“A bad spirit has risen among us”

One of the prayers for church unity in the Book of Common Worship is found on page 812.  It says,

“Holy God, giver of peace, author of truth, we confess that we are divided and at odds with one another, that a bad spirit has risen among us and set us against your Holy Spirit of peace and love.”

Ted Wardlaw cites this phrase in his recent article in the journal Insight published by Austin Seminary.

I’ve not been able to shake this phrase since reading his mention of it earlier this week.  I’ve been trying to put the feelings I’ve had into a succinct phrase and this one seems most accurate to date.  It seems that a bad spirit has risen among us.

A bad spirit is at work among us and thus far it looks like it is doing a fine job in the PCUSA. This spirit is nameless since each of us will cite the “bad spirit” argument in stating our case.  Those who have left, are leaving, or are considering leaving the denomination would state that the bad spirit is present in the decisions of our denomination.  Those who remain within the denomination will argue that the bad spirit is among those who are leaving or causing schism within congregations and presbyteries.  Regardless of your place on this continuum, we find ourselves in a contentious place with sisters and brother in the faith.  A bad spirit has risen among us.

This bad spirit has us aligned in groups according to interpretation of scripture. It has assured us that the Bible we read is correct while anyone else’s Bible is suspect at best.  This bad spirit would have fight over printed words seen with eyes rather than Holy Spirit-inspired words that speak to our hearts.  It would have us avoid Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, “You have heard it said…but I say to you,”

This bad spirit has us fooled into believing that graciousness is what we deserve from others, but from which we are exempt from because we are right and they are wrong.  It would have us believe in a kind of ‘works righteousness’ when it comes to property and assets and makes us declare, “We built it.  It is ours.”

This bad spirit would lead us to form groups that we call affinity, like-minded, or similarly situated thus keeping out the voices of those in different places or from the margins to enrich our conversation.

This bad spirit would have us be suspicious  and mistrusting of one another. It causes us to question the leadership of the denomination, the synod and presbytery. It rejoices when it can make us look inward and not outward in ministry and mission.  It encourages us to listen to sensational headlines that anger us and to avoid the hard work of reading and study that truth offers.

This bad spirit would have us focus on a narrow phrase or a single verse rather than the wider message of a gospel steeped in love.  It would have us make excuses of contextual irrelevance and look for loopholes to avoid the guilt we might discover in reading God’s law.

Acknowledging that a bad spirit has risen among us, the prayer continues,

“Take from us the mistrust, party spirit, contention and all evil that now divides us.  Work in us a desire for reconciliation, so that, putting aside personal grievances, we may go about your business with a single mind, devoted to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Amen and Amen!

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