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Following Jesus calls us to embody many opposites: we are humbly bold, we are listeners who proclaim, we are leaders who follow our Lord, we wait upon the Lord as we take action. 

Synod 2022 calls us to embody a very difficult set of opposites: we are a community of passionate conviction called to listen to the Spirit’s leading. 

Is that possible? Two stories help me process this question.

Years ago I had a major conflict with a lay leader in our church. We had worked together for quite some time, and shared mutual respect. As we engaged in future planning, a significant difference between us came to light, and we could not resolve it. She suggested that we meet with another lay leader, share the issue, and then all commit to bring the matter to the Lord through prayer journaling every day for one week. We agreed to do so.

A week later we gathered again with our prayer journals, and discovered a stunning surprise. All three of us had come to the same conclusion, and neither of our original convictions were right. We had brought our disagreement about a specific plan to the Lord, but the Lord used our prayers to reveal the motivations of the heart that lay beneath these plans. Both of us heard a call to repentance, and through that repentance we found a common way forward.

A second illustration comes from the first synod recorded in Acts 15. Again, leaders gathered with passionately conflicting convictions concerning how to enfold Gentiles within the body of Christ. Luke’s account of this synod is instructive for us today. That synod included these steps:

  1. The conflict is named. “This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (v. 2)

  2. A conversation shaped by listening is held. “The apostles and elders met to consider this question…The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” (vv. 6, 12).

  3. The Scriptures are consulted and seen in a fresh light. James recognized that a passage from Amos 9 applied to this conversation: “After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things, things known from long ago.” (v. 16-18). What we now call the Old Testament contains many references to welcoming the Gentiles, but up to this point the powerful assumptions about the Jews being God’s chosen people had blinded the early church leaders from seeing the significance of these passages. Church history reveals numerous matters for which the assumptions of the day blinded leaders to the power of Scripture, e.g. justification by faith, slavery, the multi-racial make-up of the people of God. This does NOT mean that every issue requires a fresh reading of Scripture. It does mean we must always inquire of the Lord if a fresh reading is called for. 

  1. The discernment process is richly covenantal. The letter which communicates the conclusions of the synod includes this striking phrase, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (v. 28). What a beautifully covenantal phrase! A conflicted community submits to the Word and the Spirit through listening and conversation, and describes the process as a dialogue between the leaders and the Spirit. Recognizing our human limits, we do not triumphantly declare, “God told us…,” but rather, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...” There’s a joyful and appropriately gentle humility in the phrasing. 

  1. This synod does not settle matters once and for all. Acts 15 does not describe the delegates holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” as the synod ends. Instead, Paul and Barnabas prepare for another missionary journey, and have such a sharp conflict that they go their separate ways (Acts 15: 30-41). And later in the New Testament we read that Paul and Peter had an angry conflict concerning the matters that seemed to be settled by this synod (Gal. 2: 11-19). Strangely, there is profound grace in knowing that “perfect, permanent conclusions” are beyond us in this life. The Word is infallible; we as interpreters are not. Our discerning conversation with the Lord never ends as long as we see only a poor reflection in a mirror (I Cor. 13: 12). We are and will always be a community fully attendant on the Lord.

What might the implications of the above mean for Synod 2022?  I’ll risk a few tentative learnings:

  1. The Lord gives us the Word and the Spirit, and entrusts us with working through very challenging matters. That’s a profound privilege and a deep responsibility.  

  2. Jesus Christ is faithful, the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13: 8) and the Lord declares, “I am doing a new thing (Is. 43: 19). Holding these two truths together is the calling of the discerning community. 

  3. Our tendency on conflictual matters is to be for or against, but the way of the Lord is often more complex, revealing options that we had not imagined and uncovering states of the heart that we had not yet examined. 

  4. We gather at synod as delegates surrounded by a praying, denomination-wide community with both passionate conviction and open-handed discernment. 


Thanks.  I know that, for me,  humility is very, very hard when my heart and head are invested in a heated debate.  Thanks for highlighting the way human humility invites a Holy Spirit shaped future.


Last Sunday's lectionary took 1 Cor. 13. Love is patient. Love is kind. These words keep going through my head al week.  Yea! I'm working on this for my own life.

I wonder if there is also something to be learned from your story about not being driven to make a decision today, but being willing to put the decision on hold while taking time for discernment.

I hadn't thought about this before- but I wonder how much time passes as they consider the issue in Acts 15?

Thank you so much, Syd. This is so timely for us as a church and a denomination. I'm grateful for your wise, humble words. 


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