On Comity And Mission

There is a topic that few NAPARC types dare raise: the matter of comity between the churches. Nevertheless, Darryl Hart has done just that. The Oxford American Dictionary defines comity as:

1. courtesy and considerate behavior toward others.

2. an association of nations for their mutual benefit. comity of nations the mutual recognition by nations of the laws and customs of others.

ORIGIN mid 16th cent. Latin comitas, from comis ‘courteous.’

The NAPARC Golden Rule comity agreement says:

Comity has meant different things to different people. We representatives of the home missions agencies and committees or boards of our denominations resist territorial statements on comity in the light of the social and cultural complexity of North American society and the great spiritual need of our many countrymen who are apart from Jesus Christ. Out of a concern to build the church of Jesus Christ rather than our own denominations and to avoid the appearance of competition, we affirm the following courteous code of behavior to guide our church planting ministries in North America: We will be sensitive to the presence of existing churches and mission ministries of other NAPARC churches and will refrain from enlisting members and take great care in receiving members of those existing ministries. We will communicate with the equivalent or appropriate agency (denominational missions committee or board, presbytery missions or church extension committee, or session) before initiating church planting activities in a community where NAPARC churches or missions ministries exist. We will provide information on at least an annual basis describing progress in our ministries and future plans. We will encourage our regional home missions leadership to develop good working relationships (emphasis added).

One reason many are reluctant talk about the comity agreement is that it is not always observed. One suspects that few church planters or pastors even know that there is a comity agreement that is supposed to be informing our church planting endeavors. Does the relative obscurity of this agreement say something about the state of NAPARC itself?

Because the PCA is the largest NAPARC denomination and has arguably been most aggressive in planting churches it been my experience that the PCA is most likely to be involved in questions about comity. The PCA is not the sole offender, however. I have seen smaller sideline denominations blatantly poach sheep from sister denominations in breath-taking ways.

The comity agreement is not without inherent difficulties. In one church plant work with which I was heavily involved we faced the challenge of complying with the comity agreement in the early days of our congregation. There was a NAPARC congregation nearby that was in its last days. Further, some of those who helped found our congregation had either attended or been members of that congregation. To add another layer of complication, the existing congregation had been intentionally planted with the conviction that they did not want to be identifiably confessional. I think we communicated with them before we began—it was 20 years ago. By the time we began, those members had transferred to our mother congregation so that the process was reasonably orderly but the fact that I cannot remember performing due diligence to the comity agreement probably says something.

Some years ago, another NAPARC denomination planted a congregation not far from a church planting work with which I was involved. When we learned about that work we contacted them to find out what their intent was. They assured us that they were not aware we existed. Perhaps that says something about the visibility of the URC church planting work in the community? It probably also says something about their diligence and research skills. Had they spent a minute on the internet they would likely have discovered that the URC work existed. It also says something about the relative visibility of the NAPARC comity agreement.

I am not saying that they should not have planted a congregation. There are hundreds of thousands of people in that area who are not attending any congregation let along a Reformed congregation. There are thousands upon thousands who need to hear the law and the gospel preached faithfully. Over time, our two congregations have developed a fairly good working relationship. There are inherent differences between the two works. This new congregation is some distance from the URC work.

Further, I understand that they are taking a different approach to worship than we are. The URC congregation was planted with the hope of reaching unchurched folk. It was imagined that baby-boomers with experience in megachurches and liturgically progressive evangelical congregations would not be much interested in historic Reformed worship and experience has borne out this expectation. Young people and those with limited or no church background have responded well to a more reverently joyful, historic, dialogic, approach to worship.

Nevertheless, I have had heart-rending conversations with faithful, pioneering Reformed congregations who labored in obscurity and poverty to plant confessional congregations in areas where there is no Reformed witness and few faithful witnesses to any Christian tradition. These conversations were troubling because, in them, pastors confessed their fear of what would happen when the PCA came to town with buildings, bodies, and budgets. One of the difficulties confessional Reformed church planters face is that they are counter-cultural. They are not individualist, they do not look or sound like prevailing evangelical congregations in theology, piety, and practice.

The impression this fellow had and the impression that many have is that MNA is more willing to plant congregations that are less identifiably Reformed and to do so at the expense of existing Reformed works that are regarded as unsuccessful. I do not think I am “talking out of school” as Grandma used to say. This is something about which PCA folk have mentioned to me for many years. I am aware of more than one PCA church planter who has intentionally defied what he perceived as the MNA approach to church planting.

The benefit of the more generically evangelical approach to church planting, going all the way back to Robert Schuller’s late Crystal Cathedral, is that the such an approach is more palatable to those without a Reformed background. The cost of this approach however, is that, to paraphrase the words of Jim Boice, “What you use to get them in, you must use to keep them in.”  There’s no evidence, of which I am aware, that the Crystal Cathedral ever made good on their pledge to get folk into church with showbiz on Sundays and to teach them the faith on Wednesdays. For one thing, such an approach carries its own death warrant. When folk learn the faith on wednesdays they will soon discover that at least some of what is being done on Sundays is contrary to the faith. If they really learn the faith, they shall have to leave the congregation. Something like this problem surfaced in the Reveal study done by Willow Creek. The more spiritually mature folk in the congregation were the most dissatisfied with the Willow Creek approach to ministry.

