Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beginning at the end; General Assembly

Sometimes I begin a book by reading the ending. I want to understand the author’s intent for the story so I look to the end where she has placed her character’s final destination. I am going to write about my experience and views of the Presbyterian 219th General Assembly by beginning with the end of my journey, my three day trip home on a train.

As almost every PCUSA member now knows the theme of this GA was "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:38.) On our three day trip home, via the train, God allowed my husband and me to understand that verse in a very concrete way. But first, I must say that our train was surely covered from end to beginning with the many sweeping wings of angels because the train was filled with Christians. And they all blessed us on our way.

But one in particular became the living image of the believer filled with the living waters of Jesus Christ.

We sat for lunch in the dining car and waited to see who would be placed at our table. A woman and another person who we were almost certain was her son sat across from us. The young man, and he must have been in his twenties because he had a well trimmed beard, was autistic. He was constantly attempting to be reassured of the reality around him. He repeated the same phrases, comments and questions over and over, as he looked for clues that everything was going as it should be. Was this lunch? Could he have cheese cake again at dinner? Would they be greeted by grandma? Was he being good?

His mother constantly rubbed his back, and reaffirmed all that he said or asked. We were pleased when he asked his mother if he could order the same food we had ordered. And then the food came. Before we could even think about prayer he bowed his head and prayed. And as we entered into conversation with both mother and son about our mutual faith, the young man, Keith, rather than seeking for assurance about the material world began to talk of Jesus, he quoted verses as he went.

His mother told us of a time on another trip when a stranger sat between him and his parents and they heard him explaining to the stranger how Jesus had died on the cross for his sins. Here was one who needed constant assurance that the world around him was a reality but out of his being a river flowed of which he was very certain. Heaven was his homeland, Jesus was his reality.

In the midst of all of our uncertainty and sorrow over the immoral actions of the General Assembly, still there is that reality of the living water that is within us. Calvin in his commentary on John writes of this river and speaks of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives, gifts such as faith to a young autistic man. But first Calvin points to Jesus the giver of the Spirit. Looking at the words “Whoever believes in me,” Calvin writes:

“Christ now points out how we come. We come not on foot but by faith. Or rather, to come is simply to believe—that is, if you define the word ‘believe’ properly. As we have already said we believe in Christ when we welcome him as he is shown to us in the Gospel—full of power, wisdom, righteousness, purity, life and all the gifts of the Spirit.”[1]

That reality, the Holy Spirit that is within believers, was there at the GA. It was in the fervent prayers I saw one pastor commissioner praying as he stood behind another elder, a gay man, preparing to speak on the ordination of gays and lesbians. The Holy Spirit was in the words of one of the former candidates for vice moderator as he spoke of his determination to follow Jesus in the purity that he is. He was not counting the cost only following Jesus.

Let the world that is in the Church throw down the gauntlet of perverse sexuality, the faithful must not take it up in some worldly backhanded way. But rather full of the reality that Jesus gives they must keep speaking the words of life to those lost in this world’s darkness. The faithful must keep speaking back the righteousness of Jesus Christ to perverse antinomianism in the church. United to Jesus Christ we are full of his reality, his living waters, the Holy Spirit who will renew the church universal even in the midst of gross darkness.

We have a reality far greater than any insecurity. Jesus "as he is shown to us in the Gospel—full of power, wisdom, righteousness, purity, life and all the gifts of the Spirit."

[1] Calvin, John: The Crossway Classic Commentaries, Alister McGrath & J.I. Packer, Editors, 196.


Dave Moody said...

Great story about Keith. An apt illustration of John 7.38 if there ever was one.


robert austell said...

That was beautiful!

Marie Bowen said...

Thank you! Thank you, Viola and Keith for pointing me back to the Source of the living water. It just did not ring true for me as many times as I heard it at GA, but you have brought the Word alive. God bless you!

Peter Menkin said...

I've been dropping by from time to time, hoping to catch some of your thoughts on Presbyterian General Convention and its decisions about the Presbyterian/Israel policy recommendations. I'll keep dropping by to find out.

Certainly, my three in a series articles were long, 25,000 words total. The longest of the third in the series was 11,000 words and fit on my blog and is most complete. Church of England Newspaper carries more complete versions of the series, for those interested.

I was so glad General Assembly chose to downplay its interest in the Kairos Document and chose to study it rather than adopt it. In fact, I was relieved.

As you may recall, I am not a Presbyterian USA person, but Episcopalian. The subject is not foreign to the Church where I attend, either. Either is the Gay clergy as non-celebate issue, either. It tears our Church apart.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me on these subjects, by the way.

Yours sincerely,
Peter Menkin
Mill Valley, CA USA
(north of San Francisco)

Viola Larson said...

Hi Peter,
I am glad they choose to down play the Kairos document but wish they had ditched it altogether. The problem is some of the Churches will not listen to what the recommendations are but study the whole report.

I was glad that the main report got edited. And very glad that the historical analysis was totally dropped.

However I am unhappy with what happened in committee 8. And will probably write on it soon.