Back in the 90’s, I used to love it when the worship team at my church led the congregation in this Ron Kenoly song:
Whose report will you believe? We shall believe the report of the Lord!
His report says I am healed
His report says I am filled
His report says I am free
His report says victory!
It was powerful to be in a crowd of people who, like me, had come into the sanctuary with minds full of worries about the hardships of the week, yet somehow in the presence of God rise above it all just by remembering the truth—that Christ had purchased our salvation, healing us, forgiving us, filling us with His Spirit, and giving us victory over all the sin and death in our lives!
In this song, I heard echoes of the invitation from Psalm 103:
"Bless the LORD, O my soul; all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all His kind deeds—He who forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit and crowns you with loving devotion and compassion, who satisfies you with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
But the song, of course, was referencing the biblical story of Joshua and Caleb who, while all the other spies spoke of giants, barriers, and impossibilities, somehow managed to keep their eyes on the beautiful fruit and the land of goodness just waiting for the Israelites to claim if they would only trust God to fight the final battle that would get them there. The leadership of Joshua and Caleb involved believing and proclaiming the vision of God in such a way that redirected God’s people away from the fears that were clouding their vision.
I think the Church needs this kind of leadership today from its pastors, lay leaders, and denominational leaders. It’s not an easy task by any means. Our culture, and even our own nature, lead us into the camp of the “spy majority”, fixating on the negatives, the drama, and the angles and reports that strike fear in people’s hearts.
Our attention gravitates so naturally towards the big headlines and the most tragic and scandalous stories. And our anxious brains turn off the ability for spiritual imagination, which is so necessary to perceive what God is doing among us and process logically all the complexities of situations before us. Our “fight or flight mode” sees only black and white. People become bad or good. Situations require taking a side.
I know this has impacted our thinking in many areas of life—one very obvious example being how we have been processing the issues of the Human Sexuality Report from Synod 2022. It has been grievous to many of us to see the reports that have been flying around the denomination about Synod 2022 (even speculatively, since long before it occurred).
Social media was full of the stuff of 24-hour news channels: dire predictions, endless negativity, and unmerited amounts of distrust which spiraled downhill until public slander of Christian brothers and sisters, leaders, and institutions went unchecked on public forums. When Synod was over, one of the first headlines I read from a news channel talked about the Christian Reformed Church strengthening their position against homosexuals.
Well, I was at Synod 2022, and that’s not what I saw happen.
Oh, there was definitely a handful of people who let their emotions run high and made harsh, accusatory statements towards each other, which I hope they later regretted. And there were some, on both sides of the debate, who leaned heavily into unfortunate methods of shaming or power-play to try to push the body towards their desired outcomes.
But this is what I observed at Synod from a very large majority of the delegates, and it’s what I believe exists in a large majority of the Christian Reformed Church:
Celebration and joy in being physically together again after two long, difficult years of trying to keep conversations going through Zoom.
A united love and compassion for those among us who are same-sex attracted, because by now we all have friends, family members, and beloved church members who struggle with how these attractions should be understood through a biblical lens.
A desire to maintain a high view of Scripture, giving the Bible’s contents authority over our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This is a challenge we constantly face in all issues of our lives, because God’s ways run counter to all of our cultures.
A steadfast dedication to biblical scholarship. We are a denomination that doesn’t easily jump on board with the guidance of new theological trends, but leans into the historical wisdom of a wide body of scholarship that’s developed throughout church history to help discern our way forward. I hope that even those whose theological perspective on human sexuality leans towards affirmation of same-sex marriage can remind themselves that the body of modern scholarship that has helped moved them towards this understanding is very small compared to the large body of scholarship that the Church has leaned upon throughout history. So even while they might be convinced in their beliefs, perhaps it is unfair to assume a shaming or condemning stance towards the denomination for its desire to stay aligned with a historical interpretation and grounded in the perspective of the larger global and historical Church. This disposition might frustrate some of us now in regards to this current issue, but it might be appreciated by the same people down the road when other theological issues that they hold dear are challenged.
Finally, I saw a lot of grace, listening, and peaceful, gentle disagreement that could only be explained by the work of the Spirit upon our hearts, in answer to many prayers.
These are the “good fruits” that I feel have been under-reported. And please understand that, in saying this, I’m not accusing anyone whose reports don’t coincide with my own of false reporting. I realize that the giants and other threats to the unity of the body of Christ really are constantly present, and I’m not trying to present a denial of those facts. But I do think that damage is done when we become hyper-fixated on them.
Lately, I’ve seen the constant barrage of negative reports impact people who are dear to me causing anxiety to the point of near breakdown, depression, hopelessness, and despair. So it’s out of my love for these people, and my desire to fight for them and help them rise into the joy and peace of their salvation again, that I write all of this. I want to do my part to keep my mind fixed on (and draw at least one small bit of attention to) the vision of the “promised land” which I believe can override the bleakest of reports—a kingdom that “cannot be shaken”, which is ever-expanding, fueled by the reconciling, overcoming, healing, unifying gospel of Jesus Christ.
The grace of God has drawn us and keeps us forever in His sovereign grip, even when circumstances challenge our sense of belonging. We belong to Christ, and as crazy as it sounds sometimes, we also belong to each other. Our unity runs deeper than our theological alignment–we are Spirit-bound.
I am very grateful for how my own “promised land” vision has been reinforced in recent months through the stories I’ve heard from CRC pastors and congregations who have found strength and renewed vision through times of trial. Some have experienced new baptisms, deep conversations, developing even stronger love for their communities and incredible resilience!
I have been deeply inspired through my conversations with pastors who are still faithfully, passionately preaching the Word of God, even sometimes through great brokenness. I have heard of many new church plants springing up and flourishing right in the middle of the pandemic. And many more glimpses of the promised land become evident to me as our increasingly diverse denomination discovers in new ways that there is “one body, one Spirit, one hope to which we were called, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all, (Eph. 4:5).
Gradually, persistently, God’s glorious temple is being raised up, stone by spiritual stone (1 Peter 2:5) and I believe with all my heart that the gates of hell will never be able to prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).
So when the inevitable giants loom in our thoughts, sightings and circumstances, I pray for God to give us the grace to stop and ask ourselves, “whose report do you believe?”, and empower our hearts with the grace and clarity to answer, “we shall believe the report of the Lord”.