“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?
Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”
Having just returned from my brief foray into that “war of passions” which we call General Assembly, I’ve got several weeks worth of material to write about (and I was only there for a day). Let me begin by sharing my general feeling about the event.
(sing with me now): “It’s the end of the world as we know it…” Okay, so it’s not that bad, but I did come home from Minneapolis feeling displaced, uninspired, and yet encouraged. Let me explain.
Displaced – Never have I been surrounded by so many people and yet felt so alone. Here I was, attending the Assembly of the church, my church, a communion of brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, and I was the outsider. Every now and then I’d meet an old college or seminary friend, and that was truly a blessing, but for the most part, I was a stranger in a strange land. I’ve attended inter-denominational pastor’s conferences where I have been welcomed and received with more grace and friendship than here. I’d try to strike up conversations, only to be dismissed or ignored altogether. When riding on a shuttle back to my hotel after meeting with the new moderator, I invited people to sit in the empty seat next to me so they wouldn’t have to walk to the back of the bus, and was told by two different people they’d rather sit somewhere else (perhaps my shaved head was too intimidating).
While I was at G.A. to present an overture that called for conserving the sexual ethical standards for ordination, I didn’t advertise this information publically. Maybe the problem was that I didn’t wear one of the Rainbow Stoles signifying an allegiance with the “progressive” movement of the church. Silly me, but I take seriously the passage from Romans 15:7, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Maybe it’s just my Kansas naiveté, but I smiled at strangers, greeted those I passed, was courteous and kind, and thought others would be as well. If the way I was welcomed by my “brothers and sisters in Christ” at GA is indicative of the new “inclusive” church, God help us.
Uninspired – When I say “uninspired” I mean it in the most literal of terms: I did not sense the movement or work of the Holy Spirit. There was a lot of pomp and circumstance, pageantry and production – and yet I was left with an empty feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I desperately longed to sense the Spirit’s work and presence, for that would be a great sign of hope for the church. Instead, what I was left with was a picture of people trying to create through emotionalism and extravagance what only the Holy Spirit can do.
It is interesting that, while there, I was reading from J.I. Packer’s book, “A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life,” and found the following:
Finally, Owen scouts the idea that ornate buildings and rituals have, or can have, anything to do with the ‘beauty’ that God seeks and finds in the worship of his faithful people… The idea that ritual pageantry in services and decoration of church buildings is of itself an enriching of worship thus appears to be as a ludicrous irreverence. ‘What poor low thoughts have men of God and his ways, who think there lies an acceptable glory and beauty in a little paint and varnish.’
Encouraged – As I struggled with my experience at GA, I knew I could choose two options: flight or fight. It seems every two years (around the time of GA) I start thinking to myself, “I wonder if I can still get into truck driving school.” That’s not an option.
Instead, I decided that I’ve sat on the sidelines long enough. I’ve watched the church that taught me and called me be led down the flowery path of political correctness and appeasement long enough. It’s time to take a stand for Biblical truth and the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ. I was encouraged through prayer and the study of scripture (mostly 2 Corinthians) that this was the time to stand firm and continue in ministry. Personally, that is expressed in a new resolve to: 1) with renewed commitment pursue piety (godliness) in my own life and to help others to do the same, and 2) to offer my voice to those organizations that continue to work for renewal and reform within the Church.
Whatever happens at General Assembly, it is always important to know that God is always in control, and that even the crisis we face today in the church is within God’s vision. Romans 8:28 reminds us that “for those who love God all things work together for good…” I think that means even General Assembly.
Grace and peace,