On the other side of the ledger, too frequently the Reformed approach to missions is really little more than a matter of establishing new franchises to service a clientele who have moved from one location to another. Typically, a church plant needs a core group on which to build. Few church plants start from scratch. The problem too often is that some church plants really are not established with a view toward reaching and teaching the lost but rather in comforting the found. In some instances congregations that have the means have simply refused to do the work of church planting out of fear of losing members to the church plant. In such cases culture (family, friendships etc) seem to have trumped cult, i.e., the divinely-given imperative for the visible church to reach the lost for the glory of our Savior.

So we have two sets of problems here. There are methodological progressives who, in their zeal to expand the tent, seem to neglect the the tent stakes (Isa 54:2). There are also methodological and theological regressives, if you will, who really do fit the stereotype of the Reformed congregation as ingrown and inward looking. Both the progressives and regressives need to rediscover their roots: the biblical faith as confessed by the Reformed churches. The same people who gave us our confession, which faith we take up and confess in each generation, were neither progressive nor regressive. They were mission-minded but the mission was to reach the lost by planting confessionally Reformed congregations.

Assuming good will on everyone’s part (i.e., all things being equal) what is really at stake here is the existence of different visions for Reformed congregational ministry and church planting. Is being confessionally Reformed a sort of second blessing, is it like the luxury package to be chosen when buying a car or is it essential to Reformed church planting and ministry? Is the mission to reach and teach the lost something to be left to others who are evangelical?  As a matter of Christian ethics do we have sufficient regard for the ministry of our NAPARC brothers and sisters to consult with them as we prosecute the mission of the church to plant congregations, to reach the lost with the gospel and to make disciples of those whom God allows us to reach?

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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Rev. Brett A. McNeill ♦ Rev. Richard A. Miller ♦ John P. Jambura
North American Presbyterian and Reformed
Council (NAPARC) Golden Rule Comity
Agreement
Comity has meant different things to different people. We representatives of the home missions
agencies and committees or boards of our denominations resist territorial statements on comity
in the light of the social and cultural complexity of North American society and the great
spiritual need of our many countrymen who are apart from Jesus Christ. Out of a concern to
build the church of Jesus Christ rather than our own denominations and to avoid the
appearance of competition, we affirm the following courteous code of behavior to guide our
church planting ministries in North America:
1. We will be sensitive to the presence of existing churches and mission ministries of other
NAPARC churches and will refrain from enlisting members and take great care in receiving
members of those existing ministries.
2. We will communicate with the equivalent or appropriate agency (denominational missions
committee or board, presbytery missions or church extension committee, or session) before
initiating church planting activities in a community where NAPARC churches or missions
ministries exist.
3. We will provide information on at least an annual basis describing progress in our ministries
and future plans.
4. We will encourage our regional home missions leadership to develop good working
relationships.
NAPARC Member Denominations (www.naparc.org):
• Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
• Korean-American Presbyterian Church
• Orthodox Presbyterian Church
• Presbyterian Church in America
• Reformed Church in the U.S.
• The Reformed Church of Québec (RCQ), also known as “L’Église Réformée du Québec” (ERQ)
• Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
• United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA)

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39 comments

  1. As a NAPARC member and one who firmly is commited to Church planting I can honestly say that I do not support church planting where there are no evangelical-reformed churches already existing unless that congregation is already near dead in which case I would support planting within a certain distance.

  2. As I stated on the Puritan Board, this issue would disappear if the OPC and the PCA merged. That being said, I think that there should be more cooperation between Reformed Churches on this issue. If I remember correctly, there was a similar problem in Albuquerque, NM between the OPC and the PCA. Sometimes I wonder, though, if the whole noise making on this issue isn’t really just a matter of reformed snobbery, i.e., the PCA isn’t as Reformed as the OPC, therefore it is going to corrupt our little Reformed haven. I could be wrong. However, I dare say that Daryll Hart exhibits this reformed snobbery at times. I say this fully admitting that I can be quite a reformed snob myself.

  3. I do not see that merger happening anytime soon. The OPC is far to frigid and there are many aspects of it that frankly don’t have a right to call themselves Reformed historically. However I would love to see a merger between the OPC and the smaller presbyterian denominations.. if only that stupid federal vision wouldn’t be a divisive issue (by that I mean they all repent who believe it).

    • As I recall the discussions of the mid-late 80s one significant problem was the PCAs procedure: “Joining and Receiving.” It wasn’t really to be a negotiated merger.

      I would favor serious merger talks within NAPARC but they have be bi-lateral or even multilateral and not just absorption of a smaller body by a larger body.

      Grigs, I would avoid broad statements about the OPC or any of our NAPARC brothers and sisters as such are necessarily uncharitable.

  4. RSC: “Assuming good will on everyone’s part (i.e., all things being equal) what is really at stake here is the existence of different visions for Reformed congregational ministry and church planting.”

    How about the goodwill and comity of this Catholic Nun Appointed Dean of Presbyterian Seminary?

    “The appointment of a Roman Catholic nun as dean of San Francisco Theological Seminary illustrates the truth of the saying “to be Reformed is to be ecumenical“, says the general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.”

    • TUAD,

      These are apples and oranges. See RRC where I distinguish between mainline, borderline, and sideline churches. The NAPARC churches are sideliners. SFTS and PCUSA are mainliners.

    • “These are apples and oranges. See RRC where I distinguish between mainline, borderline, and sideline churches. The NAPARC churches are sideliners. SFTS and PCUSA are mainliners.”

      Yes. And PCUSA is still in the line of Reform fruit.

