Results tagged “Change” from Reformation21 Blog

Forget Nostalgia!

Following the election on Tuesday night many are still reeling with surprise from the results. Some are in shock, some are incensed, some are delighted, and still others have taken this opportunity to decry the result as a sign of declining public virtue. The tendency in moments like this is to look to the past and wish that we could be decent people again ruled by decent men. There is a temptation for us to indulge in nostalgia for elections past and for a brighter age when morality was held in higher esteem than it seems to be in our own day.

Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, has an extended discussion of Ecclesiastes 7:10, which reads: "Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this." As I was reading Bridges's remarks on this verse, I sensed that what he had to say there speaks to our own national moment. He wrote:

National changes may bring national declension. Increasing wealth and luxury may relax the tone of public morals. But - it may be asked - 'Is it not the ordinary habit of the old men of the generation to give undue worth and weight to the records of bygone days?' Has not each succeeding generation left a protest against the degeneracy of its predecessor? Yet in a general view 'God has always been good, and men have always been bad,' and "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecc. 1:9; 3:15).

The case therefore involves a 'doubtful problem and a foolish question.' For thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this. The picture of a golden age, and the loveliness and purity of the primitive era, are now confessedly only the day-dreams of imagination. Take then the broad features of the present day. After due allowance has been made for the fearful discoveries of ignorance and depravity - yet mark the spread of true religion - the large provision for the temporal comfort of the poor - the widely diffused blessings of Scriptural education - the influence of civil and religious liberty - and, above all, the extended circulation and preaching of the glorious Gospel throughout the world - Would it not be hard to produce former days better than these? "Blessed are the eyes that see the things that ye see!" (Luke 10:23-24).

After all - 'it is folly to cry out of the badness of the times, when there is so much more reason to complain of the badness of our hearts (if men's hearts were better, the times would be mended); and when there is such reason to be thankful that they are not worse; but that even in the worst times we enjoy many mercies; that help to make them, not only tolerable, but comfortable.' 

The question has been well asked - 'If the times are bad, what are we doing to mend them?' Have not we helped to make them bad? And do not murmuring complaints make them worse? Could we change clouds for sunshine, would it be for our real good? Is not the arrangement of the infinitely wise and gracious Father more of our true advantage than the dictates of our poor human folly? It was not our lot to be born in former, and - as is supposed - better days. But surely it is our duty to gather all good out of the seeming evil, and cheerfully to submit to what we cannot change. "Murmerers and complainers" belong to every age. Leave God's work to him, and let us attend to our own work, which is - not so much to change the world, but to change ourselves - to "serve our own generation by the will of God," and to 'let the badness of the age in which we live make us more wise, more circumspect, more humble.'

Brighter days are before us - each day brightened with the hope of a near-coming salvation. O Christian! "Salvation nearer." What a quickening glow! (Rom. 13:11). Faith, hope, diligence, perseverance, watchfulness - all stir up the bottom springs of the heart (1 Peter 1:13). The earnest is "joy unspeakable." What will the consummation be?

Rather than dwelling in the past, or fearing the future, Bridges suggested that it is our responsibility to act in the day and time in which we have been born and to use the time that we have been given with wisdom.

What's in a Name?

Names have always been important. There's a reason why "Judas" never tops the list of most popular baby names in any given year. When my wife and I were trying to pick out names for our children, we always had the same conversation: How will it sound with our last name, what does it mean, and how does it roll off the tongue when we're shouting up the stairs? All important factors! Whether we like it or not, names get tied to ideas and perceptions. Nobody hears the name of the now defunct company Enron and thinks it was a wonderfully productive service provider that did us all a lot of good. It's fascinating to watch business drop off all over the country when a chain restaurant all of the sudden finds out one of their stores was serving contaminated meat. And who wants to be associated with a name like Watergate?

When it comes to the names of churches, there is something wonderful about holding on to the same name for multiple generations, giving testimony to God's continued faithfulness. Every church has its share of ups and downs, and when they are able to persevere, God ought to be praised and the people of God ought to be thankful. However, there can be times when the name of a church is more of a hindrance than help, and a congregation should consider changing it to remove any obstacles that stand in the way of reaching more people. Let me explain why and how the church that I pastor recently approached this issue.

I have been the pastor of a Reformed Baptist church in a small Georgia community in the suburbs of Savannah for the last 9 years. I was never a fan of the church's name, but I also didn't think it was much of a big deal given a host of other things we were working to change. However, in time it was clear to our elders through discussions with people around the community that it was time to think of something new. When the discussions began, we weren't a declining or plateaued church, but we did have a desire to clarify and renew our identity in the community.

