Results tagged “Racism” from Reformation21 Blog

When It Happens Among Us...


Great sadness and shock have struck the denomination of which I am a minister--the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. That shock pales in comparison with the tragedy faced by the members of Chabad Poway who suffered grievous loss at the hands of John Earnest, a member of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The unspeakable, which normally takes place far from the door-step of denominations like the OPC, has kicked in the door and left carnage: a race-inspired shooting, death and destruction. The statements released by the Pastor of the church, and the Moderator and Stated Clerk of the OPC speak clearly for themselves, and also for all Orthodox Presbyterians.

There is no defense for such an act. There is no justification. No explicitly Christian theology can ever justify such terror mingled with anti-Semitism or other racial bias and sin. Orthodox Presbyterians know this is not the norm. Racial bias and violence are not taught explicitly or implicitly from its pulpits (at least not in my experience). The only explicit racism I have encountered in the OPC was that which was dealt with in a church discipline case, to the credit of the church in which it occurred. Those who have truly embraced Reformed theology know that God's plan of salvation transcends racial, social and economic borders. They know that the free offer of the gospel goes out to all regardless of race or religion. In fact, those who truly adhere to Reformed theology have a better-than-average understanding of the globalization of the gospel, promised early on to Abram (Gen. 12) and then commanded in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18ff). In fact, I would adamantly insist that any racism that was historically tolerated or propagated in churches that professed to believe Reformed theology was glaringly antithetical to the system of doctrine which they professed. 

The purpose of this article, however, is not to defend Reformed theology or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church from charges of racism, charges made either from within and without. That is easy enough to do. We have such clear words in Scripture. For instance, Ex. 22:21; 1 Sam 16:7; Acts 17:26; Gal. 3:28; Revelation 7:9. Particularly when it comes to anti-Semitism, the most obvious refutation from a Christian perspective are the words of our Lord Jesus from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). We also have clear teaching on our doctrinal standards. Westminster Larger Catechism 191 abundantly speaks to the matter of racism as a heinous sin and our duties towards others. Neither do I wish to contest that racism exists in reformed denominations: that would be like saying the pride does not exist in Reformed denominations. Nor do I wish to contest the argument that there has been a long history of anti-semitism in the church. Martin Luther was guilty of it. However, one is hard-pressed to provide convincing argumentation that the modern-day American church is anti-Semitic--actually, quite the opposite. Given the ill-advised admixture of politics and faith, the American church has largely been pro-Israel.

Neither do I wish to dwell on the unhelpful rhetoric of some within the church towards this situation. "Pastors need to take a look at themselves," we are told. Of course we do. As long as that means all pastors, including those who are making these calls (and in all areas of our lives). Some comments coming out of those quarters have come close to insinuating that a lack of careful teaching in John Earnest's church was the cause of this shooting. That argument is facile and is guilty of the very error it accuses others of: it lacks nuance, sensitivity and any real insight of that church's preaching and teaching. By the same argument we might as well blame Jesus' teaching and lack of learned sensitivity to the Jews (of two thousand years ago!) for their rejection and crucifixion of him. The church is not to blame, though it is an easy target. The pastor in question is not to blame either, and these accusations appear to pander to the current knee-jerk reaction of the world which reduces everything to bias, race or inequality of some kind.

Moreover, I do not wish to take a pot-shot at the family of the shooter. I do not know the family, their parenting, family-life, or church commitment. It is simply impossible to speculate on whether such were causes.

Yet, of this much we can be sure: from a denomination which highly values God's gracious covenant and His promises, from a family which presumably raised their children under these promises, came one who perpetrated a devilish act, supported by a devilish manifesto. The reality check for us all is this: it could be your son or my son that commits such an act. Or for pastors, it could be one your members under your ministry that commits such a crime. That includes pastors who make social justice the primary application of the gospel of Christ. Left to the depravity of their hearts, any of our children (God forbid) could end up acting out horrific racially or ideologically motivated crimes. 

Whether as preachers of the gospel or as parents, Scripture shows us that God's covenant is generational (Gen. 17:7 and Acts 2:39 for example). As covenantal Christians we expect, as we make use of God's means of grace in church and the home, that God will bless our children with faith and trust in Him and His Son. But, does faithful preaching and parenting lead to faithful members and children? Generally, the answer is "yes!" Not that the faithfulness of the preacher or the parent is the cause of children coming to faith, but God has given us means to use them and raise our children in covenant nurture. We ought, as we do with the preaching of the word (c.f. Romans 10:14), to look for God to work through those means, in the church and the home.

However, Scripture also provides us with multiple examples and explicit teaching that this is not always the case. Proverbs spends much of its time instructing parents and children in the way they should go. It holds out life for the child who hears, believes and obeys, and poverty, sorrow and death to the one who rejects that teaching. 

The Proverbs do not teach us that if we are faithful enough as parents our children will receive our teaching.1 Rather, they reveal that we are to be faithful in our teaching of our children and they are to receive that teaching. However, they also reveal--just as with the preached Word (the primary means of grace)--some will receive it and others will not.

