Results tagged “reformed churches” from Reformation21 Blog

Why We Are Still Protestant

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This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. This act in itself was relatively conventional: he was essentially initiating a debate about the use and abuse of indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church. But the pastoral concerns of this small-town professor set ablaze Europe with the flames of Reformation.

Within a short time it was clear that Luther's concerns had implications far beyond indulgences and relics; they went to the heart of the medieval Roman church. In the years immediately following the publication of his famous theses, Luther had occasion to engage in other highly significant debates on some of these implications. It was in Heidelberg in 1518 that Luther made it clear that humility was the key to salvation and theology. In Leipzig, about a year later, Luther declared that the decrees of the pope and of the church deserved close scrutiny; some were indefensible.

In 1520, Luther wrote treatises challenging the church's view on the sacraments, on justification and good works, and on the relationship between the civil authorities and the authority of the church. During the next year, Luther was summoned to appear before the Imperial Diet of Worms in a last-ditch attempt to get him to recant. He did not.

In further years Luther would turn his attention to the translation of the Bible into German, to the thorny problem of how a congregation freed from the grip of Rome should worship and operate, and to the perennial questions related to Christian work and the Christian family.

These kinds of questions and many more had to be addressed by Luther and the other early Reformers. This should remind us that the reform set in motion 500 years ago this October has a number of far reaching implications. While individual Christians might boil down the core of Protestantism to one or two major points, the reality was and is far more complex.

Over the next few weeks, across all of the websites of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, we'll be surveying many aspects of the Protestant cause. Some of the articles will be historical in nature, giving further detail about the specific figures, events, and debates that shaped the early years after the break from Rome. Some will be theological, bringing clarity to the animating ideas that drove Luther and so many others to pursue the truth of the gospel at great personal cost to themselves. Some will be polemical, making the case explicitly that what was true then is true today.

Our hope is that this series will renew your interest in the Reformation and its implications. But more than renewing interest, we pray that the posts will awaken in you a greater conviction of the importance of this great work of God in the history of the church.

Sometimes the nature of Reformed theology has been summarized by the so-called five solas of the Reformation. These five Latin slogans could be translated as: the Bible alone; grace alone; faith alone; in Christ alone; to the glory of God alone. Ultimately this series of articles, and every article we publish, has one final end in mind: that God would be glorified. As we look back to God's great and gracious work 500 years ago, may God be pleased to use this series to bring about a Reformed awaking in today's church.

China may be emerging as another global center of Reformed faith and practice. If so, East Asia would seem to be well on its way to becoming the heartland of the Reformed tradition in this century. True, outside South Korea, the Reformed tradition in East Asia lacks the long and relatively unbroken history of institutional development and cultural influence it enjoys in parts of Europe and the Anglosphere (including South Africa in this case), but that is changing rapidly. There are remarkable developments taking place in Indonesia, Singapore, and China. Two major Chinese cities--China's Geneva and Edinburgh, if you will--particularly stand out. Only God knows how all this will turn out, but present appearances our very encouraging despite some glaring issues.

Evidence of the advance of the Reformed tradition in China is not hard to find. (At the risk of indecent self-promotion, I happily point you to China's Reforming Churches, which attempts to tell the backstory, set present developments in proper context, and assess opportunities, needs, and challenges going forward.) Just this week, ZGBriefs, a digest of news of interest on China, highlighted a piece by Brent Fulton entitled "In Search of Structure: The Pull of Denominations in China." 

Brent, founder and director of ChinaSource, is a keen observer of Christianity on the mainland. He notes a significant change among house church leaders in their views on denominations. For decades China's house churches tended to despise denominations but that has been changing rapidly as they face the need for institutional structure and better church practices in order to support the work of the ministry--defending the faith, practicing discipline, training up the children, ordaining ministers, sending out missionaries, and so on. Interestingly, their quest for structure is driving many church leaders to the resources of Reformed theology and biblical presbyterianism, broadly construed. Brent is clearly right to view these two trends--the embrace of structure and Reformed theology--as thoroughly entangled. And, despite certain dangers, this is very encouraging since the embrace of Reformed theology in China is a church-centered affair.

For evidence of this, and further evidence of the indigenization of the Reformed tradition in China, consider this recent interview with a house church pastor from a midsize eastern city (not one of the two noted above it is worth noting). The interview, translated and divided into three parts for our benefit by the good folks at Chinese Church Voices, first appeared on Christian Times, a leading Christian website in the People's Republic. Does it surprise you there is such a thing as a leading Christian website in China? Read the interview, there are far better surprises than this in store.

