The State of the CREC

In March of 2022, Uri Brito, Presiding Minister of the CREC, asked Peter Leithart to address the pastors of Athanasius Presbytery.

Here is what he said to these good men.

Thank you, Pastor Brito. I’m honored to speak to the Athanasius Presbytery this morning. And I want to take the opportunity to offer some reflections on the state of the CREC.

I admit I don’t have an inside track on happenings within our denomination or the Presbytery, but I do come with some credentials. I spent 15 years in Moscow, count many CREC pastors as friends, and regularly visit CREC churches in the US and Europe. Besides, I spent 25 years as a pastor in the PCA, so I have a standard of comparison.

First, the good news.

The CREC has notable strengths: solidly biblical preaching and teaching, vibrant worship, Eucharistic piety, strong community, able pastors, a catholic spirit, an expansive, hopeful vision of the church’s future, confidence and courage in the face of the world’s opposition. I know of no other denomination that consistently displays these virtues.

The CREC is also theologically, culturally, politically, and liturgically cohesive. When you visit a CREC church on a Sunday morning, you know what you’re going to get. You know you’ll sing Psalms, hear a substantive sermon, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, with children included. You know men will lead the service.

We’re well-positioned to face today’s cultural challenges. A number of CREC churches grew dramatically over the past two years simply by not succumbing to COVID hysteria, simply by continuing to gather for worship. While many Christians send their children to the slaughterhouses known as public schools, nearly all CREC kids receive a Christian education.

Sexuality is the litmus test of our time. As PCA missionary Wes Baker reminded us last week at a Theopolis course, God instituted marriage to signify His intention to unite Himself to His creation, and this intension will be consummated in the marriage supper of the Lamb. Marriage is the beginning and end of human history.

Our marriages serve as icons disclosing the secret trajectory of creation. If we lose marriage, we lose purpose – not merely the purpose of sexuality but human purpose as such. Given the sustained assault on sexual purity, marriage, family, and children over the past several decades, it’s no wonder the world is adrift.

Many churches are in disarray or have split over homosexuality, transgenderism, and related issues. Meanwhile, the CREC stands united as a sturdy, unapologetic witness to biblical sexuality.

Aaron Renn observes that the church has entered a “negative” world. Our culture no longer regards Christians positively or neutrally but as judgmental bigots, racists, fascists. The defenders of liberal order don’t object so much to this or that Christian belief. They’re offended by our very existence. We’re Neanderthals, unfit for survival, and natural selection should have eliminated our species long ago.

Intimidated by this hostility, many Christians scramble to accommodate. Engagement with the culture turns into outright inter-marriage. Not in the CREC. We revel in opposition. The CREC is ready to rumble. As we should be.

For all these reasons, small as we are, we have the potential to be a significant force for righteousness and to play a leading role in coming century or centuries. When people find the CREC, they know they’ve found something unusual.

But that way of putting it points to the fundamental weakness of the CREC: People have to find us.

We’re well-established in three dimensions. We’re rooted in the past, ambitious for the future, and good at cultivating tight in-groups. But we’re weak in an essential fourth dimension, the outer dimension, expressed in strategic, persistent, impassioned mission to the world.

We don’t have a plan for church-planting or a system for producing pastors to serve in those future churches. Many churches don’t have an articulated evangelistic strategy, or a clear idea of what their communities need, or a plan for addressing those needs. We cultivate face-to-face communion, but provide little in the way of shoulder-to-shoulder camaraderie in ministry.

The CREC produces and attracts pundits, bloggers, and Tweeters (mea culpa) but few church planters, evangelists, ministers of mercy. We denounce sexual libertinism, as we should. But how many churches have ministries focused on homosexuals or transgenders?

For all of our talk of conquest, I fear many of us treat the church as a haven and a safe space protected from the madness of crowds. I fear we’re more ready to denounce the darkness than to shine into it. I fear we’re more ready to critique the mission field than to love it, as our Father does.

Unless we shore up this weak part of our foundation, we’ll be unstable and short-lived, and won’t fulfill our potential in serving the kingdom of God. We need a shift of orientation. We rightly emphasize our communion together in Christ, but Christ is the Sent One. Communion in Christ is defective unless it’s communion in being-sent, in mission.

This re-orientation must assume concrete forms. Here are some suggestions:

  • Plant a CREC Presbytery, not just a single congregation, in every major US city.
  • Make sure at least one church in each city has a rigorous mentoring program to train new pastors.
  • Expect each church to plant another church, or two, or three.
  • Find out what your town needs, and strategize about how you can meet at least one of those needs.
  • Collaborate with other churches and ministries to serve your town.
  • Create a church-centered program to provide basic medical care, especially to those without adequate insurance.
  • Start a Christian school where kids begin each day with worship, where they learn the Bible in depth and sing Psalms.
  • Start an after-school program for public school kids.
  • Pool funds from churches to invest with Christian entrepreneurs, and encourage them to use their businesses as a base of ministry – by, e.g., hiring ex-cons and recovering drug addicts.
  • Strap on your clerical collar and visit every home within a five-mile radius of your church.
  • Strap on that collar and go meet the mayor, the police chief, the school superintendent. Listen to them, so you can learn what’s happening in your town.
  • Expect every member of the church to be involved in some outward-facing ministry.
  • Cultivate friendships and partnerships with immigrant and minority churches in your town. Pray with them. Serve with them.
  • Sponsor concerts and art exhibits and church-based community theater. Hire painters and sculptors to adorn your church and architects to design buildings that speak of God’s grandeur.
  • Deploy experienced parents to help bring order to chaotic families in your neighborhood.
  • Encourage experienced fathers to get involved in a program to mentor fatherless boys. If there isn’t one, start one.
  • Encourage your members to hold weekly prayer meetings in their neighborhoods.

You can come up with a list just as long as mine, or longer. The point is: Don’t stop with lists. Do something. As Wes exhorted us last week: Build something. Build something big. Start building something that will take centuries to finish. Start building a city within the city.

We’re in the middle of Lent, an annual season of fasting designed to remind us that the Lord calls us to a perpetual, year-round fast, the true fast of Isaiah 58: to loosen bonds of wickedness, to break every yoke, to give ourselves to the hungry, to satisfy the desire of the afflicted, to clothe the naked and not to recoil from our own flesh.

If the CREC is going to reach its potential, if we want to achieve lasting transformation, if we want to assume leadership in the contemporary church, we have to keep this fast. We must care for the outcasts, the excluded, the marginalized. When we keep the Lord’s fast, our light breaks out like dawn.

As we observe a perpetual Lent, recovery speedily springs forth, our light rises in darkness, and even our gloom shines like midday.

Then we rebuild ancient ruins and repair the breaches.

Then we will be like watered gardens, springs of water whose water does not fail.

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