Does it Matter?

After my last article on the Rise campaign and the Redeemer City to City church planting, I received comments that fell into two main categories. One group expressed concern over the churches that have been planted so far. The other group saw no problems and were happy that the gospel is being spread in New York. In this post, I’d like to address both groups.

First, yes, I am concerned about the churches that are being planted through Redeemer City to City and for various reasons. The majority of the churches that have been planted so far are outside our denomination (PCA) and our sister denominations (NAPARC). Many of the churches hold to doctrines and distinctives that are at odds with what our denomination teaches. The evidence from the Rise campaign and the various church websites is that the gospel being proclaimed is more social justice gospel and less Biblical gospel.

When I say that the majority of the churches are not PCA (or other NAPARC denominations), my concern is not promoting my “tribe.” The spread of the gospel through faithful churches is a very good thing. I view other Christian churches, not as competition, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m thankful for the work they do and the people they reach. I’m willing to pray for them and to work together with them in taking care of the needs of our communities. I recognize that godly men and women can disagree on various theological distinctives, and I don’t lament the need for denominations.

What concerns me is that when elders in our denominations take their vows they vow that they believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms “contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.” If you believe that to be true, why would you want to plant churches that teach views contrary to “the system of doctrine taught in the” Bible? And these are not minor disagreements.

On the issue of baptism, the Redeemer City to City churches cover a wide range of beliefs. Some are paedobaptist. A couple have statements that indicate a level of belief in baptismal regeneration. Most are credobaptist. They believe that in order to be a Christian you must be baptized, by immersion, after making a profession of faith. Those who are baptized by sprinkling and those who were baptized as infants are not considered properly baptized and would have to be rebaptized in order to be received as members.

What that means is that my children who were baptized as infants and who have made professions of faith and been received as communing members could not become members or take communion at these churches. Why would you plant churches that would deny your children were baptized Christians? Despite the talk of cooperation and unity for the city, ultimately our covenant children would be excluded.

The other concern with planting churches outside our denomination is the issue of oversight. What happens when a Redeemer City to City church misbehaves? Is there any structure to protect the members of the congregations from a wicked pastor? Is there any protection of the other Redeemer City to City churches if one of the churches becomes known for rejecting Biblical truth?

I know that church polity and church discipline are not well-liked topics these days, and I know that discipline can be abused. But the structures that we have in Presbyterian churches were designed to protect the congregations and to protect the purity of the Church. Given the Redeemer City to City church that sees no problem with a gay man leading the Pastor’s small group, the concern over oversight is not merely academic.

Some will ask why these things matter as long as the gospel is being proclaimed. In answer to that, I have two points. First, if we believe that our doctrines and distinctives are faithful to Scripture, wouldn’t we want others to be taught in the most faithful way? Don’t we love others enough to want them to understand the Scriptures as we’ve been taught? Not to build our “tribe,” but so that they would worship and glorify God through their faith. Doctrine matters, and it has a profound effect on our lives and our relationships.

Second, what is the gospel being spread through the Redeemer City to City churches? I do believe that Redeemer and many of the other churches love the Lord and proclaim salvation faithfully. But in the Rise literature and in the materials from many of the City to City churches, the message is one of flourishing, justice, and making New York a better place.

Those are not bad goals. In fact, who would disagree with them? These are extremely popular ideas right now regardless of religious background. If you asked a pagan, an atheist, and a Buddhist, very likely they would all agree with a message of cultural renewal and social justice.

The Rise campaign explains their vision and purpose for planting churches:

We’re doing this for our city. Our longing is to see New York—and everyone in it—flourish. We believe the best way to serve the city is to embody the gospel in every neighborhood. The gospel doesn’t just change individual lives; it advances the common good. The increase in philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, integrity, and hope that occurs when more and more people live out the gospel is good for all of society, not just the body of Christ.

“Philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, integrity, and hope” are good things. But ultimately none of these things are the purpose of the Church. We are to be ambassadors for Christ calling people to repent and believe. Without reconciliation with God, which is only possible through faith in Christ, all the good things in the world are worthless. Our deepest needs are forgiveness of sins and peace with God. We cannot forget our mission as believers and as the Church.

 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corithians 5:18-20, ESV)

As these verses say, God is reconciling the world to himself, but our message is to implore people to be reconciled to God through Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and for His glory. What good are we as the Church if we are simply one more improvement program for the city?

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26, ESV)

If we aren’t preaching a message of salvation by faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone, we are not doing the lost around us any favors. What does it matter if the city is a lovely place if the people are still going to die and go to hell? Yes, let’s work towards better cities, but not at the expense of the souls of our neighbors. That’s not love.

The last thing I want to consider is the disservice we are doing to the people in our congregations if we are preaching a message of social justice and not one of salvation by faith through Christ. In the coming years, professing faith in Christ is likely to become more and more dangerous. Standing for the faith may mean losing your job or home or family.

If we are bringing people in with a popular message of social justice and flourishing, what preparation are they going to have for persecution? Are they being prepared for suffering because they are Christians? And not suffering in the sense of sacrificing their time and money, etc to minister to others, but being reviled and hated by the world simply because they serve Christ.

