Monthly Archives: March 2023

Statues, wisdom and Jesus

Proverbs 4:5–6 (NKJV)
Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; Love her, and she will keep you.

I’ve been meaning to write on this for a long time, but the current controversy of the Statue of David has goaded me.

Peeling away the layers, the outcry in Florida exposes a weakness in theology that is having serious repercussions. It is an old discussion that goes way, way back into the history of the church.

What is sin? Where does it come from? How can we protect ourselves? How can we protect our children?

Pelagius taught that sin is passed from generation to generation by imitation. If people would simply make better choices in a better environment, they could be free from moral corruption.

This perspective was shared by Charles Finney in the 19th century. Sin is a series of bad choices. Make better choices and God will bless you. Finney used the excitement of revival as a means of grace. If people are presented with the right motivation, they will make good choices, and be free from the bondage of sin.

This perspective is popular, because it fits our natural religion. I can gain favor with God by doing the right things, by offering the right sacrifices, believing the right theology.

But it is deadly. The Bible doesn’t teach sin as a series of bad choices, but as a power that holds us all in its grip from the womb. It is a deadly force that we are powerless against. It is Pharoah to our Israel, Sisera to the people of God, leprosy to the body.

Sin indeed leads to all sorts of bad choices, but the exercise of will-power or the cleansing of the environment can never, ever free us from the bondage of sin, anymore than the men in Deborah’s day could do anything at all about Sisera, or the men of Israel could do anything about Pharaoh.

In fact, Paul teaches in the book of Galatians that it will have the opposite effect. If you believe that you are perfected by the works of the law (which is anything that says, “Do this, and live”) you will not reap the fruits of the spirit, but you will reap the works of the flesh. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, Jesus said. You need to be born again.

Nicodemus understood the impossibility of that, far more than the modern theologian. How can you climb into your mother’s womb again??

That is the point. How do you overcome the flesh? You have to be born again. How do you do that? You can’t.

But that is precisely why Jesus came into the world. He CAN.

In Proverbs 4, quoted above, Solomon is teaching the same thing. If you do not “get wisdom” you have no protection whatsoever from sin, who comes as the seductress seeking to lead you to death. You have no power to escape, unless you have wisdom. Wisdom will preserve you and keep you.

And in the New Covenant, we learn that Wisdom is Jesus Christ. You don’t get wisdom by studying, by going to seminary, by avoiding temptation, or by exercising the will – you get wisdom by acknowledging that you desperately need it, and coming to Christ foolish, thirsty, weak, hopeless.

So lets look at that through the examples of scripture. Take a man infected with leprosy – whatever that condition was in the Old Covenant, it left men and women outcasts, unclean, and alienated from the covenant and the promises of God. But it was simply a metaphor for that which leaves all of us unclean – sin.

The only cure for leprosy was to be cleansed by Jesus. No amount a change in environment, will-power, or good choices could deliver a man from that dreaded disease.

So also, sin. It is a power that corrupts, that drives us from God. It affects all of us and it reveals itself in pride, murder, lying, adultery, idolatry, selfish ambition, conceit.

And the biggest mistake that we can make is to think that the power of sin will be overcome by the flesh – by good will power, by better laws, by good environment.

It can only be overcome by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is freely given to us for our complete redemption.

That is the gospel. But the religion of America has driven the gospel out of the churches, and substituted it with the flesh.

Look at the situation in Florida. Parents complained about the statue of David being shown to a classroom. The principle ended up resigning.

What happened?

As long as we think that sin is something that we or our children catch from our environment, there will be a continual push for more and more oppressive laws.

David, drag queens, sex education in school – all of it has to go! They will cause our children to be sinners.

Fear’s a powerful thing, baby
It can turn your heart black, you can trust
It’ll take your God-filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust

(Bruce Springsteen, Devils and Dust)

The greatest thing that we fear is that our children will make bad choices and destroy themselves. We want them to be provided for, happy, content, contributors to society, and members of the church.

