[Note: General Assembly reports (whether from a committee or its minority) are thoughtful treatises but they do not have the force of constitutional documents—the Westminster Standards or the Book of Church Order. They should not be construed as the official position of the OPC.]
The mandate of this committee, erected by the Thirty-eighth General Assembly, is: "That the Assembly elect a special committee of six to bring to the Thirty-ninth General Assembly alternate proposals suggesting proper Christian action for the church of Jesus Christ in meeting the problems of race based upon plain and consistent Biblical principles."
This committee was unable to complete its work in time for the Thirty-ninth General Assembly and therefore was continued to report to the Fortieth General Assembly. This assembly, in turn, decided to continue the committee and to recommit to it its report together with the exceptions presented by Mr. Urban, plus the report of Advisory Committee #11.
In addition, the Fortieth General Assembly voted to increase the size of the committee by one. Messrs. Adams and Urban resigned during the committee's first two years. Messrs. Cummings, Jenkins and Nightengale were elected by the Fortieth General Assembly. During the third year Mr. Eyres resigned. In all, the committee has met fourteen times over the past three years.
It has attempted a general survey of the Scriptural teaching regarding matters relevant to race relations. In addition, it has reviewed the recommendations sent to the Thirty-eighth General Assembly by the Regional RES Conference on Race meeting in Chicago, March 2-5, 1971. An evaluation of that meeting is included in the Appendix of this committee's report.
Further, your committee has reviewed the foundational statements on race prepared by the RES meeting in Amsterdam in 1968 and as revised in Australia in 1972. These Resolutions on Race of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod are included as an appendix to this report together with modifications deemed necessary by this committee.
Scriptural terms which refer to divisions within human society are: generation, race, kindred, nation, people and kind. The Bible does not provide us with a concept of race in the scientific anthropological sense of the term. The Bible does, however, address itself to the many kinds of divisions among men, and what it says about these divisions is relevant to the racial alienation of our day.
The survey that follows is organized to follow the progressive unfolding of God's revelation, though certain aspects are grouped topically.
1. Race in the Pentateuch
Genesis 1:26, 27; 3:20; 5:3. God did not create different parents for different races, but created one pair, male and female, in His image. All humanity descends from Adam. They are "in his own likeness, according to his image." They are fully human.
Genesis 9:25-27. This sentence teaches that Canaan, the fourth son of Ham, should be a servant to Shem, the father of Israel. Verses 25 and 26 were fulfilled when the people of Israel subdued the Canaanites. Here and elsewhere the Canaanites came to symbolize the unclean and unbelieving enemies of God (Zechariah 14:21). Verse 27 prophesies the sharing of the Gentiles in Shem's riches. This passage has absolutely no bearing upon the fate of other sons of Ham, Mizriam (Egypt) and Cush (Ethiopia), mentioned in Genesis 10:6.
Genesis 11:1-9. God did not separate men by changing their physical appearance, but rather by introducing linguistic differentiation. The Bible is silent as to the origin of race.
Genesis 12:1-3; 17:12-14. When God selects Abram and his descendants to form a particular nation, this selection is not primarily racial. It includes all the families of the earth. The foreigner not of Abram's seed is included in the covenant. God's primary concern is with a man's heart and not race or blood lines.
2. Inter-racial Marriage in the Old Testament
Genesis 2:18, 24. The only requirements implied in this passage for a man's helper are that she be a female descendant of Adam and Eve and therefore in God's image—distinct from the animals. Any extrapolation of the principle of required likeness between marriage partners to include racial likeness is going beyond the text.
Numbers 12:1-16. Apparently Moses' first wife has died, for he has married a woman of Ethiopia (E. J. Young, My Servants the Prophets, pp. 40, 41). This occasions criticism. God, however, does not regard Moses' marriage as a problem. This is true even though he and his wife come from different racial and cultural backgrounds. What does concern God is Aaron and Miriam's lack of obedience to Him.
Song of Songs 1:5, 6. Solomon's "black but lovely" bride is not necessarily of another race. Her dark complexion was evidently the result of her simple origins as a vineyard keeper who worked under a scorching sun. This set her apart from the pale-complexioned ladies of the court.
3. Prophesies Promising All Language Groups Will Become One People
Isaiah 2:1-4; 19:23-25; Zechariah 2:11. In these and other similar passages we find the gathering in of the nations (the reversal of Babel) foretold. This will take place in the "last days" of human history. Many nations will call on Jehovah and flow to the heavenly Zion. Traditional enemies will worship with each other. God's prophecy to Abram will be fulfilled. Israel will be a blessing in the midst of the earth. God will say, "Blessed is Egypt My People, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance." These passages emphasize both the diversity and the unity of all these people as God's people. These pictures of the consummation order are now fulfilled spiritually in the church where every tribe, tongue and nation gather before the Heavenly Zion to worship God (Hebrews 12:18-24). Divisions caused by language will be overcome at the return of Christ.
4. Relevant Passages from the New Testament
(a) The Gospels
Matthew 5:21-26. When there is murder, anger or even a derisive remark the sixth commandment is violated. The one guilty of enmity has already committed murder in his heart. Where there is wrong done, the Christian himself must seek reconciliation immediately—whether he is the recipient or the doer of the wrong (see also Ephesians 4:26, 27, 31, 32).
Luke 10:25-37 and John 4:1-38. The account of the "Samaritan Woman" and the parable of the "Good Samaritan" illustrate the truth that God's gospel and God's law transcend the beliefs, social rules and customs of men.
