Whose Hand Is Guiding Our Stroller?

I was touched during opening worship at GA last Saturday afternoon by an endearing scene that took place out of the view of most folks in the hall. A mother and toddler were standing together in the wide, smooth concrete expanse between the edge of seating and the convention hall walls about 25 feet from my seat. The little toddler would not be still, and his mom wisely let him stand behind the stroller, grasping its back and pushing it forward as he expressed the energy God so mightily worked within him. Of course, this little boy could not see anything but the back of the stroller as he pushed it for all he was worth. Naturally, he didn’t know where he was going as the front wheels of the stroller turned in sharply changing directions. This could have become problematic but for the fact that his mother was hovering behind him (without his apparent knowledge) close enough to be able to lay her hand on the stroller handle whenever it began to swerve into errant territory. He was free to follow his heart’s desire, with regular correction from his mother to keep him going where she wanted him to end up. So it is with the church and God.

Interestingly, at the end of that worship service came this charge and blessing: “Eternal God, You call us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with courage, not knowing where we go, but only that Your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

That has led me to the uncomfortable question, “How do we know that God’s hand is hovering over the handles of the stroller that we are pushing, whether the stroller of our individual lives, of our congregational communities, of our denomination?” Can we assume that since we belong to a certain group, even one that uses theologically correct language and has a long, storied history, that God is like that loving mother who watched over her active toddler, and that whatever we do in our decisions and activities, God will be there to correct our swerves and stumbles?

I can’t remember how many dozens of times here at GA I’ve heard it declared that God is with us, guiding us unerringly by His Spirit in what we are doing. It makes me wonder what gives us such assurance. In Jesus’ day the religious rulers, both priestly and lay, regularly claimed that those who followed them were following God. Jesus disputed those claims. Obviously, it’s not enough simply to assert that God is with us. And to repeat the mantra ad nauseam may lift our spirits, but it doesn’t establish the reality. So how do we know whether we can have confidence in God’s sovereign, beneficent hand upon us or not?

The key of course rests in whether our relationship with God is real or imagined. Are we children of God or impostors? None of us sinners is a child of God by nature (Paul makes it clear in Eph 2 that we are by nature “children of wrath”, “having no hope and without God in the world.” So how do we become children in God’s family, sure that He will shepherd us through life? Reformed theology, anchored in the Scriptures, teaches clearly that our status with God changes when we are linked in true faith to the only-begotten Son of the Father. In and through Jesus Christ, the true Son, we are adopted as sons and daughters into God’s family. This life-giving personal relationship with Jesus Christ manifests itself in our love and devotion to him. It is intimately connected to our desire to live under and in obedience to his will. How do we discover that will? Through his word (which in the Sermon on the Mount we discover to be the culmination of all God’s prior revelations). In John 14:23 Jesus promises, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” He assures the disciples of the Father’s love in 16:27: “The Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father.”

Reformed theology has always maintained that true faith in Christ can be measured by increasing pleasure in and obedience to the Word of God. Believing this, we logically conclude that assurance of the Father’s love depends on our proper relationship with His Son, and our proper relationship with Jesus depends on love that is evidenced by our desire to grow in obedience to His Word. Now of course in this world none of us is always obedient to the Word of God, written and living, but we all can tell the trajectory that we are on over time. If the Scriptures are becoming less and less central in our lives, that should set off the alarm bells. If our hearts are yearning to drink deeply from the Word and live out the truth we find there in daily partnership with Jesus, then we should be encouraged.

One of my deep concerns for the PCUSA arises from the observation that the Bible is strangely absent from General Assembly deliberations, both in committee meetings and on the plenary floor. Sure, the Word is read in worship, and sermons are preached, but apart from formal times where one would expect the Word to be proclaimed, biblical input is a rare oasis in an unrelenting desert. Even allusions to Scriptural truths are few and far between. In many committees, quotations from the Bible are actually scoffed at, and those seeking to provide such input are demeaned, treated as “unsophisticated fundamentalists.” If at our national denominational gathering such is the stance we take to God’s Word, what does this indicate of our relationship with God?

