Results tagged “PCA” from Reformation21 Blog

Remembering Dr. Morton H. Smith

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Dr. Morton H. Smith, founding professor of Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), founder of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS), first Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and one of the world's foremost authorities on American Presbyterian history and theology, passed into glory on Sunday, November 12, 2017. He was 93 years old.

He was the fourth of five sons born to James Brookes and Margaret Morton Smith of Roanoke, Virginia on December 11, 1923. His early childhood was characterized by a love for the mountains of western Virginia and a heartfelt commitment to Christ from a young age. The Smith family maintained an active membership in the Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church, where Mr. Smith served as a Ruling Elder until they moved to the Mt. Washington area of Baltimore, Maryland.

It was at the Mt. Washington Presbyterian Church that Dr. Smith publicly professed his faith in Jesus Christ. Later on in life, Dr. Smith would credit Pastor James E. Moore with having the greatest influence on his life outside of his parents. The elders received Dr. Smith as a communing member when he was eleven years old. During the membership interview, the senior elder of the session asked Dr. Smith, "What does Jesus mean to you?" The generally shy young man expressed his love for Christ when, choking up, he eked out an answer that communicated, "He means everything to me, and I trust Him as my Savior."

In the Spring of 1941, Dr. Smith graduated from the St. Paul's School for Boys in Baltimore. He enrolled at the University of Michigan that Fall to study Forestry. In his first year at Michigan, he met his future wife, Miss. Lois Knopf. They married on June 30, 1944 while Dr. Smith was serving as a military flight instructor during World War II. After graduating with a degree in Botany in 1947, he accepted a position as the office manager in the Registrar's office.

The Lord used teaching and preaching opportunities at Grace Bible Church (Miss. Lois' home church) to call Dr. Smith to the gospel ministry. He enrolled at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia in the Fall of 1949. While at Columbia, Dr. Smith gravitated to the last remaining confessional professor at the seminary, Dr. William Childs Robinson. Recognizing the entrenched theological liberalism of the institution as a whole, the Smiths decided to transfer to Westminster Theological Seminary in the Fall of 1950.

The Smiths spent one year at Westminster, and Dr. Smith later recalled it as the most intellectually stimulating year of his life. He particularly profited from time spent with Dr. Cornelius Van Til and Professor John Murray. Though their year in Philadelphia was a great blessing to the Smiths, Dr. John R. Richardson of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Atlanta convinced them to return to a denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) in order to prepare for ministry in that body. Dr. Smith completed his studies at Columbia Theological Seminary in December of 1952.

Like many students of Columbia Seminary at the time, Dr. Smith was active in pastoral and preaching ministry while pursuing his degree. In 1952, he was ministering to an unaffiliated core group of believers in Valdosta, GA who ultimately organized as a congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). After consulting with Dr. Van Til and PCUS missionary to Japan Dr. David McIlwaine, both of whom urged Dr. Smith to remain in the PCUS in order to maintain a confessional witness within the Southern Presbyterian church, he elected to pursue a call in the PCUS. In 1954, he accepted a call to a two-church field: Springfield-Roller, near Baltimore, MD.

That same year, however, he received a call to teach Bible at Belhaven Colleg in Jackson, MS. He would hold that position until 1963. It was during this time that the Smiths adopted Samuel and Suzanne in 1958 and 1962, respectively. In 1962, he completed his Doctor of Philosophy degree on a Fulbright Fellowship to the Free University of Amsterdam, under the tutelage of Professor G.C. Berkouwer. His doctoral dissertation is in publication under the title, Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology. In 1963, Westminster Theological Seminary invited Dr. Smith to join the faculty as a guest lecturer in practical theology.

In 1964, the Smiths moved to French Camp, MS to serve on the faculty of what would become Reformed Theological Seminary. Dr. Smith taught classes in several locations around the country, locations to which he would travel by plane in his own Cessna 150. He would fly his plane all over the continental United States as both a professor and a churchman for decades, finally selling his last aircraft in 1988.

Dr. Smith was on the original faculty in the Fall of 1966, when Reformed Theological Seminary commenced classes with 17 students. He taught there until 1978, at which point his role as Stated Clerk of the PCA grew into a full-time responsibility. The Steering Committee of the Continuing Presbyterian Church (what would become the PCA) commissioned Dr. Smith to produce a book outlining a rationale for separating from the PCUS. How is the Gold Become Dim was published shortly before the Continuing Church met in December of 1973. At that first meeting of the Continuing Church, the gathered elders elected Dr. Smith to serve as Clerk at the Convocation of Sessions and at the First General Assembly of the fledgling church. He would continue in this role until 1988, serving the new denomination which from its start devoted itself to three great aims: to be faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.

