This the first installment of a quarterly series of interviews highlighting the Lord’s work in the lives and ministries of our Reformed Forum faculty. Up first is Jim Cassidy, president of the Reformed Forum board of directors and pastor of South Austin OPC in Austin, Texas. He sits down with Ryan Noha to discuss growing up Roman Catholic, giving up his life for the gospel, and serving the Lord in his family, church, and the work of Reformed Forum.
Jim, we have many longtime friends and supporters at Reformed Forum who know you well, but for those who are just meeting you for the first time or haven’t heard about your background, tell us how you made your way from Roman Catholicism into the OPC. How were you converted, and then how were you “born again” as one of Machen’s Warrior Children?
I appreciate that question. I think that growing up Roman Catholic has given me a particular perspective on the Reformation. When I was growing up Roman Catholic, the emphasis was very much upon the rules and doing what you’re supposed to do so that you don’t displease God. And if you don’t displease God, then you can get yourself out from underneath his wrath. So everything was geared towards this work of merit, whether it’s in the participation of the sacraments, going to church, not talking in church to your friends, kneeling properly, being an altar boy—you got some extra points for that. Now, they didn’t put it in those terms. But that’s sort of the message that was communicated.
As I was growing up and into college, I was under the impression that if you did enough good works, or if you did more good works than bad works, then you would go to either purgatory or heaven. But if you were a particularly nasty sort that did more bad deeds than good deeds, you would go to hell. Now, nobody I knew, despite the depravity that we exercised in our lives, thought that they were so bad as to be going to hell. And when they did something that was particularly bad, and they knew it, they would joke around and laugh and say, “Ha, I’m going to hell!” But it was not really taken seriously. I had this impression going into college.
It was there in college that I met a Baptist believer who was ministering to me and praying for me. His church’s youth group back home was also praying for me. And he was witnessing to me telling me about the gospel. When I told him my understanding of Christianity as I just explained it, he said, “No, that’s not how you get to heaven. You get into heaven by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” And now, we know, and I know from hindsight, that that’s not itself the gospel: “Having a personal relationship with Jesus.” That’s more of an evangelical way of saying that it’s not on the basis of your works or your goodness that you get into heaven but by faith in Jesus Christ. And so I remember going to bed that evening and saying to Jesus that I wanted to have a relationship with him. I woke up the next day, and I began to read my Bible and basically haven’t looked back since.
Now at that time, I didn’t fully comprehend the gospel. I knew nothing of the Reformation. So my intent was to be a Catholic—a good Catholic—and to stay in the Catholic Church. My intent was to go around telling everybody that they need to have a “personal relationship with Jesus” because that’s what I was taught. At that point, a Reformed person who was part of a Protestant Bible study took me aside. He began to explain to me the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, and he told me a little bit about the Reformation and “faith alone” and “grace alone” and all of that stuff. And when I went home over Christmas break during my sophomore year, I began to read Galatians. It blew my mind because Paul was articulating everything that I did not believe or that I was not taught growing up. In fact, it was the exact opposite of what I was being taught as I was growing up. It absolutely transformed and renovated my way of thinking about sin and salvation, the gospel—the whole nine yards. I quickly became very angry at the Catholic Church when I thought about the way that they were misleading me. My soul, and the souls of millions, was dependent upon the church proclaiming the truth and the true gospel, and Rome wasn’t doing that. It upset me very much.
I’ve gotten over my anger, but speaking to the issue of Machen’s Warrior Children, perhaps the reason that I am so dogmatically committed to Reformed theology is because I believe that it is as Warfield put it: “Christianity come to its own.” And if Reformed Christianity is “Christianity come to its own,” then we absolutely must stand for it; we must fight for it. Souls are at stake. I would never want our church to lose that message. I think Machen felt that way, too, even though he wasn’t raised Catholic. He was raised within the Presbyterian Church, but he was militant about the truth because he knew that it was a life-or-death situation. And I know it’s a life-or-death situation. So I believe in the Reformed faith and in zealously maintaining it, promoting it, preaching it, and teaching it because I believe truly that lives are at stake.
Amen, brother. I never tire of hearing how the Lord has brought a person to the understanding of that life-giving gospel: the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again. It’s only through union with him that we have any hope of salvation. It’s really that simple. We aren’t Reformed because we’re pugilistic, but because the Reformed faith is the only faith worth contending for. It’s radically consistent with Scripture, and that’s why we love it. That’s why we agree with Machen when he said on his deathbed, “Isn’t the Reformed faith grand?”
