Saturday, November 22, 2008

What are legitimate marks of the Church?

I had an an interesting exchange about the role of the church.  Historically there are a central set of marks of the church (Preaching, Sacraments, Discipline).  But I would argue there is a wider role that all churches play do play.  In thinking about racial reconciliation in particular (or Biblical Diversity if you prefer) it seems to me that we must broaden the discussion from "narrow systematics".  This doesn't mean that carefully constructed minimalist outlines are not true, but that real life implementation always holds other aspects that are assumed to be unwritten truth. This often includes cultural expression and identity reinforcements.  

It gets a bit heated but here is the part of my recent exchange that focused on what church is:


My Comment:  On the issue of theology and church.  The black church is in its social context a completely different thing than the white church.  It's history and witness and role is different.  This is in part why when someone suggests that in Christ there are only churches and not ethnic churches, it is a very shortsighted pronouncement that only white American's would suggest.  No Christians from other ethnic groups, nor from any other country in the world is likely to suggest such a thing.  But white American Christians, from a position of power and privilege to which they seldom really comprehend, have a tough time with this. They think colorblindness is a real virtue.   None of our ethnic brothers and sisters in Christ (aprox 90% of world Christians) see it this way.  I think it is arrogant to be ignorant and/or unconcerned about this. 

 T's Response:  you say the role of the black church is different than the role of the white church, yet where do you find any differentiation in calling of churches in Scripture?  The role of any church, is to teach the Scriptures, administer the sacraments, and oversee church discipline.  No church should be involved in any politicking for any party, but should firmly stand in and pronounce the Truth of God's Word.  Whether that be everyone's need of a Savior or the evils of abortion, that is what the church is called to do.  The methodology is what may be different, but not the role, saying otherwise goes wholly against 500 years of Reformed ecclesiology.

My Response:On the issue of the church:  Here you have suggested that a narrow reading of Reformed systematics is the only way to understand the role of the church.  This could only be suggested from within the framework of one from a culture of power.  Clearly if you read Calvin you will find a radically broader understanding of the church.  Or Kuyper.  Or Keller.  etc.... 

The black church was started because blacks were kicked out of white churches.  They serve not only the central marks you mentioned but a myriad of others, including a place of cultural expression that is largely forbidden, mocked and rejected in the wider culture.  One's church is also a reflection of one's culture and serves to reinforce cultural identity, sense of meaning, and the understanding of the world.  It goes well beyond what you've suggested whether you recognize it or not.  

And of course the church's validity is also whether or not it reflects truth, righteousness-justice, peace, deliverance both from worldly oppression and from sin (ie. the wrath of God).  Its validity is compromised if it is not a place in which believers exercise their gifts, the modest parts of the body are treated with extra grace, parents are equipped to lead their children, the community reaches out as the hands, feet and mouth of Jesus Christ.  All of these are aspects of legitimate churches that are beyond your narrow set of marks. The expression of these are very different in the black community-- one that is rooted in its history of oppression.  This cultural history shapes the church, giving it both strengths and weaknesses.  All churches reflect both the imago dei and depravity. 

While I am willing to defer to your desire not to be labeled a typical white evangelical, your description of the church makes it hard for me to see a distinction.   Perhaps the black church is too big a leap, but I would encourage you to learn from others about the value of Asian, Latino or other ethnic churches.  You will find them reflecting the grace of God in the role local body's play in ways quite different than your own. It's a beautiful (and biblical) thing.  