In 1978, once he began to work full-time as Stated Clerk. Toward the end of his tenure as Stated Clerk, Dr. Smith began working with a group of elders from Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC to establish an Old School Presbyterian Seminary in Upstate South Carolina. In the Fall of 1987, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary began classes to equip preachers, pastors, and churchmen for Christ's Kingdom.

After resigning as Stated Clerk of the PCA, Dr. Smith continued to serve on denominational committees, take an active part in the Western Carolina Presbytery of the PCA, and participate in the life of Cornerstone PCA in Brevard, NC. He also traveled extensively around the world to teach, preach, and train pastors in many different countries: South Africa, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Russia, and New Zealand. In 2013, the Board of Trustees of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary named a Chair in Systematic Theology in honor of Dr. Smith.

Generations of his students will remember him as a godly, gentle, and quiet man of strong Christian character and conviction. As a scholar, he was committed to the depth and breadth of the Reformed tradition, founded upon the rock-solid foundation of God's Word. His was an exegetically grounded theology. Committed to preparing and equipping Reformed ministers, his academic work flowed out of the instruction which he provided to his students. As a true child of God, Dr. Smith had a humble, simple faith in Christ. For Dr. Morton Smith, all true doctrinal inquiry finds its ultimate terminus in Christ. He loved to talk about and preach Christ.

The PCA recognized his contribution as one of the founding fathers of the denomination when the 28th General Assembly (2000) elected him to serve as Moderator. To date, he appears to be the last bearded moderator of the PCA General Assembly.

In a festschrift published in honor of Dr. Smith's eightieth birthday in 2004, I described Dr. Smith's influence on the PCA in no uncertain terms: "no man has had a more profound impact on the early development of this denomination than he." Reformed Theological Seminary Chancellor and CEO Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, who studied "The Theology of the Westminster Standards" under Dr. Smith at Covenant Theological Seminary, identified him as both a family friend and "one of the key figures in late twentieth-century North American Presbyterianism." Reformed Theological Seminary Professor Emeritus Dr. Douglas F. Kelly commended Dr. Smith as a man who has "stood for what he understands to be God's truth no matter how offensive it has been to the spirit of the age."

In the last few years of his life, Dr. Smith enjoyed receiving guests into his home, many of whom were students and colleagues from various seasons of his life. He also lovingly cared for his wife as her health declined more rapidly than his. It was only a severe stroke on Thursday, November 2, 2017 that caused him to pass more quickly into glory.

We thank God for the life and legacy of Dr. Morton Howison Smith, even as we mourn his death. Yet our loss is his gain. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches in Q. & A. 37, "The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united in Christ, do rest in their graves til the resurrection." Having passed into glory, Dr. Morton Smith is now perfect in holiness, beholding his beloved Christ.

A Vital Call for the Vitals of Religion

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In the denomination in which I serve as a minister--The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)--we have confessional standards to which all our ministers voluntarily agree to submit, subscribe, and support. The language we use to describe this action is that of adoption. He must, our Book of Church Order requires, be "able in good faith sincerely to receive and adopt the Confession of Fatih and Catechisms" of the church as "containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures" (BCO 21.4).

That fact being stipulated, the adoption of the documents as containing the system does not mean a jot and tittle adoption of every "statement and/or proposition" (BCO 21.4). To put it another way, one is not automatically disqualified from being able to minister in the PCA because of a difference with the Standards. Instead, ministers and candidates for the ministry may take exceptions--at the discretion and permission of a Presbytery--to any differences or scruples they might have with the official doctrine of the church as contained in the standards. When this happens each exception is weighed and examined by the court of the church. Some exceptions are deemed acceptable and thus approved; others are not.

Of course, all of this raises the following questions: "By what standard is an exception deemed acceptable or not? Is there another repository of truth which may be mined and appealed to in order to determine whether or not an exception is acceptable?"

The answer to the latter question is "Yes!" The litmus test used to determine acceptance and approval of exceptions to the standards is this: "The exception(s) must not be the kind that is either hostile to the system or strikes at the vitals of religion" (BCO 21.4). In other words, all exceptions are acceptable as long as they don't strike at the vitals of religion. So far so good, right?

