The Gospel and Race: Definitions and Problems

[The PCA's 2004 Pastoral Letter, "The Gospel and Race," after the introduction and the biblical and theological foundations (see the previous posts), continues by discussing what is meant by "racism," and why it is that racism is sin.]

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RACISM IN GENERAL TERMS

Racism is an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races. Racism includes the social exclusion or judgment, or the segregating, of an individual or group of individuals based on racial differences, which always include physical appearance and its underlying genetic structure that are hereditary and unalterable.

To further develop the manifestations of racism, it may be helpful to distinguish among at least three forms of racism. Although they are not exhaustive or completely distinguishable, the following categories are helpful: racial dogma, racial prejudice, and racial dominance.

1. Racism in the sense of racial dogma: “… doctrine or teaching … that asserts the superiority of one race over another or others, and that seeks to maintain the supposed purity of a race or the races” (Webster’s New World Dictionary).

2. Racism in the sense of racial prejudice: “Prejudice implies a preconceived and unreasonable judgment or opinion … marked by suspicion, fear, or hatred” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). Racial prejudice is judging people by the color of their skin, rather than by their character.

3. Racism in the sense of racial dominance: “Any activity by individuals or institutions that treats human beings in an inequitable manner because of color” (Gordon DeBlaey and Peter DeJong, “Resource Manual for Race Relations in the Christian School,” 1976, p. 8).

Note that racism in the form of racial prejudice and racial dominance can exist independently of racism in the form of racial dogma. In all three forms of racism, racial identity becomes a value having priority over other assessments of social judgment, and racial solidarity is practiced as an ethical principle.

RACE AND RACISM IN THIS PASTORAL LETTER

Race and Racism are loaded words. They are mostly used in the spheres of sociology and popular media. Since there are tomes written on the subject with a wide range of definitions, it is important that we define them for our purposes. The word “race,” as used in this pastoral letter, is not a scientific classification; rather, in the language of one author, the term “race” is used to denote “a social phenomenon with a biological component” (Sowell, Race and Culture). That is, the term “race” not only pertains to the color of skin and other biological factors, but also may include the cultural factors, associations, and assumptions that we attach to certain races as well. We derive this view of race from the Scriptures that reveal cultural distinctions and attitudes about those distinctions.

Let us consider the Jerusalem Council as an example. As the OPC paper that was previously mentioned indicates, the Bible provides categories for the biological factors (Gentiles), cultural associations (what the OPC paper calls a “cultural pattern”), as well as attitudes about both (the Council rose out of how to wisely apply the Kingdom principles to our attitudes about biological factors and cultural associations). In summary, the word “race” in this paper refers to the nuances of our being created distinctly, in distinct times, places, and communities, along with our individual and corporate views of those distinctions.

With that definition in hand, we can work on defining racism for this paper. Racism is any want of conformity to or transgression of the Bible’s approach to race; it is any belief or act that is contrary to God’s bringing His redeeming shalom to the races. More specifically, racism is the sinful action or attitude of elevating (idolizing) the superiority of one’s race over another in such a way as to cause a lack of love for one another as Christ loved, to hate others in our hearts and actions, and/or to act toward a race in an oppressive, unjust or indifferent manner. Racism, like any other sin, is expressed in thoughts and actions by an individual. But as individuals act together, racism can be expressed by a group or institution.

Because we are bombarded by views of race and racism from places other than the Bible, it is often difficult to ascertain what is God’s view of racism and why it is sin. The following section addresses how and why racism is sin. The purpose of this section is to free us from unnecessary guilt, expose us to our past and present sin, and guide us in new obedience.

RACISM IS SIN.

As stated above, racism is sinful. It involves a failure to love as Christ has loved. The additional biblical and theological principles that follow may be cited to further highlight the sinfulness of racism.

