Birthright Sport

With all the recent talk about birthright citizenship, one that has bearings on infant baptism, I am at a loss about basketball. Is it Canadian, Presbyterian, or American? It depends on how we categorize the game’s creator.

But do you know that the inventor of basketball was a Presbyterian?

His name was James Naismith. Born in Canada on November 6, 1861 in a town no longer in existence, James and his four brothers and sisters grew up in difficult circumstances. His Scotch parents had emigrated from Scotland to Canada, but died after a few years in their new country, leaving James and his brothers and sisters to be reared by a strict uncle. They moved a few times, with James always being involved in sports, like rugby, soccer, football, lacrosse and gymnastics. He would graduate from McGill University in Montreal as well as earning a diploma from the Presbyterian seminary in Montreal in 1890. While never did he become ordained, he did minister in the pulpits of Canadian Presbyterian Churches.

It was while he was working at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts that James Naismith was given the task by his employer to “come up with” an indoor game which would help the youths of the district to mature into young adults. The assignment, which was given a fourteen day limit, resulted in what we know as basketball.

Granted the ten rules which he wrote down were changed as the new sport developed. For example, the first basket at either end was a peach basket! When the soccer ball, which was first used, would be shot into it, it stayed there until someone climber a ladder at either end of the court to remove it. Time was lost in that exercise until a net and a “basketball” was used.

James and his wife moved to the United States and became citizens. Eventually, he was hired by the University of Kansas to be its basketball coach. Interestingly, he had more losses than wins in the university at Lawrence, Kansas. But others, including some he had trained, became more proficient in the sport, and today . . . it is found the world over.

Here’s the problem. Naismith invented the game when he was 30 years old. He did not become a citizen of the U.S. until he was 55.

That means basketball started on U.S. soil — good news for the birthright folks. But the man inventing the game was still Canadian.

If citizenship matters, basketball is Canadian.

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When Covenant, Reformed, and Westminster Don’t Measure Up

The folks at Redeemer do not seem to see the need to cooperate in church planting with existing denominational structures or even with the existing seminaries. Apparently, a special kind of minister is necessary for urban churches.

Philanthropy: You mentioned earlier that another very serious bottleneck is not having enough trained leaders. Could you also envision some kind of philanthropic effort to expand and improve seminary training?

Keller: Seminary scholarships ought to be very appealing to donors, because it’s a relatively small investment with the potential to have very powerful results for decades after. Our big problem today is that ministry in a complex society takes graduate training, yet, unlike law and medicine and business, the prospects of higher salaries to pay off student debt are not there. So, candidates who would love to enroll can’t bear the expense. And the seminaries don’t have wealthy alumni to turn to for support, like other graduate schools.

I have to tell you, churches don’t partner very well with seminaries. Some say to seminaries, “Minister training is your job, not ours,” and wash their hands of any responsibility. Others say, “Today’s seminaries are stupid, they’re terrible, we’ll do it ourselves,” which isn’t a full solution. I could see a donor investing in partnerships where one or two large churches, or a group of smaller churches, partner with a seminary to create excellent, affordable instruction. The seminary would be responsible for the many academic pieces that go into training a minister. And the churches could oversee formulation of better, more practical, more hands-on training.

I was on a call recently with leaders of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and they are talking with their donors about more partnerships with churches. Their idea is that the seminary would send faculty right out to local church organizations to teach classes, maybe instruct over video, teach at night, reach more students. The traditional model is that you have 20 professors on campus and all the students have to live there. That’s great for faculty—no night courses, no weekends, no travel. But it is extraordinarily expensive now to do it that way. And it eliminates candidates who have a day job or a family to support. Distributed instruction would also benefit lay leaders, Sunday School teachers, unconventional ministry candidates, and others.

The irony is that this was the same sort of mindset that fed the formation of Bible schools and colleges.

