Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Regarding the conflicting views on the voted document at the recent General Conference Annual Council, much could be said, and has been said. That is not my main purpose in writing this letter.
I just want us to be in harmony! Sounds ambitious, but with God, it’s possible.
Some thoughts have come to mind, which I tried to ignore, but could not.
Where do we go from here? How might we achieve unity and work together in harmony?
Our response (as a Church and as individuals) to the state of disunity we now face is critical.
In matters of conscience, it is not advisable for us to expect one side to conform to the views of the other. Indeed, attempts to encourage compliance to uniformity, however well-intended, will only drive the wedge deeper (to the point of schism, if left unchecked). No-one who truly loves the Church wants to see that happen. So we need to proceed with humility and wisdom.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally
and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, all verses quoted are NKJV).
Our only boast is in Christ. In Him, we have life and unity through the Holy Spirit. Any other foundation for unity is unstable ground. Jesus is our hope and salvation. He is our solid rock.
I submit that the conflict is being driven by the insistence that there is a “wrong” side here.
On this point, please do not misunderstand, as there may be incorrect views on both sides. Perhaps, for some, there is an incomplete understanding of what is at stake. Yet, we ought to spend no more time speculating. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and leads us into a deeper understanding of the Bible. It is our duty and privilege to be earnest and sincere in prayer. Where there is a need to repent and reform, I pray that it may become abundantly clear.
We each need to pray for the willingness to let go of our own understanding of this issue. While it is only natural to form opinions about topics, particularly controversial ones, sometimes our entrenched ideas and prejudices can get in the way of accurately seeing a full, biblical picture.
In Proverbs 3:5,6, the Bible says:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.”
Loving and respecting our brothers and sisters in Christ means showing great forbearance towards those with whom we do not agree, by allowing them to freely speak and act according to their conscience in “disputable matters” (that is, issues for which there is no clear consensus, even after extensive, sincere and prayerful study of the Bible).
Let us not lay unnecessary burdens on others, nor discourage those who love God’s Word from doing what is right according to their conscience. It is not our role to judge the heart and motives of one another, remembering that “ . . . the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.
Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand”
Love, among all of its attributes, “thinks no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:5). With this in mind, we need to suspend our judgements on what we believe the motives of others are. If we choose to believe that others are in sinful rebellion because they choose to obey God instead of the voted policy of humans, then this is “thinking evil” of others. Not only is this way of thinking unhelpful, it is sinful, for “ . . . whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
In the same vein, thinking evil thoughts (and making mocking, disrespectful comments towards those in leadership) does not come from love, nor is it of faith. Therefore, it is also sinful.
This evil, in its varying severity of manifestation, flows out of the unrenewed heart:
“ . . . out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts,
false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man . . .”
Sin, as the Bible reveals, is no trivial matter:
“For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”
The sins of humanity, our sin (in any form, both thoughts and/or deeds), led Jesus to the cross. His matchless love could not bear to abandon us, so He paid the ultimate price. It is a grievous moment when we realise that we have sinned not only against each other, but against our Lord. It may be tempting to deny it, downplay it or even ignore it. Yet, not one of these approaches brings God glory! Furthermore, no fear-based behaviour will bring unity.
The best response at this time would be to receive correction with gladness. We need to come to Jesus and repent. The love of God corrects and edifies, bringing us the gift of repentance.
“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? . . . Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”
If those who claim to believe God’s Word were to become faithful to all of its teachings, led by the Holy Spirit into all truth, then we would realise an astonishing truth: there is no cause whatsoever for us to be divided! There is no need for anyone to “break away”. For “ . . . the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Let the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) be sufficient evidence for whether someone is truly in the faith. Life in the Spirit will be characterised by love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Those who disobey the Word of God and grieve the Holy Spirit will not bear this fruit (their only hope, and indeed our only hope, is to come to Jesus, repent and confess all sin, receive God’s forgiveness, and pray to receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit). This is essential to success in mission and necessary in achieving total member involvement. We must have the Holy Spirit, and if we already have a small measure, then let’s seek a greater infilling still! It is the only way to be ready for Jesus’ return.
Remember, people will know whether or not we are true disciples of Jesus by the lives we lead and how we treat one another: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
There may be some reading this who find themselves hardened in heart, perhaps having difficulty accepting these words.
For you, here is an admonition from James 1:16-20:
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation
or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth,
that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God”
We need to be honest with each other and pray for (and with) one another, as difficult as this may seem, especially if we are not in the habit of doing so:
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be
healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much”
Finally, I want to leave you with this comforting thought: Jesus prayed for us! He prayed that we might experience oneness; that through us, the world would know of His love:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe
in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You,
Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us,
that the world may believe that You sent Me”
Let us lift up our eyes, casting off our dead works and find the newness of life that is available through the Holy Spirit. This is our greatest need today. In Jesus is our only hope for life, renewal and unity.
“ . . . He is not far from each one of us;
for in Him we live and move and have our being . . .”
With faith, hope and love,
Megan Johnson writes from the Tweed Valley in Northern NSW, where she is a member of Kingscliff church.