Those who know the Scriptures – or Scripture in Song – will recognise the heading as coming from Peter’s words to the lame man who had been lying by the Beautiful Gate, as part of the temple in Jerusalem (Acts 3:6). Not possessing any money, the apostle could not help him in the way the lame man was hoping for, but, being an apostle, Paul was used to perform a Messianic miracle whereby the man was sent on his way, walking and leaping and praising God. The episode is certainly a reminder that the New Testament Church was not driven by finances and high-powered administration.
There should be no intention of making a virtue out of necessity, but this is something to draw on in these days when the whole Presbyterian Church of Queensland has been given over to court-appointed receivers. Major troubles in the Church’s aged-care sector proved to be the trigger for the present troubles. Details will emerge over the next few months, and no doubt there will be repercussions for many years.
The danger for me is to offer some platitudes which may not help much. Others have been reflecting deeply on the situation, and sought to take God’s people more into the mind of Christ at such a time. So this is offered not in any belief that it is an exhaustive and comprehensive statement which says all that needs to be said.
First, we need to resist the temptation to blame others. That Adam was so quick to blame Eve in the Garden was an indication of his fallenness, not his sense of justice (Gen.3:12). The prophets did not call on Israel to blame the Assyrians and later the Babylonians but to search themselves and recognise that God was afflicting His own covenant people for good reason. Lessons will need to be learned, but they will have to be approached with what Paul calls a ‘sober judgment’ (Rom.12:3). It is no coincidence that in the period of the early Church the two most significant splits – the Novatianists and later the Donatists – emerged amidst accusations of blame during the persecutions of Decius and Diocletian. We are called upon not only to get it right, but to get it right in the right spirit.
Secondly, it is important that all Presbyterians be realistic. The ‘what ifs’ of history may be stimulating to the historian, but they do not necessarily help those going through troubles. There can be a kind of useless self-castigation which will drain us of energy. Anchored in the ‘what ifs’ of the past, we lose heart for the future. Before we go much further, it is time to dust ourselves off, and remember the biblical injunction: ‘And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up’ (Gal.6:9). There is an elephant in the room. Face the elephant, but God is greater than any elephant.
Nostalgia can be pointless: ‘Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this’ (Eccles.7:10). God has made both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity (Eccles.7:13-14). Let us all glean what lessons we can, but let us recognise that what is done is done.
Finally, days of prosperity carry with them spiritual dangers (see Deut.8:11-14). A time when our cage is rattled may well prove to be an opportunity for deeper prayer, a firmer grasp of truth, renewed gratitude for grace, and for a more selfless exercise of love. We may see more from the hut than from the palace. The Psalmist found this out: ‘When the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul’ (Ps.94:19).
Receivership should not be viewed from the perspective of Armageddon. Go through Psalm 94. The Psalmist knew far more troubles and threats than we have so far faced, but he also knew of that which could cheer his soul. The lame man by the Beautiful Gate was initially disappointed, but ended out with far more than he could have hoped or thought. So might we.
With warm regards in Christ,
Rev. Dr Peter Barnes,
Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia