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General Assembly as Interfaith Dialogue — Interacting with a Perspective from the Rev. Joseph Gray

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This article, positioned under the line below, was originally published on June 12 in the congregational newsletter of Grace West Hill, Presbyterian, “Grace to You”.  It re-blogged here as a guest post with the author’s permission.

In this piece pastor Joe expresses what might be characterized as a heart broken, gentle polemic * regarding the issue of scriptural authority, and what that means to faithfulness to Jesus Christ, as it unfolded during the recent General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada in Vancouver, BC.

These words may be very hard for some Canadian Presbyterians to hear.  Even those who substantially agree with Joe on the nature and authority of Scripture may wince thinking that his rhetoric might be a tad too strong.

But Joe is right.  Joe is hearing from Jesus and Joe is writing in the Spirit.  How can we go forward in fellowship together as an institutional organization within Christ’s Church if we cannot agree on the fundamentals of how we hear from Jesus?  If our root answer to what is true is radically different, then the ‘ugly’ question necessarily arises:  do we share the same faith?

The sad, hard answer is no, we don’t.  Some folks are tripping on the belt of truth out of a false sense of righteousness.  Some people have let something that appears as an ‘angel of light’ in behind the shield of faith.   Some of us need to repent and step into the light of life.   Is it I, Lord?

Christianity appears to mean many things that are related to Jesus.  Is Christianity a movement that is influenced by the teaching of Jesus as we find our own way in the world?  Or is faith obedience to the Word of the King that comes reliably, sufficiently and necessarily through the inspired, in-errant Word of God?  What is true?  What is false?  And what is lukewarm, pending a good spew?

Jesus is Risen.  Jesus is Lord.  What is Jesus saying to the Church?  What is it to follow Jesus with ‘hospitality and justice’ for all?  Whose hospitality?  Whose justice?  Whose agenda?  What is hospitality and justice?  What is truth?

“When they said, repent, repent, I wonder what they meant….” Leonard Cohen, The Future.

All to Jesus I surrender.  Please Lord Please give us grace to surrender to you.  Do not let us stumble in our own ‘wisdom’.  Give us grace to repent, for the Kingdom of God is established in your death and resurrection.

*yes gentle polemic is an oxymoron but it is so difficult to express the sorrow & compassion for deceived fellow humanity along with the revulsion & horror at the spiritual deception that is engulfing our denomination.  “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers…..”.


“Grace to You” –  June 12, 2015 — The Rev. Joseph Gray

“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,” I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord,and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,”  II Corinthians 6:16-17

Have you ever participated in an interfaith dialogue?  If you haven’t it’s certainly an interesting and eye opening experience. Ultimately you realize that you are communicating with people who share very little in common with you as a Christian. You listen, you learn and you try to do so with respect. Eventually, you realize that in spite of our many differences we are fellow human beings created in God’s image. Above all else this is what we hold in common. Sadly, you also begin to realize that any hope of finding a common truth is a hopeless illusion. With all the good intentions in the world, we will never find common ground. We can learn to respect one another and seek to live in peace together, but honestly, we are far too different to find real common ground.

The above statement may sound harsh to our modern politically correct ears, but face it, if you are a committed disciple of Jesus, you know that it’s true!  Jesus said,” I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” Pretty narrow by our modern standards. But if you trust and follow Jesus, you know it’s true.

My recent experience attending the 2015 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada reminded me of this reality. I met many lovely, gracious, polite people while I was there. People who spoke of unity. Sadly when it was over, I realized that as a committed born again disciple of Jesus who takes the Word of God seriously (the inspired inerrant Word of God!)  I had very little in common with the majority of the people in attendance. They were very nice people. Fellow human beings, created in the image of God. Beyond this we had very little in common.

