Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Current Issues for the Church

[This is another answer from a blog interview that will be posted soon. Of course, if I keep posting my answers here, you may not want to read the blog interview there.]

I think the number one issue facing the church today, as it is in every age, is this: will God’s people genuinely delight in God in such a way that those around us will long to rejoice in God as well? Older southern Presbyterians used to say that the answer to the church’s and the nation’s ills was revival. While their conception of revival was probably objectionable and their focus on America’s welfare was probably misplaced, their intuition was right: without renewed affections for God that cause us to delight in him and find our satisfaction in him and that will spill over in delight in God’s people, creation, and calling, we can have doctrinal precision, hip and relevant churches, or profound cultural engagement—and nothing will happen. No one’s lives will be changed. And so, we must be, in John Owen’s words, “greedy for delight” in God. We must have the Word and Spirit, living and active in our hearts and lives, families and congregations.

Directly behind this in importance is this question: will younger people see Presbyterianism, not simply as a means for branding or credentialing, but as a biblical, and hence viable, identity for our postmodern world? I still cannot get over James Henley Thornwell’s comment, “We shall, therefore, endeavor to do what has never yet been adequately done—bring out the energies of our Presbyterian system of government.” Here we are, over 145 years after he wrote that, and we still have never seen the energies of Presbyterianism adequately brought to the fore. We still haven’t figured out what it means to be a genuinely connectional church (which is the biblical way of affirming unity and particularity in an ecclesial fashion); how to do mission together rather than in a “hiddly-piddly” fashion; how to hold each other accountable not just for orthodoxy, but also for orthopraxy; and how to see the means of grace as God’s genuine pattern for growing his church. I’d sure love to see all this stuff tried out once before the end of the world!

And yet, what I hope for is not Presbyterian sectarianism; rather, I hope for a real embrace of Presbyterianism that allows us to engage in meaningful ecumenical dialogue with others, born out of a real sense that we know who we are, what we believe and what God has called us to do. Being together for the Gospel is not accomplished by having “all the colors bleed into one” doctrinally or denominationally (to cop a line from Bono). Rather, meaningful conversation happens when I am deeply rooted in my own self-understanding, when you are the same, and when we can discuss meaningfully our similarities and differences with respect. And so, this gets to the third issue: how can we be Presbyterian and still seek and affirm “the one holy, catholic and apostolic church”? As Carl Trueman would tell us, there is no better place to cultivate Reformed catholicity than within the borders and boundaries of Reformed Orthodoxy. He is right, but we must make the case again and again, carefully and winsomely, persuading the rising generation that this is the case.

1 comment:

Les said...

To borrow from Chesterton: Presbyterianism has not been tried and found wanting. Presbyterianism has been found difficult and not tried.
We have been trying to say this in RUF for years now. Thanks, Sean.