The ecumenical body known as the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Conference (NAPARC) held its constituting meeting on October 31-November 1, 1975. The PCA, OPC, and RPCNA were among its founding Churches. Significant of the importance placed upon the matter, one of the early actions taken by this group was the 1977 Conference on Race Relations, held on March 24 and 25, with the following Statement issued upon conclusion of the Conference.
STATEMENT OF NAPARC CONFERENCE ON RACE RELATIONS
As participants in the NAPARC conference on Race Relations held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, March 24 and 25, 1977, we have entered in two days of discussion and self‑examination regarding the relationships of the conservative Reformed community to the struggle for racial justice. We have arrived at a consensus on a number of crucial issues and we offer our concerns to the larger NAPARC fellowship for deliberation and action.
None of the NAPARC churches can adopt a position of superiority over the other NAPARC churches in respect to its record on race. Nor can the NAPARC churches in general claim superiority to other churches in respect to problems of race.
We are convinced that we, as Reformed Christians, have failed to speak and act boldly in the area of race relations. Our denominational profiles reveal patterns of ethnic and racial homogeneity. We believe that this situation fails to give adequate expression to the saving purposes of our sovereign God, whose covenant extends to all peoples and races.
We are convinced that our record in this crucial area is one of racial brokenness and disobedience. In such a situation the credibility of our Reformed witness, piety and doctrinal confession is at stake. We have not lived out the implications of that biblical and confessional heritage which we hold in common with each other, with its emphasis on the sovereignty and freedom of grace, on the absence of human merit in gaining salvation, and on the responsibility to subject all of life to the Lordship of Christ.
I. The Unity Of Man With Respect To Creation, Sin, And Redemption
Although there are marked distinctions and even divisions among men, including those of race, mankind, according to the teaching of the Bible, has a single origin. Later distinctions and divisions are indeed significant and may not simply be pushed aside; nevertheless, the Bible clearly teaches that the gospel is universal in its offer and its call. All men are created in the image of God and have fallen into sin, and are in need of redemption. All those who are in Christ are united together with Him as their Head in a new humanity, in which the distinctions and divisions that otherwise separate men are transcended in a new unity. True, the distinctions mentioned in the Bible as having been overcome in Christ are not primarily those of race, nor does the Bible think along lines that correspond with the distinctions of race as we understand them today; nevertheless, racial distinctions and divisions as we know and understand them today certainly fall under those things that have been transcended in Christ. How, then, is the new unity in Christ to be expressed in the communion of the church today as it bears on the question of race?
The description of God’s people in I Peter 2:9, 10, as a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, reveals the church’s visible oneness as the community of those separated unto the Lord. It is a oneness on the order of the racial, cultic, and national unity of Israel (Exodus 19:6), and it has as its purpose the declaration of the wonderful works of God. Therefore, the church’s identity transcends and makes of secondary importance the racial, national and cultic identities of the world.
We see in Revelation 7:9, 10, the chosen race worshipping the Lamb in heaven. They come from different backgrounds, yet worship with one voice. Is not the unity of our worship here on earth to be a copy of that which takes place within the heavenly sanctuary? Should not all those washed in the blood of the Lamb joyously worship together?
II. On Confession
In repentance we acknowledge and confess that we have failed effectively to recognize the full humanity of other races and the similarity of their needs, desires, and hopes to ours; and thus we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We see this failure on three levels:
A. Individual church members.
Within the church, our members have exhibited such attitudes and actions as discourage membership or participation by minority groups.
In the broader community our members have shared in attitudes and actions that exhibit hostility and alienation against minority groups, e. g. in housing and job discrimination.
We have thus been guilty of the sins of selfishness in refusing to share material things, of coveting, and in general of failure to love the neighbor as ourselves.
Our churches have not been free from such formal actions as discourage membership or participation by minority groups.
They have been guilty of a lack of positive action concerning mission to ethnic groups in their own neighborhoods and to ethnic groups at large.
They have practiced a kind of cultural exclusivism, thinking of the church as “our church” rather than Christ’s.
This involves the sins of pride and idolatry.
C. Social structures
The communities which we reflect and represent have supported or failed to protest against those industrial and economic policies and institutions which are advantageous to our own persons and institutions, but which accentuate the plight of the disadvantaged. In this we have been conformed to the world rather than transformed to the will of God (Romans 12:1, 2).
III. On South Africa
The NAPARC Conference on Race Relations calls to the attention of the NAPARC churches the turmoil confronting our Christian brothers in the nation of South Africa.
