I have been reading parts of Volf’s After Our Likeness for Contemporary Theology. Chapter 7 (the focus of my reading) is about the catholicity of the church in relation to God as trinity. A more detailed discussion will likely follow later; for now I describe an experiential encounter with the universal-local church connection.

This morning at 10:30 am, Pacific Daylight Time, in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii, the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest voted to support the board recommendation to withdraw from the covenant of relationships with the American Baptist Churches USA. But this post is not about the vote. This blog is about what happened as we voted and then worshiped together while the ballots were being counted. In seven locations across the western United States, 1,334 delegates from nearly 300 local churches gathered via a massive conference call and acted together as the one people of God. While we were voting, the extraordinary nature of this event did not strike me.

Then the ballots were collected, the seven locations were instructed to keep the connection open, and the worship leader picked up his guitar and started leading us:


HOLY HOLY HOLY

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

During Holy, Holy, Holy, I started to feel it. Over 1,300 people across seven locations in four states all singing of the holiness and salvation of our triune God. Honestly, it was almost too much to bear. The readings in Volf, the lyrics of the hymn, the voices rising around me, and the knowledge that hundreds of others were connected to God and to us flew around in my soul and leaked out of my eyes.

As Holy, Holy, Holy, faded into silence, It is well began.

IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

This hymn was the favorite of the pastor of the local church I attended in junior college. Near the end, we were a house church, gathered in a living room, sharing the cup and the bread, just as congregations have done for centuries–connected by practice and faith.

Today, that congregation of twenty years ago was joined to a room in Pomona where the people of God declared that come what may, it is well.

So, why put this on a theology blog? Simply put, if theology does not happen in the middle of the gathering of the people of God, then does it really happen?

I don’t think so. Such academic discussions may well be called theology, but when they remain purely academic, cut off from the life of the people of God, these discussions are something less than theology.

Today, theology happened.

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