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Progressive Legalism & Postmodern Chaos in the PCA

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with With God, and the Word Was God. – John 1:1

God is not a God of confusion but of peace.1 Corinthians 14:33

Much ink, um, keystrokes have been typed regarding the source of the divide in the PCA.    We have been told by Progressives (in the Bryan Chapell sense of the term) that we are just misunderstanding each other and that we actually agree.  All of these never-ending disagreements are actually agreements.   We supposedly agree on what the Westminster Standards mean as well as the AIC Report on Human Sexuality and the one on Women in Ministry also.  We supposedly agree to follow the BCO.  That does of course depend on what you mean by the word “agree.”

We don’t even agree on what words mean, let alone complex systems of doctrine or AIC reports that simply provide guidance.  The two wings of the PCA are completely divided on women deacons, women preachers, human sexuality as it relates to identity, appropriate missional posture, Revoice, CRT, Side B Gay Christianity,  and clarity of speech.  You object?  It all depends on what one means by preaching, deacon, corporate worship, and every other word in this article.

This whole thing is reminiscent of when Bill Clinton uttered the brilliant words “it depends on what the meaning of the word is is” nearly 25 years ago.  It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. Playing fast and loose with words and clarity in our Lord’s Church is no laughing matter.  Quite frankly, it’s sad.

How long before “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” becomes “well that depends on what you mean by yes and no. In one sense it is yes and in another sense it is no.?”  Brothers and sisters, sadly, we are already there.

It is Pharisaical Legalism at Its Core

Seeing the letter of the law in our Standards, the BCO, AIC Reports, and Scripture itself then looking for ways  to do what one wants to do is Pharisaical legalism.  It is legalistic to look for workarounds, loopholes, and wiggle room to do mission.  No amount of law or guidance will prevent a legalist from pursuing these things. No language will either.

It is Pharisaical legalism to install women to the roll of Deacon and serving in the same function as a Deacon all done in a process that is almost undistinguishable from an ordained Deacon but say she is an Assistant.[1]

It is Pharisaical legalism to not have the office of deacon at all, but to have another made up board of men and women doing everything the diaconate is supposed to do.[2]

It is Pharisaical legalism to have women teaching and/or preaching assembled Christians at Corporate Worship and say she didn’t, but rather she exhorted at a study.[3]

It is Pharisaical legalism to host a Transvestite Celebration on property that is owned by the church through a ministry run by church leadership/members but say it was separate from the Church because the building it was held in was “decommissioned” and the organization that runs the ministry is separate from the Church.

It is Pharisaical legalism to plant non-PCA churches or start para-church ministries that are overseen by PCA churches, officers, and members that do all the things not permitted in the PCA.

It is Pharisaical legalism to look at the AIC Report on Human Sexuality and say we agree with it, but then ignore all that it advises against because it doesn’t say “shall not” or “shall,” thereby justifying the wholesale use of what the spirit of the report calls unwise and must be rejected.

It is Pharisaical legalism to post #LGBTinChrist but think it isn’t a “juxtaposition of identities” because it doesn’t fit the constructions found in the AIC Report.  (As if the juxtaposition of identities is limited to a formulation of words.)

It is Pharisaical legalism to say “I don’t say Gay Christian” but then write “Gay, Pastor.”  Pastor of what? Is it the comma that makes it ok?

Secondly, this is very Postmodern

It should be clear that to find these loopholes and workaround requires constant redefinition and nuance where there is not.  That’s where postmodernism has been the 21st Century linguistic legalist’s dream come true.

Jacques Derrida, famous for his work on Grammatology, Deconstruction, and his opposition to Logocentrism,  wrote:

Every sign, linguistic or nonlinguistic, spoken or written (in the usual sense of this opposition), as a small or large unity, can be cited, put between quotation marks; thereby it can break with every given context, and engender infinitely new contexts in an absolutely nonsaturable fashion.

-Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy (English, 1982), 320.

