President Brock Urges NAPARC Delegates to Empower the Laity

East Point, GA (November 18, 1997)-At the annual banquet of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), President Frank Brock of Covenant College urged the delegates to empower the laity. Addressing the representatives of the seven member denominations, including the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which was hosting the meeting this year, Brock called for a greater emphasis on small group Bible studies as a more effective way of imparting Biblical information than through sermons.

Dr. Brock began by speaking of five trends influencing the church and world today: the nature of communication and travel, which is allowing rapid spread of information; tremendous economic development which has led, for example, to entire cities having been built in the last decade; tremendous growth in population and urbanization; the evangelization of the world, with unparalleled conversions; and the rise of formal education. Regarding the last category, the college president noted "most educated people are the least religious, and the least educated are the most religious." He stated that the amount of education is the greatest predictor, statistically, as to whether a person will be irreligious-even more than whether one identifies himself as a liberal. He added that "it's not always bad to be liberal: for example, a liberal might be a person who is racially tolerant. There are plenty of good attributes for liberals-I don't want you to have a knee-jerk reaction against all things that are 'liberal.'"

Noting that he had this evening "come into this church bureaucracy world, and suddenly [found himself] among the hierarchy of denominations," Dr. Brock stated that the "evangelization of the world . . . is certainly not being led by the Reformed people, but by the Pentecostals more than any other group of people. And . . . I'm relatively sure that the percentage of all the Reformed people in the world, as a percentage of all Christians, is shrinking. It doesn't seem to me that it's growing, as far as I can tell. . . . I think our theology is sound. But maybe it's our application of the theology, the practice of the church, that is flawed." He commented that he has heard "a whole lot more talk in my denomination about being Reformed than I have about being reformational. There's a lot more tendency to cling to the past than there is to plunge into the future. I don't see the kind of innovation and creativity and excitement and energy that it takes to be reformational." He continued: "One of the pressures I felt was to say something Reformed." He spoke of various cardinal doctrines, and said that "those are all issues looking back. And they are current issues as well. But they're not, fundamentally, the issues, that, it seems to me, address the problems of the day."

"Empowering the lay people" is, according to Brock, the answer. "There are times when I think that we've gone back to the Roman Catholic Church in that the vast majority of the people who are sitting in the pews are theologically ignorant, and take what comes out of the priest's mouth as gospel. And I think a lot of the priest-preachers like it, because they like to be in control." President Brock stated that we need to see how Jesus empowered the lay people: "I would say He was the first reformer."

Brock suggested that the first step has to do with more effective communication. There is "going to have to be some method of getting the Scriptures into the minds of the laypeople besides the sermon. I know how valued the worship aspects of church is. And again, I fully understand, I think, why it is so valued. I do believe that until a person understands who God is and is willing to bow down before Him, they can't really be empowered to do anything else. But, just because a person believes in Jesus Christ doesn't mean that person knows the names of the books of the Bible. It doesn't mean that they have any idea between Arminian and Reformed, or why it's important. It doesn't mean that they have any idea about the Trinity, or why that's important. A person can believe and be saved, in my opinion, and be completely ignorant-just like a person can believe and be saved and not know how to read or write, or hold a job, or be married, or lots of other things. And I don't see any way to do this other than the way it was done in the Book of Acts where they examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. And so a reformational thing, for me, would be for the church to really get people into small groups studying at home to see if these things were so. Now that would be a radical step for most churches today."

The second step is "trying to help [people] realize what is entailed in sharing the gospel." He gave a personal testimony as to the ministry of the Lay Renewal Movement in 1975 at Lookout Mountain (TN) Presbyterian Church, where he was already an elder. That was, said Brock, the "first time I ever heard a lay person talk about a personal relationship with Christ."

The third step is the cultivation of market-place ministries. "From a pastor's perspective, a good member of the church is a person who does [the church ministries such as Sunday School teaching]. . . . And really, in a way, exuberance and commitment are more important than knowledge. . . . There's just not an appreciation, generally speaking, in the church, of the people who are slugging it out in the market place. The place of work is their ministry." Citing the Puritan perspective of vocation, he called for the conjoining of faith and work. According to Brock, only about twenty percent of the laity could be involved in church- oriented ministry. "The other eighty percent, therefore, are disenfranchised unless their church is their workplace. . . . If we really are serious about reformation, we need to empower the laypeople."

Brock then reiterated his point that "you can't be a passive learner and learn."

All of these things, President Brock believes, "come in a context of the most important thing of all and that's faith: believing that we can make a difference, . . . that we can seize the moment, that God can fill us with His Spirit, that one person can make a difference and can, in fact, absolutely change the course of history." One must also have hope. "This is the moment when the church is exploding around the world, and we need to be exploding with it."

Reacting to Frank Brock's assertions regarding the place of the small group in world-wide evangelization and Christian education, Rev. Jonathan Merica of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) made reference to the prominence which the Apostle Paul placed upon preaching and which was seen in the history of the church in the Book of Acts. Dr. Brock responded: "I think it's really hard to say that reformation always comes the same way. . . . Everything in me educationally says that when you hear a twenty or a thirty minute sermon you don't remember very much. . . . Preaching per se [is not] wrong, . . . it's [just] not sufficient."

Mr. Merica, who pastors an RCUS congregation in Lodi, CA, replied by rising and magisterially reading from Romans 10:14-15. He added that, although he has nothing against small groups, "There will never be reformation apart from the preaching of the Word of God."

Dr. Charles Dunahoo, Coordinator of the PCA's Christian Education and Publications Committee, supported Dr. Brock's position. Downplaying the effectiveness of communication through monologue, as in a professor lecturing to a large class, Brock stated that "some of you were pretty well asleep while I was finishing my remarks. Now most of you are awake, because there's dialogue going on."

Dr. Brock later asserted that "I don't see Jesus using rationalism at any point. That's not to say that what Jesus said wasn't rational. But that wasn't His approach. He wasn't approaching things from a rational perspective. . . . As far back as Aristotle, there was the notion that what a person said was associated with the character of the person who said it. . . . Godliness and holiness are really important. . . . Then and then only will the gospel be heard in a post-modern society. . . . We've been taught to argue apologetically, when fundamentally people are really expressing strong emotional needs and hurts. . . . We really need to put the emphasis in the church on caring . . . for people."

Leonard Hofman, delegate from the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), asked President Brock two questions: the place of the Sabbath in his views, and who may lead small groups. Dr. Brock responded that "the Sabbath is a very important day. I'm not totally convinced that we need to have two services" on Sunday. Noting that his home church has had a very good turnout for Sunday evening worship recently, he added, "We also have many other opportunities" during the week. Who can lead small groups? Brock replied: "You can't deny the fact that there are sixth generation Christians . . . in two years in places like China and Argentina where the church is spreading." A person should not share more than he knows; however, "the new believer has something very important to share."

Dr. Brock stated that, at Covenant College, "We are all to be professors, because every student has something to profess; and we are all to be learners, because every teacher has something to learn."

Dr. David Engelhard of the CRC remarked that Dr. Brock was emphasizing the Reformed doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. And Dr. Paul Gilchrist, PCA Stated Clerk, said that, as he went around the denomination, he would often encourage the involvement of the laity, especially the ruling elders. Not empowering the laymen, according to Dr. Gilchrist, "is to the loss of the church."

Rick Perrin, Chairman of the PCA's Interchurch Relations Committee which had arranged for Dr. Brock to speak, expressed appreciation for his stimulating address.