We should not forget that the world is going to hate us because it hates Him. No matter how kind we are or how much good we do, we are believers and the world is at enmity with Him. Let us love our neighbors enough to tell them the truth of their separation from God and their need of salvation from their sins. And let us love our congregations enough to prepare them for suffering.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved,what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12-19, ESV)

I would love to see Redeemer City to City focus all of their resources to planting and training pastors in our denomination. There is such a need for Reformed churches throughout our country. We need good churches proclaiming the gospel. There are so many lost people who need to hear the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins.

A day is coming when our work will be tested. Are we building on His foundation?

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15, ESV)

 

Tim Keller, Redeemer City to City, and the Rise Campaign

Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer New York (PCA) has announced this week that he will be stepping down as Senior Pastor in order to dedicate his work towards church planting in New York City:

Tim Keller is devoting the next decade of his life to this vision for New York. He will step down from his role as senior pastor to pivot into the strategic role of teaching and mentoring more leaders to do evangelism and church planting in an urban context. This shift will leverage his credibility and experience planting and leading churches in the New York context to multiply a church planting movement in every neighborhood of New York. He and his wife, Kathy, are dedicating the rest of their lives to serve and minister in New York.

This was also the launch of a new campaign, Rise, to raise funds for planting churches and training pastors through Redeemer City to City and the Redeemer City Ministry Program:

All funds donated to the Redeemer Rise Campaign will be stewarded and held by Redeemer with oversight by the Redeemer elders. The below chart represents our target $80M project budget. If funds raised are above or below that total, the elders in partnership with the staff leadership will determine the appropriate allocation of funds to projects and will report back to donors with those plans.

* We want to be sure you’re aware that a portion of any funds you donate to Redeemer as part of the Rise Campaign may be given to Redeemer City to City, a separate organization affiliated with and founded by Redeemer that has developed expertise in church planting and church leadership recruitment and development over the past 15 years; funds given to City to City will be used for planting non-Redeemer churches and for scholarships for potential non-Redeemer pastors. What portion of your funds is given to Redeemer will depend on a variety of factors, including the total amount raised and the purpose for which it is donated, but if we were to raise $80M, it would be somewhere around $22M.

What is Rise? The website details the campaign:

A gospel movement is rising in New York City. Rise is a campaign to accelerate it.

Twenty five years ago, the number of center-city New Yorkers in gospel-centered churches was 1%. Today that number is 5%. By 2026, we believe it can reach 15%.

Rise is the first part of a 10-year vision to accelerate toward a tipping point of gospel-influence in New York City —and through it, the world.

If more New Yorkers embody the gospel in how they live and work, it advances the common good. It will catalyze growth in philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, more humane workplaces, arts that promote hope, and less crime and institutional corruption.

The Rise website explains their goal and vision:

Tripling the body of Christ in New York City will take much more than a single church or a single denomination. It will take partnership between many gospel-centered church leaders and the start of many more churches to reach our neighbors. We’ve developed a strategic plan to plant 100 new center city churches in the next 10 years. We need to start with at least 10 churches this year and we need partners to help us fund them.

This is a 10 year vision, beginning this year. Redeemer’s own congregation raised more than $32M to support the project this last Spring. But we’re not done. We are excited to invite you into this vision. Will you join us today?

The movement will take many leaders and will be led forward by a new collaborative partnership between Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Redeemer City to City—both founded by Tim Keller.

They believe that if they can increase the percentage of Christians in New York City, they can bring about significant change for the city:

Our vision is to see the body of Christ in center-city New York triple to 15%—which we believe might amount to a tipping point that does more than change individual lives, but enhances the long-term life of our city for everyone in it.

The vision is an entire city renewed by the gospel.

If a critical mass of New Yorkers express gospel values—mercy, friendship, justice, hope—in our work, lives, and neighborhoods, we believe it will help the city flourish for everyone in it. We can’t reach a tipping point by building a bigger Redeemer. We need a people-driven movement of New Yorkers in every neighborhood rising to embody the gospel in how we live, work, and serve.

In order to do this, Redeemer, through the Rise Campaign seeks to plant churches and train leaders:

In order to grow the body of Christ in New York City from 5% to 15%, church planting is essential. We cannot reach a tipping point merely through the transfer of Christians from other churches—we must welcome and serve those who do not currently profess faith. New churches are shown to be the most effective method of reaching those not already part of a church, attracting three to six times more non-Christians than older churches. New churches are also the most effective way to spark renewal for existing churches. That renewal can catalyze blessing in every neighborhood as churches increase mercy and justice through meeting the needs of their neighbors across the city.

Why do Keller and Redeemer want to plant churches and train leaders? To see New York City flourish:

We’re doing this for our city. Our longing is to see New York—and everyone in it—flourish. We believe the best way to serve the city is to embody the gospel in every neighborhood. The gospel doesn’t just change individual lives; it advances the common good. The increase in philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, integrity, and hope that occurs when more and more people live out the gospel is good for all of society, not just the body of Christ.

If you aren’t familiar with Redeemer City to City, it is a church planting network focused primarily on planting churches in the New York City area and other “global cities”

City to City helps local leaders start gospel movements in cities.
We focus on global cities, and there’s no city more global than New York City.

