The Importance of Attidude in Confessional Subscription

Over at Reformation 21, Carl Trueman asks,

I wonder: do good churches go bad because they appoint closet liberals to the ministry? Or do they go bad because they appoint good people to the ministry who do not understand the nature and importance of confessional subscription and who will therefore, wittingly or unwittingly, help to water down the very mechanisms established by the church to preserve the gospel for the next generation?

Trueman highlights a very important detail concerning confessional subscription that is often left out of the discussion – the attitude with which one subscribes. Subscription should be a matter of conviction, not convenience.

Check out his essay here.

>Strategic Plan/Identity for the PCA?

>The Cooperative Ministries Committee has unanimously approved its “Strategic Plan” for understanding, evaluating and responding to the slowed numerical growth of the PCA (even the apparent frightening reality that there was even numerical shrinking),

This Strategic Plan seeks to address these realities by helping the PCA identify its challenges, address them with strategies that are consistent with our biblical values, and build denominational support for implementing these strategies. The overall goal is to enable the church to work together to steward its blessings and resources to advance the cause of Christ according to the principles and priorities of his Word.

If one does not wish to read all the analysis and evaluation and get right to the “strategies,” a helpful overview can be read here.  You can find an article in byFaith Magazine here.  You can also find a series of videos presenting the CMC’s plan here.

At the heart of the issue here, is the question over identity, or in the words of the committee “a proposed plan for the future of the PCA.”  There is much that could be said about this plan and there are many points that could be addressed.  But, given that this proposal concerns identity, I would like to address a couple of big-picture issues rather than specific details.  So, in my mind, a foundational question that must be answered is, “Is the identity that is assumed in these strategies and will be further entrenched by these strategies biblical/confessional?”.

First, the plan further centralizes power for making decisions in the PCA’s ministry.  Centralization of power, even in the church, is never a good thing, but especially within a Presbyterian denomination.  Presbyterian is not a top-down ecclessiology, but rather a representative ecclessiology where men ordained to exercise the keys of the kingdom exercise them on behalf of Christ for the church.  Presbyterianism spreads the authority equally, where as, centralization takes it away from some and puts it in the hands of fewer men.  And this is particularly dangerous given what the Bible says about who is participating in governing the church.  Presbyterianism is a representation consisting of sinners saved by grace who still sin.  This fact of the ongoing presence of sin and struggle with it further under-girds why centralization is wrong headed.  Presbyters already have a impossible calling as is–is it very wise to make that calling even more precarious?  Do we want to temp men to abuse power?  No matter how godly leadership is, it is still a leadership consisting of sinners who can be easily tempted to abuse authority.  If you think this concern is unfounded, then you may want to read more history, yes, even church history. Centralization will put the church in harm’s way by creating an environment for authoritarianism, where the will of the few powerful and elite will be forced on the many.  And the few powerful and elite always seem to be those with more money.  Is this the direction we want to take things?  To put the smaller and the weak in a position to be furthered looked over and ignored?  Centralization, then, is contra Presbyterian.

Secondly, the plan calls for the PCA to withdraw from NAPARC, the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council.  Theme #3, specific means #4 states:

Means (Specific) #4: Partner with national and international ministries with whom we can most effectively participate in God’s Global Mission by: (a) seek union or appropriate levels of cooperation with Reformed movements making Gospel progress and in harmony with our ethos and goals; (b) withdraw from organizations with whom we share doctrinal history, but not ministry priorities, currently draining our ministry energies (e.g. NAPARC); (c) find new ways to give away our knowledge and resources to bodies of believers being spiritually blessed, [emphasis mine].

NAPARC is a group of churches that represent different denominations with whom the PCA has fraternal relations for the purpose of assisting one another for building the church of Jesus Christ rather than just focusing on individual denominations.  This group represents those with whom the PCA shares the same doctrinal heritage and represents the truest of fellowship and ecumenicism.  These are the guys who are standing with us.  These are the guys with whom we can participate in clear conscience in church planting and missions because we know they believe what we believe.  The reason stated for withdrawal is that even though they do share this doctrinal history, they don’t share the PCA’s ministry priorities.  Because of this, the strategy says that NAPARC is draining the PCA’s resources, so to be more effective in planting reformed churches and doing world-wide reformed missions, the plan says we need to stop participating with the other reformed bodies who are striving do the same.  What priorities aren’t the same?  In essence, by withdrawing, it would appear that we are limiting ourselves in ministry. 