Church Planting the Keller (not the PCA) Way

This sounds like a separate denomination. Actually, it sounds a lot like the kind of start-up featured in Gimlet Media’s series on church planting (as the spiritual equivalent of tech start ups). Would you ever hear something about the PCA, the denomination that gave Redeemer its support at the beginning? And which presbyters or bishops are overseeing this work of planting churches?

Philanthropy: How has Redeemer Presbyterian Church raised the funds necessary for its operations?

Keller: For our first three years of establishing the church from scratch, it was outside gifts that kept us afloat. I could name at least 100 people over the last 30 years who gave large gifts ranging from $20,000 to $2 million and above at crucial turning points in the life of our church.

Once the church was established, we primarily raised funds from inside the congregation through regular giving. We’ve always encouraged the tithe as a good rule of thumb for where to start in Christian generosity. I encourage giving in a planned and incremental way, stretching to give a bit more and then a bit more, not in an impulsive way.

Redeemer is almost two thirds single people, and most are young and don’t have deep pockets. So disciplined, sacrificial, small gifts have been our lifeblood. On the basis of that giving, we’ve made ends meet.

The problem is that as a church gets bigger there is a higher percentage of people who don’t give. In smaller churches people give all the way down. In bigger churches there’s a tendency to think, “This is their church, not my church, I just come.”

Two or three years ago we had a campaign to divide Redeemer into three churches. The plan was for me to step down as senior pastor and each of the three churches would get their own senior pastor. That has happened.

Over the next ten years we want each of the three churches to plant three daughter churches, making nine churches total. Redeemer City to City, the nonprofit where I am stationed now, has partnered with Redeemer Presbyterian on a strategy called the New York Project to come alongside many denominations to help plant churches all over the city. The goal is a total of 250 churches planted here in the next ten years.

We had a campaign inside Redeemer to raise money for this new strategy. And since we are also going to support churches of other denominations we felt we could make a call to the wider world. So, we went outside the congregation and asked for money.

The ten-year project is broken down into three phases, and right now we are raising funds for the first phase. So far we’ve raised about $70 million in pledges. About $33 million of that came from the three Redeemer congregations. About $37 million has come from outside. Our goal is to raise a total of $80 million for this first phase (2016 to 2019).

Philanthropy: How is the church planting going so far?

Keller: Since 2001, Redeemer City to City has helped plant nearly 400 churches in over 50 cities around the globe. For the New York Project, we’re two years into phase one and hoping that it accumulates like an investment. In the first phase we’re hoping to help plant more than 80 new churches of various denominations. We’re trying to create enough leadership that the number of churches explodes. We are trying to get a lot of young people out of grinding professional jobs and into ministry training and then starting churches, with our encouragement and aid.

We have partnerships with 16 outside networks that are focused on church planting. We go to those networks, and other potential allies, and ask, “What do you need? Do you need money? What’s your plan for the next three years?” A leader might say, “I’m aiming to do a church a year.” And we might answer, “Is there any way you could make that two churches if we help?”

It’s not easy. Sometimes we hear, “You’re Presbyterian, and I’m charismatic—you’ll probably squash my charismatic side.” We’re working to overcome that. Because we’ve learned a lot over the last couple decades, and a leader’s chances of failure are much higher if he or she doesn’t take advantage of the training and assistance we offer through Redeemer City to City.

But if you are a successful pastor in North American, you are a free agent and can set up a separate communion network.

If Tim Keller is A Great Apologist, Why Does He Sound Like A Sociologist?

Tim Keller explained to people who write about charities and philanthropy the contribution that churches make to “human flourishing”:

Philanthropy: How does a healthy church benefit the community at large beyond its own members? On the flip side, when a neighborhood doesn’t have a flourishing church, what is it missing out on?

Keller: Churches promote cooperation between individuals and the kind of associational life that is necessary for human happiness and social success. Without informal shared trust, things are more litigious and combative. Life is much better when neighbors pull for each other, help each other, collaborate together. But this kind of “social capital” is very difficult to generate through public policy. Governments cannot duplicate the effect of religion as a source of shared values.