Proverbs 5 starts like many other chapters of the book, with instructions to hear and learn and be wise. There are many such instructions in Proverbs. The faithful parent, pictured chapter after chapter in these Proverbial instructions repeatedly calls the child to a faith-filled response. However, Proverbs 5 reveals that in spite of such faithful parenting and instruction (and we know the same is true for preaching) there is responsibility to receive that same instruction. Observe the dynamic of Proverbs 5:7ff,

"And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, "How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation."2

Do we not see the call to hear? Do we not see the call to hear and listen? Do we not see the warnings to stay away from troubles? Do we not see the same call repeated many times over in Proverbs? And yet, it seems, the son in this case rejects the godly counsel of his parents. What he heard in the pew, what he heard in the living room, he did not embrace by faith, but rather rejected it for the fleeting delights of the world.

Do we not see that this could be us? It could not just be our church - from under our own ministries - from which such evil comes, but also from our own families. It could be from white families, African-American families, Chinese-American families or Welsh-American (in my case) families from which one comes who is a devil. The faithfulness of teaching in church or in the home does not guarantee the faith or godliness of the hearer. As Thomas Goodwin noted, "Judas heard all of Christ's sermons."3 It could be that any of our children may be lost to anti-Semitism, inner-city gang life and warfare, drugs or any other such evils. We are right to examine ourselves in such times of tragedy. We should ask ourselves, "Is my preaching as a minister generally faithful or not? Is my parenting generally faithful or not?" But, to simplistically jump to a conclusion about a church, a pastor or a family is unbiblical and blinds us to the fact that God will have mercy on whom he will, and will harden whom he wills (Rom. 9:15, 18).

What then is our remedy? First, we ought not to think the route of the Poway shooter is the norm. Faithful pastors and parents have every expectation of godly children without ever falling into the sin of presumption. So, we still raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Second, we pray and pray (see Calvin's four rules of prayer, Institutes Vol III, Ch. 20 for the atmosphere of this prayer - confidence and expectation) that God will bless those means with faith in the hearer. In other words, we are to do what God has told us to do and leave the rest up to him. Third, parents of straying children ought never to give up. Church discipline is sure to follow in this case. Therein lies our hope for the church and the perpetrator. Church discipline was not instituted by Christ to principally tell the world that such behavior is "not welcome in the church" (that's the world's language). That is a shallow view of the means of grace. Rather, church discipline first protects and vindicates the honor of Christ, then it preserves and protects the church from wickedness, impurity and danger, and if the Lord wills, may it be a means of grace for the perpetrator in this situation. Let's pray to that end - and for the perpetrator's own salvation.

The act of terror in Poway was Satanic and deserves not only the full measure of the civil magistrate's rule, but also of the church's rule. However, may we never forget that this evil has come from within the covenant community (see Acts 2:23) and could have come from anywhere in the church, or any family. We need grace to be humble and Christlike in our self-reflection. Then, as we seek to be careful in our call for self-examination - let us be informed in such calls. By all means, let us be careful what we say, how we say it, especially in public ministries. But let us all--pastors and parents alike--approach this with the realization that such a tragedy could strike far closer to home that we ever could have expected.

1. Prov. 22:6 ought not be appealed to as a counterpoint here, without rigorous research and exegesis of that passage.

2. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Pr 5:7-14.

3. Alexander Whyte Thirteen Appreciations (Fleming H. Revell Co.) p. 174.

Rev. Matthew Holst is the pastor of Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. 

The 2018 Year in Review


As 2018 winds to a close, we want to express our deep and sincere gratitude to the many faithful readers of Ref21. We continue our commitment to call the church to a reformation that recovers clarity and conviction about the great evangelical truths of the gospel and that encourages their proclamation in our contemporary context. To that end, here are the top ten posts from this past year:

1.Only For a Time

"One could argue by way of sanctified biblical logic that a lack of experiencing the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit is squarely in keeping with the biblical teaching about their cessation!"

2. Is the PCA Becoming More Unified?

"What a blessing it would be if our energies were no longer directed to inner-denominational conflict but together in a shared (or at least compatible) vision of Christ's reign through the gospel in our sin-scarred world."

3.Can the Welcoming Church Speak?

"Let us be a truly welcoming church, extending a warm-hearted invitation to sinners of all kinds, just as Jesus extended such a welcome to us. But then, for the love of Christ and those we welcome, let us plainly and thoughtfully speak the truth. For unless God and his truth are sovereignly welcome in our midst, our welcome to the lost will end up in vain."

4.Lloyd-Jones on Racism ad the Gospel

"D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who I have never heard anyone describe as a Marxist, gospel-compromising, SJW, preached a sermon on John 4.13-14, titled, "Spiritual Dullness and Evasive Tactics," in which he brought up the issue of racism."

5.Revoice or God's Voice?

"Revoice was overwhelmingly not God's voice found in God's Word. But we do need to know God's voice on these issues. There will be no place to hide in this sexual revolution and there are men and women being deceived into death by the LGBTQ+ agenda and message that we must reach with the Gospel."

6.Whate're My God Ordains is Right

"We are thrilled at the arrival of our baby girl yet look towards the future with trepidation knowing that during her life our daughter will be challenged with disability. We are grieving for our set of dreams and expectations for her life and it is still an active process. There is no quick fix to this emotional pain, though every word of encouragement we have received has slowly soothed the hurt."

