The Burning of the Wooden Shoes 2
Here follows the second and final part of Christopher J Gordon’s pertinent warning.
Social Justice or Gospel Injustice?
The pressures being laid upon Reformed churches are many. As a pastor, I have felt the pressure to conform to the American way of church. Among the evangelicals in our community, our Reformed church is pegged as the strict church in town doing things that nobody else does. Downgrading those Reformed practices that are the most off putting is assumed to be the best path forward to reach a broader base of potential churchgoer. This is the very audience the CRC took to evangelicalism. The CRC’s commitment to downgrade became a commitment to the intolerance of its own theological identity, and the toleration of everything else.
The question to be answered is whether other NAPARC churches, like the CRC, have already been sowing these seeds of their own overhaul. In my humble opinion, when I look at the practices of many NAPARC churches, especially when it comes to corporate worship, I see little different from the evangelical church down the street. This is not the case across the board, but neither was it in the CRC. The general trend was clear. Once the CRC hierarchy opened the door to accommodation becoming a more broadly evangelical church, that door remained open for everything else. I fear that history is repeating itself.
The CRC, after remaking itself into another evangelical church, soon found itself absorbed by social justice issues. Synodical meetings were filled with social causes. The irony was, most evangelical churches didn’t fall into social justice as deeply as the CRC did once that door was opened. The thirst for relevance could not be quenched. They were like a man out of prison, running as fast as he can without looking back. Social activism and causes became a dominant focus of church life.
As the present culture is ripped apart with division, especially in terms of race and gender, the church is feeling the pressure unlike ever before. It’s created a kind of perfect storm. Just like the CRC in panic mode, one can see the same pressure to transform. We may not be too Dutch, but we are certainly too white. The last thing the church today can afford to be considered is, especially in our cultural struggle, racist. Let’s face reality. The church frequently failed in bringing together every people and nation. We’re commanded to do this. Racism is sin. Abuse of women is horrendous. It grieves us greatly. The last thing we can afford is to be called homophobic or misogynist. Looking at our terribly slow progress in the Great Commission, there is only one conclusion: we must doing something wrong. Things have to change—now.
There is no question that social justice in the world should be the desire of every Christian. Every faithful pastor should care to apply the law of God to the gross sins and abuses he sees in the world. And there are certainly societal implications of the gospel as Christians begin to look more like Christ in loving their neighbours. The concern is whether there is, in these discussions, something much more dangerous happening.
Because of these struggles, the answer according to some is to rethink the entire mission and mandate of the church. The answer for many in leadership seems to be to push harder than ever these societal questions upon their congregations. The “gospel” all under the rubric of delivering people from social ills is being redefined. The priority of Jesus’ objective work in saving us from our sin by grace alone through faith alone is being sidelined for a “gospel” of deliverance from societal abuses.
Under the new paradigm, many of the classic passages upon which we have relied must be reinterpreted to see that “gospel” is really all about racial reconciliation, equalitarianism, women’s rights, eradication of poverty, and environmental care. Familiar Bible passages that we always understood and confessed as teaching our need to be saved from our sins are now being reread through the lens of social abuse, racial injustice, and more. “Gospel” in this approach is being redefined as deliverance from these societal evils.
As a host of new social justice activists use social media platforms, the pressure to transform the message of the church is stronger than ever. For instance, the PCA seems to be subtly beginning the debate regarding women’s ordination. Has a study committee been organized as it was in the CRC?
Most painful is that the culture’s racial divide has launched the church into a sort of panic that is actually having the effect of “transforming” the church into looking and sounding just like the world in its own divisiveness. In our attempts to accommodate a divided culture, the world’s speech appears now to be dictating ours.
The CRC may have rightly burned the wooden shoes of a parochial, ethnic, and cultural identity but made the mistake of leaving in those shoes the very Reformed confessions that gave her a theological identity. In our attempts to accommodate the culture, to address social injustice, some of which may certainly need to happen, we run the risk of burning the Reformed confessions. This is no small matter and, in the end, it has everything to do with what the Reformation helped us recover: the gospel of Jesus as a Saviour from sin.
The best way forward is to remain committed to making known the life, death, resurrection of Christ as the heart of what we do as Reformed churches. The book of Acts teaches us this over and over through the ministry of the apostles. The early church, under the threat of persecution and death, remained committed to the preaching of Jesus to the nations. We too are called by God to continue in what we have learned and firmly believed (2 Tim. 3:14). We too are called to remain committed to making known the Word of God “in season”–when things are convenient, and “out of season”–when everything is against us. As Martyn Lloyd Jones once said, “when the Church performs her primary task these other things [i.e. matters of social justice] invariably result from it.”
The greatest way forward is simply to practice what we already know we should be doing without compromise. Holding on to the Reformed confession is most certainly the hardest thing to do in a culture of overreaction.
NAPARC churches should not forget their older brother, the CRC. Unless these concerns are taken seriously, I foresee the PCA and other Reformed denominations following this trajectory heading for fights, splits, and empty pews. They will be on a fast track to becoming just another mainline liberal denomination scratching its head at General Assembly meetings as they desperately try to find answers. I pray that my dear brothers and sisters in NAPARC will hear this humble plea from a brother in Christ who learned how true it is that those who forget their (church) history, are most certainly doomed to repeat it.