All posts by Geoff Gleason

Geoff Gleason is pastor of Cliffwood Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. His passion is to see the people of God grow in their faith, and those who are lost become numbered among the faithful. He has been married for 21 years and, usually, is the joyful father of 10 children ranging in age from 21 to 3. He sees it as a great joy to preach and shepherd the people of God and does so by setting before them the full range of the gospel: that we are free from the guilt of our sin, and also free from its dominion.

Walking In Gratitude

As a nation, we celebrated Thanksgiving this past November 25. For many, the significance of this day has turned from an opportunity to praise God to a generic sentimentality about gratitude for family and comfort. However beneficial it is for a nation to have a day of giving thanks, it is meaningless void of an acknowledgement of God. As His people, we should remember to give Him thanks every day. His word calls us to this daily celebration in these ways: 

His covenant promises. The foundation for Christian thankfulness runs throughout the Bible. The record of God’s covenant relationship with His people reminds us daily that it is God’s grace only that allows us to be in relationship with Him.

His law. The commandments of God point us to Him in two ways. First, in showing that we are incapable of keeping them He gives us daily motivation to find salvation in Christ. Second, once living in the reality of salvation, we have daily reasons for praising Him because we have been delivered from sin’s dominion.

His works. God’s record of His providential work in this world plainly shows us His power, patience, and strength. Where we fail and fall, He is powerful to pick us up and to carry us to eventual glory.

I love Thanksgiving. I love the chance to acknowledge that the blessings we enjoy come to us from God’s hand. And yet I wish my heart was more grateful on a day-to-day basis for the eternal blessings God provides.

A Friendly Rebuttal on “An Appeal on Race in the Presbyterian Church in America”

Reed DePace, who is a fellow pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, contacted me with some push back on my 5 part series on race in the PCA. I wanted to give him the opportunity express himself here. I may respond in the future, if time allows. His thoughts appear below the line.


I think your observations in your series “An Appeal on Race in the Presbyterian Church in America” express some sufficiency, but more at the macro level than the personal level. At the personal level, I’d suggest adding a couple of diagnostic questions: 1) Parish Degree, and 2) Brotherly Sympathy.

Parish Degree

By parish degree, I’m asking the question: how broadly does the concern apply? Your suggestions appear adequate at the broadest level, e.g., say at the denominational level. With you, I agree we’ve taken quite a few “denomination-wide” actions, more than enough to address any systemic concerns. What I think remains is addressing such concerns more closer to home, as it were. Anecdotally here (not throwing any accusations out, just generally observing), we might observe that there a number of local congregations that maybe should look into some sort of response to address present (or even previous) concerns. There are two examples from out congregation.

First, we needed to address an historical pattern of the sin of partialism in our ministry. We did so, not for any intentions related to reaching out to any other groups in our community (e.g., African Americans). Instead, we did so to follow the pattern of corporate repentance seen in the ministries of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Our actions were more of an owning our history for the sake of our witness to the integrity of God’s glory in His Son, rather than some application of secular theories.

The second example relates to the planting of a sister Korean PCA congregation. Given local considerations, we saw this as a relevant application of our Acts 1:8 imperative. Conversely, for different reasons, this imperative did not apply to African American nor Hispanic communities in this area. Yet with a recent re-location, these considerations flipped. We’re no longer in an area where ministry to/with Koreans is relevant. Conversely, reaching out to the Hispanic community now is. (for a number of socio-cultural reasons, reaching out to the African Americans in our community still faces some hurdles we’re not able to surmount.)

In both these examples, it is the parish degree diagnostic that helped us determine ministry imperatives. Following the pattern of the first Jerusalem NT church, reaching out to all the communities in their parish, we examined the degree to which Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts were in our parish. Then, prayerfully seeking God’s favor, we sought to minister to them. It seems to me that it is entirely possible to we might put to rest the denominational concerns (as your post suggests), and still need an awful lot of local parish attention. Asking a diagnostic “to what degree” will help us in determining if and where local concerns may still be prevalent.

