It’s around 9:30pm here and the first plenary business of the assembly will begin here momentarily.
But it’s been a full day
The morning began with the meeting of those Committees of Commissioners I mentioned yesterday. The committee I served on, Christian Education and
Publications, heard a report from those who give yearlong oversight to the formation and equipping of believers in our denomination through conferences,curricula, and a not too shabby online bookstore. The ministry of CEP has been through a season of transition, both in leadership and in responding to new (and unpredictable) trends in technology, educational methods, and economic circumstances. Our committee reviewed its annual report and the audit of its finances, and gave approval to a few recommendations it would make to the larger Assembly.
Afterward commissioners had the chance to attend a variety of seminars. I sat in on a session discussing the practices and perils of church leadership, and then later one on pastoral resilience. I dropped by the exhibit hall
following the latter seminar and picked up a free copy of a new book written by three researchers who spend 7 years following pastors and their wives trying to determine what priorities allowed a pastor to persevere and thrive in their labors. Dear friends of our served in one of the ministry cohorts the study followed. I look forward to reading what they learned.
Later Ligonier Ministries out of Orlando sponsored a fantastic panel discussion on the subject of Christology: the doctrines related to the person and work of Christ. Sinclair Ferguson, Ligonier’s own R.C. Sproul, Ligon Duncan, Richard Godfrey, professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary, and Richard Pratt of Third Millennium Ministries all contributed to a rich conversation on the importance of getting the person of Jesus right, His incomprehensibility notwithstanding. Some of the more profound comments coming from the panel:
- Sinclair Ferguson (who, I might add, illuminated me on the proper way to wear a kilt and thereby saved me from the embarrassment of wearing the pleats in front) warned of how evangelicals tend to rush to find themselves and their experience in a given New Testament text, rather than simply look for what the NT reveals of Jesus. To be sure the Scriptures are to be applied but we risk losing the heart of what they teach if we are too quick to find the application, or interpret a text by our own experience. We have to let the text say what is said before we know how best to respond.
- Richard Pratt (whose ministry seeks to provide theological education in regions too remote for formal study) mentioned how many believers in places where the gospel is really beginning to take hold have very little understanding of the early church’s efforts to clarify its understanding of the person and work of Jesus. Those newly evangelized regions even tend to resent what they perceive as a “westernized” Jesus in the sense that the notions of Jesus’ being fully God and fully man, of His having both a human and divine nature united in one person, of His being of the same essence as God but a distinct person from the God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are so laden with Greek philosophical categories. Pratt argued that the resentments simply issue from a lack of exposure to the creedal formulations of the first four centuries of the church–formulations that help us understand how Jesus could be a sufficient and appropriate sacrifice for all our sin.
- Finally Ligon Duncan insisted that Jesus Himself considered it necessary that we have a right doctrine of who He is since Jesus’ own encounter with the woman at the well in John 4, as just one example, demonstrated His interest in her knowing about Jesus (His identity and mission) as well as knowing Jesus personally (his character and concern). To know about Him and to know Him is to study Christology. Far from being a set of doctrines interesting only to scholarly theologians, Christology is nothing more than having a right understanding of Him, much as you seek to have a right, if incomplete, understanding of someone you love.
And just before the Assembly took up its business this evening it shared in a wonderful time of worship, full of beautiful choral and instrumental arrangements. Mike Ross, pastor in Mathews, NC and the outgoing moderator of the Assembly, preached from Revelation 21 from which he offered a humble admonition for the more conservative impulses within us to beware of acting out of fear rather than faith. He ended his tenure as Moderator with a bold statement to let the Lord lead us rather than merely seek to conserve some traditions, no matter how they’ve proved beneficial in the past.
A full day today.
A fuller day tomorrow.
The business of the Assembly begins in full earnest tomorrow now that we’ve elected a new moderator, Bruce Terrell, formerly a pastor in Atlanta and presently the executive pastor of Redeemer Pres in NYC.
Until then, a good rest to you all