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David B. Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and Pastor of Teaching at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (Bryn Mawr, PA). Pastor, professor, and author, he has also served as a missionary, ministering in Europe and Central and Southeast Asia. From 2003-2007, he served as Director for TE3 (Theological Education for Eastern Europe), a regional theological training ministry based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Column: Sine Qua Non by David Garner

Stay In or Come Out

July 17, 2014 •

Because of its shared faith and shared confession in the risen Christ, the worldwide confessing Church must maintain mutual accountability in the advance of the gospel. To safeguard faithful missions in the global Church is an act of faith and obedience to the Church’s Christ. To neglect a compromise in missions is itself a culpable compromise.

Many readers may be unfamiliar with the Insider Movements (IM) and may be unaware of the Presbyterian Church in America’s (PCA) three-year study concerning this controversy in worldwide missions. Since the publication of two SQN articles on IM—“The Insider Movement Rage” on June 5, 2014 and “Explaining the Gospel Away” on June 12, 2014, the 42nd General Assembly of the PCA has made an emphatic and formal statement about the danger of IM to the worldwide Church, and has encouraged churches to become familiar with IM to ensure the faithfulness of their missionaries and the various mission agencies they support.[1]

The burning controversies concerning IM warrant further exploration. To that end and for the sake of the pure proclamation of the pure gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the next five Sine Qua Non columns, we will expose core suppositions of IM and the tactics which promote and sustain them.

1. IM calls believers to stay in. God’s Word calls believers to come out.

2. IM makes the old trump the new. God’s Word makes the new trump the old.

3. IM claims that identity is a personal decision. God’s Word claims that identity is a divine determination.

4. IM extricates the Church from the kingdom of God. God’s Word integrates the Church and the kingdom of God.

5. IM calls the established Church to stay out. God’s Word calls the established Church to go in.

Explanation of these points seeks not only to inform, but also to exhort and to motivate. It is vital to understand IM and IM theology. But such knowledge is insufficient. IM practices warrant a careful and prayerful two-fold response. We must openly affirm missionaries who serve in a manner faithful to the gospel, and we must call all straying missionaries and mission agencies to fidelity in their message and methods.

With this call to action in view, we begin with our first contrast.

IM calls believers to stay in. God’s Word calls believers to come out.

[16] What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [17] Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord,    and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, [18] and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6:16-18)

Blend In and Keep Your Religion

The goal of impacting one’s network of relationships is surely noble and even biblical. Jesus, after all, did call his followers to powerful influence: “You are the light of the world,” Jesus says. “Let your light shine before others” (Matt 5:14, 16).

Following the trail blazed by twentieth century Fuller Seminary church growth and mission mavericks, many today accuse missionaries of isolating new believers from their families and communities. Not all (not even most) of these gatherings of new believers deserve the ardent criticism. However, wherever ill-conceived insulation into so-called Christian “ghettos” occurs, such practices should stop. Monasticism and enclaving will not produce faithful disciples.

But the IM remedy is worse than the disease it diagnoses. IM responds to alleged extrication (withdrawal from one’s familial and social network to join a new community: the visible church) by validating peoples and their religions, and encouraging new Christ followers to stay right where they are – relationships, norms, religious practices, and all. These social and relational spheres of reference are seen as spiritually neutral and locally proprietary.

For IM, whatever impact the gospel produces ought not involve social, relational, or religious changes—or at least not visibly so. IM disciple-making encourages blend-in-and-keep-your-religion. Human diversity in its cultural and religious practices, it is claimed, needs preservation, not repudiation.[2]

Does such blanket affirmation of diversity do justice to the lordship of Christ and his call to his sheep? Is the Christian faith chameleon-like, so that it should blend into its surroundings? Besides the practical questions of its effectiveness, the IM insistence upon staying in meets with powerful biblical resistance. Scripture presents an extraction model of conversion that upholds the comprehensive scope of Christ’s lordship, renounces idolatry in all forms (mind, heart, and practice), and provides outsider apologetic witness for the gospel.

Following Jesus blazes with distinction and consecration. And it is in this out-ness of the faith that the Church grows and effective evangelism takes place.

Yet the IM model of influence combats such outing. In IM, it is more important to stay in—to remain wholly identified with your network and family—than nearly anything else. This stay-in orientation encourages several practices. To name a few,

  • Hide your faith so that you can stay in relationship with your family. Woo them with silence and kindness; do not offend them by your trust in Christ.
  • Avoid participation in visible churches because such participation will alienate you from your family and will be misunderstood by your community.
  • Continue your existing religious practices. Jesus is not concerned with where or how you worship him, but that you worship and trust him.[3]

Stand Out for Christ Jesus

Such decisions beg the question of how IM faith encourages becoming wholly identified with the Master, and jeopardize any viable meaning of Christ’s resurrected lordship (Eph 1:15–23). Partial allegiance is defiance. “I never knew you” should ring disturbingly in our ears.

For those who think such a socially alienating demand to come out works at odds with gospel influence, let us not forget that the success of God’s kingdom rides on the shoulders of its King, who is Head of his Church. He neither needs nor solicits “better” ideas, including those of IM-ers. The Church, in fact, has always grown by its radical otherness, not by accommodation.

Accommodation and contextualization are not the same. Faithful contextualization begins with the gospel and then addresses the culture; accommodation starts with the culture and seeks to fit in the gospel. When this critically important distinction gets muddled or reversed, contextualization quickly turns to compromise.[4] Such a modification often goes unnoticed and usually goes unchecked.

Distinction, identity, and even suffering serve as the greatest apologetic for the gospel! Open discipleship creates the gospel’s in-roads. When the Church looks like the world around it, it becomes anemic and shrinks. When the Church looks like her Christ, it suffers and grows.

Demands for localized social and religious retention are completely at odds not only with the message of the gospel, but the expansion of the gospel.  Only when the Church stands out can it effect change inside every people and culture.

IM calls believers to stay in. The Word of God calls believers to come out.

[1] The Study Committee Report on Insider Movements, to which we refer, is entitled, “A Call to Faithful Witness, Part Two: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements.” For this series of articles, we will label this report, “SCIM Part 2.”

[2] For IM advocates, such retention of social and religious networks is not merely an option, but the only pure manifestation of the gospel. For fuller discussion of this matter, see David B. Garner, “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel,” Themelios (July 2012), 253–255. In addition, because following Jesus requires maintaining each person’s own socio-religious identity and customs, one is hard pressed to find IM confrontation of unbelieving and idolatrous practices.

[3] Of course, this perspective raises several questions. Which “Jesus” do you believe if it is not the One that has called you to reject father, mother, sister and brother on account of him? What is faith in the revealed Christ if it does not demand open allegiance? Didn’t James teach us that faith without visible works is dead? Even the demons believe (James 2:14–26, esp. v. 19)!

[4] See SCIM Part 2, pp. 2156–2181, 2280.


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