Unless, by withdrawing from those with whom we share a doctrinal heritage, we join in with groups with whom we don’t.  Is there a move here to be aligned with non-reformed groups to accomplish reformed evangelism, church-planting and foreign missions for the sake of having greater “influence and growth.”  What will we be growing?  There is already a serious issue in the PCA with the use of non-reformed worship practices and non-reformed church growth strategies.  Will we now just go ahead and join in the work of the  groups whose methods have already been adopted?  According to Theme #3, the answer is yes.  The strategy would prefer the PCA learn from and work with the non-Reformed and the Reformed not part of NAPARC.  Which is interesting, given that there are no conservative churches in North America that are not part of NAPARC.  So who are these Reformed groups?  Who is it that makes up the “global church”?

O.k., so this has already gone much longer than originally intended, so I will stop for now.  But these two issues are very important.  The strategy calls for the PCA as a Presbyterian and Reformed church to pursue evangelism, church planting and missions in a non-Presbyterian fashion that centralizes power and to do so by no longer participating with other conservative Presbyterian and Reformed churches.  So, the strategy seems to suggest that the PCA needs to develop a less Reformed, maybe even, non-Reformed identity in order to do Reformed ministry.

Now, please don’t come away from this thinking that the whole thing is bad and awful and the plague.  But, on the big picture, I am very concerned.  For critiques that deal with more specific details, you can read here and here.

The next step is for the “Strategic Plan” to be brought to the floor at GA.  It will be interesting to see what the PCA decides to say about herself by her vote.

>The Kingdom of God and the Church–An Outline

>Much has been said in the last century and a half concerning the relationship of the Kingdom of God and the Church. Some have questioned if the Church is related to the Kingdom of God at all insisting that it was a sociological development by the apostles as a means of maintaining their control after Jesus’ death. Others have suggested that the kingdom is totally future and that the Church is merely a temporary phenomenon until God’s Kingdom program starts back up. Others have postulated that the kingdom is so present today that it should become become political and transform society (a Christian utopia if you will).

Given the importance that it plays in the teaching of the Bible and Jesus and the abuses that have occurred because of misunderstanding, we need some clarity. Geerhardus Vos provides this in his fine study on the Kingdom of God and the Church. Vos presents a thorough, yet, accessible treatment from a redemptive-historical perspective looking at it from just about every possible angle.

Well, making this book even more accessible, there is a great new resource for helping the reader grasp Vos’ argument. Over at Twenty-First Century Tabletalk, Michael Lynch has posted a full outline of the book. With the outline he helps walk the reader through not only the material, but the argument, including helpful quotes along the way.

If you want to read it but not spend any money, then you can read it online for free at Google Books.

[HT: James Grant]

>Is "Unity" Worth The Price of Admission?

>Here is part of what David Strain thinks,

I simply cannot see how else to say that we love the local church without also saying that we believe the local church should function this way and not that way. Let’s love the church enough to have a clear ecclesiology!

The one thing that is so urgently needed now is not another conference or another movement across denominational lines. What is really needed is a clear and unashamed articulation of robust, catholic, Reformed, ecclesiology.

Read the entire post here.

>Church Visions and Purpose Statements

>I am not a fan of how churches have adopted the business practice of developing “Visions” and “Purpose Statements.” However, if you are going to have a “Vision” for your church, let it be like this one. In a post from today over at Letters from Mississippi, the pastor David Strain shares an address from this past Lord’s Day when the Session had decided to hold a special meeting after morning worship to explain the Session’s plan for the future and development of the congregation.

Strain’s address can be summed up by quoting one line of it:

Perhaps the best, most graphic, clearest way for me to share the vision of Main Street Presbyterian Church with you, is to point you to the Bread and the Wine of the Lord’s Supper.

In describing the “Vision” that the Session has for the spiritual growth and nourishment of the congregation, the emphasis lands squarely on the faithful administration of the outward and ordinary means of grace.

If believing hearts find Christ in the preached word, the sacraments of baptism and communion and prayer, why would a church do anything else?

Why wouldn’t a church partake of them every week?

Getting the Questions Right

>To anyone who knows anything about the OPC, not only is the denomination small, but a majority of her congregations are small as well. This lack of size does create certain challenges. However, it also can lead to certain questions, all of which are not necessarily helpful or the right questions to be asking. In this new book on the church, Kevin DeYoung has some helpful thoughts and questions regarding the issue of church size (pp. 31-36).

