For the last several months my family and I have been attending PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) churches. After becoming reformed as far as my Soteriology (salvation) and gradually becoming reformed in the rest of my theology, we left the church we had attended for 14 years.
In that church, we had been involved in helping the young people discover what they believed and why they believe it. My wife and I, along with another couple, had instituted an apologetics/theology program that was an exciting success. We thoroughly enjoyed teaching and discipling those young men and women and, although they most certainly benefited from the demands we placed on them to push the envelope of Christian thought, in all honesty, we consider ourselves more blessed than they, to have served them.
It’s a great thing to be used by God. It’s a greater thing to, by God’s providence, see a great need in the Church, be empowered to fill that need, and then see the fruit grow into maturity.
That’s what’s happening in much of the Church today, and if you haven’t had your eyes open to the movement of God in his Church, then let me help you.
A good problem to have…
First, there is a movement to get back to an intellectual Christian faith that involves Apologetics and theology. One of the benefits of the secular attack on Christianity is that it has forced Christians out of their fortresses of Fundamentalism back into the public square. We have been called out.
The problem with that is after almost a century of hiding behind a dumbed down version of faith, engaging Christians are being chewed up and spit out by professors, politicians, and cultural movers like the LGBT and the New Atheists.
The upside of this is that it has become obvious to several pastors and church leaders that being armed with an understanding of what we believe and why we believe it helps. This has spurred a renaissance of Christian thought. Churches are now sending pastors and lay-people to Apologetics conferences and classes to come back and arm the rest of the church to carry out 1 Peter 3:15. “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)
This is not a localized movement. It’s not a national movement. It’s a worldwide movement in the greater Church of God.
Next, there has been a movement in the greater Church to protect the gospel. This has played out in several different ways in several different theaters. One of many is The Gospel Coalition. This group of churches has taken the responsibility to re-center the Church’s understanding of “what is the gospel”. In doing that, it has forced social justice churches out from their facades and challenged folks to hold their pastors accountable to preach expository, or should I say preach at all.
The only way to keep a churches focus on the gospel is to keep a pastor focused on the preaching of the Word. Topical preaching, and many other forms of lecture, is no substitute for expositing God’s Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the means that God uses to effect change on his people while using a preacher. For the preacher, there is no other way and any attempt to substitute lecture for preaching is being met with resistance in the Church because of the efforts to reestablish the truth of the gospel.
Another movement by the Church is a move back to reformation doctrines. The American Church that used to be reformed but became non-confessional at the same time that it lost its way in Fundamentalism is becoming reformed again. With the refocus on theology and the gospel, it has become clear to many that a Biblical church is one that embraces the doctrines of sovereign grace. The orthodox Christian doctrines of grace preached by the Apostles, expounded in creed by the Early Church, and defined by the Reformers have seen resurgence. It seems that in their search for Biblical Christianity, todays Protestant Church has rediscovered the Five Solas (Sola Fide, by faith alone; Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone; Solus Christus, through Christ alone; Sola Gratia, by grace alone; Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone) and other doctrines of the Reformation. The young, restless, and reformed don’t seem to be a faddish; they seem to be a part of this new renaissance.
Finally, the hipster, contemporary churches are losing their cool. What I mean by that is the young people who those churches were designed to draw are losing their draw. Young people are indicating a preference for “classic” church-Barna. They seem to have seen through the salesmanship of the “new” way of doing church and want instead, the real thing.
All of that is leading to growth in reformed congregations, like the PCA.
On top of that…
Compounding to that problem is the fact that the PC(USA) is quickly losing members and predicted to lose more over to the PCA because it seems to be hell-bent on leaving the truth of the Word of God behind.
In the most recent slide down this slippery slope, the PC(USA) decided to recognize so-called same sex marriage nationally. This kind of disregard for Scripture and cow tailing to the culture may soon lead to empty pews in the PC(USA) and full PCA churches.
That may seem like a good thing to most PCA Presbyters, and it definitely can be, but if the PCA is not ready to communicate its commitment to Scripture and the Westminster Standards to its new visitors, it could mean trouble.
