My Final Challenge to Our Readers

As a springboard, I will use the message of the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer, “A Day Of Sober Rejoicing” delivered at the 1982 Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly in Grand Rapids, MI., when the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod was received into the PCA. Schaeffer’s influence was one of the major contributing factors to that historic event. The message was originally published in our denominational magazine at the time, the PCA Messenger.

The Historical Note

Earlier we had invited Dr. Schaeffer to speak at our 1980 Consultation on Presbyterian Alternatives, which the PCA sponsored and hosted in Pittsburgh, where his topic was “We Don’t Have Forever.” This was a timely challenge and warning to those of us who had left the mainline Presbyterian Church to form the PCA and to those choosing to remain in the mainline church at that time.

I will use some of Dr. Schaeffer’s comments and observations from the 1982 General Assembly message to underscore some of the thoughts that have burned deeply into my mind and heart since those days. During my years serving as the coordinator of the PCA’s Christian Education and Publications Committee, I have tried to follow his insights. And, I have stated on several occasions, Schaeffer was one of the six men greatly impacting my life and ministry. He indeed was a prophet in the sense that he knew how to take God’s truth and apply it holistically to life.

In private conversation with Schaeffer, as well as in the message itself, he referred to the “joining and receiving,” (J and R) event, as it was called, as a historic moment in time. His challenge and focus was on what God could do if we only realize this is not about us but about Him and if we have a unity of spirit and purpose in our now combined mission.

After the vote of the RPCES to join and the PCA’s vote to receive, the two denominations became one. Schaeffer reminded the Assembly that being one would take looking to the Lord for help. “Yes, there will be problems,” he said, “problems with coordination and with being servants of one another and this will not happen automatically. It will take conscious thought, prayer, and a realistic love not to let our egotisms spoil that which God has given us.” He spoke of the common heritage of both churches and emphasized that while there are differences, that common heritage is greater than those differences.

He then proceeded to list some of the attributes of that common heritage: “The infinite-personal Creator, the triune God Himself, with those who have believed in God from the time of the Fall, our biblical roots, the Reformation truths.” He said, “Our common heritage is rooted in that we take seriously the Bible’s command concerning the purity of the visible church.” He went on to remind us that both of our heritages, the northern and southern Presbyterian churches, out of which both denominations were originally formed, that “it was with tears, yet out of a great sense of loyalty to our Lord that we each had separated from those denominations to form our own. We did that because we wanted to be, not a perfect church but a true church.”

Part of his overall charge to the PCA was “to focus on the existence of God and His character, individually and collectively.” To show forth love and holiness without compromise was his challenge, as it had been in Pittsburg two years earlier. In saying that, he reminded us that he was speaking of true biblical love, not the idea of love that leads to compromise, accommodation, and syncretization with unbelief. He strongly reminded the assembly that “truth carries with it confrontation, loving confrontation, but confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something profoundly wrong.” Both the PCA and the RPCES were formed because they did believe something was profoundly wrong in the church regarding the truth.

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With my somewhat of an editorial updating his 1982 assessment of the church and culture, he drew attention to the reality that the Christian consensus of what is now a 100 years ago has been devastated. In every area of life, art, music, government, education, secular, liberal thinking has become a dominant force. “As the great loss occurred in sliding from a Christian consensus to a humanistic one from the 1940′s onward, more and more things were lost, more and more things were allowed to be robbed, more and more things slid away.” And with those words he reminded us with that kind of secular mentality, “…we have no basis for fighting tyranny such as our forefathers fought tyranny as we know the great and flaming names of the Scottish background and the Reformation…”

