Friday, March 19, 2010

Restoring Methodism

Reference Text: Restoring Methodism: 10 decisions for United Methodist Churches in America; Scott, James B. and Molly Davis, Provident Publishing, Dallas TX

Restoration: an extraordinary activity of YHWH, through the work of the Holy Spirit, which transforms both individual believers and the community of faith into the image of Christ.

Within the context of “restoration”, there are a couple of points upon which the Church as a whole must agree: 1) that restoration is necessary, and 2) what we hope to restore is pure and holy. One may be inclined to think the answers would be simple especially in light of consistent decline not only in church membership in America but, perhaps more significantly, also in worship attendance, Bible study classes, and new professions of faith. That restoration is necessary may not be in dispute, but what the Church must be restored to may be somewhat more elusive because as much as we may claim a disdain for “labels” (e.g., “conservative” or “liberal”), the truth is we are pretty clearly defined by these labels as clearly as we define others by these same labels.

Within a quest for “restoration”, however, is contained a conflict which is inherent to the task of “restoration”. The idea is not to offer to society a “new and improved” Church or a “kinder, gentler” God but to restore that which has been lost to the world and an overwhelmingly secularized culture over the course of centuries. Those who insist upon “restoration” will be at odds with those who insist that it is incumbent upon the Church to become more relevant to the world and its ever-shifting standards and ideals. The conflict exists and will continue to exist as long as humanity refuses to submit entirely and completely to the sovereignty of the Lord and continue in vain to be “all things to all people”.

The truth is there will always be that element of humanity which will reject the Lord and His Gospel. Jesus advised His disciples of this very thing even in His days on this earth (Matthew 10:14-15), but He never commanded His disciples to come up with new ideas, new programs, or a new angle by which to approach those who had rejected the Gospel nor did He suggest any sort of compromise. The only real “need” these people had then – and have today - according to the Lord, is the Gospel.

This perspective is, I think, important to consider in light of the hellenized and pharisaic culture that existed during this period of time in Israel. These people must surely have been confused about what religion was all about, and the Gospel which was surely presented to them was an offer to free them from these bonds and shackles of inconsistent standards and practices. Yet Jesus knew His disciples would be rejected even after an honest effort, so He gave them permission to move along. By telling them to “shake the dust” off, He was virtually commanding them to unapologetically leave those who reject the Pure Gospel (unencumbered by human ideals) behind. “It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”

Must we apologize for what Jesus says? Or do we follow behind the so-called “Jesus Seminars” through which a group of intellectuals determines for itself whether Jesus actually spoke certain words or phrases? Or do we work more stridently toward an enlightened understanding of what Jesus actually meant when these words were spoken and recorded? Indeed, there is surely a fine line dividing those who can’t seem to grasp such a concept as a God in heaven – let alone an interactive One - and those who just don’t want to. In America in particular, that “land of the free”, we celebrate our “God-given” rights by rejecting the very God to whom we attribute these rights. Clearly something is amiss and in its perpetual quest to discover exactly what and where the problem is, the Church seems to have been left without a clear identity of itself and its mission. As a result of such confusion, it is reasonable to conclude that those on the outside looking in are unsure about what they observe and perhaps determine that they are better off to simply stay away.

The Church does, in fact, owe the world an apology. More importantly, the Church owes the Lord an apology. The Church has failed to serve as the Divine sanctuary against the world and has failed to properly or adequately maintain her role as “bride” waiting for the return of the “Bridegroom”, who is Christ. The Church has committed adultery, has cheated on the Father just as ancient Israel did when it also tried to be all things in all ways to all people, failing to understand the very nature of its existence as a “holy” and “priestly” nation set apart for the Lord. And by cheating the Lord in her betrayal, the Church has ultimately cheated the world by failing to offer a clear, consistent, and eternal alternative to chaos, confusion, and pain inherent to a world that is clearly lost and cannot find its way in the dark. The “light” that was once the Church (Matthew 5:14-16) has been dimmed by her adultery.

The Church cannot work this out on its own without first repenting. This is the necessary first step toward restoration. We must first resolve that we want to be “restored”. And though it may seem to make no sense that the Lord would turn His back on the institutional Church that is His bride, we cannot ignore the words of St. Paul to the Romans: “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the Truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever". Amen (1:24-25).”

There is hope. There is always hope just as expressed to the seven churches in The Revelation, but time is surely running out. It is incumbent upon the Church to identify herself first to the Lord according to her chosen allegiance. Then and only then can we be the “light” Christ has called His faithful to be in a world filled with darkness.

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