Posted by: reformedmusings | March 9, 2008

Partnership in the gospel?

First Things printed an interview with PCA TE Tim Keller here (HT: The Confessional Outhouse). I find following excerpt quite interesting:

FT: Do you ever see a point at which Redeemer’s mission, which is transdenominational, if not nondenominational, is inhibited by being a member of a specific denomination? Would it be easier to do what you do if you were not connected to the Presbyterian Church in America?

TK: Maybe a little. Because, when you’re part of a denomination, you’ve got to have some constitution, some structure, that you hold with everybody else. The larger a church gets, the more unique it gets, and it would always be a little easier, I suppose, if we didn’t have any—like, for example, how we do elections. We have to get a quorum of our members. When our constitution was built, no one was thinking about a church that held five services on a Sunday, at three locations. So the problem is to get a quorum of our congregation, we don’t actually have a quorum of our congregation at any one service. So where do we hold an election for our services? And the answer is, we choose the largest one and we just hope people come. So it’s a bit of a struggle to get a quorum, because our constitution is set up for a traditional church in a small town. Its not set up for multi-site churches, it’s not set up for churches that don’t have their own buildings. And if we were an independent church, we’d just do it our own way. But we think it’s very very important to be part of the connection. We think for accountability it’s important, for tradition it’s important. So we just put up with it.

Glad to hear that the PCA isn’t totally expendable, though we are apparently inconvenient. Let me be clear, the Book of Church Order leaves lots of room for individual churches to conduct business as needed. Within the general guidelines that assure the rights of all, one creates Presbytery and Session bylaws and operating procedures to fit local conditions. Each successive higher court reviews the records of the lower courts to ensure that the general guidelines are followed. That provides accountability.

Oh, and I do believe that the PCA has a scheme for “multi-site” churches. That scheme also applies to a church with a multitude of Sunday services. We call them “church plants.” Rather than build individual church empires, we traditionally spin off new churches in the community as we grow. Oh, and the churches that we plant are Presbyterian, which brings us to the next paragraph in the interview.

FT: Even though you’re helping to plant non-Presbyterian churches?

TK: Yes, because I don’t believe you can reach New York with the gospel if you only plant Presbyterian churches. There are all kinds of people who’ll never be Presbyterians. It just doesn’t appeal to them. Some people are going to be Pentecostals, some people are going to be Catholics. I mean, I know that sounds—I’m not talking about that certain cultures reach certain people. It’s much more complicated than that. Even though there’s something to that. We all know that certain cultures seem to have more of an affinity toward a certain kind of Christian tradition than others, but I wouldn’t want to reduce it to that at all. I would just say that I only know that God seems to use all these kinds of churches to reach the whole breadth of humanity, and so that’s why we give money to start churches of other denominations, and give free training to it. And we’ve done about a hundred in the New York area, where we’ve helped people. It’s very important to us.

Now, we work with a variety of denominations here in our area in both gospel and social ministries. Although we believe that Presbyterianism is the purest expression of the gospel, Presbyterians don’t own the gospel. We work with other evangelical churches as well as fellow PCA churches to spread the gospel. Although we’ll work together with a broader variety of others to feed the poor, care for the homeless and abused, etc., we do not share a gospel ministry or resources with a church that anathematized the gospel, nor would we help to plant such a church.

For those that may have forgotten, the Roman Catholic Church anathematized the gospel in the canons of the Council of Trent way back in the 16th century. Since the Roman church believes that their councils and popes speak infallibly when doing so in their “magisterial office,” their rejection of the gospel isn’t reversible. How can we help such a group recruit or create churches whose official teachings would condemn their followers to hell? These people will not hear the gospel in that church; they will hear the gospel anathematized. I don’t understand the mentality of giving resources and help to such as these.

Pentecostals don’t anathematize the gospel, but their theatrics and use of “ongoing revelation” severely compromise the gospel. If one can (or must in some cases) have an infallible revelation from God (think Oral Roberts’ financial-based scam about being called home if his fund raising flopped, for example), then one can write my own Bible. That’s what Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Charles Taze Russell, L. Ron Hubbard, and others have done to create their cults. Pentecostals haven’t taken things quite that far in general…at least not yet. But some do come painfully close at times.

So I have to ask myself, why would a PCA teaching elder provide resources to plant gospel-denying Roman and gospel-extending Pentecostal churches mystifies me. We should be using our God-ordained talents and treasures working with others to spread the clear, pure gospel of Jesus Christ. But I go back to this from TE Keller’s response:

We all know that certain cultures seem to have more of an affinity toward a certain kind of Christian tradition than others,

Then I ask, are we called to seat people comfortably in their cultural affinities, or are we called to preach the undiluted gospel of Jesus Christ, give our resources to the same, and trust God for the increase?



  1. […] problematic (to say the least) practices concerning church planting.  According to his post, “Partnership in the gospel?,” Keller is reticent about planting churches for this (and my) own denomination, the Presbyterian […]


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