Racism Denies the Gospel.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes his rebuke to Peter for acting on the basis of cultural custom, which the Gospel had transcended. By responding on the basis of cultural custom, Peter’s conduct communicated that he found his justification in the law, rather than in the Gospel:

Gal 2:11-16 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Racism is Idolatry.

The first commandment—You shall have no other gods before me. Racism grounds the identity and security of human life not in the God who alone is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, but in self – a creature – and therefore an idol.

Racism is Murder.

The sixth commandment—You shall not kill. Hating your brother is a violation of the commandment, as is vile mockery of another and unexpressed hateful heart attitudes. The sixth commandment requires “charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil;” the sixth commandment forbids “sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge . . . provoking words, oppression . . . striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.” WLC (Q. 135 & 136). The sixth commandment is not only violated in the extremes of anger, hatred, or desire for revenge, but also violated in the omission of charitable thoughts, love, compassion, the unwillingness to be reconciled and the failure to forgive injuries—to any or all of which we may easily succumb to based on how we view persons of another race.

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (I John 3:14-15).

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Racism is Lying.

The ninth commandment—You shall not bear false witness. The ninth commandment requires the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness bearing. The ninth commandment forbids whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor’s good name. (WSC Q. 77 & 78)

Lev 19:16 “ ‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD.

Zec 8:16 These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts;

THEOLOGICAL PROBLEMS OF RACISM

Racism reflects a corrupt view of the doctrines of Creation and Providence. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Gen. 1:27ff). God “made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). Since all human beings are descendants of Adam and Noah, there is only one human race; thus when one race is considered superior to another, it denies the doctrine of creation, in which all races have a common origin. Further, God’s providential care does not distinguish among people based on race.

Racism minimizes the doctrine of the Fall. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:22-3).

Racism is a rejection of the doctrine of Redemption. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-16). Since all races originated from the first Adam, but despite that common origin became alienated from one another because of sin, the redeemed of all races are reunited in the Second Adam.

Racism corrupts the doctrine of Consummation. “And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth’” (Revelation 5:9-10). Every race is present at the consummation of human history.

RACISM DISTINGUISHED FROM LEGITIMATE ASSOCIATION BASED ON NATURAL AFFINITIES

There are natural associations of people, along homogeneous lines, which are not necessarily wrong. The test of such an association’s biblical propriety comes as Christians honestly and rigorously question its purpose, its consequences, and the attitude with which it is pursued. Is my association in any way out of conformity to God’s desire? For instance, is there overt, or even subtle, enforcement of racial segregation; i.e., is there a choice in whether one is associated with a group or segregated from it? Associating with your own ethnicity is not wrong. As John Franklin remarks, “There is nothing inherently wrong with being aware of color as long as it is seen as making distinctions in a pleasant, superficial, and unimportant manner. It is only when character is attached to color, when ability is measured by color, when privilege is tied to color, and a whole galaxy of factors that spell the difference between success and failure in our society are tied to color—it is only when such considerations are attached to color that it becomes a deadly, dreadful, denigrating factor among us all” (John Hope Franklin, The Color Line, 72-73).

Natural affinities of background, culture, and language are often powerful vehicles for the transfer of the Gospel and for unity in worship. These affinities are not inherently evil and may legitimately create much congregational homogeneity in locales where there is little racial or social diversity. However, such affinities become barriers to the Gospel mission and testimony of the church when the desire to associate only with like persons becomes justification for the active or passive exclusion or segregation of persons from different backgrounds or for the devaluing of their contribution to the body of Christ. Formally or informally segregating persons from position or membership in any gathered body of Christ on the basis of race, national origin, color, or social status is contrary to the Gospel (Eph. 2:13-16; James 2:1-9). In contrast, when the gathered people of God reflect the power of the Gospel to transform all cultures and unite all peoples in the worship of their Creator and Savior, then the Gospel is powerfully represented and the Lord is greatly glorified. Those who find themselves placed in contexts of little racial or social diversity are called to discern ways to respond to this cross-cultural Gospel calling as are those who find themselves in contexts of diversity.