As I think of the debates in the PCA, and the linguistic gymnastics of the Progressive Wing, I can’t help but think Derrida would be proud but God is not mocked. The Postmodern conception of language is alive and well and thriving in the PCA.  Whatever floats your missional boat. The postmodernist’s use of language when paired with a Pharisaical and legalistic heart in the pursuit of workarounds and loopholes to attain progressive missional ends is running roughshod through the denomination once known to do “all things decent and in order.”

Surrounding the vote on the Overtures, I was repeatedly told “we agree, we just don’t like the language.” There is great irony in men who routinely use words in confusing ways, objecting to words because they are confusing.

They told me we agree on the AIC, so let’s coalesce around that and partner on new overtures.  New overtures we’d agree on?  If we agree on the AIC, how can some men call Greg Johnson’s article in USA Today a “beautiful example of the Gospel” while others of us consider it a violation of the AIC report on multiple points.[4] Well, I guess that depends on what you mean by the words beautiful, gospel, juxtaposition of identities and orientation language.  Of course the AIC has no authority anyway. [5] This of course gives little hope, however good intentioned (which I mean), that we’d pass an overture we agree on.

All of this shows why they loved the get out of jail free card of the AIC Report on Human Sexuality that said we shouldn’t “police language.” Police language?  Heaven forbid! Then we’d have to use words and concepts in clear, unambiguous ways to mean what they logically and actually mean.

Deacons are really non-ordained assistants.  Worship Services are really chapels and get togethers.   When Paul forbids teaching he doesn’t mean teaching. Preaching is exhortation. You can use language for sinful identities as merely descriptive to the denomination but in defining contexts to the world. No problem. Language is fluid. RC Sproul, D. James Kennedy, and Frank Barker would support and agree with these developments even as they fought against them while alive.

Secret groups that require verbal membership covenants, a de facto application process,  specified service, and which have expressed goals and guidance to achieve them, aren’t organizations they are email lists for encouragement.  (I don’t have a problem that the group existed as others do, I’m just highlighting the denials in what we were told both before the news came out and since. I highlight it here because it fits the paradigm I’m describing).

You can both agree with CRT and Side-B Gay Christianity while saying you don’t. No contradiction!  Or you show support for CRT and Side B as it stands currently, but when questioned about it, argue from some decades old formulation of it.

All is fair in love and winsomeness.

There is an oddity with men who worship the Divine Logos while being against logocentrism as it relates to thought, speech, and writing.   But not really, the postmodern ethos is alive and well, even in the PCA.

I’m sure at this point someone will retort “we’re all post-moderns.”  Or maybe something along the lines of, “we’re all post-moderns and none of us are post-moderns.”  How convenient.  Not helpful, but convenient. And of course that only makes sense to a postmodern.

When will the postmodern conception of language cease to be tolerated in the PCA? Words don’t get to mean what one wants them to mean.  The doctrines in Scripture or our Constitution or AIC Reports don’t get to be so nuanced until they mean the opposite of what they intend.  The law of non-contradiction might not hold for Derrida, and maybe not in the PCA anymore, but it does to our Lord.

Look, I know that legalism exists in a lot of forms. Self-Righteousness is insidious and must be repented of wherever it rears its head in every wing of the PCA.  But this issue of loophole legalism and obfuscation in the use of language is insidious.  While men are playing fast and loose with language the sheep are becoming confused and the watching world isn’t told the truth.  Brothers, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.”

Does this look like peace and agreement and clarity to you?  It doesn’t to me.

Do we look like we are embodying a different Kingdom to the world?  It doesn’t to me.

I pray we will one day agree. But right now, please stop telling us we do. Do us that dignity.   It is insulting and condescending. We do not.

Some will say that rather than write these things here, these things should be dealt with in the courts. I agree.   The problem is, on the things I discuss above, it has been shown that there is widespread disagreement.  So this article isn’t leveling charges but highlighting the disagreement in the hopes that we can be honest about it. 


[1] I understand that BCO 9.7 allows for “assistants to the deacons” and I support that.  Additionally the AIC on Women in Ministry says that this should be “done in a manner distinct from an ordination service, in order to emphasize deliberately that it is NOT ordination.”  (p.63)  Would not that principle also hold to the structures in the ongoing work of the Deacons with their Assistants?

