Purity and Peace

The membership vows of our church include this statement.

Do you, in reliance on God for strength, solemnly promise and covenant that you will walk together as an organized church, on the principles of the faith and order of the Presbyterian Church in America, and that you will be zealous and faithful in maintaining the purity and peace of the whole body?

PURITY and PEACE. I had dinner with my wise friend the other night, the one that always leaves me scrambling for paper to write down the godly insights she shares. This time was no exception. As we talked about recent controversies in evangelical Christianity, she pointed out the tension in the membership vows of the PCA. It calls members to be zealous and faithful in maintaining both purity (keeping the church unstained and unpolluted by sin) and peace (mutual harmony and contentment). The problem is that it is hard to maintain purity without disturbing the peace. Yet, on the flip side, there will be no long term peace without occasional zealous attention to purity. I love that the membership vows recognize the need for both.

I’m burdened that the larger conservative evangelical culture needs to be concerned for maintaining purity— not external purity in our culture but the internal purity of ourselves. And not purity in terms of outward morality but purity of the heart. Because “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12).

I’m familiar with 4 situations in different corners of conservative Christianity in which people are disturbing the peace in their cry for purity and correction in the church. It reminds me of the story of Ignaz Semmelweis, the doctor who first recognized the need to wash hands to reduce infections among birthing mothers. Nobody listened to him, and his findings were not accepted until after his death. Over his life, he grew increasingly angry in his writings, finally descending into full mental illness. But all along, he was RIGHT.

He’s a case study in the despair brought on when you know the truth, and no one will listen. As far as I can tell, he didn’t know the gospel. What if you know the truth and no one will listen and you DO know the gospel? Does it make a difference? I think it does.

How does the gospel break into and transform despair to hope when sinful men and practices go unaddressed in the Church? First, the gospel gives us free access to God where we can boldly bring Him our concerns. After all, it is His Body, and He’s the one who promises to make Her glorious. And He even gives us a model for our prayer in Psalms 10.

Psalm 10
 1 Why, O LORD, do you stand(A) far away?
   Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

 12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand;
    forget not the afflicted.

14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
   that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
   you have been the helper of the fatherless.

17 O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
   you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
   so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Second, the gospel gives us a model on how to engage in conflict. I’ve often talked about grace in conflict on this blog.

Grace in Conflict
Stopping Evil in the World
Abusers of Grace

The bottom line is that offenders need gospel grace. They won’t stop offending until God transforms their heart through the power of the gospel. But often, my response to those who sin against others is to sin against them in an attempt to get them to stop sinning. It’s a bad cycle. I’m as convinced as ever that the Golden Rule is key for conflicts. You can both stand against oppressive, sinful practices in the church and do it with gospel grace and biblical love. Purity and peace.

As a final note, I do not know anything about the conflicts within Sovereign Grace Ministries except what they have publicly disclosed on their blogs. I know enough from reading there that it is serious, and it is sin. I want to say how much I am encouraged by Josh Harris in particular. I’ve been impressed by the comments allowed on his blog and the patient responses. That’s the antidote to the Ignaz Semmellweis syndrome. Yes, there was/is sin. Yes, it was/is a systemic and widespread culture of leadership that involved harshness and pride with limited accountability. Yes, God is disciplining them for the purity of the ministry. But best of all, there will be peace if they continue to embrace this season, seriously examine themselves, and listen to their critics instead of discounting them as bitter.

May the gospel empower critics as well as those criticized for both the purity and the peace of the Church.

5 Responses to Purity and Peace

  1. Virginia Knowles July 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    Wendy, I am a current member of a PCA congregation and a former longtime member of Sovereign Grace. You may have noticed an upswing of blog visits from my original article (and the two large protest blogs) all of which linked to your article on bitterness – which is so often used as a trump card against those who try to bring necessary correction. My first article, now updated, is here: Ghttp://virginiaknowles.blogspot.com/2011/07/my-thoughts-on-cj-mahaney-and-sovereign.html. My sequel is linked from that. It is a very sobering situation that calls for much grace and truth. I am thankful for the encouraging fords from my PCA pastors and elder during this time.

    Thank you for your blog!

    Virginia Knowles

  2. Anonymous July 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    Dear friend, I am so thankful for your voice in the midst of the turmoil! May this truth, God's Truth and Grace, be widely heard and taken to heart! And, may true peace and healing, repentance and forgiveness, reconciliation and God's love be manifest in His Church!

  3. Virginia Knowles July 21, 2011 at 1:35 am #

    I'm sorry that link got corrupted by a G. It should be http://virginiaknowles.blogspot.com/2011/07/my-thoughts-on-cj-mahaney-and-sovereign.html

    And thank you, Anonymous, for the word of encouragment. I am assuming you were directing it to me?

  4. Luma July 22, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    We had the privilege of attending church with our friends last Sunday at Covenant Life Church when Pastor Josh Harris preached on John 13:34-35. What I saw was a man with no pretenses, bold honesty and much humility. My husband and I and our friends were able to go down and see him after the service, to encourage him by showing him a real life example of what God can do to bring peace and unity between brethren after division. These were friends that were on the “other side” last year. God is mighty, and He is able to not only cleanse his church but to also unite his disciples.

  5. Wendy July 22, 2011 at 2:22 am #

    That's neat to hear, Luma. Praying for more of this!