The General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada concluded this week in Orlando, Florida. As is typical, great debate is always a part of any church gathering. Since the Council of Jerusalem in the Book of Acts, Christians have disagreed on how best to be faithful. In our own Assembly, some of the Resolutions enjoyed near unanimous assent and others did not. According to one observer, some resolutions passed with over a 1/3 of the delegates rising in opposition. In the aftermath of such disagreements, conversations about faithfulness naturally follow. The “winners” argue that much work still needs to be done to convince their opponents of the need to faithfulness while the “losers” fear the overwhelming tide of what they perceive to be the unfaithfulness of the majority.
Remember that the General Assembly does not speak FOR the Church, it speaks TO the Church. At the heart of our denomination’s identity, good or bad, is a strong sense of congregationalism. That is, each congregation stands in covenant with the other congregations, each seeking to be faithful to their understanding of Christ’s call to be the Church. The General Assembly does not legislate anything to the local congregation. It does, however, speak to congregations as a semi-representative body of the whole denomination. Allow me to offer but a few thoughts on what it means to be a faithful church.
1. The Church of Jesus Christ is bigger than any denomination or congregation. Sometimes, we can fall into parochialism. That is, the only group I need to be concerned about is my particular group. The truth is, however, that when the Southern Baptist Convention or the Council of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church speaks, it impacts us all. Division may be our perceived experience of the Church of Jesus Christ, but it is not real. One cannot divide Christ. When we act like we are divided, we are really saying, “We are Christians and you are not.” Such is a perilous statement. We may not agree, but it is Christ who decides the sheep and the goats and that only on the last day.
2. Our faithfulness is not a prerequisite of God’s faithfulness (see Romans 3 and 6). Philosophers and theologians have reflected on periods of time where the Church has been judged to be unfaithful. The national Church of Germany has been judged as unfaithful in not resisting Hitler. Yet, an underground group, referred to by historians as the Confessing Church, worked tirelessly to save many who were targeted for deportation to Concentration Camps. Though these Confessing pastors were virulently critical of their government-friendly colleagues, they did not necessarily demonize those they viewed as unfaithful. Why? Because Scripture witnesses to the Truth: that in the end, the message of the Gospel is that it is God who is faithful, especially in the midst of humanity’s unfaithfulness.
3. I have never met a person who describes themselves as a Christian who is intentionally working against God. Trust me, I have significant differences of opinion with many of my colleagues, but I trust that they are seeking to be faithful as I am seeking to be faithful.
At the end of the day, I recognize that as a sinful human, I am prone to the frailties of our human condition. I join my voice with those whom I disagree in thanking God that His faithfulness is not dependent on the faithfulness of either side of a debate. Keep the faith, seek to be faithful, and thank God, that in the midst of our conversations, God is always faithful.