Saturday, August 18, 2012

What To Do with the Para-Church?

A Modest Proposal

The Boys

(What follows was published several years ago in Modern Reformation.}

Some may think the proposal I wish to make as radical as Swift’s, but I think it truly modest. My modest proposal is this: Why don’t all who are confessionally Reformed in theology and some variety of Presbyterian in polity withdraw from all para-church organizations and focus their attention on the churches of which they are members.

I am thinking here not only about organizations where of necessity the theology is mixed, such as Campus Crusade and the National Association of Evangelicals. I am thinking as well of organizations that are somewhat Reformed but not the church, such as the Banner of Truth Trust, the Association of Confessing Evangelicals, or Ligonier Ministries.

I have several reasons for this proposal, one principial, others practical.


Those of us who confess the faith of the Westminster Confession believe that “unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.” In other words there is no earthly institution to which Christ has entrusted his ministry (the offices for which ordination is required), his oracles (the Bible, its preservation, dissemination, and interpretation), and his ordinances (the means of grace consisting of the reading and preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and public prayer) except the visible church.

Moreover, the ministry, oracles, and ordinances are given to the visible church for the gathering and perfecting of the saints. Since the ministry, oracles, and ordinances are the only means acknowledged by our Confession for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, and these are given to the visible church only, then there is no other organization or institution on earth that is authorized to gather and perfect the saints except the visible church. If this be the case, then what need have we, indeed what authorization do we have, for anything to accomplish these purposes than these means which belong to the visible church and the visible church alone?

The Followers


Think about the expenditure of energy, the numbers of hours, and the amount of money that are directed to para-church organizations. These all could be devoted to the visible church in its local, regional, and national (and perhaps someday international) expressions. That is, every ounce of energy, every hour of time, and every dollar that go to sustain para-church ministries could be devoted to the visible church. That means that all these that could be focused on the visible church are presently lost to the para- church.

Then, consider the condition of the visible church as expressed in its various denominations. I cannot speak of the OPC or the URC or the ARP, but I can speak of the PCA. We have managed to study and make pronouncements about several matters of importance – happily creation and the Federal Vision, unhappily such matters as the slavery that existed in the 1800’s and the place of women in the military services in the 2000’s. But otherwise we are a mess.

Take, for instance the matter of worship. Worship is a train wreck already having happened in the PCA. Recently my wife and I attended a worship service in a church that is independent but whose ministers are under the jurisdiction of the PCA, and afterwards I commented to her, quite sincerely, “It was nice to attend church and not be driven crazy.” The PCA, for the sake of peace, early on made the decision not to have a binding Directory of Worship. It was a decision made, in my view at least, to avoid confronting the invitation system which was promoted by one of the “founding” para-church organizations of the denomination. But, what has been the result? A virtual Babel of expressions and experiences of worship! One finds oneself in the position of an inability simply to attend a church of one’s own denomination when visiting in another place, and one finds one’s self unable to participate in some of the worship of one’s own denomination even at the level of the General Assembly. What if those ministers and elders who now devote so much time and energy, and who go to such lengths to raise money for para-church organizations were to devote all this to the church?

Then consider the “agencies” of the church. They are modeled after the example of the para-church and little reflect the polity of the church. It is one of the ironic consequences of the “unique polity of the PCA” that we have emasculated the church courts at the Presbytery and General Assembly levels while in effect making virtual popes of the “coordinators” of the General Assembly’s committees and agencies. It is a schizophrenic choice. On the one hand, Sessions must not be under the oversight of Presbyteries and Presbyteries must not be under the “review and control” of the General Assembly, while, for the sake of efficiency, the committees and agencies must have a virtual free hand, so that the coordinators, presidents, and others may act as CEO’s, hiring and firing as they please,  reporting to their “Boards” or “Committees” for ratification but asking the Church itself for little more than commendations of staff, approval of budgets, and calling of days of prayer. All of this is for the sake of efficiency and effectiveness since it is obvious that real Presbyterian government cannot do the job. Of course, all this goes on while ministers and their energy and hours, and money, begged and raised, go to the para-church when the great need is for the reformation of the church itself.

Consider the overall condition the visible church expressed in my denomination. There is anarchy as one Presbytery requires all who do not affirm the Henry Morris cosmology to take an exception to the teaching of the Confession while others happily welcome those who will not “put God in a box” by denying the possibility that God reveals himself through prophecy and tongues in addition to the Scripture, while one will not receive those who approve of dance and drama, while others may reject as too narrow those who believe that such things do not fit the regulative principle. Wherever one looks, one may see anarchy. 

All this while some of our most gifted ministers, some of the best of their gifts, hours, and energy, and a great amount of financial resources of the kingdom are devoted to the organizations to which Christ has not committed the ministry, oracles, and ordinances, and which he has not called to gather and perfect the saints.

Perhaps the day will come when there will be room for quasi-ecclesiastical bodies to promote cooperation and even union among those who hold to Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity. Until then it seems to this writer that the persons, gifts, time, energy, and dollars would be better devoted the organization for which Christ shed the blood of God.

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