Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Ministry of all Christians

Exodus 19:1-9
1 Peter 4:1-11
Mark 16:14-20
2012 Discipline of the United Methodist Church

“In order to be truly alive, we embrace Jesus’ mandate to love God and to love our neighbor and to make disciples of all peoples.”  Discipline of the United Methodist Church, ¶121, pg 92

In continuing our study of the doctrine of the United Methodist Church, it is necessary to examine doctrine (actually, any doctrine) in the light of the common mission of the Church.  “Faithfulness and effectiveness demand that all ministries in the Church be shaped by the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.”  Discipline, ¶123, pg 92

So the doctrine of the United Methodist Church is not reduced to a creed we can easily memorize nor is there a check list of orthodox beliefs.  Rather the fullness of the doctrine of the Church – and “in order to be truly alive” – is entirely about living the ministry of all Christians in the common mission we share.  There is not one baptized person in this fellowship, not one soul in this Holy House who is excused from this common mission, this mandate from Christ to “make disciples”.

Our Book of Discipline lines out a process by which we live into the mission to which we are called, the same mission The Lord laid out for the people of Israel as a “nation of priests”, the very same mission to which the Church is commissioned.  And each of us – without exception - has a ministry into which we are called as the means by which the mission of the Church is fulfilled.

“We make disciples as we 1) proclaim the Gospel, seek, welcome, and gather persons into the Body of Christ (note this phrase “Body).  [This is how we are enabled to] 2) lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the Spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ.  [These new disciples are enabled to do so because we] 3) nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace.  [Then by our loving nurture, discipline, and mutual accountability we are able to] 4) send [these equipped] persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the Gospel.  [Finally we start all over with a new generation of equipped and committed disciples and] 5) continue the mission of seeking, welcoming, and gathering persons into the community of the Body of Christ.”  Discipline, ¶122, pg 92.  Not merely “members” of a local church.

It is fair to say, then, that of the doctrines of the United Methodist Church, “making disciples” is the primary doctrine – and should be considered the sole practice – of the United Methodist Church – not “membership” but, rather, radical discipleship.  Radical discipleship as in a sharp and drastic departure from doing things “the way we’ve always done them”.  The fullness of this primary doctrine is not only the present need of the United Methodist Church; it is also for the sake of the very Gospel itself in generations to come!  And let’s face this harsh reality: our children are lost without it.

It is entirely about whether we actually “believe” and trust The Lord. 

So how do we go about doing this?  While a few among us do not mind leading a devotional or Bible study, “proclaiming the Gospel” sounds an awful lot like the preacher’s job.  Note, however, that like most of the epistles of the New Testament, the Discipline is not strictly a job description for pastors alone nor are they directed at any single individual.  The epistles and the Discipline are directed at the whole Church, the Body united in common purpose. 

As it has been shared many times before, the Church (the body of the congregation, not strictly the institution) is charged with “proclaiming the Gospel”; that is, actively living Jesus’ very life in the world today.  Those who consider themselves “personally” and individually “saved” only for one’s own sake are very unlikely to take this mantle upon themselves – so if the Church falls silent, so does the Gospel … until The Lord finds someone else willing to carry His Charge and Commission to express His Love and His offer of redemption to the entire world.  Or at least our little corner of it in the beginning.

Now what happens to a church that refuses to live this doctrine and defy The Lord?  What happens to a body that declines to answer this charge or accept this Commission?  There seem to be two biblical answers for those who ignore The Lord and the “priesthood of believers”: 1) the Exile of the First Testament by which Judah and Israel were “cleansed” of the complacent ones who refused to take their part to care for the Whole Body and jerk a knot in the tail of those who refused to hold them accountable, and 2) the outright rejection expressed in the New Testament as written by St. Paul to the Romans: “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting …” (1:28).  This strongly suggests The Lord put “they” to whom Paul was referring on His “pay no mind” list.  Do not be led to believe this is a “gotcha” passage strictly for homosexuals.

The very first thing we must do as The Body of Christ is to reject outright the very shallow and relatively modern Age of Enlightenment doctrine of “me”.  There is nothing written in the Scripture to lead anyone to think or to believe that The Lord so loves “me” to the exclusion of His Whole Body, suggesting Jesus favors His right foot over His left hand.  Remembering it is actually written in the Scripture that The Lord shows no “partiality”, we must get past this strictly self-serving notion that The Lord shows or does “personal favors” only for one’s own sake.  It is a dangerous doctrine, it is a shallow doctrine, and it often has little to do with THE doctrine of “making disciples equipped to make disciples”.

Secondly we must remember that when we acknowledge and receive Christ as Lord and Savior, we must acknowledge the fullness of Christ not as a “personal favor-doer” but as Lord of the whole Church and Savior of the entire world even as we are also reminded by the Scripture that “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His Name” (John 1:12).  There is indeed a personal component to our redemption, but it is NOT the end-all/be-all to sanctification.

All this is to say that, thirdly, we must believe we are in this together.  We are bound together interdependently and intimately as the whole Body of Christ.  If any individual is mad at the preacher or any member of this Body to the point that one refuses to commit to some component of the Life of the Church as the Church needs, or refuse to tithe, or refuse to pray together, or refuse to study the Scripture with one another, then one must first and foremost acknowledge it is solely and completely one’s own problem and will ultimately become one’s own condemnation – for we are not hurting the individual who is the object of one’s scorn; we are hurting the whole Body.  If we stick a knife in a foot, does the brain not sense and convey the pain, and the whole body affected adversely??  Nor can we expect to be forgiven (nor call ourselves “saved”) if we refuse to forgive or allow a drowning person to go under for the third time.  This condemnation, too, is actually written in the Scripture.

Dear friends, it is not time to put prayer back in public schools or put the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn or put a Christian in the White House.  It is time to put Christ back into “Christian”!  It is time to put Christ back into the Church so that the Church becomes the very Body of Christ we are called to be.  NO SINGLE INDIVIDUAL can make that happen alone.  Not Billy Graham, not Rick Warren, not Max Lucado, not Beth Moore, not even the bishop.

We are the Body of Christ, not “I”, each of us as “members” of that Body; and as The Body we are called – together – to “make disciples”.  It is the “Ministry of all Christians”, it is the lifeblood of the Body, and it is THE doctrine of the United Methodist Church to which all our doctrine points.  Let us never forget who we are; we are Christ in the World Today.  We are the living Gospel of The Lord.

In the Father, in The Word, in the Spirit of the Living God. Amen.

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