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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: RCA

City to City part 1


I spent this past week in Miami a meeting with a number of Church Planting Networks and planters too look at the possibility of beginning a North American Network for city movements.  This gathering was catalyzed by the folks at Redeemer City to City and brought together people from  Renew South Florida, Acts29, the RCA, many from the PCA, the SBC, the GCM Collective, and others.  It was an awesome time to meet other folks who are passionate about reaching North America, particular through cities.  It was great to hear the unique challenges and opportunities that cities bring and present to the church.  The outcome of this gathering was that a group will be formed, likely to be called the City to City Collective for shared resourcing, networking, encouragement, and more.  It'll be great to see what unfolds. Tim Keller of Redeemer in New York was the keynote speaker, and I want to share just a few things.  In the first session, The Challenge of North American Cities, Keller said that the expense of cities, the complexity of cities, and the mobility of cities makes a church plant there very hard.  Knowing that, it's important to see larger trends, and in that vein he spoke about the decline of cities from 1970-1990 in which cities were hollowed out at the core, with suburban flight the order of the day.  This left an urban desolation in many cases, with increased crime rates, devalued properties, and a cultural malaise.  The rich would commute from the suburbs and leave the urban poor in the central city.  From the 1990's to today, there was been an upsurge in cities, a renewal of the urban core.  In many ways this was due to gentrification (young professionals re-locating to urban environments).  Crime went down, cultural productivity increased, and the core of cities have thus seen a resurgence.  However, the poor are also often displaced as property values increase and the city finds cultural and economic renewal.  Each era presents a different kind of opportunity, different needs, and different responses by the church.    The follow up question is, then, what is the future of the city?

Keller, then, offered his analysis of what the future holds for American cities.  First, he spoke of the following positive trends:

  • North American churches are globalizing.  This is a positive trend because strong international connections create stability and prestige.  Because the era of America as an economic self-sufficient engine is over, globalization is important.
  • North American churches are urbanizing.  By urbanizing, Keller was particularly speaking to the trend in cities towards smart growth, urban planning of  the New Urbanism kind.  He referenced the return to a walkable, mixed-use human settlement in cities, including places to work, live, shop, play, and learn within 10 minutes as opposed to the suburbanizing affect in which everything is about commuting and doing life with people that are not the same people you live with.  There are lots of great books on this, and I think he's right on about not only emerging urban planning, but also that this is a positive trend not only for cities and human beings in general who live there, but also for the church because it creates a possible parish that is not merely made up of people commuting to their favorite church or speaker.

Secondly, he spoke of negative trends:

  • The rise of great need:  Here, Keller focused on the recent recession and global financial meltdown, particularly in American cities.
  • However, though this is a negative trend in some ways in terms of urban development, Keller rewinded to remind us that through our history lessons we learn that God has often used urban dysfunction to win the hearts of people.  When we are in times of great need, there is also great opportunity for the church to respond.

So, for Keller, the future of urban ministry looks good because of globalization, new urbanism, and increased need.

Lastly, in terms of cities, Keller mentioned the following future trends to expect:

  1. Increasing hostility in the culture wars.  He was particularly on target when he said that we are fighting a Two Front War:  Secularists think Christians are too moralistic.  Muslims and Hindus think we are too permissive.  There will, then, be increasing hostility from secularists and increasing hostility from fundamentalists (of all sorts, including Christians).
  2. More opportunities for justice and mercy.  This is true particularly because of the increasing needs in the global financial meltdown and the increasing gap between the rich and the poort.
  3. Culture-making will be increasingly important, particularly with respect to the integration of faith and work.  People in the city will desire more and more the integration between multifarious worlds.
  4. A new kind of apologetics.  This part was particularly poignant for me.  Back in 2000, I started a class called "Beyond Apologetics" because I was realizing that because of the shifts we are experiencing in late modernity or post-modernity, that a new kind of apologetics is needed.  This doesn't mean that the classic apologetics are wrong or bad, but merely that we need a new apologetic for a new emerging culture.  In Keller's words, "We need to answer questions people are actually asking" or in one of the bylines of my former church in Ann Arbor, "Ask questions worth answering; seek answers worth believing."  Here are some of the points and reasons for a new apologetic:
  • The world essentially says to Christians, “You are not good neighbors.”
  • We need more cogent and powerful answers to questions that people are actually asking.
  • The basic objection alongside of evil & suffering, etc. is that Christians are bad citizens of pluralistic cities because as we grow and if we grow, we will take away people’s rights and freedoms.
  • We are completely outflanked in the public arena.
  • We have to care for the whole parish, including our secular neighbors.
  • The public narrative is that Christians are intolerant, and that is very powerful and makes it extremely hard to enter public discourse.

