Sunday, June 22, 2014

A United Methodist Church Split???

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-5)

Some of you already know that for the last few months there has been increasing talk about the possibility of our beloved United Methodist Church splitting into two (or more) new denominations following our upcoming 2016 General Conference (Read more about these discussions HERE).

While the subject was intentionally not the subject of any official discussion or action at the recent North Georgia Annual Conference that I and other delegates from our church attended last week in Athens, nevertheless over 600 clergy and laity from our Conference (myself included) have voiced strong opposition to schism in an unofficial petition (Read it HERE), claiming that such a split will not realistically solve the theological and practical challenges that face us as a denomination.

And yet, at the same time, I and many others also believe that maintaining the current “status quo” will be equally insufficient going forward – splitting is not the answer, but something must change.  One influential pastor/leader of our denomination has proposed a “local option” solution that may have merit, and that many have already voiced support for (Read it HERE). And yet, others are opposed to this proposal, as well (Read HERE).

While I am honestly still wrestling with exactly where I stand, I do know this:  neither Methodism as a tradition nor the church of Jesus Christ in general has ever been defined solely by its positions on specific social issues. 

In his 1749 sermon “Catholic Spirit, the founder of Methodism John Wesley wrote “although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works” (Read Wesley’s entire sermon HERE).  

What’s more is that in his tract The Character of a Methodist,” Wesley states that “The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His assenting to this or that scheme of religion, his embracing any particular set of notions, his espousing the judgment of one man or of another, are all quite wide of the point. Whosoever, therefore, imagines that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion, is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally.”  Instead, he goes on to say, “a Methodist is one who has ‘the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;’ one who ‘loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!’" (Read Wesley’s entire tract HERE).

The bottom line is that our identity as people of faith should be determined not by our loyalty to a particular theological or social position, but by our open commitment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Does that mean that we as Christians may have to “agree to disagree” about some (important and controversial) things?  Absolutely!  Does it mean that in doing so we have compromised the gospel?  Not a bit!  Even the first followers of Jesus had to “agree to disagree” about things from time to time as they established the Church (For example, Acts 15:36-41). 

I don’t know what the future holds for our denomination, but I do know that Jesus will still be Lord over His church, whatever form that takes!  Please join me in praying for unity (not uniformity, but unity) as we go about the primary business of “making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

No comments:

Post a Comment