Most of the people who will make the move from PC(USA) to PCA will be from mostly conservative to moderately conservative churches. But there is such a chasm between what the PCA believes about Scripture and what those folks may be used to, it may take some convincing to bring them all the way to membership. It’s been a long time since the PC(USA) has held to any truly reformed beliefs, especially on inerrancy, most of the people in those churches may not buy the PCA’s strong commitment to the gospel, it’s courageous stand on truth, and it’s love for reformed and Covenantal Theology. It may be a shock to some of them and that could cause some riffs in the PCA and probably will at least cause some rough transitions.
They are not immune to normal attrition…
One thing that I have found after visiting some PCA churches is that they are experiencing the same attrition rate of young people as other churches. Although the preaching is phenomenal and the worship is true and good, the young people seem to be absent. A quick look across the pews of the PCA churches that I’ve attended revealed an almost non-existent group from the ages of 16 to 25. There are some young married couples and a very few young adults, but for the most part, the Millinials are absent.
Why? Well, it seems to be the same reason no matter where you go to church. The young people are not being taught “what they believe and why they believe it”. There is no Apologetics training nor is there any real theological training.
This is disappointing. The PCA has one of the best teaching/learning environments I have ever experienced. Sometimes the Sunday school is like seminary class. The teachers are well qualified and the methods are tried and true. The problem is, they’re not enough.
The young people need specific training to prepare them for doubt and skepticism. Notice, I didn’t necessarily say doubters and skeptics. Much of the doubt and skepticism that they will experience will come from their own mind. As they experience life, have their own questions unanswered, and are swayed by popular culture, they will have doubts. Knowing how to deal with these things on their own will be very important to them in their future. They may be able to go to their pastor, but they won’t always do that. They may be involved in another church as they attend college, but they may not be exposed to orthodox Christian beliefs. They may have answers for their friends when they’re asked to defend their faith, but they may only have pad answers. Even if they do have some of the ‘right’ answers, they’ll still have doubt. They need training, training to deal with their own doubt as well as challenges from others.
So what’s the PCA doing about it?
So far, from what I can tell, nothing. In a great denomination like the PCA, it seems that they’re satisfied to do nothing. Maybe there are PCA churches out there teaching people how to do Apologetics and theology, but I haven’t been able to locate them. The ones that are not involved in those ministries better get started.
There are some who say, “we do Presuppositional Apologetics” or we teach some Apologetics in our sermons. That’s not an answer. That’s an excuse.
I know that the pastors in this denomination love their congregations and want to serve them with their own lives. It’s not a power thing in the PCA. I really believe that it’s merely a matter of making them aware of the need.
What is the solution?
Just do it!
The infrastructure is in place. The PCA has some of the finest teachers in the Church. It’s time for them to get acquainted with Apologetics. Not only is it time to learn Apologetics, its time to teach it to the congregation. That’s the rub.
You want to stop abortion? Teach Apologetics.
You want to stop so-called same sex marriage? Teach Apologetics.
You want your people to be courageous to obey the Great Commission? Teach Apologetics.
You do Presuppositional Apologetics? So what? Teach the people how to do Presuppositional Apologetics.
The time to begin doing this is now!
You want to keep the gospel pure? Teach them what they believe about the gospel. You want to keep liberal theology out of your church? Teach them why the Bible is God’s Word.
Stop assuming! The same thing that happened to the PC(USA) can happen to the PCA. The way to stop that is not by controlling General Assembly. The answer to that will not be found in Presbyteries. The people who will determine the direction of the PCA are the ones who sit in the pews on Sunday.
Don’t say that this is a sovereignty issue. You know as well as I do that God will defend his Church. You also know that he uses means to accomplish his will. Furthermore, you know we are responsible to obey him and those are the normal means he uses.
So, are you obeying 1 Peter 3:15? Will the PCA teach its congregations to obey it? The Church is waiting for a standard bearer to march under the banner of truth. America assumes that denominations are a thing of the past. Real Presbyterians are great Christians who have always answered God’s call to be faithful.
The PCA is a great denomination. Don’t be satisfied with that. Prepare to defend the hope that you have in you. The PCA needs Apologetics now!
Therefore it remains for us to assert with Lactantius that no religion is genuine unless it be joined with truth.-Calvin
Obligatory Calvin quote…
Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 49–50). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.