But this forces additional questions to surface. What are the vitals of religion? Where might one find the list of them? What types of exceptions are hostile to the system? Where might one find that list?

This is where things get quite interesting. The answers that I have heard to those questions, at least from my experience and in my opinion, is alarming. The vitals of religion evidently clearly exist. They are mentioned in the BCO, after all. But no one can seem to agree what they are or where they are codified. In the context of debate on the Presbytery floor, I've even asked for someone to articulate them! Many people seem to know what they are and where they are codified. But the problem is that often their particular lists differ from the list of their colleagues.

Evidently the vitals of religion are different for different people. And because different people make up different Presbyteries, they are, therefore, different for different Presbyteries. Furthermore, if history teaches us anything it's that the vitals actually change over time as well. What was once a vital and struck against the system in 1973 is no longer a vital today and therefore acceptable. And we should expect the same evolution and progression to continue. What is a vital today will not likely be a vital in 50 years from now.

This undefined language of the BCO is, at this point, highly subjective and allows for the acceptance of anything so long as it is agreed upon by the majority who determine that the exception is not threatening a vital.

From this we can conclude that a vital is what the contemporary majority at the time of examination determines a vital to be.

The only way to remedy this is to come up wth a list of vitals--that is, acceptable exceptions--or require strict subscription to the original documents. There are simply no other alternatives. And when the list of vitals is produced, no doubt, a sub-set of vitals-of-the-vitals will emerge, and then we are back to square one. Apart from strict subscription, all other solutions will allow for the contemporary majority to determine what is acceptable or not in the denomination.

At the end of the day, Even if we come up with a list of vitals for the entire denomination now it will reflect the contemporary opinion of the majority. So, really, the only option is full subscription to the old confessional standards. If this is rejected the PCA will be, in 50 years, what the PCUSA is today.

The Public Reading of Scripture--Presbyterian-Style

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In 2011, the session of the church that I pastor sought to educate and assist the members of the church regarding proposed changes that we had decided to make to an important aspect of our corporate worship services. Prior to these changes, unordained men would regularly lead the congregation in the public reading of Scripture and prayer. Desiring to bring our worship into greater conformity with our doctrinal standards and historic Reformed practice, our Session passed a motion limiting the public reading of Scripture to the minister who is preaching.

Since we are a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America, some within the congregation rightfully and insightfully raised the question about the propriety of this change in light of Book of Church Order 50.2. That section reads: "The reading of the Holy Scripture in the congregation is a part of the public worship of God and should be done by the minister or some other person." Obviously, the phrase in question at the end of the statement is, "or some other person." So, are we to understand by this phrase that unordained men and women are allowed to read Scripture in a worship service in the PCA? Those who allow unordained men to read the Scripture in public worship appeal to this phrase, as do those who wish to allow women reading Scripture in the context of public worship.

What follows is not intended to be an exegetical wrestling with Scripture about the topic of women or unordained men reading the Scripture in worship; neither is it meant to be a substitution for that. That is, of course, most important and necessary. This is an attempt to investigate the background of BCO 50.2. Additionally, appeal will be made to the Westminster Larger Catechism and the Directory for Public WorshipAfter all, the BCO should be interpreted in light of those documents due to their respective provenances.

First, if "some other person" means, "anyone else without qualification," then there is clearly a contradiction between BCO 50-2 and WLC 156 where restrictions are placed around the reading of the Word. WLC 156 states:

"Q. Is the Word of God to be read by all? A. Although all are not to be permitted to read publicly to the congregation, yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves, and with their families: to which end, the Holy Scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar languages."

We must ask the question, "Who is not permitted to read publicly to the congregation?" At a recent meeting of our Presbytery, one minister insisted that this was merely excluding five year olds. Aside from the obvious fact that the vast majority of five year olds don't read, such a suggestion is intellectually offensive and stretches credulity to the breaking point. Did the framers of the confession really only want to restrict young children from the public reading of Scripture in worship?

Contextually, the restriction should be understood in light of the encouragement. "...all are not to be permitted...yet all sorts of people are bound to read it apart by themselves..." Those not permitted to read the Scriptures publicly, then, are the "all sorts of people" who are encouraged to read it privately. "All sorts of people" is most certainly, then, not a reference to age or to gender but rather to those who do not hold the ordained office.

