This blog represents the thoughts of the author. While they may reflect the theological position of The Renewal Fellowship, they should not be seen as an official statement.
As we wait for the next General Assembly, many of us in PCC orthodoxy are praying, listening, discussing, discerning and planning.
It appears that a future General Assembly will approve the proposed parallel definitions of marriage in which “faithful, Holy Spirit filled, Christ centred, God-honouring people can understand marriage as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or as a covenant relationship between two adult persons.”
The expectation is not fatalistic, just realistic.
Among those in orthodoxy, three directions have emerged: depart from the PCC, divide the denomination into theological wings, and remain in the fold as witnesses to orthodoxy. (There’s a fourth camp: those who are undecided which path they might choose. But they remain amorphous.)
Regarding that third movement, also known as “stay and pray”, evangelicals might look to The United Church of Canada for inspiration. Yes, that denomination. Many in orthodoxy have distanced themselves from their counterparts in the UC.
But evangelicals are alive and well in the UC. They lead thriving congregations whose websites and language look right at home in the world of evangelicals. Many UC evangelicals find strength and solace in Cruxifusion, a network of ministers who are centred on Christ. They’re described by chair Rev. Greg Smith-Young as “ETOC: evangelical, traditional, orthodox, conservative” witnesses.
It is not a fringe group. Membership in Cruxifusion now totals approximately 500 and includes ministers, deacons, candidates for clergy and some lay members. It’s a pretty healthy number in a denomination with approximately 2,800 congregations.
Intrigued, Renewal’s board gathered by Zoom with some members of the Cruxifusion board of directors and supporters on a recent Saturday morning to hear their stories.
Cruxifusion is “a lifeline,” said one southern Ontario minister. To her, the network is like family. “You are not alone.”
Indeed, the description of “family” was tossed out a lot during our two-hour gathering. What does a family do for each other but to love, listen, encourage and provide shelter. Cruxifusion’s website banner (www.cruxifusion.ca) sums it up: “Supporting, inspiring, connecting Christ-centred ministry personnel within the United Church of Canada.”
Said an Alberta minister: “I could not serve in ministry without this network.”
“We’re here to support each other,” added a Southern Ontario minister.
Smith-Young says the network has no official standing in the denomination. “The UC recognizes us as a support network, but with no formal status. Our focus is to build relationships, as a connecting and supporting organization. Our goal is not at a formal level to lobby the denomination.”
No politics allowed. Cruxifusion is “not trying to convert the church. We just want to be faithful,” said the southern Ontario minister.
“It’s not an anxious prophetic voice,” said the Alberta minister.
That’s noteworthy, considering the history of renewal movements in the UC. Cruxifusion was born from the same theological roots of the former United Church Renewal Fellowship, Community of Concern, National Alliance of Covenanting Congregations and Church Alive. But their culture is remarkably different.
Those four groups formed at various times and each had a slightly different focus, whether spiritual, political or theological. When the UC decided to ordain those in LGB communities in 1988, many members of those renewal groups departed the denomination. Those who remained in the UC wrestled with their purpose. In time, they struggled with membership and energy.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, said Smith-Young, “there were a lot of younger ministers coming into the church who were more orthodox. They wanted to talk about Jesus. Their beliefs were consistent with the creeds. . . An evangelical influence was detected in the seminaries. Jesus has been calling these people. Students were coming in with different questions then earlier, and professors were noticing. These students were not questioning the tenets of the faith; they were embracing them.”
Smith-Young was among them. But a decade into ministry, he felt worn down by the reality that in many parts of the UC, Christ was not celebrated. He considered leaving the denomination.
“It was not around sexual orientation. It was because Christ was not celebrated; worship was a sham. It was harder and harder to maintain joy in ministry, even though I loved my congregation. The renewal groups offered no hope for me to regain that joy.”
In 2010, one of leaders from the older renewal movement invited him to a gathering of young ministers of like mind. A year later, Cruxifusion arose with 50 young ministers, most under the age of 50. Buoyed by $50,000 in leftover funds from the four groups, they sought encouragement and a voice.
