Racial reconciliation in the church

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, April 9th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: A conversation with Irwyn Ince.

The name might not be familiar to you, but last year the Presbyterian Church in America voted him the general assembly moderator. That’s the rough equivalent to the president of the denomination. And he’s the first African American to hold the position.

EICHER: Irwyn Ince grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He studied electrical engineering in college and spent a dozen years working as an engineer for Motorola. Then God called him into ministry.

Today Ince is on staff at Grace DC—a church in downtown Washington, D.C. He sat down with WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick.

DERRICK: Pastor Irwyn Ince—for those who don’t know your background—you were not always reformed. Grew up Methodist, then migrated to Baptist, and now reformed Presbyterian.

INCE: Yeah, I’m just making my way through the denominations. [Laughter] But no, that story is really God’s providence and amazing grace to me. I grew up as in the United Methodist Church. But I actively began to reject the Christian faith toward the end of my high school years and became pretty much anti-Christian during my college years

And so when we moved to Maryland, we began attending an historic African-American church in Washington, D.C. And through that church’s ministry, the Lord in His grace and His mercy opened up my eyes to see him in the pages of Scripture. And we—both my wife and I—made professions of faith at that church and began this journey of following Jesus Christ.

And then being exposed to reformed theology through the ministry of R.C. Sproul in Ligonier Ministries—and that was kind of my entryway into the reformed and Presbyterian world.

So that’s the journey from, you know, Methodist, Baptist, to Presbyterian.

DERRICK: Okay. And that brings us to the present day where you are the director of the Grace DC Network Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission. Can you talk about the mission of that organization and your role in it?

INCE: Absolutely. The Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission really is birthed out of a couple of things. One, birthed out of this Grace DC Network of churches that are actively as a body of believers here in D.C. seeking to live into this pursuit of the ministry of reconciliation across lines of difference within the body of Christ.

And then the other part of that is to see the ministry of reconciliation in the local church demonstrated by the gathering of people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities—to me that is the natural outworking of a rich, Biblical and covenantal theological commitment. We will see our churches pursuing that.

And so what we are striving to do is to equip churches and ministries with both the confidence and the competence to welcome others the way Jesus welcomes us. 

DERRICK: Obviously doctrinal faithfulness is something that has always been high on the priority list in the PCA, but it seems like there’s a movement toward a more robust incarnational presence in communities. Is that fair?

INCE: Yeah, I believe that there is a desire, a growing desire to live into our Biblical and doctrinal confessional commitments in a more robust way.

So when we talk about cross-cultural ministry or the ministry of reconciliation, we’re not creating something new. What we’re striving to do is simply be more faithful to what we say we believe.

And so, for example, in my denomination, every minister of the gospel, every elder, must in their ordination vows say that they believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith together with its larger and shorter catechisms, represents the system of doctrine taught in Scripture.

So, for example, Chapter 26 of the Westminster Confession of Faith is on the communion of the saints, the fellowship that all those who are in Christ have with one another—that our union with Jesus Christ necessitates our union and communion with one another. No one ever takes exception to Chapter 26 of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

And yet in that chapter, it talks about our mutual obligations to one another, our mutual obligations to both what makes for the good of one another inwardly and outwardly, that this is supposed to be a visible thing, right? It says, “And this is to be extended to all those in every place who call on the name of the Lord Jesus.”

The confession, rightly so, understanding the Biblical mandate, doesn’t make any distinction—doesn’t say if you’re black, you don’t extend it to those who are different. If you’re white, you don’t extend it to those who are black. No, it says this is to be extended to all those in every place who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the same confession that Presbyterians, right, in America historically have adhered to and said was good and Biblical, and yet at the same time promoted and maintained walls of segregation.

Divided what Christ has united. And so all we’re saying is let’s live into what we confess.

DERRICK: Well, as you know, there are some evangelicals who have said that essentially racial reconciliation conversations—that these could be a distraction from the gospel. Can you talk about that concern?

INCE: Yes. Throughout the pages of Scripture, our God is a God of justice. The psalmist declares in Psalm 89 and in other places, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne, oh Lord.” They are combined. Righteousness and justice are a pair.

And so we are, because our God is a God who is just, we are called to be people who are just, and not just individually, not just personal righteousness, personal piety, but we are people who promote justice in accordance with the Word of God.