7.Spells Like Teen Spirit

"The better part of professing Christians in America are living in the sea of a Christian pep rally. For many, "going to church" is less about worshiping the infinitely holy God who has redeemed a people for Himself by giving up His Son to the bloody death on the cross, as it is about getting a shot of motivational vitamin-B for existential significance. Rather than being called by God into His presence by the mediating work of His Son, "Here we are now; entertain us" becomes the liturgical responsive call to worship."

8.God Helps Those Who Help Themselves

"I've heard it uttered dozens of times. Friends, family members, and strangers have looked at me, a Presbyterian pastor, and said, "Well, you know what the Bible says, 'God helps those who help themselves.'" I politely smile, but inside I've just died a little."

9.Revoice and the "Idolatry" of the Nuclear Family

"There is no male-to-male or female-to-female sexuality in God's created design. Furthermore, Genesis 2 views the creation of nuclear families not as idolatry but as a vitally significant way in which man's purpose in life is fulfilled. The words, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Gen. 1:28), described not the worship of a false god but obedient faith in the one true God. If the fulfilling of mankind's creation mandate involves idolatry, then the world created by God must inevitably be a different one from that which is described in Genesis 1 and 2."

10. Imagine There's No Hell

"If there is no hell then there is no need for the atoning sacrifice of the eternal Son of God. If there is no hell, we should draw the same conclusion that the Apostle Paul drew when he put forward the logical implications of the resurrection: "If the dead do not rise, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'" (1 Cor. 15:32)! If there is no eternal punishment, then there is no magnification of the love of God."

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 14, Racism


[Editorial Note: This is the fourteenth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article XIV: Racism

We affirm that racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people. Such racial sin can subtly or overtly manifest itself as racial animosity or racial vainglory. Such sinful prejudice or partiality falls short of God's revealed will and violates the royal law of love. We affirm that virtually all cultures, including our own, at times contain laws and systems that foster racist attitudes and policies.

We deny that treating people with sinful partiality or prejudice is consistent with biblical Christianity. We deny that only those in positions of power are capable of racism, or that individuals of any particular ethnic groups are incapable of racism. We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions. We deny that the Bible can be legitimately used to foster or justify partiality, prejudice, or contempt toward other ethnicities. We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another. And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture. Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.

As stated in the above affirmation, racism is sin. It is a declaration that seems unambiguous enough on the surface and, dare I say, is one with which hardly anyone today - Christian or not - would disagree. Nevertheless, there is a broader context in which the aforementioned attestation should be understood. Which is to say, it does not suffice merely to declare that "racism is sin" apart from investigating first and foremost what is sin. In other words, what exactly is so significant about this small, three-letter word that makes racism the prideful and malicious attitude it is described as in Article 14 of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel?

In considering these and other questions, I am reminded of the Westminster Shorter Catechism[1] where, in Question 14, 'sin' is defined as "any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God." But this definition of 'sin' begets yet another question, namely, what is the "law of God" to begin with? In terms of sheer numbers, God's law consists of several hundred very specific commands given by God to His people throughout the Old and New Testament. Those commands fall, fundamentally, under two categories: 1) how you and I are to relate to God, and 2) how you and I are to relate to one another.

But Christ, whom the Scriptures proclaim is the fulfillment[2] of the law of God, declared[3] that those two categories of commands can, fundamentally, be expressed in two practical ways: love God and love your neighbor. This is an important consideration as racism is often understood primarily in terms of a violation of the second category of God's law (how you and I are to relate to each other) as opposed to the first category (how we are to relate to God)[4].

That racism is viewed chiefly in terms of a contravention of man's standard of morality is why increasing numbers of evangelical Christians, and the churches and ministries they attend and support, are so attracted to a "social gospel" that focuses much of its efforts and resources on remediating the tangible impacts of racism, particularly with regard to reforming its discriminatory structures and institutions, as opposed to the spiritual origins of such a sinfully prejudicial attitude.

It is a mindset that is reflected in the words of author, feminist, and social activist Gloria Jean Watkins, who goes by the pen name 'bell hooks'[5] who, in Ending Hate: Killing Racism, insisted[6] that "There must exist a paradigm, a practical model for social change that includes an understanding of ways to transform consciousness that are linked to efforts to transform structures."

But notwithstanding the socio-cultural implications and ramifications of racism, whether historical or contemporary, the "structure" that most needs transforming is that of the human heart. It was Jesus Himself who made this congenital reality abundantly clear when, in dealing with the hypocritical legalism of the Pharisees, He declared[7], "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man" (emphasis mine).

The human heart is a structure that is inherently defiled; and the source of that defilement is sin.

Our problem, however, both within and without the evangelical church, is that, in our pride, we simply refuse to see ourselves as the innately defiled creatures we are[8]. Consequently, we continue to embrace the ethical mirage that by transforming the prejudicial and discriminatory structures that exist because of ourselves, we can somehow redeem ourselves from the damage done to ourselves by virtue of the structures we have ourselves constructed. There is no thought that is more antithetical to the gospel than the idea that mankind can somehow save himself from himself. As theologian A.W. Pink exclaimed[9], "Just as the sinner's despair of any hope from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer's growth in grace (emphasis mine)."