Brotherly Sympathy

 The second, additional diagnostic question that I think might be added is the brotherly sympathy one. This is simply the examining of how my brother responds to these issues, and then adjusting my response to minister the gospel’s grace and mercy to him. For example, consider our denominational response to our Asian brothers’ concerns at this GA. On the one hand, the use of a “Korean prayer” imprecation that is gossip at best to support the argument for addressing their concerns is manipulative and beneath the integrity with which we are called to behave as elders in Christ’s church. On the other hand, I think our response was ham-fisted at best. We would have been much wiser to pause any response and ask for further clarification from Asian elders.

This brotherly sympathy diagnostic is based on passages like Acts 15 and Col 3:11. In the first, note that the prohibition against eating meat with its blood is based on brotherly sympathy. The Mosaic dietary provisions no longer applied, in toto. Thus, the “restriction” here was relative to Jewish believer sensitivities. It was a temporary restriction put in place due to Romans 14-15 weaker brother considerations. It was an expression of brotherly sympathy for the Jewish believers. Similarly, in Col 3:1, imagine the slave and Scythian responses to Paul’s teaching to the church in Colossae. The slave subject to socioeconomic prejudice, and the Scythians subject to the socioethnic prejudice variety, these words must have been a wondrous glory of the gospel to their ears. To be sure, the local congregation then had to work to put into practice this gospel truth. Nevertheless, the brotherly sympathy just from the mere expression was huge.

Going back to the Asian overtures this past GA, this is why I’d have preferred a pause and re-consider response. To be sure, there was some degree of younger Asian brothers responding out of a progressive informed hermeneutic. Yet the vast majority of the Asian elders (I did some checking) were respectfully disappointed in how we handled it. Yes, the problems being faced are more secular culture than sacred (e.g., the “Wuhan” virus effect). Yes, to the degree there are “systemic” problems in treatment of Koreans in our culture, it is more African, then Hispanic, before it is Anglo. And yet, what harm would it have been to take the time to show brotherly sympathy that the majority of our Asian elders would have appreciated? I expect had we done so, even though it would have taken more time, and we might have arrived at the same application, the time spent would have ministered to our Korean brothers in a manner that yielded increasing gospel dividends.

Again, as with my previous example under the parish degree discussion, my purpose here is not to persuade you of my opinion on this particular example. Instead, I bring it up only to demonstrate the necessary relevance of the brotherly sympathy diagnostic. Like the parish degree diagnostic, it forces us to bring into consideration other biblical; imperatives that are not necessarily surfaced by the three you’ve promulgated.

Thank you for the grateful reception of my ideas. Where I’m unclear I’ll be grateful attempt tidy up the mud. Where you disagree, I’ll be grateful to learn how I might think better on these things.


Reed DePace is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Montgommery, Alabama.

Part 4 » The Christian’s Relationship to the Civil Government: the Limits of Its Power

“Whenever obedience to man is inconsistent with obedience to God,
then disobedience becomes a duty.”[1]

At the start of this series, the mission statement was made: to help the Christian navigate an exercise of government power not previously experienced in my life-time. The virus that has troubled the world since the beginning of 2020 has subjected western society to a variety of mandates and restrictions, including businesses and churches. Christians everywhere have experienced these things, but there is disagreement about a proper response. There those who advocate for complete compliance, and those who have taken up what sounds like a Christian activism. This series represents an attempt to help Christians think clearly about this subject. Whatever our gut response may be, these articles are asking whether they are biblical. And to begin that critical assessment, this series began with a biblical study and the source and purpose for the power of the government.

First, we have seen from Romans 13 that all authority is given by God. That would include the authority that the civil magistrate has, even if behaving in an ungodly manner. Clearly, the biblical position of authority is that it is God-given. Second, we have also seen that the government exists as a servant of God. It is to carry out God’s vengeance on the wrongdoer and protect those who do good. The words “wrongdoer” and “good” are theological words, which must be biblically defined. A government will apply its power well, or poorly, and the report card is based on the biblical definitions of these words. And it is in this last observation that the problem arises. What does the Christian do when the government does not match up well to the biblical definitions of wrongdoing and goodness? Is there a point when the government’s authority is to be disobeyed because of its disregard for its function as God’s servant? What are the limits to this power?