Acts 2:1-47. At Pentecost the divisions caused by difference in language at Babel are transcended. The fulfillment of Isaiah 19:23-25 and Zechariah 2:11 begins. Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, people from many nations repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. No longer are Jews to develop separately in redemptive history.
Acts 15:1-35. This passage teaches that:
1. Jews and Gentiles ministered to each other and worshipped together because Acts 15:1 says, Jews "came down from Judea and taught the brethren."
2. The apostolic council agreed to admit Gentiles to full fellowship without putting them in bondage to Mosaic ceremonial law. Yet there were certain practices common to Gentile culture to which the Jewish believers could not as yet adjust (15:20). At these tension points the Gentiles were asked to conform to Jewish practice. Yet on the other hand the apostles and elders gave the Gentiles freedom in all other matters (eating pork, etc.). This represented a tremendous adjustment for the Jewish church. Both groups were therefore asked to make major compromises out of a desire to maintain the unity of the church in love.
3. In connection with I Corinthians 6 and Romans 15:1-9, this passage shows that these special apostolic ordinances were practical only when and where the need arose. In both Corinth and Rome, Paul makes eating meat offered to idols a matter of Christian liberty. Thus as maturity grew or as the cultural situation allowed, the restrictions were lifted and both groups offered the other one complete freedom in cultural matters.
This passage has much to say to us about the "cultural patterns" that separate Christians of different races. Our cultural patterns must come second to our desire to serve God and build the church together.
Acts 17:26. During the course of his speech at the Areopagus Paul says God has made all the nations from one. In thus referring to Adam the first man, Paul undercuts the various national myths about the special godlike progenitors of each race. He underscores the common origin of both the Athenians and their foreign slaves i.e. of the different races.
The Greek word orisas (determined) clearly refers to his secret providential ordination which governs the course of human history. It does not refer to his revealed will, but his secret will (Deuteronomy 29:29). Therefore it is illegitimate to use God's past providential divisions of the nations as a pattern for erecting policies. God will appoint the seasons and bounds for the nations, not man. "Our attitude towards men is not to be governed by God's secret counsel concerning them" (John Murray, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Vol. II, p. 47).
This verse, therefore does not justify seeking to preserve or destroy the existing cultural, racial and political boundaries between men. Just as God has made all nations of one blood, so He will appoint the future divisions among men. The verse witnesses clearly that racial and cultural divisions are not sinful in themselves. God orders these divisions so that each nation may seek God and find Him (Acts 17:27). Paul seems to condemn the kind of division which the Athenians made between themselves and the lower races' because it was an outworking of unbelief and pride. They should have seen their position as one rooted in God's common grace, rather than their native superiority.
(c) Paul's Epistles
I Corinthians 7:17-24. Paul's instructions are for people not to become slaves of men but to remain with God in that condition in which they were when they were called to Christ. He instructs Jews and Gentiles to remain Jews and Gentiles culturally. There is no need to seek change from circumcision to uncircumcision or vice versa. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything. What matters is keeping the Lord's commandments. Therefore people are to be content with their condition. They are not to try to become different from what God has made them. He instructs both the slave and the free man to be content with their condition, although the slave, if able, should become free.
A number of conclusions may be drawn from this passage. (1) God's people should be content to accept their life as arranged by God. A person should not murmur about his racial identity but use it for God's glory. (2) There should be no attempt by a person to change his condition in life unless it can result in greater freedom to serve the Lord, and unless it is done in obedience to the Lord's commandments. (3) There were Jews and Gentiles worshipping together in the Corinthian church since both are addressed (I Corinthians 7:17f; 9:1-27; 10:14-33).
I Corinthians 12:12, 13; Galatians 3:27-29; Colossians 3:11.
The difference of race, sex, and economic-political situations are overcome for "you are all one in Christ Jesus." Through Christ different people become one in the Holy Spirit, and sons of God. Identity is no longer primarily Jew, Greek, barbarian, slave, free, male or female. They become new creatures—renewed in knowledge after the image of Christ. Together these new people form one spiritual body, which expresses itself in the visible church with its officers.
It is difficult or impossible to reconcile such unity with a policy of racial or social separation. Every believer has the right to worship and participate in the body of Christ. He cannot be excluded from the local congregation on cultural-racial grounds.
Galatians 2:11-21. Paul opposes Peter when he stops eating with Gentile believers because of Peter's fear of the disciples of James. Peter's hypocrisy has also led away Barnabas and other Jews. Paul labels such conduct as "walking not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel."
Clearly Gentile and Jewish Christians were having table fellowship together, and social segregation within the church is seen as a challenge to "the truth of the Gospel." This passage establishes beyond a doubt the Jews' freedom to enjoy visible social fellowship with Gentiles within Christ's body.
Ephesians 2:1-22. This passage does not deal with racial and ethnic enmity or division in general, but specifically with the "enmity" and division introduced by God in the law for the purpose of sanctifying his people. It is this ceremonial legal enmity which Christ has abolished allowing all nations to enter the household of God. This passage does not deal with racial division between Gentile nations but with the alienation of the races from Christ and His righteousness.