Keller also spoke about the stages of development of the catachuminate which we need to revisit, and how the church is failing in its response to homosexuality.  That's a long conversation for another time.

I'll blog a bit more on this in the future if I can find the time, including some of his other sessions.

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Synod: Discussion on the Belhar 2


Here are some of the discussion points from the floor of General Synod 2009 regarding the Belhar Confession:

  • We don't expect our confessions to be "complete" as theological statements.
  • This is not a "staff, top-down" process.  This work comes from us, the people of the RCA and delegates.
  • We need to pay more attention to how we treat all people inside and outside our doors.
  • The Belhar is a beginning, not an end.  Our actions will be more important than our words.
  • Racism is real.  The Belhar shows our shortcomings in how we treat those on the margins.  It calls the church to be the church it has never been.
  • Voting down this recommendation does not mean that the Belhar is removed.  There is another recommendation that will allow us to keep using it, but without exposing us to its possible dangers.
  • Clarification of Jim Brownson's statements requested about what "true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church" (Belhar) means and if that is in contradition of the Belgic Confession, and whether that statement means the visible or invisible church.  Brownson responded "visible."
  • Argument that the confession is steeped in the cross of Jesus Christ.
  • All 24 seminarians voted yes in favor of the Belhar.  (GS3 is a group of seminarians who are here.  They don't have true voting privelege, but do have privilege of the floor.)  One reason was that the Belhar addresses issues that our current confessions do not.
  • Our reservations to change the Belhar are more about our training, than about how the Holy Spirit works in different people in different ways.
  • "I have been too afraid to preach about racism, but have been pricked to the heart."
  • The Belhar was written by those who suffer the most.  How could we, as people of privilege, think that we could change it to make it better?
  • Justice from Christ is a claim that comes from Scripture that we have never made, and it is about the unity of humanity, not even about racism.
  • "If anyone feels the Belhar will open the church to them, then I will vote for it."
  • I have separation, enmity, and division in my white homogenous congregation.  We need the Belhar to tell us how to act towards one another.  I need it in my family when anger and hurt and bitterness comes up.  I treat my children in ways that I shouldn't.
  • It's time for us to love all people in all conditions.
  • I have never spoke to anyone in the global south who spoke against the Belhar.
  • The risk of voting against outweighs the risk of voting for the Belhar.
  • The Belhar gives future generations an understanding not only what it means to be reformed, but what it means to be a child of God.
  • I need this for my ordination vows.  I need this to hold me accountable.
  • The RCA and others around the worldneeds to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in South Africa   to make this witness.

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    Synod: Discussion on Belhar 1


    Here are some of the discussion points from the floor of General Synod 2009 regarding the Belhar Confession:

    • Language on reconciliation is not based strongly enough on the cross of Jesus Christ.
    • The Bible does allow and require us to deny membership to the church in some cases.
    • Belhar denounces the notion that one culture can have the power and rule at the expense of the many.
    • The RCA has not stepped up to the challenges of reconciliation, unity, and justice in times in the past when we have had the opportunity.  Therefore, this is long overdue.
    • The structure of the discussion has been framed over the past couple of dates has violated the value that all voices would be heard.  For instance, "Belhar is a gift," "there are two roads," "history will judge us by what we do with the Belhar."  We were not given time for concerns or dissent.  How we discuss things is an important as what we discuss.  (this phrase was one phrase which opened General Synod)
    • Confessing the Belhar will shape our children for the future.
    • The Belhar says too much and too little.  Too much:  "Therefore we reject any doctrine which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church" the issue being with "human and social factor."  Same issue as bullet 2.  Too little:  "Anything which threatens unity may have not place in the church."  Suggestion of an amendment was made to remove the first and to change the second to "Anything contrary to the word of God."   This was ruled out of order by the President.  An argument was made that changing to inclusive language is a change, so why not these other pieces?  Response:  translation is different than modification.
    • Motion to table the Belhar until next Synod to come back with a "Canon of Hope" instead.  Failed.
    • Fear of the misuse of the Belhar is unfounded.  Example:  Canons or Dort antipathy against the Catholic church has not coerced the RCA agains the Catholic Church that could derive from the attitude espoused by the Canons of Dort.  Future General Synods can also lead us against any future coercive use of the Belhar if adopted.
    • Two key doctrines mission:  The Belhar is missing total depravity as the locus and reason for sins or racism and division and that the cross of Jesus as the fountain of all reconciliation and unity, and so potentially minimizes the power and teaching of the cross.
    • There are other ways to say not to racism without saying yes to the Belhar.
    • Argument against the idea that God is God of the poor in a "special way."  He is God of all.  "We believe that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged..."
    • Promotion of approving the Belhar alongside Song of Hope without accepting it as a doctrinal standard.  (this is one of the Overtures).
    • Concern about being perceived as rejecting the Belhar from those who agree with it, but do not want to raise it to confessional status.
    • Love your neighbor as yourself.
    • Faith in Jesus Christ is the sole requirement for membership.  We have to ask questions of true ethics, but true faith in Christ is what matters.
    • The poor have not greater claim to God's mercy than those who are rich.  Yet once we are united to Jesus Christ, we are called to do what Jesus Christ does.  The opening sermon Jesus gives in Luke 4 says that he was anointed to preach good news to the poor.  Can we do anything less?
    • Is this the time to pass the Belhar?  We've had world wars, apartheid, civil rights, and too often the church has been silent.
    • Question regarding President Elect James Seawood's comments that he doesn't believe race exists but is a social construct... and that our continued talk about it increases our racism.  Seawood responded and says he supports the Belhar and hopes we will take a risk.  "For me, the Belhar is very important because I believe that as we take a stand as a denomination to be more open, more multicultural, multiethnic, and open our doors for all of God's people, this kind of standard will be the kind of thing that will be embraced by the people of God, by all of humanity, and it will put us at a new place among God's churches.  I'm very, very excited about the Belhar and just pray that the holy spirit will move in this place today." James Seawood.

