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PCI Moderator Airs Modernist Theology

Rev. Martyn McGeown


On 19 November, 2006, BBC Radio Ulster’s religious affairs show Sunday Sequence hosted a special programme in which host, William Crawley, interviewed the four main church leaders in Northern Ireland, asking them questions on a range of questions submitted by the listening public. The four clergymen were Presbyterian Moderator, David Clarke; Roman Catholic (RC) Archbishop, Sean Brady; Church of Ireland Archbishop, Robin Eames; and Methodist President, Ivan McElhinney. Their responses to fundamental biblical questions reveal how far the "mainstream" denominations in Ireland, in their leaders, have departed from a good confession of the Word of God. The fact that these men are able to make such statements on public radio without any sign of protest from the members of their churches is a sad indication that the four largest churches are hopelessly apostate (Jer. 3:20). The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) with its Westminster Confession of Faith is particularly culpable before God for her departure from the truth of Scriptures as summarized in this Reformed confession. For this reason, David Clarke’s answers will be given special attention.

1. Rome, a True Church

On being asked whether he regards the Roman Catholic Church as a true Christian church, Presbyterian Moderator, David Clarke stated unequivocally that "the stated position of our church [i.e., the PCI] is that we accept the Roman Catholic Church as a Christian church." While acknowledging that there "may well be some [in the PCI] who take [the] view" that the Roman Catholic Church is a false church, and that there are "significant differences" between the PCI and the Roman Catholic Church, so that the Roman Catholic Church is a "Christian church with error," David Clarke was unable or unwilling to confess the traditional Reformed view of the Roman Church. She is the false church who persecutes the true church and who teaches a false gospel of faith and works, which leads those who teach it and those who believe it to hell (Gal. 1:8-9). Rome’s false gospel has not changed one whit for the better since the Reformation, the superficial changes in form at Vatican II notwithstanding.

The RC Archbishop, Sean Brady, complained that the division of Christians is a "scandal" but could not acknowledge the PCI to be a church "in the fullest sense." This is in keeping with the document Dominus Iesus which was compiled by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) which stated that non-Roman Christians belong to "communities of faith" but not to churches per se, since only Rome is truly church. Brady revealed that he has a lot in common with David Clarke and the other clerics present: they are all baptized in the name of the Triune God and they can agree on the early ecumenical creeds. He revealed further that "some years ago," he preached in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church and the congregation of Roman Catholics and Presbyterians recited the creed together ("that came through most powerfully when I stood up to preach in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church some years ago and we recited the same creed together"). The question must be asked: Why has no member of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland protested to Kirk Session, Presbytery and the General Assembly that the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church was permitted to preach in a Presbyterian Church?

2. The Salvation of Unevangelized Heathen

After the clerics had all agreed that Rome is a true church and they had all affirmed their supposed oneness in Christ the subject was widened to other religions. What about Muslims, Jews or Hindus who live and die in their respective faiths and never confess the Christian religion: Can they be saved?

David Clarke started well when he said, "We as Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God the Father." Had he ended there, we could have agreed with him. But he added this caveat: "But we also accept the view of the Old Testament, you know: 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?' We leave it there." When pressed by the presenter, William Crawley, whether there is then a possibility of salvation in other religions, he did not deny it. "Well, that's between them and their relationship with God," he said.

The Westminster Confession of Faith is unequivocal on this issue: "Much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature and the law of that religion they do profess; and to assert and maintain that they may is very pernicious and to be detested" (10:4).

The whole of Scripture teaches that those who are outside of Jesus Christ are lost; those who do not believe in the true God are without hope in the world (Eph. 2:12). It is not true to say that devout Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or Jews are sincerely seeking God (Rom. 3:11). Rather in their idolatry they are actively suppressing the truth they have of God (Rom. 1:21ff.) so that all false religion is really the expression of men’s hatred against God (Rom. 8:7). Christ is therefore just when He appears "in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thess. 1:8). To know God in Christ is life eternal (John 17:3) and this knowledge is a gift given to some. Jesus confirms this: "No man knoweth the Son, but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him" (Matt. 11:27).

