A Reason to Hope
Every year around this time my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), meets at its General Assembly (GA). During this time, I get reflective. I reflect on the state of the PCA. I reflect on how the Lord is preparing me even more to work in his church. I also reflect on the ways in which I was prepared to do this work before I even entered full-time vocational ministry. I am always amazed at how quickly I move from the organization of the PCA to specific people.
Honestly, as I think about the large structure that is the PCA and all its committees, I can get disheartened. Thinking about how these large institutional organizations can move one way or another, thinking about the future of the denomination (from any angle), can be discouraging. Thinking about the political wrangling that goes on in meetings from the sessional level to the GA, is sad at times. However, when I start to think about the people, I find reason to hope.
During this time in the year it becomes easy to see all the institutionalization surrounding the running of the PCA and not be optimistic. However, when we move our focus to the people we know in the PCA, people with whom we may agree or disagree, there is great reason to hope. The reason to hope is that the Lord has promised to sanctify us completely. He has promised to purify his church. He has promised to do this through the work of other brothers and sisters. That is, other brothers and sisters speaking the Word of God into our lives, correcting us, encouraging us, and challenging. Learning how to listen to them and grow from their critique is important. Herman Bavinck talks about the way the Lord uses people when he says:
It would not be too amazing for God also to preserve a person's whole spiritual life without any means. Nevertheless, it pleases him to allow people to bring up other people and above all with the Word to permit them to work toward the forming and growing of the soul. From childhood it is through the influence of others that mind and heart, conscience and will, disposition and imagination are formed in people. Likewise, in the nourishment of the spiritual life, which comes through regeneration, God does not work in a different way.
As I reflect on the state of my denomination, I confess, I can get frustrated. No matter what side of the debate I find myself, often the other side seems to be posturing politically or the arguments come down virtue signaling. However, when I take a step back and think about the people, the people in the debate, the people that have helped to form me and continue to form me today, I am encouraged. As I think about the way the Lord uses his Word, his Word spoken to me by people with whom I may disagree, to conform me to the image of his Son, I am encouraged. I am encouraged because I know this is what the Lord will use to continue the work of sanctification in me. My engagement with these brothers around me, speaking the Word of God faithfully, is what the Lord will use to grow them and sanctify them. The Lord uses people speaking the Word to each other as a means of purification for his bride, and one day he will present her spotless.
So, while the machinations of the PCA GA can be discouraging, I am encouraged. I am encouraged because I know that those with whom I labor day in and day out are being grown up to full maturity. I am encouraged because as I look at my son, I know that he is being brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord not just by me and my wife, but by a church that loves him and speaks the Word of God to him. I am encouraged because I know that this church is not my church, it isn't the church of the person/people with whom I find myself at odds in debates. This church is Christ's church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. This is why, even when I see the angst of yet another GA, I can have hope.
The Lord is doing something in the PCA. I don't know what it is, but I where it will end. I know that on the other end of it the bride of Christ will be spotless. Oh, how I long for that day!