Relationship Status: It’s Complicated
As we prepare to embark on the celebration of our 4-year anniversary, I thought RCLA would’ve found a home by now… a table where we’d be welcomed with open arms, given both a voice and a vote, and received with a warm embrace, but that’s not the case. Where do I even begin? Sometimes things don’t appear to be what they seem. Last I blogged, I’d made an announcement that RCLA was endeavoring to transfer into the URCNA, however, that was short lived. So, in regards to our denominational status, you could say we’re homeless and will use this means to update our relationship status to, “It’s Complicated”. I’ll address the subject while not mentioning names, so as to not cast doubt upon the motives of those individuals and churches who adamantly opposed us being received into the URCNA.
Approximately 3 -4 years ago, we began to build a relationship with our brother Rev. Danny Hyde of Oceanside URC and explore options for RCLA if things didn’t work out in the RCA. We remained faithful to the fight in the RCA only to be disappointed that things would remain without any definite resolution and things further postponed, it was then that we began to seriously explore potential future denominational homes for RCLA, and the small movement of churches the Lord was beginning to call us to prepare for planting in areas such as Wilmington, Orange County, San Bernardino, and Phoenix.
As mentioned in my previous blog, “A New Denominational Home for RCLA” we’d considered our friends in the PCA, OPC, and URCNA as a potential new home for us. We’d been to OPC Presbytery meetings as well as multiple URCNA Classis meetings in hopes of getting a chance to know the brothers, as well as be known by them. We knew that because of the major cultural and contextual differences, there’d definitely be questions, so we’d hoped that time would be taken to get to know us, for folks to ask questions about any particular differences and make our transition as smooth as possible. And things seemed to be heading in that direction and on a smooth course, until just a couple of weeks before our scheduled Colloquium Doctum (fancy word for exams). As my partner in crime, Rev. Chris Márquez and I were getting together to meet with URCNA brothers for some help with exam prep, we got blindsided by one of them with a myriad of questions that felt more like accusations. At first, I thought that this brother was bringing up these issues as role play, trying to really insult or agitate us as preparation for difficult exam questions on the Classis floor. But I was having a hard time believing that because we’re already ordained Ministers of Word & Sacrament, and this was a brother, a friend who we thought wanted to help guide us and bring us oversight. I had to ask the question with a straight face, “Are you serious?” And he affirmed that he was in fact serious and then it got contentious and ugly really quick.
It’s like this wasn’t making any sense. We were literally supposed to spend an hour and a half to two hours to prepare for our exams, and next thing I know, my brother Rev. Chris Márquez and I are forced to defend ourselves from ludicrous insinuations that we’re egalitarian, that we’re not familiar with the RPW (Regulative Principle of Worship), and that we’re not Reformed. It went from being helped by a close brother and friend to having to defend ourselves from an enemy within… that’s what it felt like. Rev. Danny Hyde, who was present, explained that he was not in agreement with what was being said of us, he tried to diffuse the situation and advocate for us, but it got to the point where I had to guard my heart, my mind, and my witness of Christ and ended our time together. I didn’t want to sin any more than I already had in my thoughts and in my heart against this individual. I guess it was super hurtful because we thought we knew this dude well. We’d collaborated in numerous events together with our churches, I’d even led one at his church when he came down ill at the very last moment. I thought we had more respect for each other than that, and he could’ve scheduled a private meeting and talked to us and not waste precious time set aside to prepare for our exams. And then I thought, maybe he didn’t want us to pass… maybe he didn’t want us in… why else wait until the 11th hour before bringing this up?
That led to backroom discussions about us overnight, in which I had another URCNA minister accuse me of posting on social media about the brother we had the sharp disagreement with the previous day. I reached out to this other guy on the phone immediately to see what he was referring to, to make sure text threads weren’t misinterpreted. Long story short, there was gossip, he apologized, asked forgiveness, but now there was even more of a mess that needed to be cleaned up. I called the brother from the day before to clear things up with him, that had only been made worse and in the end, it all resulted with both of those men’s churches sending official letters to the Classis with concerns about us, and that we should not be examined nor allowed to transfer in at that time. This was literally all less than 2 weeks prior to our scheduled exams. Many others in the Classis told us not to worry about it, that we’d be ok, that they just wanted to get to know us, it could all be worked out. It didn’t make sense because we’d been hanging around the URCNA for more than 2 years and no real effort had been made to get to know us, except for a handful of men. Things didn’t get better, instead they got worse.
