Unity (Charles McNeil)

I hesitated to write on the subject of unity within the PCC being aware of the old adage – least said soonest mended!  However, the subject is front and centre in our hearts and minds these days. So, I felt led to contribute, what I hope, is a little light to the subject!

Unity can be upheld or disturbed by any question that becomes contentious. We aren’t going to tackle the unity of the Christian Church for obvious reasons.  But what about the denomination called the Presbyterian Church in Canada?

I was born, bred, and raised within the PCC.  The PCC congregation which raised me both spiritually and physically was a place of traditionally held views.  It provided a safe place to ask compelling, challenging, and open-ended questions.  It allowed for spiritual growth, and for growth beyond the traditional grounding. The then rural congregation was like many across the country finding its faith expression in the ebb and flow of the seasons passing one after another.

I remember very clearly one Sunday when I was in my teen years.  After worship people lingered and passed the time. Something was said about the sermon for the day.  To which I replied rather haughtily (I blush at the memory) that I didn’t agree with the sermon!

One of the older women in the congregation very gently, graciously, but pointedly responded.  Mrs. Bishop looked me squarely in the eye and said – Charles that’s not the point!  The point is that sermons are to make you think!

That is where Mrs. Bishop left it.  I didn’t take her comment as a rebuke.  It was someone of mature faith bringing a little brother along in the practice of living within the life, work, and witness of the congregation and the church!

That comment has stuck with me throughout my life and indeed has influenced me in the work of pastoral ministry to which God has called me!  God’s Word is to get us to think, and obviously to respond in kind to what was shared by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit!

Does everyone hear the exact same Word on any given Sunday or in a Bible study? Does God not speak directly to each of us customizing His Word in a prophetic, loving, gracious critique?  Are we not convicted and converted by the Word of God, however it is shared and through whomever it is shared?

It seems to me that unity within any congregation, presbytery, synod, general assembly or denomination has to do with lovingly accepting one another as God accepts us – even or especially if I am wrong!

Note the pronoun.   When I am wrong is there grace accorded me to be given time to see not the right thing but the loving, gracious, repenting thing?  The communion services from the Iona Community (among others) highlight the giving and receiving of forgiveness in the prayers of confession.  Those praying confess the need for forgiveness and seek God’s grace for the time to live out something of a forgiven lifestyle.

It’s a mutual thing expressed in that service because the minister laments his/her spiritual need and is supported in receiving reclamation from God. Then the congregation does the same and is supported as well!

I used to work for one of my older brothers.  He used to say, that yes, he could occasionally be wrong, but in whatever the present case he wasn’t!

I wish I were as certain, as my brother pretended to have been, in these times that are before us!  I wish I could say categorically on any subject – this is the way it is!

I sat through witnessing a heated argument between two friends recently.  It was a political rather than a spiritual argument.  However, at the end of the heated time together where they’d gone head to head it was clear that they both loved this county passionately and wanted only the best for our country – politically and socially!

I believe the same is true of brothers and sisters in Christ across the denomination.  There is an exquisite love for God in Christ Jesus.  There is a hungering to do what Jesus requires of us all.   There is a sacrificial spirit within our folk. There is a love of the church and denomination bar none!  There is a passion for the gospel to be shared far and wide for the benefit of all creation!

And yet the disagreements are threatening the health and welfare of the denomination!

Recently I heard two questions that made me stop and think.  And stop and think about me.

The questions were …
What is it in your own position that gives you trouble?
What is it in another’s position that attracts you?

If we answer nothing to both the above questions, then the discussion is over.  If we are honest and inquisitive, we then have opportunity to seek, ask, and knock.  To invite Jesus to be our guide in answering questions like the two above, or more pressingly the question of do we hate others who disagree with us?  Christ Jesus is to be the indispensable arbiter of whatever conflicts and disagreements arise!

Am I willing to be open to the possibility that I am wrong?  Am I teachable?  Will I accept others’ teachings, and most pressingly will I accept and embrace the person and teachings of Jesus?  Am I prepared to be liberated and transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit in being propelled forward in a significant leap of faith, love, and action?!

Echoing something of what the Apostle Paul wrote in the 4th chapter of Philippians: am I malleable to the work of the Spirit of God?  Are you?  Is the denomination?  Is the Church?

God willing and we are able – we are!

Respectfully submitted
Charlie McNeil
Knox Presbyterian Church, Lloydminster
Ganton Presbyterian Church