Insider Movements Study Committee Report Endorsed by the PCA

The Presbyterian Church in America, the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh, and other churches, are committed together against IM’s theology and methods

The PCA Study Committee Report is an excellent resource for pastors, missionaries, mission committees, and others who support or are involved in missionary efforts.  It also has significant implications for the local outreach of the church not only to Muslim but also to the Jewish, the GLBT, and other communities.  However, it can appear a formidable document. 

 

The 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) voted overwhelmingly on June 19, 2014 to recommend the Committee Report on Insider Movements (IM) for study in the church.  It likewise decisively rejected the Minority Report. The reports themselves will be addressed in further detail below.

Two Presbyterian Churches Stand Together

In taking this action the voice of the PCA was added to those of churches in Asia (and elsewhere) which have been speaking out against the oppressive influence of IM-laced missiology and money.[1]  Will this action by one relatively insignificant church body really make a difference in the global mission effort which is largely controlled by para-church organizations?  To what extent will the church hear the warnings of a church court midst the din of the Evangelical Missions media?

Meanwhile, without any acknowledgment by this media, the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh (PCB) celebrated her 10th anniversary with much rejoicing and fanfare in a remote corner of Dhaka.  The two events are connected.  First, the PCB is a product of and a proponent of an ethical and theological position that is at odds with IM.  As a result, she has faced significant opposition from western missions and their local staff.  This persecution has at times been more severe than that endured from Muslims and all the more hurtful given its “Christian” source.  Second, the PCB has for some years been urging the PCA to take notice of and respond to mission work funded from the West that seeks to impose IM on the church in Bangladesh.[2]

Thus, by God’s grace, the PCA and the PCB continue to stand together in faithfulness to the gospel.

A Guide to the Report

The PCA Study Committee Report is an excellent resource for pastors, missionaries, mission committees, and others who support or are involved in missionary efforts.  It also has significant implications for the local outreach of the church not only to Muslim but also to the Jewish, the GLBT, and other communities.  However, it can appear a formidable document.  The following paragraphs provide a brief overview and can serve as a guide for the reader.

Chronologically the work of the Study Committee on Insider Movements (SCIM) is in two parts delivered in three consecutive General Assemblies.[3]

  • Part 1A Call to Faithful Witness: Like Father Like Son – Divine Familial Language in Bible Translation (40th General Assembly, 2012):  This report dealt specifically with the influence of Insider Movements on Bible translation philosophy which resulted in removing “Son” and “Father” from the text of translations designed for Muslim audiences.  All the members of the committee signed this report so there was no minority report.
  • Part 2A Call to Faithful Witness: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements (41st General Assembly, 2013):  This report intended to complete the work of the SCIM by dealing with Insider Movements more broadly.  The extent of theological compromise represented by Insider Movements and the subtlety of its presentation demanded a document of substantial scope and depth.
  • Minority Report (2013):  One of the committee members ultimately did not sign this report arguing that although it was theologically orthodox it failed to adequately consider the complexities of ground realities.  He authored this minority report intending it to be an alternative and complementary perspective on IM while in actuality it is an endorsement of IM.  If it reads like contemporary missiology that is because of the deep and pervasive infiltration of IM philosophy.
  • Part 2 redux A Call to Faithful Witness: Theology, Gospel Missions, and Insider Movements (42nd General Assembly, 2014):  The 41st GA did not make a decision on endorsing the reports but rather “recommitted” the SCIM in order to give it an opportunity to provide more clarity and to give folks more time to study the issue.  This last report may seem particularly daunting because it includes the entire Part 2 of 2013 as an attachment resulting, together with minority reports, in a total of 298 pages! Ignoring the attachments for the moment, the report proper comes in three sections:

o   Section A, the main body of the report, is an abridged version of the 2013 report.

o   Section B is a modified version of the Affirmations and Denials from the 2013 report.

o   Section C is a critique of the 2014 minority report,

  • Realities on the Ground – An Additional Perspective (Minority Report 2014): The sharpened clarity in the 2014 SCIM report resulted in the loss of the signature of another of the committee members.  Thus two of the seven members authored a minority report which was again presented as a complementary and necessary perspective on IM.  Interestingly, this minority report sought to abrogate the 2013 minority report without retracting any of its content.  The General Assembly’s action denied that this 2014 minority report was indeed a complement to the SCIM report.  Thus while the SCIM report was endorsed by the Assembly the 2014 minority report was not.
  1. Separate the endorsed and non-endorsed parts of the report.

