Fellowship of Presbyterians Day Two: Non Manufactured Unity

So yesterday I hung out with over a thousand Presbyterians for nearly thirteen hours, and not once did we argue about:

1. Politically charged and divisive denominational statements.
2. Motions and amendments.
3. Definitions of Marriage.
4. Ordination Standards.
5. The Authority of Scripture.
6.  Whether Confessions should be ignored/changed.

Instead we worshipped, we fellowshipped, we networked and we got to discuss things like:

1. Missions
2. Evangelism
3. How to Evaluate the Spiritual Health of our Churches
4. The Centrality of Christ
5. The Need for Holiness in all aspects of life (not just in sexuality)
6. Accountability in Ministry
7. The Vital Role of Confessions in the Church.

The sort of unity that exists here at this Gathering is not the kind that you have to manufacture.  It's not the kind that has to have polite statements or well thought out and committee approved prayers to be read in order for everyone to feel somewhat better about the nasty things they have thought and/or said about the people who disagree with them.  It's not the sort of unity that exists when people halfheartedly sing a hymn after calling one another names, and making inflammatory remarks on a General Assembly or Presbytery floor.

It's not perfect.  It's incomplete.  It's not uniform.  But it's a glimpse of what can happen when church leaders are united by simply focusing on fulfilling the commission of the Church given to it by Christ.

What I have always felt, but never articulated is that Evangelicals in the Presbyterian church have been all too timid about claiming some very important truths about themselves.  Here are some things I've learned:

  • Even though statistics prove (Read Robert Putnam's book American Grace if you don't believe me) that Evangelicals are more generous with their time and money in their churches and communities than their progressive counterparts, they have allowed them to control a narrative that declares Evangelicals care very little about this world, and only about the next.  Not only is this not true, it needs to be corrected.  
  • It's not enough to have right theology, if you haven't any humility.  
  • Evangelicals need to stop practicing their speeches for the next vote on the next controversial topic, and should lead by example efforts to actually focus on helping to heal the real brokenness that exists in the lives of people both within and without our churches.  
  • It's time for Evangelicals in the Reformed Tradition to begin preaching and teaching about the generosity of God.  
  • People need Jesus. Period. End of Story.  Christians need to share Jesus not just through our deeds, but our words as well.  The Church is uniquely positioned to have an eternal affect on someone's life.  It's not just a dispensary for social services.  If we don't do what we do in the name of Jesus and with the intent that his name is the name above all names, we might as well change the sign. 
  • Change, Newness, Transformation----it's all messy.  And as Tim Keller taught us, not without suffering.  Evangelicals need to shed their addiction to comfort and wade into the messiness of the new thing that God is doing among us.  
  • The word "Schism" has been thrown by progressives in the PCUSA at Evangelicals who desire to be a part of a denomination that doesn't gather every two years to fight, argue, name-call and grow more deeply divided, and closer to death.  We are not living in a culture where leaving one denomination for another denomination is worthy of the monicker "schism."  Most of us tell the story of our own religious heritage by including the different denominations we've been a part of over the years.  

Unlike many of my brothers and sisters here at the Gathering, I have not been called to leave the PCUSA.  After being here at the Gathering, I do have a new sense of what God might be calling me to, however.  I want to lead, not leave.

I am not sure what that might look like, exactly but I know that it begins with my own church.  I feel that I have even more tools now to help lead my church more ably as we fully engage the world around us in the name of Jesus.

I am excited about what happens next.

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