Family ties and religious ties are the two biggest sources of social capital. And religion can be fed and bolstered as a source of valuable shared experience. I, as an older white American man, can connect quite sincerely to a single poor African woman in Soweto because we are both evangelical Christians. There’s a powerful bond because we’ve had the same experience of spiritual rebirth. There’s a trust I have that would not exist if I was a non-Christian white man.

Anywhere you’ve got a church, social capital is being created. Especially when the church is attended by people from the surrounding neighborhood. And it’s a big benefit to the community.

Also, church buildings in big cities are a kind of public utility. We bought a parking garage in upper Manhattan and converted it into a church and all the homeowners on the block who were not believers said, “Thank you, you’re improving the whole block.” The city council asked if various local groups could use the building, saying, “We’re starved for space.” Our building became a community center. Organizations can meet there, people can have weddings and other celebrations there. On a Sunday, urban churches create the foot traffic all the restaurant owners and shop owners want. So in all kinds of ways an urban church has huge benefits, as long as it doesn’t have a fortress mentality.

For a fellow with the reputation of presenting the gospel to secular Americans in ways that make it accessible and also clear, Keller comes up short and resorts to language that would actually wind up supporting Roman Catholic parishes, synagogues, and mosques as religious places that increase social capital.

Machen, Golden State, and Social Justice

What binds these three items together? Warrior, as in Machen’s Warrior Children, Golden State Warriors, and Social Justice Warriors.

The average American (unless you are LeBron James) thinks positively of the NBA franchise. If that American is under 30, she likely adds Social Justice to Golden State since both are very popular.

Your average Presbyterian in one of the NAPARC communions, you might think, would add Machen happily to the Golden State Warriors since J. Gresham Machen was arguably the greatest defender of historic Presbyterianism during the twentieth century. And if you are a conservative Presbyterian under 30 you might also want to add Social Justice to Machen and the Golden State team because Social Justice and Golden State are very popular.

But what does the PCA do? It embraces Social Justice and disdains Machen — Golden State is probably agreeable.

Consider that two of the more prominent figures in the PCA during the last twenty years are John Frame, who coined the phrase, “Machen’s Warrior Children,” and Tim Keller. Almost everyone knows Frame’s opposition to Machen’s spiritual offspring. Keller less so. Here is part of his take on twentieth-century conservative Presbyterianism:

A more normal result of church splits is the pruning off of branches in a way that both wounds and yet, ironically, does not last. Something of this pattern, I think, can be seen in the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Early in its history, after the death of J. Gresham Machen, the OPC went through a split in which its New Side/New School branch left, led by J.Oliver Buswell of Wheaton College and Carl T. McIntire. But, no surprise, by the 1970s the OPC had grown a new ‘pietist/revivalist’ wing under the influence of Jack Miller. The New Life Churches and their Sonship course was classic revivalism, and it did not fit well with the more doctrinalist cast of the OPC. While not a formal split, like that of 1937, the New Life churches were made to feel unwelcome and nearly all left in the early 90s to swell the pietist ranks of the PCA.

Whenever a Reformed church purifies itself by purging itself of one of its impulses, it finds that within a generation or two, its younger leaders are starting to at look in a friendly way toward the lost parts.

With that kind of suspicion about Machen’s Warriors, the liturgy at the PCA’s General Assembly this week was notable:

Notice that last line, the contrast between social justice warriors and servants of the gospel.  The idea that social justice is an extension of critical race theory was one that the curmudgeon, Bill Smith, proposed. Curiously enough, Sean Lucas accused Bill Smith of the genetic fallacy.

And that raises a question of whether Pastor Lucas himself has committed the liturgical fallacy. Does simply praying that Social Justice Warriors need to be celebrated as “servants of the gospel” measure up to the rigors of logic? Simply praying it doesn’t make it so.

But it does seem safe to say that Bill Smith is in Sean Lucas’ head.

Maybe This is what b, sd Had in Mind (trigger warning for Keller aficionados)

)And for contributors to Sasse 2020.)

Rod Dreher re-posted parts of an Aaron Renn post about urban/hipster Protestantism.