Yes. I think everybody has it within them to give their lives for something. We all know the brevity of our lives, and I think I think everybody wants to give their life to something that that counts, that makes a difference. Most of the time people identify the wrong thing to give their lives for. When I found and discovered the truth of the gospel as it was recaptured and re-articulated by the Reformers, I found something where I could say, I’m willing to die on that hill. I’m willing to surrender my life for the sake of that message because it has eternal consequences, even as the message itself is eternal as it says in the Book of Revelation, the “eternal gospel.” Without that understanding, we don’t have the gospel. We only have a man-made imitation of it as Paul says in Galatians, which is “no gospel at all.”
It’s really important for us to understand that we don’t want to be Machen’s Warrior Children, as it were, for the sake of making other people’s lives difficult. Or if we’re being just obnoxious, having a reputation for being that pugilistic guy who’s always looking to fight—we don’t want that. We don’t fight for the sake of the fight; we fight for the sake of the faith. We fight the good fight of faith. It’s important for us to keep our eyes on that because it’s that faith which will bring Christ’s children to maturity. And that’s part of what our goal is at Reformed Forum: to declare the whole counsel of God unto the people of God so that everyone in the church can be brought to the point of maturity in Christ, all to the glory of Christ, for the good of his church, and the evangelization of the lost. That’s something that we have to bear in mind.
We’re supporting the Great Commission of the church. We’re not the church; we’re not doing the Great Commission. Rather, we’re seeking to come alongside the church to support its mission to preach the gospel. And without understanding exactly what it is that the Scriptures teach about the gospel, we have nothing to offer the world. We have no evangel, no gospel to preach, unless we are clear, concise, and accurate in our proper reading of the Scriptures, aided by the Holy Spirit through the testimony of the church in the past and all the greats upon whose shoulders we stand. Without that, we don’t have a message that is worth living for. It’s not worth dying for. It doesn’t aid in the work of evangelism.
That’s right. Without that message, it’s not even evangelism at all. Now, on that note of discipleship, I’d love to hear how this all works out in your family life. Would you give us portrait of your family and then share a bit about how you seek to lead in such a way that the Lord would draw your wife and children into these glorious truths that we hold so dear?
My wife, Eve, is a great helpmeet to me. She has been there by my side in ministry for the last 20 years. I’m so very grateful. We’ve known each other longer than that, but we’ve been married in ministry for 20 years. We have three wonderful children, Caitlyn, Ian, and Anna, and they’re all great kids. I love them dearly. In terms of your question about discipleship, it’s a little bit different now because the kids are older. Eve has a job outside the home, and I have a job, of course. So we’re all going every which way, and our time together for regular, regimented family worship is not in the same pattern as it was when the kids were younger. We were very regimented. After our evening meal, we would have Bible reading, catechesis, and prayer. Now, my pastoral instinct to try to mitigate the awkward schedule of having older kids, one of whom is in college, is to take every opportunity to talk to them about the things of the Lord and to pray with them. I drive my daughter to school every day and we pray on the way to school; we talk about the things of the Lord and about the church. My kids are inquisitive, so they like to ask questions. I try to maximize those questions to illuminate the faith.
It’s much more dynamic, living as it is now in terms of ministry to the family, but I have to emphasize the importance of catechesis. My kids have a bedrock, a foundation, in the Catechism that they learned when they were younger. If I were to be honest and sober, I would say that they probably wouldn’t be able to recite word for word the vast majority of the Q and A’s that they learned as they were growing up, but the substance is there. And there are a few very key questions and answers that the kids still very much have burned or etched within their memories, such that it would go rote if I were to ask the question at random. Sometimes I’ll say, “What does every sin deserve?” in the course of conversation, and the kids instantly say, “the wrath and curse of God,” which is from the Children’s Catechism. There are some of those questions that are really familiar: Who made you? What’s your chief end? And however you might rephrase that question, they’ve got it; they know it. So it gives us something to build on as they as they grow older and as they mature in the faith.
Catechesis was the kind of thing that I did not grow up with. Catholicism would say, we do catechesis; the Catholic Church has a Catechism. But really, catechesis is a Protestant Reformational practice. When I was growing up, we read very little Bible. Even in Catholic parochial school, which I went to from first grade right through college, we studied very little in the Scriptures. And we certainly didn’t get regular, regimented catechesis, learning questions and answers in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We were not well instructed at all. Despite the fact that we had religious training all throughout, we didn’t learn the faith systematically.