While establishing groups based on natural affinities is not always wrong, it should be undertaken with great care. This approach is the basis of the homogeneous principle of church growth, which has been a significant principle in the church growth literature of recent decades. But could it be that planning for the growth of the church along natural affinity lines has become an obstacle to the supernatural work of the Spirit that would show a watching world the power of the Gospel? Francis Schaeffer argued that the final and conclusive argument for the truthfulness of the Christian faith is “observable oneness among true Christians” (The Great Evangelical Disaster, 170-171). Surely there is no greater or more conclusive argument for the truthfulness and power of the Christian faith than observable oneness among true Christians across the lines of race. This is a oneness that is not natural and it is for this very reason a powerful demonstration of the truth of the Gospel. Such an approach might not seem efficient but it would be effective in attaining the goal of demonstrating a Gospel that unites people across the dividing lines of race.

The Gospel and Race: Biblical and Theological Foundations

[The PCA's 2004 Pastoral Letter on "The Gospel and Race," after the introduction, proceeds to set forth some biblical and theological foundations.]

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FOUNDATIONS IN BIBLICAL TEXT AND THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

Let us start with the end of the story. The Gospel unites all of God’s people, bringing them together into one Body, despite the divisions with which we live in a fallen world. The Scriptures give us a rich picture of our final state. The implication is that in heaven we will recognize these distinctions, while at the same time we are wholly united as one people:

Rev 5:9 And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Rev 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

The Scriptures are clear about where God’s people are headed and what it will look like once we are there. What relationship does the present age have to our eternal state? In this present age, the future eternal state breaks into this world. In many ways, this in-breaking is the beginning of the end. For this reason, the end of the age is marked by the preaching of the Gospel to all nations:

Mt 24:14 And this Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Acts 1:8b …and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 15 further shows this Kingdom in-breaking by identifying the taking of the Gospel to the Gentiles as the fulfillment of this mission of uniting under Christ one people gathered from all peoples:

Ac 15:14 Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles (plural) a people (singular) for himself. Ac 15:15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: Ac 15:16 “After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, Ac 15:17 that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name,” says the Lord, who does these things Ac 15:18 that have been known for ages.

The Report of the Committee on Problems of Race, which was approved in 1974 by the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, summarizes how Acts 15 demonstrates God’s mission to bring diverse peoples together under Christ:

1. Jews and Gentiles ministered to each other and worshipped together because Acts 15:1 says, Jews “came down from Judea and taught the brethren.”

2. The apostolic council agreed to admit Gentiles to full fellowship without putting them in bondage to Mosaic ceremonial law. Yet there were certain practices common to Gentile culture to which the Jewish believers could not as yet adjust (15:20). At these tension points the Gentiles were asked to conform to Jewish practice. Yet on the other hand the apostles and elders gave the Gentiles freedom in all other matters (eating pork, etc…). This represented a tremendous adjustment for the Jewish church. Both groups were therefore asked to make major compromises out of a desire to maintain the unity of the church in love.

3.  In connection with I Corinthians 6 and Romans 15:1-9, this passage shows that these special apostolic ordinances were practical only when and where the need arose. In both Corinth and Rome, Paul makes eating meat offered to idols a matter of Christian liberty. Thus as maturity grew or as the cultural situation allowed, the restrictions were lifted and both groups offered the other one complete freedom in cultural matters. This passage has much to say to us about the “cultural patterns” that separate Christians of different races. Our cultural patterns must come second to our desire to serve God and build the church together. (Minutes of the Forty-first General Assembly, 1974, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, p. 103).

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives further elaboration and proof that this is the age in which we should expect to see diverse and even hostile peoples being brought together:

Eph 2:11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— Eph 2:12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. Eph 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Eph 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, Eph 2:15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, Eph 2:16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Eph 2:17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Eph 2:19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, Eph 2:20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Eph 2:21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. Eph 2:22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

It is this stunning truth that Paul declares, a truth which he calls the “mystery of Christ” and the “mystery of the Gospel.” In Ephesians 3:6 he states, “This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promises in Christ.” It is of no small significance that Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians with the request that they pray for him in this way: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make know the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Notice that Paul does not say he is in chains for declaring the Gospel. He says he is in chains for declaring the “mystery” of the Gospel. The mystery of the Gospel upsets the status quo of race and resistance has never been far away.

In Colossians 3.12-15 Paul exhort believers with these words: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” These exhortations have particularly great significance to the issue of the Gospel and race, since they are the application of the truth declared in the immediately preceding verse 11: “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” It is because of our unity across the lines of race that we are exhorted (“therefore”) to live out the unity laid out in the words that follow. Clearly, this is no general admonition to unity but a specific admonition to unity where the natural barriers of race so clearly manifest themselves. Read in this way, this text brings home a powerful message to a church divided along the lines of race.

This unity of the human race existed in its original creation (Genesis 1:28), and the Gospel restores the unity that has been lost. John Stott, in Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today (1995), provides an excellent theological perspective on racism in light of God’s redemption, in his exposition of Acts 17:22-31.

“What then was Paul’s attitude to this multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious situation? He made four affirmations.

“First, he proclaimed the unity of the human race, or, the God of Creation. God is the Creator and Lord of the world and everything in it, he said. He gives to all human beings their life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth, so that human beings would seek and find him, though he is not far from any of us. For ‘in him we live and move and have our being’ and ‘we are his offspring.’ From this portrayal of the living God as Creator, Sustainer and father of all humankind, the apostle deduces the folly and evil of idolatry. But he could well have deduced from it the folly and evil of racism. For if he is the God of all human beings, this will affect our attitude to them as well as to him.” …

“Secondly, Paul proclaimed the diversity of ethnic cultures, or, the God of History. The living God not only made every nation from one man, that they should inhabit the earth, but also ‘determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live’ (Acts 17:26; cf. Deuteronomy 32:8). Thus the times and the places of the nations are in the hand of God.” …

“Thirdly, Paul proclaimed the finality of Jesus Christ, or the God of Revelation. He concluded his sermon with God’s call to universal repentance because of the coming universal judgment, for which God has both fixed the day and appointed the judge (verses 30-31). Paul refuses to acquiesce in the religious pluralism of Athens or applaud it as a living museum of religious faiths. Instead, the city’s idolatry provoked him (verse 16) – probably to jealousy for the honour of the living and true God. So he called on the city’s people to turn in repentance from their idols to God.”

“We learn, then, that a respectful acceptance of the diversity of cultures does not imply an equal acceptance of the diversity of religions. The richness of each particular culture should be appreciated, but not the idolatry which may lie at its heart. For we cannot tolerate any rivals to Jesus Christ, believing as we do that God has spoken fully and finally through him, and that he is the only Saviour, who died, and rose again, and will one day come to be the world’s Judge.”

“Fourthly, Paul proclaimed the glory of the Christian church, or, the God of Redemption. …the New Testament is the story of the divine ingathering of nations into a single international society. … Since God has made every nation and determines their times and places, it is clearly right for each of us to be conscious of our nationality and grateful for it. … …while our racial, national, social and sexual distinctions remain, they no longer divide us. They have been transcended in the unity of the family of God (Galatians 3:28).” …

“The church must therefore exhibit its multi-racial, multi-national and multi-cultural nature.”

“Only a true theology, the biblical revelation of God, can deliver us from racial pride and prejudice. Because He is the God of Creation, we affirm the unity of the human race. Because He is the God of History, we affirm the diversity of ethnic cultures. Because he is the God of Revelation, we affirm the finality of Jesus Christ. And because He is the God of Redemption, we affirm the glory of the Christian church.” (pp. 222-225, quoted by permission of Revell, division of Baker Publishing Group).