Ephesians 3:14, 15. The phrase pasa patria could be translated as either "every family" or "the whole family." If the meaning is "every family" then it might be used to show that since God names each natural family then it is sinful to destroy the identity of any race or ethnic group through intermarriage. If it means "the whole family" then it would emphasize the family relationships which God's children sustain towards each other in His eternal name. The latter appears to be the correct translation for the following reasons. (1) Ephesians 3:6-8, 11, 12 all speak directly or indirectly of the teaching of chapter two where the Gentiles are described in their new position in Christ. They are fellow-heirs, fellow members of Christ. The context points heavily in the direction of seeing pasa patria as this one new household created in Christ. (2) The immediate context mentions "pasa patria in heaven and on earth." What could every family in heaven mean? Yet the meaning of the "whole family in heaven and on earth" has clear meaning in this text and in the larger context. It refers to the family of God, both of angels and redeemed people who worship Him in both heaven and on earth. (3) The rules of grammar allow this translation even though there is no definite article preceding pasa patria.
Because of the above considerations alone it is impossible to appeal to this text as a basis for a policy of ethnic or racial segregation. Rather the text teaches the unity and the identity of the church in terms of its one Father. It demands not segregation of the races but a recognition of the unity which members of the Father's one family possess.
(d) General Epistles
James 2:1-17. The poor and the rich were the two major classes. They are here instructed to treat each other equally—showing no preference. The distinctions of wealth and privilege which divide the world are not to divide the church of Christ.
I Peter 2:9, 10. The description of God's people as an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation reveals the church's visible oneness as those separated unto the Lord. It is a oneness on the order of the racial, cultic, and national unity of Israel (Exodus 19:6). Therefore the church's identity transcends and makes of secondary importance, the racial, national, and cultic identities of the world.
Revelation 7:9, 10. Here we see the chosen race worshipping the Lamb in heaven. They come from different backgrounds, yet worship with one voice. Is not the unity of our worship here on earth to be a copy of that which takes place within the heavenly sanctuary? Should not all those washed in the blood of the Lamb joyously worship together?
Although there are marked distinctions and even divisions among men, including those of race, mankind, according to the teaching of the Bible, has a single origin. Later distinctions and divisions are indeed significant and may not simply be pushed aside; nevertheless, the Bible clearly teaches that the gospel is universal in its offer and its call. All those who are in Christ are united together with Him as their Head in a new humanity, in which the distinctions and divisions that otherwise separate men are transcended in a new unity. This is also true of the divisions occasioned by race. True, the distinctions mentioned in the Bible as having been overcome in Christ are not primarily those of race, nor does the Bible think along lines that correspond with the distinctions of race as we understand them today; nevertheless, racial distinctions and divisions as we know and understand them today certainly fall under those things that have been transcended in Christ. How, then, is the new unity in Christ to be expressed in the communion of the saints today as it bears on the question of race?
1. Practice of the Terms of Christian Communion
a. Definition of the terms of communion
(1) The visible church is ruled directly by Christ; it is His church, not ours (Matthew 16:18). The only barriers to membership in the visible church are unbelief and disobedience. Thus the church cannot deny but must actively and freely offer fellowship to any (without distinction) who profess the true religion of Christ and submit themselves to His laws (Acts 10:34, 35 and the Form of Government II:2).
(2) The racial and cultural considerations relevant to an individual's choice of a particular congregation are matters of Christian liberty. Acting as office bearers in the church, neither the session nor the pastor has authority to advise him on such matters in such a way as, in effect, to erect social, historical, economic, cultural, or racial barriers to full communion within Christ's body.
b. Implications of the Terms of Communion
(1) Accepting a believer externally (legally) but rejecting him by paying special attention to someone else is a denial of fellowship. In James 2:1-9 the person so dishonored was evidently a visitor, not even a church member. The poor man was legalistically allowed to come in to worship, but he was judged and dishonored in terms of social relationships within the assembly. He was given a seat in harmony with his social class in the world and in contradiction to Christ's law of love. The divisions of the world were honored in the church. The church was condemned for this. If such an action was sinful respecting a visitor, how much more respecting a fellow believer.
(2) A second form in which denial of fellowship appears is in the area of Christian hospitality. Fulness of hospitality should not be denied those of a different racial or social group from our own. A full welcome means among other things inviting them into our homes and thus "practicing hospitality" (Romans 12:13). A love which is satisfied with a smile and a handshake is not enough.
Thus, whether a member or visitor comes to our congregations, he must be greeted in Christ's name with Christ's love (Luke 5:32). We must receive and minister to any Christian brother as if we were ministering to Christ himself (Matthew 25). We must show visible love to the stranger, the homeless and the outcast. We must give them not only the gospel but ourselves as well (I Thessalonians 2:8).
(3) When a multiracial couple seeks fellowship within the congregation, there can be no barrier to full communion if credible professions of faith are made. The only Scriptural requirements on the choice of a marriage partner are that the partner be of the opposite sex and that they both be Christians. Multiracial families must also be welcomed into full fellowship since the covenant promises are given to families.
c. Importance of the Terms of Christian Communion
From what has been said, it is obvious that these terms are important. Yet are they so important that a church should endure even an internal split in order to observe them consistently? The Biblical answer is "Yes." Documentation and teaching on church separation has been one of the prime strengths of our denomination. Unity at the expense of truth is never justified. The truth at stake here is the free offer of the gospel to all. All races and social classes are included. Thus wherever the gospel is preached the church must obey by opening its doors (and hearts) to all whom God may bring in. Love in the New Testament is wedded to the free offer of the gospel to all. To restrict the social-cultural composition of any local body of Christ is not only a violation of true doctrine but also Christian love.