To further complicate matters, there are other authorities in the world as well. That means there may be times when different authorities (all of whom God has provided) come into conflict with each other. For example, consider parental authority or church authority. This authority is also God-given, with its own set of responsibilities. These different authority structures further add to the difficulty of what may happen. For example, Colossians 3:20 says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” What happens if the demands of the civil authority conflict with those of parents? Which is to be obeyed? As an example, what should happen when the government mandates that a child in kindergarten participate in an explicit “educational” presentation on human sexuality. Even if it is only factual, without any propaganda about the perversion of human sexuality, does the government have the implicit right to overturn the parents’ authority over the child, simply because they have God-given authority? The bring some clarity, consider these possible limits to government authority.

Man’s authority is always delegated. God provides authority for specific reasons. Parents are provided to train up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Elders are given to protect the church from false doctrine and encourage it toward love and good works. The civil magistrate is empowered to provide necessary order in society. For each of these positions of authority there are limits. That is because a father is not the owner of his children and the elder is not the master of the congregants. These things are easily seen. For example, most would agree that parents are not free to force their children to marry against their will. Or elders are not free to require all congregants to wear a yellow suit to church each Lord’s Day. And these are recognized limitations. There is much talk about hyper patriarchy in the family or toxic leadership in the church. If limits are readily recognized in these two realms, it is right to examine if the civil government’s authority can be wielded unlawfully as well. In doing so, several limits are discovered.

There is one obvious limit, which is also described in the quote at the top of the article. If a magistrate would require sin, he has clearly exercising authority unlawfully. I have not heard any Christian leader object to this principle in the last two years. The oft-quoted biblical instruction comes in Acts 4. Peter and John are ordered not to speak of Christ anymore. Their response is instructive for all authority relationships: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20, ESV). When any human authority requires sin, whether family or church or civil, the giver of all authority, God, is to be obeyed instead. But there are other limits on government authority as well.

First, each nation’s government is limited by its geographical bounds. The people of Germany do not obey the laws on the books in Canada. If you live in the United States you do not obey the mandates of Australia. That is because the authority of each nation state is limited to its own citizens. All nations live in such a way, and this limit is universally respected.

Second, a government may not exercise authority over its people as a tyrant. The government’s relationship with its citizens is not one of master and slave. The king is to carry out the good laws of the land with justice and equity.[2] For example, a government may not enter a citizen’s home and confiscate private property without process and just cause. A government may not force families to separate, requiring the wife to move to Miami, while ordering the man to live in Seattle. A government may not, at a random check point, confiscate your vehicle and take possession of it. Unless you live under a communist government, that is. The examples of these abuses could possibly all be obeyed without the citizen sinning in obeying it. And yet the government is not justified in acting as a tyrant because it denies its delegated authority. The government does not own all, and cannot behave as if it does. When government behaves this way, says Samuel Rutherford in Lex, Rex, they are acting as if their authority belongs to them as a right, not as a delegated power. Yet the men and women that make up government are not gods, but part of God’s creation, just as their citizens are. That means that since God is the giver of authority, government is to wield it as His servant.

Third, a government is bound by the laws of the land. These limits that are being ignored these days. In Acts 22, Paul has been rescued by the Roman cohort of soldiers from a violent Jewish mob. Paul was brought into the Roman barracks to examine him by flogging. Before this atrocious, unjust, and violent act could be committed against him, Paul reminds the tribune that he as civil magistrate is breaking the laws of the land which he may not do. “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:25). It is, of course, a rhetorical question. It is not lawful for them to do so, and Paul reminds them of that. The tribune and his fellow examiners immediately reverse course. They are in positions of authority, but still under authority. They, as civil magistrate, do not live above the laws of the land, but must follow the rules of their country. It is at this point that many government abuses have taken place, at least in the United States.

Here is the point. All authority has limits because it is a derived authority. That does not mean there is a place where the civil magistrate behaves perfectly.  Since the fall, all authority is abused because it is exercised by sinful men. Today, governments are acting as a master over its people by assuming responsibility over its citizens’ consciences. Some will agree with what it is demanding and imposing, others not. The point is not agreement with policy, but limit of authority. Today, governments are failing to live under the laws of their own nations. In effect the government has become a law breaker. Again, some will agree with what it is demanding and imposing, and others not. The point is not agreement with policy, but limit of authority.

The reality for the Christian is that the government is assuming authority over people’s private businesses, their movements, their worship, and even their employment. For several members of the congregation I serve, this topic is not theoretical. It is a pressing matter that must be examined on the basis of principle, not preference. But what does the Christian do when a government behaves badly, even sinfully?