In summary, racial distinctives are:

Distinguishable categories; they are not irrelevant. In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. (Acts 13:1)

• But they are not defining categories that prohibit unity in the worship, fellowship and mission of the Body of Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 5:28)

• And they are categories included in the distinctive and eternal celebration of God’s work through the ages. After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9) 

Introduction: Why a Pastoral Letter?

[The PCA's Pastoral Letter  on "The Gospel and Race" was essentially the work of three successive General Assemblies, beginning with the 30th General Assembly in 2002.  Here is the text of the Introduction to the Pastoral Letter approved in 2004.]

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The 31st General Assembly (2003) of the Presbyterian Church in America took the following action in response to Overture 17 from Nashville Presbytery (a copy of the entire text of the overture, as amended by the Assembly, is included in the Attachments section of this paper):

We therefore request the Thirty-first General Assembly of the PCA to assign to MNA the task of drafting a proposed Pastoral Letter designed to set forth the truth of our position on the issue of the Gospel and race. This letter would be in a manner consistent with the Gospel imperatives for the encouragement of racial reconciliation and Gospel outreach to people of every “tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5.9 NKJV), and the enhancement of existing ministries of mercy, across all social, racial, and economic boundaries, to the glory of God.

We further request that MNA (Mission to North America) take full responsibility for the funding of this project and that MNA include representatives from a breadth of racial and regional backgrounds in the task in order to ensure that it is ultimately a product of grassroots leadership.

This overture followed Overture 20 to the 30th General Assembly (2002), also from Nashville Presbytery, which read in part (the full text of overture 20 is included in the Attachments section of this paper):

We therefore confess our covenantal involvement in these national sins. As a people, both we and our fathers have failed to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the laws our God has commanded. We therefore publicly repent of our pride, our complacency, and our complicity. Furthermore, we seek the forgiveness of our brothers and sisters for the reticence of our hearts, which has constrained us from acting swiftly in this matter.

As a people, we pledge to work hard, in a manner consistent with the Gospel imperatives, for the encouragement of racial reconciliation, the establishment of urban and minority congregations, and the enhancement of existing ministries of mercy in our cities, among the poor, and across all social, racial, and economic boundaries, to the glory of God. Amen.

Overture 20 of the 30th General Assembly established the position of the Presbyterian Church in America with regard to Racial Reconciliation. The 32nd General Assembly, in response to Overture 17 of the 31st General Assembly, provides and commends to the churches of the PCA this Pastoral Letter, for guidance as to the Gospel imperatives for the encouragement of racial reconciliation and Gospel outreach to people of every “tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5.9 NKJV), and the enhancement of existing ministries of mercy, across all social, racial, and economic boundaries, to the glory of God.

The title of this Pastoral Letter is The Gospel and Race.  The challenge before us is that of living according to the Gospel we have received.  As we seek the mind and heart of the Lord for our lives as God’s people, it is good for us to be reminded directly from God’s Word of Christ’s love, a love so great that Christ gave His very life for us, so that we might be reconciled to Him.  It is His love that compels us to proclaim the Gospel and live in its light, so that we not only become sons of God, but in Him we even become the righteousness of God:

2Co 5:14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 2Co 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2Co 5:16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 2Co 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2Co 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 2Co 5:19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2Co 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2Co 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We begin with a reminder of the atoning work of Christ because that is the foundation for all that we do. As we address the issue of race, we do so not because it is politically correct, or out of any pressure from outward society, but simply because it is our desire that the convicting and restoring power of God’s grace in the Gospel be applied to the manifestations of racial sin of which we ourselves are guilty, and that those who experience the negative effects of these sins might know the healing power of God’s grace – that we who have been reconciled to God through Christ might become together a holy temple in the Lord, reconciled to one another by His Spirit (Ephesians 2:20-22). God’s grace provides the only means to conquer our fears, remove our guilt, resolve our anger and give us the strength to persevere as one family where Jesus Christ is Lord. We declare that the Holy Spirit is our only source of power for true unity in the Body, and that He strengthens us through daily repentance, prayer and the cleansing power of the Word.

