Why An Open Letter?

Yesterday, we posted an open letter to City Church.  The post has received thousands of views from all over the country.  We have heard many encouraging words and thankfully, many conversations have been started because of this letter.  But there has been one question/concern that has been raised in a variety of places that deserves attention: why not interact personally with City Church?  Below are the reasons why the open letter was the avenue we chose:

  • Do a quick Google search on “City Church San Francisco” and this is what you find: click here.  City Church’s letter is public domain.  Whether City Church intended it or not, a variety of parties are engaging their letter.  From the Washington Post to obscure bloggers, everyone is talking about City Church.  This is a conversation happening right now.  There is no biblical reason why a group of concerned pastors, who love the RCA and the church, cannot share their opinion on this decision.  In fact, we felt compelled to add to this conversation.  All we did was to respond to a public letter publicly.
  • Since this is not a letter about a person or a relationship but about a public decision of a church, we find no reason not to talk about it publicly.  We are seeking to be helpful.  Notice that in the letter there are no “lines drawn” or accusations being thrown publicly.  Instead, we want to encourage City Church to answer these questions.  And we want to give courage to those who hold to an orthodox position to stand for the sake of the gospel.  There is no sin in that.
  • Public conversations about theological disagreements are nothing new.    Again and again, throughout history, there has been profound disagreements and discussions around theological ideas.  Matter of fact, it is through these discussions that the truth is defended.  This is no different.  We have questions.  City Church has some of the brightest leaders in the RCA; they can handle questions.
  • We know that City Church is having many personal, private conversations with people in their relational spheres.  They are also speaking to leaders within their Classis and on a denominational level.  We are thankful for that.  We feel no need to be a part of those conversations.  What we do want to do is put out into the public conversation the questions we think need to be answered.  This is not to be intrusive but we know that this denomination has a tendency to not deal with painful areas of disagreements when they happen.  We would rather this not happen here.
  • The RCA needs to have this conversation.  There is a huge fracture in our denomination.  Many good leaders just want to move beyond it and do ministry.  We get it.  So do we.  But we have passed the buck too long, allowed silence to be the answer for over a decade.  This won’t work anymore.  We can either have an open, denomination-wide conversation like mature leaders, or watch the ship sink.  There is no sitting on the side lines anymore.
  • Most importantly, the gospel is at stake.  We believe that if you get the good news wrong for the LGBTQ community, then you very well might lose it for everyone.  We don’t want this to happen.  We are concerned that City Church is moving away from Jesus and the gospel for the sexually broken.  We do not want this to happen!  God does not need us to defend his cause but he demands that we have an answer for the hope that is within us.

One final thought: we can treat each other with respect, dignity and love and still “go at it.”  The idea that we cannot disagree publicly because it’s not nice has nothing to do with the Bible and more to do with a culture that has forgotten how to disagree.

We know this won’t make everyone happy but at least it gives you a glimpse into why we did what we did.

Ron Citlau
Bob Bouwer

9 thoughts on “Why An Open Letter?

  1. I don’t believe the City Church is moving away from Jesus and the gospel, as you stated. Actually, they look a lot like him to me.


  2. Brothers in Christ,

    As you have chosen to post an open letter in reply to an open letter, I will reply by posting an open response to your open letter. I have not spoken or corresponded in any way with the leaders of City Church in San Francisco. This response is wholly mine, and if you find any portions of it objectionable, please be careful to object directly to me.

    1. You are correct; the letter of City Church’s leadership (more properly, their Board of Elders, a distinction that is critically important), though addressed to “friends” was posted publicly. The City Church offered its letter in the name of a discernible body of elected officers who, for nine months (formally; we can be sure that informal conversations have been held for years) wrestled with the Scriptures, and sought to discern the voice of the Spirit. My question is, who are the “we” to whom you refer in your letter? Sure, the names are attached, and that’s all well and good. But it’s not a “body” in any sense. It’s more, “a bunch of guys.” And there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself; the problem comes when a random group expects some form of accountability of a duly constituted and Spirit-recognized group. Anyone can say whatever he or she wishes; however, not just anyone can say to anyone else: “hey, answer to me!” (Self-disclosure: when the Formula of Agreement was under discussion in 1997 I convened a group of ministers and elders who went on retreat, many of whom ultimately signed onto a letter publicly advocating for the Formula, in order to respond to the criticism that the Formula was receiving at the time. I do not regret that decision or action; the difference here is that the pro-Formula group was performing advocacy, not accountability.)

    2. You note that there are no “lines drawn” or “accusations” in your letter. Well, that’s probably in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? When you ask a series of questions that clearly draw a line between your interpretation of the Scriptures and that of the City Church, you can say “there are no lines drawn” all you want, but, you clearly draw them. Just be open and honest about it. You’ll get to that down the line (#6), but I don’t see any reason why you’re bending over backward to be “nice” here. By your own account, “niceness” has nothing to do with it.

    3. You’re absolutely right; the City Church has some of the brightest leaders in the RCA and they can handle questions. You can be sure that a plethora of questions are coming from their own members. They are the ones who are fielding such questions. No doubt some members of the congregation are confused. Some may be angry. A few may even feel betrayed. The Elders of City Church need to field those conversations, and deal with the toll that it brings to their souls. They are the ones who took the risk they took, believing themselves to be acting as the Spirit led them to act. It just doesn’t seem helpful to add to the burden they are already bearing. Might you not simply have written, “We respectfully disagree with your decision, and will pray that you may change it; but in the meantime we acknowledge you as the ministers and elders whom God has entrusted to care for the souls of your people, even as God has entrusted us”?

