Sean writes (in response to another post) raising the question implicitly of cynicism about the visible, institutional church. My response is below.
I understand disappointment with the discipline process. I’m disappointed when a consistory places people under discipline and those who’ve been placed under discipline do not respond as we hope and pray they will. On the other hand, in two cases laity have brought cases to the highest/broadest courts/assemblies in the OPC and the URC with (after all) happy results. In the case of the OPC, the appellants did not “win” but the case awakened the a denomination to the reality of the Federal Vision and related errors and it produced a very good report and a strong consensus on justification. In another case a lay couple complained all the way to Synod and it awakened ministers and elders to the reality of the FV with the result that Synod produced a brief statement and in a later Synod produced a much stronger statement with the result that the federation is now four-square against the FV and the NPP. A report is coming [now available] but there’s little doubt what they will say. It took a long time but this is a fallen, sinful world.I could be cynical.
I’ve been a minister since 1987 and I entered seminary in 1984. In that time I’ve seen plenty that would give me warrant for cynicism. I’ve seen late-night, unconstitutional meetings. I’ve been the recipient of verbal abuse. I’ve seen churches decimated by power struggles. I’ve seen churches turn away from the Reformed faith to various forms of moralism. I’ve seen ministers fall from the ministry. I’ve seen a good deal of nominalism. I’ve seen worship services in nominally Reformed churches that are indistinguishable from Calvary Chapel services. I’ve lived through the theonomy craze and now the Federal Vision heartache.I’ve seen a lot of dark things in the church done in the name of Christ, but I’ve also seen a lot of wonderful things. I’ve seen people brought to faith by the Spirit through the foolishness of gospel preaching. I’ve also seen churches become more Reformed and biblical. I’ve seen teen-agers knocking on doors inviting neighbor children to VBS. I’ve seen people drive hundreds of miles every Sabbath just to be in a Reformed congregation or to attend a Reformed Bible study. I’ve seen amazing acts of grace and charity and selflessness. I’ve seen elders do their duty, even when it was miserable and gut-wrenching. I’ve seen deacons perform remarkable acts of charity — and I’ve been the recipient of such. I’ve seen the “light go on” in catechism classes, when suddenly the faith makes sense. I’ve seen ministers’ wives on their hands and knees scrubbing the entryway of the church, while their husbands were mowing the lawn, getting the building ready for Sunday.
These are the sorts of things that encourage me not to become cynical. The visible, institutional church is a broken, truly human place but it’s Christ’s place and it is the only institution to which he has attached promises, chief among which is: “Lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”
[This post first appeared in 2008 on the HB]