Greetings from cloudy Minneapolis, where the weeklong 2010 Presbyterian General Assembly (GA) got underway yesterday. It was a day mostly of orientation for commissioners (of which I am not one), culminating with the election of the new moderator for a two year term. Out of a field of six, the commissioners elected the only non-minister — I wonder what message that is sending?
There was much talk by the Stated Clerk and other functionaries about the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit being with us this week. They seem so sure of this; I’m not so sanguine about that claim. Having seen the last GA operating in 2008, where decisions were made with little or no biblical input, often on the basis of vapid emotionalism, I expect that not many commissioners will really yield their prejudices to the guidance of the Spirit. I hope I’m wrong.
This morning I spoke at the Presbyterian Coalition breakfast, with a message entitled, “Those Who Have Ears to Hear….” The question of whether God really speaks today, and if so, how we can tell what He is saying, is a key issue that we Presbyterians must wrestle with now. Instead, we hear our leaders assuming rather glibly that whatever decisions we come up with must be what the Spirit has determined. This is a dangerous self-deception. And we see its destructive fruit in some of the major decisions from past assemblies. I’m praying that this year will be different, by God’s grace.
This morning’s plenary session opened with a two hour worship service. I normally attend these denominational services with a great deal of skepticism, because so often they are poorly arranged, liberally slanted and theologically slim. Today I was pleasantly surprised by the singing of strong, meaty hymns, by special music that was focused on the life and ministry of Jesus and our call to live for him, and by the celebration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The sermon was delivered by our former moderator (Bruce Reyes-Chow), who is a very gifted speaker. He gave a compelling talk, but what a missed opportunity! His message drove home the truth that the Presbyterian Church needs to change in order to reach the younger generations and grow strong again, but his vision for accomplishing that is essentially one of process — we must change our styles of worship, become adept at connecting through social media, address the concerns of Gen Xers who are turned off by our central convictions, and so on. As far as I could tell, he would be willing to reframe aspects of the church’s core message to make it more palatable to young people (of course, he would not define these changes as affecting core truths of the gospel), all in the name of rejuvenating our denomination. I believe this to be a huge error. To my mind, our prevailing need as a denomination is to come to a settled agreement on beliefs that now radically divide us, rather than living openly with these divisions, or attempting to paper them over with thin platitudes. Who in their right mind wants to join their energies with a denomination that doesn’t know what it believes and is spending an inordinate amount of Kingdom resources on arguments and gamesmanship?
But what do I know?