More Church (re) Planting in the Midwest

redeemer pca lincoln

The new home of Redeemer PCA in Lincoln. Photo: Robert Becker, Lincoln Journal-Star

There are segments in the USA (Philadelphia, Grand Rapids, Greenville, SC) where there is a relative abundance of confessional Reformed congregations. There are places, however, large swaths of the country where it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find a confessional Reformed congregation. A thinning population, with a sometimes unstable ag-based economy,  spread across an immense geographic area presents little attraction to high-powered church planters. Further, the old mainline denominations that once dominated the state with tall steeples have a less visible presence now. This is due partly to demographic changes but its also the natural result (as documented by students of the history of PCUSA for example) of the long-term abandonment by of the mainline of the historic Christian faith. Put briefly: Why go to church to hear amateur political analysis when one can watch first-rate analysis at the same time on television—without getting out of bed?

The lower midwest, where I grew up, is one of those places with a small Reformed presence. There are a handful of confessional Reformed congregations in Nebraska, probably less than 10 to reach 1.2 million people. So it’s encouraging to see congregations thinking and working strategically to reach people with the gospel. Zion PCA in Lincoln is planting a new congregation in the near north side of Lincoln (known locally as the “North Bottoms”) on the north side of the tracks, just a few blocks from the University of Nebraska downtown campus. This is a strategic area to reach young people, those who work and study at the university and long-time residents in the area. It’s good to see a stronger Reformed presence in capital city. Let’s hope and pray that others in other cities can imitate this good example of creative church planting.

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


20 comments

  1. There are none in Fort Smith, AR. However, there is one in Fayetteville about 45 minutes north. However, there are a number of growing reformed baptist churches sprouting.

    When I first started growing in reformed theology I went to each presbyterian church in Fort Smith and found a universalist, a female associate pastor that spoke everytime I went, and a cumberland.

    So, I’m glad they are sprouting in the south! =)

  2. Overseas it’s worse, my wife and I are the youngest in the Presbyterian congregation we visited last week, with most over 40. My wife, our young daughter and I are both charismatic, but we don’t fit in with the prosperity gospel and over realized eschatology of a majority of, but not all of those churches. We were welcomed. Yet, you confused me Dr. Clark and this is why I don’t feel welcomed even though the pastor welcomed us, because you said in that post on Cessationism that believers like my wife and I can’t be “reformed” and be non-cessationist! My love for reformed theology has revived my love for God in such a way for the last 4 years that it can only be called a revival. I have questions, deep questions, and they’ve gone unanswered and I’m tired of being charactured as “not reformed” by scholars as yourself and called Anabaptist or some other names. I attended a PCA church back in America and was never once told that or given reference to my charismatic background, but was encouraged to grow. But after reading your post on Cessationism, I have brought my family to a few Pentecostal Churches. There is enough and growing scholarship among Pentecostals and Liturgical Pentecostalism and we may just end up there! I am not the only one with questions and I’m not the only one who has come to a “reformed” understanding from the Evangelical or Charismatic churches. Attitudes toward my wife’s charismatic background from the reformed has made my wife feel like she is a second class citizen among reformed and I feel the same now after reading your post for the last month. She was leery about visiting the Presbyterian church last sunday and I don’t blame her. I have a family to think about and not just myself.

    • Ken, as of right now I am a Reformed Baptist. This means that, in Mr. Clark’s view–which corresponds to reality, I am not actually ‘reformed’ either.

      At first this struck me the wrong way because I have often referred to myself as a reformed believer. It almost felt like an excommunication. To add to this, I am a rhetoric and writing major, and a class that I have taken has persuaded me that words and language do change to fit usage. Which means, if enough of us say we are reformed, then the term should change and Westminster confessors and their associates will just have to deal with it. But I don’t think the term ‘reformed’ has hit this threshold–though it’s pretty close due to the resurgence. I agree with Clark and the others that the word ‘reformed’ has too much history and meaning to be redefined.

      What I’m saying is this: The term reformed has such a large and distinct history, theology, and body of writings that it can’t be applied to baptists, charismatics, Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox. The reformed churches are not trying to excommunicate, disfellowship, or hurt us. They are just trying to avoid confusion.

  3. Hi Scott –

    Your post strikes a chord here in the sparsely-reformed upper midwest. Compared to Nebraska, I suppose we’ve got a cornucopia of reformed churches in our region, with maybe a half-dozen PCA+OPC+URC in each of Iowa and Minnesota, and a whopping dozen (give or take) in Wisconsin…

    Todd

    • Dear Todd

      Thanks!

      With Sioux Center/Rock Valley you’ve got a little GR-ulsalem right there in NW Iowa and Southern MN. There are some RCA congregations in parts of Neb but as mainline congregations they seem either to be liberal or so broadly evangelical as to have lost their Reformed identity, at least when I had any remote contact with them.

