Gospel Coalition Haiku

Why does a complementarian organization promote a congregation that belongs to a communion that ordains women?

Here‘s an explanation of complementarianism’s importance from TGC poobahs:

Probably all of us who share The Gospel Coalition’s vision to renew our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reform our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures have been asked, “So why is TGC complementarian? Are you saying only those who uphold male leadership in the home and church believe the gospel?”

If you’ve ever wondered and asked the question yourself, we hope you’ll watch this video featuring TGC founders Don Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper. Keller opens with a hermeneutical argument about what sometimes happens when we apply arguments in favor of egalitarianism to biblical passages that relate directly to the gospel. He also explains why TGC’s confessional statement and theological vision for ministry go beyond basic gospel doctrines to include such issues as gender roles. As Piper explains, TGC wants to say things that protect the gospel, display the gospel, and release the gospel for human flourishing. And our current age demands that believers model and argue the biblical case for Christ-like headship.

“We live in a culture where for the last 30 or 40 years, the collapse of the meaning of biblical masculinity has not produced a beautiful egalitarian society,” Piper observes. “It has produced a brutal masculine society.”

Here‘s a profile of puff piece on Hope Church, the largest Presbyterian Church in the nation (even larger than Redeemer NYC) that avoids questions about gender by featuring the topics of race and ethnicity:

The principles were solid: Churches should reflect their neighborhoods, and relationships are a good way to show God’s love to the unchurched. But the results were decidedly monoethnic congregations.

Within 20 years, Hope was the largest church in Memphis, regularly drawing 7,000 worshipers each weekend. But in a city that was nearly 60 percent black, less than 1 percent of them were African American.

At first, Hope reflected its neighborhood. The city to Hope’s south—Germantown—was 93 percent white in 2000, and 90 percent white in 2010. But its county—Shelby—fell from 47 percent white in 2000 to 41 percent white in 2010. And Cordova, the small suburb where Hope sits, dropped from nearly all white in 1988 to 68 percent white in 2010.

So Strickland and Morris set out to do what had never successfully been done before—to convert a white megachurch into a multiracial congregation.

They’re doing it.

Today, one out of five people who attends Hope is black. Of the 106 staff, 18 are nonwhite—including the senior pastor. The congregation sings hymns, contemporary Christian, and black gospel. Members work in predominately black, underresourced neighborhoods in north Memphis together through Hope’s community development corporation. They attend biannual three-day urban plunges and regularly spend eight weeks eating dinner with someone of another ethnicity.

Here’s the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s statement on women’s ordination (Position Paper, 1984):

Thus, while some churches may ordain women and some may decline to do so, neither position is essential to the existence of the church. Since people of good faith who equally love the Lord and hold to the infallibility of Scripture differ on this issue, and since uniformity of view and practice is not essential to the existence of the visible church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has chosen to leave this decision to the Spirit-guided consciences of particular congregations concerning the ordination of women as elders and deacons, and to the presbyteries concerning the ordination of women as ministers.

It is in this context that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church states in its Book of Govern-ment, Chapter 6, titled “Rights Reserved to a Local Church” that “The local church has the right to elect its own officers” (6-2). This right is guaranteed in perpetuity.

Does this mean that race trumps gender?

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Where Do You Go When You Leave Progressive Presbyterianism?

Certainly not to the OPC.

The PCUSA last year lost the equivalent of three OPC’s:

Updated statistics made available today by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of the General Assembly (OGA) show a denomination continuing a steep, uninterrupted decline in 2016. The U.S.-based denomination shed 89,893 members in 2016, a decline of 5.7% percent, dropping below 1.5 million members for the first time. A net 191 congregations closed or were dismissed to other denominations, bringing the denominational total to 9,451 congregations.

I’ll do the math. The OPC has roughly 30,000 members (I hear chortles), the PCUSA lost almost 90,000 members. Ergo, the PCUSA lost three OPC’s last year. The thing is, these mainliners didn’t show up in OPC congregations. The OPC lost roughly 250 members last year.