White Faces: It's What I See

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I plead with you to help. In my opinion it is a matter for which we must fight. If we do not, things will remain the same. Do not get me wrong, consistency is good, but not in this case.

White faces: it's what I see.

We are upon that time of year when reformed denominations meet for general assembly (or synod). It is a time of prayer, preaching, pondering, ruling, shared memories, and fellowship. While there are many blessings that result from these gatherings, there is something that largely goes unnoticed, and it grieves my heart.

White faces: it's what I see.

Word travels quickly. What happens at G.A. (or synod) spreads across the internet. Check Facebook or Twitter and you will be sure to find links to recent decisions. What you will also discover, as you keep up with current rulings, is selfies and group photos. It is the latter on which I desire to briefly focus.

White faces: it's what I see.

Some might accuse me of being the resident Reformation 21 black guy who always writes about issues related to ethnicity/race. Statistically that is untrue. Of the 42 (now 43) blog posts, only 9, though perhaps 11, are about ethnic and/or cultural issues. I could choose to write about sanctification, the role of good works in the life of a Christian, or justification, but those extremely important topics are already being discussed on this blog. Yes, there are many other topics about which I can write, and I do, but among many, I choose this one. How can I not? It bothers me because...

White faces: it's what I see.

Please do not tell me to go elsewhere. (I have seen that on blogs). Please do not tell me to join another denomination. (People have told me that, too). Please do note tell me I am writing to burden you with white guilt. I am not, nor am I writing to somehow explicitly or implicitly suggest that I have a problem with white people. If the roles of Jerry Maguire were reversed, I could easily and happily exclaim, "I love white people!" However, despite my love for my white brothers and sisters in Christ, what I do desire is change. When I look at the group photos from G.A. or synod, the majority of the faces are white. Despite some people suggesting, as it relates to ethnicity, they are colorblind, I am not. I see you. You see me.

White faces: it's what I see.

There is more to the Church than the color of one's skin. I am not naive. But when I see group photos from these gatherings along with the customary caption, "A Taste of Heaven," I cannot help but exclaim, "That is a lie!" What will heaven be like visually?

"And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth'" (Rev. 5:9-10).

In heaven white faces will not be all I see, but I do not want to wait until then. Reformed churches have the best orthodoxy and orthopraxy. We have what both believers and unbelievers need. I am not Pentecostal. I am not General Baptist nor am I Methodist. While I believe people from these denominations (or categories) are brothers and sisters in the Lord, I am Presbyterian for a reason. I believe we have what most accurately reflects the truths embedded within scripture. Therefore, I want to see all peoples embrace what I have come to believe is accurate according to the scriptures. I believe this is possible, and I hope it will more greatly occur in my lifetime. 

What can we do about this? Put differently, what can we do about this for God's glory? How can we "make" our churches more accurately reflect the communities in which they are? 

I have one simple request.

Pray! Pray that God would burden our hearts to see this change take place. Pray that God would also begin to equip us to want to do something about it. Is that simple enough? I hope you will pray to that end, and if after a season of prayer, you want to talk to me about how to implement your desires toward this end, I would love to hear your ideas. I am not the expert on all things "ethnic," but if I cannot provide a biblical and reasonable way to help you, I can direct you to someone who can.
Pastor Randy Nabors, in a blog dated January 3, 2014, provided a list of possible reasons why churches do not pursue being cross-cultural. Some of the reasons may shock you. Others may be obvious. Some you may have never considered.

Number 2 on his list of 7 is, "Cultural affinity or ethnocentrism." Pastor Nabors writes, 

"[T]here is a reason people don't jump ethnic lines to go some other ethnic church. They feel comfortable with what they know, there family and friends are still in their home church, they understand the language, if not linguistics they get the cultural language.  The music is usually in their "heart language." This is true for most every ethnic group when it comes to religion.
      
I often tell white pastors that black folks in this country were forced to create a unique cultural kind of worship service since they were shut out of white churches.  Without going into a commentary on ethnomusicality  let me just say that most black folks who come from the traditional or even contemporary black church find most white churches to be utterly boring.  Most black folks don't like stilted or even Celtic music styles, they don't get into lectures that pose as sermons, they don't appreciate a worship that seems to stifle emotions and is almost martial in approach.  While many black believers have been blessed by coming into a deeper ministry of the Word when they come from congregations that neglected Biblical teaching and pursued simple emotionalism or prosperity preaching, there is no doubt that black religious experience in America has been rich with depth and feeling, and often relevant to their social condition.
    
