Incoming Irish Presbyterian Moderator the Rev Dr Noble McNeely has asserted that many Christians in Ireland are finding it more difficult to share their Christian faith in a complex post-modern world situation.
Dr McNeely, addressing his church’s general assembly in Belfast last night, said concerns could be addressed by raising a generation of disciples “equipped and prepared to tell the story and to share their faith and the ‘Good News’ of the gospel”.
Taking the theme ‘Everyday Disciples’, Dr McNeely said he had found it “quite awesome” that he would serve as Presbyterian moderator during the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
He described the significant theological reforms by Martin Luther as a “remarkable initiative” that started the wheels of transformation in the global church that had such colossal influence over five centuries.
Dr McNeely, minister of First Holywood Presbyterian Church, pledged to challenge and encourage the Irish Presbyterian Church to live up to the calling of “Everyday Disciples”.
“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.”
He said he fully 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, who will serve a one-year term as moderator, spoke of the difficulties often faced by Christians: “Many of our church members tell of how they are finding it more difficult to share their Christian faith in places of work, in places where they socialise, and even, for some, they find greater family rejection.
“Being a disciple of Jesus in the modern world 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.”
Dr McNeely, while not comparing what is happening at home with the persecution of Christians around the world, particularly in the Middle East, highlighted the recent mass killings of Coptic Christians in Egypt, including children.
He urged the need for Christians to stand with one another in adversity, praying especially for those who suffer for Christ’s sake.
“If we are disciples of Christ in the culture of today, we have to create relationships with people and and we should always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Last night’s opening service was attended by 1,000 church ministers and elders, as well as various public representatives, and senior clergy from other churches, both at home and abroad.
Co Down man Dr McNeely, aged 62, replaces the Rev Dr Frank Sellar as moderator.