Thursday, October 9, 2008

An open letter to the organizing generation

To the generation of faithful men who, as Pastors and Elders, led the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA):

Dear fathers in the faith,

Thank you for the work that you did 35 years ago, in the years leading up to then, and in the years that followed. You stood against attacks on orthodoxy and biblical truth and refused to compromise in your deep commitments to the authority of Scripture and to the faithful teaching and preaching of the Bible. At great sacrifice, personally and-- in many cases-- professionally, you remained faithful to the essential convictions that the truth of Scripture was the final authority for faith and practice.

With grief and mourning, you fought for orthodoxy in a denomination that seemed committed against it, and when you recognized that you would not win that battle, you chose to separate and form a denomination for whom the commitments to the authority of Scripture, the faithful teaching of the biblical gospel, and the brotherly association of congregations would always remain pre-eminent. What you did was difficult and costly, yet, unselfishly, you did it for the sake of the gospel and Christ’s church.

Thank you. For your convictions, commitments, sacrifices, and leadership, Thank you.

The PCA is a wonderful denomination to serve in, and I am so grateful for her. Since her foundations, she has grown substantially through the efforts of church planting. Other congregations, seeking a friendly orthodoxy, have found refuge here. The uniting of two like-minded denominations increased the PCA’s size, stature, and reach in many ways. Ministries conventional and unconventional, in all manner of contexts and to all manner of people-groups, have spread the good news of Christ’s Kingdom where it was absent before. A worldwide emphasis on missions has made the PCA one of the strongest missionary denominations in the country. All of this had its seed in your labor to form this new denomination.

I hope you hear in my words above a sincere admiration, appreciation, and gratitude for your labor and service. I have only respect and praise for you. I know that you love the PCA deeply. I have come to love the PCA too-- not in the same ways that you do, of course, but deeply nevertheless. So I hope you will therefore receive the following questions in all sincerity, not as attacks or dismissals, nor as trick questions or traps. They are asked out of love, for you and for our denomination, and most of all, for Christ and His gospel.

  • Through the years, you have remained vigilant in your efforts to protect the PCA from “liberal” theology. Again, thank you for this. But are there other things that we must be vigilant against as well? In the past 35 years, our culture has largely shifted from a world that generally believes in Christianity-- or at least something close too it-- and needs the perfecting of their belief, to a world where Christianity and anything close to it falls under suspicion. Is the new fight for the PCA not merely a battle against liberalism, but also against unbelief itself? In your wisdom, how might we find a balance between these two fronts?
  • Surely theology is essential; we must have sound, biblical theology taught in our churches, as you have, for so long, labored for. But is not orthopraxy as important as orthodoxy? I’m thinking of Luke 8:21 and James 1:22-25 in this question. Of what use is our sound theology if it is not merely taught, but also practiced? How deeply do we understand our commitments to the doctrines of grace, if we are not consequently gracious? How much have we understood the Father’s mercy, if we are not merciful as the Father is merciful? From your experience, how might you advise the next generations of Pastors and Elders to live out the grace of God?
  • You have shown through the years a great effectiveness for building and growing the church, and we are indebted to your capability in this way. The Book of Church Order is a model of efficiency and the very embodiment of gracious church governance, and the practices of worship and other ministry that have defined the PCA for the past decades have driven many to have a deeper heart of worship and a greater understanding of the truth. Are there ways to accomplish ministry in strict accordance with the principles that undergird our denomination without following the form and practice those have taken historically? As I consider Paul’s ability to adjust his ministry style and approach to accommodate the hearer without compromising the truth (Acts 17; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23), I wonder if we have granted the freedom of our ministers to do the same. Have we constrained our people not only in principle but in practice?
  • Your readiness to defend against true theological threats is so valuable, and needed. Yet we often perceive threats where there are none, particularly when we have been attacked before. Is there a way to remain vigilant against heterodoxy without operating from a default posture of suspicion? Practically, it seems that an initially defensive response becomes a hindrance to growth and ministry. Biblically, Paul challenges us to deal lovingly with each other, even when declaring-- and defending-- the truth (Ephesians 4:15), and to hope and believe out of love that our brothers are acting in earnest (1 Corinthians 13:7). Shouldn’t our attitudes toward one another at presbytery and General Assembly meetings-- toward fellow Ruling and Teaching Elders in good standing-- embody this loving, trusting spirit?
  • You were right to depart from a body that had abandoned its commitment to biblical truth. Yet, could it be that a contributing factor that drove them toward liberalism was a deep association of conservative theology with unloving, ungracious practice? Christ is a model of commitment to true orthodoxy in the face of bad theology, yet his manner toward even those with whom he disagreed was vitally loving and gracious (Mark 10:17-22; Luke 13:34). Ought not our practice toward one another-- and even toward those who oppose us-- be so gracious and loving that they may not mistake false teachings and poor theology as more closely following the model of Christ?

I am among the newest to join you as a Teaching Elder, Pastor, and Presbyter-- I haven’t yet been ordained for a year, and I’ve barely been a member of my presbytery a year. I wasn’t yet one year old when you were instrumental in forming the PCA. While I have enjoyed membership in the PCA for almost 20 years, and service in (non-ordained) ministry for 12, I realize that, often, I may be too young and too inexperienced, too brash and overconfident to know very well what I speak of. Had I not been confirmed in my thoughts by many other brothers-- some of whom have many more years of experience than I-- I may be inclined to second-guess myself here, as well.

I pray that these questions might be received for what they are: a genuine hope for the ever-increasing fulfillment of our vows to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the gospel and the purity, peace, and unity of the Church.

Your servant,
Ed Eubanks, Jr.

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