Suspicion had already been drawn to us, we were described in such a way that would lead others to believe that we were egalitarian, that we were for CRT, and not Reformed, therefore, didn’t fit the “ethos” of their Classis. Now, if any of ya’ll reading this know us, you know that we are complementarian, not woke (whatever the heck that even means), and Dutch Reformed. Not to toot our own horn, but even our elder candidates exposit the Canons of Dort every Lord’s Day, and are more Reformed than many Reformed churches. But we were starting to read between the lines. Everything that was being raised was a flat out lie, there’s no way anyone could accuse us with a straight face of being egalitarian, evangelical at most, and proponents of Critical Race Theory. It was obvious these dudes just didn’t want us in, and would even make stuff up to muddy the waters before we even had a chance to take our exams. That didn’t seem like us having a fair shot at all. We met with many of the brothers who had offered to continue to fight to get us in, and to prepare the way for going down that road… but the truth is this: we’d just left a relationship that was contaminated with fighting, fighting, and more fighting. We’re a church plant, for crying out loud, coming with a complete posture of humility wanting to submit to oversight. But that wasn’t enough.
After some of these things got partially worked out, at least with the brothers who showed obvious support and willing to help us make the move, things then got shifted to procedure. It was said that we weren’t a church plant, but instead an actual church and should be brought in as a church, instead of a plant. But this didn’t really make sense, because one would think that those opposed to us would want to ensure we’ve got direct oversight and supervision. We had decided that we would not attend a Classis meeting until we knew what the general consensus was, either folks wanted us in, or not. It turns out that the Classis was not all on the same page, what should have been a simple process became a complicated mess about procedural issues in which nobody really knew how to go about it. The church order continued to be brought up, but from where we stood, and how we read it, it was perfectly clear that there was freedom for certain things to have unity around but not uniformity. And here is where I remembered the term “eisegesis” because it would appear that meaning was being inserted into the Church Order that clearly wasn’t there. Nothing we could do about that, if someone says that “x” is actually “x+y” when it isn’t written that way, then it is what it is, we’re on the outside looking in and unaware that the “spirit of the Church Order” had more meaning than what was actually in writing.
After Classis, a brother who was there told me that a delegate from one of the churches opposing our entry made a comment about how they’d continue to bring things up to keep us from coming in. We knew then that this definitely wasn’t going to work out in a good and God honoring way. We weren’t just concerned for ourselves, being already ordained, but more so for the men we were discipling, training, and preparing to plant in the near future. What would it look like for them? We were torn, heart-broken, and felt like we’d been kicked while we were down, licking our wounds, and asking for help. One of the brothers, who is for us, said at our final meeting that our “suffering could be used for their sanctification” and it sounded super profound at the moment. But as I processed it, talked to our brothers about it, it dawned on me, why do I, as a man of color, who is different than the majority of a homogenous Classis have to suffer for something we hadn’t done wrong? The more I thought about it, I was beginning to get upset as to why the minority ethnicity had to suffer yet again for the sake of the majority. I think my people have gone through enough already.
I talked to my brothers, we reasoned, prayed, read Scripture, and sought the Lord for counsel and it came in various forms, at which time we came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be wise to fight this hard just to get a seat at the table. So what we’ll have to do instead is build our own table. One where other men like us can be welcomed, embraced, and included. One where men who look like us, have a vision to reach the lost like us, those venturing to enter the hardest places like us for the purpose of reaching the last, the least, and the lost are welcomed at our table. There were many things brought up against us by those 2 churches that opposed us entering the URCNA, but they never affirmed any of the things we were “doing right” they never addressed the potential good that can come from us joining them, the opportunity to learn from us, only the concerns of not fitting in, the concerns of our “worship style” and the many other issues raised, without merit.
We sought counsel from trusted brothers whom we respect, admire, and know they love us and have our best interests at heart. They couldn’t understand why we were subjecting ourselves to this type of treatment, “That’s not how you’re supposed to treat fellow believers” we were told over and over. You know, I’d mentioned to some of the men we’d met with a story of mine. I explained to them that when I was just 13 years old, I wanted to be a part of my gang so bad, that I willingly subjected myself to get “jumped in” which consists of a vicious physical assault in which three older and much more seasoned gang members proceeded to beat me up for 60 seconds. Although only 1 minute, it felt like an eternity being balled up on the floor, covering my face and head as best I could. But it was ok, I wanted to be a part of the gang so bad that I joyfully accepted that beat down. Things have changed since then though, I’m now 49 years old and refuse to subject myself to an emotional, mental, and spiritual beat down for the sake of joining a theological gang… I refuse! I refused to subject the men we’re training up for that kind of treatment, this was already causing great confusion and distress for them as they were witnessing their pastors being treated with such suspicion and disregard.