Genesis 18:25 ("Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"), the text to which David Clarke referred, in no way supports the notion that advocates of other religions can be saved without true conversion. In that text, Abraham is interceding with God for the "righteous" in the city of Sodom. Surely God will not "slay the righteous with the wicked," argues Abraham. Abraham is right. God will not destroy the righteous in Sodom, and so He does not destroy the cities of the plain until the one righteous person in Sodom, Lot, is delivered (II Pet. 2:7).

But some may object. How can it be fair that God sends people to hell who never had a chance to hear the gospel? We answer that there is no unrighteousness with God (Rom. 9:14). Everything God does, by virtue of the fact that He does it, is righteous and cannot be anything other than righteous. God Himself is the standard whereby all righteousness is measured. Man cannot in his foolish arrogance determine a standard of righteousness to which God must conform in order to be considered righteous in man’s eyes. For this reason, we affirm unapologetically that God is righteous in consigning the wicked, whether they have heard the gospel or not, to everlasting punishment in hell. Sadly, not one of the clergymen interviewed was able to defend God’s righteousness from the Word of God.

Archbishop Brady gave the standard Roman Catholic response: "Each human person is made in the image and likeness of God and certainly can be saved by following their conscience and doing what is right and good." We have seen that such a response is contrary to Scripture, although popular in our modern, pluralistic society. No man can do "what is right and good" (Rom. 3:9-20) and certainly no man can be saved by his own works. Christ alone is the way to God and outside of Him there is no possibility of salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

Archbishop Eames claimed that those who are "born by an accident of birth into different circumstances" still believe in the same God. He is wrong. There are no "accidents of birth" for "God hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:26). Clearly, then, it is God who decreed where each individual human person would be born, whether in Northern Ireland, Nicaragua, Norway or Nigeria. God determined whether a person would be born to idolatrous parents or to God-fearing parents; God determined whether the gospel would come to that person or whether He would leave him in darkness. In this way, God accomplishes His decree of election and reprobation. This decree is taught in the Westminster Confession: "Some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death" (3:3). This decree is unconditional (3:5) and immutable (3:4) and, of course, biblical (Rom. 9:11-22; Acts 13:48; I Pet. 2:8; II Thess. 2:11-13; Eph. 1:4) but David Clarke made no mention of it. Furthermore, pagans and Christians do not believe in the same God. In the Old Testament, when the people of Israel sacrificed unto strange gods they were not just worshipping Jehovah in a different way. All ways did not and do not lead to God! Moses explicitly says that "they sacrificed unto devils, not to God" (Deut. 32:17). Paul shows that the situation was no different in the New Testament: devout worshippers of Diana, Zeus, etc "sacrifice to devils, and not to God" (I Cor. 10:20). Similarly, the devout Hindu who sacrifices to Ganesh or any other of his many gods sacrifices to devils, not to God. Such is the clear teaching of Scripture.

3. Theistic Evolution

Having effectively denied that Jesus is the one, only and sufficient Saviour, the clergy proceeded to deny Scripture itself. One listener asked the question, "Do you believe that God created the world in six days?" Surely a very simple question! The Bible is clear (Gen. 1; Exod. 20:11). The Westminster Confession is clear: "It pleased God in the beginning, to create or make of nothing the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days and all very good" (4:1).

David Clarke did not give the answer of the Westminster Confession. Instead, he stated plainly and unequivocally that he is a theistic evolutionist:

Well, I think sometimes we become fairly obsessed with this. People believe in creation, in evolution and so on. Anybody who reads the Bible will recognize that the opening chapters of Genesis are of a different nature from the rest of that book, for instance. If you're asking me personally, I’m a Christian, I'm a theistic evolutionist. It could well be that evolution over a long period of years, of centuries and of millennia is the way in which God acts. Science addresses the question, How did this world come about. The Bible addresses the question, Who brought this world into being. So religion and science in this issue are addressing separate questions. If evolution over a long period is the way in which God brings the world into being, I can live with that. God is the Creator, it's His world.

