Discussion Was Peaceful, Valuable
by Terry M. Smith
MacGREGOR, Man.—Some ministers, leaders, and members from EMC churches in south-central and south-eastern Manitoba gathered at MacGregor EMC on May 26, 2018, to discuss how we hear from God.
Abe Bergen, EMC moderator and moderator of the event, welcomed those gathered. Russell Doerksen explained that the event was co-hosted by EMC churches in MacGregor and Blumenort to explore how we discern God’s will. It came in the aftermath of SBC’s decision to cancel the Leadership Conference where Dr. Phillip Cary was scheduled to speak. Discussion remained needed.
The afternoon was peaceful and a valuable sharing of opinions. Though Cary was rarely mentioned, his position formed a backdrop to the event.
A Cacophony of Voices
Jeff Thiessen, a former church moderator and a former pastor, and currently a deacon (MacGregor), spoke of how there is a need to discern together in light of Scripture to pick out the voices that are unbiblical and unfaithful. It’s wrong to say “the Lord told me” as though that ends the conversation. Relatives, co-workers, and friends influence us. Some voices oppose God while clothed as angels of light or quoting Scripture; others oppose God openly. Neither he nor Cary is cessasionist—a form of dispensational theology. They believe in the active work of the Spirit.
We do not move beyond the experience of Jesus who, after baptism, was in the wilderness 40 days where he heard a scripture-quoting voice who was not God. Post-Pentecost we need to be discerning as the Spirit’s still small voice exists among other voices. There is a constant cacophony of voices in the Church. Cancelling the Leadership Conference, an event of discussion, was wrong.
Scripture and God’s Initiative
Alain Reimer, a minister at Blumenort, drew upon 1 Tim. 6 to remind those gathered that God dwells in unapproachable light and we are to avoid irrelevant babble. God speaks through His Word, the biblical canon. There is concern when young people read Scripture and yet think they have not heard from God—a misconception. Scripture is the mode of communication that trumps all others.
God speaks through his people. Prophecy continues as the proclamation of God’s acts through speech to others. It did not end with the apostolic age or the closing of the canon. God speaks through dreams, visions, and internal promptings, though Scripture does not make this the usual way. In Acts 16 Paul received a vision of a call to Macedonia and, in decades of ministry, had God speak to him in a dream only four times. Paul did not wait for revelation before acting. Most times he chose a sensible route of missionary travel influenced by geography.
Dreams, visions, and internal promptings are based on God’s initiative and are clear. They come on God’s initiative, not sitting and waiting for God. We are to say, “Here am I” when God speaks, not speak to God and expect Him to reply.
Consider Broader Theology
Garry Koop, senior pastor at Steinbach EMC, distributed copies of the EMC Statement of Faith and a hand out with questions. He then was silent for 30 seconds before wondering what went on inside the heads of those gathered. Who’s talking? Does God have a voice? Does he speak outside of the Bible? What do we expect him to say? Is our internal life part of his domain? In Matthew 5-7 Jesus brings out that our internal life is at least as important as our external life.
Doctrine is needed before application. There is a need to consider our views of Scripture, Trinity, Christ, salvation, and the Spirit. Under what conditions is it possible for our doctrines and beliefs to change? In looking at EMC statements of faith from the 1950s until today, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is fairly consistent. Yet we get stuck. How many sermons do we hear on the Holy Spirit in the EMC? There are lots of sermons on Jesus. There is fear of extremism, of Pentecostal stuff. The Holy Spirit gives strength, convicts, and illuminates. He speaks generally and to the children of God. Discerning the Spirit requires prayer and humility.
Moderator Abe Bergen summarized the three views as presented through “different lenses”: Jeff Thiessen focused on the need to discern in community, Alain Reimer concentrated on the biblical text, and Garry Koop emphasized theology. At CMU Bergen learned the skill of “listening for other languages.” He uses language as an Anabaptist-Mennonite Evangelical yet found other traditions say the same thing in different words. If we don’t listen beyond the words, we miss the meaning and people talk past each other rather than with each other.
Question and Answer Periods
After each presentation there was a time for questions and comments by listeners and presenters. After the coffee break, there was a general discussion. Here are some questions and comments:
- How do discern together as a church? (Small groups are needed.)
- How do we recognize whether people who say, “I have a calling” might be mentally deluded? (The community of faith is needed to discern.)
- Can we diminish the Holy Spirit if we not prepared? How important is the posture? (Paul does not wait; he serves. God can break in for a specific direction.)
- It is damaging to use listening prayer among people who are not mature in the faith; they might wrongly think others are better.
- There is concern that personal preference can be confused with God’s will.
- Get moving. God can close doors.
- “The Lord told me” has been used to break up an “old boys club.” Discernment should not be used to squelch dissent.
- Feeling an urge, applied to missions organizations and a northern school board which did not reply; when a door opened, walked through it.
- In Acts 16, when Paul heard from the Lord, the church talked about it.
- Didn’t have a problem with Carey’s article even after rereading it. Felt led to study at SBI; it resulted in a change of life that, 60 years later, isn’t regretted.
- Language is an issue; vocabulary is an issue. Being filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom are not opposites. In John 14 the Holy Spirit highlights Jesus.
- Grew up in a Pentecostal church where there was much taught on the Spirit, less on Christ. Has observed caution within the EMC about the Holy Spirit.
- The Jerusalem council of Acts 15 used the language of “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” that did not dictate certainty.
Closing Thoughts By Moderator
Abe Bergen said the Church has grappled with how to discern hearing from God throughout history. We develop responses based on what happens to us. Don’t be afraid of someone saying, “God told me,” but discern what it means. Some people will hear from God more than he does. He’s okay with that. He does not want to diminish or quench the Holy Spirit in their lives. This has been a really good conversation with conflicting points of view, and more views will come out in Theodidaktos, “and that will be fantastic.” The moderator thanked Barry Plett and Russell Doerksen and all involved for this event.
Note: Some of Jeff Thiessen’s position is presented in Theodidaktos (June 2018), though the Journal’s contents and the MacGregor-Blumenort event were planned independently. The presentations by Jeff Thiessen, Alain Reimer, and Garry Koop will be available on the MacGregor EMC website.