Support for this is found in the Scripture proofs chosen to defend the statement that "all are not permitted to read publicly to the congregation"--namely, Deut. 31.9-13 and Neh. 8.2-5. In the Deuteronomy passage, Moses specifically tasks the Levites to read the Word of God to the people. Similarly, in the Nehemiah passage it's Ezra the Priest who gathers the people and reads and explains Scripture to the people. These passages highlight the distinction between the ordained and unordained ministry.

This is also the conclusion of Johannes G. Vos in his commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism. After citing the Scripture proofs he offers the following comment:

"Reading the Word of God publicly to the congregation is the duty of those especially called as ministers of the Word." (Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, 438).

Later Vos asks, "Why are not all Christians people 'to be permitted to read the word publicly to the congregation?'" He then offers this commentary:

"Reading the Scriptures 'publicly to the congregation' is a part of conducting the public worship of God, and therefore it is to be done only by those who have been properly called to that office in the church. Of course in the absence of an ordained minister or licentiate, the elders of the church may properly appoint some person to read the Scripture and conduct a prayer meeting or 'fellowship meeting.' What the catechism denies is that any private Christian may lawfully take it upon himself to conduct public worship, without being appointed to do so by those whose office it is to rule the house of God (Vos, 439).

Since WLC 156 was written many years prior to the "some other person" statement of BCO 50-2, it should be clear that "anyone else without qualification" cannot be the authorial intention ofBCO 50-2, but is to be understood in light of the restriction referenced in WLC 156.

Second, the context of the question is important. WLC Q. 154 begins by dealing with the "outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of mediation." These means are all His ordinances, but especially 1) the Word; 2) sacraments, and 3) prayer.

From here the ministry of the word is taken up and divided into two subcategories: Reading (Q/A 156-157) and Preaching (Q/A 158-160). In this series of question and answers the catechism envisions the one who is preaching also to be the one who is reading because the reading of Holy Scripture is a ministry of the Word and thus a function of the minister who has been ordained to the ministry of the Word and sacraments.

Furthermore, from this it follows that all who are entitled to read are also entitled to preach because both reading and preaching are two aspects of the ministry of the word.

Third, the progression of the developed teaching of BCO 50.2 is important to understand. Consider the following:

  • The Directory for the Publick Worship of God; agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, 1645, III-1 & 2 

"Reading of the word in the congregation, being part of the publick worship of God, (wherein we acknowledge our dependence upon him, and subjection to him,) and one mean sanctified by him for the edifying of his people, is to be performed by the pastors and teachers.
 Howbeit, such as intend the ministry, may occasionally both read the word, and exercise their gift in preaching in the congregation, if allowed by the presbytery thereunto."

  • PCUSA, 1786, DfW, 2d Draft
"The reading of the Holy Scriptures in the Congregation, is a part of the public worship of God; and ought to be performed by the Ministers and Teachers."

  • PCUSA 1789. DfW, III-1
"The reading of the holy Scriptures, in the congregation, is a part of the public worship of God, and ought to be performed by the ministers and teachers."

  • PCUS 1894, III-1

"The reading of the Holy Scriptures in the congregation is a part of the public worship of God, and ought to be performed by the minister or some other authorized person."

  • PCUS 1925, Directory for Worship, III-1

"The reading of the Holy Scriptures in the congregation is a part of the public worship of God, and ought to be performed by the minister or some other authorized person."

  • PCUS 1933, Directory for Worship, III-1 [§310] 

"The reading of the Holy Scriptures in the congregation is a part of the public worship of God, and should be done by the minister or some other authorized person."

  • PCA 1975
"The reading of the holy Scriptures in the congregation is a part of the public worship of God and should be done by the minister, or by some other person."

What is equally fascinating is the way that BCO 50-1 is so restrictive while BCO 50-2 is so expansive. In 50-1 reading is restricted to the minister alone.

"The public reading of the Holy Scriptures is performed by the minister as God's servant. Through it God speaks most directly to the congregation, even more directly than through the sermon. The reading of the Scriptures by the minister is to be distinguished from the responsive reading of certain portions of Scripture by the minister and the congregation. In the former God addresses His people; in the latter God's people give expression in the words of Scripture to their contrition, adoration, gratitude and other holy sentiments. The psalms of Scripture are especially appropriate for responsive reading."

