In the city and for the city...

(Tim) Churches mired in the conceit of being urban and cosmopolitan speak frequently of being "in the city" and "for the city." Leaving aside "in the city," what does it mean to be "for the city?"

There's no one better to take that question to than our early church father, Augustine. As Rome fell, Augustine wrote his magisterial City of God. It was a voice from the City of God to the City of Man--which at that time was the City of Rome. To Augustine, being for the city didn't consist of taking in a play, hanging at the local pub, or hiring Indie musicians to lead worship. He'd been down that road quite a ways prior to his conversion and he was younger than that now.

Instead, Augustine wrote against these things--relentlessly and as an insider. He'd spent his entirely dissipated youth...

drowning in Vanity Fair and knew its wickedness.

Augustine loved the city enough to judge it and call it to repentance. This is precisely what our current crop of self-proclaimed Vanity Fair evangelists refuses to do. They love playing footsie with the decadence, and so they connive at, and accommodate, the very spirit of the age whose condemnation would have led to many repenting and fleeing to the Cross. How shameful. How tragic. How devoid of Christian love and compassion. How utterly false.

God give us men in the pulpit who love the city as Augustine and Schaeffer and Edwards and Lloyd-Jones and Newton and John the Baptist and Jeremiah and our Lord loved her, demanding she produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Comments

Like loving your children, right? Not being content with being a buddy, friend, consumer of their "benefits" - but a parent who calls to repentance (among other things) because of his love for them.

Yup. Grandchildren, too. Not being content with handing out popsicles and hugs.

Love,

Thanks for this post, Tim. Part of my interest in St. Augustine has long been the complexity of his relationship with Rome (i.e., with Rome as a political entity, not with the city per se). Most of the fathers denounce Rome repeatedly, but few of them do so with the kind of perspective brought by Augustine. His history within Rome (both the city and the system) allowed him to see both the heights of glory God had granted it, and the depths of sin in which it wallowed.

So when Rome is sacked in 410, Augustine is the only contemporary who shows us a complete reaction in all its depth. He's saddened by the fall of the city, worried about the future of civilization, hopeful that this is not Rome's final end. But he's also adamant that Rome's moral turpitude led to its fall, that Christianity is not to blame for it, and that hope remains if Rome repents.

Augustine was a Christian who also was a Roman. His denunciations for Rome are all the more striking because of his tears for it. And as a loyal citizen, he could love his city and heritage enough to call it to repentance. More and more, the trajectory of the Western World reminds me of that of Rome in Augustine's day, and increasingly, I see his response to his city's fall as a model for us to follow as our civilization marches blindly on to ruin.

Warmly,

Josh

********
From Augustine's sermons to his flock:

Sermo 81:

"Let us not then faint, my Brethren: an end there will be to all earthly kingdoms. If that end be now, God knoweth. For peradventure it is not yet, and we, through some infirmity, or mercifulness, or misery, are wishing that it may not be yet; nevertheless will it not therefore some day be? Fix your hope in God, desire the things eternal, wait for the things eternal. Ye are Christians....

But 'let him not speak of Rome, it is said of me: O that he would hold his tongue about Rome;' as though I were insulting it, and not rather entreating the Lord for it, and exhorting you all, unworthy as I am. Be it far from me to insult it! The Lord avert this from my heart, and from the grief of my conscience. Have we not had many brethren there? have we not still? Does not a large portion of the pilgrim city Jerusalem live there?"

Sermo 105:

"This world itself will be burnt with fire, which God built. But neither does what man has made fall to ruin, except when God wills it; nor what God has made, except when He wills. For if the work of man fall not without God's will, how can God's work fall by the will of man? Yet God both made the world that was one day to fall for thee; and therefore made He thee as one who was one day to die."

"Perhaps Rome is not perishing; perhaps she is only scourged, not utterly destroyed; perhaps she is chastened, not brought to nought. It may be so; Rome will not perish, if the Romans do not perish. And perish they will not if they praise God; perish they will if they blaspheme Him."

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"yellow card" for a straw-man argument

Dear Brian,

Hardly. You have seen such men. If not, I most certainly have. Does he need to name names to keep it from being a straw man?

Does Brian have an argument for the brief assertion of Tim's straw-man argument...or is that all we get?

One should simply smile (or maybe cry) at Brian's comment, seeing as he pastors "Intown Presbyterian Church"

Oops, yellow card for me for ad hominem...

