Theology in the Trenches: Our Membership Vote
This year has been a year of anniversaries: the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the 150th birthday of Canada, and the 100th commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
In April 1917, tens of thousands of Canadian soldiers stormed Vimy Ridge and won a battle in three days that the French and British were unable to win in over two years. The Canadian army won because of good, thorough planning, an openness to hear from many officers, excellent training, and a belief that they were pursuing a righteous cause. Men died, but the casualties were minimal. My son and I spent a day together visiting the military graves of Canadian men and boys buried at Vimy Ridge; it was a sobering day which left us grateful.
Conflict; we often think of the pain associated with conflict, but what about the gain? Good can come from conflict — it can strengthen and fortify us.
November 15, 2017: The Vote
For three years we have followed a process, shepherded by our National Council, to discuss and decide on whether our churches would agree to fellowship with churches who receive believers baptized by a mode other than immersion into local church membership. We have discussed, debated, written, and prayed — now we ask for God’s wisdom as we vote together.
Will we live peaceably after the final decision?
I have been encouraged by the grace-filled way in which we have behaved as we’ve debated this issue. We need to be able to discuss and debate theological issues as a Fellowship of churches.
How are we to behave after the vote? When conflict happens, we should hold up a mirror. Before blaming someone else, we need to take an honest look at ourselves.
Proverbs 13:10a tells us that “Pride leads to arguments.” Putting up a mirror gives God permission to help you look deep within yourself. What is motivating this conflict? What is lurking beneath? We have spent three years debating this issue — that’s a long time. After the vote, let’s continue to move slowly when discussing this issue with one another. Words can wound. The Bible warns that it’s foolish to impulsively vent: “wise people think before they act…” (Proverbs 13:16a) and “a fool gives full vent to anger, but a wise person quietly holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11). I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Proverbs 17:28 is the proof text for this sage advice.
Let’s agree not to allow any unwholesome talk (Ephesians 4:29) to pepper our speech after the vote. Instead, let’s do our part to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18), motivated by a longing to experience together “the wisdom that comes from heaven which is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle… willing to yield to others…” (James 3:17). The Bible promises “a wonderful future [which] lies before those who love peace”.
Let’s emphasize reconciliation rather than resolution. Resolving everything is often impossible. We can disagree without being disagreeable. We can have unity without necessarily having uniformity. We can walk hand-in-hand without seeing eye-to-eye on everything. We must reconcile without having to resolve everything. We are called by Christ to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18), which creates hope, optimism, and binds us together.
A decade ago, I heard General Colin Powell speak at an event. I remember two things he said: “First, avoid war if at all possible. It is a sign of failure. And secondly, in the military, officers look for ‘force-multipliers’ — things like terrain, weather, equipment, artillery, and numbers to multiply their force.” He declared that “perpetual optimism” was a force-multiplier for any organization. One hundred years ago, the Canadian army took advantage of a slew of force-multipliers and experienced victory and peace as a result.
Let’s remember our call to the ministry of reconciliation as we gather to vote and live with the results… together. I leave you with one last thought from an interesting verse found in James 3:18 (NLT):
“And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.”