We repudiate the idea that the opening chapters of Genesis are "of a different nature from the rest of the book." There is no indication of that. Clarke is allowing himself to be influenced by the theories of unbelieving scientists. Genesis 1:1 tells us that God created the world. The rest of the chapter and the next chapter tell us how He created all things. It explains the order in which God proceeded, how long He chose to take and the result of His creative work. It simply will not do to explain away the days in Genesis 1 as aeons of time. God created all things "in the space of six days." Furthermore, when God created all things, He looked upon His handiwork and "behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). This could not have been the case if His creative work was the result of billions of years of death, bloodshed, suffering and corruption, which is the story of Darwinian evolution. Science cannot address the question how the universe came into being. Only revelation from God can tell us that. Unbelieving scientists and clergymen refuse to believe the revelation of Scripture. (Click here to read Prof. David Engelsma's pamphlet, "Genesis 1-11: Myth or History?")

Methodist President, Ivan McElhinney repeated the folly of David Clarke: "The Bible tells us that God created and it is science that tells us how God created the world … the Bible is a very ancient document, it comes from an ancient culture." McElhinney impugns the veracity of God’s word which he calls "a very ancient document." This same "ancient document" teaches us the gospel of Jesus Christ, His life, His death, His resurrection and His coming again in judgment, which McElhinney claims to accept. Why does he accept the New Testament accounts of Christ but refuse to affirm the truth of creation as taught in Genesis? Christ and the apostles had no difficulty affirming the truth of Genesis. Jesus upholds the truth of Genesis when He rebukes the Pharisees, "Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female?" (Matt. 19:4). If all living creatures evolved (as Darwinian evolution insists) from primeval slime and over billions of years of struggle man evolved from ape-like ancestors, what becomes of Adam and Eve? How can it be confessed that Adam and Eve were literal, historical people, whose literal actions had literal consequences for all mankind, if evolution is true? If the fundamental truth of Adam and Eve is denied, fundamental doctrines such as original sin and redemption in Christ fall to the ground. Have the clergy ever considered this? There can be no doubt that Christ and the apostles believed that Adam and Eve (and Noah and other persons mentioned in Genesis) were real people (cf. Matt. 19:4; Rom. 5:12; I Cor. 15:47; I Tim. 2:13-14; etc.).

4. Conquest of Canaan

Since the church leaders were unwilling to defend the opening chapters of Scripture, it is hardly surprising that they fail to defend other Old Testament texts. Host, William Crawley quoted ardent atheist and evolutionist propagandist, Richard Dawkins, who claimed blasphemously that "the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction" and charges Jehovah with unlawfully calling the Israelites to commit genocide when they displaced the Canaanites.

How does David Clarke answer such a wicked charge?

Interviewer: "Richard Dawkins says that that [the conquest of Canaan] is genocide, ethnic cleansing. How can you deny that?"
Clarke: "Well, that's one small story in the vast sweep of the Old Testament."
Interviewer: "It's a very key text."
Clarke: "There are many key texts in the Old Testament and there is so much in the Old Testament about the mercy and loving-kindness of God."
Interviewer: "But how do you deal with that text?"
Clarke: "Take that particular text ... in those days ... the total annihilation of the enemy indicated that the battles, the wars were fought for the good of, on behalf of, the gods. Nowadays we fight wars for human profit, for control of the oil wells of the Middle East ... so in a sense there is that to be said in defence of it. But there is so much in the Old Testament ..."
Interviewer: "Do you see this as a god sanctioning genocide in that text?"
Clarke: "It was a particular juncture in Hebrew history, the protection of the and in development of the insight that the Hebrews had into the greatness of the monotheistic god, and there was a light and a truth that the Hebrews had at that time."
Interviewer: "That's like you’re saying that that yes he did but he didn't do it very often in the Bible?"
Clarke: "[Laughs.] Yes. But, I think, you mustn't run away from the fact that the goodness and the mercy of God, that's in the Old Testament."