To help with that, it is always good to look at the reformed confessional statements for their understanding of what Scripture teaches on this matter. After that investigation is complete, perhaps we will be ready to consider what a proper response may be.

[1] Charles Hodge, Romans, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972), 406

[2] Samuel Rutherford, Lex, Rex, or The Law and the Prince, (Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1982), 64-68.

God’s Faithfulness to His People

Today is Reformation Day. Really it is a bit of misnomer, because the reformation of the church is not confined to one day of the year. There is a good reformation principle that the church should remember: semper reformanda. In English this phrase means “always reforming.” This principle teaches that when the church is made aware of sin it must always correct and address it. 

And yet though the church should always be reforming, remembering God’s care during the Protestant Reformation is healthy. This day  commemorates a season of  radical correction in a church that had become increasingly corrupt. And for that reason the church continues to celebrate and remember God’s work among His people.

His patient faithfulness. There is no reason, apart from His perfect plan that God should extend mercy to those who are in the church. All have sinned and fall short of His glory. On Reformation Day the church thanks the Lord for preserving His witness in the world so that His people can be called out of it.

The need for diligent watchfulness. There is no historical era where the church is exempt from corruption and sin. The church is responsible to guard Christ’s teaching and practice. When men corrupt those things, others must stand firm. That is true for the church in the 21st century as well.

So we thank God for His faithfulness and we pray for His strength to serve Him well in preserving the the witness of the church.

Part 3 » The Christian’s Relationship to the Civil Government: the Purpose of Its Power

“This whole discourse is concerning civil government; it is therefore to no purpose that they who would exercise dominion over consciences do hence attempt to establish their sacrilegious tyranny.”[1]

At the beginning of this series, I said this series was intended to help the Christian think through how to relate to the Civil Magistrate, or a national government. The mandates and shut-downs witnessed around the globe, have caused concern among Christians. To know how to rightly move forward requires an examination of the Bible’s teaching on the Civil Magistrate.

This installment examined the source of the government’s power. It showed how Romans 13:1-2 clearly establishes that the authority of the magistrate is derived from God himself. He gives it to whom He pleases. Historically this text has been used to assert the “divine right” of kings and governments. Proponents would say that, because God has given power to the government, its decisions cannot be challenged. But rather than give a carte blanche kind of power to governments, the Bible empowers them to a specific end.

There are some key descriptors about the civil magistrate in Romans 13 that help explain the specifics of their power. In verse 4, the magistrate is twice identified as God’s servant and once as an avenger who carries out God’s wrath. In all three cases the magistrate does not represent itself, but God. Identifying the magistrate as God’s servant gives a specific shape to its authority.

But Romans 13 says even more. By calling the civil magistrate God’s servant, it defines the scope of its work. The government is to be a servant “for your good” (v. 4). The Civil Magistrate is assigned a specific task as a servant of God: to establish what is good. Verse 3 talks about the task of the civil magistrate another way: the government is to be a terror to bad and approve of good conduct. Since the fall that kind of government has been necessary. Genesis 3 records Adam’s fall into sin, and the next account in Genesis 4 is of Cain slaying his brother Abel. From the moment of man’s corruption the world has needed protection from evildoers. Romans 13:3-4 identifies that task as the unique end to which God has empowered the government. The job of the civil magistrate is to approve the good and be a terror, or a deterrent, to the evil. The Westminster Confession of Faith says it this way:

“God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good.” (WCF 23.1)

In the Bible, the task of the government is defined using theological terms. The magistrate is to approve the good, and be a terror to the bad. These words are theological terms. The government, or anyone, can only determine how to define “good” and “evil” by looking at the moral law. That means the Civil Magistrate has been empowered to affirm what agrees with God’s definition and to be a terror to what does not. God is the only one who can define what is good or evil regardless of whether His creation agrees.

The civil magistrate is a servant. Servants do not define their own tasks. The master sets the parameters and the servant does what the master wishes. If a master instructs a servant to have a hamburger ready for him at 5:30 p.m., and the servant brings a box of crackers at 8 p.m. instead, there will be trouble for the servant. And this is the point at which things get complicated. In our society, the government is doing much to make its own definitions. The instructions of the master have been forsaken and the servants are taking over. 1 Cor 6:9-10 defines evil as sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, drunkenness, reviling, and swindling. And yet western governments are promoting such things, not punishing them.

