It is great to be back and enjoying these warm summer days in Grand Rapids. Dallas has its own charm, but it has nothing on West Michigan! Dallas was however a great host for our General Assembly where Addison, Bob La Fleur and I attended as commissioners.
A great encouragement for me, particularly this year, was the sense from the men and women at the assembly, that though we may not agree on everything, we need each other. One of the great strengths of the PCA is our commitment to being a “big tent” denomination. We are Biblical and confessional, so there are limits to the size of the tent; but within those generous boundaries there is room for interpretation and disagreement. Of course, allowing for a big tent also comes with the challenge of how to disagree well. We have not always done a great job of this, especially with the advent of the internet and the now dominance of the social media age. It has become easier and easier to disparage someone else’s opinion or simply attack someone else, either through the spoken word, the written word or the ever present “share”.
Interestingly the framers of the Westminster Larger Catechism dealt with this issue as well. It comes through most clearly in their treatment of the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment, i.e. the prohibition against bearing false witness. Keep in mind that the Assembly was made up of roughly 120 ministers working together over a 10 year period. There were numerous disagreements, disputes and conflicts that arose during this time; continually harmonious it was not. But here is what they said at the outset of their answer to Larger Catechism 145: The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature. Bearing false witness is about more than lying. All prejudicing the truth and the name of another violates the heart of our Creator from which the law is drawn. With the public judicature in our pockets (i.e. cell phones) these days, is almost as if they could have been speaking directly into our present age.
This Sunday at Gracehillwe will be taking up Ecclesiastes 12:9,10: Besides being wise, the Preacher (or Teacher) also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.Similar to Westminster these are amazingly apt words for handling disagreements, particularly in the age of polarization we live in. The Preacher was careful with his words. He did not easily post or share but took time to weigh and study and arrange. He was upright in his dissemination of truth. Another way to say this was that the teacher was pastoral, not simply stating the truth and letting the chips fall where they may, but considering the totality of his audience. He was careful not to prejudice the truth to serve his own interest. He sought to finds words of delight, or as other translations put it “pleasant words”, “words of grace”. This itself is a delightful concept.
And so the challenge comes from the Preacher’s pen to our lips and our fingertips. May it be that our words -- in personal engagements and public discourse, in our online communities and religious assemblies, wherever we as God's people might employ them — would be so full of truth and uprightly considered that they would always be experienced as a delight!