I fallibly pray for “my church.” Only Jesus prays perfectly for “His Church"

As a now “honorably retired” elder in my church (the PCA), I will not attend or vote in its annual (pandemic-postponed) meeting (June 28-July 2). But I will spiritually participate through my fallible prayers. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only head of His Church. So I am drawn to how He intercedes for His Church — in John 17.

I’ve re-read John Stott’s exposition of John 17 from the 1970 Urbana missions convention. This teaching was part of my spiritual formation as a young minister. For example, the church in relationship to the world must be “spiritually distinct … not socially segregated.” Or, to rephrase in current terms, Christ’s church is called to be “on-mission, but not in-silos.

The Son has returned to heaven to be glorified with his Father. Now the Son must be glorified through His church. Jesus glorified the Father by perfectly accomplishing what he was given to do. Now the church must imperfectly glorify Christ by fulfilling what the Son has given us to do, before a watching world.

Stott focuses on the four main prayers of Jesus for His Church: for sanctification, protection, mission, and unity. As Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth”“keep them from the evil one”“I have sent them into the world”“that they may be one.” Stott observes: “Of these four, truth predominates, for it is the truth which sanctifies, unifies, and compels the church to evangelize.”

As my denomination convenes, I note John Stott’s observation: “Christ’s vision for the Church is far more balanced and comprehensive than ours tend to be.” Ouch! That observation hurts so good! And I am been very encouraged by this Letter from former PCA General Assembly Moderators.

Looking back on graduate school, I recall American church history. During the First and Second Great Awakenings, Presbyterians divided between the “Old Lights and New Lights,” then the “Old Side and New Side.” Would the church align with the “missional” or with the “traditional” parties? I remember thinking: “But these groups needed each other! That is, to avoid missional compromise with the world, or traditional withdrawal from the world.

A wise elder, and a PhD psychologist, once said to me, “Psychology often hides behind theology.” God can use our dispositional differences to mutually benefit each other and balance the church. Analogy: vibrations in auto engines must be “dampened” to avoid destructive wobbles. We need each other to avoid destructive imbalances and oscillations in the church, so that we display the beauty of Christ, and glorify God the Father in this world.