LOUISVILLE — God’s assurances in 1 Peter that believers are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” are dangerous words if they are misconstrued, World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) General Secretary Setri Nyomi told a gathering of General Assembly Council members and middle governing body executives here Sept. 17.
In the dangerous world in which we find ourselves, claiming these words as proof that we are right and those who disagree with us are wrong can be very dangerous,” Nyomi said. “Such a reading has too often led to hatred, violence and war.”
A fuller reading of 1 Peter “leads us to understand that this not an exclusivistic claim,” he added, “but is the mark of a church that is humbled by its origins and so expresses gratitude.
“It is by God’s grace that we are who we are,” Nyomi insisted. “It is a description of grace that leads to humility, not pride.”
The passage from the second chapter of the letter states that the faithful are God’s own people “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
In a world fraught with religious extremism, Nyomi said, “by proclaiming the word and rightly administering the sacraments, by expressing ourselves as the missional church, we are called to the building, not the destruction, of human community.”
The passage from 1 Peter “asks the question whether it is ever right for anyone to claim exclusive righteousness or privilege,” Nyomi said, citing recent Papal statements that Protestant churches are “not true churches” in the Vatican’s eyes. “It (the Pope’s statement) was disappointing to come out after all the progress we thought had been made.”
But harsh judgments and exclusive claims don’t just plague relationships between churches, he added, noting, among others, the small but vocal number of congregations that have departed from the PC(USA) in recent months.
“None of us should belittle any brother or sister when we are called into a single living community,” Nyomi, a Ghanian Presbyterian, said. “Because we all belong together we must see each other as one community, beloved by God.” God’s grace calls churches to continually ask themselves whether they are “on the right path,” he said. “No matter our differences, we are being built into a common household as a result of grace.
“In all of this, our attitude should be gratitude that every step we take is participation in God’s community.”
Nyomi took time to thank the PC(USA) for the leadership of retiring Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick, who is in the middle of a seven-year term as WARC’s president. One of the reasons Kirkpatrick gave last week for not seeking a third four-year term as PC(USA) stated clerk next summer is to devote more time to his WARC presidency. “What the world needs is religious leaders with vision,” Nyomi said, “and the WARC has had that in Clifton Kirkpatrick. Thank you for the gift he is to us.”