What I have tried to do over the past several weeks is to demonstrate, through the minutes of one church, Highland Presbyterian, how you can see the struggle of faith fleshed out in the real life of a church.
In many ways I have allowed the experience of Highland Presbyterian Church placed alongside the Scriptures to raise more questions than answers. To truly allow oneself to be addressed by Christ is more a process than a simple message. Another person reading those same Session minutes might hear other Scriptures speaking rather than the ones that I have identified.
As the church members seek to listen to God and discern how Christ is addressing them, they need to bring their various interpretations together and allow themselves to offer it all in prayerful consideration. We are a corporate faith and God makes use of the communal nature of our lives to speak a word to us. Even the prophets were part of a community. They needed to be heard to be effective and their words were shaped by the response of those who listened.
Also, as was true in the words of the prophets, how an experience and Scripture speak in one moment may not be what God is saying in another moment. It may have been courageous for Highland to declare an open worship policy back in the sixties but what happened to that same courage when they refused to host a meeting with The Reverend Jane Spaugh, a leader in the conversation about homosexuality?
While it is important to listen to the patterns of how people have responded from their faith to the events of their time, like with Israel we may discover patterns of disobedience that stand out and call us to repentance. Does the easy acceptance of the non-attendance of members seen in building a sanctuary to seat only a third of their membership speak to us of our need to repent of our casual patterns of worship?
On the other hand, we may also see patterns of courageous faith embedded in our history which call us to repent of a fearful response that we are currently making. Does the immediate decision to tithe a gift that they received speak to us at a time when our decision to balance a budget is based on trimming our contribution to benevolences beyond ourselves? These are the types of questions that Highland Presbyterian Church needs to be asking themselves as a community as they prepare to enter the third millennium.
What are the questions that your church needs to be asking themselves as they lay the patterns of their history over against the Scripture and ask what form of obedience Christ is asking of them as they enter the third millennium?
In the new year, I’m going to try to flesh out the faith in some short stories that depict the life and struggles of clergy. I will also explore how we might nurture the health of those called to be pastors among us.