[2] Some churches, in order to have an egalitarian diaconate, don’t “ordain” their deacons. This way they can install men and women into something other than an office.   BCO 9.4 has always been interpreted that having an ordained diaconate is a “mandate.”  The AIC on WIM says as much and further instructs: “the absence of a body of ordained deacons appears to miss the Lord’s will for His church, named in several New Testament texts and described in the PCA Book of 23 Church Order.”(p.60)

[3] Some men have argued if it isn’t called Corporate Worship by a local Church then its ok for a woman to teach.  As if the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2 is just preaching. Yet the word is “Teach.” Again, the AIC on WIM is instructive here, explaining that “when Paul said, “I do not permit a woman to teach,” he has as his background the doctrines of our most holy religion and the men, specifically, elders who are charged to teach and preach these truths.” It goes on and defines this “not limited to, the called services of divine worship.”(p19-20)

[4] Many of us believe based on the plain use of words that these articles are clear violations of the AIC report on Human Sexuality as well as the Nashville Statement that forbids the juxtaposition of identities and orientation language that is defining rather than merely descriptive. 

[5] Not only did he routinely hold up his gay identity as a Christian (that is a juxtaposition in every sense of the term), but he denigrated men in our denomination in writing “Me with a couple thousand mostly older white, churchgoing, Southern, heterosexual religious conservatives with children and grandchildren and seersucker suits. One of us is not like the others.” That’s a beautiful example of the Gospel? Well, that depends on your definition of the word beautiful.

Way to wield intersectional victim-mentality against the Bride of Christ!

Two can play at that game.  As a Syrian South Floridian with New York roots in my 40s who grew up Melkite Syrian Catholic and doesn’t own a seer-sucker suit nor have any grandkids, that list doesn’t really represent me either. But I gladly associate and identify with my brothers because these are my brothers, being dads and grandads is good, and I never realized that a Christian being a Conservative is odd.    But hey, its better than the last time when we were called “Southern moralistic pietists” or is it “Southern pietistic moralists.”  Oh no, I’m sorry it wasn’t “ists” but “ism.”  That language thing again. I guess men can be infected with an ism without being an ist.

And by the way, at the last (2021) GA I only saw 1 seer-sucker suit.  But, now that I know its a thing, does anyone know where I can buy one for 2022?


George Sayour
George Sayour

George is Senior Pastor of Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian
Church (PCA) in Lexington, NC. When he's not pastoring or writing, he's fishing, kayaking and spending time with his family.

Articles: 166


  1. Your quote of Bill Clinton’s famous “is” linguistic gymnastics is precisely the kind of operation at work here.
    It’s been my argument to those who’ll actually listen for more than a few seconds that this is all about the narrative, and the conservatives in the PCA are getting their behinds handed to them. The people we are up against use this as their weapon of choice: disinformation. The Russians have been, and still are, masters of this. If the progressives control the narrative, and the dissemination of disinformation, there will only be a tolling of the bell for the PCA.

  2. Thank you for this pithy post. May I ask you a question: when do we call the behaviors you described so well: ‘divisive’ and ‘offence contrary to the doctrine we have learned’? (Ro 16:17)
    You stop short of making charges, yet the entire article is pointing to wide-spread deceptive behaviors by ordained men charged with caring for the flock who know what they are doing and why they are doing it and have no interest in the damage they are doing ‘for the greater good’.
    These are wolves plain and simple. As the sheep in the pew observe this there will be a growing tendency for profligacy to blossom, and the Gospel is pushed to the back bench. This seems to have far exceeded what a court system is designed to do, particularly when many of the judges are themselves Pharisees.

    NB: well done bringing Derrida into the conversation. He seems to be the secret head of the National Partnership, maybe Kessler will read this and figure that out.

    • Randall, Thanks for you comments.
      You asked “When do we call the behaviors… You stop short of making charges…”
      Yes, because you astutely answered it in writing – “This seems to have far exceeded what a court system is designed to do, particularly when many of the judges are themselves Pharisees.”

      A main issue is that “we don’t agree”… not you and me, but us and them. If we don’t have agreement on the rules, process fails to work. I think all we can do is point out the inconsistency, call our brothers to better and more, and fight for truth…yes in Love.

