Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Holy Spirit and the Third Commandment

A week ago I read some comments by a former official of the PC(USA) concerning her belief that the Holy Spirit moved through the 218th General Assembly guiding the commissioners into taking the actions they did. Such pronouncements are quite common from all sides of the Presbyterian Church. At the risk of appearing cynical, it seems that the Holy Spirit is invariably on the side of the prevailing faction.

This point of view has bothered me for many years, and it seems to bother me more and more by the year. Perhaps it is because it has become more common? Or perhaps my sense of who God is (and isn't) has been refined over the years.

In any event, for a General Assembly that adopted Micah 6:8 as its theme, it seems that claiming the Holy Spirit's endorsement of one's agenda is not by any stretch "walking humbly with your God."

Jim Wallis, in the introduction to God's Politics, has this to say:
"...Abraham Lincoln had it right. Our task should not be to invoke religion and the name of God by claiming God's blessing and endorsement for all our national policies and practices--saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, as Lincoln put it, we should worry earnestly whether we are on God's side. ..."
Wallis, who can irritate me as well as occasionally inspire me, has it correct here. This attitude, though, must not be limited to the political realm. It needs to characterize our interactions and deliberations in the PC(USA). Lincoln, who did not quite fall into a neat religious category, nonetheless knew and understood Scripture in a way that is not often seen today. His Second Inaugural Address seems to me to be a model of "walking humbly with God", and one of its apparent sources was a handwritten note by Lincoln dating from 1862. This excerpt from that note is particularly revealing:
"The will of God prevails — In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is somewhat different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect this. ..."
And this brings me to what seems to give me the most trouble with claiming God's imprimatur on our decisions: If we believe that the Scriptures are "the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church Universal and God's word to [us]" (and every elder, deacon and minister has affirmed this), then can it be possible that the Holy Spirit would lead us to reject Scripture? That would certainly be a "house divided against itself", to use another Scriptural reference commonly associated with Lincoln (Matthew 12:25).

No comments: