The “two-kingdoms debate” here in the United Reformed Churches in North America often reminds me of a Fourth of July fireworks show—a steady smattering of firecrackers punctuated by the occasional attention-grabbing “ka-boom!” of the larger explosions. And this week’s events in the blogosphere have caused some fairly deafening crashes.
If you are yet unfamiliar with the debate, I’m not going to attempt to summarize it here. It is too controversial a topic with too many complex facets; I’ve done a bit of reading on the subject, but I’m still not sure I thoroughly understand it myself. Suffice it to say that a Christian’s view of the church and its relationship to the world has much to do with this discussion, and its implications are far-reaching for individuals and for the URCNA as a whole.
What grieves me immeasurably is not the debate itself, which I think is a necessary one, but the prevailing tone of the interactions. Too often the loudest and brightest fireworks on either side seem to be colored not with humility and brotherly love, but with a certain measure of arrogance. Sometimes the actual issues are blurred beyond recognition and superseded with a disturbing desire to “one-up” the other side with satirical comebacks and ad hominem attacks.
“This is just the way we work out our disagreements,” someone might say. “We still respect each other, and neither side takes the insults seriously.” This may be true—and I humbly admire men who are willing to fight for the truth of Scripture at all costs. But through the battle, what impression are we giving of our federation to the watching world? I fear for those whose first impression of the URCNA is derived from these virtual skirmishes. Worse, I fear for our federation itself when theologians, ministers, and members are more concerned about promoting their own agendas than fighting together for the unity of the churches.
I say this as someone who has little right to plunge into the debate or to judge its participants—but I cannot help that it saddens me deeply. In stark contrast to this situation, I thought of the delight of the psalmist in Psalm 122 as he considered the glories of Mount Zion (the Church):
I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’
Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!
–Psalm 122:1,2 (ESV)
David describes a place to which all the “tribes of the LORD” go up in beautiful harmony “to give thanks to the name of the LORD.” Can this kind of unity be reached here on earth? Admittedly, no; the tribes of Israel fought among themselves all too often, and we cannot expect perfect union in the church either on this side of eternity. But it’s the last four verses of Psalm 122 which, for me anyway, carry the most powerful punch:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
‘May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!’
For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Why should we strive for peace in the church? Not only for the sake of our brothers and companions, but also by the very fact that it is the house of the Lord our God. This is no human institution, or it would have perished in discord long ago. For that reason Psalm 122 is both a call to rejoice, and a call to act. We can rejoice in the fact that the Lord builds his Church, despite all the attacks it endures from without and within. But we are also called to strive with all our might for peace, so that we may always be able to say, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”
How appropriate it is that Psalm 122 was sung as the very first selection at the prayer service that opened Synod 2012 of the URCNA. There two hundred delegates from every corner of the continent, and even from across the globe, rose to sing these words from Psalter Hymnal number 264, today’s Featured Recording:
My heart was glad to hear the welcome sound,
The call to seek Jehovah’s house of prayer;
Our feet are standing here on holy ground,
Within thy gates, thou city grand and fair.
The “two-kingdoms debate” is a weighty one, and I hope I’ve not exceeded my bounds in sharing these thoughts and concerns. Let it merely be said that I have a deep love and respect for our small group of churches and the ministers that serve them, for their unwavering mission to follow Christ and preach his gospel. I hope and pray that goal will never change.
If nothing else, I’d simply like to pose a call for reflection: Are we praying and striving for “the peace of Jerusalem” in our little federation? Or has the fireworks show become the main attraction?
For all my brethren and companions’ sakes,
My prayer shall be, Let peace in thee abide;
Since God the Lord in thee His dwelling makes,
To Thee my love shall never be denied.
(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)