Dear GCI Family and Friends,
As I travel around the world visiting our various GCI regions I hear and learn many new things. I become informed about cultural nuances, and I am asked to clarify various aspects of what we believe in GCI, and how our theology informs our practices.
In my recent trip to France, I engaged in a lively discussion with our leaders. They shared that many of the GCI members are former Catholics, and their view of Lent is based in traditional Catholicism. Based on their past experiences, they view Lent as a works-based practice that is intended for a Christian to establish their personal worthiness. It feels like a backward step into legalism, and a move away from the vicarious atonement of Jesus that alone makes us worthy.
The French leaders went on to express that the phraseology that we have used, “Easter Preparation” is acceptable, and our members can embrace it. For former Catholics, it aligns with our grace-based Christ-centered focus.
In the greater Christian community, Lent is celebrated by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians. The practices in observing Lent and the importance placed on it vary. The conundrum for GCI is that in primarily Protestant-based regions, using Lent as terminology to describe what we call Easter Preparation is acceptable and interchangeable, and therefore it has appeared in some of our GCI publications. Please understand that this is not intended to create confusion, nor is meant to be offensive to any of our former Catholic members (be they in France or any other country with strong Catholic influence).
It is extremely important to know that the GCI worship calendar is informed by GCI theology. The pure intention is to rehearse and celebrate the salvific events of Jesus Christ. In no way are our celebrations designed to throw us back on ourselves and place our eternal salvation on human works. Our goals are to point to Jesus, be focused on Jesus and to worship him only. This alone is why we promote and support the GCI worship calendar.
For our members who have had challenging experiences and carry painful memories associated with Lent, please use the terminology “Easter Preparation.” We have openly asked our leaders across the international churches to contextualize the tools that we provide from the Home Office. We have often experienced that clear communication is difficult, especially when translating from one language to another.
In France and several other countries, I have been asked why I only carry the title of President and why the title of “Pastor” is not included? Most understand why Pastor General was dropped because General is a military title. The sentiment that members convey is that they see me as the Pastor of the denomination, and I embrace this role.
This letter is written out of my pastoral heart to extend the care and love for our members who may have experienced misunderstanding and hurt. Written out of my pastoral mindset, I desire that all of us in GCI relentlessly pursue Jesus and see that he is central in every season, year in and year out.
Everything begins and ends with Jesus. This is the focus of a healthy church. This is the focus of GCI. May God continue to bless us as we keep Jesus the center of the center.
P.S. Are you interested in a fuller explanation of the primary worship days and seasons? Check out this list.