Over the past few days, the RCA has done some frankly groundbreaking (and for some, heartbreaking) work. We as a denomination have offered a hand of reconciliation to the CRCNA (the Christian Reformed Church of North America), and have asked for forgiveness for more than 150 years of sins committed. We have gathered together for worship, for combined synods, for prayer, and for the healing of wounds; the amazing thing is, God has done wonderful things during this General Synod – two churches previously divided over both minute and significant theological and polity issues have been able to come together and gather at the Lord’s Table, pray together and celebrate what God has done and is doing. We have celebrated each other’s growth, and have asked for forgiveness. We have looked at our differences, but most significantly, we have looked at the very things we share in common and have asked one another where we can grow together as a unified people in Christ.
This morning, our church voted on a number of issues, and while my heart breaks for one particular decision that was made, God is bigger than a collection of people attempting to figure things out based on their ability to read and interpret scripture in the here and now; God is bigger than a collection of broken individuals on both sides of the issue, both of whom admittedly feel hurt, regardless of the decision that is reached. This post is not about an individual issue, but rather about the extension of grace when feelings are hurt, when arguments are approached, and when conflicts arise; grace is something we have all received at least once in our lives, and something we continue to receive regardless of our position in the church. And yet, it seems like we don’t extend it enough to one another, despite the fact that we receive it amply from the same, awesome, Triune God – the God we share and worship together.
As a synod, as a beautifully diverse body of Christ, equally created by God, and still all guided daily by the Holy Spirit, we still struggle for unity, and even in our natural disunity, to offer a hand of grace to one another when we disagree. In today’s society, the phrase, “I’ll agree to disagree” is frequently thrown around, yet not lived up to. I loved on our first night of General Synod a phrase that was used by our very own Secretary, who said that we will agree to discuss and debate in love and with compassion, even when we disagree with one another, and even when I might get hurt. This is at times what it means to live in the church, and what it means to discuss deep matters of the heart with passion and even with compassion; it is unavoidable that someone will get hurt, as hurt feelings happen, and yet, compassion, prayerful discernment, and most of all, grace is critically important. While there have been times where grace has been lacking on the floor of GS, I have seen beautifully brilliant moments of grace, forgiveness, free space and permission to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of not only the denomination as a whole, but also in the lives of the small churches on a classis level.
As a body of Christ, we will never fully agree on the nitty gritty, the small picky rhetoric; it is not possible, as humanity, as a fallen, broken and imperfect collection, focuses not on the important matters of the will of God, but rather on the will of the heart. It is a logical understanding, and yet, it is the very thing which will continue to force a wedge between us as children of the church. Our wounds are deep – to the bone, in fact – and in order for forgiveness to be offered and granted among one another, regardless of whether or not we agree on an issue, movement, point of polity or the interpretation of scripture. Offering forgiveness does not imply submission to a point, but rather the imparting of grace to another brother or sister in Christ; after all, Christ said to his closest of followers, “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:44, NRSV)
It isn’t about those who agree with you being righteous and those who disagree being unrighteous, but rather about the behavior we exhibit when we agree and disagree. If we are able to be respectful and offer up a hand of grace, even in the most heated moments of disagreement, then we have been righteous; but if we act childlike and lash out at those who disagree with us, then we are unrighteous and cause further wounds. It is undoubtedly difficult to submit to those who disagree with us, especially when it comes to matters of Scriptural interpretation, polity and church order, and I am equally guilty of this sin. Yet God is bigger, the church is bigger, and God’s will for us as the Body is bigger.
I ask us to think of this: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:9-10) Instead of rushing to the mic to argue a point against a brother or sister in Christ, stand prayerfully to offer a prayer of forgiveness and offer out a hand of grace, understanding that we are all brothers and sisters in the same wonderful denomination, seeking to understand the predestined path God has set out before us, and beautifully unfolds before us. The church is not ours to control, as much as we would like, and therefore, it is our duty as vibrant, differently-talented and gifted members of the body to listen discerningly to what is best – not just for one or a small minority, but what is best for the majority. It may involve some to feel muted, and for that, the church will have to answer to God, but the church is not serving a small few, nor does it answer to humans but to the Almighty Triune.
As its servants on Earth, even for this time, we must continue to discern, to offer grace, and prayerfully listen to God’s still small voice for us – not for one, but for all; pray, forgive, reconcile, heal, be willing to concede and most importantly, to listen, even if it means that a personal opinion may not be the dominant and prevailing voice of the day. To come to an understanding that God will prevail in reconciliation, and decisions beyond our conception will be reached, regardless of our best efforts, as everything has been written in the sands of the Earth, and will happen for the betterment of God’s Kingdom and His people.
Try as we may, people plan, God will laugh, and yet, the church has potential as progress is not in the hands of (wo)man, but in the ultimate control of God. And by the grace of God, grace is possible for each and every one of us, man and woman, younger, middle-younger, and less young, and everything in between. We are all one in Christ Jesus, and all one in the Body, and together, regardless of our differences, are issued the same grace in our baptism, and we share in the same grace time and time again, both communally and individually at the Table. So embrace grace as a posture, as an attitude, and as way to live, whether you are a Minister of Word and Sacrament, an Elder or Deacon, or whether you simply call yourself child of God, as this grace is contagious and has the power to unite rather than divide, heal rather than to harm, forgive rather than to forget, and ultimately, to cause the warring nations of our beautiful denomination to sing God’s praises in the face of such unforetold adversity. And if we can unite, despite our differences, then imagine the message that could send to others, who face far greater, and are in need of God’s grace. And if we can offer grace to one another as a Church within the Church by the Grace of God, then we can offer grace to others unequivocally, as the hardest to offer comes most often among those who are the least like us, and that occurs most frequently among the Body, despite the fact that they are the ones who are all in Christ Jesus, created in the beginning by God the Father, and guided by the Paraclete after the ascension of the crucified Lord.