And so, regardless of our profession, in practice we become Pelagian. If we could only cleanse the environment. If we could only protect them from outside influences. If we could shame and terrify them into making good choices. If we could save them from the world…

And Youth Group because a place where we think we are protecting our children from the “out there”. We homeschool, we diligently send our kids to youth group, we lobby the government, we are outraged that the library is full of books by sinners, and we never, ever allow our kids to see a stone penis.

Because sin is “out there”. If you cover the girls’ arms and clavicles, if you put the fig leaves in front of the naughty bits, if you never listen to rock but only bad rock with proper lyrics, forbid dating, warn, warn, warn, warn…

When you read Proverbs 7, you think that the solution is to warn the young man to stay away from the woman – personified sin.

But staying away from the woman won’t help, because the man is foolish, even BEFORE the woman (temptation) enters the picture. The worst thing to do is to teach your kids that foolishness can be overcome by avoiding temptation. How can pride in human strength bring forth anything pleasing to God?

The only way to protect yourself from the temptation of the woman is – Get WISDOM!

1 Corinthians 1:30
30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption

Sin is a power that holds us in our grip until we come to Christ. Even then, the power will not be taken away entirely until we see him face to face. It is what we long for.

Our children can never be saved by protecting them from “out there”, because the problem isn’t “out there”. The problem is in the heart and it can only be taken away by the power of the cross of Christ.

Seeking to avoid sin by avoiding the world will simply drive us to fear, shame and further guilt.

There are volumes that can and have been written on the subject.

But remember this – in the Roman Empire, nudity, live pornography, idolatry, and every other temptation surrounded the early church all the time. All you had to do to “catch the live show” would be to walk outside.

The apostle’s knew this. They said nothing about avoiding the world. They said a lot about gaining wisdom.

Speak to your children about Jesus. About his love and purity. Speak of the cross. Speak of how he cleanses us, loves us, clothes us, covers our nakedness.

Speak of how he made our bodies beautiful and functional, and not something to be ashamed of, but something to us to bring love and wisdom and beauty into the world.

Speak of loving our neighbors, befriending that trans kid that everyone else is shunning. Teach them that loving your gay neighbor is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of, because Jesus invites everyone to his table.

Show them how Jesus came into the world to save sinners and we can trust in him and finally live our lives without fear, for the enemy has no power over us, because our King has already defeated him.


Filed under Sin and Grace

Here’s what happened…

There is a large part of me that simply wants to drop things and move on. But it has been declared publicly that I have been found guilty of false teaching, so for those in my former circles who want to know what happened, I offer this. The hurt is deep and real, so I ask forgiveness if my tongue is sharp.

I am not hostile against my former denomination. There are many good people and good shepherds who seek to follow Christ. But they are also trying to make sense of what happened in the last few years.

I believe that it might be helpful to some to hear my perspective on what happened to me, and then I will let this go and leave my reputation in the hands of my loving Savior. I am not afraid of bearing his reproach.


If you are new to the workings of the internet or discussion groups, you might not be too familiar with some of the things I am going to talk about. On the other hand, if you have ever belonged to any kind of discussion group online with the word “Reformed” in the title, then you understand what I am about to say.

So for those who do not understand, go to any discussion group with the word “Reformed” or “Geneva” in the title. Look at the people who are the admins. Generally, they will be holding cigars and have long scruffy beards. But not always.

After you have entered the group, start a discussion. You can say,

“Have you read the latest by Aimee Byrd? Dynamite stuff. Really profound!”


“I don’t think that there was any hint of a hierarchy before the fall of man. Adam and Eve lived in perfect harmony as one flesh.”

or try this one:

“Genesis 3:16 doesn’t say anything about wives desiring to manipulate and control their husbands. I think that the ESV has that wrong.”

Notice that none of these statements have anything to do with the historic confessions of Reformed theology. All of them are modern discussions and have to do with secondary issues.

Try it, and see what happens. If you are like me, you will receive death threats, threats of church discipline, threats of violence. You will be reviled, insulted, cut off.

If you are not a pastor, like most of my friends, your pastor will receive notes demanding that church discipline be undertaken and that the vicious offender who dares to question the tenets of Whatever-New-Thing-Doug-Wilson-Whipped-Up be driven out of the church.

At first, these types of bullies were fringe. Most of them have , in the past, been viewed with suspicion by the leadership in the church, but church discipline against them was unfortunately very rare.

