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New Horizons

A Story of Reconciliation

Matthew W. Kingsbury

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18 KJV).

Through Jesus Christ, God has reconciled himself to us, washing away our sin and clothing us in his righteousness. This reconciliation with God works itself out in our relationships with one another. Because each Christian has been united to Christ, we have been united to each other in the one body of the church (1 Cor. 12).

While this is our doctrine, most of the time we doubt it. Were this true, it would mean I can be reconciled to people who have hurt me. It would mean we could live with our former enemies without any kind of resentment, with only love for one another. Impossible, we think—but it's not.

Park Hill Presbyterian Church in Denver has existed, as a congregation, for well over a century. She became part of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church shortly after our denomination's founding. But in the late 1980s, Park Hill was wracked by two splits in close succession. As a part of the second one, the congregation voted to leave the OPC in 1990 because many did not trust the Presbytery of the Dakotas to handle their grievances properly.

You might assume that this congregation's differences with their presbytery would never be resolved, and that they would join another denomination. But the Holy Spirit really is at work in our midst.

The General Assembly appointed a committee to seek reconciliation, but it was dissolved after several years without any visible success. By the end of 1993, Immanuel OPC in nearby Thornton had accepted many of those who had left the denomination onto her rolls, turning Park Hill Presbyterian Church into a mission work. Tensions continued to run high between the congregation and members of the presbytery.

In the late 1990s, smoldering embers flared up. After yet another appeal regarding Park Hill appeared on its docket, the 1999 General Assembly appointed a new committee to seek reconciliation in the Presbytery of the Dakotas. Peace seemed as far away as ever.

Then the Holy Spirit began to reveal what he had been working in the hearts of many. Members of the congregation and the presbytery began looking at the logs in their own eyes and removing them. At the stated meeting of the Presbytery of the Dakotas in the spring of 2000, the presbyters passed a motion in which they asked forgiveness from the former members of Park Hill OPC for several sins that had led them to leave the denomination.

A month later, those former members extended forgiveness, and in turn asked presbytery's forgiveness for violating their fourth membership vow by not properly pursuing their grievances through the church courts. Where there was sin, forgiveness by God's grace now abounded.

On April 29, 2001, a most unusual service of recognition and installation occurred. Ordinarily in these services, a mission work is recognized as a new and separate congregation of the OPC, able to function on her own. In this service, however, the church being recognized wasn't really new. She had existed in Denver for over a century. Members of presbytery came together with members of the congregation to celebrate the Lord's work of reconciliation in this place. Those who had been on opposing sides for years participated in the service without a trace of rancor—only with love.

Surely this is not the end, and surely we must continue laboring to love one another more perfectly. But even more surely will the God who has already done so much complete the great work he has begun.

Brothers and sisters, rejoice over what the Holy Spirit has done in your midst. Tell this story to one another because the Cross of Christ is effective. Ours is the ministry of reconciliation, for we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, and through Jesus Christ we have been reconciled to one another.

The author is the pastor of Park Hill Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colo. Reprinted from New Horizons, August/September 2001.

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