Straw man: "To Augustine, being for the city didn't consist of taking in a play, hanging at the local pub, or hiring Indie musicians to lead worship."

I can't think of ONE person in my circles - those intentionally doing ministry in urban, highly secular contexts, who would consider this to be the summa of what it means to be "for the city."

To minister to the city that I live in - Portland (thanks Joe!), including recognizing its idolatry and calling it to repentance and faith, do I also have to hate it and its people? Does Tim see it as a vital ministry component to make sure people knows he stands "far off" from the secular people of Bloomington, or does he, like Schaeffer commend what they get right but offer the better answers of the Gospel? Even with the implicit fundamentalism of this post, I bet he does the latter.

Why does being "for the city" demean my ministry? I've read my Augustine too...and my Schaeffer...and my Lloyd-Jones...and my Jeremiah.

However, I'll say gladly that I take in as many plays as I can afford, love our local pub scene in Portland, and have an indie musician leading music, so with Joseph's quick ID of me, maybe I'm part of the inspiration of this post...I'm honored.

And, for the record, I don't love my church's name, but it predates me so what am I to do?

Now, as is customary on this blog, commence in picking apart my response and questioning my orthodoxy...

Brian,

What Pastor Bayly does is give people an entrance to the real gospel of Jesus Christ through repentance, which is the only way to the gospel, not some watered down non-gospel, to not run anybody out of the church, or make them feel weird because there are a bunch of fat white guys in suits.

There is nothing fun about people not liking you because you call out their sin but you do it because you fear the Lord and fear his wrath. That is loving your neighbor, calling him to repentance so he does not have to endure the wrath of God for all of eternity.

Could you please clarify what you mean by "the better answers of the Gospel?"

Dear Brian: What do you mean by "implicit fundamentalism"? It seems to be a real negative by the way you use it but I don't want to assume I know what you mean. Warmly,

Reading the comments from Brian in Portland piqued my interest to Google his church (as named in Joseph's comments). I was surprised (or maybe I shouldn't have been) that a PCA church would list a book by N.T. Wright in their recommended reading list on the website. And imagine my surprise (or not) to see that Donald Miller's book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" is the book listed for their women's summer reading group. Where is the discernment of the men leading this church to protect their ladies from spiritual danger?

1Timothy 4:16; 6:20....

Nancy

"Where is the discernment of the men leading this church to protect their ladies from spiritual danger?"

Not to put too fine a point on it. . .

Brian,
I am asking this out of true curiosity and not snarkiness. Does going to plays, pubs, and hanging out with indie musicians truly show love of/for the city? To me, it's kind of like hanging out with the popular crowd and hoping it rubs off on you. Do you also hang out with the homeless and poor? With the immigrants, druggies and rejects? The city, whatever city it is, has these in abundance. I don't know you or your church...I'm not assuming anything. But I do know that to truly love a city, you must love these people too, and call them to repentance, welcoming them into your church as well.

If you would entertain a second question...if you are involved in the "underbelly of society," is it kept at arm's length enough to keep discomfort at bay? Is it done in a way to still maintain some superiority to them? I'm only asking because I have seen this before in churches, and it's worse than those who do nothing because it hardens them to the very people they are supposedly helping. We forget that "they" are "us." It is messy, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and sometimes dangerous to truly love a city...all of it. It's so much bigger than being a consumer of the gilded trappings.

Hi all,

First of all, let me apologize for my last line:
Now, as is customary on this blog, commence in picking apart my response and questioning my orthodoxy...

That wasn't very loving.

Marta,

Great questions!! Thanks! Portland is a really broken place. It attracts artists and those who are here for the cultural amenities, but it also attracts a huge number of street children, migrants and sex workers. There are more strip clubs per capita here than anywhere in the country and this contributes to our city being a hub of underage sex-trafficking on the West Coast. It's mindboggingly sad. While we meet in the Cultural District, we couldn't keep away from these problems if we tried and are directly engaged in a number of already-established ministry channels to the poor and homeless and are working feverishly to try and be part of the solution for sex-trafficking.