First, Renn’s categories:

Ben Sasse is a conservative exemplar of what I term “neutral world” Christianity. In my framework, there are three worlds we’ve seen in my lifetime related to the status of Christianity and traditional Christian norms in society.

1 Positive World (Pre-1994). To be seen as a religious person and one who exemplifies traditional Christian norms is a social positive. Christianity is a status enhancer. In some cases failure to embrace those norms hurt you.
2 Neutral World (1994-2014). Christianity is seen as a socially neutral attribute. It no longer had dominant status in society, but to be seen as a religious person is not a knock either. It’s more like a personal affectation or hobby. Traditional norms of behavior retain residual force.
3 Negative World (2014-). In this world, being a Christian is a social negative, especially in high status positions. Christianity in many ways as seen as undermining the social good. Traditional norms are expressly repudiated.

To illustrate the differences, consider these three incidents:

1 Positive World: In 1987 the Miami Herald reported that Sen. Gary Hart had been having an affair, and cavorting with the woman in question on his yacht. He was forced to drop out of the presidential race as a result.
2 Neutral World: In 1998 the Drudge Report broke the story that Bill Clinton had been having an affair with intern Monica Lewinksy, including sex acts in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton was badly damaged by the scandal but survived it as the Democratic Party rallied around him and public decided his private behavior was not relevant to the job.
3 Negative World: In 2016 Donald Trump, a many whose entire persona (sexual antics, excess consumption, boastfulness, etc.) is antithetical to traditional Christianity, is elected president. The Access Hollywood tape, for example, had no effect on voter decisions about him.

Even for those who hate Christianity, the rise of Trump, something only possible in a post-Christian world, should give them pause to consider.

Tim Keller’s ministry is the consummate neutral world Christianity:

The neutral world church is very different in a number of ways. It has traditionally been much more apolitical (though many of its practitioners lean left). It’s also much more heavily urban and global city focused. It tries to avoid highlighting areas where Christianity is in conflict with the world. Instead of being antagonistic towards the culture, it is explicitly positive towards culture. In fact, you could sum up much of the model under the heading “cultural engagement.” They want to meet the culture on its own terms, and reach people as participants in a pluralistic public square. They want to be in the mainstream media, not just Christian media or their own platforms. Many of their ministries have been backed by big money donors. These are many of the people who denounced Trump to no effect during the election. In effect, they represent a version of Christianity taking its cues from the secular elite consensus.

Which means that some political topics are okay, some aren’t:

The average neutral world Christian leader – and that’s a lot of the high profile ones other than the remaining religious righters, ones who have a more dominant role than ever thanks to the internet – talks obsessively about two topics today: refugees (immigrants) and racism. They combine that with angry, militant anti-Trump politics. These are not just expounded as internal to the church (e.g., helping the actual refugee family on your block), but explicitly in a social reform register (changing legacy culture and government policy).

I’m not going to argue that they are wrong are those points. But it’s notable how selective these folks were in picking topics to talk about. They seem to have landed on causes where they are 100% in agreement with the elite secular consensus. . . .

I won’t speculate on their motives, but it’s very clear that neutral world leaders have a lot to lose. Unlike Jerry Falwell, who never had secular cachet and lived in the sticks, these guys enjoy artisanal cheese, microbrews, and pour over coffees in Brooklyn. They’ve had bylines in the New York Times and Washington Post. They get prime speaking gigs at the Q conference and elsewhere. A number of them have big donors to worry about. And if all of a sudden they lost the ability to engage with the culture they explicitly affirmed as valuable, it would a painful blow. For example, to accept Dreher’s Benedict Option argument they’d have to admit that the entire foundation of their current way of doing business no longer works. Not many people are interested in hearing that.

