At General Synod 2016: The Report from the Spies

GOD spoke to Moses: “Send men to scout out the country of Canaan that I am giving to the People of Israel. Send one man from each ancestral tribe, each one a tried-and-true leader in the tribe.” So Moses sent them off from the Wilderness of Paran at the command of GOD.
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. 26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness, and they reported: “We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large . . . We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” 32 So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size.” (from Numbers 13)

Not the spies you were expecting?

I am at the General Synod, discussing the report of the Special Council that was gathered, getting ready for the big debate tomorrow (Monday). In my all-synod advisory committee, we have folks who believe the Church is called to love and accept everyone, who believe that our church (the RCA) doesn’t have all the answers, and who believe we need to continue to live into the tension of understanding the Scriptures differently until God reveals more to us. We also have people in our group whose understanding of Scripture says that the expression of certain sexualities is sin and that we cannot live into this tension, for it is accepting sin into the life of the Church.

Full disclosure: my understanding of Total Depravity tells me that sin is already in the life of the Church . . . but never mind.

I came to understand something in my advisory group yesterday: for some of the people who hold that different hermeneutic, there is a belief that the more accepting group wants to live into the tension forever. Since I think I am in that group—too late for that to be full disclosure—let me say that I don’t think any of us want it forever. On the other hand, I don’t think we all understand enough of the will of God—which seems to us to be potentially contradictory at the moment—to resolve this tension by dinner time on Monday.

Here is the deal: there is a huge middle ground between forever and dinner time on Monday.

Hence the Scripture, from one of the places that, unfortunately, the Revised Common Lectionary doesn’t take us too often: God led Moses and Israel to the Promised Land twice. The first time, the Israelites got scared, and they refused to go. A big group of them wanted to get rid of Moses and anybody who agreed with him and head back to Egypt. Moses considered the possibility that God would smite the whole lot of them and make a new great nation out of him, and they would do the right thing. Fortunately—Moses says it was his idea, but we need not dwell on that—God did neither. They all went back into the wilderness. They had to stay there for a long time, but God was patient enough to work it all out.

Welcome to the 2016 General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, full of people who have seen a future they don’t like—at least two contradictory futures, I suspect—and are ready to head for Egypt.

Welcome to General Synod 2016 of the Reformed Church in America, where I think God has a future for which the entirety of the body is not yet ready. Lots of us, I suspect, are sure we know what that is. Lots of us, I am sure, are wrong; it’s possible that all of us are wrong.

But here is something else of which I am sure: it isn’t time to tell God to smite us. It is time to follow God and journey some more. Some people are going to call that “kicking the can down the road.” They have all sorts of good reasons why there is urgency, why we must make a decision now. I have a better reason not to: we’re not ready, and that will be asking God to smite us.

An eleventh-century pope decided to make the hard choices immediately, refused to kick the can down the road, and divided the church in half. Luther, Calvin, and others refused to kick the can down the road, and they asked for smiting instead, and we got more divisions in the church and started the Thirty Years’ War, among other breakdowns in civilization. Henry, Cranmer, and company chose urgency and ended up with decades of war, both civil and external. And the Coetus and Conferentie didn’t give us any shining moments, either.

We have important things to do as a Reformed Church. We have places to which God is calling us, and, sometimes, it seems this journey to understand the mind of God is getting in the way. We are very scared and very nervous. We feel the need to do something now. But Jesus said something about lilies . . .

For those who want purity, because we vow to “seek the things that make for unity, purity, and peace,” and if we don’t believe that our purity grows out of our unity, then remember that, in the oldest language of Scripture (Hebrew), the word for “peace” is “shalom,” and “shalom” means “wholeness.” If we throw out both unity and peace for purity by no longer being whole, aren’t we, again, just begging God to smite us?

We should do what we can do now, both to understand better and to grow the church and, most importantly, minister to the world. We may or may not grow numerically; how and where and when we grow is up to God. Some folks, upset with the waiting, impatient with the journey, may leave us; for all we know, some of Moses’ group either went back to Egypt or crossed into Canaan on their own. It was unimportant, because the people of God followed God.

But what we must not do is force the issue, demand an answer. What we must not do is ask God to smite us.

If we are not all ready, let us pray that this Synod can be patient enough to continue the journey.


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