T's Counter: I'll be very blunt.  You are a Ruling Elder in the PCA, live up to that title, and don't throw any of this pomo garbage back at me.  When you were called and ordained, you vowed to uphold the teachings of Westminster Standards, and as such YOU are bound to a "narrow interpretation" of systematic and biblical theology and to abide within the standards laid out in the BCO.  If you find yourself in disagreement with any of these, it is your duty to report that to your session and your presbytery.  So, I caution you, don't presume to lecture me on "narrow readings" of systematics.  You signed on to a denomination that is most narrow in its interpretation of Scripture,and doesn't show any favor or liberality towards unorthodoxy. 
Lastly, your presuppostions, generalizations, and general prejudice towards, what you term the "white church" are disgusting, peurile, and frankly border on racism.  You pass judgements on me and my church, and yet have no basis for such conclusions, except for the fact that I, and most people who attend my church are white.  Really, you are no different than the cloak-wearing Klansmen, in that you presume the worth of an individual and his/her character based solely on the color of his/her skin. 
Joel, if anything, this interaction has shown me and taught me that individuals who cry for reconciliation between anything besides our reconcilation to our Creator are merely trying to push their own agenda, and are motivated by a spirit of hate, guilt, or a combination of the two.


Wow.  Does anyone get this???


Dave said...

Was this an actual conversation that you had? Or based on different conversations with similar themes/responses?

hammerdad said...

direct quote of the conversation which happened on email.

b_wongkamalasai said...

It's interesting how much conflict this conversation riled up in my head over my own conviction on the matter of racial borders, specifically in that gray area that the church should be playing. I don't know if I subscribe to any one denomination, but i understand the roles that the church as a body is to uphold. I do feel however that there are very apparent lines that exist in the area of the ethnic churches and the middle American church (the white church). I believe strongly in what Ephesians 2 calls the "new humanity" to do when dealing with those lines. Reconcile all people to God. That was Jesus' intent, no? Jesus was challenging the Jew on those ethnic lines that existed then, didn't He? If it was true then why is it not true now?
But, I am conflicted. Is it the role of the church specifically to expose the ethnic lines amongst our fellow believers? Is that as big a deal as exposing the ethnic and racial lines in other areas of our culture? (IE subsidized housing and gentrification)

Aaron said...

Wow! Pains me to see this brother reacting in this way. I think it is unfortunate how the "reformed" brothers which I am in doctrine but not in affiliation, react in this way.

I was part of a similar conversation where the Westminister and the Reformed tradition were elevated to such a point that any other discussion outside of that or contrary to it's history was scoffed at.

Almost as to say...

hey this is how it is and how it has always been for 500 years so deal with it. If you question any of it then you are not reformed and you need to renounce your reformed doctrines. :)

I think you get what I am saying. It does bring me great joy to see some reformed churches beginning to take racial reconciliation seriously and realizing its biblical validity. But it is a 500 year old huge ship that has been driven by one captain for a long time, so it is going to take time.

Take heart Joel and know that your passions for these above mentioned things are biblical and God cares about them deeply.


JudyBright said...

Hmm. It seemed like you two were talking past each other, not really understanding each other's point of view, then he viewed what you said to him about being a typical white evangelical as an insult and he got angry and said stuff about the PCA I don't really understand. I've never strongly affiliated myself with any one denomination so I have a hard time relating to denomonational pride.

I can see strengths and weaknesses in what each of you said, and how you said it as well.

Eric Fager said...

An unfortunate conversation.

I am more partial to the Book of Concord than I am to the Westminster Standards.

I like this simple summation of what the church is.
"Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints,in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are administered."
Augsburg Confession Article VII.

I hope everyone called by God is a member of a congregation that rightly teaches and administers. But why can so many called not break down these barriers to unity? Why can these sub groups; Reformed or Lutheran, white or black not get together. One case is because of objective differences in theology, the other is because of 400 years of bad history.

I have a copy of a very short sermon written by Gerhard Forde; a Lutheran theologian who used to teach at Luther Sem here in the twin cities. He was trying to explain why there was disunity in the church. "The basis of the unity and openness of the church is given in the fact that this man Jesus, sent from God, eats with tax collectors and sinners. The table is open. All are one before him. .... Why then the disunity of the church? The reason is quite simply the same: the fact that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners."

The stain of old Adam is deep and sin is not a trifle. We must confront him everyday and repent.

We must stay faithful to the confessions God has called us to. Christ is our foundation, and confessions help us to understand that foundation. But they should not be a barrier to understanding and repenting of the sins of our history.

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