DeYoung notes that often, when faced with the problem of a church that is not growing and maybe even shrinking, people will respond by asking “What are we doing wrong?,” or “What is the Church not doing right?” Although he is directing his comments towards the “disgruntled-with-church-as-we-know-it” crowd or “Disgruntled Johnny,” his insights are also applicable for all who fall into the trap of assuming that the lack of church growth is the tell all sign that there is something wrong with the church.

This is not to suggest that these questions are not the right ones to ask, but they certainly shouldn’t be the first. There is no teaching in the Bible that promises, suggests or even hints at the idea that the size and growth of a church is the measure of success. As DeYoung states, “the church does not succeed or fail based on the flow of its membership roles.” So, rather than jumping right to the assumption that something is wrong with the church and asking “What is the church doing wrong?,” there are better questions that could be asked.

  • Are we getting in the way of the gospel?
  • Are we believing the gospel?
  • Are we relying on the power of the gospel?
  • Are we getting the gospel out?
  • Are we getting the gospel right?
  • Are we adorning the gospel with good works?
  • Are we praying for the work of the gospel?
  • Are we training up our children in the gospel?
  • Are we trusting in God’s sovereignty in the gospel?

These questions can be very helpful and useful in assessing a church’s ministry–however, I would also add to the end of each question “well.” It is certainly a good thing to be doing these things, but it is also important to be doing them well. DeYoung hints at this in a brief discussion of the first question, “Are we getting in the way of the gospel?” He notes that despite the misuse and abuse of 1 Corinthians 9.22, we would do well to take Paul’s words and example serious in seeking to be all things to all people. Because some churches are aware of the danger of measuring church success by numbers and becoming gospel “sell-outs,” they go to the other extreme and see small size and rejection from people as a badge of honor. They complement themselves for being concerned with truth and not being controlled by the need for results.

But a conern for truth and the right desire not to be ruled by pragmatism does not provide an excuse for communicating poorly. The gospel is already a stumbling block, we do not need to add to that by making it unnecessarily hard for people to be welcomed into the church. We don’t need to sound like we’re channeling some sixteenth century theologian. We don’t need to try to recreate the worship and ethos of eighteenth century New England Puritanism. But we also don’t have to borrow from twenty-first century American culture either.

The bottom line is that God asks us to be good and faithful, not big and influential. We need to constantly be assessing ourselves by the scriptures, or as Reformed theology has emphasized, we need to be reformed according to the scriptures. We do not need to let small numbers cause us to question the church–in fact, we don’t need to let numbers large or small do this. Regardless of the size of one’s church, one needs to ask, “Are we being good and faithful?” I think DeYoung’s questions above are quite helpful to that end. We need to get the questions right, before we can get the right answers.

>Electronic Church

>Just prior to coming to Grace OPC for my internship, I worked shortly for Ligonier Ministries answering phones. On more than one occasion per shift, I would speak to someone referring to R.C. Sproul as his or her “pastor.” Now, to be clear, Ligonier’s policy was to promote the local church, so we were trained to thank the person for support, but to encourage him or her to see Ligonier materials as supplementary and to encourage the individual to be a communicant member of a local congregation.

But this does raise an important question. With all the new forms of electronic media that provide access to Christian teaching, is the local church still important? Is it still necessary, or is it a leftover of a bygone age?

Others have answered this question better than I. In his article, “TV Church,” (originally published in Modern Reformation, Vol. 2 No. 6) Robert Godfrey has written, “the purpose of this article is to maintain that all those supplements must remain subordinate to and supportive of the Christian’s commitment to the local church.” Read the whole article here to see how he develops this thesis…

[HT: R. Scott Clark]

>New Horizons January 2009, "Athentic Church"

>Before we leave the month of January, let me draw your attention to the January issue of the OPC’s monthly periodical New Horizons. In this issue, there is some helpful interaction concerning the emergent church movement.

  1. Sincerely Yours: The Marks of the True Authentic Church by A. Craig Troxel
  2. Why We Are Not Emergent by Dale A. Van Dyke
  3. Christianity and the Emergent Church by Danny E. Olinger

These articles are written at the lay level and helpfully introduce the reader to the main issues and concerns about the emergent church movement from a confessionally Reformed perspective without getting too bogged down in the details.

Laurence O’Donnell has provided some helpful summaries of the articles, as well as some additional resources for further reading.