In his presidential report to the general synod of the Reformed Church in America, presented in Grand Rapids last June, Rev. Donald Poest emphasized walking in unity as the body of Christ. He called for a renewal of trust that would allow our leaders and churches to respect one another and aim for deep growth and renewal.
Citing 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 Poest said: "So often, we compare the church to a family, but the body is a better choice. Family members can declare themselves in charge of their own destinies, but body parts have to take their orders from the head."
As an example of one healthy way that the RCA has functioned as the body of Christ, Poest shared his experience as a member of the search team for the candidate for general secretary. (This is the person who replaced Wes Granberg-Michaelson who I wrote about yesterday.) He described the whole process as enriching, exhausting, exhilarating, and excruciating. "But we did it as one body, seeking to listen to one head, rejoicing together and grieving together, honoring each other and honoring Christ. If we can do it there, we can do it in wider circles as well."
Poest noted that there were three kinds of "dis-ease" that work against the unity that made the search team so effective. He said one type of dis-ease is related to how people understand the nature and purpose of the church — why it exists, how it is to be led and staffed, how it reaches consensus, and how it is supported financially. "The dis-ease is not in the differences of opinion but in the attitude that says, 'Those who don't see it as I see it are less correct and less valuable than me.'" This is the spirit of pride.
Poest said that another area of dis-ease is related to how we feel toward people who express their faith differently than we do. He said it's important that people who differ on theological points, church practices, and scriptural interpretations still value each other as parts of the one body of Christ. This is the spirit of modernism and certitude.
Poest noted that a third, and the most insidious, dis-ease is mistrust of leadership. He called it "a spiritual ill that we must address as we face the possibility of confirming a new general secretary at this synod." He noted that Scripture commands us to honor our leaders (1Timothy 5:17) and that whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed (Romans 13:1-2). "If this is true with regard to civil authorities, how much more should it be true with regard to church leaders?" he asked. This is the spirit of sectarianism and independence.
Poest said local churches' responses to these questions, and what the new general secretary is hearing from God, will be shared at a 2012 discernment event called Conversations, where people will spend time seeking God's will for the future of the RCA. Then a report will be sent to the 2012 General Synod for further refinement. Poest encouraged each church to send someone to the event who has the gift of wisdom or discernment. "If we follow God's giftings, and if we function as the body of Christ, we also will be able to trust the process."
Can an American denomination, where freedom and diversity are celebrated openly as they are in the Reformed Church in America, function in peace and also reach people with the life-transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ? I believe so. I am praying that my brothers and sisters in the RCA hear the call of their previous president in the coming year and respond accordingly.