      😉

    • TUAD,

      Well, if the 16th and 17th-century Reformed confessions (and those modern confessions that are faithful to the historic faith) define “Reformed” and if the PCUSA has rejected them then the PCUSA isn’t really Reformed any more. Yes, there is a historical lineage, but that’s not sufficient to make them “Reformed.”

  5. Wow, TUaD… it took me a while to realize that wasn’t a joke.

    “this issue would disappear if the OPC and the PCA merged.”
    Steve, I wish it were that simple. I, for one, would love to see serious merger talks between the two. But the PCA has been known to go planting occasionally in the backyards of their own churches.

    • You are quite correct in this. I have seen this in my own presbytery. One of the main problems, I think, is MNA. The PCA should shut down MNA and let the presbyteries handle church planting, IMO.

  6. Darren,

    It might make more sense for there to be a merger between the URC and the OPC. While it would seem easier to merge the PCA and OPC (because of the common subordinate standards), the OPC and URC are probably closer together in terms of how we view being confessionally reformed churches.

  7. I have never understood the discussions about merging the OPC and PCA (at least once most of the New Life churches left the OPC and joined the PCA), or the reasons why many people don’t want to talk about why the PCA and OPC are different.

    Let’s be honest. The PCA and OPC are different — and often they are very different.

    They may share the same confessions on paper, and some individual OPC and PCA ministers, elders and churches may be very much alike, but there are substantial policy and practice differences on the denominational level and often on the local level as well.

    That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Top-down hierarchies didn’t work very well for the Soviet Union or for China, and a “free market” is not a bad thing when it comes to people deciding what churches to attend, unless we want to go back to the old state church parish system.

    If we in the Reformed world believe we’re right, I don’t see a problem with saying we should boldly proclaim what we believe the Bible says is true and let whoever comes who wants to come.

    Personally, I find it helpful, when debating with “Reformed lite” people in the PCA or CRC, to use their own secular marketing techniques against them. “Brand identity” is a key part of secular marketing. If you want somebody to buy your product, you have to be clear about what your product is, why it is different from other similar products out there, and why it is the best-suited for the person seeking to buy it.

    Yeah, that’s a crass marketing technique that doesn’t always apply very well to the church world. I’m not a follower of Finney or of Pelagius, obviously. But even by totally secular standards, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a clear message about why people should buy your product or join your group. So why should the church feel there’s a need to water down our distinctive “product offerings” to reach a bigger audience?

  8. Presbyterianism is an attempt to practice an ecclesiological notion that seems to have lost all meaning in today’s landscape: catholicity. And I don’t think that presbyterianism done well is about top-down hierarchy, as much as it is about connection and mutual submission to the broader church.

    There’s no denying there are significant differences between the denominations which are major obstacles. But when there are so many similarities and overlap, isn’t there something wrong with us when we’re complacently smug about our “brand identity” and “product offerings”? I identify with the OPC, but have in a couple of incidents recommended a PCA congregation as better able to shepherd the flock and even in ways “more reformed” than the local OPC. Between many individual churches, the differences are not terribly clean-cut.

    Baptists and broad evangelicals might be happy simply to show more “openness” to one another, but it seems to me that a reformed ecclesiology should cause a desire for repentance for closing ourselves off from the brethren. I’m not saying we have to merge ASAP or even at all, but I’m saying that even if we don’t merge, there should be a permanent unease at the proliferation of confessional Reformed and Presbyterian denominations in this country. And I’m not talking about an unease that comes from a “why are we the only ones who are right?” ;b

    • Darren,

      I think this is very helpful. We need to move beyond the notion that “Reformed” and “Presbyterian” are hermetically sealed communities. They are different ways of saying the same thing. Reformed was the way to say it in Europe and Presbyterian was the way to say it in English. For example, one our students did a directed study this past academic year on the sources of the distinction between “broader” vs “higher.” He concluded, if I recall correctly, that there is probably not much real historical basis for the strong distinction upon which some insist.

      The NAPARC churches should continue to work toward union via honest dialogue, by getting to know our own traditions, our own confessions and those of others in order to foster genuine understanding. We must also admit that there are too many in our circles who like being relatively big fishes in small ponds. We need to be willing to reconsider honestly our denomination/federative “distinctives” in favor of a common understanding of our confession(s).

      Bob Godfrey’s “Reformed Dream” is a good first start.

    • Dr. Clark, I continue to wonder why I am getting involved in these debates; we’re clearly on quite different pages, and I live and work in a Southern “Bible Belt” community where virtually nobody has the faintest idea what it means to be a Calvinist. I have precious little time for intra-Reformed hair-splitting; where I live, if you baptize babies and question the rapture, you usually have to spend a lot of time explaining that you really do believe in the inerrant and infallible Word of God.

      Some people would say a context like where I live is the perfect place to just admit that all the Reformed differences are less serious than our differences with liberals and broad evangelicals, and we Calvinists should just all agree to disagree and get on with planting a Reformed church.

      Well, they’re just plain wrong.

      There are differences — major, major, major differences — between the dozen or so Reformed denominations of more than a few thousand members which can claim with a fair level of credibility to be making an effort to be faithful to Reformed Christianity. (I’m thinking of the OPC, PCA, ARP, RPCNA, RCUS, KAPC and URC in NAPARC, as well as conservative non-NAPARC bodies with a major presence in the Reformed world such as the Protestant Reformed, Canadian Reformed, Netherlands Reformed, Heritage Netherlands Reformed, Free Reformed, and Hungarian Reformed, some of which are considerably larger than the smaller NAPARC members, plus historically Reformed churches within Congregationalism, Anglicanism, and various Baptist groups.)

