Observations on RUF at a southern campus...

(Nathan Miklovic, a member of Christ the Word PCA, attends the University of Alabama where he is active in leadership of the campus Reformed University Fellowship--the campus ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America. Nathan will begin his junior year as an accounting major this fall.)

For the past two years, I have been involved in RUF on Alabama’s campus. There are several solid ministries on Alabama’s campus with Reformed leadership including Navigators and Campus Crusade (or “Cru,” if you prefer). Over the years I have observed the work of all three of these ministries, being good friends with leaders and participants in each. I have found that RUF has definite strengths as well as several troubling weaknesses:

Strengths of RUF (especially at Alabama):

  • I greatly commend Ryan Moore, our campus minister, for paying for Covenant Eyes for the guys in RUF and for preaching against sexual sin in sermons that were uncomfortable to sit through but vitally necessary (especially on a college campus). Ryan also fights drunkenness among RUF students--a prevalent sin on our campus.
  • As an ordained minister, Ryan answers to a church’s session. Thus RUF leadership is directly accountable to the discipline of a church, unlike other ministries whose leaders could potentially teach heresies completely unchecked. Fortunately, at Alabama both Navs and Crusade are blessed to have reformed leaders but this is certainly not the case elsewhere in the United States.
  • The worship music is what initially drew me to RUF over other campus ministries; most of the other campus ministries have very “contemporary” worship (i.e. wishy-washy and effeminate). At RUF, we love (perhaps even too much) our hymnody which has decidedly more meaningful lyrics than the average contemporary worship tune, not to mention a more scriptural foundation.

Weaknesses of RUF:

  • Trinity PCA, my Tuscaloosa church home, hosts dozens of mission groups which come to help with tornado relief (a huge tornado tore through Tuscaloosa last May). The mission groups come from churches around the south, as well as from campus ministries at various southern schools. One assistant pastor at Trinity noticed a contrast between the RUF’s and the other campus ministries that Trinity hosts. His observation, which I wholeheartedly agree with, is that a “subculture of license” seems to accompany RUF. This especially manifests itself in the topics of conversation and language used. Students in RUF do not give a second thought to using crude language and crude jokes. I have seen this firsthand at Alabama’s campus, but in talking to my pastor and others it seems to be a problem ubiquitous in RUF. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, discusses the necessity of simple single-minded obedience: “We are excusing ourselves from single-minded obedience to the word of Jesus on the pretext of legalism and a supposed preference for obedience ‘in faith.’” Even though Paul commands that “there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:4), we in RUF suppose that it’s acceptable to swear as long as we “don’t cause anybody to stumble.” After all, we have the “freedom in Christ” to make crude jokes. We say it is legalism to demand the elimination of impure language from our vocabulary, but all along we are simply trying to avoid the obligation of literal obedience.
  • Another observation is that RUF kids don’t know their Bibles as well as they should. The Navigators demands a deeper knowledge of scripture than RUF. Most of my Navigator friends spend time in intense scripture studies and dedicate serious effort to scripture memorization in ways that RUF students don’t. One would expect the only specifically reformed ministry on campus (i.e. RUF) to take the lead in this area, but the non-denominational Navigators have showed us up.

I love RUF at Alabama. I think we have one of the best RUF ministers around and I hope to see us grow in holiness in coming years.

Comments

These were exactly my own personal observations as well at Vanderbilt. Thank God for the many faithful ministers who teach at RUF ministries around the country. Let's pray that the sins specifically tempting to the RUF sub-culture will be addressed.

Thanks for writing this.

-Joseph

As a brother in Christ, who strongly believes in the goal and ministry of RUF, I would like to challenge my brothers Nathan and Joseph to address their problems with RUF with their fellow campus ministers and not through blogs. If anything, practice Matthew 18 before you air your views.

Dear Joshua,

RUF is not a brother who has sinned against me. RUF isn't a person at all. Matthew 18 has almost nothing to do with this.

Read this for help in understanding why I say that. This could be helpful, too.

Are problems that seem to be widespread in the institution both geographically and over the course of most of a decade unable to be addressed publicly? Must Nathan only write about RUF's strengths until he's talked to every minister and intern expressing his concerns about the weaknesses?

-Joseph

I think this blog post is more than relevant. If the face of RUF's music is a veil of its true appearance - whether you feel it is a person or not - than I, for one want to know.
The use and abuse of the Trinity Hymnal is already a topic of discussion amongst many. What began as a "homage" to the true faith testimonies of people like Crosby and Wesley, has quickly become a money making project, cornered by groups that upon further investigation, - and not just this blogpost - are either lacking the ability or the spiritual maturity to have or share their own testimony through song.
Anyone with a knowledge of 'three chords' can take a Crosby song and bring it into the 21st century. At this point, maybe it's time to approach Christian music as something that is personal to a church "body", and not another office for the person in search of a "calling"...or a record label/contract.

Dear Faith Underfire,

As to how Christian music should be created and produced, I'm generally in agreement with your idea. But wasn't the initial Indelible Grace music done essentially that way? And even if all music was done inside the church, that wouldn't prevent the sad stories of church members walking away from the faith--sometimes even those who have been writing music and/or leading the church in worship. 

-Joseph

I think we would be well-served to recall Mark 2:

15 "While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I believe that profanity and Biblical illiteracy are problems.  I struggle with them myself.   I suspect, however, that there were few persons excelling in Bible drills at Levi's house that night.  There were probably several coarse jokes too.  But Jesus was there. 

Thanks be to God that RUF is in Tuscaloosa.  "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  Jn 1:5

Hi Tom,

It's worth noting that it wasn't the apostles sitting around using filthy language.

If the people who have filthy mouths and don't study their Bibles are not even believers yet, I'm all with you. If they are new believers, they need to be gently corrected.

However, that's not what we're talking about. At least it wasn't my experience. I know a lifelong Christian who attended RUF and learned to drink, smoke and cuss from other lifelong Christians there. He later told me he was disappointed that people at church didn't cuss enough.

That's an attitude that has nothing to do really with Christian liberty and is actually license. 

In Christ,

-Joseph

Thanks be to God that RUF is in Tuscaloosa.

Yes indeed.

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