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.

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