      We all know there are communities where the local churches don’t reflect their national denominational practices, and sometimes that’s a VERY good thing they are ignoring their synods, general assemblies, or denominational bureaucrats!

      However, in a church planting context, a local church is virtually at the mercy of its denominational missions philosophy. An organized PCA with several hundred members that’s been around for a long time can pretty much do whatever it wants, even if it’s in a presbytery with which its ministers and elders have little in common. A church planter can’t do that — with rare exceptions, he’s under the thumb of MNA with all the strings that implies. While the formal rules may be less obvious in more conservative denominations, and the role of ecclesiastical bureaucrats may actually be irrelevant in the smaller Reformed bodies where the classes and presbyteries actually run mission works, what a church work looks like is very much a reflection of who is paying the bills and selecting the minister, and for a mission work, that’s usually done by or at least heavily influenced by someone outside the local members of the local church.

      I’m not in favor of pastors doing sheep stealing, or of members doing church hopping. When people leave a church, they need to leave for the right reasons, not personality differences.

      But I simply do not understand why Calvinists — who virtually invented the modern free enterprise system and were instrumental in breaking the feudal ties of Scotland than bound peasants to their land and their lords — want to tell people that there’s something wrong with two conservative Reformed churches in the same town with different emphases that are both within the bounds of the Reformed confessions — or in the case of some differences that ARE confessional such as church government and worship, are items on which different Reformed bodies have agreed to disagree for literally centuries.

      Sometimes it’s a lot better to separate peaceably into two churches than to fight endlessly within one church on secondary points of doctrine that MUST be agreed upon when selecting elders and deacons, but on which individual Christians can and will disagree, even if they’re within the bounds of Reformed Christianity.

    • Darren,

      It has always seemed to me that the better one gets acquainted with his tradition the more ecumenical he seems to become. Contrariwise, the less familiar he is with his tradition the more schismatic he becomes.

      There was a time when a particular sort of Presbyterian could also recommend a Lutheran or Anglican church.

    • Zrim,
      Haha, I had a friend at seminary who at one point went to a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church (even though he couldn’t take communion) because the closest “reformed” church was a CREC. Who says a Presbyterian still can’t recommend the Lutherans? It’s just that the Lutherans we’d recommend wouldn’t be caught dead recommending our churches ;b

  9. I simply cannot agree with this.

    Denominations are different for reasons — some good, and some bad. If there are multiple churches of a single denomination in a community, they usually exist for reasons that have very little to do with physical location. Unless you’re in New York or Los Angeles, it doesn’t take much effort to drive from one end of town to the other to go to church — and even in our largest cities, people routinely drive fairly major distances to work and are usually willing to drive at least as far to church as they drive to work.

    There was a day that Reformed Christians advocated a parish system in which all people in a certain geographical area were expected to attend a specific local church. There was very little biblical basis for that even in the 1700s and 1800s when Reformed Christians last advocated that view on a any kind of common basis, and unless we’re going to go back to that quasi-Catholic notion, we need to recognize that our rules come from the Bible, not from the state-church system as it existed in the late middle ages.

    I have absolutely no problem with having an OPC and PCA and URC all start up within three blocks of a PC(USA) and CRC congregation. There are people who need to be called out of the PC(USA), as a false church, who are simply not going to be comfortable in the OPC and URC, and probably need to be in the PCA. And there are many, many, many CRC people who would rather stay in a liberalizing Christian Reformed congregation than to leave for any kind of Presbyterian church because of massive differences in culture and practice between the Dutch Reformed tradition and American Presbyterianism.

    We may not like it, but most people vote with their feet in the modern American church. That’s not going to change, and I see no benefit in or biblical warrant for trying to argue that an unhappy Reformed family must stay in a PCA six blocks away from them when they could be very happy in an OPC six miles away.

  10. Dr. Clark, you wrote this:”We need to move beyond the notion that “Reformed” and “Presbyterian” are hermetically sealed communities. They are different ways of saying the same thing. Reformed was the way to say it in Europe and Presbyterian was the way to say it in English. For example, one our students did a directed study this past academic year on the sources of the distinction between “broader” vs “higher.” He concluded, if I recall correctly, that there is probably not much real historical basis for the strong distinction upon which some insist.”

    Before concluding that “there is probably not much real historical basis for the strong distinction” for the broader/higher distinction between the way church assemblies of the Dutch Reformed and church courts of the Presbyterians operate, I’m wondering how much attention that student paid to William Ames — who was quite comfortable with the Church Order of Dort despite being anything but a Presbyterian in the Scottish or even the English mold.

    Did that student take a close look at the “English Synod” — a nongeographical classis of English-speaking churches in the Netherlands that regarded itself as part of the state church system — operated during the 1600s. Many and probably most of the ministers of the English Synod would not have been able to be members of the OPC today, but would be very comfortable within the form of government advocated by Abraham Kuyper and more or less practiced today by the United Reformed and Canadian Reformed.

    There are very fundamental differences in church government between the different Reformed bodies, and they go all the way back to the 1600s, and some of them even to the 1500s. The Church of England, the Hungarian Reformed, and the Polish Reformed had bishops — if I remember right, with Calvin’s approval in the latter case, and Bucer’s in the first case. The German Reformed had Erastian issues, the French Reformed remained under persecution for so long that they never developed a centralized structure at all until they borrowed from others after the French Revolution, and even within Presbyterianism, the Scottish system looked very different from the English system or the American system in how much authority the presbyteries actually had in practice rather than theory.