We considered them zealous, but not according to knowledge, and figured we could work with them.

Now, though, they have taken over most of the NAPARC congregations and they will not rest until anything that they interpret as even mildly woke, egalitarian, liberal or (gasp) feminist is destroyed, crushed and run out of the church. Their positions of white male dominance have been carefully defined as crucial to the Christian faith, and they will tolerate no dissent.

They are not nearly as zealous for actually confessional issues. For the most part they tolerate trinitarian heresy, denials of justification by faith alone, and the sufficiency of the blood of Christ to cleanse from all sin.

In the years that I have pastored, I have seen more and more truly ugly stuff. Church leaders convicted of sexual assault, domineering,  and abuse. Pastors who physically abuse their children or their wives; I’ve seen women excommunicated for fleeing from godless homes. I have heard of officers in good standing publicly teach that it is sometimes necessary, or at least understandable, for men to rape their wives. I have seen young men and young women who have struggled with same sex attraction their whole lives being told that God hates them and that they are going to hell. I’ve seen toddlers scream and try to run away when they see the church building because they associate it with pain. I’ve seen preteen girls being forced to “reconcile” with the grown men who sexually assaulted them.

And hundreds of young people who associate the beautiful Heidelberg Catechism with pain, shame and suffering because of what they have endured in catechism classes.

One man reviled me as “unteachable” when he found out that I allow my wife to read “whatever she wants” without my permission.

I used to reserve for myself the luxury of thinking that these things were fringe. I suppose it is similar to the thinking of men like Martin Luther in the 16th century. Surely the organized church will listen and discuss these things. Surely they desire to bear witness to Christ and throw out this ungodly leaven.

And I’ve spoken out against it. I have sought to look at the errors in theology that lead to such heinous sins. Why is sexual assault tolerated? Why isn’t ONE instance of domestic violence enough to warrant church discipline or even divorce? Why is the position of women as co-heirs of eternal life so controversial in this age?

The scripture speaks of love as the mark of the disciple. And yet, Reformed Fundamentalism has changed the mark from love to fear. They fear being wrong about something. They fear women will take over. They fear that their wives will stop making their sandwiches. They fear that the wrong party will win. They fear anything that hints of humility and so they fear “beta males”. They fear the LGBTQ community and baking the wrong sort of cakes. They fear anything that they are told smacks of socialism. They fear minorities and immigrants. They fear progressive Christians. They fear social justice.

Mostly, to sum it up, they fear losing their place and their nation.

Something is wrong. The church is worshiping power, control and money and is desperately afraid of losing it.

I hate watching powerless people being driven away from Christ and left without hope, whether you are talking about men, women, children, LGBTQ people, liberals, foreigners, people with disabilities. When one is worshiping their own power and control, anyone who is viewed as a threat to that power must be crushed.


With that backdrop, let me ask you a question. Unless we are living in complete denial, we as Christians understand that we have a sinful nature that we must struggle with our whole lives. There is a part of us that we inherited from Adam that Paul calls “the flesh” and if we are born again, that part of us is at war with the “born again” part of us. “The flesh wars against the spirit.”

The part of us that is being renewed day by day greatly desires to love our neighbor as ourselves. But the flesh that still dwells in us challenges that desire every time the neighbor’s rooster crows at 2 AM, or we get cut off in traffic or count the number of items in our neighbor’s shopping cart in the express lane.

Do you have a sinful nature that you still struggle against? If you are a believer, then you know that you do.

So here is the question – do you have to have complete victory over that sin nature in order to be qualified to serve in the church of Jesus Christ?

Do you have to be free from all desire to strangle your neighbor’s chicken? Do you have to be free from every tendency to distrust, to fearfully withdraw from the duties of love? Do you have to be completely free from the temptation towards lust?

Do we struggle with our sinful nature our whole lives, or do we find complete victory over sin while still in these corrupt bodies?

If we already have what we hope for, then what value is hope? But we long for victory and see it by faith and strive towards it.

If you say that a minister of the gospel must be free from every form of concupiscence (our sinful tendencies, whether we act on them or not) in order to be qualified to serve God in the church, then I must confess to you that I am not righteous enough to serve Jesus. And neither are you.

