When and why did the Gospel Reformation Network begin?
The GRN began in the winter of 2012 in response to a growing doctrinal concern among teaching and ruling elders across the Presbyterian Church in America. The concern was that the doctrine of sanctification, especially as it relates to justification, was not being taught from a Biblical, Reformed, and confessional perspective in a growing number of our churches. We detected a rising current of teaching that, at best, minimized, and at worst, neglected the third use of the law and the nature of progressive sanctification. As we began sharing our thoughts publicly, we heard from hundreds of ministers and congregants who shared similar concerns.
We believe that preaching and teaching in the PCA should bear the indelible marks of serious discipleship, always leading to spiritual growth. Making disciples who cling to Christ, die more and more to sin, and earnestly pursue holiness was the sanctified strategy of Jesus and the Apostles (c.f. John 14:15; 1 John 2:15-17; Col. 1:28-29; 1 Pet. 1:14-16). It should be our strategy for discipleship as well (c.f. Matt. 28:18-20).
As believers we are saved not only from something, but to something. Yes, we are saved not only from God’s coming wrath, but to a life of growing obedience (Rom. 1:5b). Saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, Christians are called to a life of increasing holiness and conformity to Jesus. We are called to forsake our sinful ways and walk worthy of the gospel (Eph. 4:1). While our remaining corruption may sometimes get the better of us, and we will never be without sin this side of Eden, our confession states that “through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part does overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (WCF 13.3). In other words, saving grace sanctifies God’s redeemed children. Christ doesn’t leave us to wallow in our sin and brokenness. That’s good news.
A few years ago the GRN Council composed and published an affirmations and denials statement on sanctification to help clarify the nature of this important doctrine. You may access it by clicking here.
Since our founding in 2012, there have been a lot of healthy conversations taking place about the nature and role of sanctification. It has been an encouragement to see.
Has the Gospel Reformation Network recently changed its focus?
Yes and no. The doctrine of sanctification is still a major focus, but last year we expanded our message to include other important topics that we believe are critical to the future health and fidelity of the PCA. We hope the GRN’s new seven pairs of distinctives (see below) will challenge and encourage our churches and presbyteries to continue cultivating healthy reformed congregations in the PCA— to stay on mission. The following distinctives, we believe, reinforce the very purpose for which the PCA was founded in 1973:
Biblical Fidelity & Confessional Integrity: An unyielding commitment to the inspiration, inerrancy, authority, sufficiency, and efficacy of Scripture for faith and practice, along with a resolute adherence to the Westminster Standards (Isa. 55:10-11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Titus 1:9; 2 Pet. 1:21; Rom. 10:17; Jude 3; Heb. 10:23).
Gospel-Driven & Christ-Exalting Ministry: A sincere passion to proclaim the gospel of grace, always with the aim of exalting Christ in the hearts, minds, and affections of God’s people (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2; Eph. 3:8; John 21:15-19; Phil. 1:21; 3:8).
Earnest Prayer & Expository Preaching: A resolve to practice fervent prayer in the closet and from the pulpit, along with a unbending dedication to expository preaching that informs the mind, transforms the heart, and stirs the affections (Matt. 6:5-13; 1 Thess. 5:17; Acts 2:42; Eph. 1:15-23; Acts 2:14-36, 42; 12:5; 20:27; Rom. 10:14-15; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Intentional Evangelism & Personal Discipleship: A purposeful commitment to bold evangelism, coupled with a dedication to the old paths of serious, deliberate, faith-maturing discipleship (Luke 9:1-6; Acts 7:1-60; 8:26-40; Matt. 28:19; Luke 9:23-24; Col. 1:28-29).
Godly Leadership & Presbyterian Polity: A sincere devotion to personal piety among church leadership, coupled with a strong adherence to biblical Presbyterianism (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Acts 15:1-21; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).
Reformed Worship & Vibrant Community: A joyful commitment to, and humble confidence in, the ordinary means of grace in Lord’s Day worship, coupled with the nurture of loving Christian fellowship (Ex. 20:1-11; Ps. 100; Acts 2:42-47; 20:7; Rom. 12:10; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; 12:12-31; John 13:34; WCF XXI; WLC Q. 153-196).
Missional Clarity & Church Multiplication: A fervent and undistracted commitment to make disciples of all nations though the preaching of the gospel and the planting and strengthening of biblical churches (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 14:7, 21-23; 15:35; Rom. 10:14-17; Titus 1:5-9).
We believe that every PCA church and presbytery can and should be committed to these seven pairs of distinctives. We believe that every PCA agency and leader within our agencies can and should be devoted to these distincitives. It’s what we took vows to do.
Who is the Gospel Reformation Network?