    I simply cannot imagine how a serious student of 1600s and 1700s church government could possibly conclude that Anglo-Scottish Presbyerianism is identical to the Reformed faith. It’s one way of running the church, but the Dutch certainly didn’t agree, and neither did a lot other people around Europe.

  11. Darrell,

    I think you’re very right that we are on quite different pages — our ecclesiologies are disparate. A church that would ignore its national synod which you might praise seems a bit disingenuous to me. And while I’m happy to be where the state in principle cannot coerce our beliefs (thus a “free market” in that sense), I am not so ready to praise free market values and practices in the churches.

    But I’m not entirely clear on what you’re arguing. On one hand, you speak of not having time for intra-reformed hair-splitting, but you insist on the “major, major, major differences,” that you would rather advance your particular “product brand” over fellowship and unity? Please forgive me if I’m not clear on how those two sentiments mesh.

    I am in a region where the differences that you witness in the south are probably miniscule compared to the differences here (at least between the OPC and PCA). And the Bible belt hardly has a monopoly on ignorance of Calvinism. I know the situation is messy and difficult. That doesn’t change my opinion that we still need to seek to do the hard work of practicing the catholicity of the church.

    I have no issues per se of an OPC, PCA, and URC all planting in the same neighborhood. But are they laboring as friends and sisters, or are they competing (or completely ignoring the others)? Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. The small city where I live has 3 PC(USA) congregations; that alone outnumbers the NAPARC churches in town (an OPC and PCA). Doesn’t it cause at least one crinkle in the nose when the so-called “true churches” who subscribe to an identical statement of faith fail to practice a fraction of the collegiality of the “false churches” or a fraction of the cooperation between the broadly evangelical independent churches in town?

    • OK, Darren, you’re asking some good questions.

      I know Calvinists who will declare fellow Calvinists to be in false churches because they sing hymns or use organs. I know Calvinists who are absolutely adamant on the need for closed (not close) communion in which nobody comes to the Lord’s Table without membership in that specific local church or brings a letter of attestation from another church of their federation or one in formal ecclesiastical fellowship with it. I’ve spent hundreds of hours debating those and other issues such as common grace, the infra/supra distinctions, and related points with people who have basically no interest in fellowshipping with anyone who is not in accord with 100 percent — not just 99.999 percent, but 100 percent — of their specific type of Reformed Christianity.

      When I lived in West Michigan, those distinctions were important because they were causing major problems within churches. They have viirtually no relevance when living in a community where Calvinism is almost totally unknown.

      I’m a rather strict Calvinist by any standard, but I am of the strong conviction that we need to major on the majors without ignoring the minors. That means I have a high tolerance level for things that are going on in a local church that I disagree with, but that are tolerated by its denomination. A person who disagrees with those types of things needs to simply stay quiet and accept the position of the elders and and the minister without causing dissension in the local church. Obedience to local church authority — if it can be given without sinning — is more important than focusing on secondary matters.

      For example, that’s why I spent literally years worshipping in a PCA with an almost totally female church council (one male elder, the male minister, and an almost totally female board of deacons), which permitted women to preach from time to time (usually that meant Pentecostal women ministers in the evening service, which virtually no men were attending anyway except me and the minister), and in which most of the congregation couldn’t have told you anything about what Calvinism means and many members didn’t even know they were a member of a denomination and thought they were an independent church.

      That’s the reality of what things look like in too many PCA mission operations. When the minister tried repeatedly to get me to be ordained as his assistant pastor or at least as an elder, I told him that I have certain “exceptions” to the Westminster Standards that would not be tolerated in the PCA (I won’t waste time here, but they’re well within accepted views in Dutch Reformed history, but are not acceptable in historic Presbyterianism — I can sign the Form of Subscription to the Three Forms of Unity with a good conscience). The PCA minister told me that he could pretty much select anyone he wanted as his elder or assistant pastor and the presbytery would approve it, and I later found out he was right — the presbytery probably would have tolerated virtually anything except outright liberalism, and there were probably a lot of men in the presbytery with views much farther out of accord with the Westminster Standards than my own. However, as a matter of integrity, I can’t do things like that. I made very clear for many years that a person with my views has no business in ordained office of the PCA, and furthermore pointed out that if I took my ordination vows seriously, I would have to be arguing with the local minister regularly about a lot of things he was doing in the church. That pretty much convinced him to stop trying to get me ordained; he decided it was fine to have me as a member but that putting me into office would create problems for both of us, and he was right about that.

      None of this is the way the church should be running, but it is the way too many mission boards run things in too many denominations. I had heard for years about how bad things were in the PCA, but frankly, I didn’t believe it until I saw it myself with my own eyes.

      Under circumstances like that, I cannot really object to conservative and confessional churches within denominations like the PCA doing their own thing and trying to be consistently Reformed when their denominations are not. It’s not the ideal, but in a context like the PCA, there are churches that are unhappy with the PCA but probably wouldn’t get admitted to the OPC or URC or RCUS or RPCNA or (maybe) the ARPs because they’re too conservative for the PCA but aren’t strict enough for those other denominations.

    • I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you are talking about. If you mean the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, I think that would be overly harsh to describe what’s going on in the particular PCA I attended for many years.