As those who confess Christ, we hopefully agree on this. It is nothing more than the Christian faith which has been confessed by all ages. This doctrine was clarified by the church in the controversies with the Donatists who taught that there were SOME sins that we too big to ever be forgiven. The church added “I believe in the forgiveness of sins” to the creed to counter such foolishness. If there are some sins to great too be washed by the blood of Christ, then ALL sins are too great to be washed by the blood of Christ.

So nothing too controversial there. So let’s get personal.

Instead of sinful tendencies in the abstract, let’s put a name to them. Suppose, instead of speaking of our tendency to ungodly anger, racism, lust, greed, and failure to love, we are talking about exclusive same sex attraction? Does that change the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins?

Has Jesus promised to make everyone heterosexual and take away all forms of broken sexuality the moment we believe?

Or has he promised to wash us and cleanse us and make us holy, even in the midst of our struggles in this life?

As the Reformed Fundamentalist world began to single out “same sex attraction” as the unforgiveable sin, I naively thought that I could add my voice to the discussion, and bring it away from the culture wars and back to what the Gospel of Jesus is all about.

In my head were all the people who have been told their whole lives that God hates them and that they are not fit to ever serve the church because their particular sin is too icky to be spoken about. In my head were all who have suffered in silence because they didn’t dare speak the word out loud: “I’m gay”. And I truly hate the idea that Jesus, the Friend of Sinners, has no healing or help or welcome for one particular kind of sinner. Once we say that, we no longer have good news for anyone.

And so I wrote a blog on the subject. Some of the points could have been made clearer. There is a typo or two. I could have softened some of the language. But I stand by the theology. If God doesn’t forgive the sin of the “others”, then he doesn’t forgive anyone’s. When that happens, we might win some sort of culture war, but we no longer have any good news.

No one spoke to me about it. No one called me. No one asked me to clarify anything. From my former brothers in the RCUS, the only thing I received was a notice of charges filed against me for false teaching. The Rev. Dr. Kevin Carroll and the Rev. Steven Carr brought charges against me, without once picking up the phone, sending a note, asking for clarification or even attempting to discuss with me what they thought was unbiblical. The excuse that they used was that my blog was public, so the rebuke should be public.

At the “trial” last fall, my counsel attempted to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the whole thing could have simply been talked about over coffee; that no one attempted to make anything right before jumping right to charges.

But those who were charged with hearing the complaint were also my accusers. Several of the delegates slandered me publicly by saying that I never listen, there is no point in trying to talk to me. They brought up discussions that they had in the hall during the breaks where former members complained that I don’t listen.

So because “I don’t listen”, the Classis determined that the constitutional and Biblical requirement of private admonition did not apply in my case.

Next, we attempted to get them to clarify exactly what I was being accused of. They did not seem to think that was important.

I asked, “You have accused me of false teaching. Can you answer this question for me so I know how to defend myself. ‘Sam Powell is a false teacher because he teaches…what?”

The same delegate that slandered me earlier got up and accused me of being a “hyperproceduralist”.  He said, “This is what happened in the OPC. Every time there was a problem, the lawyers would come out with their procedures.”

So the trial proceeded without any specifications. Several of the delegates were also accusers. and they were out for blood. When I was dismissed so that the body could discuss the charges, there were many other accusations that were brought up. I was dismissed from the room and was not even told what those accusations were until later. Since I didn’t know about them until afterwards, I had no way of defending myself against them. (I wasn’t supposed to know about that, but it was so unjust that it is a part of the complaint going to the Synod.)

For hours, the same delegate filibustered with every accusation he could think of, and his voice was joined by others. The hostility and enmity of several were evident to many.

To this day, no one has clarified what that false teaching was. It really didn’t matter. I was guilty before I walked in. The trial followed none of the biblical or constitutional procedures. I was found guilty and ordered to, among other things, recant of my errors.

Several of the delegates fist bumped after the verdict.

I asked the executive committee to tell me what my error was that I was to recant. They were unable or unwilling to specify them to me, not wanting to “presume to elaborate on what was adopted by the body since it would be merely an opinion which could easily be misleading or incorrect and in addition, it would have no authority.” These are the words from our clerk of Classis.