Sound harsh?  No it’s not. It’s reality. Time to face the facts. We can love and pray for these people. (We must do so!).  Pray that God will take hold of their hearts and transform them. God worked the miracle of transformation in my heart and in yours. God loves lost humanity and wishes to see us repent and be saved.    Without the miracle of salvation, “Christian” is just an empty word. May our broken hearted prayer be like that of the Apostle Paul’s, “Brethren my heart and prayer is that all Israel might be saved.”

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  1. Pingback:General Assembly as Interfaith Dialogue — Interacting with a Perspective of the Rev. Joseph Gray - Presbyterian Record

  2. David Harris

    Interesting. I disagree with both you and Joe on most of what’s said, but it’s not on the unspoken content about same-sex discussions. It’s that Joe should so judge those in attendance. Scripture is pretty clear, if you want to rely on it in that way: God judges people’s hearts. Neither Joe nor you, Chris, are in a position to judge.
    I am a Christian who takes the Word of God as seriously as anyone I’ve met, far more seriously than most and I doubt Joe does moreso than I. Where I am tempted to agree is that Joe may be a nice person, but possibly I have less in common with him than would be ideal.
    Sad, but true. But the Spirit works in all of us and inspires all of us. Or, as Anne Lamott famously said, (I paraphrase) “God loves Dick Cheney as much as he loves me. Go figure!”
    So let’s stop with the who’s in and who’s out, please. It’s not warranted and it’s not scriptural.

    • todaChristopher Jorna

      David, I agree that we are not in a position to condemn. However, everyone who owns the name Christian, or for that matter ‘human’, is in a position to discern. What is the Spirit saying to the Church?

      The Presbyterian Church in Canada is in a major season of discernment in which we are publicly discussing the root differences that we usually politely ‘keep under the rug’ for the sake of collegial friendliness and institutional unity.

      Joe & I appear very collegially unfriendly in our writing regarding his experience of General Assembly. We are convinced of discernment and that can appear to be judgmental to those who are not so convinced.

      However, if my discernment is wrong, the judgement falls on me to the extent that I’ve applied it to other people. Then again, in this world the reward for correct discernment can actually mean something like being thrown down a well for a while or having one’s head cut off.

      Is it condemnation to so disagree about the content of what the self-professed word ‘Christian’ means as to question whether all of us who profess Christ are following Jesus?

      Ultimately you are right, it is God who knows and discerns the human heart. We ourselves in prayer can, if we repent and listen, hear from God about the state of our own heart. As for the hearts of others, that is dangerous territory, yes. And yes, although I’d like to deny it, the kind of writing that Joe and I have engaged in plays close to that line. If we are messing around in our sinful ignorance we definitely deserve your gracious rebuke.

      It is possible to be a genuine person in Jesus and be totally confused in regards to how Jesus leads or how Jesus is leading. Time and subsequent choices reveal what we can discern about these things. I believe the Presbyterian Church in Canada is at a crossroads in the next 2 or three years where these things are being revealed. Each of us is being sifted. Will I seek Jesus? Will I seek his word? Will I follow His lead no matter how ‘unfriendly’ or ‘judgmental’ it may appear to those who for whatever reason have not yet entered into what Jesus says about faithfulness.

      There are times, scripture models, when the Lord is pretty stark: striking Uzzah down for holding the ark from jiggling, speaking about the choice of life and death through Moses in Deuteronomy 30, Paul mentioning the harm done by ‘Alexander the metalworker’ in 2 Timothy 4:14.

      Asking the question of what is and what is not genuine faith in Christ and coming to an apparent answer, is it really unwarranted? is it really unscriptural given the magnitude of the conversation in which we are engaged?

      In thinking through responding to you, a leader in our church whom I’d really like to agree with for reasons of social and professional pleasantry, I’ve wondered about recanting the following two paragraphs from my ‘interaction’ with Joe’s work:

      “But Joe is right. Joe is hearing from Jesus and Joe is writing in the Spirit. How can we go forward in fellowship together as an institutional organization within Christ’s Church if we cannot agree on the fundamentals of how we hear from Jesus? If our root answer to what is true is radically different, then the ‘ugly’ question necessarily arises: do we share the same faith?