      They’re trying to be a faithful biblical witness in a difficult situation. The decisions the pastor has made about how to reach out to people who have never heard of the Reformed faith are definitely not the decisions I would make — but it’s his decision, not mine, because he is the one in that office and I am not. We need to show respect for ordained office and authority, and submit to the elders on all disputable points unless we are commanded to sin.

      One thing I have learned clearly since leaving Grand Rapids is that many of the hotly-disputed church fights in that Reformed Mecca are luxuries that most Reformed people today just don’t have. There are a lot of Reformed people in isolated situations where the only Reformed church option is the PCA or a Calvinistically-inclined Baptist church.

      I see no benefit to trying to split small struggling congregations; the best thing to do in cases like that is to attend every Sunday, stay quiet, and respect the elders and their office. After all, the Pentecostal or Holiness or broadly evangelical SBC megachurch down the road is probably a hundred times worse.

    • OK… I remember Tim Bayly from years ago covering the Christian Reformed fight over women in office. I didn’t realize he was now in the PCA — the last I knew him, he was identified with the nondenominational church world and fundamentalism, not the PCA.

      I wish him well, but fighting women in office in the PCA is not my battle. Based on what I’ve seen, the PCA is a lost cause, and that’s a very minor part of a much bigger problem. I spent more than a decade of my life fighting those battles in the Christian Reformed Church and seeing basically everything I had fought for lost. I’ve got limited energy and limited interest in waging ecclesiastical warfare in a denomination like the PCA that is far down the same road.

  12. Darrell, thanks for clarifying. I agree that merger is not likely at all (and in ways may not even be wise). I too score rather high on the strict old-school Calvinist scale. But dialogue might at least give an opportunity for the denominations to air out their concerns about each other as iron sharpens iron, and soften the tendency to behave like we’re the only true church in America.

    I recently ran into a friend who began attending one of the PCAs here. He thought he was going to a church that is almost Roman Catholic because they have a Redeemer-type liturgy. It is almost comic, some of the things we
    “more truly” Reformed split over while we ignore the vast majority who can’t tell the difference between Calvinism and Roman Catholicism.

  13. “Find out?” Boring, my dear DG; utterly boring. This is the norm among all reformed men, today. Larger fish to fry, you know… like comity.

    >I didn’t realize he was now in the PCA — the last I knew him, he was identified with the nondenominational church world and fundamentalism, not the PCA.

    RCA while at UW Madison; OPC while at Gordon-Conwell; PC(USA) after seminary until moving into the PCA in 1991 with my Wisconsin congregation; PCA ever since. Tomorrow I’ll be baptizing nine infants during Lord’s Day worship and most of our church members are only recently Reformed.

    Fundamentalist? Sure, if my alternatives are evanjellicalism or dead orthodoxy.

    Well, back to comity…

    • RCA while at UW Madison; OPC while at Gordon-Conwell; PC(USA) after seminary until moving into the PCA in 1991 with my Wisconsin congregation; PCA ever since…Fundamentalist? Sure, if my alternatives are evanjellicalism or dead orthodoxy.

      I know that Darrell hasn’t been convinced by the likes of the other Darryl (can I get a “Larry”?) that the key taxonomy is between confessionalism and evangelicalism. But, as one who is, this resume smacks of one who has likely strung together variations on a funda-evangelical theme. But fundamentalism is never an option to confessionalism (i.e. “dead orthodoxy”).

      And if his blog is any indication, he gives new meaning to the old evangelical saw that “the world sets the church’s agenda.” Oh my.

    • Rev. Bayly, just to make Zrim’s comments and my comments clear — I have no major problem with fundamentalism. I’m with you (and I think with J. Gresham Machen, i.e., his “Christianity and Liberalism” book) in stating that if fundamentalism means adhering to the so-called Fundamentals of the Faith, I am a fundamentalist of the most pronounced sort.

      I’d rather be identified with the five points of Calvinism than on fighting things like biblical inerrancy, the Trinity, and the deity of Christ. But the fact is that the fundamental Baptist or Pentecostal or Wesleyan is probably my brother in Christ, and the liberal PC(USA) minister who denies the fundamentals of the faith is almost certainly not — and even if that liberal PC(USA) minister is a Christian, he’s a very confused false teacher who needs to repent and get out of the pulpit until he gets his doctrine fixed.

    • Darrell,

      I’m with you (and I think with J. Gresham Machen, i.e., his “Christianity and Liberalism” book) in stating that if fundamentalism means adhering to the so-called Fundamentals of the Faith, I am a fundamentalist of the most pronounced sort.

      I’d rather be identified with the five points of Calvinism than on fighting things like biblical inerrancy, the Trinity, and the deity of Christ.

      Come again?

      When Machen spoke of the “fundamentals of the faith” that included “biblical inerrancy, the Trinity, and the deity of Christ,” as well as the five points of Calvinism, and so much more. You’ll recall that Fundamentalism also had five points, the first two (biblical inerrancy and the deity of Jesus/virgin birth). Confessionalism doesn’t know what it means to have to choose between these things–that seems more a mark of evangelicalism. It seems a mark of confusion to at once hail Fundamentalism and pit its first two points against five points of Calvinism.

      Even so, Aquinas was predestinarian (some Catholic scholars even consider Calvinism the perfection of Augustinianism). Predestinarianism does not a Protestant make, and not being Catholic isn’t the same as being Protestant.