And of course, that’s not simply limited to how the people of God live in the world. It also is how we declare to the world what is good and just and right—how we call out injustice in the world.

Well, when those in civic authority are not living up to their responsibility as leaders, who’s going to tell them that they’re not doing it? Who’s going to tell them that? Should it not be those who know the word of God and who understand what is good and right and just?

DERRICK: Well, along the same lines of this concern that’s been articulated in some quarters of evangelicalism, there was recently the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel that came out. And in a nutshell, it was basically focused on, you know, we should stay focused on the gospel and not get involved with these extraneous issues. Or at least deemphasize them, perhaps is more a fair way of saying that.

I noticed you did not sign the statement. Can you talk about what led you to that decision?

INCE: Well, I never considered signing that statement. I was really disappointed by the statement. I think that it’s setting up a straw man to tear down. That it is making a caricature of those who are speaking into areas of justice as believers and making claims that they are driven or being, if they’re not driven by them, they’re at least being diluted by philosophies, like Marxist philosophies and philosophies that are unbiblical, when that’s not the case.

So, sure, there are those certainly in society that are driven by Marxism or any—socialism or any other –ism, that are not driven by the gospel of Jesus Christ. But those within the body of Christ committed to the authority of Scripture, to Biblical orthodoxy, are being driven by what we see in the scriptures and what we see ourselves as called to. This divorcing of the ministry of the gospel, the ministry of reconciliation that we’re given, from addressing the concerns of those who we’re called to be reconciled to is just a false dichotomy.

Look, the good news is good news because of some bad news, right? That I am a sinner, right? Separated from God without hope except in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And so even in that, I realize that that the gospel often meets people where they are, when I am not simply concerned with you as an unbeliever and kind of getting your ticket, making sure I get your ticket punched to heaven, but that I am concerned with you embodied as an image-bearer of God who may be suffering under the weight of oppression. That you’ve been maybe suffering injustice. Now, I’m concerned about that because I’m concerned about you, and the gospel meets you there as well, because our God is a God of justice, again. So this is a straw man that’s being, in my opinion, that’s set up and torn down.

DERRICK: Okay, let’s do a lightning round of just a few quick get-to-know-you questions. Who’s your favorite theologians?

INCE: Oh, man. [Laughter] My favorite theologian… The guy I quote the most frequently is Herman Bavinck, Dutch reformed theologian. There are lots of other folks who I quote, but I think his work on the image of God, particularly, is some of the best that I’ve ever read. And so, yes, Herman Bavinck is a guy quote a lot.

DERRICK: Okay. And what’s your favorite book outside of the Bible?

INCE: Oh man, now that’s a tough question because I’m always reading and buying more books than I can read. [Laughter] So let me answer that in a different way. There have been books that have really helped me to shape and form my sense of ministry passion or helped to inform me about particular realities. So I will say my favorite books, people who’ve helped me, John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, Carl Ellis, Free At Last, his book of late.

Some of the most helpful books that I’m reading, non-Christian authors as well, from my historical perspective, Stamped From the Beginning, a more recent book, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi.

So those are just some of the few from a variety of perspectives that I find I don’t necessarily list these as favorites, but as particularly helpful to me in my, as I think through things and engage my ministry passion.

DERRICK: Okay. And then finally, you are still a relatively young man, but man knows not as time. So, how do you want to be remembered?

INCE: Well, thank you for saying it was still a relatively young man as I look at my beard in the mirror and see a whole lot more gray hairs in it than I saw a few years ago.

How do I want to be remembered? When you talk about the question of, you know, legacy and what have you, among the top of the list is as a faithful husband and father to my children, you know, as a man who adored his wife, loves his children. Yes, stumbled along the way in raising them. Three or four of whom are adults already, one teenager remaining, so the light is there at the end of the tunnel toward empty-nester life. And so it really does, it surrounds that in my love of God being expressed in my faithfulness to my family.

And to serving the Lord in his church faithfully, for being—Lord-willing—for finishing well. So many pastors don’t finish well. So, always proclaiming the word of God without shame, truthfully, and promoting, I would say, the ministry of reconciliation. I want to give myself to that. So that’s a lot and I could keep going. But I think that’s enough.

DERRICK: Pastor Irwyn Ince. Thank you for joining us today.

INCE: It’s been my pleasure and joy. Thank you.



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