In St. John’s, Newfoundland, a couple of our friends decided to get their captain’s papers for sailing on the ocean. He is a retired dentist, and she is a retired chiropodist. They wanted to sail between Florida and some of the Caribbean islands. They took the courses, bought the boat and now have done the sailing several times. You know the reason there are some pretty involved courses in getting your papers to become a master sailor. The ocean can be unforgiving in the storms that batter a small vessel and even a larger vessel. It is not always smooth sailing.
And so it is in our denomination. I wish it were easier times, but my wishing does not change things. I do know I want to trust the Lord for my choices and our choices as a congregation. The storm we are going through is the cultural change of values on the definition of marriage and sexual ethics for those who are not heterosexual, as well as for those who are. We know the church has tried to include both those who are “traditional and biblical” in their understanding of marriage and sexual ethics, as well as those who are “progressive and revisionist” in their understanding of the same.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada is the denomination we are talking about. It is the context for ministry at Grace, as we celebrate our forty years together. What are biblical and traditional Christians doing in response to such a change to doctrine and practice in our denomination? I sent a letter to you about this and I hope you received it. I do appreciate those who wrote me back. I know this is a difficult, divisive and awkward conversation. But I think it is important to have it with as much kindness and patience as we can muster in the body of Christ.
Five responses have been acknowledged by conservative Christians of all stripes as ones we need to respect and support. These five responses are: (1) Staying and praying in the denomination, not looking to change anything, just looking to be faithful in our congregation. (2) Restructuring the denomination to acknowledge the two realities above, and making sure that we align with likeminded Presbyterian Christians who share the Gospel message we do, the Ministry and Mission of our Lord, unchanged in this day and age. (3) Leaving the denomination and affiliating with another fellowship that will more closely agree with our theology and practice of the Christian faith. (4) Seeking to Discern and wait on the Lord, without choosing any of the other four options at this time. Continue what we are doing without any reference to the denominational decisions, and not be side tracked in any way by them. (5) Ask to have and join a new sister denomination formed that would be independent of the PCC, except for some sharing of finances.
Each of these positions have been formulated after much prayer and discernment. Each of them have significant numbers of Christians holding to them. We need to respect one another as friends and close ones choose their course through the stormy waters.
One of the hardest exercises as Christians is to gather together in groups of likeminded followers of Christ. There have often been many things that divide us. Doctrine and ethics divide, and lesser things as well. The body of Christ across the planet does not agree on baptism, on the Lord’s Supper, on Ordination, on Leadership models, on Congregation government, on relationship to secular governments, on the use of force and the military, on women in leadership, on speaking in tongues, on renewal and revival, and I could go on to many, many subjects and topics. It is hard to get full agreement on all things in our spiritual lives together. I have noted this as I have joined Ministerials and pastors’ groups of all kinds in six provinces over the years. I have been warmly received and loved. I have been questioned as to whether I am even a real Christian or not. I have had many experiences. I’m sure you have had many as well.
I’ve had many difficult conversations with friends and colleagues of many years and decades within our denomination. I have been supported and cared for by some and rejected by others. It has been a painful time.
In all these things, we seek to follow the Lord, to love Him and one another. That can be hard in families. That can be hard in congregations. It certainly is hard in denominations. Please pray for us, for our denomination, for our congregation and all the individuals involved as we meet, talk, pray, and seek the Lord’s way forward.
Thank you for caring about Grace Church. Give thanks for all the good that the Lord has done through our congregation over the years. Trust Him for the future. In that desire, we are holding a Town Hall meeting by Zoom on Sunday, May 2, 2021 at 7 pm to listen and have some Questions and Answers together. I hope you can make it. God bless you.