These terms of fellowship are more important than our evangelistic strategies. It may be argued that the best way to reach blacks is with a black church and whites with a white church. Therefore racial-cultural heterogeneity should be restricted. Yet what importance do such "calculations" have when compared with the importance of love and truth? Would we water down love and truth in order to attract the world? Never!
These terms of communion would also take precedence over efforts to achieve cultural depth due to racial-cultural homogeneity. There is often fear that introducing other racial-cultural groups into the church would undercut the cultural heritage of the church. Such fears have only apparent validity. The music, the manner of worship and the manner of preaching would change. Yet what is more important to the Christian, his culture or the gospel? Paul says he became all things to all men that he might by all means save some. For us to do less would be wrong.
Those who would achieve cultural depth and freedom in worship through restricting heterogeneity also misunderstand the dynamic of Christian culture. A Christian culture is based not only on the continuation of an older culture but must always be based on the gospel itself. The heritage we received from our parents will die if separated from fresh obedience to the gospel. Preserving an older Christian culture at the expense of full obedience to the gospel is the best way to kill the very heritage one is seeking to preserve. When culture is separated from the gospel, it must look only to the memories of a past day for its basis and justification. When a Christian culture becomes secularized, it dies. The Christian should neither seek to promote or retard cultural-racial heterogeneity but should zealously live out the gospel and receive with thanksgiving the living culture which grows naturally from it. Both homogeneous and heterogeneous situations have their own unique weaknesses and strengths. Neither is to be made an idol, but both can show God's glory if they proceed from joyful obedience to the Gospel. Therefore observing the terms of communion is one key to developing a living Christian culture and is never a deterrent to true culture.
2. Practice of the Nature of Christian Communion
a. Active, visible love freely offered
Healing the breach with alienated cultural-racial groups will not be accomplished simply by receiving such people without obstruction into fellowship. We must go on to practice a visible, active love and thus fulfill the law of Christ. It was this positive love which was missing in James 2:14ff. "If a brother or a sister be naked and in lack of daily food and one of you say, 'Go in peace. be warmed and filled'; but do not give them what is needful for the body, what use is that? Even so faith without works is dead being alone." There was a reception of this needy brother, even prayer offered for his needs, but no fulness of love. In this case, prayer was an excuse for inaction.
It is especially important that this positive element be visible to those who are inclined to mistrust whites. They are sensitive to mere toleration and will often find it wise to test a church in some way before trusting themselves to its care. All the marks of the Church must be evident including love. Because the biblical concept of love is so different from modern decadent ideas, it is wise to spell out some of its concrete fruits. (See also I Corinthians 13.)
b. Elements in genuine love
(1) Eagerness to share material possessions
One concrete element of love has already been mentioned a hearty eagerness to share both material possessions and hospitality with needy and culturally different visitors. The saints must do this individually with all men and through the deacons to those in the household of faith. This is an absolutely essential element in any true Christian fellowship (Matthew 25:31ff; Luke 6:35; Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:25-27; I Corinthians 16:2).
(2) Mutual admonition
Genuine love also includes honesty of communication. There must be enough selfless love to produce admonition and rebuke both given and received in love. Proverbs 27: 5, 6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend but profuse are the kisses of an enemy." "Better is open rebuke than hidden love." Paul had to practice this with Peter when he drew back from eating with Gentiles while Jews were present. The principle of speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and faithful correction of each other (Matthew 18:18; Galatians 6:1; etc.) is taught all the way through Scripture. It reflects the way God has dealt with us in Christ. God convicts us of sin not to drive us away from him but so we might repent and find life eternal. So it must be those who come into our midst who have sinful practices, attitudes and habits. We must not tolerate them, but rather love them, encouraging, admonishing, and rebuking in kindness (Titus 1:12, 13).
If we have fear about the sins of those called into our church by the gospel, remember that love includes this element of discipline. This is essential if we are to avoid paternalism, which has insulted so many in the cultural-racial minority groups. We need to expect of others the same love and holiness which we know the Scriptures require of us. No one is in a special category with God (I Corinthians 10:14). No one's sins are incurable or genetically based. That is a denial of the very efficacy of Christ's death and resurrection. The church is often tempted to label people as "drug addicts, drunks, lazy or immoral" without patiently confronting these people in love. This tends to imply that it is not worth our time to work with "these types." This is clear and simple unbelief in the power of God's Word. Belief comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Only the full gospel given in love and without compromise can end paternalism and the habit of labeling as the church deals with those whose sins may not be hidden by affluence, sophistication and legal subterfuge.
Unfortunately, it is also true that many minority groups have given up on the white church. They tend to believe that there is no use in constructive criticism because no one will really change anyway. Yet if we are God's children we will be eager for Bible-based criticism from them. God's law does not threaten us. It points us to Christ; shows us God's glory and lights our path for the Christian life. We should not be averse to criticism when we deviate from Gods justice and Christ's love.
It is at this point that the terms of communion become important for those already in the church. The elders have a responsibility to bind and loose using the spiritual authority of the keys of the kingdom. If a member of the church proves to be unrepentant for involvement in sinful racial or social practices, church discipline should be applied in the hope that repentance unto life might be forthcoming. As section III of this report states spiritual authority extends to everything on which the Scripture speaks (e.g., usurious interest, misrepresentation in business dealings, failure to give service for wages paid, intentional shoddy service to tenants and customers, unfair wages to employees). There may be members involved in unjust practices without even knowing it. The elders are responsible to Christ to be concerned with these questions as they relate to every member. No Christian should fear such scrutiny, but there should be eagerness to turn from any revealed sin to Christ. This is an essential element in healing the breach between the church and alienated minorities. Jesus reminds us that we will never see clearly to remove the speck from our brother's eye until we have removed the beam from our own. Our admonition and rebuke will not be respected until there is a believable repentance and godliness manifest to those we admonish.