The evangelical church must come to the realization that the "social gospel" is not the answer to the problem of racism. The reason it is not the answer is because racism, nor its myriad effects, is not the real problem. The real problem is defiled human hearts that conceive of the evil and ungodly ideals, philosophies, schemes, and attitudes that give birth to the sinfully prejudicial structures and institutions that are representative of those ideals and philosophies.

In other words, what makes "racism" an "ism" to begin with is sin. Apart from sin, the word race, from which the word racism is derived, remains a static, banal, and inobnoxious noun, as opposed to morphing into the dynamic, bromidic, and poisonous verb it has become; not by osmosis by virtue of external influences, but by inheritance[10] of the sinful nature handed down to the human race by our first parents.

The "paradigm" and "practical model" for the kind of transformation about which Gloria Jean Watkins speaks has already been given to us in the gospel in the words of the apostle Paul[11], who exhorts us to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

Needless to say, racism is not the "good and acceptable and perfect" will of God. But unless the hearts and minds of those who harbor such sinfully prejudiced and discriminatory sentiments and motives toward others of God's image bearers are transformed by the power of the gospel, they will remain utterly and wholly incapable of either knowing or doing that which is God's "good and acceptable and perfect" will[12].



[2] Rom. 8:3-4

[3] Matt. 22:34-40

[4] Gen. 39:9; Ex. 10:16; Josh. 7:20; Judg. 10:10; Ps. 51:4



[7] Mk. 7:21-23 (NASB)

[8] Gen. 3:1-24, 6:5, 8:21b; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23

[9] The Wisdom of Arthur W. Pink, Volume 1

[10] The Heidelberg Catechism, Part I: The Misery of Man, Q&A #7:

[11] Rom. 12:2 (NASB)

[12] 1 Cor. 2:14


Darrell Harrison is the Dean of social media at Grace to You, a teaching fellow at the Princeton Seminary Black Theology and Leadership Institute, a US Army veteran, host of the Just Thinking podcast, and an ACBC biblical counselor.

Jesus and Racial Bias


In light of Rachel Held Evans tweet about Jesus "changing his mind about racial bias"--and the  firestorm that ensued in a series of related tweets--I thought it might be helpful to share what John Calvin wrote about Jesus' interaction with the Syrophonecian woman. Commenting on Matthew 15:26, Calvin explained the meaning of Christ's response to the woman's request for him to come and heal her daughter in the following way:

"Christ's reply is harsher than ever, and one would think that he intended by it to cut off all hope; for not only does he declare that all the grace which he has received from the Father belongs to the Jews, and must be bestowed on them, otherwise they will be defrauded of their just rights; but he disdainfully compares the woman herself to a dog, thus implying that she is unworthy of being a partaker of his grace. To make the meaning plain to us, it must be understood that the appellation of the children's bread is here given, not to the gifts of God of whatever description, but only to those which were bestowed in a peculiar manner on Abraham and his posterity. For since the beginning of the world, the goodness of God was everywhere diffused--nay, filled heaven and earth--so that all mortal men felt that God was their Father. But as the children of Abraham had been more highly honored than the rest of mankind, the children's bread is a name given to everything that, relates peculiarly to the adoption by which the Jews alone were elected to be children...the blessing which was to be expected in Christ dwelt exclusively in the family of Abraham. To lay open without distinction that which God had conferred as a peculiar privilege on a single nation, was nothing short of setting aside the covenant of God; for in this way the Jews, who ought to have the preference, were placed on a level with the Gentiles."

In his comments on Jesus' employment of the name "dog" in his response to the Gentile woman, Calvin wrote:

"Since the Gentiles were admitted to partake of the same salvations--which took place when Christ diffused everywhere the light of his Gospel--the distinction was removed, and those who were formerly dogs are now reckoned among the children. The pride of the flesh must fall down, when we learn that by nature we are dogs At first, no doubt, human nature, in which the image of God brightly shone, occupied so high a station that this opprobrious epithet did not apply to all nations, and even to kings, on whom God confers the honor of bearing his name. But the treachery and revolt of Adam made it proper that the Lord should send to the stable, along with dogs, those who through the guilt of our first parent became bastards; more especially when a comparison is made between the Jews, who were exempted from the common lot, and the Gentiles, who were banished from the kingdom of God."

Calvin's exposition is a typical reading of this text among Protestant and Reformed exposition of this passage. To suggest that Jesus had to outgrow racial bias is to read a very biased cultural agenda onto the text of Scripture, rather than to allow the historical and theological meaning of the text--in its canonical context--speak for itself. Furthermore, to suggest that racial bias is not necessarily sinful unless it is continued in (as Held Evans intimates) sounds strikingly similar to what many are teaching about same sex attraction. Though she most certainly did not intend to do so, Held Evans has actually given credence to the idea that it may not necessarily be sinful for men and women to self-identify as white supremacists--provided they don't act on it. That alone, should give us pause about where the cultural readings of God's word are heading. 

