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October 07, 2008


Dr. Lints,

Thank you for your words. I found your dual concern for nostalgia and amnesia. This is a helpful comment. I also appreciate your affirmation of Matt’s desire to cross affinity group boundaries with radical hospitality both in and outside of the PCA. Great stuff. On a heart note, the reminder to watch out for our own sectarianism hit home. From day one, this very rebuke and encouragement comes from our lips to each other all the time. We are not always successful, but we long to treat those with whom we disagree more as family members than combatants. Again, thank you. Ohh and I love the family reunion image. I use it all the time. And feel it even more every time I’m at a larger church function, PCA or other. I feel like crazy Uncle Ed most days—and I don’t even have the excuse of having too much to drink.

Two things though concerned me.

What is naïveté of Matt’s yearning? I wasn’t sure if you are saying that it is naïve think the 4th century didn’t have its own theological institutions or that it’s naïve to yearn for a more and more united Church. Or is it something in between. I don’t think we can put the worms all the way back in the can and I don’t think Matt believes he will see a pre-denominational Church until the new earth, but I do think he is calling us to something that Jesus asked us to work for and as High Priest actually prayed for.

The second thing is when you said that PCA is in fact one of the few denominations to hold diverse coalitions together. This seems odd to me—a guy who’s hung out in the SBC, PCUSA, EPC, and UMC. There are some diverse coalitions in the PCA, but nothing like in other denominations—even the SBC for that matter. Sure, there are some real problems there, but they are more diverse than we.

So here’s what I think we need: A Doctrine of Unity. I often hear people reflect Thornwell’s sentiments that “truth is more important than unity.” This is attractive to me as one who was raised in a unity at all cost religious home and who has seen the fluffy unity of people who really hate each other. But i think it’s too simple of a construction. Jesus calls us to unity. So does Paul. This is truth. Orthodoxy requires steps toward unity—this is truth, too. Now I appreciate NAPARC and it’s instincts toward this end. But I think we can do better—honest open connection with people/denominations on different levels of unity. For goodness sake the ARP allows sessions to ordain women as deacons. We haven’t tried to kick them out of NAPARC for that. (maybe because they did that before we even existed). But we can live with several levels of unity without betraying the truth of our distinctions—while still pursuing the truth of the further unity God calls us toward.

Thank you Matt Brown and thank you Richard Lints!
This was a stimulating presentation and rejoinder, all around.

Matt has raised the question of why the Westminster Divines were not more interested in the question of 'apostolicity' when they were so plainly interested in the question of how 'catholicity' was to be found in the Reformed churches.

The answer to this puzzle _may_ lie in the fact that in the early 1600's, Catholic polemical writers such as Robert Bellarmine were scoring some quite easy points by drawing attention to the (then) paucity of Protestant foreign missionary effort. Bellarmine wanted to insist that inasmuch as apostolicity was about the missionary expansion of the church, the Catholic church had much to point to (in Spanish and Portuguese colonial expansion) whereas Protestantism was nearly empty-handed at that point. [Robert Bellarmine, Controversiae, Book IV as quoted in Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions 2nd Ed. (London: Penguin, 1986), p.189.]

This situation would begin to change by mid-seventeenth century when the Reformed churches of England and Scotland began to throw their support behind John Eliot's mission to the Indians of Massachusetts and the Dutch began missionary work in what is now Indonesia and Taiwan. To make a long story short, in that age - to brandish the 'apostolicity' tag would probably have required more missionary effort than the Reformed could yet point to.

However, in another sense the tag of apostolicity _might_ have been properly utilized at that time, because the vision of early Protestantism was nothing less than the re-Christianization of a European 'Christendom' which was still very extensively bound by sub-Christian superstition and half-truth traceable back to the imperfect ways in which the gospel had first been grafted on to the stock of pagan western Europe a thousand years before. This theme of the Reformation as re-Christianization is helpfully elaborated in the excellent book of Scott Hendrix, _Recultivating the Vineyard_ (WJK, 2004) and a precis provided in ‘Rerooting the Faith: The Reformation as Re-Christianization’, _Church
History_, 69 (2000), No. 3, pp. 558-577.

These two ideas - foreign missionary expansion of the Church, and re-Christianization of a vaguely or nominally Christian population at home would seem to provide the PCA lots of scope for more employment of the concept of apostolicity.

