The Presbyterian Church in America and the Insider Movement
The day was bright and sunny as my father and I travelled north to Greenville, South Carolina. It was 18 June 2013 and a day of momentous joy for me — I was finally going to the General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the annual synod of the denomination to which my father and I belong.
It was something I had longed to do for years. The occasion was filled with the enjoyment of brotherly fellowship with ministers and elders across the denomination. And here I witnessed the business of the PCA.
If the climate of the Assembly were anything like weather in the South-eastern US, balmy summer mornings led to dark storm clouds and earth-enriching rain.
One of the debates on the floor concerned the denomination’s response to a report on ‘The Insider Movement’ (IM), a position on missions that espouses contextualisation of the gospel and the closeting of Christianity in Muslim cultures.
There was much heated debate on the floor, especially concerning a pro-IM Minority Report, but the GA decided to send it back for more research. I prayed fervently about the future direction that my own denomination might take in this important matter.
Having spent some time over the last two years being involved in missions, I feel it is important to share with you more about this vital issue and how it impacts the church.
The Insider Movement is a complex trend to understand, but it has, in my view, five elements that radically affect how we view the church’s mission.
Even to someone who has never heard of this movement, the name alone denotes its first element — it is a movement that supports the idea of keeping your Christianity ‘on the inside’ of a hostile culture.
This means that those who become Christians in a Muslim or Hindu culture continue to identify themselves with that culture, without becoming part of the visible church and thereby incurring persecution.
Second, IM values the antecedent religion of the new believer for the sake of being more contextual and multicultural. But this undermines the reality of 2 Corinthians 5:17: ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come’.
Third, IM champions the individual’s right to determine his own personal identity. It rejects the truth that God is the one who says who I was and what I now am, for the person believes he can say he is in Christ but still go to the mosque remaining in that Muslim culture.
Fourth, IM places a rift between the church and the kingdom of God, maintaining that our faith is personal, not the corporate faith of people of all nations united in Christ.
Fifth, IM does not want the worldwide church to be involved in the discipleship of new believers and instruction of pastors. Rather, just let the Holy Spirit ‘do his thing’ and let the new believers develop their own individual Christianity.
These five elements have many practical manifestations and implications, one of which I witnessed being heatedly discussed at the 2013 GA. It was how the IM outlook leaves out the unique and foundational doctrine of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
It is very important that we understand how these elements are contrary to what is expressed in Scripture and why the PCA was so concerned to deal correctly with this issue.
There are several passages in Scripture which I hope will bring to light why IM’s theology and practice is contrary to Scripture.
First, Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:14-16 that: ‘You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’.
We are not called to be closet Christians, no matter which culture we are in. Jesus did tell us that, ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you’ (John 15:18-19).
IM seeks to use the world’s methods for winning those in difficult cultures and claims, in the name of multicultural diversity, that you can remain in your old culture and still follow Jesus without inflicting pain upon yourself.
Also, Galatians 2:20 stands in opposition of IM’s theology of identity: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’.
If we are in Christ, we do not live as we once did, nor are we identified with the old ways. Furthermore, IM’s theology of personal religion and separation from the professing church undermines the value and importance of the regular means of grace and the fact that the church is the bride and body of Christ.
Can a limb be living if it is cut off from the body? One of my favourite quotes from an early Church Father, Cyprian, deals with this matter: ‘You cannot have God as your father if you do not have the church as your mother’.
Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:27 and many other passages point to the fact that believers are one in Christ and members of each other. Biblical Christianity is historically and theologically an outsider movement, not an inward ‘secret’ mission.
I hope then you can see why this was such a pivotal issue to be discussed in the GA. The PCA has been very involved in missions all over the world and has faced various issues associated with IM in its own pursuit of missions.
One year later, on 19 June 2014, with more research under the table, the decision to reject or promote IM was put before the Assembly. It voted by an overwhelming majority to reject the Minority Report and to stand against IM.
This was a monumental decision and the first of its kind among churches in the West. May we all seek to have our minds renewed by the Spirit, and to share the gospel in boldness, no matter who or where we are.
The author served with Sheffield Presbyterian Church, UK, and now is a Christian writer residing in the USA