      Part of it is the church-planting models that are usually used. Most of them seem to focus on urban, high-population density areas. Where congregations do get planted in the lower midwest it is too often to serve a constituency that has moved rather than a strategic, targeted area (i.e., let’s invest in a church plant here in order to reach this group/area/location). For example, college towns across the lower midwest and southwest (e.g. Ames, Lawrence, Lincoln, Austin) are excellent places to reach seminal populations that will be formative in those communities and that will leave and take the faith with them across the midwest and beyond which, one hopes and prays, will lead to further church planting in future.

  4. This is a strategic area to reach young people, those who work and study at the university and long-time residents in the area.

    Great – another “New Life” church.

    So much for old people

      • I say it based on every experience I’ve had with a PCA/PCA church plant. And this article by DG Hart.

        There’s nothing confessionally Presbyterian about the PCA church plants I’ve encountered other than that they send elders to GA every year. Other than that, they’re basically evangelical.

        Actually, I take that back. The PCA I visited near Colorado Springs was good. But it was planted quite awhile ago.

        • I know the pastor of the planting cong. I wouldn’t make rash judgments

          The PCA is diverse group w/ its share of confessionalists

          Sent from my iPhone

          • I’m not trying to make rash judgments. I’m basing my judgments on a whole host of personal experiences and then asking other people if they’ve experienced the same thing. Usually, the answer is, “Yes.”

            I think the PCA is heading for problems the way it’s going, but that’s just me. From my POV, you can pick one: diversity or unity. If there’s one side that wants to be confessional and another side that wants to redeem the culture, then a schism is in the offing. But that wouldn’t be anything new. If you look at the history of the URC alone, it’s pretty complicated because of all of the schisms.

  5. Dr. Clark, I have read that, and please don’t think that I’m sending “hate” mail just because I wrote transparently. I am not a robot, I’m an artist and I am transparent and it comes out in all my work including my writings. As for winning an argument, Scripture has to be the final authority and is. I have deep questions and they come out personal, because I am a person and my family is real also. I rarely post here. If you stonewall my question on 1 Cor 14 that’s ok there is enough scholarly Pentecostal work out there to answer my questions. Or link me to another article, I will gladly take the advice. But as far as a charismatic being welcomed into the Reformed faith, I will think twice about it now and as far as my family attending a Reformed church, I do have second thoughts. My family’s reception in the Reformed church hasn’t been that good 50% of the time or more and that’s reality and that’s something that I am dealing with.

    Ken

  6. Dr. Clark,

    I talked to my wife this afternoon, because she was with me yesterday when I sent the post out to your blog. I mentioned to her the link that you replied to me about hate mail. She was very surprised, because it’s not out of hurt that we wrote that. She said that you are taking it to negatively. I needed to ask her, because she is an engineer, she is the logical one in the family and she balances me out.

    Just to clarify there is a big difference between frustration and hurt.

    In Christ alone,

    Ken

    • Ken,

      I don’t mean to sound callous, but you write here about how hurt you are and how excluded you feel and you call me stupid (that was you wasn’t it?) that I make historical and theological arguments about the definition of “Reformed” that exclude the Anabaptist (and its revival in modern Pentecostalism) that God speaks canonical or virtually canonical words to believers apart from the Word.

      I respond by pointing you to Carl’s piece on “hurt mail” as the new “hate mail.”

      I don’t think you understand Carl’s piece. The point is that you didn’t respond with reasoned arguments. You responded by emoting.

      What I’m trying to do is help you see that there is an objective definition of the word “Reformed” and it doesn’t include those who reject the Reformed view of Word and Spirit.

      The Anabaptists were not Reformed. Not everyone who believes in predestination is Reformed. It’s not possible to combine predestination with Anabaptist piety and theology and call it Reformed.

      Have you read Recovering the Reformed Confession. I deal with this very topic at some length there. Give it a read and see if that doesn’t help clarify things at least.

      On the question of defining reformed see this category of HB posts:

      http://en.wordpress.com/tag/defining-reformed/

      See also this introductory post:

      http://heidelblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/17/welcome-to-the-hb/

  7. Dr. Clark,

    I don’t believe that I called you stupid and if I did, please forgive me, because I apologize. I wrote with passion, yes, but I believe that I called your “argument” stupid and not yourself.

    Now, I don’t believe Scripture views the Gift of Prophesy as canonical does it? Please tell me where? And I don’t believe that any Pentecostal scholar would say so, because scripture doesn’t say so.

    The only thing that you are given me is outside information from history and not Sola scripture or Pauline theology. You’ve dodge this question more than once and if you hold to Sola scripture it should be an easy answer.

    Should this passage be obeyed or not? Should we earnestly desire to prophecy and speak in tongues? According to Pauline theology this is a commandment of the Lord and anyone who doesn’t recognize this shouldn’t be recognized. And on top of than Paul says that it’s part of Church order.

    1 Corinthians 14:37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.

    You have been trying to refute Sola scripture with history and Dr. Clark you can’t, because you are only “deducting” from the Authority of Scripture alone. I am the one using Scripture and you are the one using history to make a point and that’s not how correct doctrine is formulated.

    If you were using Scripture alone or practiced it than you’d be able to tell me where it says to forbid the use of the gift of prophecy or tongues or the other charismatic gifts, but it doesn’t once. But scripture plainly says to earnestly desire to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues and that’s part of Pauline church order.

