Wednesday, May 21, 2014


   One day I was in the basement of Covenant Seminary's Library.  Somewhere in the archives I found a little booklet that was called, The Reformed Presbyterian Principles.  One of the things that jumped out at me was a statement that they would not swear allegiance to the Constitution of the United States as long as it did not acknowledge Christ as King and Lord and as long as it supported slavery.

    Somewhere along the line the Reformed Presbyterians have decided to acknowledge the Constitution.  Obviously the Constitution has been amended and slavery has legally ended.  It still hasn't submitted the country to Jesus.  Some years later I was a Teaching Elder in the RPCES when our denomination joined and was received by the PCA.  When that happened I knew that I was inheriting a history and legacy of the Southern Presbyterian Church, although the PCA was new and created as a reactionary denomination to the liberal drift of the PCUS.

    I was encouraged by the fact that some of the men I knew in the formation of the PCA were men who wanted nothing to do with racism and certainly were not attempting to hold on to any racist vestiges of the Southern Church.  The fact that there was a continuing racism in the new denomination was not a surprise to me, there had been some in the RPCES as well. I knew this from personal experience in being rebuffed from speaking and deputation engagements due to being inter-racially married.

    I have yearned to see more and more African American men become Teaching Elders in our denomination, as well as all other minority ethnic groups.  I have seen this number grow from one to almost fifty in my time as a TE.  I expect that growth to speed up tremendously as these men win others to Christ, disciple them in the Reformed Faith, and help train them theologically. I am encouraged by three African American Reformed University Teaching Elders at historically black institutions.  This means that some black young men will be steered toward the PCA.

     Not only that but I see a growing group of young white Teaching Elders who want to plant multi-ethnic and cross cultural churches.  I have seen the attitude of some of our agencies change as new leadership makes diversity a priority, and that not for any political reason but solely for the glory of God and the spread of the Kingdom of God to all the nations.

    I have seen some Presbyteries stand up to racism, deny transfer to a few who held racist views, and actually discipline instances of racism.  At the same time there are those whose published racist views have not been repented of, those who evidently still hold those views allowed to not only be comfortable in their Presbytery but be honored.  

    The fact of continued racism, of racist history, has been used by some to discourage men from joining the PCA.  This history cannot be hidden simply because the entire history of our country and the struggle in the South for human and civil rights is no secret. Just because someone didn't know something from history doesn't mean anyone was hiding it. Racism is an embarrassing blemish on the wonderful and noble experiment of American freedom, but even worse, on the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ.

    I was extremely gratified when the PCA took the step of a public repentance of our complicity with racism from our past, and those of us from the RPCES who could have stood up and said, "that wasn't our history" voted with the rest as we have certainly inherited the results of that sinful past.

    So when I hear of brothers who are offended by the history of the PCA and almost act as if there is a conspiracy to hide that history it grieves me.  One reason is that I believe the pursuit of justice needs allies, not more critics.  Another is that it sometimes seems to me people pick and choose from history what they want to own.  I love Martin Luther's theology (the German guy) but I despise his views about the Jews.  I love Thomas Jefferson's words declaring independence, his concepts of universal human dignity as God given, while I despise his hypocrisy in owning slaves and using them for sexual gratification.  I love Abraham Lincoln in what he did for America and for black people in particular, but am grieved when I realize how little he understood of equality though seemed to grow in understanding its concept.

    I just wonder if there was anyone in history who didn't have some sin in  his life, some blind spot, something really heinous in his or her views?  I also wonder if there are better denominations who have no sins they tolerate?  I don't like it that some Presbyteries allow men to hold vicious ideas and doctrines that grieve and hurt their own brethren but I also know that we have church courts, we have a system of justice, and I am optimistic that eventually justice will  prevail.  I also know that as long as we are on this earth we will be a church with wrinkles and blemishes as we ask Jesus to make us a bride without blemish or spot.