Lloyd-Jones on Racism and the Gospel


There was a recent advertisement on Twitter for a Christian event in Mobile, AL titled, "Shrinking the Divide: A Gathering for Racial Reconciliation" featuring John Perkins and Russell D. Moore. There were some immediate negative responses from numerous professing Christians on Twitter. In summary, the comments basically asserted that Jesus has already conquered the divide on the cross and that this kind of conference wrongly implies there is something lacking in what Christ has done. According to the critics, talking about division is what really divides. These kinds of responses have become all too common along with pejorative name-calling against anyone who speaks out against racial injustice as SJW's (Social Justice Warriors) and cultural Marxists.

Such comments are often followed with the idea that talking about race or racial injustice at all is a waste of time and distracts us from the gospel. After all, it is frequently said, the gospel is the only answer to racism. Racism, they suggest, automatically disappears when the gospel takes prominence. It is a bizarre sentiment coming from conservative evangelicals. If racism disappears when someone is genuinely converted to Christ then do they believe that slaveholders Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and R.L. Dabney were unconverted men who didn't really believe the biblical gospel? If not, such rhetoric is empty.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who I have never heard anyone describe as a Marxist, gospel-compromising, SJW, preached a sermon on John 4:13-14 titled, "Spiritual Dullness and Evasive Tactics," in which he brought up the issue of racism. Early in the sermon on Jesus's encounter with the woman at the well Lloyd-Jones explains,

"We have dealt with some general prejudices that hindered this woman. She turned to our Lord in amazement when he asked her for a drink of water. She said, "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?" We face national prejudices, class prejudices, race prejudices, gender prejudices, and so on. There is almost no end to them. What harm they have done in the life of the individual Christian, and what harm they have done in the life of the church throughout the centuries--the things we cling to so tenaciously simply because we have been born like that!"

Lloyd-Jones then proceded to address the prejudices that the church battles both societally and personally. He explained that falling into this type of sin is a mark of spiritual dullness and gospel evasiveness. Regarding the woman Jesus meets at the well, Lloyd-Jones says, "She shows us that you can be intelligent, you can be quick and alert, you can be subtle at disputation, and yet the whole time be spiritually dull." He goes on to clarify, "You see, this is not a question of learning; spiritual understanding has nothing to do with natural ability, nothing at all." Of the "hindrances and obstacles" this woman used to evade the fullness of Jesus gospel message Lloyd-Jones declares, "As they were true in the case of this woman, so they are, in principle, still true of all of us."

Anticipating the objection that the prejudice and gospel avoidance of the women at the well was merely because she was an unbeliever and such sins could not be found in a genuine Christian who believes the gospel Lloyd-Jones explains what he refers to as a fallacy:

"It is assumed, therefore, that while this spiritual dullness is true of an unconverted person, like the woman of Samaria, it cannot be true of a Christian. But it can! The fact that we have become Christians, that we are born again, that the Spirit of God is in us, does not mean that we have solved all our problems; that is only a beginning. We now have to go through a great process of readjustment, and it is because so many people fail to realize that and, still more, fail to act upon it that they are constantly in trouble."

Lloyd-Jones attacked this fallacy when he says, "Spiritual understanding is not something that happens automatically. Not at all! You must work out your own salvation in this way." He goes on to note the multitude of imperatives directed at Christians in the New Testament by declaring, "All this is addressed to Christians, and it is because we fail to realize this that we are so frequently in trouble and raise these hindrances that prevent us from receiving this well of water that springs up into everlasting life." He provides five reasons Christians struggle with spiritual dullness and gospel evasiveness in our lives:

(1) Old pre-conversion habits we still struggle with.

(2) The feeling that we have everything; we received it all at conversion, and there is nothing more to be gained.

(3) Laziness.

(4) The magical view of faith, people seem to think that faith is a magic word that completely changes everything.

(5) In preaching and teaching we tend put too much emphasis upon the will and upon momentary experience of decision and surrender.

According to Lloyd-Jones, we are all experts in the kind of gospel evasiveness that we find exhibited in the woman at the well, shifting the ground and changing topics. We will even use the fact of our Christian conversion to avoid living out the gospel,

"How we evade the issue, how we parry the question! It is because we do not like being searched, we do not like being examined, we do not like being disturbed. This is 'the natural man,' the old nature that is still with us. You do not get rid of your old nature when you become a Christian, when you are born again. The old man has gone, but the old nature has not gone; and the old nature, the natural self, does not like being searched. That element remains in us. We resent it; we do not want to be made to feel that we are wrong. We even dislike the very process that disturbs us out of our sloth: 'Why, we are Christians! I was converted.'"

Lloyd-Jones went on to insist that the gospel is meant to disturb and confront us. He then pressed in on our responsibility to apply our lives to the truth of John 4:13-14 by exhorting, "He searches us for our own good, but it is painful; so we evade it by taking up other issues. We have seen how the woman of Samaria did it, but what about us?" Thus, he brings up the horrific sin of racism again and explains that it is even possible to denounce someone else in order to evade dealing with your own sins. Lloyd-Jones explains, "You see, in denouncing somebody else, you are shielding yourself." That is precisely what the racists does and it it also what some who denounce racists are doing to shield themselves.

