Almost two years ago, my friend Bryant Taylor, a Ruling Elder of Redeemer Church, Jackson, MS, delivered an invitation to me to preach for the 10th anniversary of this vibrant, urban, multi-ethnic, cross-cultural PCA congregation. I immediately agreed. I’d had the honor of preaching the particularization service of this church back on February 13, 2005, so this opportunity was particularly meaningful to me.
Before I preached the sermon this morning, I asked for a moment of personal privilege to make a statement to the congregation on this momentous occasion. What the Lord is doing in and through Redeemer Church is nothing short of astonishing. Only God could accomplish what has been done here.
And very frankly, I also had a confession to make, public repentance to offer.
Here are my notes. I share them with this caveat. It would be impossible to capture the connection in that place this morning. People present will attest to that. A 59 year old African American woman shared words with me after the service that I hope to never forget. Words that dissolved me into tears.
To my brothers and sisters at Redeemer Church
I want you to know what an honor it is for me to be here with you on this very special occasion of your tenth anniversary. I also want you to know what a joy and encouragement you are to me, to your sister PCA congregations in the greater Jackson area, and to the whole PCA denomination.
I have so many ties to Redeemer Church: ties of friendship, ties of service, ties of partnership. I am so grateful to God to call your Pastor, Mike Campbell, my friend. And there are many other personal relationships I enjoy with people here in this room today.
I served as an Assistant Pastor at Trinity (under both Gordon Reed and Mike Ross) from 1990-1995 and know well so many of the original core group of Redeemer.
We at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) are so profoundly thankful to you for the partnership we have with you in the Gospel. Your Pastor and staff teach and mentor our students, and you provide important and unique internship opportunities that result in invaluable experience for future ministry.
Of course, we at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, feel a deep bond of fellowship with you and we rejoice at what God is doing here. It is, literally, extraordinary, remarkable and significant for the future of the PCA.
Some of you may know that First Presbyterian Church, Jackson wanted to start a multi-ethnic church plant in Jackson in the early 1990s. Money, volunteers for a core group, a potential site and even an African-American church planter were all secured. But our hopes did not materialize.
So in the early 2000s, when we learned of the plans of the core group that became Redeemer Church, we were overjoyed. And when I heard that Mike Campbell was coming to be your Pastor, my heart exploded with excitement, anticipation and praise to God.
First Presbyterian, Jackson immediately “loaned” two elders, Denny Terry and Edmund Johnston (both of whom are now with the Lord), to the work, and helped a little financially with some challenges you faced in the early days. Over the years, a number of members of First Presbyterian, Jackson have joined Redeemer, much to my delight. Not because I wanted them to go! Far from it. Indeed, I loved and missed them, but it gave my heart joy to know that their hearts were committed to this work.
Now, in all candor, we need to pause and ask, what happened here? What happened to make First Presbyterian, Jackson so committed to multi-ethnic ministry and so thrilled at what God is doing here at Redeemer? What caused a church that was known in the 1950s as a bastion of segregationism to become so desirous of seeing a multi-ethnic PCA church in Jackson, and of being inclusive itself (you should know that during my pastorate at First, I had the privilege of baptizing the first African American new members of First Church, both adults and children, in over a hundred years)?
Now friends, I am a son of the old Southern Presbyterian Church. These are my people, and I am no better than my fathers. It is humiliating to stand before you today and confess these things.
So, what happened? What accounts for this change, and for our present joy in you?
Well, the answer is complex, and many things could be said [by the way, I hope that you have been reading the very important series of articles by RTS church historian Dr. Sean Michael Lucas on the PCA, race, segregation and Jim Crow]. But is gets down to the cross, the Gospel and repentance.
In the early 1970s, the elders of First Church were meeting together at a retreat at Twin Lakes Camp and Conference Center, and, addressing this issue they said: “We were wrong.” “The church, this church, is for all God’s people, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” From that day, we have been moving forward, working and praying for a future of our church, and for the PCA churches of this city, and indeed for the whole denomination, that is inclusive and diverse.
This is just one reason we are so overjoyed about what God is doing here at Redeemer Church. You are the answer to our prayers. God answered those prayers in spite of the past and in spite of us, and we take no credit for the amazing work he has done here. But it is our joy to come alongside and support and encourage you.
We are humbled to get to call you our sister church, because we don’t deserve that honor and privilege. That we can is a generous, gift of God’s grace and of your forgiveness, thank you. From the bottom of my heart.