So where does this leave us? It puts us back where we started a few years ago, in a relationship status that reads “IT’S COMPLICATED” but we’re working on getting that taken care of. We don’t have any money, but we have tons of connections, tons of folks that want the best for us, so we’ve reached out to some of them to ask for help. You see, because we’re Reformed, we know that we can’t remain independent, even though that’s practically how we’ve been functioning since we began, because of the many problems in our previous denomination. We’ve asked some friends in the PCA, OPC, and URC to help us form an interim/ temporary “Advisory Board” for guidance, until we can plant our other churches and formally establish our own Classis/ Presbytery for accountability and encouragement.
We’re not trying to fight, we just want to honor King Jesus with all we have, with all we’ve got, and with all our hearts… because He deserves nothing less than our best. We need to establish positive support, true accountability, and oversight to help stay the course. Since we were not welcomed and fiercely opposed from sitting at one table, we’ll just have to build our own. It’s a good thing that Latinos are great construction workers. We know that there are many others out there that feel like us, struggle like we have, are in difficult situations like us, and wanting fellowship where they can just be themselves and not be under the auspice of suspicion because of their cultural or ethnic differences, whether it’s worship style, dress, or vocabulary, so long as God is at the center, Jesus is exalted and not self, the roles and offices of the church are adhered to biblically, sound theology and doctrine taught AND practiced… we’d love to make room for them at our table too. We know that we will be a denomination of Reformed Churches that are not just orthodox and confessional, but missional and with a vision to plant confessionally Reformed churches in the hoods across America.
Would you please pray for us? Consider partnering with us? And let others know what we’re doing, they too just might be interested in what God is doing here. We might not wear robes, nor clerical collars, or even a coat and tie when we preach, but that doesn’t mean we’re not Reformed. Our worship arts director is a Compton raised Samoan, she’s discipled her daughter and mine for the last 4 years… so we might sing the hymns and Psalms a bit differently, but that doesn’t make us less Reformed. When we sing, we raise our hands, we shout at the top of our lungs, and get emotional… that’s just our culture, our Pentecostal roots and doesn’t mean we’re less Reformed. During service we pass the “peace of Christ” with firm handshakes, and loving hugs, because Christ said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” and that doesn’t make us any less Reformed. The Lord’s Supper is a HUGE deal for us, so we partake of it every Lord’s Day, and that doesn’t make us any less Reformed. We exposit the 3 Forms of Unity every Sunday through one of the Confessions, and have multiple studies going through the Heidelberg Catechism… but we’re not Reformed enough.
Our Lord’s Day worship services consist of the preaching of the Word having the central place, the confession of sins being made, praise and thanksgiving in song and prayer are given, and gifts of gratitude are offered. The Psalms have a central place, our hymns and other songs which faithfully and fully reflect the teaching of the Scripture as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity are also sung, but we’re not Reformed enough. Our covenant children are baptized and brought into God’s visible Christ confessing covenant community, but we’re not Reformed enough. If you’re wondering like us, what it must mean to be Reformed, then I don’t know either.
I want to make sure though, that as I draw this update to a close, this blog is not about bashing the URCNA, but simply bringing to light that two churches and their office bearers, were adamantly opposed to Reformed Church L.A. coming into their federation. Many brothers, almost all others, have expressed support, love, and extended their hand in fellowship to us… but procedure is procedure, and is being used against us as if we were the plague or a new COVID variant to keep us out. We know where we’re not wanted, it’s sad because we were really looking forward to growing alongside so many other amazing brothers whom we’ve got love and respect for. I want to use this blog to publicly thank the many who were for us and hopeful to see us join them, those that prayed for us, stood up for us, and expressed countless affirmations of support for the kingdom work being done by RCLA. Thank you to our brothers:
- Rev. Danny Hyde of Oceanside URC (soon to be Rev. Dr. Hyde)
- Rev. Taylor Kern of Ontario URC
- Rev. Chris Gordon of Escondido URC
- Rev. Adam Kaloostian of Ventura Reformed
- Rev. Michael Spotts of Phoenix URC
- Rev. Bill Godfrey of Christ URC in Santee
- Rev. Movses Janbazian of Pasadena URC
Please know this isn’t the end, but just the beginning. Keep your eyes peeled for what’s to come, that God would be glorified, and many of the names listed above will help us get there. To God be the glory in all we say and do, because Christ is worth it.