Michael,

Great words. I couldn't agree more with your words and salute Pastor Bayly for faithfully articulating the whole gospel in his preaching. I have to constantly check my approval idol to make sure that I am giving people both love AND truth because it's a lot easier to get people to like you if you only tell them what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. Amen! Regarding the "better answers of the gospel", I mean that a lot of totally secular people, because of common grace, get a lot of things right: their care for the environment, they love beauty and justice, they're charitable towards those in need, they love their children, etc. So, they often get the "what" right (sometimes a lot "righter" than I do), but they miss the "why" of the gospel, a much better and truer and liberating reason. Does that make sense? Tim Keller (can you mention him positively here?) says something like, "non-believers are often much better than they should be according to their 'confession' and believers are often much worse than they should be according to theirs."

Nancy,

Since you're implying that the leaders here are forgoing a responsibility of primary importance, I assume you've read the two books in question and are prepared to back up your concerns by what you found dangerous in them? If you're arguing that we can only read/recommend books by authors when we agree with 100% of everything they've ever said, I find that standard impossible. Can we not read books by John Piper, Doug Wilson, C.S. Lewis, Augustine?! The only document that I can recommend without qualification is Scripture, and yet it frequently quotes pagan and apocryphal sources.

David, thanks for the question, it concerns the "heart of the matter." I don't think the Bayly's are fundamentalist by conviction, but this post took people to task for appreciating aspects of secular culture as if you couldn't do so while also understanding and critiquing its idolatry. I thought he set up a straw man by saying those pastors who are "for the city" can have their ministry philosophy adequately summarized by their going to plays and pubs. This, without qualification is rather silly, and I don't think that Tim/Joe really believes this (I'm sure they watch movies and read good literature.) But, without clarification there was an implied fundamentalism that put churches and pastors on different spiritual planes based on cultural activities.

"If you're arguing that we can only read/recommend books by authors when we agree with 100% of everything they've ever said, I find that standard impossible. Can we not read books by John Piper, Doug Wilson, C.S. Lewis, Augustine?! The only document that I can recommend without qualification is Scripture, and yet it frequently quotes pagan and apocryphal sources."

Brian,
No, I don't believe that we can only read those books we agree with 100% (which, as you noted, could only be the Bible itself), however a ladies Bible study book should be one that has been read and examined for faithfulness to the Scriptures by the male leadership prior to it being used in the study.

Nancy Wilson

As per reading N.T. Wright books or Donald Miller books, I have not read their books. I have, however, read John Piper, Doug Wilson, C.S. Lewis, and Augustine. John Piper is usually good, discerning reading. Ditto C.S. Lewis (with discernment). Augustine is required reading for anyone wanting a view of the early church. Doug Wilson..... Not so much recommended. I love his views of biblical manhood and womanhood, but he and the Federal Vision have a tendency to be so carefully nuanced, that the Good News of the Gospel gets lost in the shuffle. I grew up Roman Catholic and I see the Federal Vision trajectory as one slow swim that will eventually end up on the wrong side of the Tiber.
Nancy

One last comment as per Brian - knowing Portland all too well, I commend your church for working to reach the hopeless in that city. May the Lord bless your work.

Mt. 9:10-13
Nancy

Brian,

I hope everyone reading Tim's post is enthusiastically supportive of church planting in highly secularized, youthful, and culturally "hip" areas - God judge us if we aren't.

(I might add that sleepy, SUV-laden suburban contexts have their own need of prophets, but that's a different story...)

I think Tim hits the nail on the head when he speaks of a kind of ministry that is rooted in a call to repentance... and faith. I happened to be on a PCA church's website today who is, in their own words, "for the city" and on the page "About Us" where the vision, values, core beliefs, etc. are laid out, there's absolutely ZERO about sin, wrath, repentance. Check this out:

"We are people, like you, created in the image of God - made to love, work, and play in ways that reflect the glory of God – His character and creativity. Though that is the way we were created, when we are honest with ourselves, we are often lonely, unloving, fearful, driven, discouraged, and even ashamed individuals."

When we are honest with ourselves, the Church says, we are... 'lonely, unloving, fearful, driven, discouraged, and even ashamed..."

Really. Is this what Paul says in Romans 1?

These are all very likely true, of course, but they're not radical enough. Why am I lonely, filled with hate, fear, discouragement and shame? Because I'm radically sinful and under God's wrath and curse apart from person and work of Jesus!

This temptation to heal the would lightly isn't restricted to urban church planters, but - anecdotally - it does seem like a common disconnect to emphasize the horizontal effects of sin - sociology - over the vertical reality of sin - theology.