    If you want to send me a copy of your books, I will read them. I live overseas and I can give you my address.

    In Christ alone,

    Ken

  8. Found it

    ….”Your argument is stupid if I can use the word, because it’s against clear commands of Pauline theology.”

    • Ken,

      I wrote with passion in defense of the uniqueness and authority and sufficiency of Scripture, in defense of the historic and confessional and ecclesiastical understanding of the adjective “Reformed,” over against the reigning religious subjectivism that has dominated conservative and liberal versions of non-confessional theology since the early 20th century.

      Do this. Take a few days and read Recovering the Reformed Confession before you judge the argument stupid. Read Garnet Howard Milne, The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Cessation of Special Revelation just in at the Bookstore at WSC (http://www.wscal.edu/bookstore/store/details.php?id=2425).

  9. Dr. Clark,

    Well, you are doing it in a manner that is rationalistic and not according to Sola Scripture or one that allows for the Sovereignty of the third person of the Trinity in the community of worshipers in the Church. 1 Cor 12:11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he WILLS.

    Are you going to deny the Fruit of the Spirit also in the Church? The fruit is related in the use of the Gifts of the Spirit according the Sola scriptura-the principle(along with God’s sovereignty) that you say that you hold too. But you are unwilling to be honest and answer if I’m supposed to obey Paul’s command and not forbid tongues and earnestly desire spiritual gifts including prophesy.(1 Cor 14)

    We aren’t dealing with Sola scriptura here, because I’ve already asked you to answer Paul’s command many times and you haven’t, but only answered me with human “experience” in history.

    You and I also can’t be dealing with Sola Scriptura here than and it needs to rest. What I am dealing with is your own “rebellion” against clear commands of the Lord in Scripture and that’s something that God needs to deal with you about through reading of Scripture.

    God has given me a mind to think theologically and you can probably see that also. But as far as allying with the Reformed, how can I if I can’t be Reformed?

    I’ve always been taught to read God’s word and obey his commands. Even one of your students from Westminster used some of my formulations and my quotations on sanctification from one of my videos on youtube in one of his papers when I compared Word-faith preacher Dr. Mark T. Barclay with the Christian doctrine of Sanctification.

    I haven’t been a slouch as a Christian and I’ve loved Reform theology. I’ve carried at least 50 books across the sea and my prize ones are Berkhof, Hodge, Vos, and Van Til. But your definition regarding Cessation has made me doubt my place among the Reformed and more importantly my family!

    I believe that you are indeed unread as a scholar. I don’t believe that you’ve read any Pentecostal scholarship and most of them readily quote Calvin and Reformed theology, because the way that you view the “Gift of Prophecy” as being canonical, something that 1 Corinthians doesn’t say or other places in the scripture where the gifts was given to new believers.(read acts 19:6, etc!)

    Thank you for your time and response. If I do get ahold of your book. I will try to read it between all my film studies this year and hand write you a response.

    May you always prosper and be in good health as the Lord wills.

    In Christ alone,

    Ken

    • Ken,

      The fruit of the Spirit isn’t limited to the apostolic age but being bit by serpents and surviving, being stoned multiple times and surviving, being teleported from place to place by the Spirit, being taken up to the third heaven, raising people from the dead or putting them to death, speaking in foreign languages without training, interpreting foreign languages without training, revelations of God’s will apart from and alongside canonical Scripture — these are limited to the canonical age.

      Why limited to the canonical age? For the same reason that God doesn’t say: “Let there be” any more. He sustains what he has created by the same power (this isn’t deism — it was Reformed folk, btw who invented the adjective to describe rationalists so before you write off as a rationalist because I’m not an Anabaptist Schwaermer you had better do some reading) by which he created, but it is a distinct act. So too, just as there are no more Exodus events, no more thundering at Sinai, no more pillars of cloud and fire, so too there are no more Pentecosts. It’s done. These are great acts of revelation that coincide with the great acts of redemption.

      See Herman Ridderbos on the nature of the relation between “canon” and redemptive history. See also Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority. See Dick Gaffin’s work on this.

      The historical point here is that the Reformed churches are cessationists. You’re making the very same arguments that Thomas Muntzer (to name but one of the radical Anabaptists in the 16th century) made. We heard them and rejected them categorically not because we’re rationalists but because his arguments were unbiblical. The ABs were false prophets and liars. None of their prophesies came true.

      Ken, I’ve been down this road. I’ve faced the QIRE-ish temptation of neo-Pentecostalism head on, I’ve done the exegesis. If you’ll search the HB you’ll see lots of discussions of this issue. Take some time. Do some research.

  10. Ok, Dr. Clark, I will. I’ve read 3 books by Gaffin and I did pick up his book on Perspectives on Pentecost a few weeks ago. I’m not convinced on Cessation though, but my love for Reformed theology/worship has only grown more hotter in the last few days. Public blogging isn’t probably the best way to work this out at least not on this subject only a good Reformed pastor and time can. I will take the time, re-read some stuff and continue to enjoy the richness of Reformed theology.

Comments are closed.