Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
I personally wanted General Synod 2020 to be the moment when the RCA decided its future as a denomination. I am tired of waiting. For the last two years, various groups—formal and informal—have been planning and strategizing how to achieve what they believe are the right ends. I think this is fine to do and I have done my fair share. For the last few months, many RCA pastors and elders around the country have been praying for God to act. Otherwise, we believed that the denomination would experience a parting of ways this summer. We all said that we would know it if we saw it.
My friends, God has acted; though he is not the cause of this virus, he has allowed it for his purposes. We would be wise to listen. This horrible virus that threatens millions has stopped all of us in our tracks. There are no easy answers in the days ahead. The only thing that seems true is that all the world will suffer. We pray for divine intervention and wisdom for the world’s leaders. Still, all our communities will suffer. This is no time to gather. It is no time to even consider gathering. No one should make life-altering decisions when death is threatening us. We have communities to serve, families to console, lives to grieve and a gospel to preach. James says it so clearly, “If the Lord wills”. If any thing makes clear that God is willing us to stop in our tracks as a denomination and wait, it is right now. God has made it clear that our family disagreement is not of his concern right now. We are essential frontline outposts of His kingdom. When a war is raging, you don’t take time off. Now is the time to be the people of God in the world.
Even when this is over, the world will be different. Make no mistake, this virus has intervened in world civilization and none of us knows what it means for the future. One thing is for sure, many of our churches will be filling up in the summer and fall months as people reckon with the fragility of life—loss loved ones, loss jobs and the loss of perceived safety. Nothing is more important than we be there for them. The denomination’s future can wait.
Some will say that we can have a virtual General Synod. With all my soul, I think nothing would be more damaging and dangerous. General Synod is the gathered church; the church is flesh on flesh, together. Nothing can replace us being together in the same room, seeing each other’s eyes, having to deal with opposing persons and joining in the truth that we are all made in the image of God. We have made pastoral accommodation at the local level but what we are doing virtually is lamentable not a new way of church. It sets a dangerous precedent if the highest body in the RCA meets virtually. If we do it, we might mistakenly believe like the fools from long ago that we can build a tower to the heavens—fix any problem without God. General Synod is not just business but the active work of God in the midst of the gathered people of God. Do not fix the problem that we cannot gather. Do not offer easy solutions. Sit in the jarring reality that we are confined to houses and apartments. The church cannot gather. Be shaken that people are dying alone. Be shaken that the new world might have more suffering not less. I am humbled.
Dear RCA, please cancel this year’s General Synod. Pastors and elders need to be with their churches. We can wait one more year. God has spoken. We should listen. The world needs the church and our Lord who we proclaim.