It doesn’t matter how passionately we declare that God is with us, how often we recite the religious mantras of peace, justice, inclusion, love, grace, faith, concern for the poor and marginalized and disenfranchised, how proud we are of being Presbyterian, how entranced we are with social concerns, how enthralled with what our Reformed ancestors accomplished; if we have deserted the Word of God at the center of our life together, if we have no passion to grow in “the whole counsel of God” (see Acts 20:27), we are betraying the absence of a true relationship with Jesus Christ. If that is absent, we are not abiding in the love of the Father. If we are not in His love, there is no divine hand hovering over the handles of the stroller we are so assiduously pushing. Should that really be the case, then in spite of all our claims that God is with us, the stroller of the PCUSA will end up in the ditch, or even worse, over the cliff of destruction. May the Spirit of God hear the prayers of the faithful, and restore to us a true love for Jesus Christ and his Word.

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19 Responses to Whose Hand Is Guiding Our Stroller?

  1. As helpless as a ship without a compas the PCUSA seems determined to push “forward” without a real knowledge of where “forward” is. Political Correctness, “tollerance” and as misguided idea of the meaning of LOVE leaves it ever moving off the true course and into the ways of human knowledge. We are warned against this in scripture – but who is paying attention to that sure compass?


  2. Cay Wright says:

    May we always go to THE WORD, printed and in fellowship and Mateen, thanks for keeping
    our hearts in focus and on course.


  3. “May the Spirit of God hear the prayers of the faithful, and restore to us a true love for Jesus Christ and his Word.” Yes! This must remain our earnest and fervent prayer in both our personal lives and in our congregational lives. Thank you, Mateen, for another very insightful blog post.


  4. Thank you, Mateen, for your insight. As I pastored the American Prot Church of the Hague in 1989-93, African Christians asked me the haunting question, “Doesn’t your denomination know how to read the Bible?” I’ve never forgotten that and call our people to read and obey!


    • mateenelass says:

      Wow, what a sad commentary on our blindness as American “progressive” Christians! May we listen to our brothers and sisters around the world. Thank you for sharing this, Kenyon.


  5. I am a lay person, so forgive my ignorance.

    The bible did not exist when Christ said ‘I am the WORD’, so why do we now give the bible more credence than Christ himself? Aren’t we using the written word as a crutch and as a club?

    I am not sure that Christ would recognize the WORD as we proclaim it.


    • mateenelass says:

      Eddie, thank you for your question. The Hebrew Bible (what we call our Old Testament) was fully complete and recognized as the Word of God even before Jesus was born. The New Testament of, course, arose as a result of recording the ministry and teachings of Jesus as well as the witness of his apostles and those in the company of the apostles. As many have pointed out, the OT points forward to the coming of Jesus, and the NT points back to his incarnation and its impact on humanity. Jesus himself declared that the OT was written to point the world to him, and promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would be given them for the purpose (among others) of bringing to their remembrance all that he had taught them and of leading them into all truth. We don’t give the Bible more credence than we do to Christ himself; rather, according to his own testimony, we come to know the true, historical, living Christ most clearly only through his Word. Truth is never a club, except against evil. But I think it is fair to say that the Bible is a “crutch” in the sense that we have no sure gospel truth to stand on apart from the revelation that God has given us. Otherwise we are left to our imaginations or to the realm of empirical studies, which can never lead us to anything beyond this material universe. Since Jesus immersed himself in the Scriptures, and used them repeatedly to teach his disciples about life and faith, I think we are wise to build our lives on them if we wish to know and follow the true Messiah.


    • mateenelass says:

      Eddie Louise, I apologize for calling you simply “Eddie”. I just came across a quotation from Karl Barth that speaks well to your question:

      “When there is conflict in the Church, it is not as if there were no higher judge over and above the headstrong contenders. When there is strife in the Church, there is no reason at all for thinking that everybody may be right or perhaps nobody, and that the best course will doubtless be to break off conflict. No, in the Church there is a judge. The judge alone may end the conflict. And the judge then [Jerusalem Council, Acts 15] and is still today the Word of the apostles and prophets…They are the witnesses whom Jesus Christ has appointed for Himself. They knew what right and truth are, and in their Word, and thus in the Holy Scriptures, the contestants in the Church can and must be able to hear the right and the truth unmistakably at all times.”

