Wow!! I cannot remember a General Assembly that has been prayed for in advance for such a prolonged time. Dedicated intercessions began early last Fall and have only intensified and multiplied in the past several weeks (I am penning this in late May). Even though military imagery upsets some, for many this prayer onslaught resonates with David engaging Goliath, affirming “the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47). We pray knowing God is able to do exceedingly beyond what we can even imagine. By the time you read this, the Assembly will have ended and the initial results of all these prayers will be evident.
As I pondered other military imagery which permeates the scriptures as a metaphor for the life of faith, I began to think of examples of warfare from secular history. As I did, one of the themes that came to mind involved the frequent number of times battles and campaigns were decided when one force was able to circumvent defences and execute an attack from the rear. The Maginot Line and Singapore in the last world war are but two prominent examples.
A great deal of our prayer focus has focussed on the divided ethos of our denomination. The current form of remits ‘B’ and ‘C’ before us arose when many commissioners at the 2019 General Assembly passionately sought to find a way to bridge the evident and deep fractures among us. Given the vigour and the amount of opposition to those remits, this well-intentioned action has so far not succeeded. Our unity remains precarious. I hope that when you are reading this, The PCC will be celebrating the “miracle” for which we have been praying.
Yet as important as our oneness in Christ is, I wonder, as we have been wresting with Biblical authenticity and matters of sexuality, if our real enemy has not been manoeuvring his forces to attack from a different direction and is already strongly entrenched and tightening the noose around us?
It is still too early (though after 15 months it seems much longer) but the pandemic has revealed some of the more debilitating and dangerous dimensions of secularism that appear increasingly to dominate our culture. These I believe are and will be even greater threats to vital ministry than disunity in the PCC.
One is how rapidly autocracy became the constant default response of leaders. With very little push-back from the general population or organizations such as the CCLA or opposition parties, officials enacted many arbitrary and very restrictive measures. Most of this was justified under some form of the rubric –“the greater good.” If you believe we human beings are by nature fallen (corrupt) and that inevitably “power corrupts” then this secular tendency to assert unbridled authority doesn’t bode well for a faith that promotes freedom and liberty. Except for a few fringe congregations, I have not heard of any other challenge by a significant religious community to this intrusion by the state into the life of faith.
A second is the promotion of paranoia as a main method to garner support for official revocation of various liberties. Fear became a main motivator. Fear and love do not mix. Fear rarely evokes our best and often arouses the worst. Heightened levels of fear as a normal life perspective can vaccinate people against being receptive to a Gospel of hope.
The Gospel, the life of faith, has always been counter-cultural. More and more we are becoming a society described by words like “binary”, “woke” and “cancel”. When those attitudes become the dominant mind-set, both the appetite for truth and the ability to express truth are severely diminished.
As I noted above, I hope we are celebrating in joyful unity by the time you read this. Regardless, I am delighted we have become a people more committed to prayer as we prepared for the 2021 General Assembly. Sadly, in the end, the issues within may have made us more vulnerable to the enemy surrounding us. However the battle is the Lord’s. Pray.