The new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt. Rev. Dr. Noble McNeely, has told the Church’s General Assembly at his installation this evening that when many are finding it more difficult in Ireland to share their Christian faith in a post–modern world, it was time to raise up a generation of disciples “who are equipped and prepared to tell the story and to share their faith and the Good News.”
In an address entitled ‘Everyday Disciples’, the minister of First Holywood Presbyterian Church in County Down, said that he had found it “quite awesome” that he would serve as Moderator during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – an event he described as Martin Luther’s “remarkable initiative that started the wheels of transformation in the church that has had such colossal influence for five centuries.”
In front of 800 Church members, overseas guests and civic dignitaries at the denomination’s Assembly Buildings in Belfast, Dr. McNeely said that ‘Everyday Disciples’ would be the theme of his year in office and that he would challenge and encourage the Church live up to that calling.
Take up the cross
Referring to Luke 9:23, one of the readings that was read during the installation service, the new Moderator said that Jesus had told his followers, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ It was a theme Dr. McNeely returned to throughout his address exploring what taking up the cross daily meant in practice.
“To take up the cross means walking against the grain of cultural values, so that our own expectations and needs take a back seat to God’s call…By taking up the cross we are putting our trust in Jesus, who died as our substitute and has set us free from the burden of sin. Without shame we boldly witness to His love and grace in our lives, committed to Christ as His disciples,” Dr. McNeely said.
“I believe to be an everyday disciple is the most exciting and amazing vocation anyone can be engaged in. If it is not then we have to question the commitment we have made to Christ.”
Challenges to discipleship
During his address, he said that he recognised the challenges involved in being an everyday disciple in the 21st century. “We live in a world where individualism prevails but Christ teaches us the value of community and how we are to treat our neighbours. As everyday disciples this is a constant challenge to us in our society; Christ tells His disciples they are to love their neighbours, even those who offend them and those who are strangers.”
Dr. McNeely spoke of the difficulties often faced, “I speak to many of our church members and they freely tell of how they are finding it more difficult to share their Christian faith in their places of work, in the places they socialise, even for some they find greater family rejection.
“Being a disciple of Jesus in the modern world of today is growing more and more difficult and intimidating. When Jesus told His disciples to take up the cross, it was expected that there would be physical rejection,” the Moderator said.
While not comparing what is happening at home with the persecution of Christians around the world, he highlighted the recent killing of Coptic Christians in Egypt, including children, and the need for Christians to stand with one another in adversity, praying especially for those who suffer for Christ’s sake.
Returning to his everyday disciples theme, Dr. McNeely said that “if we are disciples of Christ in the culture of today, we have to create relationships with people and as Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:15, ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’
“It seems to me that we ought to be raising up a generation of disciples who are equipped and prepared to tell the story and to share their faith and the Good News in the public square, the place of work, the corridors of power, among media workers, on social media and in the places where culture is created. I believe this is what we can do during this year when we are promoting the theme, ‘Everyday Disciples.’”
Earlier in the evening the outgoing Moderator, Very Rev. Dr. Frank Sellar returned to the theme of his opening address last year, the Old Testament prophet Jonah and the relevance of its teaching today. In his address, Dr. Sellar spoke of secularism, living in a ‘post truth society’ and ‘post modern world’. Dr. Sellar talked about the doctrine of ‘emotivism’ where, “all moral judgements are simply a matter of preference or feeling…” and while Christianity is growing faster than any other religion around the world, asked why it was in decline in the West.
“The context in which we live and move and have our being is a postmodern world, which presents both fresh opportunities and demanding challenges for those who owe allegiance to Christ who is the Truth…
“As we look ahead in this generation we too have a choice. Keep going the way of secular Nineveh. Seek power, aim to be popular and accepted in a society that rejects Jesus. Or, we too can repent and turn back all the way to the only sign that has been given to us. The sign of Jonah. The cross of Christ…
Christian people are called to live lives of honesty, openness and integrity. To live under the authority of God and his Word. To resist convoluted re–interpretations of right and wrong and conformity to the secular spirit of our age. We are not at liberty to create new truth, less to articulate or promulgate what are euphemistically called alternative facts,” he said.
Approximately 1,000 people from congregations across Ireland will be involved in the four days of worship, prayer, Bible study, celebration, debate and decision–making at this year’s General Assembly. Business opens at 9.30am on Tuesday, 6th June and closes at lunchtime on Friday, 9th June, with most business before the Assembly open to the public. Public sessions are also streamed live via this website.