How are we to explain this seemingly obvious discrepancy between BCO 50-1 and 50-2 and between BCO 50-2 and the WLC? In his commentary on the BCO, one of the founding fathers of the PCA makes the following statement:

"As already noted, this paragraph [BCO 50-2] is in contrast to the first sentence of the 50-1. The "or some other person" was added by the PCA by motion from the floor of the Assembly when it was adopted in the Book, and it is evident that it was not carefully compared to other portions of the Book. Without any qualifications as to the "other person" it nullifies all restrictions implied in both 50-1 and 50-2. This is one of those areas that needs further study" (Morton Smith, Commentary on the PCA Book of Church Order, 408).

Conclusion

From these historical, confessional, and contextual observations, I am led to conclude that the phrase "or some other person" of BCO 50-2 can only be expanded to include visiting ordained ministers, ruling elders, and those who are not yet ordained as either a TE or RE, but are in training for that office and have been approved by the Session.

Moving forward those on both sides of the debate should insist that BCO 50.2 should be updated and delivered from its current opacity, which is neither promoting unity or clarity in our denomination.

I've been wondering just what we're supposed to do with Bryan Chapell's "The State of the PCA" essay in byFaith (available here), beyond praying over the sad state of affairs it describes.

Chapell adapted this essay from a private letter to a friend he was trying to orient to the PCA. In the moonlight, it reads as a straightforward attempt to describe a difficult situation; out in the sun, as a state-of-the-union statement, a few early paragraphs seem to have some english on them. Still, I'm grateful elder statesmen are willing to cast their thoughts into the current for little piranha like me to devour.


A Useful Orientation?

Trying to find my place in the PCA with this essay, however, is not easy. I immigrated here a dozen or so years ago and am grateful to have a home where people care as much as I think we do for biblical fidelity, Reformed theology, and the church's evangelical mission to the world. Like Sean Lucas, who comes off rather neutral here, I also think we should work hard to be friends and am grateful to see so many brothers and sisters doing just that.

That said, I'm also "highly committed to our Confessional standards," believing they mark the most helpful and urgently needed place for us to stand in the world today. The way forward, I'm convinced, is to keep on confessing those robust biblical standards as we energetically devote ourselves to ordinary means of grace ministry.

Does that make me a traditionalist? Apparently not. First, I'm too young. Second, I tend to view orthodox evangelical types as a fringe minority in a pseudo-pluralist society. The notion I was surrounded by a moral majority always seemed a bit absurd and self-serving to me. Third, I agree that a merely reactionary conservatism is unworthy of Christ and our calling in this world and I'm willing to raise questions about the credibility of our theology--actually, the credibility of those of us who profess our theology--on the contemporary American scene. 

Then again, I'm pretty sure the progressive version of cultural engagement that focuses on meta-affecting the ambient culture through centers of social influence is just a gentrified version of Falwell's blue-collar culture war, rooted in a similar misunderstanding of the evangelical nature and mission of the church.

Where does all that leave me? Right where it found me, I think: happy, active, and confessional.


Partisanship and Pluralism?

Every sociological observation is easily criticized for seeming to describe something in general but never anything in particular. Chapell's essay is no exception. But this brings me back to my opening question: What are we supposed to do with "The State of the PCA"?

Using this essay as a field guide to orient ourselves to party politics, as natural as that is, is exactly the wrong use.

A far better use, I think, is to take this Corinthian-like description of our church--as divided and weakened by partisanship while confronting a challenging cultural context--and carefully consider how Paul's appeal in 1 Corinthians 1-4 applies to us at this moment. What does it mean for us to agree, to be of one mind, as undivided as Christ? How must we become fools that we may become wise through the word of the cross? How can we move beyond suspicion that all progressive types are compromisers and all traditionalists are indifferent to the world and all neutralists are rudderless, and be the one church under one Lord with one faith and hope that we are in Christ?

What has the possibility to unite us is not the recognition of a greater enemy on the horizon in the form of pluralism, an enemy we have in common to some degree with Mormons and Muslims. Our unity must be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's the clear assumption Chapell makes in his discussion of how God might use pluralism to bring us "to new levels of graciousness to each other and dependence upon the grace of our Savior." Maybe God will use pluralism this way, but I think it's worth reminding ourselves that unity in Christ does not require and will not be secured by a common cultural enemy, but only by faith working through love in the messiness of it all right here, right now, whatever our cultural context may be (Gal. 5:6). On that I trust we all agree.
Although there are some denominations that fully or partially fund their church planters, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is not one of them. Therefore, if the local church, or presbytery, calls you to plant a congregation, you must raise the financial support you need to fulfill your monetary requirements.