The neutral world Christians – and again that seems to be much of Evangelical leadership today – are in a tough spot when it comes to adjusting to the negative world. The move from positive to neutral world brought an increase in mainstream social status (think Tim Keller vs. Pat Robertson), but the move to a negative world will involve a loss of status. Let’s be honest, that’s not palatable to most. Hence we see a shift hard to the left and into very public synchronization with secular pieties. That’s not everybody in Evangelical leadership, but it’s a lot of them. Many of those who haven’t are older and long time political conservatives without a next generation of followers who think like them. (Political conservatism is also dying, incidentally).

And lo and behold, The Gospel Coalition is smack dab in Neutral World Christianity:

I was speaking with one pastor who is a national council member of the Gospel Coalition. He’s a classic neutral worlder who strongly disapproves of Trump. But he notes that the Millennials in his congregation are in effect Biblically illiterate and have a definition of God’s justice that is taken from secular leftist politics. They did not, for example, see anything at all problematic about Hillary Clinton and her views. A generation or so from now when these people are the leaders, they won’t be people keeping unpopular positions to themselves. They won’t have any unpopular positions to hide. They will be completely assimilated to the world. Only their ethics will no longer be Hillary’s, but the new fashion du jour.

Renn’s recommendation is not necessarily the Benedict Option but the Fighting-the-Good-Fight Option:

The template is Paul, who was one tough hombre. Paul was a Jewish blueblood on the fast track to high council membership who threw it all way to endure beatings, imprisonment, etc. (One of the underappreciated virtues of Paul is just how physically and mentally tough that guy was). He said he counted it all as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. He also someone who could say, “I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God.”

Even the author of the Benedict Option, Dreher, sees merit in Paul as the model for ministry:

Paul did not focus his struggle on the world, but within the church itself. Aside from seeking converts, he doesn’t advise his followers to engage the culture, get politically active, or anything like that. Nor did he instruct his followers to run away from the world. Rather, he focused on building up the church in holiness, and exhorting believers in the new faith to overcome the world in themselves.

That seems a lot like the confessional Reformed Protestant model. It’s very personal, familial, congregational, and local, perhaps even too local for the advocates of localism.

Transforming New York City Was Always Going to be a Slog

Kyle B. Roberts explains:

Evangelical New Yorkers did nothing less than make the city between the American Revolution and the Civil War. Their systematic strategy of aggressively building in new opening neighborhoods put them on the forward edge of urban development. . . . Asylums, bethels, book concerns, missions, and orphanages supported by lay voluntary associations and denominations expanded that presence. In time, immigrant Roman Catholics and Jews proved more formidable opponents than High Church Protestant Episcopalians, but a community is more than its churches and societies; it is, fundamentally, it’s people. Fifteen percent of the city’s adult population identified as evangelical and joined a city church by the middle of the nineteenth century. That might not sound like much, but it was five times what it had been at the close of the American Revolution. Given the high bar evangelical churches set by making conversion a criteria for membership, the number of spouses, children, cousins, and neighbors still hopefully waiting for conversion was undoutedly much higher.

This massive emotional, financial, and spiritual investment in the city came at a cost. The principles at the core of evangelical belief and practice–individual conversion and community-focused social activism–exist in continual tension. They provided the rational for aggressive interventions in the city, hope to the hopeless, friends for the friendless, and homes for the homeless, but just as easily supplied an excuse for withdrawal, into meeting-houses, parlors, and even their own spiritual selves at moments when their presences was most needed. . . . every worshiper at the John Street church had to decide for her or himself whether to join the exodus of middle-class Protestants up the island or to stay put, even as nearly every other evangelical meeting-house shuttered. These choices were not limited to the antebellum period; Evangelical Gotham always had been and always would be a profoundly ambivalent place. (255-56)

When the PCA Might actually Want to Follow Southern Baptists

I do not pretend to know the Byzantine world of Southern Baptist life but I do follow one SBC website, SBC Today, to keep tabs on the opposition to Calvinism in the Convention. Some of the staunchest voices against the so-called Calvinist takeover appear at SBC Today.

