"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

PCA and Race: Reflective Review of "The Last Segregated Hour"

"The Last Segregated Hour" by Stephen R. Haynes

Historian Stephen R. Haynes wrote an account of the effect of the civil rights movement on churches in the Memphis area for Oxford Books. One particular chapter has special relevance for the PCA, and that is chapter 12: “A Season of Prayer and Corporate Repentance”: Wrestling with the Past at Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC). Those in the PCA may recognize that Independent Presbyterian in Memphis is a church in the PCA. Below is my reflective review of that chapter.

A Summary of the Chapter:
Independent Presbyterian Church (which given Presbyterianism's connectional nature seems an oxymoron) began in schism over the move towards integration by way of rotational session membership (to get the resistance elders out presumably) by Second Presbyterian Church. 340 persons gathered for worship in the Plaza Theater in East Memphis in 1965. In other words, Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC), began its existence in a sinful resistance to the doctrine of the image of God in all persons, and the unity not only in Adam's blood, but Christ's blood. 
By the 1980s, the new members knew little of the founding principles of IPC. A pastor named Sartelle seemed to be aware of the past of the church, but largely ignored it, often working at odds with its spirit in mission projects in Memphis across racial lines.

When John Wilfong in the 1980s began bringing in African Americans in outreach opportunities, the past began to come into focus. As IPC became more involved in the community, the reputation and history of the church, known in the community, became a sore point of shame. During the Sartelle tenure, the segregation policy was quietly rescended, but nothing publicly stated. IPC joined the PCA in 2000, and Sartelle retired in 2005. 
When a new pastor named John Hardie took over, he mentioned parenthetically that the Bible does not ban interracial marriage. When conversations arose from that comment, Hardie called for repentance for those who held views against interracial marriage in the church. Eventually after a controversy and tension arose, Hardie resigned, and the session adopted rotating elder terms at IPC, like SPC had done years ago. Eventually with a new session and new pastor, IPC called for corporate repentance in regards to its past policies in 2012. 
To each of my readings, I hope to give some reflections to how this might be relevant to the current question before the PCA in regards to a denominational repentance. My numbered reflections on this text's relevance for the current discussion on race in the PCA:

FIRST: It is significant that IPC's racial sins preceded their membership in the PCA by 35 years. Also worth noting was that one pastor in practice reversed course by his actions, but without a public statement and acknowledgment by the church in words. Thus the next pastor tripped on landmines he didn't know existed.

SECOND: Even if actions of a body have changed, the reputation of a church can be hurt by past actions and sins of the corporate body, especially if those were public actions. Thus, public actions cannot be merely reversed by private and secret actions.

THIRDLY: The acts that were repented of originated in the body that committed them. IPC repented for their actions as a church, just as individuals were called on to repent of their actions as individuals. Absent from this process was confessing the sins of other courts (presbytery or general assembly). The session confessed and turned from their policies that their body had done. Individuals turned from their actions. A lesson to be learned: Confession and repentance should be located at the level in the body that the offense occurred.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

PCA and Race: Reflective Review of "The Dangers of National Repentance"

An Essay by C.S. Lewis: The Dangers of National Repentance. [Found in God in the Dock]

C.S. Lewis did much of his best writing and reflection in the era during and after the Second World War. This essay ("The Dangers of National Repentance") was written in response to a drive to declare a national repentance and confession of sin in England for their part in guilt for the war.

A Summary of Lewis' thesis:

“They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England.” 

But Lewis wonders: “What that share is, I do not find it easy to determine.” 

and goes on to ask: “Are they, perhaps repenting what they have in no sense done?

A few more relevant lines:

Men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desireable.”

 But Lewis then goes on to illustrate the perils of doing so: "The young man who is called upon to repent of England's foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor.” 

 So that: “The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing – but first of denouncing – the conduct of others.”

Lewis goes on to reflect that: “A group of such young penitents will say, 'Let us repent our national sins': what they mean is 'Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the Cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.”

This doesn't mean that Lewis rejects that there may be a need for national repentance, or that national repentance may need to be preached by the church ("It think it is" says Lewis).  Rather, Lewis goes on to say that national repentance may be necessary, but only with a discharge of “reluctance.” Just as one should not gain too much delight out of rebuking one's mother.


To each of my readings, I hope to give some reflections to how this might be relevant to the current question before the PCA in regards to a denominational repentance. Though I would also recommend on this essay to read it for yourself, since the essay is short (5 pages). I think all PCA elders would gain something from reading it. My numbered reflections on Lewis' essay:

FIRST: Lewis in my opinion is right to warn of some of the self-righteous dangers of an endeavor of group repentance. Often this can be confessing the sins of one's neighbor, rather than your own sins. In those cases “we” really means “they.” Thus, there must be some reflection on the personal nature of such a confession. Is this the confession of a true acting collective whole, or the acting of one group or generation against another? Lewis warns of the violation of the Fifth Commandment if one is labeling something sin that is not, or just airing the sins of one's fathers unnecessarily. So two lessons from this point:

 1. One must be careful that in covenantal repentance, you are not confessing the sins of others, especially without their permission.

2. One must guard against passion for the sins of others, that distracts from one's confessing of your own sins.

SECOND: On the other hand, Lewis is also right to say there can be need of national repentance. Nothing in Lewis' essay, nor in the Scriptures, bars national repentance or what I would call "covenantal repentance" of a group body. If a group is constituted as a collective, and acts for the whole, then it commits acts for good or ill. Those acts should either be celebrated or repented of, respectively. Thus, there comes times when a group must repent of sinful acts and actions taken by the whole. The Lesson:

  1. Covenantal repentance is valid, yet even when necessary must do so, it should have a tone of solemness and perhaps reluctance. We ought to honor our fathers, even if we must confess their and our iniquities as one body.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

PCA and Race: Reflective Reviews of Books

 "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." -Proverbs 18:2

Over the next few weeks and months, I intent to write and explore what I have been studying over the past few months on the topic of race. I have refrained from interacting and sharing my opinion for the reason of the above proverb. I sought understanding, not opinion. The books I read come from various perspectives and were recommended to me from those of a variety of perspectives on race. I do not offer these books as endorsements, but to share what I have read and gained, what was helpful and what was not. I pray it is helpful for your own pursuits, especially if this is discovered by other PCA Teaching Elders preparing for the next General Assembly.

Take and read with understanding.

-Teaching Elder Jared Nelson