Of course, a robust view of sin and redemption has both.

So... let's plant LOTS of urban churches, but let's plant Christian churches, not "faith communities" who spend lots of time with people, calling them to repent and bear fruit, praying for the Spirit to convict the world of unrighteousness, including the idea that some communities, because they are "cool" can short-circuit the path to discipleship and fruitful living in Christ.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Helpful discussion. Matt, could you please write a little bit more on this statement--"it does seem like a common disconnect to emphasize the horizontal effects of sin - sociology - over the vertical reality of sin - theology"?

It would be helpful, if you're willing?

Love,

Tim,

Sure. Sorry I wasn't clear. (And let me say that this wasn't as clear to me until about a year ago after one of those late-night conversations with my wife over a particular issue in our church)

Sin is, first and foremost, the breaking of God's law. We are rebellious traitors, suppressors of truth, children of wrath, those born in sin and iniquity, liars, cheats, adulterers, idolaters, and so on. The consequences for breaking God's law aren't, first of all, the (to quote the PCA church I previously referenced) loneliness, discouragement, fear, anxiety, etc.

The consequences for breaking God's law are physical and spiritual death and the wrath of God in this life and the next.

Now, this doesn't mean that everything the sinner produces is bad - far from it. Much of it, due to the image of God in man, is/can be of great benefit to the Christian. I'm thinking of a helpful neighbor, a sturdy suspension bridge, a liver transplant, and so on.

The disconnect, to my mind, comes when we prioritize our "common humanity" and fail to stress that, for all the similarities, we're two very different people with two very different destinies... ALL DUE TO JESUS CHRIST. (A urban pastor told me recently this presentation sounded so "boomer")

Of course...this is an INVITATION to the unbeliever to this new life - a life in Christ and not a "too bad you're not one of us..." message. That is the free offer of the Gospel!

Some of us have seen young (under 40) ministers who are all hot and bothered about planting a church in the "cool" part of town and completely and utterly averse to ministering in an area where it not only isn't cool, but perhaps is so 1980's - bi-levels, minivans, maybe some migrant Mexicans taking over the neighborhood... a place where you're really quite different in your "creational" likes and dislikes. Where the people drink Maxwell House coffee and clip coupons.

I do not believe that PCA pastors and church planters in "urban, highly secularized" contexts (like Portland and areas of Cincinnati, where I minister) do not know the answer to questions like "What doth every sin deserve" when asked on ordination exam... indeed, some of the men planting churches in these areas are very, very sharp. That might be some of the problem. They've read NTW and others who rightly stress the cosmic implications for Christ's Lordship (Eph. 1:9-10) and provide a good corrective to those of us who can be myoptic at times, but they've lost their passion to actually see repentance and faith - the cornerstones of Jesus' and the Apostles' (and the Holy Spirit's) ministries. They've lost their confidence in the power of the Gospel to bring light to the darkest places.

So, in sum, the tendency (obviously, there are counter-examples) of some pastors in areas where historic Christianity (not fundamentalism) is seen as socially regressive, misogynistic, anti-intellectual, and culturally small-minded, there is a temptation to speak in hushed tones, if at all, about God's holiness, his glory, his anger toward sinners... it all sounds so irrelevant. Perhaps even toxic.

I think we should be waiting for the locals in Portland (or Cincy) - those who hate the things of God and Christ - to mock our PCA church planters, beat them (or the modern equivalent...) and run them out, as they did to the Apostles (Acts 14-18). Not because our pastors are personally offensive... but because the Gospel is. To somebody. Somewhere.

The PCA church's website I mentioned before lists a number of things as their "values." The last one I reprint here for what it omits in discussing the call God has on all men and women to repent, turn from self-love and idolatry, to serve the living God (1 Thess. 1:10). But it doesn't say that. Anywhere.
_______

The Call of God - God’s Calling all People’s to Christ
God’s Spirit is continually drawing a people from all nations and people groups to Christ. God has commanded his Church to make disciples of Christ. Therefore, we will expect, prepare for, and pursue opportunities to make devoted followers of Christ from those who do not yet trust in His name.
______

The message is entirely positive.. the Spirit is drawing... we're making disciples... we are expecting, preparing and pursuing to make devoted followers of Christ. No mention of sin, calling men and women to repentance, the Spirit's work in convicting the world of sin, etc. Lots of good stuff in this church's vision, but missing some critical pieces, too.

