I can only describe my present condition as jet-lagged, tired, and grateful. I am grateful to have been present for the first half of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Portland, Oregon over the last week. My “business” at GA (if you could call it that) was to support Jan Edmiston who ran and was elected as Co-Moderator. This was my first GA and it was a whirlwind of worship, handshakes, new ideas, and a renewed sense of excitement for the future of the denomination that I love so much.
I know that most of what we see and hear about the PC (U.S.A.) is bickering among our churches, presbyteries, or at the national level. We hear about churches calling “listening committees” to hear their grievances at the direction of the denomination as they discern exiting the denomination, we see our membership numbers decline, we hear discord about what it means to be faithful in our world. This isn’t news and frankly, I’m tired of hearing it. Bickering can be a good thing.
Here’s the deal, there’s beauty in being able to argue about what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ in our world. We can never simply assume we know, for a fact, how we are to be faithful people in the world as it continues to move and change at break-neck speed. We don’t have it all figured out, so we continually discern how to reflect the love of God in a world that is drastically different than the cultures out of which our Scripture came. To continually be faithful, we have to continually look to God to see what we should do. Where we should go. Who we should help. Who should help us. When we discern; like truly, prayerfully, painfully discern God’s will for the Church, we have to take stands. These stands we take make the news, they give opportunity for celebration for some and anger and grief for others. That’s what happens when you stand for something. It’s beautiful. It hurts. It’s faithful.
Many denominational (and almost all non-denominational) churches don’t have the opportunity to bicker and argue like the PC (U.S.A.) because discernment is handled by one or a handful of people. The PC (U.S.A.), on the other hand, does the difficult work of inviting a sea of voices to pray, discern, and vote on where God is leading God’s people. It can be messy. It can be painful. It can be jubilant. It is always faithful.
I’m proud to serve as a pastor in a denomination that affords us the space to faithfully argue. While the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) may be synonymous with contentious committee work and difficult discernment, we are privileged to do those things because of our devotion to discern God’s will in community. We take stands that give hope to some and break the hearts of others. We are confident that these stands are always discerned and directed by the will of God. I’m grateful to be a pastor in a denomination that takes stands. I would never trade the devotion to the, at times, contentious discernment of God’s will in community for a “feel good” church with paper-thin theology.
At times, I am sometimes envious of churches that don’t fight, who just offer warm and fuzzy sermons with a side of “don’t ask questions.” I admit, I get envious of these places. It certainly would be more comfortable. But gaining comfort in this way would compromise our sense of purpose to be a people of faith who are reformed and always being reformed. Being reformed isn’t a comfortable thing. Being reformed takes prayer, discernment, talking, listening, arguing, reconciling, and decisions. I’m glad we argue because, through it, we do our best to discern how to continue to be God’s faithful people in our increasingly complex world. I hope that you can be proud of the faithfulness of our bickering denomination, too.