At this point, I can hear the rumblings in the background: Theocracy! People begin imagining a mandatory Christianity with fines for failure to attend church and the civil code for Israel literally applied. However, that is not the objective of this article. It is not an attempt to establish specific policy, but rather to look at responsibility. To what end is the magistrate empowered by God? The government is God’s servant, being constrained to His definition of goodness and evil. When evil is done government is to carry out God’s wrath on the evildoer and is given the sword to do so.

National governments are servants of God. They are either faithful or unfaithful ones, but they have no divine right to do whatever they like. They have a divine master and they must carry out His agenda. The next article will look at whether there are any other limits to the government’s power.


Geoff Gleason is pastor of Cliffwood Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. His passion is to see the people of God grow in their faith, and those who are lost become numbered among the faithful. He has been married for 28 years and, usually, is the joyful father of 11 children ranging in age from 28 to 6, and two grandsons.

[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XIX (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2009), 482.

Part 2 » The Christian’s Relationship with the Government: The Source of Authority

“My travail is that both princes and subjects obey God. Think not, Madam, that wrong is done you, when you are willed to be subject to God.”[1]

There is much to consider when it comes to the power and authority of the government. Especially in western nations, there is consternation among Christians over recent mandates and requirements coming from the civil magistrate. As a result, there has been disagreement in churches and denominations about the extent of authority the magistrate may exercise. And then there is John Knox. Last article he is quoted as advocating for disobedience, even violent opposition to a civil magistrate who exceeds his bounds. In the quote above Knox is speaking to his queen, Mary, Queen of Scots. This time he asserts the limits of her power: she also is to be subject to God. Before there is too much excitement (either positive or negative) about these quotes, there are a series of questions that have to be answered. Before the Christian can affirm or deny Knox’s claims, there must be a clear and biblical understanding of the role and function of government. These questions and their answers make up the substance of this series of articles. The first question to be considered is, “What is the source of the civil government’s power?”

Chapter 23 of the Westminster Confession of Faith deals with government and is entitled “Of the Civil Magistrate”. The biblical texts regarding the establishment of the governing authorities cited in this confession are 1 Peter 2:13-14 and Romans 13:1-4. Reserving consideration only for the latter, in the opening verse of Romans 13 Christians are told “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Christians must allow the significance of those words to sink in. The Bible teaches here that good and bad princes are placed in their positions by God. There is no authority except from God, and those in authority are placed there by Him. Humanly speaking, rulers may assume power in a variety of ways. Monarchies and emperors do so by birth,  nations may conquer through war, deceitful men may claim power through intrigue and betrayal, and in democracies governments are chosen through the voting process. But behind all those secondary human causes sits God’s singular and divine providence. God decrees, and then carries it out by governing all His creatures and all their actions (see Westminster Shorter Catechism #11).

God’s will is done in the world, also in times when evil seems to have the upper hand. That was the case in Joseph’s life and he recognized it as such. In Gen 50:20 he tells his brothers: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” In that moment, Joseph recognizes that things appear differently to man than God. Man only has part of the picture and it can seem like evil will prevail. But God, seeing the entirety of His plan, accomplishes his will through secondary causes. When it comes to the governance of the societies of this world, He uses the civil magistrate. God may work through godly princes, but his plan is also accomplished when the wicked rule. Job understood that all things come from God’s hand: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Cf. Job 2:10). When Satan entered Judas Iscariot’s heart and convinced him to betray Christ, that evil plan resulted in the final victory over sin and death. Those moments are not accidents which God did not foresee. So God gives authority to all rulers, whether they are good or evil. Recognizing that truth will eliminate the vast majority of calls for civil disobedience.

However, when the Bible says all governing authorities are instituted and appointed by God (Rom. 13:1-2), it is not saying that all authorities behave in a godly manner. It is simply recognizing government receives its status through God’s providence. Their position is God-ordained, regardless of the personal approval of its citizens when it comes to their political decisions or personality when lawfully made. To say all authority is instituted by God is not saying anything about the right direction or proper boundaries to the government’s power. What is the civil magistrate to do? For what purpose to it wield its authority? That is a question for the next article.

[1] John Knox, The History of the Reformation in Scotland (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 279.