Initially, this was one of my greatest fears. Since I did not have many connections in the PCA, I was not sure if I could raise the financial support necessary to complete my 3-year budget, and if I could not raise the support, I would likely not be able to plant a PCA congregation. Those concerns are still present, especially considering I am still in the process of fundraising; nevertheless, in time, things became much easier because of what I have learned along the way.

If you are considering planting a PCA congregation, here are some things that may help you.

1. Create your network now. In other words, if you are going to plant a church in the PCA even if it is in 3-4 years, begin creating your network list now. A network list is a group of churches and individuals who may support you financially. Begin with your sending church and the churches in your presbytery. (Your presbytery may financially support you as well). After you have exhausted that list, consider other churches, both those in your denomination and those outside the denomination. Write the names of family members and close friends who may support you, too. Be mindful that your sending church may not want you to petition the people of that congregation, especially if that church is supporting you. 

2. Expand your network. After writing down the various churches and individuals who may support you, at some point, ask them if they know anyone who may be interested in helping financially. Also consider asking those in your core group for help. Find out if they know others, whether churches or individuals, who may support this effort.

3. Prepare a proposal. Some churches and individuals want a proposal. They desire to see a more in-depth approach to what you are doing. The proposal should include a brief 1-page testimony, perhaps a resume, a brief 1-page summary regarding why this work is important, your budget and current percentage raised, and demographics of the church planting area. More information may be required, but this should get you started. Remember, hundreds of other church planters may be petitioning the same churches you are. When considering the importance of your work, what makes you different? Is it the location of your church plant? Is it your vision? Do you have a strong desire to be an evangelistic church? What is it?

4. Send a hardcopy first. When sending financial support letters, consider first sending a hardcopy letter with your signature. A mass email may seem too impersonal. Also consider personalizing one or two introductory paragraphs in each letter to tailor it to those to whom you are writing. Will this take more time? Yes, but it may be worth it. Will sending an initial hardcopy letter cost more? Yes, but if you are able to generate the funds, it may be worth it. You can always follow-up the initial letter with an email and/or phone call.

5. Don't be disappointed. Do not get disappointed if a church or individual cannot financially support you. During the fundraising process, we create lists based on churches and persons who will necessarily support us. When those individuals or churches cannot, disappointment may set in. Do not let it. There may be valid reasons why people cannot financially offer any help presently.

6. Be prayerfully aware of God's sovereignty. Pray that God's will be accomplished. Although fundraising can be hectic at times, the God of all creation is in control. He will bring you financial support in accordance with his will. That may mean you accomplish your goal in one year; that may mean you are fundraising for five years; that may even mean you do not accomplish your goal and you have to consider another way to plant a church (e.g., bi-vocational). Whatever the circumstances, God is sovereign, and he is directing your efforts in a manner in accordance with his will. 
As Katniss Everdeen, Haymitch Abernathy, and Peeta Mellark are traveling to the Hunger Games, Katniss walks into a conversation where she is greeted by these words from Haymitch: "I was just giving some life-saving advice... It should come in handy if you were still alive." The goal was survival. Someone needed to be the last man or woman standing. Who would it be?

As far as I was concerned, the last man (or family) standing at the Presbyterian Church in America Mission to North America (PCA MNA) Assessment Center was going to be my family. Prior to attending the assessment center, I was looking for "life-saving advice." I had heard too many horror stories about the process. In some cases, the stories I heard were just short of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Attempting to be a good husband, therefore, I relayed the information to my wife. It did not help her much. In fact, it made her more nervous. Apparently the fact that she was/is pregnant was unhelpful as well.

On day one, we got acquainted with the assessors and those being assessed. My antennas of discernment were up. I quickly began analyzing people. "Who do I need to take out first?", I thought. "If there is only going to be one family remaining, it must be us." My competitive juices were flowing. I began analyzing the dominant personalities and those whom I could befriend. Although the assessors claimed to be on my side, I was not entirely sure. They were watching our every move. As a matter of fact, someone was told that they placed hidden cameras in our bedrooms. For my family, it did not matter. We were on our best behavior.

My desires to compete with the other families and have our arms raised as the victors of the Hunger Games at the end of the assessment soon ceased. By the end of day one, the fog through which I analyzed the process cleared. I began to realize people were extremely friendly. This was not a competition. We were actually all trying to get to the same place - church planting. The assessors were warm, welcoming, pastoral, and gentle. So, too, were the families being assessed.