    I am not asking for anyone to "just get over it."  I am asking everyone to "just deal with it."  If you have a case bring it, if you don't know how then learn.  There are no short cuts in church discipline (except repentance) and slander is not a godly option.

   My question is not about our past; if you hate it what can you do about it?  Are you going to stop living in the South because of how it used to be, will you move from America because of how it used to be, or because on any given day we can still find instances of racism and hate? What extent will you go to in divorcing yourself from sin in other people?

    My question about our denomination is what attitude is ascendant?  Is it seeking to follow King Jesus as he scatters his enemies, or is our denomination hiding his enemies?  I certainly wouldn't be in it if I didn't believe it was holding (as shaky and as incomplete as it may be) to the Word of God and attempting to live for his glory.

    I for one remain in the denomination for conscience sake, I love the Word of God, I believe in accountability even when it comes back to bite me because I know I am prone to sin.  I fight for change, everyday, in the matter of our racial and cultural demographics.  If I was in some other denomination I would have to take up the fight there, but probably with less assurance that I could make a Biblical argument that would be heeded.

Thursday, May 15, 2014



     So how can things be done through the church, and done well?  Let me lay out a pattern for those trying to organize a ministry of mercy.  There are several things that are important components.

    First is actually knowing and meeting the poor.  This is part of the “relocation” idea of John Perkins and CCDA core principles.  If there is no relational bridge to the poor than the kind of help we give will be like the kind the military sometimes gives in times of disaster when it parachutes supplies out of an airplane.  That might help in time of disaster but it doesn’t change lives.  We have found that when we meet the poor on a spiritual basis we have a far greater amount of influence in their lives for economic change.
   Doing evangelism and outreach within poor communities is a way of building spiritual and relational bridges.  If your church simply makes itself an agency for the paying of bills or handling financial emergencies people will look upon your church as such and it will be impersonal.  You will simply be another resource for them to exploit to make it through the month.  I believe it will sometimes be necessary for your church to handle financial emergencies or financial supplements for poor families, but without a relational or spiritual basis it won’t usually result in much change.  What makes churches different is that we go after the human heart and soul, and everything else can grow from that.

    Second, is establishing a point of contact in your church structure that proactively seeks to help the poor.  We consider the Deacons to be the ones best suited for this role.  Please notice that I used the word “proactively.”  This means Deacons or mercy workers need to be trained to think longer term when meeting emergency or relief needs.  Creating structure, policies, programs, etc. are all part of this but there needs to be a point of contact for the poor so they will know who to speak with and where to come for help.

   Third, is developing the mentality that the church wants the poor to be part of the congregation, to attend, to worship, to join.  Jesus told us that as we go we are to make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that he commanded us.  This is found in the Great Commission as we refer to Matthew 28:19-20.  The local church is the place of discipleship, and it is where the poor need to be so they can grow in the knowledge of the Lord and of his Word.  Our goal is not to simply have the church minister to the poor, but that the poor should become the Church, and then it about us together and not “us” helping “them.”

   Fourth, is developing strategies, program, spin-offs, and referrals to help the poor we have helped by relief to now develop themselves economically.  This is often unseen and unknown by prosperous churches.  The process of economic development, community development, and using appropriate technology for development are issues that congregations within poor communities have to struggle with so as to help all of their people.  Merciful relief gives the poor a bridge to get to the development process but without entering into the development process merciful relief can become a merry-go-round that the poor can’t seem to get off.

    Fifth, we close the circle of ministry to the poor by discipling them into leadership so they can bless their own families and communities and not simply escape it.  Many of the folks we help will not necessarily return to help us in our mission.  Some will escape the “ghetto” through the education and jobs we help them to secure.  Poverty makes people provincial by force and when they have economic options they will usually take them and one of those options is to move to a better neighborhood.  We share some success in the economic elevation of people with whom we work, but our aim is to create radicalized believers who don’t simply live for themselves but for him who died and gave his life for them.  We want the poor to become the next Deacons, Elders, Pastors, and Missionaries of our church.