The Conference requests NAPARC to encourage member churches to study the charges that the laws of the South African government deny to God’s people of every race the opportunity to fulfill God’s cultural mandate and covenant responsibility, to wit:
A. Certain laws encourage, if not necessitate, the separation of husbands from wives and parents from children, and, therefore, lead to the disintegration of God’s institution, the family.
B. Certain laws make it difficult for Christians to practice the Biblical principle that the laborer is worthy of his hire.
C. Certain laws requiring separate development of the nations lead to serious conditions of malnutrition especially where there is a large population resettled in lands of minimal productivity.
The Conference also encourages the NAPARC churches which are not members of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod to respond to the request of the RES meeting in Capetown on August 20, 1976, to wit:
1. “To request member churches to give early and serious attention to those problems involved in creating an atmosphere of dissatisfaction and unrest which led to the present riots as matters of great urgency.”
2. “To urge all Christians to reach out to each other in a demonstration of love, thus promoting peace in South Africa.”
The Message of Capetown, p. 5
IV. On Seminaries
We commend the Calvin Theological Seminary faculty for its decision to implement policies calculated to improve preparation for ministry in multi‑racial areas; and Westminster Theological Seminary for its ministerial institute which intends to assist inner-city pastors in their continued training in ministry and Covenant Theological Seminary for its Urban Ministers’ Institute; and request these institutions to communicate to the other NAPARC‑related seminaries both their understandings of the biblical basis for those programs, and also progress reports concerning the accomplishment of the goals of those programs, with practical advice for the seminaries.
V. On Changing Communities
A. We encourage congregations to reach out to the entire community around them.
B. We encourage congregations to rise to meet the challenge of racial diversity in changing neighborhoods.
C. We encourage members of our congregations to remain in those communities where there are racially changing patterns.
D. We acknowledge that in order to change our unbiblical profile, we should urge churches in NAPARC to give priority to a vigorous pursuit of evangelism and church planting in racially, economically, and ethnically diverse communities.
E. We encourage NAPARC to sponsor seminars and workshops toward implementing church growth along racially, ethnically, and economically diverse lines.
F. We call upon NAPARC churches to define and incorporate new, small congregations and that provision be made for financial viability.
VI. On Missions And Evangelism
A. That the grace and righteousness of Christ may be demonstrated by loving, visible, cross‑cultural and multi‑class relationships; it is recommended that creative, vigorous and sacrificial diaconal ministries be developed in the local church, meeting common human need as close to home as is possible, enlarging the opportunities of the less fortunate socially in terms of physical, social, economic, educational, and spiritual needs.
B. We recommend that the fall NAPARC conference on the diaconate take into account the effects of ecclesiastical and institutional racism, so that renewal of the diaconates in our various churches may reflect a consciousness of this specific evil in their efforts to administer mercy in the name of Christ.
C. In reaffirming the great commission, we recommend that:
Cross‑cultural evangelism be encouraged in our churches through preaching, modeling, and discipling, through the elders and pastors, beginning with the use of our covenant families and homes, and house‑to‑house neighborhood outreach;
And that NAPARC form a task force to prepare seminars and institutes for pastors and elders, churches, and seminary professors and students in cross‑cultural evangelism;
And that resource teams be developed to serve NAPARC churches and groups of churches.
VII. General Recommendations
Our present discussions have been only a small beginning in considering more faithful paths of obedience in the area of race relations. Therefore, we call upon NAPARC and its member denominations to:
A. Convene a conference at which minority brothers and sisters from the other evangelical fellowships meet with NAPARC members for mutual conversation and edification;
B. Appoint a committee to study the feasibility of a NAPARC Institute on Justice and Human Relations;
C. Encourage NAPARC denominations to send representatives to the NBEA conference in San Francisco.
We commit ourselves to working locally and denominationally for these goals.
Further thought and action in these areas is necessary for such reasons as:
1. Scriptural data on the unity of the church and the plan of God to restore the unity of the human race;
2. The need for our Reformed fellowships to avail ourselves of the gifts of members of the Body in minority communions;
3. The need for our denominations, congregationally and corporately, to promote justice for the oppressed, to uphold the cause of the poor. For Christ will not ask us about doctrinal purity or ecclesiastical fellowship; He will ask us about the people who are hungry, thirsty, naked, in jail, and without family.
(End, Statement of NAPARC Conference on Race Relations)
Words to Live By:
We are, in Jesus Christ our Lord, one Body. There is no room for attitudes of superiority one over another. Thinking like that is entirely contrary to the Gospel. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ came to serve, not to be served, and such service and humility should be true of all who call themselves Christians.