He said, “As Presbyterians our heritage is with a Calvin who dared to stand against the Dukes of Savoy regardless of what it cost. Our heritage is with John Knox who taught us, as I’ve stressed in A Christian Manifesto, a great theology of standing against tyranny. Our heritage is with Samuel Rutherford who wrote those flaming words, Lex Rex- only the law and the ‘king’ under any name must never be allowed to arbitrate law. Are you Presbyterians? Have we a Presbyterian body? These men are the men who gave us our heritage-Calvin and his position, John Knox and his, Samuel Rutherford his, and no less than these in our own country, a John Witherspoon who understood that tyranny must be met and must be met squarely because tyranny is wrong. These who understood that true love in this fallen world often meant acceptance of the tears that go with confrontation. None of us like confrontation, or I hope none of us do. But in a fallen world, there is confrontation against evil and that which is wrong. The love must be there but so must the hard thing of acting upon differentiation, the differentiation God gives between truth and falsehood, between what is just based on God’s existence and His justice and injustice.”

“We are Presbyterians, we are Reformed. But our being together and our responsibility and opportunity do not stop merely with being Presbyterian and Reformed. As one as we are, we can in some measure speak with the balance of love and holiness to help to provide for the poor church of the Lord Jesus Christ as a whole in this country and then beyond into the world to provide help for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in helping stop this awful slide.” From there he proclaimed, “We are to be Presbyterian and Reformed, but that is not the limiting circle of our responsibility…Our distinctives are not to be the chasm. We hold our distinctives because we are convinced that they are biblical.”

As Schaeffer concluded his remarks he said, “As we begin together because truth is truth, we must be willing ecclesiastically, concerning Scripture, concerning human life, concerning oppression of our brothers and sisters in Christ and concerning the spread of tyranny, we must be willing when it is necessary to accept the privilege and duty of confrontation rather than accommodation. This is the command of Scripture, and it is the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

A Look to the Future

As I look back over the 40 years of our PCA history, those words have been our clarion call to serve our triune God in His church and kingdom. The PCA formed under the banner “the continuing church,” because the desire was to have a church committed unapologetically and without the least hesitation to the truth of God revealed in his Word and as defined by our Westminster Standards. If there is one thing the founders of the PCA intentionally desired in seeking to glorify our triune God, it was and has been that the Scriptures will maintain the high place in our practice that they hold in our doctrinal standards. Chapter one of The Westminster Confession of Faith begins with Scripture as our only infallible rule of faith and practice.” While that is our basic foundation stone, we must work very carefully and with unity of spirit and purpose to follow God’s Word as the final authority in all matters in which it speaks.

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As some of us have learned in living our history and experience, once we begin to treat the Word of God lightly, picking and choosing only parts, or even defaulting to our own interpretation, if we allow our enemy the devil to do great damage in the church, we are in danger. Our confessional foundation, built on the Word of God and expressed in our Westminster Standards, are a fence or guardrail to help us remain faithful to who we say we are. As Schaeffer said, we took our vows to believe, teach, and uphold those standards because we believed them to be a true and faithful expression of The Faith built on the authority of the Scripture. We must be careful not to take God’s truth out of its context nor attempt to edit it. We are commanded “to observe all things Christ has commanded” and without seeing the truth both holistically as well as in its parts, as they tell the good news of the Kingdom redemptively, we will fail.

Because we have an enemy that opposes God’s truth, along with his Word and Spirit, we need our creeds and confessions, as well as the accountability of one another to remain faithful and true to the Scriptures, the Reformed Faith and the great commission. One of the vows required and taken by our officers, including teaching elders, is that we will be “in submission to the brethren.” While we were not forced to take that vow without our consent, we have taken it, and commitment to all of our vows must be maintained with the highest integrity and commitment. Our Confession of Faith speaks specifically to this issue of taking vows.

There are winds abroad presently seeking to undermine our biblical and confessional foundation in the church in general and in some places in our midst also. Being reformed, but not necessarily being confessionally reformed is an example of what I mean. We must be watchful and on guard. Once we sacrifice the truth, either by denial, or spinning it according to us, we loose the mantel of God’s authority. We have seen that happen; hence we must be extremely careful with God’s truth. Schaeffer warned us at the 1980 Consultation of the need “to guard the natural tendency to constantly move the line at which the final stand will be taken.” He illustrated that with examples from the mainline churches, and we are seeing the same thing today among evangelicals who continue to move that line back further and further.

