The Tension Between Law And Gospel

Calvin BrownCalvin Brown is the Executive Director of The Renewal Fellowship.

Among (and often within) Christians there has always been a tension between law and gospel; the tension between living in grace and forgiveness and the call to holiness and justice. We live in an age when there seems to be an overemphasis on "freedom" to choose what we think best for us as individuals on our spiritual journey, and the denial of the rights of the community to establish and maintain the lifestyle they believe reflects the harmony which enables a full life together. In our culture we have become body-obsessed and as a result demand that we be free to use our bodies in whatever way we choose without community interference. Our demand for personal unqualified freedom for the body however has led to a captivity of the soul and a breakdown of society. This fact is being understood even by the more perceptive secular commentators of North American culture who lament that America has lost its moral compass and its spiritual way. They admit they don't quite understand what has happened but they do see an increase in violence, most painfully among youth, and a disrespect for commitment and the value of life.

Often TV violence is blamed. However, I don't think it is so much the "ideas" and moral numbing people get from TV and other media as it is the spiritual and moral vacuum that is found in most homes that is the root of the problem. We hope our children will carry on faithful life in the church but we fail to be diligent and consistent in trying to model and teach our children the faith at home. We think the Sunday School should do it all but we have seen how futile such hope is.

One recent Moderator had a letter-writing campaign to encourage our children (who had sent paper flowers to Assembly), and the FLAMES initiative has as its first appeal Focus On Children And Youth. We should support these initiatives but until we take seriously faith-formation in the home we will not see much change in the outcome. It has been said that Presbyterians are one of the least effective denominations at seeing the next generation continue in church. Many simply drop out of the faith and others go to other congregations whose focus seems more purposeful. At last year's Assembly I remember one young adult representative plead with the Assembly, as it dealt with the Montreal / Lachine issue, to show the youth the biblical standards and not to compromise.

Bill Manson's article challenges us again to struggle with important matters of discipleship and discipline. When Assembly first announced the decision that the congregation and their gay leader needed to submit to the order of the church community or no longer be Presbyterians, but added that if they left the denomination they would still have use of the building, I hailed it as an answer to prayer for wisdom. Perhaps it was, but was it merely political wisdom (we weren't battered too harshly by most of the secular press as homophobic) or did we act in a way that truly showed to our brothers and sisters at Lachine that they were in serious spiritual error that put them out of the church? Would this point have been more forcefully made if we had removed from them not only the denominational affiliation but the building as well. Would such objective action have helped some to reflect more seriously on what the wider church and Scripture were saying? By allowing the congregation to carry on business as usual did we fail to care enough to confront in love?. Was our gentle response a sign that we believed sin was merely an individual choice? Perhaps our "compromise" was not after all an act of grace but a moral failure that our children will despise. One thing is certain — time is running out for us and our children — and we need to come to clear terms with who God is calling us to be as a covenanted people.

Calvin Brown,
Executive Director