(3) Total forgiveness
Another concrete way to demonstrate a full love is to practice consistently a total forgiveness toward those who sin. This aspect of the solution has to do with an attitude of the heart. Christ himself gave great prominence to this as a crucial mark of his own sheep. Jesus teaches, in Luke 6:35-38, that we are not to judge or condemn but rather to forgive (acquit). It is those who forgive who shall be forgiven. This passage has the same meaning as the similar phrase in the Lord's Prayer. Our forgiveness of others is in effect a form of prayer asking for God to forgive us.
The practice of total forgiveness is crucial for real racial reconciliation. This is not to be confused with the modern permissiveness that refuses to recognize sin. There must always be a zeal for holiness in the Christian yet there must also be an equal zeal to forgive. The motive of Christian forgiveness is the fact that God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:31, 32). Therefore knowing how much we have been forgiven, the Christian can never approach a person from an alienated racial minority with an attitude of moral superiority. The reason we forgive is not that we are so magnanimous but because we are such sinners, saved only by grace. The attitude of moral superiority not only makes this biblical logic impossible (Matthew 18:21-35), but it also only judges evil by looking on external appearance, not on the heart where God looks (I Samuel 16:7).
This applies directly to racial matters because whites and blacks often tend to feel morally superior to each other. These moral barriers are deeply rooted and cannot be ignored. When this kind of racial discrimination is practiced it is known as racism or the idea that one's own ethnic group is superior to another ethnic group. If racism exists it is in God's sight hypocritical self-righteousness. Christ's judgment upon such is clear and strong.
In summary, an active visible love must be practiced which is manifested in at least three ways: (1) willingness to share all things, (2) an end to white paternalism and black bitterness through mutual admonition and rebuke in love and (3) a total forgiveness given freely for Christ's sake.
3. Obedience to the Great Commission
The apostles of Jesus Christ did not hesitate to speak to the problems of men on the earth, beginning always with the call to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and continuing with instruction that the man of God might be brought to maturity (Matthew 28:19, 20); Ephesians 4:11-16). The apostles and now the church are charged with teaching nothing less than the whole Word of God to the whole world. It is the gospel alone which can bring visible healing to the sinful sociological divisions among fallen men. In preaching the gospel the church will also declare what the written Word has to say to the burning problems of the times (Acts 20:20, 21, 27).
The church is not called upon to go beyond these activities to engage in what has come to be known as political and social action. "Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary;" (Westminster Confession of Faith, xxxi: 4a).
Nonetheless, the church visible is charged with alleviating suffering and poverty among her own members, and, as opportunity arises, to others. She may in preaching the gospel to a lost world, minister healing to the whole man (e.g. medical relief), especially when such ministry is not otherwise available to those among whom she preaches the gospel. But she must always extend this ministry with the Word and never apart from it (Matthew 11:4, 5).
b. Past neglect in this area
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is largely white for two reasons:
(1) It came out of the Presbyterian Church in the USA which had lost the allegiance of blacks during the ecclesiastical discrimination against blacks in the post-civil war period. (Andrew E. Murray, Presbyterianism and the Negro—A History, Presbyterian Historical Society)
(2) Our church has passed on the situation as we received it in 1936. We have done little to oppose drifting along with the culture. We have rather concentrated our energies on preservation and growth of our struggling churches. Our ministry to minority groups has been almost non-existent. A significant number of urban congregations have gone out of existence since 1936. There has been little or no interest in healing the separation between black and white Christians that occurred after the Civil War. This has shown itself in various ways.
God has blessed the Reformed churches with gifted teachers of Scripture; yet we have not done all that we could have done to recruit black students into Reformed seminaries. Are we seeking to share our wealth with the minority churches that are starved for trained teachers of the Word?
We have, with some justification, done our home missions work where there was the greatest interest, not necessarily where there was the greatest need. Consequently, we have emphasized rural and suburban missions. Yet in the New Testament great metropolitan centers formed the focal point of the Apostle Paul's strategy and it proved very effective. The cities are desperately in need of the Reformed faith. "Where there is no revelation (vision) the people perish." What other force on earth except the gospel of Christ in its fullness, both lived and spoken, has the power to prevail in our modern Babylons?
c. Present responsibility
Yet it is not even the great need which constitutes the heart of the church's home mission calling. It is rather the command of Christ and our debt to all men that constitutes our calling. The Apostle Paul understood clearly that he owed the gospel to both Jew and Greek, bond and free, wise and foolish (Romans 1:14). We are actually stealing if we do not do our best to bring the gospel to those cultural-racial groups around us.
Paul says, "So, as much as it is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also in Rome" (Romans 1:15). The commission given the apostle has now been passed to the church. Are we ready with as much as is within us to preach the gospel to all those in our land that are without the gospel of sovereign grace? Can we say with Paul, "I am free from the blood of all men" (Acts 20:26)? We can say it with joy and truth only as our church seeks to evangelize all races and cultures within our nation.
d. Special problems of urban churches in a changing neighborhood.
