I was following the Twitter chat about the upcoming Lion and Lamb Festival in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Participants were asked what issues they were passionate about and what motivates them to act. Here are some of the answers:
- I am passionate about global policy on justice issues dealing with genocide.
- Empowerment of women & children around the world
- unity (or lack thereof) in the church- open and honest discussions about the future of the church
- Our broken immigration negatively impacts so many lives. Striving to work toward change!
- I’ve been thinking a lot about how broken the economic system is, and how we can fix it.
- I am passionate about unlocking missional imagination through music, word, visual art – for the transformation of the world.
- global health, mission, service & honest conversations about church, personal faith/doubts, connecting with non churchgoers
- awareness of sex trafficking around the world as well as in Indiana. Huge issue.
- It’s gonna sound weird, but I’m passionate about doubt & the role it plays in faith.
- children/youth justice issues, human trafficking, genocide. Hearing stories on these issues motivates
A Methodist from New York has written a lament over what he sees as the rightward shift in the United Methodist Church.
“Theological pluralism”, or the “inclusive church”, or the denomination that practiced Mr. Wesley’s “If your heart is as my heart, then give me your hand”, are vanishing. They are being replaced by an exclusivity – and by a surprising and unfortunate overlooking of reason and of experience from the Quadrilateral – and by a narrow theological literalism that is contrary to the basic Protestant Christian teaching of the individual’s relationship directly to/with God.
The author makes use of a popular quote from John Wesley’s sermon “Catholic Spirit.” That sermon certainly rewards reading. I’m not sure Wesley would use it to advance the argument this author makes, but that would be an interesting conversation.
Two recent comments have me thinking hard about the meaning of ordination.
Dean Snyder engaged me in an exchange about taking ordination vows in a church that is not perfect. It is a place of saints and sinners and its polity, doctrine, and discipline reflect that. Snyder pointed out ways that our history has been filled with problems. If we won’t take ordination vows in a church that is sinful, then we will not get ordained. If we think the church’s current doctrine is without error, then we forget the principle that the church is always in need of reformation. (Morgan Guyton commented in the same vein, I think, when he testified that he feels strongly called to lead the United Methodist Church toward new doctrine and practices.)
In another vein, Holly Boardman commented on her own disillusionment with the UMC. She wrote of coming to see a church in the thrall of riches and too prone to let democratic values trump gospel holiness. These convictions led her to retirement. She came to see too large a gap between what the church claimed it believed and how it acted.
I am grateful that so many people share their own stories about how they have come to balance the competing tensions that are at the heart of ordination and appointment in the United Methodist Church. I am finding that there are really two different questions when it comes to a calling. The call of God is one thing. The living out of that call within a particular church is another.
I have been working under the influence of something Will Willimon wrote somewhere. He said preachers are not called to preach their own faith. They are called to preach the faith of the church. This has set in my mind — certainly in a place that I am inclined to go anyway — in the direction of trying to discern what the faith of the United Methodist Church actually is and what it is I am being called to preach and teach.
I wonder if that is a misplaced thought. Is looking for doctrinal integrity and coherence in the church a kind of idolatry? At the very least, it seems naive.
Apparently the DreamUMC discussion was all about schism recently — is it good, necessary, likely?
Jeremy Smith and Eric Folkerth offer their thoughts on the questions.
John Wesley once said he did more good preaching one day while standing on his father’s tomb than he did for all the many days he preached from a church pulpit. (See picture in blog header for an illustration of this.
He’d been denied preaching from a pulpit because of the doctrines he insisted on preaching with great energy. So, he climbed on top of his father’s tomb in the church yard and preached to the crowds.
Last week, I heard an early Pentecost sermon that emphasized the message that the church became the church when it was gifted with the ability to preach in the languages that people could hear. When I reflect on this story about Wesley, I think 18th century field preaching was a kind of Pentecost preaching. The language was not changed, but the mode was. Preaching was made audible to the people so that it might be heard.
I’m often not creative enough to figure out how to carry the examples of the early Methodists into our own context. I am too wooden and literal in my attempt to think about applications. But as Pentecost approaches, I am convinced this kind of pentecostal preaching is needed among us. We need to preach in the languages people can hear. We need to find modes and places of preaching where it can be heard.
In all this, we must not abandon the gospel and our convictions about it. We don’t want to confuse speaking in a language that people can hear with preaching “peace, peace” when there is no peace.
But how do we find the boldness to follow John Wesley’s example to climb upon the tomb’s of our fathers and preach the gospel in languages and ways that allow it to be heard to the millions among us who do not hear it today?
An interesting look at liberal and conservative Christianity and the challenges that both face in the contemporary context.
As it becomes clear that the fates of liberal and conservative Christianities may not be as distinct as is commonly assumed, the time has arrived for a re-evaluation of liberal Christianity. For conservatives, the task is to stop interpreting the demise of liberal congregations as a victory for evangelical Christianity, and to explore what might be learned from the fact that liberal Christianity’s roots lie in the attempt to adapt and respond to cultural diversity and modern individualism. For liberals, the challenge involves far more than finding the courage to address the significant decline in church membership. Their task begins only after acknowledging that liberal Christianity has a real problem transmitting itself to subsequent generations. As Steve Bruce has observed, liberal churches generally appeal more to disaffected conservatives than they do to people with no previous background in Christianity. This fact suggests that liberals need to give greater attention to why the doctrines and traditions of Christianity should matter to someone not already familiar with them.
Mark Noll in a Q&A about American Christian history and the church today:
My own historical sense is that churches that have been effective and have thrived mostly are concerned more about the communication of the Christian message. What turns out to be the most effective way of strengthening the organizations is not always looking at the organizations, but it’s looking at the message.
What is the church for? It’s to communicate the love of Christ and the doing of Christ’s work in the world. It seems to me that the effectiveness of institutions will depend upon, not clarity of thinking about institutions, but the success of church institutions will hinge upon the clarity of thinking about the message that they want to communicate.
From the first decades of the church, controversy over doctrine has troubled us. In the New Testament we have evidence of a deep and divisive debate over what followers of Christ should and should not do.
We find this in many places, but some of the evidence can be found in Acts 15 and 21, Galatians 2, and Romans 14. We see here the church and its leaders wrestling with and disagreeing over what food to eat, among other issues. And we see, especially in Romans 14, Paul’s pastoral wisdom in living within a church divided over doctrine.
Some people might think sex and food do not have a great deal in common, but they are both personal and bodily in ways that are quite intimate. (Maybe these are the words of a fat guy.) They also are both items on the list of particulars of the Acts 15 council.
I don’t know what we would learn from these biblical texts. Perhaps we would all be trapped by our original commitments. Peter and Paul had a tough time working through their differences. James and Paul appear never to have agreed.
Can we learn from the apostolic controversies or merely repeat them?