At The Gospel Coalition recently Bill Riedel from Acts 29/EFCA’s Redemption Hill in Washington, D.C., wrote an article about how to plant a church and having it be politically diverse. This article looks at what the Acts 29 pastor said and raises some questions. While I agree the church can address politics and should not be partisan, the warped view of injustice that this Acts 29 pastor has is an issue that needs to be addressed.
“Peace requires everyone to be in the circle – wholeness, inclusion.”
“Exclusion is always dangerous. Inclusion is the only safety if we are to have a peaceful world.”
Pearl S. Buck
I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
I will carry you along and save you.
Isiah 46:4 NLT
We are going back to the only Acts 29 church in the Eastern District of the EFCA today. Redemption Hill straddles both the Acts 29 network and EFCA. The last time I wrote about Redemption Hill was in the context of a problem that came out of Bryan Laughlin’s Remnant Church in Richmond, Virginia. Remnant had prevented a member from their congregation from becoming an Army Chaplain for theological reasons. It forced them to leave and go to another Baptist denomination. I asked Bill Riedel in a question which I turned into a post if Redemption Hill would reject someone from becoming a chaplain for theological reasons, and what would the EFCA chaplaincy say about it? You can read that in, “Posting the Question I Submitted to Bill Riedel at Redemption Hill (Washington, D.C. Acts 29) Asking if Bill Believes in Military Chaplains? Or out of Neo-Calvinist Theology Does he Reject the Concept of Military Chaplains?” In addition to being a pastor over Redemption Hill, Bill also is the area leader of Acts 29, plus he sits on the board of the Eastern District of the EFCA. Recently Bill wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition about the church and politics. The name of the article is called, “Is Your Church (Politically) Diverse?” I will do a summary below and then I will write a response to the Acts 29 pastor.
An Overview of the Article
Bill’s article started out by talking about the issues of politics in the D.C. area. Here is what Bill says:
National attention is always focused on the individuals voted into office and sent here to work, but our primary focus is the people who call D.C. home. There’s more to life here than party lines.
We can’t escape politics, however—nor do most of our people want to. Political engagement is important, especially for Christians in positions where they have to work out gospel-informed values for the good of all people (this includes those on both left and right).
In many ways D.C. is comparable to ancient Athens, filled with those who “spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). The picture of people discussing ideology in the marketplace, with idolatry on full display through monuments and cultural temples, is familiar.
From the beginning, we’ve prayed and worked toward political diversity in our church. And praise God, our church is politically diverse. But the past few years have pulled back the curtain on deepening divides that have affected churches across America.
Bill then goes on and talks about six lessons he has learned in planting a politically diverse church. This is his advice for those who will engage in church planting. Here they are as described by the senior pastor of Redemption Hill.
- Having an open and closed hand. What this means is that there are some issues which are non-negotiable and explained in the statement of faith. There are other issues which are open for discussion. There is no place for partisan platforms in Redemption Hill or ideological divisions.
- Don’t Avoid Political Issues. Many pastors try and avoid politics altogether. Bill reminds people that the Gospel is political. Christ’s kingdom is political but not partisan.
- Dismantle partisan narratives. In this area its best to get underneath the partisan rhetoric and find the truth. Biblical Christianity does not fit into a partisan platform and also consists of hope and justice. Understand that the political parties will have “shortfalls” compared to the actual Gospel.
- Preach God’s Word and Christ as King. Stick to the authority of scripture. Apply the Gospel to real life issues. After all its all about Jesus and Jesus wasn’t a member of a political party. Under Jesus one finds unity.
- Lay Down Personal Rights for the Sake of The Gospel. Christians need to be engaged in politics and its not healthy or good to demand Christians not be political. As a pastor don’t tip your hat in letting people know who you support or have voted for. The Gospel after all is for everyone.
- Pray for Unity in the Spirit. Political divisions can tear a church plant a part or derail it. If the partisan narrative influences the church plant then there will be problems. The spirit should unit people as Bill Riedel says.
Having explained that let me offer my take on the D.C. area. Bill’s post is geared toward church planting and what he has learned. I have lived in the D.C. area since 2005 and seen a lot in a wide number of churches. You can read about what it is like to live in the D.C. area in, “What is it Like Living in the Washington, D.C. area?” What I am going to do is convey what I have learned over the years.
What I Have Observed Living in the Washington, D.C. Area
There are a large number of churches I have been involved in, and witnessed. They include from being inside Washington itself to Arlington, Fairfax and the NOVA suburbs. One thing that is interesting is that churches can attract some very interesting people. Washington, D.C. attracts a large number of type A personalities. People who want to make a difference and influence the world. You can encounter some interesting people in churches here. The other aspect is that the church here in many ways is political – even if its not. Some of the churches attract polarizing figures. From some of the members of Congress showing up at McLean Bible to seeing former Attorney General John Ashcroft worship at Mark Batterson’s National Community Church. I remember when in one service Ashcroft stood next to me in the back. But churches here are political by nature even if the topic is not raised. Seeing Ashcroft in church, well for some people that would be polarizing given the controversies he was involved in. Yet the church is where he belongs and he should be embraced and welcome. Of all the places that I lived the Washington, D.C. area has been the most unique and challenging when it comes to evangelical churches.
Political Issues Should Not Be Avoided
To build off a theme that Bill Riedel stated political issues should not be avoided. There are many topics in the Bible that should very much be addressed. Helping the foreigner, the least of these, those who are broken and downtrodden. The Gospel commends people to help those down on their luck or broken. To feed those in need and shelter those who need it. Many of those issues are political in nature if people are going to be honest about them. To talk about those issues and raise the Bible is fine from my perspective. After all if you can’t then what good is the Gospel for many people? If pastors have a platform to address injustice and more then really they should. Not only that but I think that could connect the church to individuals such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others like him. The key thing as I see it is that it should be done in the context of what faith is. The belief that one is sinful, etc… But political issues should very much be addressed by the church.