The Redeemer City Ministry Program came about as a strategic partnership between Reformed Theological Seminary and Redeemer City to City with the goal to provide theological education and practical ministry training in New York City. RCM will prepare ministry leaders in the city for the city.  RCM involves RTS providing a Master of Arts complemented by a subsequent year of practical training called the City Ministry Year provided by CTC.

Redeemer City to City is a leadership development organization founded by Timothy Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

Redeemer City to City has a list of churches it’s helped start or partnered with to plant churches in the New York area. There are over 50 churches listed. Here are some demographics and details about the churches Redeemer City to City has planted or partnered with.

Many of the churches are either Baptist or non-denominational. Among the churches whose websites give their affiliation, there are PCA, EPC (formerly Metro NYC PCA churches), Lutheran, CRCNA, CMA, Evangelical Covenant, and Anglican churches. Several churches have women pastors or elders: Forefront, New Season, Sanctuary Fellowship, Trinity Grace, City Grace, Lower Manhattan Community, River, Trinity Grace Queens, Hope.

Many also have deaconesses, including all of the Metro New York PCA churches listed. Grace Redeemer PCA says of the diaconate:

From the earliest days of the New Testament Church, deacons and deaconesses have attended to the temporal needs of the church.

Many of the churches are credobaptist:

We believe that this body expresses itself in local assemblies whose members have been immersed upon credible confession of faith and have associated themselves for worship, instruction, evangelism and service. We believe the ordinances of the local church are believers’ baptism by immersion and the Lord’s supper.

And congregationalist:

We believe that each local church is self-governing in function, and must be free from interference by an ecclesiastical or political authority and is free to participate with other churches in efforts that are in line with our stated beliefs and purposes.

A couple are charismatic:

We believe that the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit did not cease after the Apostolic church but continue to this day. So we look to the Holy Spirit continually for the power, and direction, and love that we need to be effective witnesses for Jesus in the world.

One, Forefront, appears to be gay-affirming:

As we moved toward the door, he kind of winced, and then he spoke up. “I do have one question. I am a gay man, and my former church asked me to step down from my leadership roles because of it. I believe that God wants me to serve Him, can I do that here?”

Ryan, still seated and without hesitation, responded, “Of course. You can participate fully in our community.”

Eric is now my small group leader, and one of my most trusted and dearest spiritual mentors. He prays for me, speaks wisdom into my life, and teaches me how to listen to the Spirit of God as I lead in Ministry. The conventional wisdom of the American Evangelical culture says that a gay man cannot be a Pastor’s small group leader. But the spirit of God resides in him and flows out from him in profound ways.

We stand with Eric as Jesus stood with the woman in John 8, and now Eric stands with me as Jesus stood with the woman in John 8.

Eric is the love of God wrapped in flesh.

What unites these diverse churches is their love for the city of New York and urban renewal

The values of our church community are drawn out of the life Jesus embodied and our desire to emulate Him, so that Christ’s prayer of renewal “on earth as it is in heaven” may be a reality. Forefront

In fulfilling the great commission, Paul’s strategy was to plant churches in areas of influence to reach as many people as possible. Restoration Community Church

Join us in tearing away the layers of religion that have kept people from church for so many years and discover the joys of TRUE COMMUNITY with the family of God. Sanctuary Fellowship

Through a shared meal, authentic community, and the narrative of Jesus, we are transformed. We live lives of imperfect love and reckless generosity, engaging our neighborhoods in Brooklyn and beyond according to the gospel of grace. Because God invited us freely to his table, all are invited to ours. Hope Brooklyn

We hold a belief that God is at work to heal and renew the world that He created to be good. Our own lives are part of God’s renewal process, and God invites us into the work of making all things new. We do this by pursuing justice, engaging in social and cultural renewal, and being committed to prayer for the flourishing of New York City. Hope Midtown

As a church of Jesus Christ, Redeemer exists to help build a great city for all people through a movement of the gospel that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, the world. Redeemer NYC

Our mission … to create space where New Yorkers of all backgrounds can connect with God through Jesus Christ and move towards him as the center of their lives. We believe this is how we can experience Jesus’ promise of “life in all its fullness.” In John 10:10 Jesus described his own mission this way: “My purpose is to give people a rich and satisfying life.”  He made it clear that we can know God in a real and powerful way, and that this relationship with God is the source of “more and better life than you have ever dreamed of.” River

We believe that God’s unchanging message is so life changing, satisfying, and fulfilling that it must be communicated to each generation in contemporary, culturally relevant language, forms, and styles. Redeemer Montclair

This is consistent with Keller’s prioritization of urban ministry. As Dr. Keller says in his article “Understanding the City”:

Thesis: As much as possible, Christians should live, serve, and be deeply involved in the lives of our largest cities. They need to be involved in the life of the whole city, not just their own particular enclave. If you can live and serve in the city, you should.

The Christian church must concentrate the great portion of its resources on ministry to the city. It is our “reasonable service”. To fail to render it is as foolish as it is disobedient.

For more information on the Redeemer’s Rise campaign, click here.