    4. You offer questions that you think need to be answered. Do you feel that the questions are not being asked elsewhere? Does the RCA have a tendency not to deal with painful areas of disagreements? I suppose so; but I wonder what else the General Synods have been talking about for the last 25 years or so. In one guise or another, matters of human sexuality have been on the agenda of every single General Synod meeting. (However, I would take issue with the idea that the General Synod “is” the denomination – such a misreading of RCA polity would lead us to a Westminster-style process of seeking authoritative interpretations. Presbyterian polity doesn’t look the same everywhere. We’re not Westminster.)

    5. Yes, the RCA needs to have a conversation. Last time we tried it in any structured, denomination-wide way, no significant changes occurred. Nor were they meant to. A dialogue is not a debate, nor even a process of discernment. I can’t speak for any other region, but in my neck of the woods, very few people who held the position you seem to reflect appeared at the table for dialogue. When researched as to why they did not attend, the tone of the reply was “Why would we have a dialogue about something that’s so clearly spoken about in the Bible?” I can’t speak for anywhere but here. All I can say is, if we are going to have a conversation, let it be a conversation – not an opportunity for one side or the other to sit the other down and teach them a thing or two. (Yes, I fully acknowledge that the sword cuts both ways.)

    6. Finally you offer what you truly believe: you believe that the City Church is “moving away from Jesus and the gospel for the sexually broken.” Aside from begging the question (you assume the brokenness of the LGBTQ community), you are offering what you believe: a position with which millions of Christ-followers differ. No doubt you are right that God does not need you to defend his cause – we have structures of accountability that are designed, in some sense, to do that. And surely God demands that we have an answer for the hope that is in us, but how that translates to any of us demanding an answer from someone else for the ministry decisions they make – well, it is baffling at best.

    In conclusion you say that we can treat each other with respect, dignity and love (and still “go at it).” True enough. But it is not good order for anyone, anywhere, to “go at it” with anyone, everywhere about whatever issue they believe to be the most pressing at any given moment. Choosing to proceed in such a manner, and in public, hastens the division of the church, and bears witness to the world that clawing at one another, tearing one another up, is the way we operate in the church. I’m aware that I’m taking the phrase out of context and reapplying it here, but – it ought not be so among us.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I appreciate your willingness to outline your reasons for posting your letter openly. I read the open letter, and regardless of the content of the message you shared, was deeply troubled that all of this was playing out on the Internet. Even though the letter from City Church was posted publicly, I want to urge you to consider what impact this open and public disagreement has on the witness of the Church, and the way it reflects on the Reformed Church in America. It’s best for the Church to handle its divisions internally and via the channels that are established for these conversations. I know you’ve got your reasons for posting publicly, but I think it’s best to take these matters offline.

    In the RCA, the direct oversight of churches resides in the Classis. While random collections of individuals are free to express their concerns and opinions via whatever means they deem appropriate, you acknowledge in your open letter that you do not have the authority to challenge what City Church has done…and yet go on to do so anyway. Has their decision impacted your ability to do ministry in your congregations? Has it impeded the spread of the Gospel where you serve? Or, are you simply worried about associating with them?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. April, What is deeply troubling is that the RCA’s continued historical and liturgical position is that sexual expression outside a covenant commitment of marriage between a man and a woman is sin. Yet, there are Ministers of Word and Sacrament, Professors of Theology, Churches, and Classis groups who completely disregard this and do as they please, isn’t this being divisive against the stated position of the RCA? As you know, there is a group who is trying to change the denominations position, but I find it fascinating that they want things done behind closed doors, not out in the open in order to protect “the witness of the Church.” Rather than living within the clear position of the RCA, they want to reinterpret it into something that is unbiblical, unorthodox, a false-gospel and sin. I can agree with you that this conversation needs to take place “via the channels that are established” for the entire denomination, which means constitutionally, our polity, our BCO, and not through politicizing in the dark by gaining churches on an ‘open & affirming’ roster. The RCA needs its leadership to step up and talk about the elephant in the room.


  5. “Most importantly, the gospel is at stake. We believe that if you get the good news wrong for the LGBTQ community, then you very well might lose it for everyone.”

    You couldn’t be more accurate. It’s why, after your open letter, I’m convinced that you don’t fully understand what the Good News truly is.


    1. M@, feel free to articulate your version of the good news, the gospel, as apparently you’re calling out the letter authors as not understanding it. What does Mark 1:14-15 mean to you? What is Jesus asking people to repent from? What does it mean to believe in this gospel?

      Also, I would encourage you to pick up Compassion without Compromise, and then determine why Ron (& Adam) might state the gospel is at stake (including myself and many more). Ron and Adam do an excellent job in calling the church to create space for those who identify as LGBT to be loved on and respected, just like anyone else who would walk into your church (You’d hope!). These are not pastors who sit back on a one sided perspective throwing hate around, but have engaged this at a pastoral level, just as City Church has by reading Ken Wilson’s book.
      On both sides, these pastors have been scouring scripture, books, and research, in order to help remove the typical ignorance of making claims without putting the effort in and figuring out where they land on the swath of LGBT positions.
      On both sides, the church doors are wide open (to hear the gospel preached), but one is saying that no matter what your sexual orientation is we will support you in a same-sex union, and the other is saying scripture clearly speaks that a covenant marriage is between a man and woman. Thus, any sexual activity outside of a covenant marriage (man & woman for myself) is sin, demands repentance and transformation as a new creation in Christ.
      If a same-sex union (or sexual activity outside of a covenant marriage) is no longer sin as it has been described throughout scripture, or listed in the vice lists, how do we perceive everything else listed along with it (1 Cor. 6:9-11)? What is sin now? Is it a doctrine that needs to be rewritten every time our sexuality perspectives shift with culture? In the end, like cultures of the past, we live in an era of sexual idolatry, which Romans 1 doesn’t speak kindly of…


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