The desire of the General Assembly is that this letter will be widely read and will provide helpful guidance to the members and churches of the PCA. Our desire, further, is

• that we as God’s people will step out of our cultural comfort zone with the Gospel, to minister among our neighbors, especially among those who are different from ourselves;

• that all of us will search our hearts and recognize our sin, open ourselves to the examination of the Holy Spirit, and having received the grace of the Gospel, turn from it with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience (WCF-SC 87). 

• that we will spur one another on to love and good deeds.

We begin with theological and textual foundations and move from there into practical implications for ministry. For further study, we commend the Report on Racial Questions approved in 1966 by the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, which can be found in pp. 385-387 in Documents of Syond, Study Papers and Actions of the RPCES — 1965-1982.  We commend also the Report of the Committee on Problems of Race of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Minutes of the Forty-first General Assembly, 1974, pp. 101-118), which can be found at http://opc.org/GA/race.html.

For further practical ministry application, we commend the answer to Overture 19 to the 30th General Assembly, addressing the call to ministry among the people groups of North America, a copy of which is included in the Attachments; we commend also the MNA Paper:  Ministering Among the People Groups of North America, approved along with the overture, and available upon request from MNA.

While this Pastoral Letter primarily addresses the church in the North American cultural context, it is also important to keep in mind that the biblical perspective presented applies to all cultural contexts.

The Gospel and Race: A Pastoral Letter

In the coming days I will be posting the pastoral letter approved in 2004 by the PCA on “The Gospel and Race” in serial form.  Here is the preface, helping to set the stage.

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To: Teaching and Ruling Elders of the PCA
From: the 32nd General Assembly

“The Gospel and Race: A Pastoral Letter” was adopted by the 32nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. This letter is commended to our churches to clarify the position of our denomination on very important issues relating to racism in the past, present, and future. It is also intended to provide guidance in examining our own hearts with respect to this issue and lead the flock the Lord has entrusted to our care.

The letter seeks to provide a definition of racism, a theological perspective on racism, pastoral responses to racism and discussion of pastoral issues relating to racism. Racism is an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races. From a biblical perspective, it is the position of the General Assembly that racism, as it is defined in the letter, is sin, and that repentance must follow both individually and corporately.

James reminds us that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26b). We call on each elder, session, presbytery, committee, and agency of our denomination to study this letter and seek to turn from the sin of racism even in its most subtle of forms. You are strongly encouraged to engage the leadership of your church in examining this issue with the objective of developing specific actions you will follow to lead your congregation in conviction and repentance of this sin, whether in its most subtle or most overt form.

It is the prayer of the General Assembly that our Lord Christ will be glorified and that His grace will be poured out upon each of us as individuals as we struggle daily with sin and as we rest in the promise of reconciliation found in His Gospel.

Why Johnny Can’t Preach

T. David Gordon has just come out with a very interesting book with the title listed above.

If you liked reading Neil Postman or Kenneth Myers, then you will like this book as well. It’s short, and you can read it in about two hours. However, this short book manages to put its finger on the pulse of what is wrong with preaching today in our culture.

The basic thesis is that the electronic media have so shaped our culture that preachers cannot read the text with understanding, provide order and flow in their sermons, preach Christ, exposit the text, or provide instruction. Instead, they tend to read the text in a way that confirms what they already know, rather than taking the time to read the text well so as to be changed by it.

All throughout this book, I was feeling a huge weight of electronic media crushing in all around me, with a gleam of hope shot through this book, such that I felt that there is a way to avoid jejune preaching, if only we as preachers could learn how to read texts not just for their informational content, but also for the way in which it is said, and how that realization could impact how we preach.

