In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul has pointed words about sin in church. Basically, we are not to permit it. Don’t dine with sinners. Cast them out.
For those in The Presbyterian Church in Canada who adhere to traditional and Biblical sexuality, it’s a bit late for that. The opportunity passed decades ago. Church law caught up to practice in 2021 with the new official understanding of marriage as “a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or as a covenant relationship between two adult persons.” The debate is over. There’s no turning back. Neither side is going to convince the other that they’re wrong. It’s like neither side has listening ears.
Christ tells us in Matthew 10:14 that “If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.” (NLT)
But what if we can’t do that? Not everyone is being called to depart from the PCC. Some of us are being told to remain in place.
This is where we turn to the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Believers will possess love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. These things may be important as we witness Christ to an unbelieving world. But they are essential as we coexist with folks in the same church who hold wildly different Biblical views.
While all fruitful qualities are useful in this context, patience might be most important.
Patience means that we wait for God’s hands to do the heavy lifting. “All glory to God,” Paul proclaims, “who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT)
Patience means that we strive to operate under God’s timing, not ours. We humans understand time as chronological: seconds turn to minutes, hours, days, and weeks, and so on. We have a concept of a beginning and an end. Not so in the Kingdom, where a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. This is Kairos time, something that we can’t wrap our heads around. If we try, it hurts.
Patience means that we speak the truth. But we speak it in love. We also lean on that other fruit, self-control. Yes, our Lord took the whip to those who turned the temple into a marketplace. He got angry at those who had little faith, who refused to see with spiritual eyes and who’d rather cling to the flesh. We all lose our cool. But like our Lord, we are to refuse to take the bait. In John 8, He kept them waiting, writing in the dust with His finger. He remained silent in the face of false accusations from His accusers after His arrest.
We are required to work side-by-side in our presbyteries with people who hold divergent views. Same is true in some of our sessions. And once a year, we gather in the Big Tent for General Assembly. It’s been four long years since we last met in person. The change in marriage doctrine represented a massive theological shift. We’ve not seen each other face-to-face since. The online assemblies did not allow true interaction. Actual debate was impossible and sharing was under a stopwatch. The 2023 General Assembly, from June 3-7 in Halifax, will be an opportunity to see how a deeply divided denomination will operate as we move forward.
At 2022 GA, there was a strong indication that many who operate from a liberal/progressive mindset see the parallel definitions of marriage as only a step toward full inclusion. Liberty of conscience is enshrined in polity, but for how long? GA 2023 will be an opportunity to see how this thinking has developed.
The Renewal Fellowship’s mission is to “Lead each other and The Presbyterian Church in Canada to authentic Biblical thinking, powerful Spirit-led prayer, and effective Gospel witness.” That means that we continue to stand with those who don’t support the theological shift. If we are to do that in a divided house, we will need to wear our spiritual fruit. And keep it fresh.
That will be essential on the floor of the Assembly, when we stand at the mics and speak. And then listen to others with whom we disagree.
And it will be essential “off the ice” when we gather for meals, hallway chat, and beverages.
General Assembly Office has graciously granted Renewal Fellowship’s request for a Prayer Room at GA, which will be staffed by me. Primarily, it will be a place where we pray for God’s will to be done and for protection from the enemy. It will be a place to share and debrief. And recharge.
And in the long tradition of Renewal Fellowship, it will be open to all.