We need to do better by the Reformed faith. We should not shun words like beautiful, nuance, winsome, and missional, but find ways to use them and use them properly: to extol the virtues of the Westminster Standards as a philosophy of ministry and summary of the Scripture’s teaching.
Language shapes the way people think and heavily influences the judgments people make. George Orwell illustrates this well in 1984. We see this in secular culture; simply by adding the modifier affirming to a product, policy, or institution, it is easier to brand opponents of the policy, product, or institution as some sort of -phobic.
Who could possibly be opposed to something that is affirming and who could survive being labeled some sort of -phobic? Language manipulates the way people perceive issues and even whole groups.
Even in the Church labels influence the way people in the Church relate to one another and how we see ourselves relative to others in the communion. Of course our primary identity flows out of Christ as saints, beloved, and children. Nonetheless in a communion as large as the PCA it is helpful to recognize where one stands along the spectrum.
In 2015, TE Bryan Chapell wrote describing his impression of three main groups in the PCA: “traditionalists, progressives, and neutrals.” Nobody seemed to like Chapell’s designations, and the volume of blogs on all sides objecting to the way Chapell described the different groupings suggests he was probably near the target(s).
While I am not a fan of being labeled a traditionalist, the three words Chapell used to describe the three groups were respectful and accurate enough for people to grasp what he was talking about in 2015 without a whole lot of nuance or elaboration. There are simply differences of ministry perspective, philosophy and priorities across the PCA, and people generally fall into one of about three broad categories. Chapell’s three words effectively distinguished the three groups.
Shaping the Message
Not all labels are as neutral as the ones in TE Chapell’s 2015 article. If an elder is described as winsome, missional, outward facing, and/or gospel centered where would we assume he falls in the Chapell Taxonomy above? If a congregation tends to focus or speak much on “beauty” and “authenticity,” where would you tend to assume it falls on the Chapell Taxonomy?
Recently a church website posted selections of references given for pastoral candidate TE James Kessler, including one from now Stated Clerk Chapell.
Stated Clerk Chapell asserted,
James [Kessler] is courageous and gospel centered. He is very insightful of people. James has multiple gifts so he has an extraordinary ministry. He is a true gem. James has been a leader in the denomination, especially of those pastors who are ‘gospel centered.’
Are there PCA pastors who are not “gospel centered,” is there a portion of the PCA which is not “gospel centered?” What would the taxonomic label for this group be? “Law Centered?” We can only speculate, and that is not the purpose of this article.
My purpose is, however, to highlight how men on the more confessional or “traditionalist” end of the PCA spectrum have done a poor job using language to communicate the beauty, loveliness, and grandeur of simple, ordinary, plain, vanilla, Old School, Reformed, Westminster, Confessional, Ordinary Means of Grace Presbyterianism.