Another arresting wrinkle to these anti-Calvinists is first their defenses of Paige Patterson and their current opposition to Social Justice Warriorism. Here is an excerpt from a resolution the editors posted today:

Whereas social justice is showing it’s true colors at George Washington University and other campuses in 2018 where they are holding classes and seminars seeking to combat “Christian Privilege,” and attacking Christianity for it’s prominence in society using the social justice ethic, wherein the seminar at GWU students are taught “American Christians receive things they don’t deserve and are not worthy of getting,” and

Whereas Southern Baptists ought to furthermore be warned by the example of the Methodist and Episcopal denominations that have already embraced the social justice movement, and instead of growing in number, these same denominations continue to lose membership at an alarmingly fast rate, and

Whereas we have a present crisis point in the Southern Baptist Convention, in that the same social justice has been recently defended and promoted by Russell Moore of the ERLC within the Southern Baptist Convention, with Dr. Moore writing multiple articles and hosting events promoting social justice, and

Whereas the social justice agenda in the Southern Baptist Convention has become pervasive in some seminaries and state conventions, even to the point that it is apparently an unwritten rule not to speak against the social justice movement, or one’s job or position will be in jeopardy, and

Whereas we are repeatedly warned in Scripture concerning such error and being deceived, with Ephesians 5:6, Hebrews 13:9, Colossians 2:8, and 1 Timothy 4:1 being just a few of these warnings, and

. . .Whereas true Christian theology builds people up to be resilient in the face of trials, but social justice seeks to stoke discontentment (1 Corinthians 10:10; Hebrews 13:5), and

Whereas our own denomination must reject this harmful social justice philosophy in it’s entirety, and

Whereas biblical doctrine and the Christian ethic must be chosen over social justice, then be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Dallas, Texas, June 13–14, 2018, decry and reject the terms and framework of social justice as insufficient to adequately reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Christian worldview; and be it further

RESOLVED That the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention be encouraged to avoid the terms “social justice” and social justice warrior” when referring to Christian ethics or activism, and that the Holy Scriptures be used as a guide without mimicking the verbiage of the Anti-Christian social justice movement, and be it

RESOLVED That all SBC Colleges and Universities be encouraged to review their teaching programs with special attention given to Humanities Departments to ensure that Marxist based social justice is not being taught in our colleges, universities, and seminaries, and be it

RESOLVED, That we encourage churches in preaching, teaching, and in discipleship to address the issues of racial reconciliation, poverty, the environment, sexual and gender issues, immigration, and education from a Christian worldview and reject the ideological underpinnings and verbiage of the social justice movement.

So here’s another wrinkle. Why are Calvinists in the PCA and SBC more prone to heed the calls for social justice while the opponents of Calvinism in the SBC find it easier to spot the errors implicit in certain efforts to use the gospel to underwrite politics? Just today, another Protestant declaration went live and invoked the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. to support a set of policy ideals that target the Trump administration’s errors. Will the recent defenders of King in the PCA and SBC worlds sign this new resolution? I doubt it if only because the worlds of Red Letter Christians and The Gospel Coalition are so far apart, and such support could be toxic in PCA and TGC networks.

But of late, they have been tracking in remarkably similar trajectories. And when that happens, when those who affirm total depravity, limited atonement, and perseverance of the saints wind up in gospelly poses with Protestants for whom Calvinism is bizarre, Reformed Protestants want to know what’s in the New Calvinist water.

How Orthodox Presbyterians became PCA

Another way to supplement Chris Gordon’s post about the demise of confessionalism in the CRC and lessons for the PCA is to consider what happened to the OPC after the failure of union between the CRC and the OPC.

The merger that the OPC and CRC contemplated between 1956 and 1972 never took place but at roughly the same time that those negotiations died, the PCA was born and for the next twenty years became the chief player in ecclesiastical mergers-and-acquisitions. First the PCA acquired in 1982 the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (an earlier merger of revival-friendly Covenanters and dissident – read agreeable – Bible Presbyterians of the McIntire variety) and then the PCA almost in 1986 absorbed the OPC (a majority of Orthodox Presbyterians voted in favor but not by the two-thirds majority required for sending the plan to presbyteries for ratification). In the aftermath of that failed plan for Joining & Receiving, congregations in the OPC and PCA had the liberty to re-align if they chose. This was opening for a number of New Life churches (among them the Glenside congregation where Tim Keller learned the ways of New Life Presbyterianism) to join the PCA during the late 1980s.