Some people couldn't pronounce our church's name, let alone spell it. The church was started as a primitive Baptist church that eventually had charismatic influences, only to later be dominated by moralistic teaching and practices. Over the span of 27 years, that's a lot to overcome when the last decade has been a concerted effort to be intentionally biblical and confessional in our faith and practice. When I arrived at the church in 2007, I was thankful that they had already left their previous denomination and adopted the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. However the church itself was far from being what anyone would expect from a reformed and baptistic local church, and the community had no idea anything had changed.

In a transitional community or big city, a church's name is not likely to cause a lot of problems. People come-and-go and neighborhoods change significantly from year-to-year, so reputations based upon a name aren't as entrenched as in smaller, less transitional communities. But all churches should be willing to ask questions about their identity and consider what they are capable of changing to more effectively communicate who and what they are without carrying significant baggage along with them. Changing a church name may be difficult for some people who have been in a local church for a long time, but churches that don't do what may be needed because sentimentality reigns in numerous areas are likely to fall away completely over time. Here are a few questions to ask when considering changing the name of a local church:

1. Is it easy to say, spell, pronounce, and remember? We were Ephesus Church. As hard as you might try, I'd be very surprised if you could create a list that included all the spellings and pronunciations we've heard from people over the years. It's clunky, it doesn't really carry any specific meaning, and I as compelled to regularly emphasize that our desire was to reflect the church of Ephesus in the book of Ephesians, not Revelation! The name of the church added a lot of words to my conversations as I regularly sought to explain and clarify something that should be able to stand on its own.

2. How does your community respond to up-front doctrinal distinctions? When we asked the congregation to submit name suggestions for us to vote on, we didn't want to include "reformed" but were happy to include "baptist" in the name. We're certainly not ashamed of identifying with our confessional reformed tradition, but particularly in the South, there is a lot of misinformation about what that even means, so we'd prefer to have that conversation face-to-face instead of on our sign. However, "Baptist" is a very favored distinction in our context, so we were happy to highlight it. It's one question we were comfortable answering for people up front without assuming it would be a barrier (although, we still have to distinguish that we're not those kinds of Baptists, just like our Presbyterian brothers often point out that they're not those kinds of Presbyterians).

3. What priorities does your church name communicate? If you were given a list of church names, you would likely be able to identify a lot about what they church values before ever looking at their doctrinal statement. A name like The New Hope Center of Healing and Deliverance, Inc. says a lot about where that particular group of people prioritize, just as much as a church called The Porch. We decided on Redeemer because we wanted to emphasize Jesus as our priority, and we wanted the name Church to be included, because we unashamedly identify as a local gathering of God's people.

4. What do people say when you tell them the name of the local church of which you are part? I hope it's obvious to thinking Christians that what everyone thinks of what we call ourselves as a local church is not our top priority, but we shouldn't ignore it either. If unchurched people are unwilling to darken our doors because of a bad experience in the past or because of a long-standing reputation, we have a problem that can and should be fixed.

Changing the name is simultaneously one of the easiest things that a local church can do to restructure in its community. Of course, none of this is helpful if the church doesn't consider and change, if necessary and permissible in Scripture, what gave them a poor reputation in the first place. Hopefully it doesn't need to be said that names are not what makes or breaks a church, but rather its faithfulness to God and His Word. Nevertheless, good leadership includes regularly assessing where the church is at and whether or not changes may be necessary. As for the congregation I pastor, we are very thankful to now be Redeemer Baptist Church and have already enjoyed some tangible results of our transition.

Mike Brown: We're Still Divided

Are you watching the news? Are you reading blogs and news reports about the recent death of 18-year old Michael Brown? Have you watched the protests that have and will continue to occur? Are you, in any sense, moved to pray or talk to others about this?

I have scanned the internet for various stories on this unfortunate incident. It is unfortunate because someone is dead and families and those in his community are grieving. I wish I could say this is a unique occurrence; it is not. As one author said, "Michael Brown is not special. In all its specificity, the 18-year old's death remains just the most recent example of police officers killing unarmed black men."

To be quite honest, this angers me for many reasons. One reason is its frequency. In Los Angeles, where I was raised for part of my life, I was accustomed to seeing white spray paint on the ground that outlined the newly deceased young black man's body. I was submerged in stories about police brutality toward my people. Do not let the preacher's robe and Presbyterian polity fool you. I come from a place to which many of you cannot relate. 

Despite my current position as a PCA minister, these are still my people, and I completely understand the frustration and anger they feel. But you are my people, too. And thus I believe we must work together for the sake of the gospel to better understand each other in light of the now deceased 18-year old Michael Brown. 

