Another General Assembly has come to a close, and it was a good one.
Every year many of the pastors and ruling elders in our denomination gather together to think through various issues and questions that we face. It’s also a time to worship together, pray together, and reconnect with old friends.
What especially encouraged me this week were the tangible expressions of unity I saw.
In the past few years, much attention has been given in our denomination to racial reconciliation. Our denomination’s history in this area has many blemishes, and thus significant time has been given to confessing our corporate sins and taking steps of repentance. This year those efforts continued with a study committee on what this repentance might look like being presented. Most notably, our denomination had its first ever African-American moderator of the General Assembly.
Our denomination has also experienced somewhat of a cultural divide between what might be called the “conservative” and “progressive” wings. Both sides are deeply committed to biblical orthodoxy, and both sides focus their efforts on important goals. The former emphasizes strengthening our commitment to traditional aspects of our faith so that we can remain distinctive as culture challenges us to compromise. The latter focuses on how faithfulness calls us at times to change, both so that we might grow in Christlikeness and also so that we can more effectively connect to our world.
Unfortunately, these differences in emphases have sometimes led to a sense of suspicion and distrust on both sides. As a result, at past General Assemblies, debates have become contentious, even ugly in their tone.
This year felt different. The good sermons at the beginning (preached by outgoing moderator Alexander Jun) and end (preached by Joe Novenson) challenged us to biblical unity. And it was clear throughout the time that this was a commitment shared by many. For me, the clearest example of this was how one particularly important committee spent hours in conversation to find a common way forward regarding how our denomination can respond to cultural changes in marriage. Though deeply divided at the beginning, the final vote was nearly unanimous (104-1), and the committee celebrated by concluding with the doxology. The work of God’s Spirit was evident.
There are may areas in which our denomination needs to continue to grow, and, until Christ returns, there always will be. But overall, this was an encouraging week to me.