Another one of Schaeffer’s points reminded us that our commitment to our Presbyterian and Reformed heritage should not isolate us from the rest of the body. The church is bigger than any one or even all of the denominations, important as they are. We must carry out our role in the Body of Christ with a positive witness and mission that contribute to the building of the church among the nations.

I believe with all my heart, if there is one thing greatly needed among us today within the evangelical world, it is commitment to the basic tenants of Christianity. Evangelicalism today is undergoing an identity crisis, by moving back the line, to use Schaeffer’s words.

At one point, for example, there were at least seven basic beliefs used to describe evangelicalism historically:

1 The Triune God as Creator and Redeemer.

2 The Fall and Resulting Depravity.

3 The Person and Work of Christ.

4 Salvation by Grace through Faith.

5 Inspiration and Authority of Scripture.

6 Redeemed Humanity Incorporated into Christ.

7 The Restoration of Humanity and Creation
(Michael J. Svigel, Retro-Christianity.)

Today in order to find the best common denominator, according to some such as the late John Stott, J. I. Packer, Alister McGrath, and others, two or three basics are used. {A note from history to underscore this point.} Though it is often said the term “evangelical” is originally associated with Martin Luther, actually John Wycliffe before him was first connected with the term-(doctor evangelicus). But the term evangelical really came into use in connection with John Wesley in Britain and the Great Awakenings in America.

In 1846 the World Evangelical Alliance was formed with nine essential tenets of evangelicalism:

1 The Divine inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures.

2 The right and duty of private judgment in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.

3 The Unity of the Godhead, and the Trinity of the persons therein.

4 The utter depravity of human nature in consequence of the Fall.

5 The incarnation of the Son of God, his work of atonement for the sins of mankind, and his mediatorial intercession and reign.

6 The justification of the sinner by faith alone.

7 The work of the Holy Spirit in the conversion and sanctification of the sinner.

8 The immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, the judgment of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, with the eternal blessedness of the righteous, and the eternal punishment of the wicked.

9 The divine institution of the Christian ministry, and the obligation and perpetuity of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries in America, evangelicalism was associated with “the followoing fundamentals”

1 Inerrancy of Scripture

2 Historicity of Miracles

3 Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ

4 The Bodily Resurrection of Christ

5 Substitutionary Atonement of Christ

6 The Return of Christ.

We could go on but this is sufficient to suggest, from the earliest down to today, the list has slowly and gradually decreased. Some of which is attributed to the moving back of the line to be more and more inclusive.

I truly believe if the PCA can, and will, remain unified in its doctrine and practice, and its love and holiness of life if, we in the PCA can practice a catholic vs. an isolated sectarian view of the church and proclaim a kingdom world and life view, we can give leadership, servant leadership, to the evangelical church in general. We can do this by encouraging the PCA, and the broader evangelical church, to disciple its people to live Christianly in the kingdom with a transformed mind.Even though Satan was defeated at the cross, he is not yet a destroyed foe. He seeks to hurt the church and its kingdom influence, as he swings his big tail against the woman and her seed.

In Conclusion

As I conclude, would you join me in praying that our church will be faithful to its head, the Lord Jesus Christ, to its charge to believe the truth, to be faithful and stand strong in the Lord in these challenging days. Pray that we might be and remain to be a church always reforming according to the Word of God and that we will never stray from that foundation. Once again, to quote Schaeffer, “We don’t have forever. The hour is late but I do believe it is not too late…” As long as the PCA is true to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the great commission, we have an opportunity to make a difference not only ecclesiastically but through its disciples in the full kingdom of God implementing that kingdom focus and worldview

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Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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