Church Should Not Be Political
This blog is deeply critical of the Neo-Calvinist movement, however there are aspects that I can recognize and respect. Last spring I wrote an article where I stepped back and stated that in an article called, “What The Wondering Eagle Appreciates and Respects About Neo-Calvinism.” One of the points I raised is that Neo-Calvinists are not as political which I respect. As this blog writes about the EFCA I saw something that caught my attention in the EFCA’s Forest Lake District. Its the statement that Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free in Lodi, Wisconsin put out about how they are not going to discuss politics. I wrote about it in, “Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free in Lodi, Wisconsin on Why the Church Should Avoid Politics.” In reading Bill Riedel’s article what I think should be communicated is that church should not engage in partisan politics. The church is not Democrat or Republican and that has happened on both sides of the church with conservatives who have married faith and the Gospel (i.e. James Dobson, Franklin Graham, etc…) Then on the opposite side you have liberal progressives who have done that as well (Jim Wallis, Tony Jones, etc….) I think what should be communicated that the church will not engage in partisan politics. The church should not be political in that frame of mind. Partisan issues should not hijack it, and yet the reality is that many people do exactly that in a number of churches. Politics in that context is hurting the Christian faith and for that Christians really have no one to blame but themselves.
Abuse Should Be Called Out Wherever it Exists
There is one problem that I want to address with Bill Riedel as its the elephant in the room. Bill from my understanding has rightfully addressed issues of injustice. He has raised the topic of immigrant reform and more. I congratulate him on that front and appreciate him taking such action. Yet here is the problem that Bill Riedel faces and its the reason why I struggle to respect him as a pastor. Bill will write an article like he did for The Gospel Coalition and raise the aspect of politics. He will talk about political action and write posts as his blog about racial reconciliation. Yet here is the problem. When Bill speaks about injustice he does so halfheartedly. Here is the problem, he will address injustice in one context and totally ignore and embrace injustice in the next. He will talk about immigrant reform but will be silent about sex abuse in C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace. He will quote Mark Dever in his article but he won’t speak out and call out Mark Dever for enabling C.J. Mahaney. (BTW, if you want to read about how Mark Dever made 9 Marks useless, I would recommend, “9 Marks: What is it? How Mark Dever Undermined it and Made it Worthless.” This is the same problem Thabiti Anyabwile has over at Anacosta River Church. When Donald Trump called Haiti and other nations shitholes Anyabwile responded and took the topic on with passion. I wrote about it in, “Thabiti Anyabwile Address the President’s Comments on Haiti, El Salvador and Africa: While Neo-Calvinism has Many Issues the Movement Addresses Racism Well.” Yet Anyabwile will write about the Bill Cosby issue and sexual assault and stay silent and continue to support C.J. Mahaney. You can read more in, “Is CJ Mahaney the “Bill Cosby of Neo-Calvinism?” The Mahaney Conversation that Thabiti Anyabwile Needs to Have.”
Bill Riedel as an Acts 29 pastor makes the same mistake. He avoids abuse and questionable activities in his midst. He will go and participate at a conference in Bryan Laughlin’s Remnant and not address the abuse issues coming from that key Acts 29 church in Richmond. He will interact with other Acts 29 pastors in the Washington, D.C. area and yet ignore the issues in Redeemer Arlington. How often does he joke around with Jordan Kauflin or Eric Simmons and know the abuse that came from that church and yet be silent? This is the reason why this blog has a low view of Bill Riedel and Redemption Hill. Its one of the many reasons why it would like to divide the Acts 29 network away from the EFCA. And in addition you also have an Acts 29 pastor who can’t deal with criticism or different thoughts. Its telling for me when he blocks people on social media and yet can’t engage people outside the Acts 29 bubble. If individuals like Bill Riedel can’t deal with people on the edge of faith and outside the church, then how is he going to reach people in the Eastern Market area of D.C. and other parts of Capitol Hill?
What will change my perspective? Let me give you an example that I think speaks a lot about bravery and doing the right thing. Recently Donald Trump revoked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan to many concerns over the politicization of the security clearance process. In response many people from the intelligence community started to come forward and signed a letter standing with John Brennan and rebuking the politicization of clearances. This happened with many former employees from State Department, CIA, NSA, NGA, NRO, etc… What if Bill Riedel did something similar to that? What if he started a letter and circulated it inside Acts 29 that called for C.J. Mahaney to not be involved in ministry? What if he challenged Mark Dever on his enabling instead of quoting him? What if he called for people to stay away from T4G and not spend money there? If Bill Riedel actually did that then my perspective of him would change. It would show me that he has a spine and that when he speaks about injustice he actually means it. Because then he would be committed to fighting injustice both in a secular construct using the Gospel and then in the Neo-Calvinist world. Posts like what he wrote at The Gospel Coalition would stand out more and carry more weight.
Closing Thoughts for Bill Riedel
I appreciated reading Bill Riedel’s piece that he published at The Gospel Coalition. If he addressed the issues I raised about about injustice then this blog will have more respect for him. Until then I will keep writing about my concerns about the Acts 29 network, especially in the context of the EFCA. This blog does not wish malice on anyone but it is going to write about problems and issues as it was born out of an incident and that pain drives it. The peace I do get is when someone explains as to how they were considering __________ and then found an article I wrote and they changed their mind. That is what this is all about. Reading and researching about a topic that needs to be looked at and analyzed. That is it for the day, Redemption Hill know that you are loved.