When Worry Overtakes You

What news story gives you anxiety these days? Is it COVID infection rates? Supply chain interuptions? The southern border crisis? If you listen to the news it will not take you long before you think the world is falling apart. I have not gone through any journalism training, but it seems to me the news is actually written in such a way as to create exactly that response. And  this is where the problem is because worry is a denial of God’s ability to care for His people (Cf. Matt. 6:25-33). So how, by God’s grace, do we fight anxiety?

Pray for joy in all your circumstances. It is normal for people to fear death, discomfort, and hardship. Not right. Just normal. And our worries inevitably come true. God brings them in His perfect timing, and the inconsistency of our hearts is laid bare through our fretting. Repentance includes praying that God would change us to make us joyful as we rest in His promises.

Turn off the news, open your Bible. This statement is not promoting complete ignorance about the happenings in our world. But if the news creates anxiety, turn it off. The Bible is a book filled with comfort, so open it. The more we study God’s word the more clearly we know His ways, character and sovereignty. The more we are faced with the promised reality that, because we are in Christ, the time we spend on earth is a sojourning, in anticipation of a glorious homecoming when we are called home to glory or Christ returns. And these truths will comfort us when they are received with faith. In other words, spend more time reading the Good News as compared to hearing bad news.

Christians, of all people, should be at peace even in the most tumultuous times. And there is much to worry about these days. But, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8).

Part 1 » The Christian’s Relationship with the Government

“If their princes exceed their bounds, Madam, no doubt they may be resisted, even by power. For there is neither greater honour, nor greater obedience, to be given to kings or princes, than God hath commanded to be given unto father and mother.” (1)

The words above were spoken by John Knox as recorded in his History of the Reformation in Scotland. They are an excerpt of a conversation he had with Mary, Queen of Scots. She had asked him to meet with her to discuss his role in the unrest that was sweeping across the land. In response to her accusation that Knox had incited her subject against her, the reformer gives the response quoted above. No doubt, few men had, have, or will have the courage and boldness of John Knox. He was a unique man, set apart by God for a unique time in the history of Scotland and His church. But the question today is not whether anyone is like John Knox, but rather if there is anything to be learned from his answer to queen Mary. In other words, should Christians be more like John Knox?

The words above are of great relevance for today, because the civil magistrate is exercising authority in ways not seen in recent memory in what is called The West. Much of recent mandates and regulations exceed the experience of most Americans. The vast majority of the demands of the government have to do with COVID. Because of the intensity of these government interventions, there is an on-going discussion about whether the government is to be obeyed when it comes to its different mandates. However, this series of articles is not addressing Americans as Americans. It is not addressing any other political entity either. Instead, it is addressing Christians who happen to live in this nation. Can the Christian say “Amen!” to what our brother Knox said to Queen Mary back in 1561?

Certainly, from the Bible there are different instances when Christians disobey their political rulers. Peter and John do so in Acts 4:19-20 where, in response to the command to stop preaching and teaching, Peter says, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” The debate among Christians is usually not over whether the government can ever be disobeyed. It is more likely to be about what may trigger civil disobedience by Christians.

Some of these questions are extremely complicated. However, in order to be positioned to give a reasonable response, the Christian must be familiar with the Bible’s treatment on the subject of government, or what will be referred to as the Civil Magistrate. Summaries of biblical doctrine can be of great help to today’s church, and for that reason this series will consult with the Westminster Confession of Faith and other confessional statements from the Protestant Reformation. In so doing, this series will address the following questions:

    1. What is the source of the civil magistrate?
    2. What is the power of the civil magistrate?
    3. Are there any limitations to this power?
    4. How does the Christian citizen respond?

God willing, these will be released over the next couple of weeks. The theology of the Christian on government will inform how he responds to its authority. So let us lay a strong foundation and live for the glory of God.

(1) John Knox, The History of the Reformation in Scotland (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 278.

Steady On, Christian

The beauty of good doctrinal statements is that they pass the test of time. The Heidelberg Catechism, though written in 1563, still benefits the church today, touching us where our greatest needs are felt. For example, this 16th century catechism begins with this very relevant question and answer: 

What is your only comfort in life and death?

There is no more relevant question to be asked today. The world, strained by 18 months of COVID restrictions and new geopolitical unrest, is filled with anxiety and worry. But here followes the answer for the Christian: 

That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. 

