Boundaries are good

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4, NIV)

In August, I wrote a post that came out of a seminary experience that had been leaning hard on inculcating a love of pluralism. The post was a piece I read to the class. It was called “Edges are good.”

It was a bit of a cry of desperation. It was also an attempt to articulate something that I have been struggling to grab hold of for the last few years.

The Bible speaks a great deal about edges and boundaries and separation. The act of creation itself is described in Genesis 1 less as creation ex nihilo than as the kind of thing a fan of the Container Store would do. It is separating light from dark and dry from wet. It is bring form out of formlessness. Creation is the establishment of boundaries.

In many other places in the Bible, the importance of boundaries is stressed. The importance of property lines come up throughout the Old Testament. The need for demarcation of sacred space is a constant theme. The concern over insider and outsider is rehearsed over and over.

Of course, this is not the only theme. The talk of boundaries is counter-balanced by talk of hospitality. Outsiders can become insiders. Every city wall has a gate. The sheep pen does as well.

But the boundaries — while permeable — remain. If not, chaos ensues. The walls come down. Wolves run off with the sheep. Things fall apart.

This is not a hard concept to acknowledge intellectually, but I think we as United Methodists often struggle with it in practice. We are a denomination that is uncomfortable with boundaries, and so we attract people who struggle with establishing and maintaining boundaries. And our congregations and denomination suffer for it.

A few weeks ago, I wrote this on Facebook. Fences may not make good neighbors, but they do keep the next guy’s pigs out of your tomato garden.

By all means, we need gates. But here is the truth I’m trying to make a part of my heart and not just my head: Edges are good. Boundaries are good. Fences are good.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the sixth day.


6 thoughts on “Boundaries are good

  1. We do seem to attract a lot of people not only into our denomination but into its leadership, who not only have difficulty maintaining boundaries, but seem to take great pride in smashing those boundaries, and making a big attention-getting noise as they do so.

    What a Christian is, what the Church is, has defining boundaries. That doesn’t mean Christianity and the Church are not inclusive. Everyone can become a Christian and a member of the Body of Christ. And that’s just my point. There has to be something that defines “Christian” and “Church” in order for someone to become a Christian and become a member of the Church. Those defining boundaries are given by the Bible, not by our subjective interpretations, not by popular opinion, not by political correctness, and not even by decrees by the bishops or the judicial council, or the vote of General Conference for that matter.

    So before people talk about being inclusive–or accuse people of not being inclusive–they should define what it is they want to include people or things in. Those things have defining boundaries.

  2. Does it mean that the UMC attracts more false teachers in the seminary and in the leadership who are more concerned in the kingdom of man rather than the kingdom of God?

    1. I can’t speak to numbers. That was more of an anecdotal observation. I would say it is a temptation that many pastors are prone to, which is why we need prayer and accountability.

  3. This is a great post, John. The astonishing fact-of-life in my “progressive” conference is that multiple meetings with a succession of bishops, requesting that boundaries be enforced for the health of the church, have had net zero effect on church discipline.

  4. The bishops are too busy protecting each other to exercise accountability and discipline, and apparently they have now been joined by the Judicial Council, as seen with the Schaefer decision and the total lack of action concerning Talbert.

    Now the bishops are saying they don’t have the authority to discipline one another. If this is true that makes them above the law, and it needs to be changed in 2016. But they are not above the law of God. Jesus Christ gave clear rules, boundaries, regarding Biblical church discipline, which they could and should follow, if they would take the Bible as seriously as they take political correctness (Mt 18:15-18).

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