So why should any minority come to a majority race worship where their concerns are either neglected or even despised?  Why should they make the effort, and why should anyone do that which is uncomfortable in crossing cultures?  I think there are several sound and good reasons, but they are not always apparent.
    
It is difficult for any ethnic or cultural group that feels oppressed or marginalized by the majority to be confronted with an invitation to join the majority religious culture with the requirement to give up all of their own cultural identity."

The remainder of the post can be read here.
I can assure you that ethnic/race issues will not be the only, perhaps even primary, area about which I write. (Take a deep breath). I am passionate about many other things (e.g., the gospel, my family, the church I pastor, working on my upcoming PhD dissertation). Nevertheless, I believe this is an area that requires discussion. I am aware that feelings will be hurt, additional questions raised, and positive progress in this area made, but I hope in all this God will be glorified.

I am convinced we need each other. God did not save us to be spiritual nomads. Besides saving us for his glory, for love and good deeds, he also saved us to be together. Addressing ethnic/race issues is my small way to highlight the pink elephant in the room, which very few people discuss, but needs to be addressed in order to draw us all closer together. Our intimacy will not result simply by pointing out the issues, however, but by emphasizing the one thing that changes hearts and brings us together - the gospel. I can assure you, contrary to a recent comment, I am not "a bitter black man with a victim mentality demonizing white people for their supposed racism." I am simply seeking to see us all grow together in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, which affects our relationship vertically (with God) and horizontally (with each other).

Recently I had the privilege to interview Jason, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a 34 year old white male. I was born in Charlotte, NC and have lived in the south most of my life. I grew up in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ at Clemson University for 5 years after college. I joined a PCA church while on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. Realizing my own need for further training and instruction and having regained a biblical understanding of the priority of the local church, I went to Covenant Seminary in order to move towards ordination and ministry in the context of the local church. I moved to Virginia after seminary for an internship that resulted in a call to be an Associate Pastor of that PCA church.

What is the ethnic and socio-economic make-up of your congregation? What is the ethnic and socio-economic make-up of the community in which your church is located? 

The ethnic and socio-economic make-up of our congregation is 95+ white and 99% middle-upper middle class. We have one inter-racial (white-asian) family that accounts for our racial diversity. This Asian man is also one of our elders, so our session is 75% white. Our community is 77% white and mostly middle class. The median household income is $82,000 with 5.6% of community living below poverty.

With the ethnic homogeneity of your congregation and your background, what caused you to begin looking into ethnic/racial issues in Reformed and Presbyterian circles?

During and following my college years the Lord began to convict me of my racism. I began to reflect more on my experience in church growing up and of racism and race issues in the church. I was writing a paper for ordination on the Image of God and was required to use some Presbyterian and Southern Presbyterian theologians. I was shocked to see some of the things that Dabney and others had written with respect to their views on slavery and the status of blacks compared to whites in the church. This seemed very inconsistent with their teaching on the Image of God in other places. I also was reading Anthony Bradley's blog which from time to time talked about his experience as a black man in the PCA and began to read more about Dabney, Thornwell, and others. I knew he wasn't making up his experiences because I knew quite personally that racism existed in Reformed Presbyterian circles. It was through this initially that I began to look more into ethnic/racial issues. 

How are you pursuing learning more in this area? Why would you encourage others to do the same?

I am pursuing learning in this area by listening to non-white brothers in Presbyterian and Reformed circles. Anthony Bradley was one of my professors in seminary. Any time he recommends a book on race and Presbyterian and reformed experiences I buy it. By now I have a lot of reading to do. I've done a lot of "virtual listening" by following lots of Facebook conversations that Anthony and others have had, and have just listened to their struggles and pain and sharing of their story. Through one of those conversations I read an article by Leon Brown (you) about his experience as a black man in Presbyterian and reformed circles. I hadn't met Leon, due to infrequent Presbytery attendance on my part, but sent him a quick note of encouragement. That later resulted in a meeting for brunch where we were able to talk. I really wanted Leon to help me listen, help me hear. I want to know more about what you have experienced, and how I and we and the church as a whole can grow. I had learned enough from reading his article and other writings to know that there are some things that white people have a hard time understanding and getting about the black (and non-white) experience. In the article Leon invited readers to walk in his shoes. My friendship with Leon began by me seeking his help to walk in his shoes. I don't know what it is like to be a minority in really any sense. I remember thinking one presbytery meeting as I looked around, especially after reading some of the articles and facebook posts..."Wow, Leon is the only black guy here. That has to be incredibly difficult. Why is it like this?" The church can't grow and change without conversations of understanding, listening by the majority white culture, and growing racially diverse friendships and communities and churches. Change needs to happen. Non-whites need to be heard and white people need to listen. 