Again, a piece of OPC history (self-promotion alert) that fills out Gordon’s observations:

In 1988 the effects of the OPC’s change of direction were still visible but not altogether clear. Again the church experienced a growth numerically, rising to 19,422 members but it also lost two more congregations to the PCA, one (New Life) in Philadelphia and one in Southern California. Only in 1989 did the OPC’s statistician start to notice these numerical changes as part of a “step backward.” That year was the peak of membership and congregational loss. The church’s total membership decreased by 3.5 percent to 18,689. [ed. no snickering] Meanwhile, five congregations transferred to the PCA, among them New Life in Escondido, California. This was the same year that the Assembly’s decisions about Bethel church took their toll. A majority of the Wheaton congregation (162 out of 301) left the OPC to form an independent congregation, which eventually affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In 1990 the “step backward” statistically lengthened. The OPC lost another 546 members and three congregations; among them New Life, Glenside, joined the PCA. Only by 1991 did the hemorrhaging stop and membership begin to rise again. In 1992 the OPC added 525 members and total membership increased to 18,767.

The movement of OPC congregations into the PCA was the occasion for a exchange between John M. Frame and Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. in New Horizons on realignment at the same time that statistics were revealing the consequences of congregational transfers. It was a telling exchange because it revealed an important aspect of Orthodox Presbyterianism that after the semi-centennial was beginning to reassert itself within the life of the communion and causing sufficient discomfort for others to look for another denominational home. That characteristic of Orthodox Presbyterianism was the Reformed doctrine of the church in which membership in particular communion was not a supplement to Christian identity but its embodiment. As Gaffin explained in this exchange, the OPC was not merely a denomination; “it is a church, a church that exists by divine warrant.” As such, he added, “Biblical presbyterianism has no place for loyalties torn between the denomination and the local congregation, or for greater loyalty to either one.” In contrast, Frame, who was then an associate pastor of the New Life congregation in Escondido that had realigned with the PCA, explained that the reason for transferring was to partner more effectively with other church planting efforts in southern California. Denominational affiliations for him were at best accidental, at worst sinful. Either way, he hoped that denominational “barriers” would become less important and that Orthodox Presbyterians would understand that transferring to the PCA was not a sign of disloyalty or contempt. The move was simply practical.

Clearly, Frame did not see the switch to the PCA as the serious risk that Gaffin said it was. Gaffin believed such transfers were dangerous because they nurtured a mind set that increased divisions in the church, not along lines of biblical witness, but according to personal preferences or styles of ministry. As such, Gaffin was expressing a doctrine of the church that had deep roots in American Presbyterianism reaching back to Old School Presbyterianism and even to the Old Side Presbyterians of the colonial era. Frame, in contrast, was more typical of a view of the church characteristic of New School and New Side Presbyterians, where the formal work of ministry was supplemental to the religious endeavors of all believers. In other words, whether Frame or Gaffin acknowledged the history of American Presbyterianism in their reflections, they spoke volumes about Orthodox Presbyterianism and how it emerged and developed in relation to its Presbyterian past. Among the many convictions for which the OPC had stood historically, the doctrine of the church as part of biblical teaching and necessary for faithful witness was one of the hallmarks of Orthodox Presbyterianism. During the 1970s and 1980s that ecclesial conviction had begun to wane if only because it was not producing the size and influence that some Orthodox Presbyterians desired. But as the OPC began to take stock of its past, it also recovered one of its most noticeable features. Furthermore, just as that commitment to biblical Presbyterianism had been a source of frustration to Bible Presbyterians in the 1930s, neo-evangelicals in the 1940s, and more generally to Orthodox Presbyterians like Edwin H. Rian who had hoped the OPC would turn out to be a conservative version of culturally established and respectable Presbyterianism, so in the late 1980s as the OPC recovered its doctrine of the church some felt compelled to look for better, friendlier, or less restrictive expressions of American Presbyterianism than the OPC. (Between the Times, 316-18)

In other words, the consequences of Reformed ecumenism from the 1970s and 1980s were having consequences for all of the players — the CRC, OPC, and PCA. Where Presbyterians went, their forms of association, and their understand of the church were factors in the witness they embraced.