Several good friends filed a complaint with the denomination which will be heard in May. I filed an appeal in order to gain a little time for my congregation to decide what to do.

About half the congregation left. When the shepherd is struck, the sheep scatter. First Reformed Church was no longer viable and voted to close the doors. Our last Sunday was February 26.

I asked Classis to remove my name from the rolls of ministers, which they did the first week are March, so I am finally free of the ridicule, contempt, and hostility that I endured at every meeting for years. My appeal, then, will not be heard, as I will not attend, but the complaint will still go forward.

In one last typical move, they noted that I resigned “under discipline” which was not true. But that is another story.

My family and I moved to Minnesota and are getting settled. We are excited about the next chapter of our lives.

I am so, so tired of the hostility, the accusations, the ridicule, and the exclusion that I endured every Classis meeting, while the rest of the delegates sit silently. The health of myself and my family is my first responsibility and the stress of continuous threats is taking its toll. The RCUS is not a safe place for me, which is sad, since my commitment to the Reformed confessions has never wavered.

I am tired of not being able to speak freely, or debate freely. The voice of God’s people is silenced and crushed in Reformed churches out of fear, and this should not be the case.

So after a lifetime of membership, and 33 years of continual service, I am no longer a part of the RCUS.

I just can’t do it anymore.



Filed under my story

Husbands, love your wives

I received this comment on one of my blogs. I appreciate that Jon took the time to write, as it gives me an opportunity to draw a distinction between two different religions – modern patriarchy and Christianity. They are not the same, as we will see.

Here is the comment:

It surprised me that this conversation went straight to divorce. I realized many years ago that my happiness does not depend on my wife and that the happiness of my wife does not depend upon me. Once I realized this I made decisions for the family without asking permission, but with giving guidance. As the leader I realized all that was needed was guidance and conviction that I was operating under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I made decisions, informed my wife of those decisions and did not stop until the task was done. I protected my family as best I could from any tough repercussions from that decision and when the task was complete my family reaped the rewards and were happy.
This all meant that I had to be in lock step with the Spirit and I had to follow through with all my decisions to the end. The worst was having to deal with a wife who was against me for the decision I was making. Previously I would have surrendered my will to what my wife desired which was perceived safety and security. I fought through those issues and was prepared to face the challenges of the task at hand whether it be a business decision or a move or a remodel. Anything I chose to do brought initial kickback from my wife, but follow through and determination brought success and more willingness by my family to trust my decision making.
It is the man’s job in the family to lead. If he allows the fears of the wife to stop any progress, the the family will be stuck. There will be resentment towards the wife and then the man can do very hurtful things.
I am not blaming women. I am blaming men for not being leaders and following through, ignoring in many cases the fears of the wife. Weak men cannot lead a family to victory. Until I became strong I was resentful and hurtful. Now I lead and my family has never been happier and so very successful. My wife and children are honored in the church and community. They are blessed. It is because I quit blaming them and took responsibility for my own actions.
If I have any suggestions for wives, it is to submit to your husband and honor his decisions and hold him accountable to follow through and support him throughout the process. To be patient with the process because everything takes time to complete. Often longer than expected. Do not kill his spirit because once that happens, often to weak men, it will end up in an irreparable relationship.

Dear Jon. The essence of being human is being an image-bearer of God. We are created with the ability to discern between good and evil, to make decisions, to interpret the world, to think and feel and shine God’s beauty and love to the world around us.

We were created to have dominion over all creation and be the voice of praise to the creator, to rest in his presence and join our voices to his in saying, “Behold, it is very good.”

This image-bearing was gifted equally to the male as well as to the female (Genesis 1:27).

God’s beauty and wisdom and love and justice are infinite. Humans are not. But God shows his wisdom by the remarkable diversity in all of creation, including the wonderful different gifts and personalities in each human that he created, male or female.

Of course, when the fall entered, mankind lusted after dominating each other, rather than having dominion over creation and disharmony entered. Men and women became slaves to sin, and there was nothing they could do about it.

