In the last few days, I’ve been inundated with friends reaching out to share an article that was just posted in Religion News on January 7, 2022 titled, “Reformed Church in America splits as conservative churches form new denomination.” I’ve read it, heard feedback from both conservative and progressive ends of the Reformed Church in America and it hasn’t all been honest nor loving, and I’ve seen implied condescension from both sides regarding the other.
I saw a post on social media yesterday that someone re-tweeted, now I’m not a fan of the original author but I couldn’t agree more with what was stated. The Tweet was addressed to Christian leaders in their 20’s & 30’s encouraging folks to be merciful in word AND in deed and to be very slow to publicly condemn and cancel folks. I feel, though, that it is especially relevant to Christian leaders older than that, especially within my own beloved Reformed camp. We’ve been known to be harsh… and what I’ve observed regarding the above referenced article proves this.
We, Reformed Church of Los Angeles, have been probably one of the most conservative churches in the RCA since we planted, but they were always good to us and always let us be. The RCA is egalitarian, but we’re complementarian. The RCA has made accommodations for Baptists, but we’re Reformed. The RCA is confessional and holds to the Three Forms of Unity, but RCA churches were no longer unified under our beloved confessions. We’ve (RCLA) been questioned many times regarding our specific beliefs and practices and asked point blank if we’re aligned with the RCA’s practices. I say practice because on paper, the RCA remains orthodox as it pertains to sexuality, marriage, and gender, but in practice things are very different from Classis to Classis and that’s what folks are really getting at when asking.
Whereas some Classis are known for being very conservative, others are known for being extremely progressive. Whereas some in the RCA take pride (the good kind) in the “reformed identity,” others would stake their flag in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith instead of the Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, or the Heidelberg Catechism. All this to say that the time came in which we came to the realization that there was nothing really keeping us in alignment with the Reformed Church in America. Let me say this now, very clearly, so that there is no doubt, that Reformed Church of Los Angeles (RCLA) is no longer a part of the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Our decision to part ways was extremely, extremely painful as we’ve got relationships with some amazing folks that will remain… one of the greatest pains is because of Eddy Aleman, the General Secretary, who is also my spiritual father. The RCA, through him, discipled me and gave me many opportunities, for which I am so grateful. But it was simply our time to leave and serve Christ as He has called us to our specific ministry, in our context, and with our understanding of the Bible.
Back in 2010, fresh out of prison as a new Christian and stepping into the RCA, I had no idea of the vast hermeneutical differences within until I started serving at the denominational level. I didn’t know that there were so many different perspectives on a myriad of issues. I thought everyone baptized babies. I thought everyone stood upon our beloved Heidelberg Catechism of 1563. I thought everyone was complementarian. I thought everyone was about church planting. I’m not gonna lie, my heart broke when I came to the awareness that we weren’t all on the same page, but that’s where God had placed me, that’s where God raised me, discipled me, and also challenged me on my own beliefs as well. I’m all about unity, about peace… but purity is imperative, and I feel that with so many different perspectives the RCA had lost that. I mean, there simply can’t be that many different understandings of Scripture and all be right at the same time… someone has got to have it wrong. So, can there be unity and peace at the cost of purity? We came to the conclusion that there simply could not, especially as it involves a hermeneutic that we’d say deviates from Scripture and leads to and affirms sin.
Now, please don’t read or hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying that those who remain in the RCA are wrong, that they’re all liberal or progressive. I know that there are many faithful churches who wish to maintain unity, to preserve the almost 400-year history and fight to make it work, God bless them and I pray things work out the way they hope. I pray that the unadulterated Gospel is proclaimed, that the Jesus of the Bible is preached, taught, and used to disciple. But we don’t want to be in ecclesial partnerships with the ELCA, UCC, PCUSA, and other progressive mainline denominations. We’d rather realign ourselves with more conservative folks, Reformed and confessional folks, folks with a heart for church planting.