Nowhere in this response does Clarke indicate that he actually believes that God commanded the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. What he says is that at a certain time in Hebrew history the Israelites had a certain "insight" into the greatness of God. The implication is that they were mistaken. God did not really command them to destroy the Canaanites. The Israelites simply thought that God wanted that.

The Bible is clear that God did command Israel (especially through Joshua) to kill the Canaanites. It may seem harsh to us, but we dare not accuse God of unrighteousness. God first reveals to Abraham in Genesis 15:16 something of the end that awaits the Canaanites: "But in the fourth generation they (i.e., Abraham’s descendants) shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." This is an indication that God’s judgment is coming. The Amorites were not ripe for judgment. God would punish them but it would be many years in the future. In Exodus 23:30, God promises to "drive out" the Canaanites "little [by] little." This driving out is not simply a displacement of them from the land but an utter destruction of them (v. 27). In Deuteronomy 7:1-4, God gives clear instructions to the Israelites. They are to "smite" and "utterly destroy them" and they are forbidden to show mercy to them. They are not to marry them because that would turn them away from worshipping Jehovah. Because the Israelites failed utterly to eradicate the Canaanites, they were repeatedly enticed into idolatry. Later in the book of Deuteronomy, God commands His people to "save alive nothing that breatheth" but to "destroy utterly" the inhabitants of Canaan (20:16-18).

But why did God order the utter destruction of these nations? God was punishing the wicked Canaanites for their gross wickedness through Israel as His instrument (and Israel understood this). This is clear from Leviticus 18:24-28. The Canaanites, says Jehovah, are "defiled." "I do visit the iniquity thereof upon [Canaan]," says God. Not only that, so wicked are the Canaanites—and some of their abominable sins are listed in Leviticus 18—that "the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants." God then warns the Israelites that if they engage in the wicked practices of the Canaanites, the land will spew them out too.

God is the sovereign judge and He does right (Gen. 18:25). God’s judgments are shown all through the Old Testament. God destroyed the wicked by the flood (Gen. 9) and in Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19). Atheists, such as Dawkins, use such incidents to argue that God is a monster unworthy of worship. Robin Eames’ response to Dawkins’ blasphemies is to complain that his language is "hurtful." None of the clergy face the objection head-on with an indignant rebuke. Who dares judge Jehovah? Shall not the Creator of all things do what He wills in His creation? Is Jehovah obligated to save the Canaanites? In that same chapter (Deut. 7), God shows His sovereign good pleasure. He destroys the Canaanites, "seven nations greater and mightier" than the children of Israel (v. 1). Lest the Israelites think they are favoured by Jehovah because of their own intrinsic worth, God reminds them that it is "not for thy righteousness or for the uprightness of thine heart" (9:5) that He chose them but simply because He loves them. Indeed, Israel are "a stiff-necked people" (v. 6) and completely undeserving of God’s love.

There is the love, mercy, and compassion of God in the Old Testament. Because God loved Noah, He destroyed the wicked. Because God loved Lot, He destroyed the Sodomites. Because God loved the children of Israel, He destroyed the Egyptians and because God loved His people, He destroyed the Canaanites  and because God loved the elect descendents of Jacob, He destroyed the Edomites (Mal. 1:2-5). God did not love, but hated, the wicked, the men of Sodom, the Egyptians, the Canaanites and the Edomites (Josh. 11:20; Ps. 5:5; 11:5; Mal. 1:2-5). God loved Israel with a sovereign, free, electing love. He tells Moses, "The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number … but because the LORD loved you" (Deut. 7:7-8). That is to say, God loved Israel because He loved Israel. His love is grounded in Himself, not in Israel, who was undeserving of that love. Today, too, God chooses to love some sinners and save them. This electing love is unconditional and sovereign (Eph. 1:4ff.). We who are loved by God must confess that we are undeserving and marvel at the love which God has for us in Jesus Christ.