      You’ll also recall that Machen’s confessional instincts correctly prevented him from embracing “this thing called fundamentalism.” Beyond its modern knack for a needless reductionism, he may have known it came with an evangelical sub-culture. Even if he didn’t, it did. Fundamentalism is as much a child of modernity as liberalism. The one elevates experience above revelation, the latter reason above revelation. Confessionalism has everything it needs to confront modernism, liberal or fundamentalist. It’s like Ragu: it’s all in there. Moreover, this seems not a little relevant to many of the concerns you’re broaching here.

    • My point is that biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, etc., all ought to be considered non-negotiables in the Christian world.

      Unfortunately, they aren’t.

      If given the choice, I would rather spend my time trying to explain to fellow believers who are Baptists, Pentecostals, Wesleyans, etc., why they should accept that if God is sovereign, he must have foreordained all that comes to pass. Unfortunately, instead of being able to do that, Bible-believing Christians are forced to spend a lot of time explaining the fundamentals of the faith not only to non-believers, but also to confused members of liberal churches, and now, even to members of large evangelical megachurches that aren’t teaching basic doctrine to their people.

      I don’t get to pick the time I live in — God decided that. Maybe it would have been nice to live in the early 1600s when people in Puritan New England could have serious arguments about whether it was acceptable for Boston-area militias to cut the cross symbol out of the English national flag as a sign of idolatrous worship, or to live in the 1700s and debate the merits of the Ainsworth psalter versus Isaac Watts’ “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs.”

      But God didn’t choose to have me born in those centuries. He chose to have me born during the cultural chaos known as the 1960s, and to be born as the son of a Republican politician, and to cut my teeth in the political battles of Ronald Reagan’s culture wars. We simply do not have time in the modern world to be lobbing artillery shells at fellow believers who are not Reformed when the liberals are destroying our country and our churches from within.

      Fight the liberals; educate the Arminians and other non-Reformed Bible-believing Christians. That seems to be the best approach in the year 2009, though I’m fully aware that Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin would have been very upset to see their heirs holding hands with Arminians and Roman Catholics.

    • Darrell,

      Since when do Reformed conceive of Arminians as needing only to be “educated” instead of fought? You seem to think our particular time and place is somehow specially off course in such a way that perhaps there is nothing really to protest against even Rome. I can’t help but think this is yet another expression of the modernity that ails. But there really is nothing new under the sun, despite what things like ECT presume.

      I’m an elitist and a subordinationist, but you seem to be confirming my strong suspicion that the female ordination issue is by and large just a cultural fight fought under the guise of cultic concern.

  14. >confessionalism (i.e. “dead orthodoxy”)

    Says it all. Likely the recent post listing Calvin’s exhortations related to the discipline of the body in prayer opened your eyes to the world setting our agenda. Very perceptive.

  15. Nice hearing from you again, Rev. Bayly. The last time we talked, you were still on staff at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (was that the right name?) and I was a reporter for Christian Renewal trying to fight the women-in-office, gay marriage, and theistic evolution agenda in that denomination.

    If you really want to go after the PCA for women deacons exercising authority over men, you need to be prepared to expel every one of the PCA’s Korean presbyteries. This is standard operating practice in virtually all Korean churches, even the ultraconservative Presbyterian denominations in Korea, and I doubt there is a single Korean PCA that doesn’t have that practice.

    Also, under the guidance of the (mostly New School) Presbyterian missionaries in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Korean Presbyterians created two new offices for women: Chondasa (commonly translated as “evangelist”), which is a theologically trained woman doing most of the work of an assistant pastor but focusing ministry on women and children, and Kwonsa, which doesn’t have a precise English translation but was originally intended to be a re-establishment of the biblical “list of widows over 60” by assigning and usually paying an elderly woman to do the work of elders among women. Today, Kwonsa do not have to be widows and can be as young as 50, though usually they’re still elderly women and sometimes are widows — frequently the wives of church elders.

    For cultural reasons, it was totally impossible for male ministers and elders to make pastoral calls on women who were not members of their extended family in pre-World War II Korean society, and the Presbyterian missionaries considered women deacons, women evangelists, and women Kwonsa to be essential for church planting.

    Fighting women in office in the PCA is not something I want to spend my time doing. I think it’s a hopeless battle, but that’s your decision, and if as a PCA minister you believe you have to fight it based on your ordination vows, I can’t ask you to go against your conscience. There are many reasons I absolutely refused to allow myself to be considered for the eldership or the pastorate in the PCA, and one of them was that I could not take the ordination vows seriously and fail to fight against a lot of stuff going on in the PCA.

  16. ZRim wrote: “Since when do Reformed conceive of Arminians as needing only to be “educated” instead of fought? You seem to think our particular time and place is somehow specially off course in such a way that perhaps there is nothing really to protest against even Rome. I can’t help but think this is yet another expression of the modernity that ails. But there really is nothing new under the sun, despite what things like ECT presume. I’m an elitist and a subordinationist, but you seem to be confirming my strong suspicion that the female ordination issue is by and large just a cultural fight fought under the guise of cultic concern.”

    I’m assuming you’ve heard the old saying that Arminians become Calvinists on their knees?

    I have very little time to spend fighting with Bible-believing Baptists when there are heretics within Reformed churches and God-hating secularists in the outside world trying to destroy the fundamentals of the faith. In most cases, fundamental Baptists are my brothers in Christ; handing a Baptist a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism can be a very interesting experience since they often disagree with very little in it.