Every way that Christians evade walking in line with the gospel must be confronted with specificity and clarity. We have this responsibility in regard to racism and every other anti-gospel attitude we embrace and action we take. Yes, Jesus has already conquered the racial divide on the cross and the gospel is the answer to the sin of racism. Absolutely true! Nevertheless, as Paul notes, it is sadly often the case that we still "walk as the Gentiles do" (Eph 4:17) in far too many ways. May we keep reminding one another without apology, "But that is not the way you learned Christ!--assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus" (Eph 4:20).

The Church's Answer to Racism and Sexism


Racist attitudes, bigoted actions, rape, and assault have recently been dominating the news cycle. In the midst of chaos in our culture, the Church has the great answer to racism, sexism, and classism. We have the answer and we are to show it. The world needs our voice and our example.

Paul says in Colossians 3:11, "Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." He then provides a list of virtues that are to mark the Christian's life: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." Paul says that we are to forgive one another and love one another. And then in verse fifteen, he asserts, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."

The Christian is to have the peace of Christ ruling his or her heart. Colossians 3:15 has often been misunderstood. Paul is not thinking primarily about how the Christian is to feel. He has in mind our peace in the fellowship of the church. Notice, he qualifies it by "to which indeed you were called in one body." Peace serves as the arbiter in our dealings with one another. It reigns as the umpire. There will be times that difficulties arise in the church, in our community. But when problems arise, the peace of Christ jumps in and mediates. It rules in our community.

When a baseball player hits an infield grounder to the shortstop and he picks up the ball and fires it home just as the runner from third is sliding into home plate, debate ensues. As kids on the neighborhood diamond, we would argue till someone gave up. "He was safe," one would argue. "No, he was out," someone else would contend. That may occur even in the Major Leagues. However, when the umpire steps forward and says, "Safe," the matter is concluded. The dissension is over. When Christ occupies our lives, the peace of Christ will rule our fellowship. It serves as the arbiter. It is the umpire.

I believe Paul especially has in mind the problems that arise from our differences. Peace is to reign here, where the world doesn't know or experience it. We come from different ethnicities, cultures, races, classes, and genders. Yet, our differences are not what mark us. As Christians, we possess the greatest thing in common: Christ is in all of us. "But Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11), so peace rules our hearts and our interactions with one another. Our unity, our regard for others, and our respect for differences should strike the watching world with amazement. "They will know you by your love for one another," our Lord said.

As Christians, we view all people as possessing inherent dignity and worth. From the womb to the grave, they matter. From the streets of Manilla to the Mansions on Park Avenue, they possess worth. But even more than that. In the body of Christ, we bring together Greek and Jew, barbarian and Scythian, poor and rich, black and white, Republican and Democrat. We exist as the most heterogeneous body there shall ever be. Before the throne of God will be those from every tongue, tribe, and nation. Yet, we also exist as the most homogeneous body there shall ever be, because we are all filled with the same Spirit--the very Spirit of Christ. As Christians, we dare not reject one another, look down on one another, or forsake one another because doing so would be to reject, look down upon, and forsake Christ.

Maybe Paul's admonition at the end of Colossians 3:15 is the most helpful, "And be thankful." I love that. Be thankful. For what Paul? For one another. We are not only to love one another, not only are we to forgive one another, but we are to be thankful to God for one another. Thankfulness has a way of engendering peace, developing love, and maintaining unity.

Dear fellow believer, let us manifest the unity for which our culture is searching. The answer lies with us, because Christ indwells us. May we show it to the watching world, so that they can't help but ask, "How do they do it?" And let us be ready with the answer that lies within us.

Last year at the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) 2015 General Assembly, a personal resolution on racial reconciliation was submitted. Drs. Sean Michael Lucas and Ligon Duncan provided the denomination with an opportunity to confess and forsake the sins committed during the Civil Rights era. This resolution was narrow in its scope focusing particularly on the sins committed against African Americans. As the resolution moved from the overtures committee to the floor, debate ensued. "Are we culpable for the sins of our forefathers?" "How can we confess sins when our denomination hadn't officially began?" Commissioners asked sincere questions. In God's providence, it wasn't quite time for a U-turn. It wasn't quite time, as a denomination, to acknowledge the events mentioned in the resolution, confess, and turn from them. The commissioners voted to re-consider the matter for an additional year and send the personal resolution to the presbyteries. What was the result?

During that time of re-consideration, many churches pursued the issues presented in the resolution. Some hosted presbytery-wide events. Others held books discussions (see here, here, and here). Chat rooms were created, phone conversations held, and prayer abounded. Twelve months later, God granted the PCA another opportunity to make a U-turn. Over 40 overtures were submitted, responding to Drs. Lucas and Duncan's original personal resolution. Many were duplicates of the overture from the Missouri Presbytery. Others responded differently. Although there was a variety of opinions on the topic of covenantal, or corporate, repentance during the Civil Rights era, the assembly voted 861-123-23 to approve overture 43 on racial reconciliation. 2016 was an historic year for my denomination--yes, my denomination--to make a U-turn. We acknowledged our need to "recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations."