The church located in an urban area has two major responsibilities in fulfilling the Great Commission. First, rather than assume that the church must remain as it is, the people must make every effort to bring the gospel to the new surrounding community. Certainly no church can move to the suburbs without fulfilling the opportunities it has providentially been given in the changing community. A church which wants a hearing of the gospel among the people of the surrounding neighborhood will not stop at trying a few token projects and giving up. Rather, earnest prayer will be offered over a period of time, men experienced in urban work will be called in to give counsel and help and the whole congregation will commit itself to the task. The real question is whether we are willing to sacrifice and make changes in order to reach the unreached with the gospel. It is too easy to blame the unresponsiveness of the community completely on the unbelief of the neighborhood, when often there is also substantial guilt on the side of the church.
Second, the church must examine itself to see if it is really open to receiving other racial-cultural groups for the sake of Christ. Has it bent every effort to practice the terms and nature of Christian communion as outlined above? Not until the church in question has done all in its power to obey the gospel can it "shake the dust from its feet" and move to the suburbs.
4. Practice of the Interdependence of Christ's Body
Christians from different cultural and racial backgrounds have unique contributions to make to the church's knowledge of and sensitivity to the fullness of God's glory. Christians from different backgrounds are not threats to each other, but rather are teachers providentially provided to enrich, broaden, admonish, deepen and purify each other. An illustration will clarify the point.
In the contact between Jew and Gentile in the early church, the Jew guarded the law and had a very hard time understanding Christian freedom. He often fell into legalism and self-righteousness. The Gentile, on the other hand, found Christian liberty no problem. Salvation by faith alone was more easily grasped. His problem was a lack of respect for the moral law of the Old Testament and consequently he was often led away into sin (I Corinthians 5). The Jew needed the Gentile's sense of Christian freedom and the Gentile needed the Jew's reverence for the moral law. God providentially prepared both Jew and Gentile to teach each other in areas of strength. What a victory Satan could have achieved if he had isolated Jew and Gentile, sending each off in opposite directions, each over-reaching and anathematizing the other.
If any Christian group gets to the place where it has no desire to share in the spiritual riches of others because they are of "another culture," then it is saying, "I have no need of thee" (I Corinthians 12:23-25). God has tempered the body together through that which every joint supplies (Ephesians 4:11-16). This is certainly part of what is involved in counting one's brother better than himself (Philippians 2:1-4).
5. Practice of Earnest Prayer and Trust in God for the Church's Racial Divisions
This is the most basic step to biblical race relations. The problems of alienation between racial-cultural groups go so deep that God alone is able to bring about the heart changes necessary. Our attempts to obey God in the matters outlined so far will be futile apart from our seeking God for his strength and grace. "Are ye so foolish, having begun in the Spirit are ye now perfected in the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3). We should all be convicted of our lack of prayer regarding the racial inequities and conflict in our society (I Timothy 2:1-3). We should beseech our Sovereign Lord not to answer in judgment (Revelation 2:5), but in mercy to all. Prayer is the measure of our faith. Who is equal to the task at hand but the living Lord of grace who rules heaven and earth in behalf of his kingdom?
The committee recommends:
H. Lloyd Burghart, Chairman
Wilson L. Cummings
Ronald E. Jenkins
Robert D. Knudsen, Ph.D.
Cyril T. Nightengale
James C. Petty, Jr.
Your committee recommends for your consideration the Resolutions on Race originally adopted by the RES meeting in Amsterdam, 1968, and subsequently revised by the 1972 synod in Australia. The committee has noted its exceptions and comments and has inserted them among the fifteen resolutions.
1. God's commands to men that they display love and practice righteousness are not contradictory but harmonious norms for man's personal and group attitudes and conduct, and are the guiding norms for race relations.
2. True love among men requires that we accept our neighbor, regardless of his race or culture, as created in the image of God, respect him in his person as God's creature, and be willing to put ourselves in his place in order thus to understand how we should behave toward him in personal relations.
3. Since men inherently seek their own interests rather than the welfare of their fellows, the church should stress the duty of men individually and collectively, to practice self-sacrifice for the welfare of others. Self-sacrifice for the sake of Christ is the highest form of self-preservation, for self-preservation is only then concomitant with obedience to the second great commandment when it is qualified and limited by the biblical demands of love and righteousness, so that it does not interfere with the God-given privileges of other people.
(Committee comment on Resolution 3. The initial sentence would be acceptable if it began, "Since fallen men inherently seek...." The second sentence is so vague as to be without clear meaning.)
4. For the true understanding of the rights, equality, and dignity of man, we should see all men as creatures of God, made in his image. Being made in his image, man has a duty towards God and is responsible to him according to the different gifts that God has given him. But this man also has sinned and needs redemption. Therefore in our relation to fellow believers we should recognize the new unity, which all Christians, regardless of race or color have fundamentally in the redemption in Christ and which expresses itself in the common faith and obedience to the Word of God.
5. Christians should be urged to acknowledge their common involvement in guilt with a world torn by sinful divisions and attitudes. They should be called upon to repent of their sin in this respect and to make restitution by following Christ in the way of love. In this way alone they can fulfill their divine charge to bring the gospel to unbelievers of all races, recognizing them as fellow sinners.
(Committee comment on Resolution 5. For the committee's statement on corporate guilt, see Appendix B.)
6. In the proclamation of the Word, the church, to whom has been entrusted the message of Christ's Kingdom, should speak courageously and relevantly on the issues of the day, both for the edification and correction of her members and, where necessary, in criticism of the activities and policies of governments and organizations.
