Sunday, March 06, 2011

We Confess

Ephesians 4:1-16
John 17:20-23

"There is hope. God is raising up men and women in the Methodist church that are being faithful to Jesus and His kingdom. They are embracing the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, that Jesus Christ is fully God and He alone is the way of salvation, that God desires holiness and that He wants all the nations to hear His gospel."

Unity in faith, being one in Christ and with one another, sounds wonderful and wonderfully idealistic. This is the biblical principle expressed by St. Paul to the Ephesians but more importantly, it is the prayer of Jesus Himself that in order for us to be one in Him and in the Holy Father, we must necessarily be one in each other. We must be of the same mind and united in faith, but we must also be mindful of the divine reality of individual gifts we are all given so that the Church as the Body of Christ can grow in discipleship to the glory of our heavenly Father.

Idealistic this all is, but in reality it is hardly a true portrait of the genuine condition of the Church. We are not allowed to "sup" at the Roman Catholic table of the Lord's Supper, and we cannot join many Baptist or Church of Christ churches as baptized Christians because many of these do not recognize any baptism outside of their own which has as much to do with their own understanding of the "ordinance" that requires a verbal confession of faith AND total submersion rather than the pouring or sprinkling of water.

But we are Wesleyan Methodists ideally united in our doctrinal standards and our understanding of discipleship that has as much to do with the pursuit of personal holiness as with social holiness, which is to say that we understand and embrace the duties and responsibilities we have outside of our own personal spiritual journey. And within all this is the understanding that our final measure of holiness is defined by our understanding of the authority of Holy Scripture. We must decide whether we accept the Bible as the "tie-breaker" when we cannot agree on anything else.

But even this basic principle is not as easy as it sounds because among this very group, there is disagreement about whether or not we are truly prohibited from eating certain meats. A seemingly minor point we've had a little fun with, but it is still a point of disagreement that goes to the core of the authority of Scripture when we each decide for ourselves what is and what is not authoritative. Though this particular point seems insignificant on the surface, it is only one of so many other points throughout what has been deemed "holy" and "canonical" - that is, "complete" and "authoritative" - by the historic church and scripturally discounted - OR - justified, ironically, by the same Scripture.

Then we might make some innocuous statement of faith by which we are united in Christ. John Wesley himself insisted that "true religion is the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus", so we seem to be on the right track. Doctrinal disputes arise, however, when we cannot agree on one basic - but profound - principle of Christianity: "love". The truth is we don't really know what this word means, yet it is foundational! We confuse "love" with "lust", and I do not mean "lust" in exclusive terms of sexual ethics, conduct, and behavior. "Lust" is more appropriately related to "personal desire" and is applicable to anything we will choose to pursue INSTEAD of holiness.

Finally, when it comes to "unity" in Christ and when we speak so eloquently of being one with each other, united in love and faith, what we really seem to mean is that unity can only be achieved if others will surrender their own beliefs and submit to ours. That, by and large, is what we mean when we say "unity". And in my humble opinion, it is then when we are as far and away from the Lord as we can possibly be and will not be reconciled with Him until we can get past and over ourselves!

So what to do? How do we move beyond all these things that separate us? How can we sit down to a meal of pork chops and catfish? How do we reconcile with those who violate the traditional understanding of sexual ethics by living with and employing a whole new standard that seems entirely incompatible with Scripture but is perversely justified by a very loose interpretation - or a total disregard - of that same Scripture - all in the name of "grace"?

Notice that Jesus did not simply demand unity among His disciples; He PRAYED to the Father for the unity that would be necessary for the sake of the Church He would call forth. So the obvious answer seems to be prayer; honest, earnest, soul-searching, open, genuine, tears-inducing, personal submission prayer. But our prayers must not be entered into with our own agendas and itineraries, and we must take great pains to avoid entering into a time of prayer in which we are determined to influence the Lord by our fancy words and eloquent arguments.

We must be willing to enter into a time of prayer with NO AGENDA - AND - with a willingness to believe, accept, and respect that the answer we receive might not be compatible with our personal and long-held beliefs. If we enter into prayer with a preset notion that the Lord already agrees with us or can be convinced to go against what is clearly "written for our edification", then we probably need not bother at all.

The greatest confession we can make to our Holy God is to kneel before Him and "be still"; that is, speak no words. Ask nothing. Request nothing. Certainly demand nothing. And above all else, dare not presume to think the Lord is waiting to act only according to what we bring to Him.

This is the only way faithful United Methodist men and women will rise up and honestly face the challenges of an age that seeks instant gratification and self-will. It is not about "restoring Methodism" or "rethinking Church" or any other quip that can fit on a bumper sticker. It is not even about restoring traditional, conservative Church teachings. It is about taking the Bible at its own Word and coming to terms with the reality that the Lord does not always agree with us but, rather, that we must necessarily agree with the Lord perhaps especially when we do not understand. After all, is this not the entire point?

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