Roman Catholic Archbishop, Sean Brady does not fare much better with this question than his friend, David Clarke.

Brady (RC): "Well, it certainly creates problems but the God we, we have moved on from that to the God of Jesus Christ."
Interviewer: "Are they different gods?"
Brady (RC): "Not a different God, but the God revealed by Jesus Christ is the God we believe in."
Interviewer: "Surely there needs to be some consistency between that God and the God imaged in this text?"
Brady (RC): "Well that image needs to be corrected by later revelation in Jesus Christ."
Interviewer: "Corrected?"
Brady (RC): "Yes, I think so. I, I. [Clarke whispers, "Developed."] Developed. It creates problems. There is no doubt about that, but the point where we are at the moment is of Jesus Christ as the one who reveals God, a God who brings compassion and forgiveness and healing."
Interviewer: "Are you embarrassed by the God of the Old Testament?"
Brady (RC): "I am more fascinated by the God of the New Testament."

These answers are a complete cop-out. The God of the Old Testament is the same unchanging God of the New Testament (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). There is no doubt that the God of the New Testament reveals Himself as merciful. With the coming of Christ, the promise to Abraham that "in thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" is fulfilled (Gal. 3:13-14). Sean Brady has "problems" with the Old Testament because it does not fit with his idea of a god who loves all without exception. All the nations are blessed in Abraham but that blessing of salvation is not for every human being head for head, but only for the elect who are in Christ. Outside of Christ, God can only be known as "a consuming fire" into whose hands it is a fearful thing to fall (Heb. 10:31). There is mercy for all those who come to God through Christ (Heb. 7:25) and since "all that the Father giveth [Him] shall come to [Him]," Christ can promise that "him that cometh unto me, I shall in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). However, "He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him" (3:36). Those who will not repent will perish under the wrath of Jesus Christ, "the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev. 6:16).

5. Homosexuality

On the subject of homosexuality, David Clarke revealed that the General Assembly of the PCI "passed a resolution establishing a committee to acknowledge the existence of homophobia in society and in our church, and to develop ways in which we could approach people of homosexual orientation in a much more sensitive way." The stance of the PCI, continued Clarke, is that they "regard homosexual practices as incompatible with New Testament Christianity." Why did he not say sin? Homosexual practices, and the lusts which lead to such practices, are sin before God (Rom. 1:26-27; I Cor. 6:9; I Tim. 1:10; Jude 7). There needs to be sharp preaching against the sin of sodomy. The pulpit needs to warn the people that God hates this sin (and all sin) and will punish it severely. That being said, we acknowledge that David Clarke does not "dignify the relationship [of same sex civil union] with the term of Christian marriage" and that Presbyterian ministers "are not allowed to bless civil partnerships as such." One wonders how long the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will "stand firm on Christian marriage as the relationship of one man and one woman." When a denomination can re-interpret the Bible to allow the ordination of women (I Tim. 2:11-12; I Cor. 14:34), theistic evolution, etc., can it be long before they conveniently cave into our culture to re-interpret the Bible to allow for homosexuality, as many churches have done? (Click here to read the answer!)

Where Are the True Presbyterians?

We have now examined the answers given by Presbyterian Moderator, David Clarke, on a few, key issues (Rome, a true church; the salvation of unevangelized heathen; theistic evolution; the conquest of Canaan; the relationship between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament; homosexuality). His answers betrayed false ecumenism, Arminianism, liberalism, modernism, evolutionism, higher criticism and Marcionitism, contrary to the Word of Almighty God. "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20). All of these heresies are also condemned in the Westminster Standards, which Rev. Clarke affirmed in his ordination vows. And this is the man that the majority of Presbyteries in the PCI voted for moderator!

We have to ask, where are the "evangelicals" in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland? Where are the faithful pastors in the church? Where are the protests? Why is there a deafening silence? Why are those who deny the faith of Jesus Christ and the confession of the church not disciplined, as Scripture, the Westminster Confession (30:1-4) and the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. & A. 85) require?