Nonetheless, that’s a beautiful thing that you can look back on God’s faithfulness today and see how he has worked through the “foolishness” of catechesis in your own family, in the next generation. You can share in the great joy that the Apostle John spoke about when he heard that his children, his flock, were “walking in the truth.” Tell us about your own church, your own flock. Where do you serve and how is the Lord using the means of grace to gather and perfect his people there?
Thank you for that. I love my church very much. And it’s a joy to be able to talk about the congregation and the work here in South Austin. I came here in 2014. The congregation in Pflugerville, Texas, which is just to the northeast of Austin, not very far outside city limits—that was the original South Austin Presbyterian Church actually. They were originally meeting in locations on the south side of the city. Then they were able to get a piece of land and build a building, but it was to the northeast in Pflugerville. They ended up moving up there, leaving the south side somewhat untended in terms of Reformed witness. Glen Clary was the pastor there before I arrived at Providence in Pflugerville. And they had a group at that church that was meeting for Bible study down on the south side. There were about 20 to 25 people that were traveling north from South Austin up to Pflugerville for worship on Sunday, and they were desirous of starting a work on the south side.
That Bible study had been going on for five years when they finally called me to come as a church planter. We started worship services in July of 2014, and we became a particular congregation in 2015. From there we began to grow and to develop as the Lord continued to add to our numbers. A couple of years ago, we were able to purchase the building where we now carry out our ministry. Not long after we started worshiping, after we particularized, we had a couple of families come to our church from the New Braunfels area, which is about 45 minutes south of here towards San Antonio. We ministered to those families, and they were desirous of starting a work in New Braunfels. This was funny, because we were praying from the very beginning that the Lord would allow us to become a church-planting church plant. We didn’t want to wait very long to start praying and thinking about the next church plant. And so that’s what ended up happening. Within five years, we ended up starting the work down in New Braunfels. And now in a couple of weeks’ time, Lord willing, the New Braunfels church is going to particularize as a new and regular congregation. We’re really excited about that.
South Austin OPC itself is a very mature congregation. The folks are very serious about the word. They’re absolutely committed to Reformed worship, to the inclusion of Psalms in worship—not exclusively, but inclusive psalmody—and to Reformed orthodoxy. Our elders are very good shepherds. They take good care of the people and are very attentive, patient, kind, and loving. Our deacons are the same. They’re attentive to the needs of the congregation and have done a great job tending to the flock. Anyway, that’s a little bit about us. It’s a congregation that I’m so very much in love with.
What are you preaching and teaching through these days in terms of sermon series or Sunday school, and what fruit is your ministry bearing in the congregation?
In the morning, we are going through the book of James. That has been very useful for all of us, myself, especially. James’ exhortation with regard to the use of our words has been transforming for me, and I think for others, as well. As Reformed Christians, we are a very principled people, and rightly so. We believe that we are to live on the basis of God’s Word, and so we live in a very principled way. And we believe that we can know God and how he wants us to live. But sometimes, when a principled mindset combines with the old nature, we can very quickly allow our zeal to overtake our holiness, our self-discipline, and our restraint. Then sometimes we speak out of a desire to be principled, to stand for the truth, but we do so perhaps in a way that’s not loving and kind and proper and biblical.
James’ exhortations on what it means to suffer have also been a tremendous help to me personally. He’s one of the few places outside of the Book of Job that you can find reference to Job. James is very concerned to instruct the congregation who is obviously suffering. They are suffering persecution and opposition from the world, and James is concerned to teach them what it means to suffer righteously. Sometimes, suffering righteously means guarding your words in such a way that when you’re attacked, you don’t return attack for attack and so forth and so on. That’s been very helpful, I think, to the congregation.
In the evening, I’ve been preaching on 1 Chronicles. We’re going to get to 1 Chronicles 5 this Sunday, Lord willing. The congregation has been remarkably receptive to that series. I thought it would be a flop, quite frankly, because, as you know, the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles is just a list of names except in chapter four where you have the prayer of Jabez. Of course, much has been made of that by some. I did a two-part series on chapter four, focusing exclusively on the prayer of Jabez. There were some little polemics in those sermons, which is appropriate in this instance.
The emphasis that I’ve been trying to underscore, however, is that we are the people of God. Our identity in Jesus Christ is found with the people of God under the old covenant. So when we read these genealogies, we have to understand that they are our genealogies. We’re living in a day and age where there seems to be a renewed interest in family lineage and genealogy. You can take a prick of blood or saliva, send it to some company, and they’ll tell you who your people are. But that’s DNA. We’re talking about something that’s deeper than DNA, which is the covenant of grace. We’re emphasizing our unity in the covenant of grace with the people of old and now showing the way in which the people of God are a people of every tribe, nation, and tongue.