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Christian, as you struggle with the hystyria in the world over an uncooperative virus, remember: your comfort is found in your belonging to Christ. Hairs may fall from your head, but they will not do so apart from the will of your heavenly Father. It is He who loves you, not the CDC or anyone else. So be steady, find your comfort in Him, and then live for His glory.

Part 5 » An Appeal on Race in the Presbyterian Church in America

“Therefore my appeal is that the PCA re-focus on the gospel ministry of the church and make that its declaration rather than repeatedly making statements on race and its related issues.”

Moving Past the Issue

This series began by addressing three diagnostic questions as to where the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is in relation to racial sin. It is necessary to ask these due to considerable attention given to the issue of race in the denomination over the last number of years. These questions are:

  • Has the PCA made a clear and thorough declaration on the sin of racism?
  • Are there any new or extraordinary manifestation of this sin rearing its head in society or the PCA that would warrant additional teaching from God’s word?
  • Is the PCA neglecting shepherding of private or public unrepentant sins in this regard that should be addressed by church courts?

The first question is answered here; the second here; the third here. By way of summary, the PCA’s condemnation of racial sin is abundantly clear. There are no circumstances that justify revisiting previous statements. And as there are no appeals or complaints regarding racial sin moving up through the courts of the church, it is fair to assume that such sins are being effectively handled at a local level. For these reasons, the appeal of this series is that the PCA re-focus on the gospel ministry of the church and make that its declaration rather than repeatedly making statements on race and its related issues.

Other have spoken of the dangers of “mission creep” in the church. In other words, the church loses sight of its main gospel objective and thereby becomes ineffective. Is the focus on race “mission creep”? In the case of the PCA it certainly is. This sin has been clarified and condemned, and it is not controversial in the PCA. However, the PCA’s continued discussion on alleged acts of racism in or outside the church, outside of the actions of the discipline of the church, fosters an “us” and “them” mentality in the church based on race. Yet the church is one body (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:20; Eph. 4:4; Col. 3:15).

At the last General Assembly (GA) there was talk of majority and minority cultures, designations of “you” and “us” along ethnic lines, and justifications for public repentance in the PCA based on news reports from secular outlets. The language of majority/minority culture is foreign to God’s word. The Bible does not recognize the validity of “you” and “us” statements of difference in the body of Christ. These statements are derived from the philosophy of man.

In Fault Lines, Voddie Baucham critiques the social justice movement, especially as it appears in the church. In it he quotes a definition of Critical Race Theory (CRT) from the pen of one of its proponents: “CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture.”[1] Those are exactly the sentiments communicated through the language of majority/minority culture, or the “you” and “us” statements made during floor debate. Intentional or not, these terms reflect CRT and imports them into the PCA.

The notions of majority and minority culture seem to be driving the distinctions drawn in the PCA. However, when the Bible deals with differences in the church, they are not based on ethnicity as much as covenantal standing: Jew and Gentile. Certainly, ethnicity cannot be separated from that discussion, but it is accidental. The biblical point is always the inclusion of gentiles into the family of Abraham. But, for example, discussing Asians as a minority culture in a mostly Caucasian denomination divides up the Gentiles. The PCA is populated, by and large, by Gentiles. There are Gentiles with a variety of skin colors, but the PCA is mostly Gentile. All of the Gentiles have been grafted into the family of Abraham, have become the spiritual Israel. In Scripture there is no talk of a majority vs. minority culture. There are only sons of Abraham by faith. To speak of majority and minority cultures in the church is to deny 1 Cor. 12:12-13: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The PCA must stop speaking of and championing the different ethnic varieties of Gentiles in the body of Christ, and return to being ambassadors of the whole of the Bride of Christ. So how is that done?

Color Blindness

First, the PCA must become “color blind.” Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Morgan Freeman (by no means a conservative, reformed theologian as far as I know) when asked about racial division in an interview with Mike Wallace stated the solution to racial difference was to stop talking about it. Wallace asked him, “How are we going to get rid of racism until…” Mr. Freeman cuts him off and says, “Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman.”[2] In other words, treat each other as people. This sentiment is even more compelling for Christians who have a  theological reason for it. The church should treat anyone according to the biblical understanding of man as created in the image of God, no matter where he was born or what his status is (James 2:1-4). But I have been told that color blindness is not possible. I disagree. It is possible, and it should be pursued.

