May 28, 2017

The Beauty of God's Church Found in Scripture

     As my church (the United Methodist Church) heads toward an almost certain separation of differing factions, I am led to return to my roots. For 25 years I was a part of and involved in the ministry of the Church of God (Anderson, IN). I worked with them and worshiped with them. Their doctrines and theology still form the basis of my Wesleyan orthodox faith. And key to my understanding of Christian doctrines as set forth in the Word of God is the theology that has shaped and molded the Church of God to this day. As the UMC divides itself, I find assurance in reflecting upon the original pattern of God's Church as revealed in Scripture. 

     God's Church was purchased and established by Christ Jesus. (Acts 20:28) His Church was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit filled those gathered in the Upper Room. (Acts 2:4a) It was from this original community of faith that God gave the pattern for His people for all time. This I know, because the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Word of God, the Word which endures forever. (1 Peter 1:25) The same sure Word that fills my heart with the truth as it is in Jesus to this day.

     While the Word of God stands sure, various interpretations of that Word have not been as trustworthy. There have been heresies since the early days of the Church, which have developed and led many of God's people off into strange thinking and wayward discipleship. Various states of apostasy have settled down upon those claiming the name of Jesus. But through it all God has always preserved a sacred remnant who have remained true to His Word as revealed through the Spirit of Truth. The faithfulness of such followers of Jesus through the centuries serves as a spiritual catalyst for us today. Their faithfulness cause us to reflect upon the original pattern of God's Church. We measure ourselves by the Church as revealed in Scripture.

     It has always been such a quest for scriptural truth that has moved upon the hearts of reformers to call Christians to holiness and oneness. Being lead by the Holy Spirit into an understanding of scriptural holiness, reformers through out the centuries have known this as the key to Christian unity. They believed that the experience of holiness would eventuate in the unity of God's people. It was a unity that went beyond sectarian spirits and denominational doctrine. So persuaded, reformers declared themselves free from humanly instituted religion and fellowshiped with all who had experienced the Lordship of Christ.

     Out of such movements of the Spirit, other Christians are being led into a similar understating of true unity.  With a spirit of humility they seek only to follow Jesus rather than the organized religious orders of the day. Being committed to this truth and drawn together by the Holy Spirit, such movements still continue. Recognizing the Lordship of Jesus, they seek only God's plan for the Church. They avoid creedalism and doctrinal disciplines, seeking only to have the Bible as their rule of faith. While this allows for some diversity within their fellowships, it also makes possible a unity that is divinely originated rather than humanly instituted. The beauty of God's Church is the unity which comes only from a common experience of scriptural holiness, producing lives which are obedient of Christ Jesus.

May 21, 2017

Out of United Methodism Will Come a Reformation

     My church is divided. Unity is far from reality. There's little hint among the people of just what the problem is, if there really is one. They think it's so big, whatever the problem, that no one can deal with it. A tiredness permeates everyone. You can see it in faces. Laughter, when it does come, is only surface sounds of momentary relief. From the pulpit to the last pew, there is no since of community. Division has supped out all the energy. My church is divided. It is dying.

     O, there are some outward signs of possible recovery. The leaders have meetings. There are parties and group gatherings. Collections are taken for the poor and needy. The pianist plays. The choir sings. The preacher preaches. There are the sights and sounds of church each Sunday, including an occasional reference to the growing numbers of people there. An interim staff member is hired to bring hope for the better. Maybe, just maybe, things will just get better. Surely, all the hard work will pay off. Surely, everything will be all right.

     Such is the state of United Methodist Church these days. And the effects of its death pangs are felt all the way to the local church, even mine. Sides are being taken in stealthy silence. The culture is so much a part of our lives, that its worldly ways are seen at every level of church life. The divisions play out with terms such as liberal and conservative, open and closed, inclusive and exclusive, equality and discrimination, traditional and progressive. The labels cause distrust and misunderstanding. All of which is devastating to community.

     So, what to do? With the ancient Psalmist, I cry out of the depths to the LORD. I too ask, O LORD, if You should mark iniquities, who could stand? Mostly, I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope. My soul waits for the LORD. I hope in the LORD! With Him is plenteous redemption. He will redeem His people from all their iniquities. (Psalm 130)

     John Wesley once said, "I'm not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit and disciple with which they first set out."  (Thoughts on Methodism - August 4, 1786)

     The United Methodist Church has allowed a state of apostasy to settle down upon those who have believed in Christ and have joined the denomination to express their faith. The people, who now call themselves United Methodists, are anything but united. They have moved away from being the community of faith that God gave as a pattern for His people by the power of the Holy Spirit in His Word, the Word which endures forever. (Acts 2:4; 1 Peter 1:25)

     But in the midst of such conditions God has always preserved a sacred remnant, those who remained true to His Word as revealed through the Spirit of Truth. The faithfulness of such men and women, past and present, serves as a spiritual catalyst. It causes reflection upon the original pattern of the Church. The redemption today is from the LORD, who has used reformers throughout history to call the denominational church to measure itself by God's Church revealed in Scripture.

    And so, no matter the state of divisiveness and spiritual apostasy in the denomination called the United Methodist Church, God will keep a remnant of His people alive and well for His purposes in the world. And once again, as God has said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (2 Corinthians 6:16) Reformation movements, such as the Wesleyan Covenant Association, are now being used by God to herald the message, "Come out from them (apostate denominations), and be separate from them ..." (2 Corinthians 6:17)

     There will again be holiness, and as a result, unity among God's people. Praise God! His Church will continue, as it has for over 2,000 years, by keeping focused on JESUS and standing for the authority Scripture in the power of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the next reformation movement is, whether some new Methodism or another group of JESUS loving, Holy Spirit filled, gospel spreading Christians, I want to be there with them.  And, God willing, I will!