The Law, Letters and Life On The Issue

The Law, Letters and Life: What happens when letters become more than words on a page?

by Scott Stiller

“What I witnessed in these sessions became far more meaningful to me than a perfect resolution on alcohol.”

 At our biennial conference for The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada this past spring, the big resolution on everyone’s radar was the Fellowship’s position on the consumption of alcohol by credential holders. Traditionally, the PAOC has held the position that abstinence from alcohol by credential holders best serves its churches and its representation of the gospel message. In recent decades, because of weightier or more important concerns, this position has become fairly quiet. For some credential holders, it was so quiet that they did not realize it was still in the room. As such, some in the Fellowship have come to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal or a cold beer with a neighbour.

As this propensity has increased over the years, a call to re-emphasize the traditional position on alcohol was heard by our leadership. They felt a response was needed and brought the issue to the constituency for discussion. Part of the reason for doing so was the recognition that abstention from alcohol is not a biblical mandate. Nobody disagreed with this. The differing of opinion came with the re-emphasis of abstinence from alcohol for credential holders as an expectation of servant leadership.

As the scheduled business session came closer, anticipation was brewing (sorry!). Like many others, I was curious to see what would happen and how it would be handled.

I learned something that week about the letter of the law and life. There were many unrelated resolutions that needed attention during the three business sessions. Some had to do with mundane changes in terminology; others, with slight policy adjustments. But with each, there was the reading of the preamble and, if necessary, a comment of context to help clarify the issue the resolution was trying to address.

Then came long-awaited Resolution 11. The parliamentary officer read the preamble, and the motion to accept was moved and seconded. But before any discussion on the floor and the call for acceptance, there was a comment of clarification given by one of our General Executive members. This is where things changed for me.

Previous to this, I had read the resolution many times. As a result, I had formed opinions and assumptions in my head. I had even shared these opinions with friends and colleagues, both inside and outside our Fellowship. Yet, as this gentleman was providing context, I realized something. Letters in themselves cannot contain life. I had seen the letters and words that had been placed on the page by our leadership. I had read them, pondered them, and processed them. I saw no life in them.

Letters and words can be brought to life only when they are breathed. It was so strange to me that the same letters that looked like weights and shackles on paper, when breathed through the voice of wisdom and humility, took on life. There is something about the breath that infuses the letter with life. There is intonation in the voice behind the breath. It has the capacity to round out the hard edges of the font and bring out the flavour of the intent. Basically, I heard something that afternoon that I had not read on paper.

It is much like brewing a shot of espresso. Grinding the roasted coffee bean so fine makes it completely unrecognizable from its original shape. If all you do is look at a superfine grind sitting at the bottom of the collection bowl, you cannot fully appreciate its wonder. You would completely miss the hidden sugars, oils and subtleties that can be released only when the ground beans are infused with hot water under pressure. That breath brings the coffee to life. And many would testify that it gives life to their weary minds first thing in the morning!

We know it is the same with the Scriptures. To some people, the words of Scripture offer only condemnation and death. But when the Spirit breathes into these words, they become light and life to the hearer. From what looks like death, we experience resurrection instead. That is the gospel: life from death; light from darkness.

By the end of the business session, despite a lengthy discussion, nothing really changed. Did everyone leave that conference floor happy? I doubt it. Many on both sides of the issue—including me—would likely have preferred a more definitive position. However, I was left with an unexpected feeling. I felt a surprising contentment and peace. What I witnessed in these sessions became far more meaningful to me than a perfect resolution on alcohol. I saw respectful, peer-honouring discourse. I saw grace and humility. I saw welcoming and understanding leadership. I saw many differing words breathed to life by passionate hearts. Most important, I saw the freedom and the licence to do so without paranoia or the fear of reciprocity. I even heard the challenge from our general superintendent to “hug it out” with differing voters. I deeply appreciate that.

I saw that we do not have to agree on everything. I highly suspect that, in the conferences to follow, we will never get the wording just right. Even if we do, it will merely be words on a page.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. What happens when the Holy Spirit fills our mouths? Letters become more than words on a page, a position paper, a resolution, or even a sermon. Cold words become life. This reminds me again how crucial it is for us to be people who are full of the Holy Spirit. We seek to be people of the Spirit. Our words must reflect that life. 

Scott and Ginny Stiller live in the Ottawa region with their kids. He is pastor there to New Hope Community Church. Scott loves fresh roasted coffee and is a proud Senators fan.

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This article appears in the September/October 2014 Issue of testimony. 
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