Comparatively, do you have many non-white friends? If not, how does this affect your interaction and understanding of non-white ethnic groups?

Comparatively I don't have many non-white friends. Obviously this affects my interaction and understanding negatively. How can one grow in understanding those with whom you don't interact? 

This is kind of interesting. As I think about it I had more non-white friends growing up. My closest friends in elementary and middle school where non-white. I guess I was the minority in my neighborhood, I was the only white kid. I was friends with a lot of black kids in my neighborhood and in school, but we had no non-whites in my church. As I went into high school and some in middle school I said lot of racist things when with the majority culture (church, white friends) but I didn't have any racists attitudes towards my black friends. Sometimes I was ridiculed by my extended family for having black friends. I think maybe I used racial slurs to gain acceptance in the majority culture. But I did see my attitude and heart change in my racist thoughts towards those non-whites that I didn't know. The more I moved from being in the minority (my neighborhood) to being in the majority high school college etc... the less black friends I had. There seemed to be a lot more (voluntary?) segregation (cafeteria, clubs, parties) happening. Our high school was over 50% black. But my college was at least 75% white. I hung out with who was around me and those were mostly white people. In my experience, past childhood, inter racial relationships take effort, they just don't happen. In high school and in college most of the black students hung out together (black Christian groups, black frats and sororities, black engineering clubs etc...). I never bothered to ask why. I just accepted that was just the way it was. Now I'm understanding why more. The majority/minority culture experience is shedding some light on that.  I'm processing some as I'm writing....all that to say as one in the majority culture it will take effort on my part to move out of that experience and to engage and interact with non-whites. 

Have you had any uncomfortable situations in your church, or any other, where racism was overt against a non-white? If so, tell us about that situation.

Not in my present church, but growing up I was taught in Sunday school (not regularly but I remember it being taught) that slavery was a result of the curse that God placed on Ham. The decedents of Japheth were white people, Europeans. The descendants of Shem were Semites, Jews etc... and those who came from Ham were black. That is why they were in slavery. Also we were told that interracial marriages were a sin. The church I grew up in was adjacent to my neighborhood, (I could walk there). 

The church was over a hundred years old. The area changed from rural to neighborhoods. First it was an all white neighborhood, then slowly that began to change. The church never did. It was always awkward when a black family visited. Everyone's head turned to watch them walk down the aisle to their seat. This never would have happened if it was a white family. That had to be really uncomfortable for those families....they never came back. 

We used a lot of racial slurs in our youth group and told racist jokes sometimes....we were never corrected or rebuked. It makes me sick to my stomach to think I participated in that.

How does the gospel help us regarding ethnic/cultural/socio-economic issues in Reformed and Presbyterian churches?

It reminds me that I am a white-Gentile. I was an alien, a stranger, an outsider. Historically and as far as my heritage goes I was not part of the people of God. But Jesus has come and he tore down that wall and I have access as a full member, not second class, not provisional, not JV, but full status as an adopted son. What was once distinct Christ has made one in himself tearing down the dividing wall of hostility. The extent to which fellowship happens across ethnic/cultural/socio-economic lines communicates and demonstrates a glorious gospel truth. When this doesn't happen truths and implications of the gospel can be hidden or compromised. Christ is restoring the Image of God in man. All races and cultures reflect different and beautiful aspects of the image of God. Without each other we are missing out on experiencing and communicating to the world the beauties of our creator and redeemer. The gospel should remind me that I have no place whatsoever to view myself as superior to anyone else. It should also provide the context in which we can confess and repent of failures in the past to live out the gospel in light of racism and elitism. Jesus wasn't white, God isn't white. If the new heavens and earth only had white people or middle class people it would be imperfect. The gospel is bigger than white people. We are the minority as far as Christianity goes currently I believe, as far as the majority Christian world is in the southern and eastern hemisphere. The gospel is world wide and ethnic wide and cultural wide and socio-economic wide in its scope. That should help us see that these issues need to be addressed in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. 

Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share?

I have a lot of growing to do. Thanks for walking with me in this.