Evangelicals in the UC sometimes encounter “heretical” beliefs and worship practices. They serve alongside some colleagues who are far removed from orthodoxy. Being unashamedly evangelical in a mostly-liberal mainline denomination has attracted some critical voices and they’ve been accused of hate. Rather than fight, they choose to witness Christ. They encourage their members to be involved in the leadership of the church.
Although it’s taken some time to develop, Cruxifusion is now “known for what we stand for, not what we’re against,” said the southwestern Ontario minister.
While Cruxifusion speaks orthodoxy, there are various translations.
“We may agree on scripture, but disagree on the interpretation,” said Smith-Young.
Said one Ontario minister: “We may not be on the same page theologically, but we’re in the same chapter.”
For example, those who call themselves traditional but who marry same-sex couples “would say they’re following orthodoxy.” At the end of the day, they remain united in their belief in Christ “as Lord and saviour” as stated on the website description.
Are there lessons from the Cruxifusion story for those in PCC orthodoxy? And can we learn anything from the UC experience?
After gay ordination was affirmed, many in the UC were wounded. Smith-Young was entering ministry at the time and remembers the pain and bitterness.
“I wish I could go back to those a generation ahead of me and say, ‘I grieve for you. Something bad happened to you.’ Their pain was so deep. A spirit of resentment and woundedness became part of the life of that movement. That was not attractive to me. I didn’t want to become part of the renewal groups of the UC.”
For those of us in PCC orthodoxy, that’s worth noting. Righteous anger is a painful reality. It’s beautiful in the way it echoes the words of Christ spoken against the church leaders of his day who twisted the meaning of scripture and reinterpreted Mosaic law for their own gain.
But what fruit would result? If the ship has sailed, there’s little to be gained by gazing at the horizon or shouting into the sunset. No anger or politicking would change the course. The younger UC ministers who formed Cruxifusion recognized that. They were cut from different cloth than their evangelical predecessors; not necessarily more accepting of the gay lifestyle but certainly less offended by it. They recognized that no amount of politicking was going to change a church that was yoked to contemporary culture. So they did what they could. They prayed early and often, witnessed Christ, planted the seeds and allowed the Holy Spirit to do the heavy lifting. And they didn’t allow the enemy to get them down. And all of that continues in the present tense.
During our online gathering, a Western Canada UC minister observed that Cruxifusion allowed her to be “humble enough to be led by Christ.” Ponder that. How many of us are willing to put down the sword and simply love our enemies? (Make no mistake about that: Christ told us clearly in Luke 11:23 and Matthew 12:30 that “anyone who isn’t with me opposes me.” Those who have departed from the teachings of Christ are not with Christ and are opposed to him. In this paradigm, there are winners and losers.) She noted how being on the “losing side” of sexuality politics, as defined by the progressives, was actually a gift: it allowed grace, humility and love to flow. Being on the “winning side” fueled self righteousness.
In the eyes of the world, wasn’t Christ on the losing side then and does He not reside there now? Absolutely. True followers of Christ remain on the trash heap of history, not inheriting the world but heirs to the Kingdom instead.
Flowing with grace, humility and love – that’s the dream for many. And doing so while proclaiming Christ and striving to deny ourselves in order to walk with Him. Now there’s victory.
The PCC and the UC share much of the same polity ethos and nomenclature. While it’s interesting to compare and contrast the UC’s four renewal groups with the presence of different groups and movements in the current PCC landscape, our situations are also different.
Cruxifusion’s witness and work may be inspiring to those of us in PCC orthodoxy who yearn for peace while remaining as witnesses to some form of orthodoxy. This is not to offer up Cruxifusion as a wholesale model for those in PCC orthodoxy. They are in a different context.
People in Cruxifusion are often asked about their name. The explanation is a testimony in itself: Crux is Latin for “Cross” and fusion means joining two parts together, creating a union. Their identity statement says it’s all about unity: “His cross fuses us, making us one.”
Allow me to take that a step further. In a nuclear sense, it results in a release of energy. Medically, vertebrae are rejoined to produce stability, strength and a new lease on life. The implications are powerful. It’s not my intent here to redefine another organization’s ethos or mess with the etymology. I’m merely suggesting that if the power of the Holy Spirit is present, amazing things can happen.
May this be something to ponder, as our praying, listening, discussing, discerning and planning continues.