7. Believers should be equipped by the church through teaching and discipline to serve God, in all spheres of society, individually, and where possible, corporately. Believers must also proclaim the commandment of love in race relations and make it applicable to the affairs of civil government and the structures of society.
8. Christians in general and the church in particular bear a responsibility towards members of all races who suffer from poverty, underdevelopment, and political oppression. Believers should be willing to bend every effort to alleviate the suffering of such people.
(Committee comment on Resolution 8. The committee feels the word "underdevelopment" should be deleted, because it is usually associated with Western standards of industrialization which are not found in Scripture. The committee also feels the words "in general and the church in particular" should be deleted, because it is not the responsibility of "the church in particular" to alleviate the world's poverty, etc.)
9. In her pastoral ministry the church should strive to eradicate attitudes of racial superiority and racial prejudice by leading her members into full Christian maturity in race relations. This should be done urgently, persistently and patiently. True love among men requires that we should accept our neighbor of whatever race or culture as a creature of God, created in His image. We must be able to understand how we ought to act towards him under all circumstances.
It is the calling of the church to point out to its members, the government, and fellow citizens, the ethical principals which are demanded in regulating relations of groups and nations.
Combating racial superiority, discrimination, and racial tensions is not a one-sided matter which is only the responsibility of one side towards the other, but is a problem which should be grappled with by all concerned. It is the common and mutual calling of all Christians.
Various practical suggestions which could be implemented in this respect are:
10. In obedience to the mission mandate of Christ, the church must bring the gospel to all nations regardless of race. The principle of love for the neighbor requires that this mission respect the character and culture of the recipients of the gospel so that new churches may come to self-expression in harmony with the Scriptures. Members, office-bearers, and ecclesiastical bodies shall refrain from every kind of domination the one over the other, as Christ reigns supreme over His church. It is stressed that financial support should not endanger the autonomy of any church. The God-given unity of the church should be expressed on congregational, presbyterial and synodical levels as the situation requires. If a church within a certain community finds it necessary to put emphasis on certain issues which may differ from that of other churches, the churches should deal with these matters in accordance with Matthew 18 with special reference to churches in the same family.
(Committee comment on Resolution 10. The committee finds it difficult to conceive of a situation in which "the God-given unity of the church" would not come to expression (Sentence 5). Also, the committee finds the last sentence either vague or a misinterpretation of Matthew 18 which deals with matters of right and wrong and not matters of emphasis.)
11. The unity of the Body of Christ should come to expression in common worship, including the Lord's Supper among Christians regardless of race. It may be that linguistic or cultural differences make the formation of separate congregations often with their own type of preaching and worship advisable; in these cases it is wise not to force an outward and therefore artificial form of unity but to recognize the differentiation within the circle of God's people. Even though different churches for different indigenous groups may exist, no person may be excluded from common worship on the grounds of race or color. The worshipping together of people of different races, is a sign of the unity of the church and the communion of saints and can be a Christian witness to the world.
(Committee comment on Resolution 11. The committee feels the second sentence should be deleted, because the inclusion of this statement leaves room for a congregation to put human wisdom and advice above the Scriptural principle of not denying fellowship to any believer.)
12. Holy Scripture does not give a judgment about racially mixed marriages; contracting a marriage is primarily a personal and family concern. Church and state should refrain from prohibiting racially mixed marriages, because they have no right to limit the free choice of a marriage partner on the basis of race or color.
13. Each racial group should have the right to prefer a measure of distinct development, but never at the expense of a racially distinct group in the same country. While the manner of such development may vary from place to place, it is a requirement of the Christian ethic that love and justice be exercised, and that all groups avoid isolation and promote a relation of mutual helpfulness.
14. With a view to the great tensions in the sphere of race relations in the world today, Synod strongly urges the member churches to test conditions in their churches and countries by the norms as set forth in these resolutions, to hold regional conferences in which the aforementioned decisions may be put into effect, and to report back to the next Synod.
For the practical implementation of this resolution the principles expressed in Matthew 18:15-17 are of the utmost importance. In the case of a difference between churches, churches should deal with the matter in accordance with Matthew 18 as well, preferably by using the existing organs of contact.
15. Recognizing that the real problem of race relations in member-churches of the RES lies not so much in the area of the acceptance but in that of the application of the above principles, Synod urges its member-churches:
With respect to race relations the church should not have an eye only for individual guilt; it should also be alert to the question of corporate guilt. That is especially true now, when much has been said about the Christian's corporate guilt because of his ancestors' mistreatment of the black race. It is important that the church present a sound, Scripturally based teaching on this subject.
The Scriptures indeed teach that guilt is not only individual but corporate. Every child of Adam has sinned. Human guilt, however is not only individual. All men are sinners, because they are in Adam, the head of fallen mankind. The Scriptures also teach that judgment may fall on an individual because of his involvement with a particular group. Judgment may fall on a land, a people, a race because of their transgressions. In such cases, judgment falls indiscriminately, without necessarily taking into account varying individual responsibility for the transgression.
That there is corporate guilt and judgment does not mean, however, that every individual or institution is guilty in every respect, so that there is no recourse when a particular charge is brought against them. That one is involved in the sinfulness of mankind does not exclude the possibility of his having a clear conscience, e.g., with respect to his relationships socially with members of another race. Indeed, that he is a sinner will color all his relationships. With all men he continually fails to live completely according to the will of God. Nevertheless, his own personal guilt and his solidarity with mankind in guilt may not be taken to mean that every effort to defend himself is invalidated per se as an attempt to avoid his responsibility.