My father grew up in Charlotte, NC during the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. He grew up with segregated water fountains. Fast forward to the 70’s when he moved his family to the Netherlands. Our family lived in a “diverse” neighborhood, and one of my friends was Jairaj. His skin was not pasty white like mine. In the course of our “friendship”, Jairaj stole every penny from my piggy bank. However, while walking me through this betrayal my father never once mentioned ethnicity. My father explained Jairaj was not to be trusted because he was a thief, and never mentioned that he was East Indian. His ethnicity had nothing to do with it. In one generation, and through the gospel, my father had learned to look at character and not color. That change transformed his family into a place where Christian friends from Australia, South Korea, Japan, Ghana, the Netherlands, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa,  Mexico and other places would regularly be welcomed. There was no discussion about majority or minority culture. Sure, there were some things they did that we thought was weird, just as some of the things we did seemed weird to them. Certainly there were cultural differences, but the thing that united was a common love for God in Christ and a desire to worship Him. That is where the PCA must land.

Living as One Body

Second, the PCA must intentionally and uncompromisingly live as one body. There are different members with different functions, but they make up one body. Unity is lived out through word and deed. That is the reason why the language of majority or minority cultures is so damaging. The task of the body of Christ is with one voice to bear witness to His works of creation and redemption. That work is accomplished through people fulfilling different tasks as hands and feet of the body. However, the discussion is not around what color the hands and feet may be. It is rather to mobilize all the different parts of the body to be faithful in carrying out the Great Commission of evangelizing and discipling.

At the 48th General Assembly, I spoke to a brother about overture 45, which sought the flourishing of Asian Americans. There was a significant difference in opinion about the value of that request from Metro Atlanta Presbytery. In the conversation he stressed the pain of a minority culture (in this case Asian Americans) living in a majority culture. At the time I didn’t have time to process through what he said, but the more I thought about it, the more the terminology bothered me.

The point is not that there is no pain in the Asian-American community. I would expect there is. The problem is the shift in discussing pain in terms of ethnicity rather than the sin and misery that is in the world through the fall. There should be no surprise that there is pain among Asian Americans, just as there is in black, white community, and Indian communities. All communities, also those marked by racial diversity, suffer pain because all communities are affected by sin. Sin causes pain and all face the pain of sin in their day because they live after the fall. The body of Christ is unified as it realizes that all have been rescued from eternal pain through the work of Christ as a substitute on the cross. And this truth must be championed.

Commitment to Truth

Lastly, the PCA must be committed to biblical truth as its unifying principle. Instead of making statements about the pain of one ethnic group over against another, the task of the church is to speak primarily of the singular solution to that pain: the Lord Jesus X. The world’s comfort from pain is found in Him. Unity is not found in easy-to-make declarations. They cost very little, especially when there is as much agreement on the topic as there is in the PCA. But sharing the gospel in the world, practicing hospitality generously, and encouraging each other toward love and good works in the church is the hard work of building unity and love in the church. The unity of the human race is based in its original creation (Genesis 1:28), and the Gospel is the message that restores the unity that has been lost by sin.[3]

So please, my brothers, let us be done with discussions on race at the General Assembly. If there are sins of that nature in our denomination, they should be addressed through formal process in the courts. The PCA cannot allow the hot topics of the world to become the cause for “mission creep.” Instead the PCA must re-focus on the gospel ministry of the church and make that its declaration rather than repeatedly making statements on race and its related issues.

It is my prayer this appeal will be received in the brotherly spirit in which it was written. It is meant to be an appeal. I pray that the Lord will use it for building the unity of His body.


Geoff Gleason is pastor of Cliffwood Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. His passion is to see the people of God grow in their faith, and those who are lost become numbered among the faithful. He has been married for 28 years and, usually, is the joyful father of 11 children ranging in age from 28 to 6, and two grandsons.

[1] Voddie Baucham, Fault Lines, (Salem Books, Washington, D.C.: 2021), p. xv.

[2] YouTube, Morgan Freeman on Black History Month, n.d. (accessed August 2, 2021), https://youtu.be/GeixtYS-P3s.

[3] Pastoral Letter on Racism, p. 6.