I am excited about this U-turn and I hope it bears much fruit. That does not mean that commissioners and those in our congregations are without questions. I hope, during the next twelve months, the committee on race, which was approved by our denomination (see overture 45), will help us continue to work through our questions and put feet to our prayers. As they craft practical steps to assist progress in this area, people will undoubtedly continue voicing their questions and concerns. One series of concerns came most recently from The Reverend Dr. Terry Johnson.

In his article, he shared his thoughts under four headings: "Missional theology," "Sabbath," "Racial reconciliation," and "Women in ministry." While his article focused on the decisions of the General Assembly as a whole, I want to focus briefly on some of his comments regarding racial reconciliation. Before providing more thoughts, however, it must be noted that my comments are not ad hominem. I respect Rev. Dr. Terry Johnson. I have consulted his contributions on Lord's Day worship, and I will continue. Nevertheless, I write as one who was on the overtures committee that sent overture 43 to the floor of the PCA General Assembly. I was involved in the debate regarding the refinement of the language of the overture. I observed the men wrestling with how to best present a biblical statement that accurately reflects the will of God and the good of neighbor. It was more glorious than initially envisioned. I didn't know what to expect on this year's overtures committee, but I left the committee more encouraged about our denomination, not simply because of the overture but also because I witnessed men humbly and lovingly agree and disagree on the various elements regarding corporate solidarity and confession.

When overture 43 arrived to the floor, commissioners continued to share their thoughts. One commissioner expressed his desire to recommit the overture. He believed the language could be more finely tuned. Dr. Johnson highlighted this. Johnson further noted the racial dynamics in the commissioner's marriage. Johnson wrote, "a commissioner in a multiracial marriage who, as an overseas missionary, regularly travels all through the PCA raising support...insisted that his family has never encountered any racial bigotry; rather, they have experienced love, kindness, and support." It seems Johnson mentioned the racial dynamics of this man's marriage to support his underlying thought that the PCA is not the PCUS. In other words, we've progressed, as signified by this commissioner's wife's experience and, as Johnson noted, the overture's committee chair and the assembly's guest preacher. Both the chairman and the preacher were African American. Johnson rightly observed, "These would be scenes unimaginable in the Southern Presbyterian Church in the 1960's."

While I'm grateful that the commissioner's bride apparently has not experienced racial tension and been sinned against, that is a far cry from most of the minorities with whom I've spoken in the PCA. Shall I provide examples? In an attempt not to diminish the monumental overture passed, I will refrain. Nevertheless, that commissioner's wife's experiences do not represent the whole.

In the larger picture, I'm reminded that none of us are color-blind. While some attempt to embrace a Moynihanian view of colorblindness, we cannot avoid the obvious. I see you. You see me. My hope is that we move beyond the guilt associated with race and ethnicity and transition into a world of celebration. God has fearfully and wonderfully made us with our differences. Instead of suppressing those differences, we should move to a state inquiry and curiosity. Let our differences move us together instead of further apart that we might see and experience a montage within Christ's Church on this side of the consummation.

According to Johnson, the ethos of one portion of the overture was misdirected. He believes it presents a "nothing has changed attitude." Interestingly, no one, to my knowledge, on the overtures committee affirmed that suggestion. No one concluded that the PCA has not progressed since our emergence from the PCUS. How could that sentiment, therefore, if it was present, escape the vision of over 80 commissioners? It did not, because that was not the thrust within the newly edited overture. Secondly, the PCA's tertiary standards make it clear that the overtures committee is only able to amend the "resolved" statements. (We provided six). I'm unaware if Johnson, in his post, was referring to the "whereas" or "resolved" statements of the overture when he noted that it seems we've confessed "nothing changed." Either way, 861 commissioners suggested otherwise.

Dr. Johnson and I agree in many areas. We both believe this overture was "long overdue." We both believe it is sin that churches "participated in the dehumanizing practice of including and excluding, accepting and rejecting, condemning and absolving on the basis of race alone." Our disagreements, at least as presented in his article, lie in the actual versus implied intent of the overture.

For the previous twelve months, Christians have wrestled with whether or not it is time for a U-turn. Is this the will of the Lord or not? Should we corporately confess our sins for the glory of God and because it is "good for the souls of transgressors and is healing for the souls of victims and society"? We did! We will continue. I pray our triune God is glorified as we move toward a unity--not uniformity--previously unknown.

Last week I posted a piece suggesting three principles by which the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) may respond to the call to confess racist tendencies in the years leading up to its founding.  One of these principles was to carefully observe the doctrine of the spirituality of the church.  I have noticed recent objections to this principle, including from fellow ministers in the PCA.  This surprises me, since the doctrine is plainly expressed in the Westminster Standards.  It has also surprised me to learn that in recent presbytery meetings of the PCA motions have been made to form permanent social justice committees.  At least one presbytery also received a motion for the PCA to publicly call for financial reparations from white people to African Americans in compensation for the institution of slavery that existed in America prior to 1865.  These actions would seem to oppose the spirituality of the church.

The Westminster Confession defines the spirituality of the church in this language:

Synods and councils are to handle, or concern nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate." WCF 31:4

Every officer in the PCA has taken a vow to this confession and thus to this language.  Therefore, unless an exception has been sought and granted, one might expect church officers to support this doctrine.  Even more significant is the strong biblical basis for the spirituality of the church.  It turns out that this doctrine was not invented by racially-insensitive white Christians but by Jesus Christ and his apostles.  One way to see the biblical teaching is through the proof texts of the Confession.

