In 325 AD, 300 church leaders gathered in Nicaea, a town in Asia Minor, to discuss Arianism — a heresy that claimed Christ wasn’t divine — and to craft the church’s reply. After four months, the Council produced a 223-word document, the Nicene Creed, which the church continues to use to affirm the deity of Christ and the nature of the Trinity.
In our era, the country’s shift in attitude regarding homosexuality has not only roiled the culture; it’s provoked confusion and heresy within the church. Many denominations have happily joined society’s flow, ordaining homosexual clergy and allowing pastors to perform same-sex marriages. Others have remained faithful to Scripture, but the variety of reasons and attitudes for such faithfulness has sometimes widened the gap of an already divided culture.
A number of Central Indiana Presbytery’s teaching elders (TEs) agreed that the church’s early responses seemed overly confrontational. In short, said Dan Herron, a church planter in Bloomington, “This reaction of truth without love has created a stumbling block to the Gospel.”
Something better was needed, because one way or another, said Adam Brice, pastor of Two Cities Church, “we were all dealing with the issue. We’d had people in homosexual relationships visit our churches, we have members who work with those who embrace this lifestyle, and almost everybody wants answers to some basic questions, like: Should I go to my cousin’s same-sex wedding?”
What’s more, noted Herron, a number of PCA churches are located in unique cities. “We have churches in West Lafayette and Bloomington, for example. They’re both university cities with eclectic cultures and many people who view truth as relative. It’s expected that their values will be different than our own.”
There was a growing sense that the presbytery’s TEs needed to be of one mind, and of one voice, in their approach to same-sex attraction and homosexual practice.
“Let’s Make This Like the Council of Nicaea”
What was missing, many believed, was a way to help people find their place in God’s redemptive story. “We wanted to demonstrate that lives are formed and re-formed by that narrative,” Herron said. “We wanted to see the Holy Spirit form a Gospel-centered conscience.”
It was Jason Dorsey, then-pastor of Redeemer Church in Indianapolis (since transferred to Pacific Northwest), who first said, “Let’s make this like the Council of Nicaea: brothers wrestling with the issue, praying together, writing and doing theology.”
“We knew the early church had councils deal with these kinds of things,” Brice said. “Pastors would get together and collect their wisdom and knowledge of Scripture. When Jason made his suggestion, we all said, ‘Yeah, why don’t we do that?’
“The group’s first concern was to be biblical,” Brice explained, “but that’s not our weakness in the PCA. We don’t have guys wandering off theologically. So we wanted to provide them with language that was faithful to Scripture but also relevant in our context and honoring toward everyone. That’s why we put this in the broader context of the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. We wanted to make progress with people who don’t agree. We wanted to give counsel about how to discuss the issue in places like West Lafayette and Bloomington.”
“That’s why we agreed to put a confession at the beginning,” Herron added. “We wanted to acknowledge our failure as a church to speak the truth in love regarding this issue—where we and our fathers failed to honor God’s image in all people through either attacking or retreating.”
Respect and Mission
The document was developed over the course of a year. The committee sent each draft to presbytery, giving men ample time to review it. “We went back and forth on some of the wording,” said Herron, and at times there was sharp disagreement, but there was always a commitment to unity and partnership in the Gospel. A portion of the next presbytery meeting was given to discussion and suggested changes.
“We knew we’d need to have strong personal relationships,” Brice added. “That’s the only way we could overcome any suspicion.” And one key to building those relationships, Herron and Brice agree, was already in place: The pastors met monthly for fellowship and prayer. Another key was the understanding that the group was doing theology as the church on mission.
“That was the driving force,” said Herron. “This was never a group gathered to think and write merely for the intellectual exercise. But we weren’t charging thoughtlessly into a missional response either, giving no thought to underlying cultural realities.
“We wanted those impulses of reflective practice to come together,” said Herron. “And while this was an articulation of the biblical ethic, it’s also a thoughtful, collaborative approach to cultural apologetics. That’s what’s exciting about this.”
To read Central Indiana Presbytery’s booklet, email TE Dan Herron at email@example.com.