Is Their Context Our Context?
Next week, I will travel with a group of PCA pastors to meet Reformed pastors in England and Scotland. I was called to ministry while a member of College Church. For several years I watched the pastor and Missions Board of my church actively seek out and partner with Evangelical churches in Europe, churches experiencing cultural forces largely unknown in the quiet suburb of our church in Wheaton, Illinois. I now see that lessons learned from that attitude of partnership informed the leadership of College Church in 1998 to plant a new church in Hyde Park on the south side of Chicago. At the time, the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Chicago were more similar to the neighborhoods surrounding London or Manchester or Edinburgh. Hyde Park was certainly not Wheaton.
Today, it is perhaps easier to imagine similarities between own cultural context and that of post-Christian Europe. Trevin Wax rightly notices a “fading of cultural Christianity” in America, (see The Good and Bad of Losing Cultural Christianity). This has been happening for a very long time in Europe. The year I graduated from high school, 1987, Lesslie Newbigin posed the question, “Can the West be converted?” Peter Cotterell reckoned in 1989 that 1.8 million people leave the European church each year. Writing in 1993, Peter Kuzmic (faculty bio) writes in Christian Mission in Europe:
The process of secularization [in Europe] was the breeding ground of Christian nominalism, which was in turn followed by a marked shift from nominal Christianity to varying degrees of pragmatic atheism throughout Europe.
Is the chain of events from secularism to nominal Christianity (Christianity in name only) to pragmatic atheism happening here in Chattanooga? Can the chain be broken? If cultural Christianity of the South is indeed fading, how quickly will nominal Christianity turn into pragmatic atheism? Two generations? One?
My hope is that our church would not neglect the experience of our European brothers and sisters who are heralding the gospel of Jesus in neighborhoods confidently and unitedly denying the rightful King. Rather, I would like for us to look for opportunities to partner with Reformed and Presbyterian congregations pursing the gospel in largely post-Christian contexts. I believe that their struggle, is our future.
From September 19 to 25, I will be traveling to England and Scotland, representing our church and the CPC Missions Committee. I will be joined by more than a dozen like-minded PCA pastors in America for the annual meeting of the UK Partnership.
We will be meeting with the leadership of several Evangelical and Reformed affiliations in the UK, including the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC), the Free Church of Scotland, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales, and the International Presbyterian Church (IPC). We will also meet with established church planting networks The London Project and 2020Birmingham, as well as leaders from the ministry training center, Cornhill Scotland. We will also meet board members of the Bonar Trust, a philanthropic organization devoted to raising funds for ministry preparation in Scotland.
In 2013, several PCA pastors founded the UK Partnership to build shared vision between PCA churches in the US and an indigenous and Reformed church planting movement happening in UK. These pastors serve PCA churches, large and small, located all over the US (like Colorado, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Florida) and is led by its founder, Pastor Ed Norton of Independent Presbyterian (PCA) in Memphis. I first learned about the UK Partnership in 2018 when Karen and I were invited to attend their annual meeting at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church (they alternate locations between the US and UK).
The primary strategy of the UK Partnership is to establish congregational connections between American and UK churches. These connections encourage the formation and sustenance of UK churches that engage the world with the gospel of Jesus and nourish believers with the ordinary means of grace through the life of the church. But in places where cultural forces are especially opposed to the Christian message, like England and Scotland, congregational connections can be mutually supportive, and mutually instructive. My desire is for our Missions Committee to form a partnership with a Reformed and Presbyterian congregation in the UK that supports church planting efforts in the UK and returns to us ministry skill and competency in reaching the lost in our own post-Christian setting.
As I travel, would you please be in prayer? You can pray for . . .
• Safety and ease in travel, particularly in light of COVID procedures.
• Camaraderie and friendship-building among my travel partners.
• Encouragement about the role and mission of the church of Christ, even in places where it is not wanted.
• Divine confirmation of strategic partnership (or partnerships)
• A stress-free week for Karen and Linnea, and for our church staff.
Upon my return, I will report to our Missions Committee and, by God’s grace, recommend a UK partner for our church.
~ Pastor John Jones