Unity in What?

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.


Psalm 32:6-11

By John Grimm

It may be that the enticing aspect of the rapture is that we will be taken out of terrible situations.  However, God does not pick us up, sweep away the trouble, and then place us down again in the same place we had been.  It is true to say that God is our hiding place.  It is true that God keeps us while trouble is going on around us.

While God is keeping us during trouble, we hear cries of deliverance.  Other people, who also trust God, are gladly shouting praise to God.  It is possible to exult God during trouble.  We find that as God is faithful to us, we also can be faithful to him.

Can we continue to learn from the Lord the way we should go?  Can we heed his counsel, knowing God knows the very situation we are in?  As we give affirmative answers to these questions, we realize God’s steadfast love surrounds us.  Our hearts become upright as we trust God.  Then, we rejoice greatly!

Lord God, you are with us in our troubles.  You hide and preserve us.  We know that we can get through the trouble.  We praise you for enveloping us with your steadfast love as we trust in you.  You make us glad.  Thank you!  We praise you in the name of Jesus Christ for the deliverance you are giving us.  Amen.

Clear Signs

Mark 6:45-52 (NRSV)

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

By Chuck Griffin

This passage reveals much about the internal confusion the disciples faced as they followed Jesus. I feel certain that many of us struggle similarly from time to time.

Just before this walking-on-the-water event in Mark, we have an account of Jesus miraculously feeding the multitudes, demonstrating that five loaves of bread and two fish will feed 5,000 men and their families when God takes direct action.

The disciples had powerful evidence at the impromptu banquet that God was in their midst, but from the later remark that “their hearts were hardened,” we can discern they were not accepting this great truth when Jesus sent them to cross the Sea of Galilee without him.

They needed another miracle, one they could interpret more clearly.

Just as they struggled with spiritual understanding, they struggled to cross the sea, the wind against them. But what impeded them was not a problem for Jesus, walking on the water and against the wind with ease.

Once he was in the boat with them, the struggle ceased―the one who made the wind and sea had rejoined them.

Jesus’ statement, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” is particularly telling. What we translate as “it is I” can also be translated as “I am,” evoking memories of God’s early revelation of himself to Moses.

It can be difficult to recognize when God is with us. If these men strained to understand, it is no surprise that sometimes we struggle. I do not fully understand why we resist the truth of God’s presence in our lives. I just know it happens.

The brokenness of the world and our need to deal with what seem like immediate, pressing problems certainly can interfere with our perception of God.

Perhaps we also have a certain level of discomfort knowing that the presence of God calls for change, and we don’t like the idea of changing.

Those responses are rooted in fear, though—fear that if we don’t control a particular situation, no one will, or fear that in being transformed, we somehow might lose something. And if we spend a few minutes thinking as Christians about each scenario, it’s not hard to see that both fears are irrational.

Jesus often said in one way or another, “Do not be afraid.” I suppose we need to take his advice to heart if we are to develop a full and complete kind of faith.

Lord, thank you for evidence of your presence. May these experiences burrow more deeply into our souls. Amen.