Finally Stepping up to the Threat of Insider Movements
by Bill Nikides
I think I have experienced three great events in my life as a minister of the Gospel: I helped revitalize the International Presbyterian Church (IPC) and I oversaw the creation of the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh (PCB). Nothing however feels more satisfying than what took place on Friday, 10 June 2011 when the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) voted overwhelmingly to declare unfaithful to the word of God insider Bible translations replacing "Son", "Son of God" and "Father" from the text. It also contained a provision calling for a study committee to examine both the far-reaching consequences of insider movements and their impact on local churches both in the PCA and among our sister churches in the nations.
The vote came by way of approving Overture 9, drafted in Potomac Presbytery by my old boss and great brother, Rev Scott Seaton. Scott and I concluded last year in Scott's living room that we were not prepared to have insider movements contaminate the PCA or pervert indigenous fellowships in Asia and Africa with a false gospel. So, we decided that, whether we stood alone or not, in terms of official PCA agency support, that we were going to do what was right.We were aided by many more people along the way.
If defined "providential." We two former MTW officers were joined by Dr David Garner, Associate Professor of Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, my old Beeson Divinity School classmate Rev. Travis Hutchinson, other comrades brought in to craft our response, scores of friends that travelled all of the way to Virginia Beach just to stand with us, and finally letters from the suffering persecuted churches of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, and Malaysia. It was amazing. We weathered every kind of procedural maneuver, and nearly died several times but God would not be denied.
Setting the Stage for the Historical Vote
The vote came in three stages. First, the original overture came before Potomac Presbytery at McLean Presbyterian Church in late February. It was hotly contested by a number of people to include the most powerful elder in the Presbytery. A number of visitors attended to include Rev Edward Ayub of the PCB and Dr Dave Garner of Westminster Theological seminary, both of whom spoke to the assembly. Others ofus were visitors, some of which represent support for the measure and others, such as one couple from Frontiers (the guy is also a PCA teaching elder like me) who favored some forms of insider movements. The voting came several times, along with rancorous debate by one elder who strongly felt as though the issue was both insignificant and unworthy of the presbytery's time.
I had to suppress the urge to lose my sanctification. I remember thinking, "What could be more significant than having a brother elder, from a denomination we helped start, ask for help in countering the spread of translations in his country that were funded by our churches and distributed against the express wishes of national churches?" It really boggled my mind.The key point came as Rev. Skip Dusenberry, the regimental commander at the Citadel in my freshman year; a man I had not seen since 1974, spoke decisively for the measure, even adding the vitally important amendment of a study committee. If that isn't God, what is?
Back From the Brink
In a way, the overture should have never even made it to the General Assembly. Rick Brown, a noted advocate of insider bible translation had bragged repeatedly that he had information that the measure would be scuttled. I do not know what insight he had, but we can say definitively that he is no prophet. Before the overture headed to GA, it was reviewed and assessed by the permanent Committee for MTW. There the basic overture condemning insider translations was affirmed but the study committee stripped based on the statement that MTW already had extensive resources available for the use of the local church in understanding insider movements and their translations. We subsequently discovered, and the coordinator affirmed, that no extensive resources existed at all. In all, there was only one real article available. When the overture made it to Virginia Beach, it, following normal procedures, went to a Committee of Commissioners for MTW. These men quickly overturned the recommendations of MTW and CMTW, restoring the entire overture. They made a serious mistake however. Following the advice of the administrative committee of the PCA, they divided the combined overture into two parts; one for the basic measure addressing insider translations, and the other focusing on the study committee.
It very nearly tubed the whole thing, for when it arrived in front of the entire assembly for vote, Dr David Coffin of Potomac Presbytery moved that it was out of order. Basically he was proposing that dividing the measure was not strictly legal and had to be thrown out. The assembly agreed that it was, but, in a manner reminiscent of everything else we had experienced, the measure did not die. The assembly voted to allow the Committee of Commissioners to rework the overture and present it a second time. We thought that would happen the same day, but things were dragged out until the final day of GA. When it did, enough men showed up for the vote and the rest is history.
Getting in the Last Word
The following few words approximate how I addressed the General Assembly. I had a few notes that I will convey here, but as always, I spoke extemporaneously as well. Scott Seaton and Travis Hutchinson preceded me and Dave Garner capped off our appeal.We had two votes Friday; one of which approved the modified overture and the other voted on it.After all that struggling (and it was some fight) as both MTW and the Committee for MTW strongly committed against include a study committee, the first vote passed by a ratio of 3-2.The final vote was a massive landslide.
I feel like a babe in a parliamentary wood. I am shaking as I address you knowing that most of you know far more than I about these proceedings. I only speak because I know something and it is a something that perhaps none of you know first-hand. You see, I know insiders; not in some academic way but personally.
I spent five great years as MTW's Regional Director responsible for oversight to Muslim-focused church planting in South and East Asia; oversaw the creation of the Muslim Background Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh; serve currently as a director for i2 Ministries and Advancing Native Missions (ANM) in South Asia. I am also a co-author of an insider movement critique due for publication this October. Finally, I have, along the way, managed to personally interview well in excess of 200 insiders, former insiders, and national Muslim background Christians.
There is a vast but bridgeable gap in understanding and perspective between journal articles and editorial pieces written by Westerners and what insiders, former insiders, and national Muslim background churches say.
We need to know what is what. The fact that all of the first generation of insiders were actually documentably baptized Christian converts, that reentered Islam, scandalously at the encouragement, often financially, of Western missionaries, but only after a public ritual of purification, should give us pause and consider that we indeed lack dependable information.
There is a vast difference between our paltry available resources here and adequate information for churches making decisions.We need tools that help us understand who and what we support.We need to study this because visible, Muslim convert and persecuted churches, some of which are reformed and covenantal bodies we helped to start, and continue to support, are asking for our help. These are modern day Macedonian men asking for us, the visible, historical church of Jesus Christ to come and help.
Bill Nikides is a missiologist and key writer on issues pertaining to Insider Movements