The first proof text offered is Luke 12:13-14, where a man came to Jesus asking him to become involved in an inheritance dispute: "Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me."  Jesus' answer revealed his priorities: "Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?"  Here was a civil justice matter involving important principles, not to mention the impact on the people involved.  We may presume that Jesus was fully away of the correct solution.  But Jesus declined to speak publicly on the matter because his office was not concerned with civil justice.  The logic is that if Jesus declined to "intermeddle with civil affairs," this same principle would extend to the officers of his church.

The second proof text is more familiar.  In Jesus' public trial, Pontius Pilate demanded to know if Jesus claimed kingship.  Our Lord answered, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence" (Jn. 18:36).  Here we have a plain statement from Jesus about the spirituality of his kingdom: it is not pertaining to the matters of this world.

A third proof text is Matthew 22:21, Jesus' famous declaration, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."  Here, Jesus acknowledges a secular realm and a spiritual realm, refusing to intermingle them in the matter of taxation.  Jesus would have known full well that Caesar used taxes unjustly.  But he told his hearers to pay them because that was Caesar's responsibility and not his.

To these clear proof texts, we may add the fact that in Philemon, Paul appeals to his reader not on the basis of civil justice but on the principle of love.  Paul did not issue statements about the institution of slavery but suggested a personal course of action befitting a Christian.  To be sure, Philemon does not endorse or defend the institution of slavery (as many 19th century Christians falsely taught).  But it does show how the apostle restricted himself to the spiritual realm pertaining to the kingdom of Christ.  This principle is seen in all of the apostle's ministry, in which he did not address himself to the profound social injustices around him but instead preached the gospel and planted churches.

Perhaps most important of all is Jesus' Great Commission, where the church receives its mission directly from the Lord: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt. 28:19-20).  Here, the mission of the church - which its organization and activities should reflect - is evangelism, discipleship, and church building.  This is the great work of all history to which we are privileged to be called.  There is no evident biblical basis for the church to add other missions, such as social justice, to the commission given by our Lord himself.

Some might read these materials and conclude that Christians have no civil duties at all.  But this is mistaken, as Jesus emphasized in Matthew 22:21.  Christians have civil duties as citizens.  As Christian citizens, our involvement - including political activity - should reflect the ethics and values of God's Word.  But the church as the church does not have civil authority and does not have a warrant, as the Confession says, "to intermeddle with civil affairs."  When there are extraordinary cases to which the church will speak, it should restrict itself to "humble petition," whereby it declares the express teaching of Scripture, with its good and necessary consequences, and avoids comment on political strategies and endeavors.  The PCA has carefully observed this distinction in the past with respect to such vital matters as abortion and sexual/gender perversion, often refusing at its general assembly to issue political statements.  We will be blessed to follow this biblical approach in other important civil matters, including racial strife and purported matters of social injustice.

Jesus commanded the church to "teach [disciples] to observe all that I have commanded" (Mt. 28:20).  This ought to make Christians model citizens whose public and private conduct reflects the teaching of God's Word and the presence of God's gracious Spirit.  With this in mind, Christians should be urged to oppose racism and its institutions and exert their influence in the direction of racial reconciliation.  But the church has a vital spiritual mission, the eternal importance of which mandates its entire attention and resources.  Our mission, which ought to be reflected in the church's public statements and permanent structures, is well stated by the apostle Paul: "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).

Welcoming Justice


I'm reading, Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Toward Beloved Community (IVP, just published) By Charles Marsh and John Perkins (foreword by Philip Yancey). I have met John Perkins many times (interestingly more often than not, on board airplanes when we have been placed next to each other). He is an extraordinarily humble individual who consistently makes me feel unholy. The book is not for the faint-hearted because it addresses the on-going sin of racism that exists in the church -- nor is it confined to the South.


3453[1].jpgHe recalls a time when he met a white pastor in Mendenhall, Mississippi.

"I liked this guy, and I started to realize that he liked me. He was a theologically educated man, and I think he was impressed that a black man could understand the basic tenets of the faith as I did. Somehow, we became friends. I knew I needed his help and he respected me, so we started to meet and talk about how we could work together.

"I told this white pastor what I perceived the problem in our community to be: I saw the best people leaving for New York and Chicago, and they weren't coming back. Anyone who got an education couldn't see how it was relevant to their community and its development. If we were going to make a difference in Mississippi, we were going to have to help poor kids get an education and then come back home. We had to show them that their communities were important. I shared this vision for ministry with my white friend, and he said he wanted to help me. This was in rural Mississippi in 1965.

"Like any good pastor, my friend decided that he needed to teach these ideas to his congregation before he led them into a new ministry. I imagine he talked to them about the importance of missions and started inviting them to think about what that could look like in Mendenhall. But his church was threatened by the idea of working with a black minister. They were shocked as I was that a white minister wanted to work with me, and they rejected my friend. He couldn't handle their rejection, so he killed himself."

An important book for us all to read and reflect over.