A potentially confusing feature of the final document is that the non-endorsed minority reports are included together with the endorsed SCIM report.  It would be most helpful to print the entire document and then bind the endorsed parts of the two SCIM reports separately from the two non-endorsed minority reports.

  1. Start with the 13-page condensed version.

The uninitiated reader may find it easier to start off at the beginning of the 2014 report.  This abridged document is precise, clear, and easy to follow.  It is a very manageable 13 pages (2113 to 2125) and addresses the two most dangerous theological compromises of IM.  It should be required reading not only for missionaries and agency executives but also for missions committee members.  It could be repackaged for circulation to the entire congregation in a church newsletter.  It could also serve to structure a short series of classes on missions.

  1. Put the A’s and D’s to work.

The next section, Affirmations and Denials (A’s and D’s), is a tool that is particularly useful for assessing the faithfulness of a particular missionary, agency, or project with respect to IM.  This could be included in the missions policy manual of a church as a part of guidelines for a vetting process.  As long as it is not isolated from its theological context it can also serve as a helpful template for mission agencies and ministries in articulating a position in opposition to IM.

  1. Be realistic about the challenge of assessing the influence of IM.

Applying the A’s and D’s, whether in an assessment or an accountability process, cannot be viewed simplistically.  It is in this context that the minority report of 2014 (Realities on the Ground – An Additional Perspective) is most helpful.  This minority report claims agreement with the A’s and D’s of the SCIM report yet manages to undermine their substance to the extent that the door to IM remains ajar.[4]  What this demonstrates is that simply signing off on the A’s and D’s does not prove anything conclusively.  The A’s and D’s do not offer a shortcut.  They cannot be transplanted away from the theological roots of the report as a whole.[5]  Rather, they are a tool in the hands of God’s servants who are endeavoring to prayerfully and carefully make an assessment.

  1. Be realistic about how demanding faithfulness is.

Such care requires digesting the “meat” of the SCIM report which is to be found in the initial report brought to the 2013 GA (Attachment 1, pages 2137 to 2276).  Each of the other attachments and Part 1 are also critical for clarity and immensely useful.  The document as a whole is a significant contribution to contemporary missiology and will be an important reference for continuing studies in this field, academic and otherwise.

Conclusion

Will the church hear?  There is not much Evangelical media that reaches the Muslim background congregations of the PCB in rural Bangladesh.  The voice of the local elders is what is heard and trusted.  In the PCA there is more competition.

In standing together, the PCA and the PCB listen to the same warning given by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul and endeavor to follow his example:

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. Acts 20:29–31 (ESV)

Philip DeHart is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a member of Philadelphia Metro-West Presbytery, called to teaching and preaching internationally.

 

[1] See for example Attachment 3 of the SCIM report, “Christians of Muslim Background (CMB) Input”.

[2] The imperialistic agenda of IM should not be missed.  Nor should the Missiological implications be overlooked of younger church calling a somewhat older church to faithfulness to the gospel.

[3] The documents are available here.

[4] See Philip Mark, “The Study Committee on Insider Movements Minority Report – Concrete or Abstract?,” Reformation21, June 2014, accessed July 8, 2014.

[5] “Missions belongs to Jesus Christ, and is to be carried out under the comprehensive implications of his resurrected status as Son of God in power (Rom. 1:1-7; Mt 28:18-20).” [Emphasis added] SCIM Report, 2127.