      The sad, hard answer is no, we don’t. Some folks are tripping on the belt of truth out of a false sense of righteousness. Some people have let something that appears as an ‘angel of light’ in behind the shield of faith. Some of us need to repent and step into the light of life. Is it I, Lord?”

      Those words seem to be the most potentially judgmental and offensive of my writing on this matter.

      But God help me, I cannot recant those words. I may be among those who need to repent. I could be tripping on the belt of truth. I could easily have a false sense of righteousness. I’ve manufactured many such idols in my life. It is more than philosophically possible that I am wrong.

      I’ve had to repent of many things. But for all the wording is strong, for all I might choose a different strategy that is more corporately harmonious, I find that I cannot. The Lord will have to convince me. I hope I don’t have to eat a diet of wyrms. & even though Luther was right on many things, he too had much of which to repent, as do I and no doubt Joe.

      I offer no condemnation. Only the sense that we, as a denomination, are at a crossroads of choosing life and death. A strong sense. Such a strong sense that I use the rhetoric that Joe is writing in the Spirit. I could be wrong, but alas, I don’t believe so.

      2 Corinthians 6:16-17 is Scripture originally addressed to the church in Corinth before the full authority of the letter was codified into the canon. Yet even before that recognition by the universal church it had authority as the word of God. 2 Corinthians 6 appears pretty stark and judgemtal to those in the Corinthian church who profess faith in Jesus and yet persisted in agreement with idols.

      Some of those Corinthians were confused. Some were in. Some were out. Some who repented were out and came in as a result of Paul listening to the Lord and speaking the Lord’s discernment of the situation to the people. God knows who was who, Paul did not. But here is the thing, Paul was speaking by the Spirit. That is the scriptural pattern that was warranted in the situation of the Corinthian Church.

      If Joe is speaking by the Spirit on this matter then he speaks by the same authority by which Paul spoke before being executed. So that’s the real question. Are Joe and I speaking by the Spirit in offering this challenge? Am I exercising sound discernment in testifying that Joe is speaking by the Spirit in this matter?

      If not, correct us, as you are so graciously doing. If not and we refuse to accept correction by two or three wise believers then bring it to the Church. And if then, I don’t repent well, then, please hand me over to satan that my sinful nature will be destroyed and I myself will be saved on the day the Lord returns. (1 Corinthian 5:5)

      What we face as a denomination is that serious.

  3. Douglas Cameron

    Well said on all counts, Christopher. My heart was in my mouth when you indicated that you would like to recant those two paragraphs.

    I understand why you would be tempted to do so. The words seem harsh, and perhaps they are; but the harsh reality is that the reality we are facing is harsh.

    I was at General Assembly. I appreciated the gracious dialogue in which we participated. I was thankful for the peaceable tone that was set for the most part. And I can only conclude that we are at a crossroads.

    We can choose to twist each others arms, and pressure and cajole one another into changing our minds … and in so doing risk searing one another’s consciences as we cave into the pressure and compromise convictions that God has placed on our hearts. Or we can choose to truly respect one another by honouring the convictions that we each carry.

    But there is really only one way to truly honour the convictions of those who disagree on such fundamental issues as how we understand and interpret scripture. Let them go where God is leading them. Agree to disagree, and part company with a blessing from each to the other.

    There is an honourable time and an honourable way to part company, and there are honourable reasons so to do. This may well be the time (when all has played out a few years from now). This may well be the reason to do so. The question may well be, not whether, but how.

    How do we part company in an honourable way (if and when necessary) and so honour one another and the Lord.

    Some will say it is premature to even consider this. I suggest that refusing to consider it is burying our heads in the sand.

    I’m very thankful for your gracious and thoughtful comments, Christopher and Joseph. More than that, I’m thankful for the prayerful, Spirit-directed nature of your remarks.

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