In December 2012, Scot Sherman, teaching pastor at City Church San Francisco and president of the Newbigin House of Studies, as well as a member of the Perspectives board of editors, spoke with Tim Vink, the Reformed Church in America’s coordinator for church multiplication, about his response to a recent Perspectives article.
Scot Sherman (SS): In an As We See It piece in the August/September 2012 issue of Perspectives, titled “The NAR and the RCA” (The New Apostolic Reformation and the Reformed Church in America), Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell questioned and criticized the influence of the NAR within RCA church multiplication efforts under your leadership. Do you feel that you were misrepresented in any way?
Tim Vink (TV): Yes, I do, and so do most of the people I know in RCA church multiplication. The article opened with an extreme statement from C. Peter Wagner, and then created a guilt-byassociation argument. He described a “prevalence of NAR beliefs in RCA church plants and NAR apostles in key RCA positions.” Really? Name one.
Here’s a comparison for you. Scot, I know that you went to a Chicago Invitation meeting a few years ago. What if I found the most extreme statement of one of their members and then went public accusing you of holding that view because you went to one of the meetings? How would you feel? To do so would be ludicrous, naive, superficial, and reactionary. I believe this is what has been done to me. That said, Steve made some corrections on his blog and offered an apology, which I accept. But you asked the question, and that is how I felt.
SS: Have you ever been to meetings of the NAR?
TV: I think clarity is important here. I alone— no one else from the RCA—attended a couple of meetings of the ICA (the International Coalition of Apostles) a few years ago. I found them to be a diverse and strong group of missionaries. They weren’t weird, just strong Christian leaders. It was a fraternity I was a part of for a time, but I haven’t been for years now. It has no power over my actual leadership as coordinator for church multiplication with the RCA.
SS: It sounds as if you’re at a place now that when you use the word “apostle” it is similar to the way that many of us use the word “apostolic” to describe the character of a ministry. Or are you saying something different? What do you mean when you say that your ministry is apostolic?
TV: I believe that the church is called to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. We are called to join the mission of God in the world, to carry out kingdomadvancing work. It’s not so much that the church has a mission as much as the mission of God has a church! One kind of leadership, by biblical design, through the Gospels, through Acts, and the Epistles, is the actual leadership paradigm Jesus put into play. It’s so obvious that we easily forget it—Jesus first trained disciples into apostles. And then there were other apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers raised up by the Lord throughout the New Testament. There’s a strong biblical case here that we need to wrestle with, and I have laid it out extensively to our Commission on Theology. Alan Hirsch’s book The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the Twenty-First Century Church is a good summary of the biblical teaching. C. Peter Wagner’s stuff is really not the same. It’s not a good representation of our applied practice within RCA circles for leadership development. It’s a subculture that has little to do with RCA church multiplication.
SS: So, you believe there is an ongoing gifting for and office of apostle?
TV: I believe that since the Holy Spirit continues on in the church, then all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament era are the same today, and are necessary for the church. What we wrestled hard over with the Commission on Theology is whether the scriptures are our only rule for faith and life, or whether it also includes our Book of Church Order or history.
SS: Do you think that you are in any way out of accord with RCA church order?
TV: No! Many of our planters are engaged in the ministries of their classes. After the first years of intense planting work, some planters become team leaders and a few serve as presidents of their classis. I have been under the authority of my classis for twentyfive years and am very active in teams. I believe as I was trained, that decisions are made in assembly. We hear God together. When I submit these ideas, I do so as someone under authority.
SS: You seem to suggest that one can be a faithful member of a tradition and still advocate for a principle of ecclesiae semper reformanda est—the church is always to be reformed.
TV: Absolutely. In the good work of reformation, Calvin restored pastors and teachers to us, which helped steward a tremendous explosion of the gospel. When you have a movement you need lots of shepherds and teachers. We got back forty percent of the Ascension gifts during the Reformation, but why stop in the midstream of biblical teaching? We need to recognize the rest of the gifts now because we are no longer in Christendom. We need missionaries. Most of the planters we send in the RCA are apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistically equipped, over three hundred of them now, and we haven’t theologically melted the place down at all.
SS: Do you believe that these planters should uphold RCA doctrinal distinctives, for example, infant baptism, women in ordained ministry? Do most RCA church planters baptize children? Are we seeing women equipped and sent as church planters?
TV: Let’s start with women. If I wanted to use statistics for dramatic effect, I could say that we’ve had an 800-percent increase of women church planters in the RCA. Basically, we’ve gone up from one or two to ten to fifteen. I would love to see many more! We promote it, we encourage it, and we are developing women leaders.
On infant baptism, I personally have trained hundreds of leaders in our theology of baptism, and I encourage and strongly support a faithful practice of infant baptism. When we bring in gifted leaders, we work with them in developing their theology. I want people to know that I am fully supportive of women in leadership and of our theology of baptism. If there are exceptions to this across the country, it is a classis issue. I can’t always be present to hear if theological issues come up in classis exams (again, we have three hundred church planters!). There may be a few problems, but I don’t think there are many—our classes are good at their job.
SS: What do you most want Perspectives readers to hear from you?
TV: What I care most about is that the church planters and the church multiplication movement are not mocked and mischaracterized. My personal reputation is secondary. But we’re dealing with significant matters of leadership design in the scriptures and gospel movements. I have met with the Commission on Theology at length and fully submit to their authority. Beyond that, I want people to know that I am a super-transparent person. There is nothing going on that is “hush-hush” or “swept under the rug.” Hear me: I will talk to anyone, anywhere, about any of these issues or convictions. I don’t have anything to hide. I’m a born and baptized RCA kid and I love this denomination. These mischaracterizations are hurtful and unhelpful.