It cannot be said that everyone belonging to a particular institution is responsible for all of the deeds of its members throughout its history. Nor is everyone responsible indiscriminately for the acts of the institution itself. If one is to be held responsible because of his membership in an institution or group, there must be institutional continuity, there must have been some action or failure to act on the part of that institution or group itself that has a continuing effect in the present, either because the act is still being perpetrated or because a clear line of connection can be drawn between the earlier act and situations continuing on into the present. If there is to be a demand for redress, a clearly defined and appropriate means must be found for remedying the situation and relieving the injustices of it. Otherwise, a claim on an institution or group or on individuals within that group because of past injustices can take the form of extortion.
Nevertheless, even though one does not stand helpless in the face of vague and ill-defined charges, his recognition of his own guilt and pollution and that of any institution of which he is a member should make him very sensitive to the possibilities of injustice and make him eager to offer recompense where it is called for. That is especially the case because, according to the Scriptures one's sin against his fellow man is first of all a sin against God (Ps. 51:4). His awareness of his own guilt and pollution should make a member of one race doubly concerned to approach a member of another race, which has been unjustly treated in the past, in a loving fashion, knowing that he himself is nothing apart from the grace of God in Christ. He should seek vigorously to root out injustices in any organization of which he is a member, especially in the church of Christ. He should also seek, with all the means that are his, to assure that his church reflects in its teachings and practice the love of Christ, which is given to all men who believe irrespective of their racial identities.
While your committee was charged "to bring ... alternate proposals suggesting proper Christian action for the church of Jesus Christ in meeting the problems of race ...," we feel that the official resolutions of the conference deserve an evaluation. To this end the committee delegated the responsibility for writing an evaluation to the one member of the committee who was a delegate to the conference.
To begin with, account must be taken of the structure and temper of the conference. It was made up of 150 delegates, less than 24 of which were from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (in nearly equal proportions). Taken together, the Presbyterian delegates comprised less than one-sixth of the whole. It was largely, therefore, a Christian Reformed conference. Nor was the conference in any large degree a deliberative body. The predominant theme was action. The keynote speaker of the first full day set the tone by stating that the time for theologizing is past. Action is called for. No place was given to discover in which areas the church may or may not act, in spite of the fact that it was a church conference.
The total impact of the conference was more a matter of emotional conditioning than of seeking mind-satisfying answers to thorny problems. Evidence of this judgment is found in two resolutions (not relating to the program) which were submitted and adopted: Resolution on Garfield Park and Resolution on Timothy Christian Schools. Both these resolutions had to do with particular race problems within the Christian Reformed Church. It is recorded that both these resolutions were adopted without dissent and that 65 and 69 signatures (respectively) were appended. Yet no effort was made to weigh the pros and cons of the matter. Some of the Orthodox Presbyterian delegates (following the lead of the Rev. LeRoy B. Oliver) abstained from voting an the ground that these were internal affairs of the Christian Reformed Church.
It should be noted that three-quarters of the bulk of published resolutions had to do with section III (of the four-section report). This section consists of how the conference felt the member churches and their related institutions ought to go about its attack on racism. To our knowledge racism was never carefully defined. It is with this largest section of the report that we are mainly concerned. It seems to this committee that the resolutions in this section were not the product of deliberative action for the following reasons:
a. They are the compilation of reports from twelve Strategic Action Groups (SAG) dealing in ten broad, preassigned areas. These were later edited and submitted to the whole conference under nine headings, which comprise section III. About five hours was spent in the SAG sessions.
b. The SAG reports were then funneled into a committee of three ministers (one from each of the participating churches) called the Conference Findings Committee. This committee in turn arranged and edited the diverse reports into one unified whole.
c. Due to the emotional impact of several of the addresses and one three-hour film presentation, the tone of the conference was highly emotional from beginning to end. Therefore, when the findings of the various SAG groups finally came before the assembled delegates there seemed to be neither time nor inclination to sift and revise. Major dissent seemed, at the time, neither welcome nor realistic. Consequently the whole package was approved in a relatively short time by voice vote. It is quite understandable that commissioners to the Thirty-eighth General Assembly (which like all our assemblies is decidedly deliberative) took such strong exceptions to much that appeared in this section of the report.
It should be clear by now why some of the proposals of this section are objectionable to many in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. These proposals call upon the church to engage in activities which exceed the mandate given her by her exalted Lord. Following are examples from section III:
These may be excellent suggestions for other Christian voluntary associations but may the church engage in these activities? Furthermore, the suggestion of C-2 that congregational funds be equally divided between the ministry of the Word and the ministry of mercy may well tend to separate the latter from the preaching of the gospel rather than to unite the two in a single ministry to the whole man.
Nonetheless, the report has some redeeming features. Section I was prepared by the Conference Findings Committee. It appears to be based on the fifteen Resolutions on Race adopted by the RES in Amsterdam in 1968. Besides this, some elements within the objectionable section III have real merit. Here are a few:
1. Hodge quotes from Winer's Grammar to the effect that "The omission of the definite article which usage doubtless demands is not infrequent where either the substantive has acquired the character of a proper name, or where the context is so clear as to prevent mistake" (Hodge, Charles, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians [Eerdmans, 1950]).