I’ve had more than a month to process this year’s General Assembly (GA). While each annual gathering of commissioners representing every presbytery from coast to coast to coast is unique in that never do we get exactly the same people each time, it’s still a fairly accurate cross-section of our denomination. I think of it as a vast potluck, where we are guaranteed of a variety of cheesy soufflés, a crock pot of meat balls, a few leafy salads, something sweet and sour and a surprise or two. In human terms, we run the gamut, from liberal to conservative, traditional to contemporary, casual to formal.
I love the moments at GA when we can genuinely bask in the presence of the Holy Spirit, enjoy the wonder of cultural and behavioural diversity, hear new voices, make new acquaintances and put faces to recognizable names. I look forward to seeing who will be at GA in the same way that I would eagerly open the morning newspaper to see what journalistic delights were produced the previous day.
And yet, those moments of joy were scarce during GA 2018.
Not that we didn’t try to see the roses among the weeds. A small group of us began each morning in Spirit-fueled prayer, gathered in a residence meeting room. It would last an hour. That was our foundation for each day as we prayed earnestly for the Holy Spirit to surround the assembly hall with protection from the enemy, a spiritual battle in which we pray for the spiritual armour described in Ephesians 6, while mindful that “we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age.” (Ephesians 6:12 GNT). “God’s will be done at GA,” we prayed early and often.
In the assembly hall, we heard words uttered by those who must have held a wildly different theological view. The particular issue being discussed was just a symptom of a deeper malaise. It was the attachment to human causes and the consequential detachment from holiness that opened my eyes.
More than once I asked myself, “Why don’t these people get it?” Can’t they see that they are marching to a cause of social justice at the expense of the Kingdom? Can’t they see that the sacrificial Lamb of Christ is nowhere to be found in their thinking? Don’t they recognize the lack of fruit? Why are they so blind?
All it takes is one encounter – whether it’s a one-on-one conversation or in a discussion group – with someone of a liberal theological view to realize that they’re thinking the same things about us and asking the same questions. Those who have abandoned the traditional beliefs of reformed theology feel they are as right as those of us who identify as apostolic, orthodox, evangelical and theologically conservative. It is a divide which is unbridgeable.
Now into all this goes a committee of former moderators to study the deep division over the appropriate and godly response to those who are same-sex attracted. Lord, be with them.
For months in advance of GA, Renewal Fellowship and our prayer partners at Dunamis and PSALT prayed for protection from those dark forces described in Ephesians and many other places in Scripture. Some at General Assembly didn’t get it and thought we were waging a war using our own devices. What don’t they understand about the difference between spiritual and physical? Why don’t these people get it?
Despite the potluck of diversity that I usually find so tasty and enlivening at large gatherings, I felt profoundly sad. I remain sad because I know that nothing that I can say or do will cause eyes to be opened. I’m sad because the enemy has occupied strongholds in our church.
I know that my sadness is, in a way, sinful. It’s a sign of my lack of faith. After all, getting down about what the enemy has done and is doing is only to be drawn into the same miasma, a quicksand of despair. “Don’t let the you-know-whats get you down,” I was told by a wise man some years ago. And he wasn’t even a believer.
Let us choose wisely from the potluck and accept that the diversity of choice is a condition of humankind. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4 NKJV). For the promise of the Kingdom awaits. And until that day, we rest on the Lord, we seek His face, we submit our lives to Him, reverently and with complete and enduring trust.
And until the day that the special committee of past moderators submits its report, we pray. We are called to pray regularly, daily, without ceasing, that God’s will be done, and that this unique gathering of leaders will have the wherewithal and boldness to humble themselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from any self-seeking ways so that we, as a denomination, may be forgiven and our land be healed.