Taking a Stand for Christian Civility
From October 3 through 5, 2017, the World Reformed Fellowship sponsored a Consultation on Christian Civility. The Consultation was held at Central Presbyterian Church in New York City.
There were 25 in-person participants in the Consultation and one result of these meetings was a determination to work on a statement which could be shared widely among global Christians, calling us all to greater biblical behaviour, especially in the way(s) we treat one another, including those Christians with whom we may have disagreements.
Since October, we have been working to create and then to improve such a statement. This work continues and we anticpate that a final document will be available by mid-summer of 2018.
In the meantime, three of the converers of the October Consultation, each of them an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship, have determined to post here on the WRF website the present version of our proposed document. These three individuals are Craig Higgins, Sam Logan, and Richard Mouw. In a sense, therefore, the document below could be considered a "blog," co-authored by these three individuals with input from about twenty other individuals.
This statement is somewhat longer than we originally intended and its final form is yet to be decided. Its present length is a response to the concerns of several of those who participated in the October, 2017, Consultation. They pointed out, correctly we have come to realize, that incivility has often arisen in the face of perceptions of injustice or other forms of sin. They have convinced us that some recognition of the shape that such sin has frequently taken and some determination to deal with that sin is a necessary aspect of urging that Christians act more civilly toward one another.
We hope that all of the members of the World Reformed Fellowship - and many others as well - will read and benefit from this document. Even more important, we hope that may will read AND COMMENT ON this document, helping us to make it stronger, helping us to make the document one which fully and biblically beings honor to the name of Jesus Christ.
Immediately below is the Civility document in its present form (April 14, 2018). The document is also available as an attachment to this item.
Civility Consultation Follow-up
Version April 14, 2018
At our consultation in New York on October of 2017, it was agreed that we would seek to prepare a brief document that addressed both the current problem of the lack of civility among evangelical American evangelicals and some of the issues out of which much incivility has recently flowed. (NOTE: Since our consultation, a major resource has been published; we have made use of this resource in the material below and we commend it to anyone who reads this document. The resource is the book STILL EVANGELICAL? INSIDERS RECONSIDER POLITICAL, SOCIAL, and THEOLOGICAL MEANING, ed. Mark Labberton (Westmont, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2018).
We submit this material in the form of “Affirmations,” “Laments and Confessions,” and “Commitments” and we then specify some of the areas where, in our present culture, we see the need for special emphasis.
We affirm that we are and continue to be evangelicals as that term has been historically defined.
We lament that many of us have failed to speak and live the fullness of the gospel—the euangelion, from which the term “evangelical” is derived. We confess that this failure has dishonored the name of the One whose life and death and resurrection are at the heart of that gospel. And we commit that, in both this small project and in all our words and deeds, we will energetically seek to embody the Lordship of Christ over all our thoughts, words, and actions.
We affirm that the euangelion, from which we take our name, has historically been and should always be focused on the full ministry and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We lament that, too often, we have narrowed our understanding of the gospel. We confess that we have allowed that narrowing to shape inappropriately both how we speak and how we act. And we commit that, going forward, we will intentionally focus our energies on embodying those areas of the gospel that each of us has individually neglected.
We affirm that the gospel involves unambiguous affirmation of at least the following theological truths: the full authority of the Old and New Testaments; the necessity for saving and personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; the sovereignty of our Creator and Redeemer over all creation; and the requirement that everyone calling themselves Christians seek, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in obedience to all the commands of Scripture.
We lament that, we have frequently reduced Christian faith to mere intellectual assent. We confess that this is as much a violation of the essence of the gospel as any variation in our core doctrinal affirmations. And we commit that we will stand just as vigorously for orthopraxy as we have historically stood for orthodoxy.
We affirm that one central expression of the gospel is found in John 3: 16. However, we lament that we have not always emphasized fully and clearly enough that, for example, Matthew 25: 31–46—with Jesus’ call to care for “the least of these”—is an equally central expression of the gospel. We confess that we have thus dishonored the One who is quoted in this passage. We commit that both central expressions will be on our lips and in our lives.
We affirm that all the Ten Commandments remain equally authoritative for Christians today, not because obeying them earns us a specific standing before God but because obeying them brings appropriate honor to the One who gave them.
We lament that we have often prioritized these commandments, focusing primarily on observable public behavior. We confess that doing so minimizes the seriousness of all violations of any of the commandments. And we commit that we will, in our teaching and in our lives, seek to honor God by emphasizing and being equally obedient to all his commands.
In light of the above, we further commit ourselves to the following special emphases:
1) There is only one Name to which we must look for our salvation, the Name of Jesus Christ. “In Christ alone” may hope be found.
2) One necessary and legitimate purpose and goal of the Christian life is “being bound for the promised land” of heaven.
3) An equally necessary and legitimate purpose and goal of the Christian life is “to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
4) All men and women are created in the image of God and must be treated accordingly. Christians must ensure that all members of any group that has been for any reason the objects of discrimination know that we have, in our words and in our lives, renounced and repented of such discrimination and sought to make sure that it is fully eliminated from our lives and our churches.
5) Beyond non-discrimination, Jesus has commanded us to love our neighbors—all our neighbors—and he has made it clear, specifically in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) that often the neighbor we should be active in loving is precisely the one who is very different from us.
6) Because the Bible places special emphasis on care for the poor and the oppressed, Christians must do the same. God’s priorities (see Isaiah 58 1–12) must be our priorities.
7) While we must confront sin when we see it, the sin that we must be most diligent in confronting is that within our own hearts. (In the words of Jonathan Edwards, “Though Christian fortitude appears in withstanding and counteracting enemies without us; yet it much more appears in resisting and suppressing the enemies that are within us; because they are our worst and strongest enemies and have greatest advantage against us.”)
8) We must remember in-fighting among Christians has often led to tragedy for the church’s witness in the world. We must be gracious and civil in all our dealings with other Christians, especially those brothers and sisters with whom we disagree.
9) We must remember that the foundational documents of many Christian traditions interpret the Ninth Commandment to mean that we must always “seek to promote the good name of our neighbor.” Therefore, we must avoid inappropriate negative labelling of our theological opponents even as we seek to express our legitimate disagreements with them. As Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Para 2“We lament that many of us have failed to speak and live the fullness of the gospel—the euangelion, from which the term “evangelical” is derived. We confess that this failure has dishonored the name of the One whose life and death and resurrection are at the heart of that gospel. And we commit that, in both this small project and in all our words and deeds, we will energetically seek to embody the Lordship of Christ over all our thoughts, words, and actions.”Not “many of us”, but all of us. I suggest “We lament that we have failed …”Para 4, last sentence: “And we commit that, going forward, we will intentionally focus our energies on embodying those areas of the gospel that each of us has individually neglected.”Suggest: “And we commit that, going forward, we will each intentionally focus our energies on embodying those areas of the gospel that we have ourselves neglected.”Para 5: “We affirm that the gospel involves … the necessity for saving and personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ;”Suggest: “We affirm that the gospel involves … the necessity of personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation;”