For us, however, at Reformed Church LA, a confessional church plant in the hood, who is trying to plant other confessionally Reformed churches in hard places, it was actually counter-productive to remain in the RCA. This wasn’t a quick and painless decision, as I’ve already referenced, but it was a long process, it was one saturated in prayer, with much hard work. There is and was a lot of talk, posting, gossip, accusations, and slander towards the Vision 2020 Team who’d been tasked to work together to help recommend the best way forward for the RCA. I was a part of this team, I don’t think I agreed with most of the perspectives that were represented in that group of just 12 people. But we loved each other, we met almost every other month for over 2 years, taking time away from our ministries and families in order to meet, talk, pray, and work through differences in order to be faithful to our calling and offer the best way forward for the RCA. I gave it my all, I tried over and over, but realized it just wouldn’t work. So, whether I agree with the outcome or not, I won’t throw a grenade on my way out (I hope this isn’t interpreted as throwing a grenade).
I fought alongside others, to help make sure that what happened in other denominational splits, such as the PCUSA, did not happen in the RCA. For those that aren’t familiar with that story, when the Presbyterian Church USA split over the same things many years ago, those churches that didn’t agree with the direction the PCUSA was taking, regarding sexuality/ gender, etc. were forced to buy back, yes, to repurchase their own buildings. I wanted to make sure that if a conservative church in a progressive Classis wanted to exit, that they could do so and keep their assets. In the same way, if a progressive church was in a conservative Classis, that they too could leave, keep their assets, and not be kept hostage. All this to say that as a church plant, RCLA has got more to lose than gain as it pertains to material or financial issues in leaving the RCA. We don’t own a building, we don’t have much money, most of our support was coming from the RCA, or RCA churches and RCA relationships, but in the end we will NOT compromise our convictions for the sake of financial support.
That left us with the million-dollar question, where to now? By God’s grace and providence, He’d already connected us to friends in the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America), and the URCNA (United Reformed Churches in North America). We’ve got great connections with them all, and we even hosted a joint Evangelism Conference a couple years ago spearheaded by a Black PCA guy, a Korean OPC guy, and a Mexican Dutch Reformed guy (me). We think those three are all viable choices, however, in the end after much prayer and discernment, we felt that God was calling us to partner with our brothers in the URCNA. We’ll now be a NAPARC church (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) and partnered with folks who we’ll be in alignment with theologically, confessionally, and practically.
Many folks told us to remain non-denominational, but we don’t believe one can be Reformed and not connected to a denomination. While we’re an A29 Church, and partnered missionally with them as we strive together to make a global impact for Christ in planting Gospel-Centered churches, A29 is not a denomination, so like many others within our A29 Network, we will be dual-affiliated. In case you’re wondering why remain with Acts 29 since we’ll now be denominationally connected? The simple answer is, you must not know about A29 and that we are church planting BEASTS!!! I’ve not seen any denomination ever do the work that they’ve done and are doing. These are the brothers that are in the church planting trenches with us, that know the struggles, that know the hardships that come with planting in hard places (AKA The Hood).
So what now? That’s a great question! Well, Reformed Church of Los Angeles has officially submitted paperwork to petition a colloquium doctum for myself and my brother Chris Márquez to be interviewed/ examined and then if by God’s grace we pass, we’ll be called by our brother Rev. Danny Hyde of Oceanside URC and logistically receive oversight and support as well from Rev. Dan Borvan of Grace URC in Torrance, and we have also had some great convos with my homie Rev. Chris Gordon of Escondido URC about partnering with them too. God is providing some dope connections, some amazing support, guidance, and wisdom from men like these. We’re excited and look forward to a bright future of what lay ahead for us all as we endeavor to transfer into the URCNA.
We wish our friends well, we pray for the RCA, and ask that you too would pray for them and us as we embark on the same journey, with new companions for the long road ahead as we preach Christ to the nations, but start in our own backyards. I saw an image that forever burned in my memory that says, “Reach the world, but touch the hood first!” and that’s exactly what we hope to do with the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same one who lived a perfect life we never could and died a death that was meant for us, that if we’d believe, we’d be saved from God’s wrath for having broken His Law. It is my prayer that you too, would trust in Christ, repent from your sins, and be saved. #HoodGrace