Last week, Oct. 22-25, with our Interchurch Relations Committee’s permission, I attended a meeting in Dallas of evangelical denominations and networks; all with mainline Protestant denominational experiences similar to the PCA’s. Evangelicals in North America’s mainline denominations have had kindred experiences over the years seeking to reverse (1) theological and ethical decline, (2) lack of accountability, and (3) abuse of church power in their mother denominations. What’s more, they have faced hard choices about whether to (1) remain and continue organized resistance to unorthodox trends, (2) remain but withdraw from as much denominational participation as possible, or (3) leave and start anew. There has not been unanimity about which course to take. Sadly, suspicions have sometimes arisen between evangelicals who remained and those who left, resulting in little or no communication between the two groups. Happily, the situation is now changing. Evangelical former mainliners are communicating with each other.
For the PCA the tipping point came in 1973. For other Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran, Congregational, and Baptist evangelicals, the tipping point arrived more recently, and new denominations and networks have been formed. As communication lines are opening and fellowship is renewed, our common ground is obvious. We are share a common faith (the Historic Faith of the Church) and a common mission (obedience to the Great Commission). The Early Church’s common biblical faith is expressed through such universal creeds as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed (see PCA Book of Church Order 55-1). Until He returns, Christ gave His church the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20): Disciple the nations by proclaiming the gospel, incorporating people into the church, and teaching them all that He has commanded.
The recent Dallas meeting produced a press release, a document, and a list of participants, all of which are reported on byFaithonline.com. The press release states that, “While each of the participants endorsed the statement they were not necessarily doing so on behalf of their respective churches/organizations.” As Stated Clerk, I am “authorized to make public statements for and on behalf of the denomination only insofar as such statements are warranted on the basis of specific actions of the General Assembly” (Rules of Assembly Operations 3-2 t.). Other participants have similar situations. Therefore, any specific formal agreements or interchurch relationships that may develop would have to be acted upon by our respective denominations or networks.
Symbiotic relations and actions on several levels are already taking place. For example, after Christ Church Anglican of Savannah, Georgia, lost its church property when it transferred into the Anglican Church in North America, the Independent Presbyterian Church (whose ministers are PCA) invited the displaced Anglicans to share the Presbyterian facilities. The Anglican Church in North America has started some 300 new churches in the past three years with a goal of planting 1,000 churches in five years. In doing so, they have benefitted from the evangelistic vision and church-planting expertise of both Southern Baptists, such as Ed Stetzer, and Presbyterians, such as Tim Keller and Steve Childers. The North American Lutheran Church is looking beyond its denominational confines to develop discipleship materials. The Evangelical Association of Reformed and Congregational Christian Churches has used graduates of Covenant Theological Seminary and other evangelical seminaries to become pastors to their churches. Numerous other examples could be cited.
The meeting’s tone reminded me of the PCA’s early days when we had the bittersweet experience of leaving our former denomination with grief over the past and beginning anew with excitement about the future’s ministry opportunities. I saw a similar perspective among the participants with an intention to focus on opportunities to come rather than dwell on past conflicts. The PCA began in 1973 with the goal of being a church that is “Faithful to the Scriptures, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Likewise, the newly formed denominations and networks could aptly be described as seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Historic Faith of the Church and its respective theological traditions, and obedient to the Great Commission.
What do we have in common with other evangelicals and branches of the church beyond the Reformed tradition? We share the Early Church’s common faith and a common commitment to the Great Commission, as together we face the challenges and ministry opportunities of our increasingly secular culture. To put it succinctly, our common bond is the Lord Jesus Christ.