Acts 9:31 (NLT)
The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.
By Chuck Griffin
I have been in professional ministry 20 years this year, including my time as a licensed pastor while in seminary. I keep wondering what it must feel like to experience a church at peace.
The ridiculously named United Methodist Church is in great turmoil, of course, having argued over scriptural authority for decades now. Yes, I know, liberals describe the dispute as being about the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the ritualizing of same-sex marriage. The deeper problem, however, is that a significant part of the UMC does not treat the Holy Bible as the primary rule and authority for faith, morals and service.
If you don’t think there’s an underlying doctrinal problem, just watch how our denominational divide will broaden in the coming months as the national debate over abortion grows.
A flimsy “unity” bandage offered by progressives and institutionalists is supposed to bring healing. They apply it with assertions that we are better together than apart. Their message begs a question, however: Unity in what?
As best as I can tell, the answer is unity in the preservation of an institution that began shrinking in this country from the moment it formed. This shallow call for unity comes largely from those who benefit financially from the institution’s ongoing existence: its administrators, the pastors of large churches lacking sound doctrinal moorings, and liberals desperate to maintain their financial connections to conservatives’ more dedicated giving commitments.
I saw deep, true unity last Friday and Saturday as the Wesleyan Covenant Association held important annual meetings near Indianapolis. Despite the large numbers of people involved, the work was handled seriously but swiftly, and the worship was driven by a Constant Joyous Presence.
All that happened for a simple reason. We had unity in our understanding of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, an understanding derived from that primary rule and authority for faith, morals and service I mentioned earlier. You see, when conservative Methodists are together, they can say words like “resurrection” and “Jesus Christ is Lord” and know no one is off to the side redefining core Christian concepts to suit a personal agenda.
It was, I think, a taste of what is to come in the Global Methodist Church, which the WCA has helped establish. We will have earnest debates about polity and procedures in the GMC, of course, but we will have an advantage. We will all be working from the same doctrinal foundation, rooted in fear of the Lord—not cringing fear, but heartfelt awe and humility naturally experienced in the presence of one so holy, powerful and loving.
I so wish the path to the GMC could be easy for traditional Methodist churches. It appears less and less likely that it will be, with bureaucracy and worldly stratagems filling the hearts of those who could make it easy. I wonder if they remember what it was like to be young men and women who went to seminary because they were so overwhelmed by God’s incredible life-giving grace.
As traditional Methodists, we have some difficult decisions to make in the next few weeks. Do not despair, though. Trusting in the Bible’s promises, we will be encouraged by the Holy Spirit. And one way or another, we will inhabit a new expression of Methodism, one at peace with itself and ready to engage with a broken world.
Dear Lord, may the Holy Spirit guide us moment by moment, and may we all remember those first hours where we followed you as Savior, receiving your grace and submitting to you without concern for money or position in this world. Amen.