      Karl Barth, Leben und Glauben, July 10, 1937


  6. Lee says:

    I was touched by the Layman report of the delegate from Kenya who stood near the end of the marriage definition debate, & asked the GA: Will we stand by the Bible? Will we stand by the Bible? & the report says that many stood up & applauded.
    Despite that many ignore or reject God’s Word, there are still many who stand faithfully on God’s Word. I give thanks to God that the GA did not approve the majority recommendation to approve marriage as “between 2 people.” Unfortunately the GA also refused to reaffirm the traditional marriage definition, leaving us in a kind of limbo-land of more study & discernment. May more find discernment & wisdom in the written Word.


    • ZZMike says:

      True, they didn’t approve the majority recommendation – but if history is any guide (looking back over the last 10 or so years of GAs), they will be back next time. They will be back, again and again, until “we get it right”.

      Every time they make a bigger crack in the scriptural foundation, more real Christians leave PC(USA) (just look at the headlines in The Layman). And the more of us that leave, the more their percentages grow, and pretty soon they’ll be receiving overtures that ask if it’s all that necessary for a teaching elder to believe in God. (Bishop Spong has already blazed that trail.)

      I see little recourse other than to move over to ECO and leave the ruins of the city to the wolves.


  7. silver price says:

    What sets the Bible apart from other books is that through it, God speaks to individuals. The Holy Spirit unfolds Scripture so it becomes a love letter written specifically to you. The more you desire relationship with Jesus, the more personal that letter becomes.


  8. Rev. Ralph E says:

    In 1981 I wrote a doctoral thesis on the use of Scripture in the governing life of a local church. The practical issues were worked out as I and my Session used direct Bible study as a part of our process of struggling with definite issues in the life of the congregation. It was a very enlightening project.


  9. charles francis says:

    how can anyone claim to follow the Word and stay in the PCUSA?….i understand why people like gradye parsons stick around, they value their careers and their positions….even Judas wanted 30 pieces of silver….but why does a professed believer hang around?…..do they think that a denomination that holds a “Sophia” worship service will escape the wrath of God?….


    • mateenelass says:

      Though there are many evangelicals who remain willfully ignorant of what is happening across the PCUSA, there are others who have committed to stay in response to God’s personal call upon their lives to serve as a presence and witness to the truth, a light shining in the increasing darkness. They embrace the same call that Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea and other prophets received to proclaim the truth in the midst of an apostate people. I honor and respect such people immensely for their faitfulness to our Lord, but do not find that to be my calling. Please do not tar and feather all who remain in the PCUSA on the basis of what the denominational leadership is and has been doing.


  10. Wayne Bogue says:

    Good analogy, Mateen. If our parents had loved us after the manner of the PCUSA’s definition of love (complete permissiveness to satisfy any desire we “feel”) we would never have made it to adulthood. Or, we would have ended up as sociopaths.


  11. George Hill says:

    The Holy Spirit may be guiding the commisioners in making decisions for the PCUSA, however, I think it is more likely that the Holy Spirit is guiding those who are leaving the PCUSA in tens of thousands.


  12. gold price says:

    This mark of the new birth is not just a get out of jail free card, but it should transform how we live in our communities and the world around us. We are called to live by faith. Paul says that we are to “live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Our faith in Jesus Christ should inform and be at the center of our entire lives. Too often, our faith is an afterthought, something we only consider in times of trouble. A living faith in Jesus Christ informs how we love our families, how we serve the poor in our communities, how we conduct our business at work, how we engage our communities, and live in this world. Our faith should be central to who we are and what we do. But a living faith is more than that. It gives us power to overcome temptation. Faith provides the way out of the temptations we all face. As Wesley taught, a living faith in Jesus Christ overcomes the desire and willingness to sin. We become the image that Christ desires us to be.


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