What I heard about the PCA MNA Assessment Center and what I experienced were two completely different realities. There were no hidden cameras in our rooms. You did not need to be the victor. The entire process was about glorying God by helping us, those being assessed, to further embrace Christ. Yes, there were times when the assessors had to expose the idols of our hearts, but they did it in such a gospel-saturated manner, they left us with hope.

I highly recommend the PCA MNA Assessment Center. It was a blessing to my family. The assessors truly cared about us and it showed. We also met some amazing church planting families with whom we hope to keep in touch. 

If you are considering attending the assessment center, you might not want to believe the hype. It might have you going to Atlanta (or wherever the assessment is being held) ready to chop off peoples' heads and take no prisoners. Rather, let your guard down. Know the assessors have your best interest in mind. Relax. Enjoy. Learn. Have a good time, and may the odds ever be in your favor.

Is This Possible?

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Here, signs above the water fountains said, "For Colored Only." Certain parks, restaurants, and swimming pools prohibited all but its white guests. Distant past? No. As recently as 1960, ethnic integration on public transportation was still questionable. 

Home to the Manchester Slave Trail and Lumpkin's Slave Jail, Richmond, Virginia - the capital of the Confederacy - still suffers from its terrifying and unfortunate history. Conversations of white supremacy and suppression among blacks occur in one neighborhood - the black neighborhood - while the stained image of black victimization, slothfulness, and criminalization occur in another neighborhood - the white neighborhood. Like many cities, Richmond is largely segregated. In fact, Christianity Today writes Richmond is the "site of urban-suburban divisions as stark as any in America."

Perhaps some of its ethnic segregation is opportunistically planned (e.g., Little Italy, China Town, etc.). Perhaps some of it is worse than that (e.g., exclusively wealthy neighborhoods as opposed to purposefully planned areas populated by government housing). Regardless of the reasons for ethnic and socio-economic segregation - and there are many - what is most unfortunate about the segregation that exists in Richmond is that it even exists in the vast majority of churches

But I thought the gospel transcends ethnic barriers? I thought the good news of Christianity was for Jew and Gentile, rich and poor? It is! The Directory of Public Worship states,

"The unity and catholicity of the covenant people are to be manifest in public worship. Accordingly, the service is to be conducted in a manner that enables and expects all the members of the covenant community - male and female, old and young, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, healthy and infirm, people from every race and nation - to worship together." (1.B.4.C)

Regrettably, most churches in Richmond do not reflect that. We hope to see that change.

So why go into an area with such division to start a Bible study and hopefully plant a church? The answer is simple: people from all ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic categories need the gospel. 

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard?" (Romans 10:14, my translation). 

Will you pray for this work? Will you tell others? Our hope is that God will build a Revelation 5:9-10 church in South Richmond. We believe this is possible.

Here is a brief video that talks about our desires. Contact information may be found there. 

Thank you for your prayers; thank you for spreading the word. May God be glorified!

All that Grace Does!

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This coming Monday evening, June 17, we begin our pre- PCA General Assembly conference, hosted at Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville by the Gospel Reformation Network.  The conference is titled, "What Grace Does."  Too often today, salvation is preached as if it consists only of justification through faith alone.  Thank God for the good news of justification!  But we must also proclaim and enter into all of  the good news of what grace does.  Our conference will celebrate how grace regenerates, liberates, recreates, and consummates those who are brought into union with Christ through faith.  If you are in Greenville for the PCA General Assembly, I hope you will join us for worship and God's Word, Monday evening at 7 pm.

Why Intinction Matters

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One of the Book of Church Order amendments making the rounds of PCA presbyteries this year is a proposed change to forbid the practice of intinction.  For those not in the know, intinction is the procedure of receiving the Lord's Supper by dipping the bread into the cup. Instead of eating the bread and drinking the cup, one eats the wine or grape-juice saturated bread.  


 

It seems likely that this amendment is going to fail to achieve the necessary 2/3 of presbyteries to be approved, so that we will see the novelty of a Reformed Presbyterian denomination approving a procedure historically associated with the Roman Catholic Mass.  What is more revealing, and to me discouraging, is the kind of argument being reported in presbytery after presbytery.

Rick Phillips on the PCA

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Reformation21's own Rick Phillips wrote a thoughtful and charitable piece on the PCA's "Meeting of Understanding" here