By Rev. James Statham
Actually, it was spring in Jerusalem, and nine of us Canadian Presbyterian clergy were standing about 50 feet from the Western Wall listening attentively to our guide, Sheera. She awed us with the news that this last vestige of Herod’s wall, which once surrounded the temple mount, was composed of not just the towering rows of huge, cut-stone ashlars visible to us, but of 18 more rows descending below grade. On scribbling down her fascinating commentary, I was interrupted by an abrupt poke in the ribs. I turned and was confronted by a soldier waving his finger in my face. An Uzi was slung over his shoulder. I quickly put my pen away and apologized! Behind him, two sandbagged soldiers squatted behind a machine gun on a tripod. My writing had broken a law. It was late Friday afternoon, and the Sabbath was about to begin. My “working” would have offended the orthodox Jews praying at this holy site.
In Mark 13:2, Jesus predicted that the walls of Jerusalem and of the temple mount would be torn down. In AD 70, the Roman Tenth Legion breached the city walls and the temple was desecrated. Judaism, as it had been, would be no more. The fig tree would no longer bear fruit. God would now dwell among those who love and obey His Son – no need for temple sacrifices. Jesus, the “Lamb of God” had “taken away the sins of the world” on a cross outside this city. This is the heart of what we believe in the PCC – and it unites us.
But the walls of our PCC have been slowly breached by militant forces birthed in the narcissism of an increasingly secular culture zealously severing itself from its roots in historic, apostolic Christianity. Our unity is no more. Competing beliefs now divide us. But those who love and who therefore strive to obey Jesus remain united in this one truth: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living.” (2 Timothy 3:16 GNT)
The Roman legions came from many conquered lands and affirmed a variety of cultural gods. The soldiers enjoyed a diverse but still workable unity. The church of Jesus Christ, however, is defined by those who love only one God made known in Jesus Christ. God’s words are our Scriptures, and they are not just a component of, but are the “sole authority for faith and life”. Since New Testament times, the church has often been breached and divided by those whose faith is rooted more in the diversity of beliefs represented in a culture. Have any of us missed the blessing of a faith that flourishes in the singular, marvellous fullness of the Word of God? Can a faith that removes the “all” from Paul’s instructions fully flourish? Joshua knew a lot about breaching walls: “Make sure that you obey the whole Law that my servant Moses gave you. Do not neglect any part of it and you will succeed wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7 GNT)
The unity that we once valued is becoming less workable. What to do? Perhaps we could patch up the gaps in our walls through overturing successive General Assemblies to try to stem the inevitable tide. There would then have to be a willingness in our courts to defend with discipline the old walls as well as any new ones. That’s hard to do when friendships trump biblical doctrine. Our culture has breached the PCC, and many of us have become friends with its ambassadors. So….
Perhaps we could weld a legitimate unity by selectively sifting our doctrines. But dare we risk being those who “teach human rules as though they were my laws”? (Mark 7:7 GNT) Well then…
What about creating separate enclaves in the PCC as in the Old City today: the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian quarters?
Some will want to desert us and join or build a new city elsewhere with stronger and higher walls, or fewer walls, or no walls at all.
The PCC is getting a “poke in the ribs”. Let’s not be afraid to turn and look. Perhaps, the Lord is waving His finger in our face. God certainly waved His finger in the face of Judaism. He sent successive prophets to call His people to heed His Word, but they were ignored or imprisoned. Lastly, He sent His Son, and they rejected Him, too. Why? Except for a few, the people failed to take Jesus as their Lord and Messiah. His miracles they loved, but few loved all His words. He even had to speak in parables. Could we also be the ones Jesus spoke of when He said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34 GNT)? Close… but no cigar!
Unless we in the PCC are willing to believe that all Scripture could be life-giving, and as well life-changing, we will fail to flourish in our life and witness, and we will continue in our disunity. Early in my life, a common message that seemed to define the church was, “Jesus saves”. It has since morphed into an equally common yet undefined broad and bland message: “God loves you.” By themselves, neither of these gospels is a sufficient expression of a flourishing, life-changing faith. This willingness to seek out and trust in the fullness of God’s Word must be at the heart of what we believe – and it will unite us.