      Let’s be in prayer for our denomination, For Christ’s Church in general!

  3. This is a great article! I like to say that the first thing we learn about God in Genesis 1 is that He is a God of language — He speaks. The most fundamental aspect of language is that words have meaning and those meanings are critical. To play games with words as you have delineated is to attack God and His nature. He speaks and He speaks with truth (And God said, Let there be light and there was light) and power (and it was so) and goodness (and it was good). May God call all of us to repentance.

  4. I agree with the points taken in this article. Having only part of the PCA at Briarwood Presbyterian for just over 10 years I have been blessed by the preaching and teaching of the Bible but the last two years have interrupted by the invasion of the progressive or post modern movement. They have been working a plan from the reading I have done on the subject and our leaders were late it seems in responding to the attack . Prayerfully I hope this can be resolved at the GA here in Birmingham. I came from a denomination I had grew up in for 61 years and now it is fractured and decking in its numbers and more importantly it’s ministry. May the Lord bless us and restore us to His plan for His Kingdom!

  5. At the beginning of the last century, the word “gay” meant “happy.” Sometimes we still hear songs that use it in that way. So yes, we do get decide what our words mean- not because of “postmodernism” but because the vernacular is always changing. Maybe you could just ASK someone what they mean instead of assuming they’re trying to be a nefarious pharisee

  6. Pastor George: I have never read an article which diagnoses the problem in the PCA with such clarity. You are really mining gold here. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks! It was written 18 months ago. I am not sure why it just ran on The Aquila Report. The PCA is headed in the right direction since.

  7. Brother, I share your concerns over these kinds of slippery language manipulation tactics that a few people in the PCA have been guilty of using to cover up their lack of obedience to clear standards. They are serious. However, these kinds of practices are not representative of a substantial portion of the PCA, as your post seems to indicate. Posts like yours spread the false notion that the PCA is locked in a death-grip struggle between equal and opposite forces for the very soul of the denomination, a struggle between biblical and confessional faithfulness on the one hand and postmodern liberalism on the other hand. Painting that kind of picture of our denomination is sensationalistic and divisive fear-mongering. Memorial Church and Greg Johnston left the PCA because they knew they were not welcome among us. Some churches still want to have women deacons. I disagree with them (and they lost that battle years ago), but wanting women deacons is hardly nefarious postmodern liberalism, as many of the most conservative voices within Reformed circles have been advocates for deaconesses for a very long time. Yes, a single church in NYC had a woman preach on Sunday morning, but the whole GA agreed doing so was a gross violation of our standards. The only serious debate was over the best method for handling their gross violation. You write in a tone that makes it sound as if some substantial percentage of churches (“the progressive side”) are openly advocating women preachers.

    I’ve been in the OCA for 24 years now, and I’ve been attending GAs for 17. After the past three GAs, I believe we are more united and more biblically and confessionally faithful than we have ever been. Don’t let a few exceptional cases lead the way in making it sound like the PCA is a hot mess! Posts like this will get you on The Aquila Report and will bring traffic to your site, but I don’t think they help strengthen and unify the PCA.

    • Jason, Thanks for the comments. I wrote this 18 months ago, in the midst of many people in the PCA defending Greg Johnson, Revoice, and The Chapel ministry. I’m not sure why The Aquila Report chose to run the article now, after close to 2 years later. In this time almost a dozen bad actors in the PCA have left. They left because the issues were raised, men were mobilized to make a difference in their Presbyteries and GA. Every one of the examples I gave are based on a multiplicity of actual discussions or cases in the PCA. And for every actual case there have been dozens of defenders on Twitter and in Facebook discussion forums among PCA Pastors. There have been multiple Churches who have had women preachers during worship in PCA Churches. 1 Huge Church and their network in South Florida just left the PCA under pressure for this. There are countless churches who are doing what I said in the article regarding women deacons. But to your point, I am grateful and optimistic for the current direction of the PCA.

  8. Way to define your terms. Well said brother. I’ve thought the same thing; the side-B arguments get so nuanced and complicated, that they’re not really comprehensible.

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