Ken Stewart
Covenant College

Dr. Lints - Thank you for your excellent essay. I especially appreciated your expression of the sin of "church consumerism" today and your insights into the real church dynamics in the 4th century.

TE Brown - I appreciate the time that you took to put your remarks together. One cannot begin to work with a one-hour talk in a few words. While I agree that the pattern of numerous denominations is not desirable in an ideal world, I respectfully see the situation very differently. I will touch on only a few areas for which we have space.

I'll start by agreeing and appreciating most of your comments on church planting. The PCA seems to specialize in planting "designer churches" based on individual planters' personal desires rather than need for churches. I've seen a number of "designer churches" planted, as you point out, next to existing but struggling PCA churches. This appears to me to be easier to do than trying to strengthen the existing churches while reaching out to under-served ethnic or economic communities. If I understand you correctly, I agree that this is very wrong, and a major reason why the PCA lacks large-scale ethnic diversity.

On areas where we differ, I'd like to first take issue with the term "evangelical nihilism", which is an oxymoron, and to be perfectly honest, highly offensive to Christianity as a whole. Nihilism, by definition, involves the denial of all real existence, or the possibility of, an objective basis for truth. To tie it in any way to Christianity and Christ--THE objective Truth--is, I believe, a grave and avoidable error. Words mean things, and we as elders should be especially careful with our choices from amongst them. I'm sure you will recall that it was a leading nihilist that wrote that God was dead. The Nazi concentration camps were built on the nihilist concept of a racially-superior "übermensch" or "superman". You should seriously reconsider your use of your phrase that ties anything to do with evangelicalism to such abhorrent concepts. I was shocked to see it used in a cavalier way.

Second, our Confession covers what we believe in 33 chapters but doesn't cover our mission in detail for an obvious reason: There's no significant disagreement on the Great Commission. Whether we are obedient to it or not, we all know our mission. Even churches who have lost the gospel think they have the same mission. I've never met a Christian who didn't know that the Lord commanded us to evangelize the lost. But without a right understanding of the gospel, what message are we evangelizing? There's no Good News if there's no agreement on what the news is. Theology is the foundation of mission, not its competitor. The dichotomy between theology and mission is a false one. A proper apprehension of what Christ has done for us and His matchless grace produces a hunger to tell the world. We must get the theology right first, otherwise we profane the message and mislead the lost.

Third, while I agree that it's improper to say or assume that only the PCA has the gospel (though I don't know anyone who thinks or says that), it is just as improper to say that the those who don't have the gospel do. Isaiah 5:20 comes to mind. Your talk advocated praying for the success of all of the churches around us, including the Roman church. I heard no exceptions expressed. Perhaps I missed them.

May I remind you that the RCC anathematized the gospel ca. 1542 and hasn't repented of that. Still other churches add to the gospel through continuing revelation. And still others like the corporate PC(USA) and other mainline liberal churches deny the supernatural and the gospel in exchange for a worldly social agenda. Should we pray folks into churches that deny, add to, or rewrite the gospel? How does that square with the Scripture's admonishments against error and false teachers? About wolves in sheep's clothing? Are we being obedient to the Great Commission by praying people into churches that anathematize or compromise the gospel? Where would or do you draw the line?

So, while it is true that the PCA doesn't have the gospel to itself, it is also true that some others deny the gospel in various ways. Thus, we are called to spiritual discernment, and that has to be based on our theology. I didn't see that point mentioned in the one-hour talk.

That said, there are faithful churches even in most unfaithful denominations. It's certainly possible that, say, a PC(USA) church down the street is preaching the undiluted gospel. We have that very case here in our area, and we pray for and work together with such individual churches in our local area. Our church actively works and prays with a small coalition of local churches, of which we are the only PCA body in the group. But we don't and shouldn't do the same with others who deny Christ by denying or compromising the gospel in any number of ways.

That's probably all for which I have space here on this forum. Again, I appreciate the time that you put into your presentation, but I encourage you to think more carefully about what you are advocating. False unity is no unity. The mission of the church is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ locally and around the world. We should by all means work with fellow laborers from faithful churches in the gospel field as we seek to carry out the Great Commission. But we should also be mindful that our Lord told us that there are many wolves amongst the sheep. We should not be advocating for the wolves that devour God's sheep through a false or compromised gospel. We should pray for their repentance, not their growth. We must exercise Spirit-based discernment, lest we compromise the truth through an ill-considered witness.

By His grace,

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