During Sunday school, we’ve been working through R. B. Kuiper’s book on the doctrine of the church, The Glorious Body of Christ. And I talked about that a little bit recently on a Christ the Center episode. That’s been really helpful, especially in the area of church authority and power. I think there’s a lot of confusion out there about what church power and authority is or is not. Kuiper gives us a tonic to avoid an evangelical sort of no-churchism on the one hand, and then a kind of Roman Catholic-authoritarian-dominating kind of approach to authority and power on the other. He gives us the Reformed position. That’s been very helpful and sparked a good deal of interesting conversation in our congregation.
Another area where Kuiper is so good is on the indestructibility of the church. Persecution not only does not destroy the church, but persecution is actually the seed bed of the church. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The church grows from persecution. The world can’t destroy the church; rather persecution will only advance the cause of Christ in this world. When we suffer righteously, we are identifying most intimately with our savior in his sufferings. The pinnacle point at which we are to imitate Christ is precisely here, in our willing suffering. That doesn’t mean that we go out and ask for it or look for it. Some of the early church fathers were somewhat guilty in this regard, but normally nobody wants to suffer. At the same time, we are willing, like Jesus, and as he calls his disciples to do, to lay our lives down for our friends, the glory of Christ, and the building of the church.
That foolishness of the cross will never become less foolish to the world, but to those who are God’s elect, it is the power of God unto salvation. So keep preaching it, brother! Now we could continue discussing and rejoicing in the Lord’s good work through your ministry in the local church, but I’d love to hear how you are also striving to serve the church in her Colossians 1:28 work through your labors here at Reformed Forum.
My role at Reformed Forum is somewhat supportive, which is great because that’s what I think I’m good at that. I’m not the sort of person that excels at leadership and taking charge and making things happen. Our dear brother Camden, our Executive Director, is excellent at organization, administration, execution of tasks and what not. He’s got the big vision; he knows what he’s doing. I’m here simply as a board member, and as the president of the board, to support him and our faculty—to cheer everybody on and to assist in anything that needs to be done to accomplish our mission.
As a faculty member, I’ve been working on a number of things, including a class on the Gospel of John that I hope to be able to roll out sometime later this year. I also do blog posts and Christ the Center episodes. I try to encourage our Van Til cohort students on Discord (our chat platform). I just see myself as playing a supporting role, throwing myself in anywhere that the Lord opens up for me to encourage, help, and assist. Everybody over there at the new office is doing a great job in terms of getting my material for the Westminster Shorter Catechism classes [Qs. 1–38 and Qs. 39–107] into published, book form. I’ve been working on that manuscript, and hopefully that will come out later on this year.
With the busyness of the pastorate and family, finding time to be able to execute on those projects that I have on my desk is something that is moving along way too slowly. I wish that I was able to produce more as a faculty member, but I remain blessed. The Lord has been gracious and kind. I love what Reformed Forum is doing. To be involved at all is a privilege and an honor. I’m sort of like the free safety in football—just kind of standing by waiting to make an interception or to maybe a tackle. I’m looking to be there when I’m needed and then to fill in that gap as those needs arise. But really, if I aspire to anything, it’s to become the water boy.
That’s one thing that I love about working with you. And the same is true for the other brothers at RF. You have a servant heart. You’re just seeking to live coram Deo and to serve the church. I love that that’s in our mission statement. It’s in our blood, our spiritual DNA. We don’t want to be big shots or to replace the church; we want to be servants to her and to labor unto the glory of our Head, even Jesus Christ, who by his Spirit and word perfects his bride. It’s such a joy to labor with you as a like-minded brother in Christ, to know the bond of peace that we have by the Spirit.
Psalm 133. It’s better than the oil going down Aaron’s beard and robe. Amen, and amen. And the feeling is mutual brother. Thank you for the great work here that you’re doing for Reformed Forum. We are exceedingly grateful and regard you as a gift from the Lord.
All that I’ve received is from him, and I praise him for that. As we look together unto the Lord to provide the increase for all of our labors, are there any particular things that our listeners and supporters can lift up in prayer on your behalf?
We always covet prayers, the prayers of the saints wherever they may find themselves, for our church and ministry in South Austin. We covet the prayers of God’s people everywhere for the ministry of Reformed Forum for everything that we’re doing, from recording classes to rolling out books and blog posts. Pray that the work of Christ by His Spirit would continue. And I would ask even that it would increase in my heart, so that as I become more like Christ, I will be more effective at showing others how to walk with Christ.