    Now obviously there is still such a thing as an Arminian who hates Calvinism with a passion and views it as a blasphemous heresy. Those people do have to be fought. However, in my experience they are extremely rare, and even most people who say they hate Calvinism don’t understand what Calvinism really is. Again, handing one of those people a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism can be a very interesting experience. “John, I’ve been patiently listening to you attacking Calvinism as the destroyer of missions in the modern world. Go read this and then let’s talk in a week about what you think about the Bible proof texts given.”

  17. Dear Darrell,

    Thank you for your gracious response. And please forgive me for being unkind in my own.

    It sounds like some of the practice of the Korean churches approximates the Early Church’s use of deaconesses, with the work of women in authority being focused exclusively on women, the sick, and the dying. As for the Korean churches in the PCA, I hadn’t known this but it doesn’t surprise me. Here’s a short post calling attention to the definitive work on deaconesses across church history: http://www.baylyblog.com/2008/07/martomort-on-wo.html

    Anyhow, as I’ve often said on the blog, I’m not opposed to deaconesses if they’re implemented as Calvin argued, instead of being a stalking horse.

    I’ve had a fair number of Koreans in our congregation and it was a young Korean woman whose marriage ceremony I performed years ago who told me she did not want to duplicate the cultural rule of Korean households–that the rooster rules the roost but the hen rules the rooster. So what you report doesn’t surprise me and it needs to be dealt with as the Apostle Paul dealt with it in the midst of the Ephesians.

    You don’t quite get it right, I think, in your understanding of my commitments concerning the PCA. It’s not woman deacons I want to see dealt with, but the betrayal of the calling of pastors (and presbyters) this represents, both in substance and polity. In other words, I agree (as does my brother) with your analysis of the PCA, but while I’m here I’ll be working to be faithful to our vows concerning the unity and purity of the Church. And it’s the heresy of feminism that most of the woman deacons churches are promoting–not woman deacons.

    Concerning old battles, my wife and I used to attend a reformed pastors (and wives) fellowship one Sunday night a month up in our first pastorate in Wisconsin. We were the only PC(USA) pastor to be invited. One of the other pastors was Protestant Reformed, one RCA, and the rest CRC. It was a good group, when we bothered to meet, and we had some fascinating conversations. This was back in the eighties and the battle for the CRC was raging even then. I had an intern at my yoked parish who was CRC and my best friend among the pastors was a guy who was battling heresy at Calvin Seminary. He, my two brothers (also pastors), and I attended Banner of Truth each year and had great fellowship.

    One year, though, there was a bump in the road. Another brother at the table–a man we had grown to love through the years–was describing how his church had left the CRC for the URC. But we were shocked to hear that, although he was the pastor who had led the men to this decision, the members of the new URC classis the church entered rejected his own entry because, although he said he’d follow the practice of the denomination in preaching through the Heidelberg Catechism each Lord’s Day evening, he thought it should not be required. So they rejected him.

    An intense debate ensued, with the Bayly brothers on one side and my Wisconsin friend, Casey Freswick, doing his dead-level best to hold up the other.

    I’ve always loved Casey. When I knew him in his Wiscconsin parish, his heart for the Lord and His sheep brought glory to God. And that matters to me quite a bit, across denominations. Later, David and I came to know and love Tom and Laurie Vanden Heuvel.

    Now, my best friend, Robert Woodyard, pastors 1st CRC in Lynden, WA. He’s rock solid and is blessed to be serving an amazingly rock-solid congregation. I warned him against going into the CRC, but when I preached his installation and spent time with his men, I found this church is the exception that proves the rule–that no one who’s orthodox should minister in the CRC today.

    Sorry this is so long and personal, but the comments sent my way were personal, so I thought I’d mention a few mutual friends.

    On to you, Scott: last night Phil and Polly Henry and chilluns stayed the second night with us, on their way to plant a church in the Philly area, but over in New Jersey.

    Finally, concerning the present state of the PCA: when my congregation(s) left the PC(USA) back in 1991, we narrowed our search down to the CRC and the PCA. We had a number of Dutch souls in our church and on our Sessions, and were located quite near Beaver Dam and Friesland. So we knew we’d have some good fellowship in the area if we went CRC. But after investigating the two denominations, our elders chose the PCA. It was clear to us the CRC was only twenty or so years behind the PC(USA) in heresy and schism, whereas the PCA was about twenty years behind the CRC. That meant the CRC was going toxic then, and that the PCA would…

    Well, all for now. Thanks for the challenges.

    Love in Christ,

  18. Thank you for your note, Rev. Bayly. I apologize for my delayed response; I have this blog set to inform me of responses via e-mail but for some reason your post went into my spam filter.

    I know of the pastors’ fellowship you mentioned; more than one participant has mentioned it with appreciation (including great surprise at the orthodoxy of the local PCUSA pastor, who I now realize was probably you, but I don’t remember a name ever being mentioned until now). Obviously I never attended its meetings, but when I hear good things about a local ministerial fellowship by multiple ministers I respect from multiple denominations over a period of years, it’s probably a good thing.

    I don’t have a problem with the RPCNA’s view of women deacons. I don’t have a problem with the woman deaconess in the Pilgrim Church in Leyden almost four hundred years ago. And I don’t have a problem with what appears to have been the practice of the church in the years immediately after the apostolic age, where deaconesses are mentioned periodically in both secular and Christian writings.

    What I see in the PCA is a whole different ball game. But it’s not my battle, and since I am not an ordained officebearer in the PCA, I’ll leave it to the people who are required by their ordination vows to fight it. I’ve got more than enough problems on my plate.

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