So instead of marvelous freedom and diverse gifts and beautiful harmony, there entered domination, slavery, control, and pride. Men and women became slaves to sin.

This was pictured beautifully in Egypt. The whole story of our redemption is painted on the background of the Exodus, where the nation of Israel was redeemed from their hard bondage in Egypt to be the people of God in liberty and joy. Their slavery was so strong that the strength of men could not deliver them. Men could not work up enough will power to deliver them. The husbands could not bring about deliverence through their manliness. They were enslaved and powerless. But God delivered them with his outstretched arm. Both Moses and Miriam sing at the destruction of Pharaoh’s army.

But that was just a picture. As you know from the story, the slavery in Egypt was broken, but the slavery to sin was as powerful as ever. God gave the law from Sinai, and within a few days, Israel was worshiping golden calves. With a golden calf, they believed that they could control Jehovah. A God who speaks, who enters covenants freely, who loves, is actually terrifying because of the bondage of sin. The God who is cannot be controlled. All we can do is rest in his love.

But in order to rest in Jehovah’s love, we have to give up control and believe in the name of the One who Saves.

You can worship control, or you can worship The God Who Saves. But you can’t do both.

On the cross, Jesus broke the bonds of sin and death and misery. The law couldn’t do it. Authority and submission couldn’t do it. If man could have been made righteous by the law, Christ died in vain.

The problem was slavery and powerlessness. We are all subject to death.

Christ delivered us from the fear of death and the power of sin that we might serve him without fear, with our full restored image of God, reflecting his tremendous beauty and wisdom as we were created to do.

When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church (Acts 2), it was poured out on men and women, old men and maidens. And later that included rich and poor, Greek and Jew, bond and free.

Satan hates God and hates his image. He seeks to silence the voice, crush the will, destroy the spirit. But Jesus died to set his people free. He governs his church by his word and spirit, NOT by tables of stone. He writes the law on the heart.

This means that your wife has equal access to the spirit that you have. The spirit was not poured out on you alone. Throughout scripture, God spoke through holy men AND women and held his people accountable for listening to them.

God could have spoken directly to Barak. But he spoke to him through Deborah. Barak could listen to her and live. Or hold on to his masculine pride and die. Sisera wasn’t defeated by testosterone, but by the power of God.

The two central doctrines of Christianity, the virgin birth and the resurrection, were witnessed by the women. The men could listen to them and live. Or they could ignore them and die. By God’s grace, the apostle’s repented of their hardness of heart and listened to the women.

So one question to answer is this – how certain are you that YOU are the one being led by the spirit and not your wife?

It is not the Spirit of Christ that silences the voices of his people. I fear that you are unaware of the spirit that you are operating under. But Christ came to restore us to his image, not silence us and keep us in bondage.

You are treating your wife like Pharaoh treated the Israelites. This is NOT Christianity. Peter commanded YOU to treat your wife as a co-heir of eternal life, not like one who is still in bondage to sin and misery. You are taking one verse out of context and deriving a whole new religion.

Your religion is a religion of control, not peace. A religion of authority and submission, not rest. A religion of bondage, not freedom of conscience. A religion where YOU are the golden calf, seeking to control the power of God.

This is paganism, not Christianity. If the Holy Spirit is poured out on you, it is also poured out upon your wife, and you will answer to him about how you treated his sheep.

I pray fervently that you will either repent of your cruelty, or that God will provide freedom for you wife. Treating her like this is oppressive and wicked. You are not loving her as Christ loved the church and set her free.

The scripture does not say, “Love your wife as Ahasuerus loved Vashti.”

Nor does it say, “Love your wife and Nabal loved Abigail”.

Nor, “Love your wife and Pharaoh loved Israel”.

All of those examples are examples of wicked men seeking to control people, rather than watching them thrive in freedom.

Love your wife as Christ loved the church. And how did he love his church? Read Philippians 2 carefully. He took the lowest place. He became a slave to all. He gave himself that she might be free.

Assume that your wife is an image-bearer of God and perfectly capable of making her own decisions. Set her free. If you belong to Christ, it is what he has done for you. So how dare you use that liberty as an excuse to enslave your wife and crush her voice?


Filed under Abuse, Marriage