Saying Yes and Saying No

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, July 30, 2020

The world that God creates, redeems, and renews stands under a great big divine “Yes!” When God declares everything in creation as “good” in Genesis 1, there are no exceptions. Everything under the sun enjoys God’s celebratory “Yes!” In Christ, all that sin has subsequently broken is restored to God’s original intention, so that “God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28)

Paul affirms that in Christ “…every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’” Our only appropriate response is “’Amen,’ to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20)

If we are to be Christ’s faithful followers and authentic ambassadors, we must be a people marked first and foremost by saying “Yes!” The world rightly expects those who proclaim Christ’s reconciliation and redemption to demonstrate reconciliation in their relationships with each other and with the surrounding world.

To put it another way, we ought to be known for demonstrating honor and praise in our words and actions, rather than contempt and denigration. We cannot speak ill of others without thereby speaking ill of their Creator who says “Yes!” about them. James puts it this way: A spring cannot spout both fresh and brackish water at the same time. (James 3:10-11)

One of my mentors told me, “We are more likely to be right in what we affirm than in what we deny.” A lifetime of observation has confirmed that to me in spades; it has become a life motto for me.

Yet beneath every “Yes” we utter lies a necessary corresponding “No.” For instance, Jesus declares that if we serve God rightly, we can no longer serve the accumulation of wealth. (Matthew 6:24) Saying “yes” to God requires us to say “no” to self-aggrandizement. We cannot be Jesus’ followers if our speech and actions are calculated to benefit ourselves at others’ expense.

Our Book of Confessions includes two historical documents that declare the church’s faith by offering affirmations about what God calls us to confess, to be, and to do, alternating with corresponding rejections of current ideologies that run contrary to those callings.

The Barmen Declaration affirms that Jesus alone is Lord, and therefore takes a stand against granting human leaders the loyalty that belongs to Christ alone. Five years before the outbreak of World War 2, a small band of Christians rose up to resist the German church’s headlong rush to endorse the ideology of Aryan resentment against foreigners that was being stoked by Adolf Hitler. No governmental authority can claim to speak for God or demand our absolute allegiance. Barmen warns us to beware when political leaders claim authorization by God or God’s Word, or when churches attribute such to them. History proved Barmen right in its warnings.

The Belhar Confession affirms that all human beings are created equal, and therefore rejects any teaching that grants superiority to any class of humans over another. For Belhar, this applies especially to race, but it is equally true for sexuality, gender, caste, creed, and nationality (to name just a few criteria by which society has rejected entire classes of people). Belhar rightly places God’s reconciliation in Christ at the heart of the Gospel, which then demands that any politics or ideology that fosters suspicion and separation between people be rejected as alien to the Gospel. Belhar warns us to beware heeding voices that seek to gain influence by sowing division.

These confessions bring into crystal clarity the Bible’s teachings about obedience and reconciliation by identifying lies in our surrounding culture about whom to obey and trust, and whom to resist.

What in our place and time must we reject, if we are to affirm that Jesus alone is Lord, and that God calls us always to the ministry of reconciliation in Jesus’ name?

 

Yours in following Jesus,

Sheldon


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