This brings back memories of Orthodox Presbyterian hopes from 1936 to 1967 that members of the PCUSA would awaken (#woke?) to the ways in which liberalism had infected their denomination and lead them to join with the OPC. Here’s an excerpt from Between the Times (for UPCUSA think PCUSA):

In a remarkable display of responding to the moment, the Assembly appointed the Committee on the Confession of 1967 to address the recommendation from its two standing committees. Typically, study committees appointed by the Assembly have a year or several to reflect on the matter and report back to the body. But the Committee on the Confession of 1967 had the task of responding by the end of the Assembly. This explains another unprecedented development – the Moderator’s decision to appoint this committee rather than receiving nominations and casting ballots. In this case, Robert W. Eckardt, the moderator, appointed John Galbraith, Calvin Cummings and Edward Eyres to consider the recommendation from Home Missions and Christian Education. The Committee on the Confession of 1967 ended up following closely the original recommendation from the standing committees. It encouraged the Assembly to reach out to conservatives in the UPCUSA, to remind them of a common heritage, and to recommend the OPC as a “logical choice” for those concerned to maintain historic Presbyterianism. The Committee also followed the basic elements of the program suggested by the standing committees for outreach. To show that the OPC was serious about these measures, the Committee also recommended a resolution, again that followed the standing committees, designed to clarify exactly the kind of church the denomination was: “the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is completely committed to the Bible as the written Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as faithfully and fully setting forth the teachings of Holy Scripture.” In addition, the Committee recommended that the OPC resolve that it “express its desire to serve those in the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. who wish to continue adherence to the historic Christian faith as summarized in the Westminster Standards.” After some minor editing of the resolution’s language, including changing it to read that the OPC was committed to the Westminster Standards as “faithfully setting forth” (instead of “faithfully and fully”) the teaching of Scripture, the Assembly approved.

One of several curiosities of devoting so much OPC energy to another denomination, and especially a mainline one at that, was that after the first decade or so many Orthodox Presbyterian leaders resigned themselves to the determination of conservatives in the mainline not to leave but to stay. The Presbyterian Guardian had run a number of articles giving reasons for conservatives to exit and affiliate with the OPC. Once that did not happen by 1947, many in the OPC readjusted and conceived of the denomination as a small continuing remnant of conservative Presbyterians. Now, with substantial evidence of liberalism in the UPCUSA, the old hopes for a mass exodus of conservatives into the OPC found life.

The one factor that explains the OPC’s hopefulness was a letter from Edward Kellogg, then a minister at San Diego OPC in Paradise Hills. Only a week before the Assembly – written on the national holiday of July 4th – Kellogg alerted commissioners to rustling among United Presbyterians in California. Bruce Coie, Robert Graham, and he had met a number of conservatives in the UPCUSA who were alarmed over the influence of modernism in their church. These interactions led to a rally held at the Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego where close to three hundred packed a room designed to accommodate 250. Kellogg conceded that the normal channel for his letter was through presbytery but, he explained, “the events that caused me to feel that assembly action was important were too recent for the normal course of procedure.” What Kellogg proposed was the formation of a Presbyterian Covenant akin to the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union that had been the organizational chrysalis for the OPC. The new covenant would enlist Presbyterians from all denominations to stand for the true faith and to oppose the Confession of 1967. It would also involve a pledge from United Presbyterians who entered it to leave the UPCUSA if the denomination adopted the new confessional standard. Kellogg’s letter was not the only impetus for the resolution adopted by the 1965 General Assembly; the standing committee recommendations actually contained more of the substance of the OPC’s response to the Confession of 1967 than did Kellogg’s letter. But the encounter between Orthodox and United Presbyterians in Southern California led some to believe that an outreach to conservative mainline Presbyterians might lead to the kind or realignment for which some had hoped in the 1930s. (93-94)

Of course, a defection to the OPC didn’t happen then and it still isn’t happening. Why?

The OPC has many afflictions, but its bark is much worse than its bite. Most congregations have a degree of autonomy that outsiders likely find perplexing. Ordination exams are rigorous and each presbytery has its own short list of non-negotiables, but the OPC doesn’t require exclusive psalmody, affirming the National Covenant, or sending children to Christian day schools. In fact, what characterizes the OPC, aside from fairly strong adherence to the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, is a commitment to Scripture and a high view of preaching. If you are a Reformed Protestant and want to sit under the ministry of the word, you can reasonably rely on finding that in the OPC.

But if you want a certain “style” of ministry, or if you want to send specific signals about the kind of Calvinist you are, chances are the OPC will not scratch your itch.

So that raises a question, if matters proceed in the PCA such that conservatives there want to find another ecclesial home, where will they go? I have heard some say that the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is one option. Being southern apparently matters. On the other side of the coin, if the PCA doesn’t become as progressive as some want it to be, where will the relevant wing of the denomination go? The likely destination is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

But don’t forget what happened to The Village Church. If urban sort-of Presbyterianism is your preference, you could wind up in the Reformed Church in America. At that point, the difference between you and the PCUSA would vanish.

If we had a state church, we wouldn’t have this problem opportunity.

First Turkey, Now Ireland — Sheesh!

The better half and I are in the middle of a week-long trip to Ireland that now has me working away as part of a visiting-faculty assignment at Trinity College in Dublin. We began the week in Northern Ireland with new and old friends. The new ones are officers and members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (no relations to the communion of the same name in the U.S.) who were eminently kind and hospitable hosts during a day of interactions, both formal and informal. On Monday night I had the privilege of speaking at a rally to honor the 85th anniversary of the EPC. My topic was “Principle Presbyterianism Today.”

One of the curious features of Presbyterianism in Northern Ireland is that the conservatives (the Evangelical Presbyterians) who have the most affinities with Orthodox Presbyterians also seem to be a bit despondent about their prospects. The EPC began in 1927 during a theological controversy which saw the Presbyterian Church of Ireland fail to discipline a professor at the church’s theological college for teaching views that were clearly outside the Confession of Faith and heterodox more generally. The EPC has always struggled as a small denomination. But now that the Presbyterian Church of Ireland has become increasingly evangelical itself (though it still ordains women — which would make the PCI more like the U.S. Evangelical Presbyterian Church), the Irish EPC lacks the rationale and clarity of vision that once animated the church. If your target no longer exists, you may appear to be shooting blanks.

Although the EPC is small — it has about 400 members with another 350 regular attenders — its size is proportionally much larger than the OPC. If Northern Ireland has approximately 1.6 million people, compared to a U.S. population of close to 300 million, the EPC within a U.S. numerical setting would account proportionately for almost 225,000 people (if my math is correct). That means that the EPC is almost seven times as large proportionately as the OPC which has a membership of roughly 30,000. Since Americans are never at a wont for overestimating their influence, the smallness of the OPC has not left the denomination with a sense of insignificance. Mark Noll’s image of the Pea Beneath the Mattress has generally typified the mindset of Orthodox Presbyterians. I hope the Evangelical Presbyterians of Ireland can find a similar diminutive vigor.

One other set of reflections worth making for now is the lack of a Dutch Reformed influence on Scotland and Ireland. On Monday morning I had a “lovely” time describing Calvinism in the United States to a small (how could it be large) group of EPC ministers and elders. I went through the classic threefold division of Reformed Protestants in North America — the doctrinalists (Machenites), culturalists (Kuyperians), and experimental Calvinists (Whitefieldians and Edwardsians). My EPC interlocutors were quick to point out that the Kuyperian tradition of transformationalism has never been a presence in Irish Presbyterianism.

Of course, that does not mean that the Scots and Irish don’t have other resources for trying to do what Kuyper did. Thomas Chalmers and the Free Church of Scotland have maintained a notion of the establishment principle that affirms in a different way what Kuyper tried to express when he spoke about every square inch. And not to be missed are the incredibly complicated relations in Northern Ireland between religion and politics, hence the sheesh in the title of this post. I had thought after visiting Turkey that the notion of a secular Muslim state was sufficiently complex to merit further consideration. But to read as I am this week about the various Presbyterian versions of church-state relations, not to mention the endlessly fascinating and troubling history of Protestant-Roman Catholic relations in Northern Ireland since the initial push for Home Rule, makes my head explode (in a good way, of course).

What is interesting to observe at this point, though, is that for all of their claims about the Lordship of Christ, whether over the church or over the state, the Scots and their Irish Presbyterian cousins have never seemed to put much stock in epistemological self-consciousness. Why do you need philosophy and the arts when law and authority are hard enough to conjure?