By way of a personal update, anyone who has been following this blog will have noticed that my writing has slowed down quite a bit. That’s not intentional. I just haven’t been able to write as much or the way I’d like to as evidenced by the several unfinished drafts in my draft bin. I think it is largely attributed to my job as executive director of a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate ethnic heritages from around the globe. I’m also a staff of one so my many hats pulls me in all kinds of different directions as I work to advance the organization’s mission and expanding programming. I may write on that more later. In the meantime, I have kept up podcasting on the Family Discussion podcast that I co-host with the Rev. Marcos Ortega. We just finished our fourth season as we continue the trek through the categories of systematic theology applied to the issues of our day. Season 4 focused on humanity and sin so we had quite a bit to say about gender, human sexuality, and race. We’ll pick that up in season 5 as we move into Christology. You can check out more that here. But I really do want to get back to writing on a regular basis, if nothing more than just to download some of the processing that goes on in my head as I observe our current landscape.
And so that is what I intend to do here as the 49th General Assembly (GA for short) of the Presbyterian Church in America just concluded this past week. In case you don’t know, this is the annual meeting of commissioners (pastors/elders known as teaching elders or ruling elders) to conduct the affairs of the church. I’ve tuned in to the livestream since 2016 and been on a learning curve ever since. The parliamentary proceedings can get really complex. But in the deliverance of the committee reports and overture debates, you do get a sense of what the church is grappling with and attempting to bring in submission to the obedience of Christ and to be a faithful witness to him.
You also can hear where there are divergent opinions regarding the church’s direction, which has been increasingly heightened in recent years. That is compounded by the blogs, tweets, and posts seen on social media on a regular basis. There have projections of an inevitable church split produced by factional concerns under the rubric of the oft cited phrase “peace and purity of the church.” Despite what some may say, I do believe there is generally a strong commitment to Scripture though the applicational grid may be skewed in different directions. Continue reading →
Bryan Chapell commented on the importance of this discussion for the future of the PCA:
My sense is that most teaching and ruling elders in the PCA are thankful and grateful for our standards, but often confused and bewildered by how ineffective we seem to be in reaching our culture with the gospel. Therefore, it’s very important to discern how we may maintain our standards while at the same time being an effective instrument of Christ in our current day.
Ron Taylor says, “I hope all will see that we can have cooperative ministry and we want to be able to work better together across generational lines, ethnic lines, sociological lines….In the last 40 years, our cultural context has changed considerably with significant transfer of the population from small, rural areas, to large, urban ones…We have to consider how we can better penetrate urban areas.”
I have only been in the PCA for 2 years, though my formation of Reformed theology started way before then. I continue to be impressed by the tension of maintaining commitment to Reformed roots and adapting to a changing environment. Of course the commitment is to Scripture but there is also recognition that Presbyterianism is not the only game in town. It seems to me that what these speakers are pressing is the need be in dialogue with other Christian denominations and affiliations. Though I unapologetically classify myself as Reformed, my eclectic doctrinal journey cautions me against making Reformed the dogmatic standard of Christianity to which everyone else must bow. My theological convictions impress upon me Reformed doctrine as a result of wrestling with the biblical texts and arguments past and present. But if I lose sight that Christ’s body encompasses other members who hold the core beliefs but deviate on some secondary issues then, I lose sight of the beauty of what it means to be in Christ’s body. It’s why I try not to push Reformed doctrine in the sense of some kind of superiority kick, as I wrote here. Admittedly, sometimes I fail. But it helps to remember that the true body of Christ is pretty big and transcends denominational lines.Continue reading →
I’m going to attempt to briefly sketch out a thought I had in the aftermath of the Strange Fire conference, which frankly I’m quite tired of hearing about. And just when you think the fire has died down, up pops little brush fires here and there. Anyways, bear with me for a minute while I sketch this out and explain where I’m going with the title. And to be clear, I’m merely using Strange Fire as an example to leverage a broader thought on this issue. I personally don’t think there’s anything further that can be said about the conference itself. Let sleeping dogs…you know the rest.
I came across this document the other day, which was a statement issued by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1975 titled A Pastoral Letter Concerning the Experience of the Holy Spirit in the Church Today. Not only did it affirm my position on cessationism, but I also appreciated the leniency that was provided to those who hold a differing position. It also busts those persistent caricatures of cessationist that keep getting regurgitated no matter how many attempts to correct are made.
But even more compelling to me was the fact that it was issued by the governing body of this denomination. Now, I’ve been in the PCA for only a year and have tried to read up as much as I can on its history and particulars, which gives some more details from the church history courses I’ve taken in seminary. The transition into the PCA was a few years in the making, though I didn’t really realize it until last year. And I say “in the making” because of increasing disconnects that I was having with independent, non-denominational and Bible churches I’ve been apart of and also some theological wrestling. The disconnect had to do with on one hand, seriously examining the nature and purpose of the church, and on the other seeing incompatibilities with and her actions towards the very people she was designed to serve. As I wrote about here, the pragmatic and experience driven nature of independent churches in general (I’m sure there are exceptions) seemed to turn these microcosms into their own little machine, navigating through a maze of strategic planning and latest thoughts on how this church thing is supposed to work with little accountability. Continue reading →
Yesterday, John Frame’s page on Facebook posted this question;
Why are there so few African-Americans and Latinos in the PCA? Or in any Reformed church, for that matter? This is, I think, an important question. The Church of Jesus Christ is to embrace all nations, as God fulfills in Jesus his promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3, Matt. 28:19). This does not mean that each congregation must have a quota of members from every people-group, but it does mean that the church as a whole should reach out to everybody.
I can’t speak for Latinos, but for African-Americans I suspect this might have something to do with it
This video suggests that cultural preferences play a significant role in church affiliation for African-americans, even at the expense of questionable theology and church practice. And yes, it is true that as long as we affiliate with churches that we find culturally compatible, the sad reality is that is that Reformed churches don’t really stand a chance. My own journey to the PCA involved sacrificing cultural preferences amid a primarily white congregation although there is a small multi-cultural presence. While it has been a rich exchange for Christ-centered worship, I know that the cultural gap is huge for many African-Americans. Though it varies somewhat, Reformed worship is not only foreign but a difficult pill to swallow in most cases. Continue reading →