It is impossible to be bored when reading T. David Gordon. He has a great sense of humor, and has all the qualities of writing which he laments preachers don’t have. An example of his humor:

Several of the more incompetent preachers I’ve heard have jumped on the emergent bandwagon, and their ministerial careers are undergoing a resurgence now, as people flock to hear their enthusiastic worship leaders and to ogle their PowerPoint presentations. Their churches are no longer moribund, but then the annual carnival isn’t, either-it, too, is full of enthusiasm, activity, and lively entertainment. But I’m not sure these emergent activities have any more spiritual effect than the pig races at the carnival (p. 32, fn10).

Buy this book for your pastor. If you are a pastor, buy it. Do not be offended at the title (parishioners who buy this book for their pastor might have to be careful about that landmine!). This book will help you be a better preacher, because it will help you focus on what is important in preaching.

Finally Available

I am very glad to see my teacher’s commentary on James in print, finally. I have been waiting for it for about 5 years now. I had resolved not to preach or teach on James until I had that commentary on my shelf. Well, it’s here. Full disclaimer: I have not read this book yet, only sat through his classes on the general epistles, which were excellent. Also, in accordance with the new FTC regulations, I will disclose to my readers that clicks on this link provide gift certificates to me.

New Rules About Advertising

My twin brother brought to my attention this article. I am certainly glad to know about it, even if I think the FTC is wrong to horse down on bloggers in this fashion. The FTC seems to assume that people reading blogs do not need to exercise common sense. Why should a blog have any authority at all? It’s just cyber words, after all. One would hope that readers would be able to form their own judgments about whether to trust a blogger or not. The government has been looking for ways to clamp down on the internet for a long time, since they have had precious few ways to regulate anything. It is one of the final frontiers of human freedom. Of course many people abuse that freedom. And there is no doubt that some of the problems described in the article do exist. But isn’t the solution to educate people about the problems, rather than legislating concerning it? Be that as it may, I intend to conform to whatever stupid laws come down the pike regarding blogging. But I don’t have to like it.

Inerrancy: Rocky Mountain Presbytery’s Statement on Scripture

Been trying to find time to make a couple of other posts on inerrancy (e.g., necessity of historic Adam, inerrancy bibliography.) Yet seems that the busy-ness in Lane’s September has spilled over and rolled down hill to Alabama ;-)

In the meantime, here is a recent statement on the nature of Scripture, adopted by our brothers in Rocky Mountain Presbytery, PCA. Without any particular comments at this time, I post it here for a moment of reflection and consideration (as reported at The Aquila Report). It does appear to touch on all the hot button issues we’ve discussed.

Rocky Mountain Presbytery Adopts Pastoral Letter on Affirmations and Denial on Scripture

Reed De Pace

New WordPress Feature I Have Added

I don’t know if anyone would be interested in this, but I just thought I’d make it available, since it’s a new feature just added to the wordpress blog. There is now an RSS feed both for the blog and for the comments. It’s on the very bottom left of the blog. You can then add that to your blog reader, if you want.

I’m Back (And Heads Up, Sean Gerety)

When I came back to the surface after nearly drowning in the month of September, I was astonished to find that I had any readers left. I had had two classis meetings and a Presbytery meeting in September, all one week right after another. I was even more astonished to find that I made the top five list of Keith Mathison’s favorite blogs. All sorts of astonishing things have been happening recently.

Another astonishing thing that I found out recently was that I figured rather prominently in a recent book by Sean Gerety, entitled Can the Presbyterian Church in America Be Saved?. The book is 130 pages, if you include the index, but not the extras at the back that are usually included in Trinity Foundation books. Of those 130 pages, I am mentioned on a whopping 17 pages. The reason that this is astonishing is that I am a nobody. My blog has a few readers, but I am not exactly what you would call a heavyweight in the PCA. I do not figure at all in the inner workings of the PCA. I know many who do figure in those inner workings, but I am not usually included in the “inner circle,” if one could call it that. At least, that is my impression. I’m not a speaker at conventions or conferences. And I’m only 31 years old. Obviously, Sean Gerety takes me a whole lot more seriously than I take myself, especially in terms of my importance. I’m flattered, in one way, that he would consider my position that important. I will take his position equally seriously. A quick note to moderators: Sean is allowed to respond to these review posts of his book either on my blog or on his own blog. I promised him that.