I should be clear, Brian, that I'm not accusing you of anything in particular I'm not willing to own, as well. I fear that I've made some rather large mistakes myself in this area. God have mercy on us all.

"positive" was the wrong word in the penultimate paragraph. It was late. I simply meant to say that the church's description of the call of God is without explicit reference to the problem of sin, wrath, hell that is mankind's #1 problem and the reason for the call of God.

Dear Matt,

Thanks for this good work. I wasn't asking because you weren't clear, but because I wanted to hear more.

BTW, I think 'positive' was the right word.

Again, very helpful.

Love,

Matt,

Thanks for your thoughts. And you're "right-on" that all areas of our country, not just the hip, sophisticated and urbane areas, need a faithful gospel witness. Regarding the church website that doesn't mention some of the things you think are vital, I think it's helpful to remember that this is the church's "front porch." When I talk to neighbors on my front porch, I don't often talk with them about God's wrath, eternal punishment, predestination etc. b/c I want them to step off the front porch and into my home. It doesn't mean that I don't believe these things, I just don't choose to lead with them because before these people know and trust me, these concepts can be off-putting and alienating.

Brian

Brian,

Point well taken, re: front porch. To be clear: I'm not advocating or arguing for a webpage, flyer, etc. that is the equivalent of the sandwich board hanging over a man's neck - verses scribbled all around - while he screams, "Flee from the wrath to come!"

And I do believe that the church I mentioned believes these things - God's wrath against sin, etc. I do wonder, perhaps, how much these things play into our representation of the Gospel. Have we redefined/reshaped it?

This morning, I worshiped in a PCA congregation - one that is clearly faithful in many things - but I was noticing that the songs that were sung were, with one exception, hymns of praise that had more to do with creational theology than redemptive theology. God's works of creation are glorious... but His redemption more glorious still.

The pastor, preaching on Hebrews 12:18-29, skipped right through the warning. He might've had a pastoral reason for doing this... but it appears to be central to the text.

So while I agree with you that one should be WISE in knowing how and when to talk with believers and unbelievers about many things, I also know that one must have COURAGE and CONFIDENCE to boldly declare the Gospel, which is so inextricably rooted in "how bad were are" that, without emphasizing it, the "how good God is" is inevitably made of little account.

Peace,
Matt

As I read this conversation (excellent, BTW) I kept thinking one thing. I have wondered often over the years if the mark of a biblical preacher isn't violent emotion about them. You either love them like a father, or you hate them with a perfect hatred. As a man that proclaims the gospel of Christ well, aren't those the only two responses? Either you submit your hardened will and personal feelings to the gospel, or you rebel and go your own way. A biblical preacher will force you to one of those two paths. He will take away any ability that you have to live in complacency and absolutely force you to decide this day whom you will serve. And you will either love him for that or hate him for it.

Of course, this happens over time. I don't think that someone who sits under preaching for one morning would necessarily be forced to this (although they very well might.) However, it certainly shouldn't be over a period of years, either. The calling of a pastor is to win disciples for Christ, not himself; and to strengthen men for battle, not for a coffee shop discussion.

This is what Matt refers to when he speaks of courage. Correct, Matt? And it does take courage to say things that, by all respects, should infuriate the man to whom you are speaking. But calling each other to repentance is going to create an enemy save for the grace of God. This is biblical preaching.

Growing up in Nashville, TN (at one of the epicenters of hipdom with the CCM scene) I have seen all too frequently the "in the city, for the city" mantra that is code for, "This is where the cool people go to church." Rarely is there more than 5-10% of the congregation over the age of 35 and you never see coffee that isn't Starbucks. Never is sin preached on as sin unless it is the safe sin of pride, not sodomy, abortion, divorce, adultery, pornography, etc. You know, all those sins that any idiot knows that everyone in a congregation of 20-35 year olds is dealing with. Never did I hear in those PCA churches in Nashville anything that would cause the congregation the slightest bit of need to choose a path.

So, Brian, I do pray that God will give you courage to force a decision on the part of your congregation. That He will cause you to say things that will keep your church from growing in numbers, but will cause an immense harvest of righteousness in the men and women who follow Him as a result of His Spirit working through your words. Have courage, brother. Fight. I pray that you already are.

Please forgive my cynicism from years of "In the city" church experiences over the past two decades.

With love,

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