the fight of his life, it was too late.
But if the PCA decides to act, it needs to radically change its commitment to the Law of God. The current position of silent neutrality towards the Law of God cannot fight radicalism that is committed to use that neutrality for its own purposes. You can’t beat something with nothing. Stein’s article draws a line: Theonomy or Death.
And there is no middle ground anymore.