Did you notice the distinction I made in the previous paragraph between "they" and "you"? Let's be transparent: the majority of both readership and authorship on this blog are white. Do not be ashamed that you are white. I am unashamed of this visible difference. You should be unashamed, too, and take great pride in God's creative genius to create us visually different. Yet, simply because we are in Christ does not flatten the beauty of ethnic and cultural distinctions that we maintain. Galatians 3:27-29 provides no grounds for such a conclusion.

With these ethnic and cultural distinctions, therefore, we may see the Mike Brown proceeding through a different lens. For some of us this simply highlights what we have always known, or at least believed, to be true: young black men are unsafe in this nation. For others, perhaps some of you, especially if you have been following this event, may wonder, "Why do they (i.e., African-Americans) have to make everything about race?" Based on your observations, you have concluded that blacks, and/or other minorities, unnecessarily pull the proverbial race card. Some African-Americans, or other sub-dominant cultures, might respond, "Why do whites always dismiss the possibility that race, or ethnicity, was a motivating factor in said event?" 

These are real questions with which people wrestle, and events like the death of Mike Brown only bring to the surface the questions that have lingered for years. I wonder, however, how this affects the church. I am particularly referring to the institutional Sunday morning (or afternoon) gathered church. Does Mike Brown, and those like him--even unarmed poor whites who have been harmed by law enforcement--affect the institutional church? I maintain it does. 

Consider the recent and ongoing immigration debate. How has it affected you? What do you think when you see a Spanish speaking image-bearer, one who knows, or at least it is assumed, very little English? What has caused your conclusions? Do you remain unaffected by the outcry of some in the media who thrust names on them, such as, "illegal," "unwanted immigrant," or "wetback"? The point of the news, while to inform, is also to sway opinion, and I think we may lack transparency if we claim we are not, at least in part, somehow affected by what some branches of the media portray about immigration.

The same can be stated about African-Americans. For years in this nation, African-Americans have been, and continue to be, portrayed in shrouds of untruth. "We are lazy, good-for-nothings," some have and do say. "We are animals," it has been said. Or in the words of PCUS minister, Benjamin Palmer (1818-1902), "The worst foes of the black race are those who have intermeddled on their behalf. We know better than others that every attribute of their character fits them for dependence and servitude. By nature the most affectionate and loyal of all races beneath the sun, they are also the most helpless."

Whether one-hundred years ago or now, our views about other ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, and mentally (in)capable groups are largely determined by our context, and the media helps form our views within our context. All of this makes it difficult to have important conversations about Mike Brown, situations like it, and the church.

This is why we need a movement of the Holy Spirit. Amid the horrific realities of Mike Browns all over the United States, and even the incidents that occur which are not broadcast (e.g., unjust acts taken against poor whites), we must demonstrate that the church is different. We are unlike the world, which can segregate, almost immediately, based on the color of one's skin and other factors. Have you noticed that is what has occurred in the death of Mike Brown? Why do you think the pictures and quotations from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have newly surfaced on the internet, largely from ethnic minorities? Why do you believe pictures from the 1950's and 1960's have been newly awakened? For many, history continues to repeat itself, and that angers African-Americans and other minorities. Perhaps we, specifically Christians, are also angry at the lack of representation in the 'Christian' blogosphere from others in the majority culture. Robin Williams is okay, but apparently Mike Brown is not.

There are potentially many answers to the lingering question, "What can we do?" The Transformatlists, Theonomists, and Two Kingdoms advocates 'can have a go at it,' as they say, discussing the church's role in this situation, particularly as it relates to the notion of justice. As a response to this situation, one of my concluding desires is to remind you of the Abrahamic (Gen. 17:4ff) and New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) promises.

You know, I believe it is extremely easy to notice the ethnic and cultural divide that has ensued due to the death of young Mike Brown, yet we might fail to see the same division in the church. It is there. You cannot miss it. If you are in a Presbyterian and/or Reformed/Reforming congregation, look around this Sunday. What do you see? Some are blessed to see diversity on numerous levels in their churches. Most are not. In large measure, we gather with those who are culturally, ethnically, mentally, and financially similar. The segregation that we see in the world, therefore, is, in much the same way, the segregation we see in the church. In other words, the same factors that contribute to segregation in the world are the same factors that create segregation in the church. Perhaps we are more worldly than we think?

