First it was Justin Taylor informing the world (or at least the readers of his blog) that Desiring God Ministries needed money. The post from last June was entitled, â€œHelping DG,â€ and at first I thought, even hoped, that Justin was very kind to offer me help. Turned out that the DG in question was not the underemployed one living in downtown Philadelphia but the Minneapolis-based entity who last summer was facing significant budget cuts.
Then it was a year-end post about the Gospel Coalition itself needing funds.
And now I receive an email from Tim Keller himself, requesting support for Redeemer City to City. Although I had heard of Redeemer-like churches, and knew of Kellerâ€™s involvement in both GC and the Presbyterian Church of America, I had not known about his/Redeemerâ€™s â€œmovementâ€ of global churches, designed to renew global cities. In addition to being a pastor in the PCA and a best-selling author, Keller is president of RCTC. A year end email indicated the following need:
Dear Redeemer City to City supporter,
Over twenty years ago I received a calling to move my family to New York City and plant a church. God blessed our church beyond all of our expectations, and has blessed New York City through many other ministries as well.
Today, we are standing at the cusp of another humbling opportunity â€“ to use our twenty years of experience ministering and planting churches in New York City to serve a groundswell of church planters and urban Christians in the great cities of the world. In todayâ€™s globalized world, cities will exercise more power than nations in the previous age (see Foreign Policy’s recent cover story).
To date we have helped to plant 190 churches in 35 global cities, many of which will plant other churches. In 2010 alone, we saw 34 new churches started in Tokyo, Barcelona, Johannesburg, SÃ£o Paulo, Kuala Lumpur and 15 other cities, and published resources to help churches like these do discipleship, mercy & justice and evangelism.
We still have a budget gap of $200,000 for 2010. Please consider making a one-time or recurring gift to support these gospel movements in the great cities of the world.
Grace & peace,
President, Redeemer City to City
Not only am I amazed that Keller has the time to be involved with the PCA, GC, and RCTC â€“ the OPC is a sufficient ministry outlet for my time and offerings â€“ but I do wonder about the built-in redundancy of these efforts. Would GC have an easier time raising money and hiring staff if they could simply incorporate Desiring God and Redeemer City to City in its structure and activities? That seems logical enough. But then why would Keller and John Piper join GC but keep their own networks of churches and supporters?
I know the non-profit world has much overlap between persons and institutions, but that overlap has limits. For instance, the chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Museum of Art would likely have to cut back his commitment to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art if, for instance, he was serving on PAFAâ€™s board when appointed to chair Philadelphiaâ€™s museum. So why would Keller or Piper, reconsider their own involvement with RCTC and DG respectively if they joined a coalition for the gospel? Is GC simply window dressing, you know, drive for show, put for dough?
And this says nothing of Redeemer NYCâ€™s membership in the PCA. What does membership in RCTC mean, compared to the communion of the PCA? Are all ministers simply free-lance entrepreneurs of religious goods with no restraints from obligations to sets of churches or ministries? Maybe, but thatâ€™s not the way Coke and Pepsi operate; even the world of for-profits recognizes some form of brand loyalty such that you canâ€™t â€“ at least the last time I was there â€“ purchase Pepsi products at McDonaldâ€™s.
This may seem an overly narrow reading of religious identity or Christian fellowship, as if belonging to GC or DG or RCTC might place limits on someoneâ€™s additional fellowship outlets. But it is the case that if you join the OPC, you have to renounce other memberships, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, or the Free Masons (no intention of drawing equivalency there). The OPC and the SBC understand the nature and work of the church differently, and also disagree about theological matters. This does not mean that Southern Baptists are barred from the Lordâ€™s Supper at an OPC congregation. But it does mean that SBC pastors will not preach in OPC pulpits, and it also means that someone coming from the SBC into the OPC will need to make another profession of faith and be examined by the session.
But in the case of GC, DG, and RCTC, no such boundaries exist, at least for the leaders who attract readers, donors, and fans. Apparently, someone can be part of DG, GC, and RCTC â€“ though since Kellerâ€™s movement has a Gospel DNA, one may wonder if GCâ€™s commitment to the gospel is less genetically precise. Plus, another distinction between RCTC and GC is that many of the churches that belong to GC are not sufficiently urban or global to qualify for RCTC. In which case, a congregationâ€™s geography matters more than its commitment to proclaim the gospel. I had heard of race, class and gender. But now we need to add city?
Well, actually GC calls is membership a â€œcity.â€ The website says:
Our online community of over 8,000 people from 65 different countries is called The City. You will find groups based on geographical location as well as special interests in order to help you connect with like-minded, gospel-centered people.
Apparently this â€œcityâ€ is not sufficiently urban or global to be part of RCTC. New York City does have high standards, after all, though Scriptural norms for belonging and fellowship might embrace suburbanites and agrarians. Heck, it would also include the homeless since we are all pilgrims.
Anyway, task of mapping the boundaries and ties among these various evangelical and somewhat Calvinistic enterprises is almost as complex as the Southern Baptist Conventionâ€™s hierarchy is Baroque. If belong to GC is to be part of â€œthe city,â€ then becoming part of RCTC is, I guess, to join the ueber-urban inner city circle of GC. Yet, when you look at GCâ€™s handy church directory, you see that of the five churches listed at the RCTC list of Philadelphia CTC churches, only liberti church east and Grace Church of Philadelphia also belong to GC. (Apparently, neither organization has rules about spelling and capitalization.) But a comparison of these cites also shows that RCTC has more members in Philadelphia than GC (five to four). If both groups opened up to each others membership, then RCTC and GC would have seven congregations in Philadelphia; as it stands they limp along with reduced numbers.
And to keep the comparison going, RCTC has no churches in Lake Wobegone country where John Piper ministers. But Piperâ€™s congregation is part of GC, and Trinity City Church in St. Paul is the other urban member from the Twin Cities. (With a name like that, you would think Trinity City Church would be a shoe in for joining RCTC.)
And what of the Baptist General Convention and the PCA? Are these denominations and associations of congregations simply chopped liver? I can understand that an independent congregation that wants to feel connected may look to GC as a form of fellowship beyond the local congregation. To alleviate their predicament, they could actually consider becoming part of a Reformed denomination or federation, but Reformed communions are a little more rigorous about baptism than GC, DG, or RCTC. Still, if you already belong to the PCA or the General Baptist Convention, why would you need to join GC or RCTC or DG? And if GC, RCTC, and DG did not exist, would the ministries of denominations like the GBC and the PCA be healthier and less in need of year-end contributions themselves? I mean, do the GBC and PCA not promote the gospel, desire God, or exclude urban congregations?
But over against the disadvantages of denominations, GC, DG, and RCTC allow for forms of membership, loyalty, and fellowship that come with few restrictions and plenty of opportunities for giving financially. One of the virtues of the U.S. currency, even in this difficult economy, is that it works in all parachurch agencies and Christian movements. What is more, the U.S. Christians who own those dollars donâ€™t need to belong to any ministry, movement, or coalition in order to give. All these persons need to do is neglect giving any thought to what sort of obligation their own church membership and denominational ties places upon them.