    PS - Some think that Belhar is a Trojan horse for the introduction of changes in our theological stance on homosexuality.  The two big phrases people who are concerned about homosexuality are these:

    "Therefore, we reject any doctrine which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation" and

    "Therefore, we reject any doctrine which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church."

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      RCA Synod: Wes Granberg-Michaelson


      Wes Grandberg-Michaelson The General Secretary's report tonight is great (still happening).  I couldn't log into my blog, so I wasn't able to type while he was talking and hit some very pregnant ideas and powerful challenges.  However, couple things...

      • Wes started by talking about Gordon Cosby, the Church of the Savior, and Potter's house.  I was at COS and Potter's house this spring, and it has had a profound effect on my own life, particularly in thinking missionally, about ministry to those on the lowest rung, about God's care for the poor, and about the necessary connection between an evangelical and missional identity that seeks to live out the missio dei to the lost and the broken and all God's people.
      • Wes was nails about the importance of discipleship, and particularly how the inward journey has and will lead to the outward journey - the deep effects of transformation which we have seen in the RCA in revitalization and multiplication.  Discipleship is a foundation.  "Be one... make one..."  Importantly, Wes said that this is not about saving the RCA for the future, but about reaching the world for Christ.
      • Wes spoke powerful and passionately about the Sankofa (see here and here).  A powerful statement was that as a denomination, we must take a Sankofa journey together.
      • Wes advocated for the approval of the Belhar as historic.
      • Spoke about the Mobilization to End Poverty and in particular the speech by Richard Stearns from World Vision.
      • Spoke about Christian Churches Together
      • Awesome!!  The Gospel that brings evangelical passion and social justice together.   Bam.  That's what I've been waiting for and believing in.  I'll post later about this and Gordon Cosby.  Remind me if I don't.  It matters. (You've read my passion about the holistic gospel if you've read my blog).
      • Spoke about the Dominican Reformed Church just recently organized as a denomination.  I met two of these pastors today... they're in my advisory committee.  Awesome pastors hearts.

      Paraphrased statements:

      • "Living water is what Jesus offered to the Samaritan women.  Living water is what our culture needs today."
      • "We need to learn to shout the gospel with our lives.  That will inspire new and radical forms of discipleship."

      Closing Pastoral Plea:  "Let us embrace the whole gospel, wiht our whole lives, for the whole world.  Let us commit, from the depths of our hearts, to be disciples of Jesus Christ."

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      ... it's not an either-or (so let's stop beating each other up, or saying our way is the only way) but start living more creatively both-and ministries of multiple forms to reach people for Jesus and have a transformative impact on the world in which we live....It's not only a missional statement about incarnational living, but about inviting the church, or people of God to be the mission in the post-christendom (or post-modern if you please) world. His missional passion, in my estimation, is about how to be on mission in our changing world rather than doing the same thing that reaches less and less people as the culture shifts.

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