The GRN is an informal network of PCA teaching and ruling elders led by an eight member council. There is no official membership. Every GRN event is open to any and all who would like to attend. Unlike the Gospel Coalition and other more ecumenical evangelical networks, we are focused specifically upon the PCA. The GRN Council members are:
TE Jon D Payne (Convener)
TE Harry L. Reeder III
TE J. Ligon Duncan
TE David Garner
TE Richard D. Phillips
TE Jason Helopoulos
TE David T.A. Strain
RE Mel Duncan
The GRN also has two part-time staff members:
TE Donny Friederichsen— Editorial Director
TE Sean Morris — Administration
What does the GRN do? What does the GRN not do?
As I alluded to above, the GRN exists to warmly encourage the PCA to remain tethered to her Biblical, Reformed, and confessional commitments. We want to see healthy churches planted and strengthened in the PCA, and we believe that will only happen with an unyielding devotion to the means of grace, Christ-centered discipleship, and biblical missions.
Therefore, the GRN seeks to winsomely encourage the PCA through posting regular (original) articles on our website, hosting annual GRN General Assembly luncheons and seminars, organizing GRN events on seminary campuses (e.g. RTS, GPTS, WTS, WSC, etc.), and facilitating pastoral fellowship/accountability groups called the GRN Companies of Pastors. You can find out more about these and other resources on our website: gospelreformation.net.
All that to say, the GRN is not a political caucus. We do not organize voting blocs in presbyteries or at General Assembly. We are simply a network of PCA ministers and elders who love the PCA and desire to see our denomination united in her commitment to biblical fidelity and confessional integrity. Indeed, we do not want to be divisive in any way. On the contrary, our prayer is that our humble efforts will help cultivate greater unity in our denomination.
Are there certain trajectories within the PCA that especially concern you?
I already mentioned the sanctification issue. But unfortunately there are others. I am concerned that there are pastors, church planters, and missionaries within our denomination who are accommodating the culture rather than confronting it (and speaking truth into it). I’m thinking of cultural issues related to sexual ethics, creation, abortion, women’s roles, and redemption (atonement). Moreover, I am seeing a growing preoccupation with social activism, social justice, and liberation theology within the PCA which tends to emphasize the transformation of culture over gospel-centered evangelism/ preaching, conversion, worship, ecclesiology, and lifelong biblical discipleship. I am worried that we are negotiating the mission of the church — clearly set forth in the Great Commission — for something else.
I am concerned that our worship is growing increasingly detached from our rich Reformed and Presbyterian heritage; that is, worship that is marked by bold expository preaching, earnest prayer, the reverent singing of Psalms and hymns, sincere confession of sin, robust confession of faith, and an informed, faithful, and regular receiving of the sacraments. I am concerned that our confidence in the ordinary means of grace is shrinking, and our interest in the world’s methods (and opinions) are growing.
Any student of church history understands that it’s not entirely unusual to see denominations lose sight of their mission from one generation to the next. My prayer is that we, the PCA, would humbly renew our commitment to the Reformed standards and thus remain faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission.
How can I be a part of the GRN?
First of all, you can join us at our annual GRN Luncheons at the PCA General Assembly. This is a fantastic time of encouragement and fellowship. The luncheon has sold out over the past three years (over 300 in attendance), so don’t wait too long to sign up (check the website for details). Past speakers have included Dr. Derek Thomas, Rev. Kevin DeYoung, and Dr. Michael Krueger. This year’s speaker is Dr. Joel Kim, newly installed President of Westminster Seminary California. Please be on the lookout for more information in coming weeks.
Second, register on the GRN website to receive our regular newsletters and updates. We would love for you to be informed about the work of the GRN. On our website you can also access original articles written by PCA men and women who are committed to the future health of the PCA. Let me encourage you to sign up soon.
Third, follow our Facebook and Twitter pages where we post articles, pictures, blog posts, memes, and announcements about things going on with the GRN.
Fourth, if you are a pastor, consider joining a GRN company of pastors small group. As a member of one of these groups, you will engage in joyful fellowship and accountability, and be prayed for and challenged in your walk with Jesus.
Fifth, pray for the work of the GRN. Pray that we would be an encouragement to our beloved denomination. Perhaps the Lord would be pleased to use our feeble efforts.
How can I give to the GRN? How can my church give?
Over a dozen churches currently support the GRN annually with prayer and finances. If you or your session would like to support the work of the GRN, please give through our website or send checks to:
Gospel Reformation Network
c/o Mr. David Bragdon
105 River Street
Greenville, South Carolina, 29601
Who should I contact if I have further questions about the GRN?
If you have questions or simply want to reach out to the GRN, please don’t hesitate to contact our executive administrator Rev. Sean Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope to see you at one of our events soon!