2014 PCA General Assembly: The Insider Movement

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in my effort to share with you some of the major items that will be discussed, debated, and voted upon at the next General Assembly of the PCA, this week we take up the topic of the Insider Movement (IM). Overture 14 from Eastern Pennsylvania Presbytery calls for the 2014 General Assembly of the PCA to “receive the Majority Report from the Ad Interim Study Committee on Insider Movements offered at the 41st General Assembly and dismiss the SCIM with thanks.”

What is the Insider Movement?

I wrote about this issue following last year’s General Assembly here. If you’re unfamiliar with the “Insider Movement,” it is basically an attempt on the part of missiologists and missionaries to seek ‘converts’ to Christ, while those ‘converts’ continue to maintain the forms and practices of their birth and societal religions. There are many facets to the Insider Movement, but in essence, proponents of the Insider Movement argue that a person who is converted to Christ from another religion (say Islam) can still attend the mosque and still partake of all of the religious and social practices associated with their former faith. They are called ‘insiders’ in that proponents see them as covert missionaries to people of other faiths. Here is an excellent article which explains the problems with the Insider Movement: “Insider Movements – Gutting the Bible.”

The article linked above is a summary of a paper written by Dr. David Garner on the topic of the Insider Movement. David Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, a minister in the PCA, and the chairman of the denominational study committee that has been studying this issue. Last week, I attended the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference where Dr. Garner gave a presentation about the Insider Movement. It was fascinating as well as alarming as he described the pervasiveness of the theology of the Insider Movement in modern missions.

The Ad Interim Study Committee on Insider Movements

The sequence of events regarding the actions of the General Assembly of the PCA concerning the Insider Movement is basically as follows. In 2011, the General Assembly elected an “Ad Interim Study Committee on Insider Movements.” That committee brought two reports to the GA (one in 2012 and one in 2013), with another coming to the General Assembly later this month.

In 2012, the GA dealt with part one of the study committee’s report. That report mainly dealt with the issue of some Bible translations which have arisen out of the Insider Movement that remove ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ in the Scriptures as references to God. Proponents of the Insider Movement see these familial references to God in the Scriptures as obstacles to evangelizing people of certain faiths (e.g. Muslims). The report condemned such Bible translations and part one was approved by the General Assembly in 2012.

In 2013, the GA dealt with part two of the study committee’s report. This report was a 163-page in-depth study of the history of missions and the Insider Movement, interaction with Scripture and Reformed theology, with recommendations for churches to help them in their evangelistic and mission outreach. There was also a 65-page minority report written by one man on the committee. According to the minority report itself, it “does not advocate for all that is represented as Muslim insider ministry, but it contends that there is a strong biblical basis for some aspects of insider ministries.” It was an attempt at a ‘via media’ (a middle way), embracing some aspects of the Insider Movement and rejecting others.

There was much debate over whether to receive and adopt the minority report. It seemed that about half of the delegates present were in favor of it. In the end, no final decision was made concerning these reports but they were referred back to the study committee for further improvement. For my part, this was the most disturbing part of last year’s General Assembly. The best that I can hope is that those who were in favor of the minority report either didn’t read it or didn’t understand it.

A summary of these past actions of the General Assembly of the PCA may be found here, and the report that the 2014 General Assembly will take up for consideration and vote upon may be found here.

Why this is an important issue

For my part, the teaching of Scripture on this issue is very clear. What harmony has Christ with Belial, the believer with the unbeliever, or the temple of God with idols? The Church of Jesus Christ is the temple of the living God; He is our God and we are His people. “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:15-18).

We should also take into account some insights from our own Presbyterian history with regard to the Insider Movement. In 1935, J. Gresham Machen was suspended from the ministry in the Presbyterian Church because he threw his support behind an Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Machen was reacting to the denominational approval and acceptance of the principles found in a 1932 publication called Re-Thinking Missions. There are some uncanny similarities between that 1932 publication and the Insider Movement of today.

Like the Insider Movement today, the book Re-Thinking Missions proposed a redefinition of the Church. In seeking to answer the question, ‘should the creation of a church be the primary aim’ of Christian missionaries we find this:

If it [the Church] is thought of, as it has too often been thought of in the past, as a kind of magical institution, which confers certain mysterious gifts and graces upon its members and which becomes an ark of safety for those who through it hope to secure thereby their eternal salvation in another world than this, then it will almost certainly stand in the way of the pro-founder missionary aim and it will be likely to defeat the main missionary purpose. If, however, on the other hand, the Church is to be thought of as a spiritual fellowship of communion of those who have found a new spring of life and power by the impact of the Christian message, who are eager to join together as a living growing body of believers through whom the ideals and the spirit of Christ can be transmitted and his principles of life promoted, then that type of church will always have a function in the work of building the Kingdom of God, whether on the mission field or at home. (Re-Thinking Missions, p 109).

 

Here, the authors of Re-Thinking Missions oppose the Biblical and Confessional notion of the ‘visible church’ (WCF 25:2-6) – describing it as being opposed to the ‘invisible church’ (WCF 25:1). In contrast, our confessional standards teach that the ‘visible church’ is of the utmost importance as it “consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (WCF 25:2). And to this visible church, Christ has given all the tools necessary (the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God) for the gathering and perfecting of the saints (WCF 25:3). Any philosophy of missions that downplays the role of the visible church is thoroughly unbiblical.

Second, like the Insider Movement today, the book Re-Thinking Missions proposed a form or relativity with respect to other faiths, seeking common ground, and thereby negating the uniqueness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the concluding chapter of that book, part four explains the attitude that missionaries supposedly ought to have toward other faiths:

The mission of today should make a positive effort, first of all to know and understand the religions around it, then to recognize and associate itself with whatever kindred elements there are. It is not what is weak or corrupt but what is strong and sound in non-Christian religions that offers the best hearing for whatever Christianity has to say. It is clearly not the duty of the Christian missionary to attack the non-Christian systems of religion – it is his primary duty to present in positive form his conception of the way of life and let it speak for itself. The road is long, and a new patience is needed; but we can desire no variety of religious experience to perish until it has yielded up to the rest of its own ingredient truth. The Christian will therefore regard himself as a co-worker with the forces within each such religious system which are making for righteousness. (Re-Thinking Missions, pp 326-327).

 

It is instructive, I think, to see the parallels between the liberalizing element in missions from this document from 1932 with what is being proposed through those who advocate for the Insider Movement today. And, it is instructive to consider that one’s theology is often most clearly discerned when presented in a missionary context. Are Christian missionaries called to establish amorphous communities of people who simply promote Christ’s principles of life and regard themselves as co-workers with the forces within various religious systems which are making for righteousness (as was proposed in Re-Thinking Missions, and seems to be a similar way of thinking in the Insider Movement)? Or, are Christian missionaries called to establish churches (Acts 15:41; Titus 1:5) by proclaiming the gospel such that men and women will be saved by confessing with their mouth Jesus as Lord and believing in their heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:8-9)?

Please continue to pray for our local church, our presbytery, and for our denomination and General Assembly as we take up these important matters in June.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch