Whose Report Do You Believe?
September 26, 2022
Updated November 9, 2022
14 comments 2313 views
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”.
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Thanks for your very thoughtful and heartfelt comments regarding 2022 Synod! I agree that our unity as a denomination and also as individual congregations is indeed being threatened, as we fall on one side or the other of various denominational issues, including the human sexuality report. We need to do a "heart check" when we have conversations with those who strongly oppose Synod's decision. We need to pray fervently that God will hold us together as we seek to live out our faith in a very broken world.
Thanks again for your wise words!
Very concise and thorough
This is a wise and helpful reflection - thank you for offering it. As a delegate to Synod 2022, I share your observations, and feel as if much reporting has skewed toward an emphasis on distrust or suspicion, when there was much to observe that ran counter to this. Going into Synod one of my commitments and greatest anticipated joys was to seek out and interact with people of widely varying perspectives. God graciously granted me those opportunities, beginning with my airplane flight into GR, and I can say that those opportunities were wonderful to experience and formative for me. There was much to celebrate together in unity. Thanks so much for offering an encouraging reflection.
Susan, I'll just add that one of the people of diverse perspective that I was honored to interact with was you (over one of our lunches). I enjoyed our time together! :)
Eric, it was enjoyable for me to chat with you over lunch as well!
Thank you, Susan. I appreciate this very much.
Thanks so much for this Susan. It was a gift to serve beside you at Synod (literally in our Advisory Committee).
I especially appreciated your reference to Joshua and Caleb "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," (vs. caving to flight or flight - guilty as charged). Two other reactions I'm prone to: freeze or please. A challenge indeed to work through these personal responses in order to better lead people going through the same reactions.
Well done. Thank you. I sat with delegates from my Classis next to delegates from a Classis that was on the opposite ideological perspective from many in our Classis. I observed (and, I think tried myself) kind conversation, mutual respect, and good camaraderie between our two groups, despite being on very different sides of these issues. I witnessed a delegate from another Classis praying with a delegate from mine (again, opposite sides of many issues) over difficult personal situation. So yes, this was a very, very difficult Synod. But with the eyes to see it, there was also much grace.
Rob, thanks for sharing your experiences of delegates loving each other in spite of differences. That's beautiful.
I say this lovingly, Susan. You have no idea how smug, condescending and patronizing your blog will come off to many. Your Joshua/Caleb story analogy is, sadly, another example of "convenient" misuse of scripture. Amazing, our human capacity for rationalization.
John, would you be willing to expand on your post by helping us understand how does Susan's article comes across as smug, condescending, and patronizing? Who are the "many?" How is the analogy a misuse of Scripture?
John, I am very sorry that you sensed smugness and condescension in the tone of my writing. There was certainly none felt or intended!
Susan, your comments about the 'steadfast commitment to biblical scholarship ', are pretty much without foundation. The HSR's use of Scripture is one of its weakest components. The idea that 'God created the woman so that the man (or they together) could fulfill God's command to be fruitful and multiply is one example. Here's why. The stated reason in the text of Genesis is that 'it is not good for the man to be alone. Second, the words 'be fruitful and multiply...' are not a command but a blessing. (those of us who were blessed to be taught by Dr. John Stek should all remember this). Finally, it would be really strange of God to command human procreation and expect obedience when the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Hannah and Elkanah, Jacob and Rachel, Zechariah and Elizabeth, not to mention the explicit teaching of Psalm 127 make the point that no humans, not even a married heterosexual couple can conceive a baby without the direct blessing and gift of God.
Further, with respect to the level of scholarship in the HSR, the world leading scholar on sexuality in Judaism and early Christianity Dr. William Loader, an expert the report itself refers to, calls any approach that labels sexual minority people as experiencing their particular sexuality as, 'fallen, broken, or distorted is, to quote Loader, "cruel". There are other examples, too many to cite.
Finally, I question the pastoral nature of the report. Right after it acknowledges that respect for the pronouns of choice of a trans person directly impacts the person's mental health and reduces suicidality, the HSR says that a council or congregation may choose whether or not to honor pronouns of choice.
So, Susan, I respectfully disagree with your perspective. I listen to the report of those sexual minority people I have met in the course of my work as an inner city chaplain, as well as those I know personally. And, I believe the strong and consistent teaching of the Bible, that all children are a gift of God.
Susan, reading this article has truly made my day. In Scripture we are given a heavenly vision and told to pursue it (knock for it to be opened, ask to receive it, run the race, even fight the good fight as Joshua and Caleb were prepared to do). We are promised success, not through our efforts, but through our faith in the Lord who owns the vision and leads us to what we see only dimly now. Whatever our weaknesses, be they smallness, dimness, mistaken-ness, or even sinfulness, His power will be perfected in our weakness. He will one day return to fulfill the yearnings of Joshua, Caleb, and all the rest of the faithful. Meanwhile may the accusations, fears, and grumblings of all Israel never defeat your faith (or mine) in His vision!
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