How the OPC Avoided becoming the CRC

Chris Gordon’s piece on how the CRC lost its Reformed bearings has wisdom not only for noticing similarities between the CRC and New Calvinists but also contains a warning about developments in the PCA:

NAPARC churches should not forget their older brother, the CRC. Unless these concerns are taken seriously, I foresee the PCA and other Reformed denominations following this trajectory heading for fights, splits, and empty pews. They will be on a fast track to becoming just another mainline liberal denomination scratching its head at General Assembly meetings as they desperately try to find answers. I pray that my dear brothers and sisters in NAPARC will hear this humble plea from a brother in Christ who learned how true it is that those who forget their (church) history, are most certainly doomed to repeat it.

One difference between the CRC and PCA is the former’s ethnic outsider self-identity compared to the latter’s effort to become the Presbyterian insider. In other words, the CRC wanted to leave the ghetto and enter the mainstream; one way to do that was to embrace some forms of evangelicalism. For a time the CRC even considered merging with the OPC (as explained in Between the Times — self-promotion alert!):

Decreasing familiarity with the OPC was one of the factors to which Henry Zwaanstra pointed in this study of the CRC’s ecumenical relations. In fact, his narrative highlights developments in 1967 as decisive for sinking the project. The previous year, according to Zwaanstra, the OPC’s committee was requesting “their general assembly to declare that the joint committee should work toward the definite goal of organic union.” But the following year, the OPC’s Assembly “retired its representatives from the joint committee and appointed new members.” The reason for the new appointments, according to Zwaanstra, was “mandate to investigate trends toward Liberalism in the CRC.” . . .

Indeed, the overwhelming factor that prompted the OPC to worry about liberal theological trends in the CRC was a re-ignition of anti-liberal polemics during the mid-1960s over the PCUSA’s adoption of The Confession of 1967. During the 1960s leadership within the OPC spent considerable time disputing the mainline Presbyterian Church’s revision of its confessional standards and faulting the denomination for embracing a Barthian doctrine of the Word of God. This view, exhibited in the Confession of 1967, distinguished in effect between the sort of encounter with divine revelation that came through Scripture rather than regarding Scripture itself, its words, paragraphs, and books, as the Word of God. One Orthodox Presbyterian who was particularly vocal in defending the Reformed doctrine of Scripture and in criticizing was E. J. Young, newly appointed to the OPC’s committee to confer with the CRC. The Old Testament professor was by no means insensitive to the assistance the CRC had given to the OPC since Young had served with the likes of Van Til, Stonehouse, and Kuiper, and as a renowned scholar had trafficked in Christian Reformed circles at conferences and lectures. And yet, Young was adamant in his diagnosis of Barthian developments in the PCUSA and was likely sensitive to similar trends in the CRC even if evident in much less noticeable ways.

Thanks to arguments by Young and Van Til, for instance, by the second half of the 1960s the OPC’s sensitivity to defective expressions of the doctrine of Scripture was at an all time high and undoubtedly many pastors and teachers detected echoes of a Barthian view in Dutch Calvinist circles. Whether members of the CRC themselves actually resembled Barth or were simply guilty of not condemning Barth’s influence upon the GKN is a debatable point. Either way, the controverted status of Barthianism for Orthodox Presbyterians was certainly a factor in the growing distance between the OPC and the CRC. (161-62)

The OPC did not have a front-row seat to changes in the CRC, but it had more familiarity than most Presbyterian churches. In which case, reading about OPC-CRC relations between 1956 and 1970 is a supplement to Gordon’s post (read: buy the book).