I am going to respond mostly to Sean’s assessment of my position. Firstly, on page 34 of this book, Sean says,

To give another example of the inability of Vantilians to effectively deal with the contradictory doublespeak of the Federal Visionists, and what is easily the most disturbing recent development in the battle to stop the spread of the Federal Vision, was the clean bill of health self-professed Vantilian and PCA pastor, Lane Keister, gave Doug Wilson on his “Green Baggins” blog.

Sean goes on to quote Doug Wilson as saying that “[Keister] has not found anything that would place me outside the pale of Reformed orthodoxy” (the quotation is from here).

Sean asked me then if I agreed with Wilson’s assessment.

This was my answer:

My problem with Wilson lies in this: although Wilson says many things that are Reformed in a positive sense, he is not willing to reject the errors of the other FV proponents. Personally, I am willing to believe that Wilson holds to justification by faith alone, although he is too ambiguous on the aliveness of faith and its place in justification. He does hold to imputation. But he will not distance himself from any error of the FV, no matter how egregious. That is why, if Wilson were to apply for admission into the Presbytery of which I am a part, I could not vote to approve his transfer of credentials. What I have sought to show is that it is not enough to affirm the truth. One must also reject the errors. This is equally important to affirming the truth. That is my answer, Sean.

I italicized what Sean had italicized in the book. Sean also quotes what I say in this post, which was a response to Sean’s post here. Just so people can follow the paper trail.

Sean’s assessment of Wilson is well-known, and can be summarized by what he says in the book:

It was unfathomable to me that any Christian man, much less a minster (sic) of the Gospel and someone even considered a recognized and respected foe of the Federal Vision, could read Wilson’s book and conclude anything other than Wilson was a very skilled false teacher who has replaced the Gospel of Christ with a clever fraud (p. 34).

His ultimate conclusion (at least he strongly hints in this direction) is that the ambiguity in Wilson’s position is a mask for deception, and that Rick Phillips (whom Sean also attacks for reading Wilson charitably in the Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons book) and I are just dupes (p. 36).

How does one respond to all this? Well, first of all, let me admit right off the bat that I have been duped by people in the past, and that it is possible that Doug Wilson duped me. I’m not convinced just yet that that is true, because I am not convinced that Sean has read Doug Wilson correctly. Sean Gerety and John Robbins co-wrote a book that also went into great detail about RINE (Wilson’s book Reformed In Not Enough). I have read Gerety/Robbins, and am not convinced that they have read Wilson correctly. We’ll get into more of that later, however. At the moment, however, I want to respond specifically to the claim that I have given Wilson a clean bill of health. Now, admittedly, different definitions could possibly exist for “clean bill of health” ranging from “I would barely let him into my church” to “I would ordain him without a second thought,” and everything in between. My position is this: Wilson does not belong in the PCA, but I would not call him a heretic. I said it a little differently before, in that I said I would not vote for him to come into my Presbytery.

Sean seems to think that if someone is sound on justification by faith alone, then that is the only important issue. He says, “Sorry, Lane, you’re wrong. You did give Wilson a clean bill of health on the central question — and frankly only question — of Christian orthodoxy and his teaching in RINE concerning JBFA.” My response would be, “So what about baptism, assurance, visible/invisible church distinction, paedo-communion, perseverance, and covenant?” Are those issues ones that we should shunt to the side when considering the Federal Vision, and whether or not someone is confessionally orthodox? JBFA is certainly the main hinge, as Calvin would say, or the article by which the church stands or falls. But these other issues are quite important as well. Consider this post part 1. We’ll get to Wilson’s doctrine of JBFA, don’t worry.

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