Consider the Mike Brown matter in relation to the divisions we see in the church. What caused the uproar surrounding Mike Brown? Death and ethnicity--white cop, black man, one is dead. Is the church divided based on death? Yes. How many tens of thousands of Africans/African-Americans died either crossing the Atlantic during the slave trade or years after slavery was apparently abolished, were lynched in the south? Would you want to worship with someone who may kill you? The answer: be forced or voluntarily attend a different church. Furthermore, even when death became less of a threat, many African-Americans and other minorities were not permitted to worship with whites, and if they were, blacks were placed in the back of the church in what we now call, 'the choir loft.' 

Are we separated based on ethnicity? Of course. Why do we use terms like, 'the black church' and 'the white church'? Are we divided because of class and education? How many poor whites and blacks do we have in our midst? Are we frequenting the trailer parks and projects to announce the good news and invite them into our church family? By the way, poor whites and blacks, as well as those who do not have a degree, are also in the suburbs. 

Are we separated based on mentality capabilities? How many mentally disabled members do we have in our churches? Is our church a place where they, as well as their families, can feel safe, or have we made them feel unwanted because of the happenings mentality disabilities provide during Lord's Day worship (e.g., audible outbreaks). Are we divided based on culture? While many people have written about the Mark Driscoll situation, or perhaps better stated, situations, I have always been amazed at the type of people he attracted. I do not typically see those same people in Presbyterian and/or Reformed churches. Where are those who are tattooed from the neck down? Where are those who wear skinny jeans and have enlarged holes in their ears? Where are the punk rockers and the hip-hoppers? It seems, based on my observation, they/we gather with those who are like them/us.

Mike Brown: We're still divided.

Yes, what occurred to Mr. Brown is tragic and it grieves my heart. Was he even a Christian? I would hate for him to go from one tragedy to another. Yet, I wonder if this event is revealing a larger issue--the death, divide, and destruction that we have in our own churches. Both the Abrahamic and New Covenant promises reveal that God never intended his church to be divided as it is on Sunday mornings (Gen. 17:4ff; Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 28:16-20; Gal. 2:11-14; Eph. 2:11-22). His promises are for all peoples (Rev. 5:9-10). Everyone, regardless of the distinctions they maintain, needs the good news of God, in Christ, come to save sinners. That must be our foundation; it must be heard; it must be believed; and the results must be manifest in our midst (i.e., a worshiping community that displays the demographics of the community). Only then will we be able to have conversations about the Mike Browns in our midst and better understand one's perspective(s) on such horrible situations. 

Listen Up White America

TMZ online (I did not post the link because some images may be inappropriate) recently published an article titled, "Chuck D: Listen Up White America...We Ain't Ni**as.'" Chuck D, if you are unfamiliar, is a rap artist who had his heyday in the 1980's. He was a part of a group called, Public Enemy. For some time, his music was extremely popular in certain communities. Now, however, depending on which online websites you visit, you hear his name every so often.

In TMZ's article, Chuck D was responding to Suge Knight's recent claims that we should banish the phrase, "African-American." Knight, a record label CEO (also once popularized for working with Tupac Shakur), believes that the term "African-American" is inaccurate. "I'm not from Africa," Knight expressed. While Chuck D agrees that the phrase "African-American" is not an ideal term, "ni**a" surely is not a good replacement, whether the word ends with "er" or "a."

As Christians, these types of conversations may appear foolish, but for many of us this type of dialogue is a reality. What should we call ourselves? Many employment applications call us "African-American." When you scroll down the list of choices, not many other ethnic groups are identified by a hyphen. 

As if that were not enough, some of us wonder what you call us? Let's not fool ourselves. The "you" in the aforementioned sentence is "whites." Although I have not conducted any statistical analysis, I do not believe it is a leap of faith to suggest that the majority of persons frequenting this blog are white. I do not mention that to be offensive but to state a potential reality.

I have been called a "ni**er." The unfortunate reality is that it was not by a man holding on to his confederate roots in Virginia but by a (white) peer who attends a reformed church. You might wonder if he was joking when he used the term. My response: does it matter? You can read more about what has been said to me and how I have been treated here.

This is not a guilt trip but an introduction to a 6-part series that I hope to write beginning in either January 2014 or February 2014. If the Lord tarries and grants me life, I want to open a conversation--one-way initially--that highlights some of the difficulties that I, as in Presbyterian and Reformed circles. I am not alone regarding my concerns. I have had numerous conversations with "black" Presbyterian pastors about the current state (or lack thereof) of ethnic and cultural diversity in Presbyterian and Reformed churches. These conversations normally expand to a host of other issues.

I hope that the coming series will be understood in the manner I think I am providing it, not one laden with guilt but one that exposes certain realities; one that will also provide some suggestions for change. I hope the response is not, "Oh, not again," but, "Yes, we need to hear about this and change things for the glory of God." 

May the Triune God receive all the glory as we delicately talk about these issues.