United Methodism’s Future

**NOTE**  This post is aimed primarily at fellow UMs, but may be of interest to any who are concerned with the future of evangelicalism, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, and making disciples for Jesus Christ.  While there are sharp (and deeply held) convictions about the issues described below, my goal is and always will be to speak the truth in love, even if others do not consider my words to be so.  There is no intent of animus, and I love each of my fellow UMs with the love of Christ.  If there is any fault or error below, the blame rests with me.

 

A Brief Refresher

The current United Methodist Church [UMC] is the product of a merger which occurred in 1968.  Since that time, membership and vitality of the UMC in America may be fairly characterized as “on the decline.”   American UMC membership has declined by approximately 4 million since the merger.  In contrast, the UMC in Africa and the Philippines and other parts of the world is growing.   Further, there appears to be a large disconnect between the laity in the pews and the episcopacy [bishops] and institutional leadership of the UMC Boards and agencies, and most denominational seminaries. The laity [and thankfully many pastors] tend to be more conservative and traditional in their views than these denominational leaders.  The chief issue between UMs over the last several years concerns human sexuality and the definition of marriage.

 

Not just a Sexuality Issue

Every four years at General Conference [GC], petitions to change the historic teaching of the UMC on human sexuality [which prohibits ordination of practicing homosexuals and same-sex marriage ceremonies] are brought forward, and are continually defeated with substantial and generally growing margins.  I (along with many other evangelicals) believe the crux of this debate to be the larger issue of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.  I believe that God created humanity [in His image], and also created marriage between one man and one woman.  Any expression of sexuality outside these bounds is not in harmony with Scripture.  That said, homosexuality is no more a sin than heterosexual adultery, or other forms of sex outside monogamous heterosexual marriage.

 

2019 Called General Conference

The UMC convened a called GC in 2019 to address potential solutions, ahead of the regularly scheduled GC2020.  The GC2019 affirmed [yet again] the traditional stance of the UMC.  While the vote caused consternation and resentment among many, I believe it was the correct decision and again reflected the views of many in the pews.  The vote was also important in that it led to a greater understanding of the need to explore options for separation.  A diverse group representing both traditional and progressive viewpoints has since met and adopted a Protocol Statement supporting a plan of “amicable separation,” and a pledge to support legislation at GC2020 to implement this plan.

 

Amicable Separation

Perhaps some in the denomination have not wanted to contemplate the “break-up” of the current UMC [understandable to a point), but it has been an inevitability for some time.  We are and have been a much divided denomination.  Having to endlessly deal with the same issue at successive General Conferences detracts from our mission [“You have nothing to do but save souls” – John Wesley].  Thus, I was pleased to read that a group had reached agreement to allow UM annual conferences, individual churches, and each UM to determine which of the successor denominations to affiliate and worship with, once the UMC is separated into components [initial steps planned for GC2020].  Certainly, a planned amicable split is much preferred to an unpredictable contested breakup.  I will be in prayer about the upcoming GC, and I urge all reading this to join me.  Truly, prayer and fasting is called for at times such as this.

 

The Protocol Statement

The diverse group mentioned above issued their Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation (“Protocol”) on January 3, 2020.  There is a lot we do not know yet, and I am making generalities, but I will be referring to that part of UM that is moderate-progressive as the Post-Separation UMC [PSUMC] and the more traditional part of the church as Evangelical Methodism [EM].  The reason for this distinction is that the Protocol provides a separate plan for the traditionalists, as we will see below.  Among the provisions of the Protocol:

  • Annual Conferences [AC] and local church [LC] congregations may vote to join one of the new denominations formed under the plan of separation. At least one Traditional denomination will be formed, with a block of UM funds to be segregated for the EM denomination(s).  Otherwise, such conferences or churches would become part of the PSUMC.  Individual UMs would be able to follow their church/conference decision, or could move to another church that best reflects their beliefs.
  • Conferences and churches that vote to leave shall maintain their assets and liabilities
  • All current UM clergy would keep their pensions, regardless of their eventual denomination
  • Annual Conferences [USA] may choose [through a 57% majority] to affiliate with a different denomination than the PSUMC.
  • Interestingly, Central Conferences [non-US] require a 2/3 vote to disaffiliate from the PSUMC. Why the tougher threshold?  Theologically, the Central conferences would seem to align more with the EM denomination, but have a higher threshold to get there.  My own personal feeling is that many of the African UM churches would leave UM altogether than be affiliated with a church that further deteriorates positions on human sexuality.  Just my thoughts.
  • A local church may vote [with majority threshold set by church Council] to affiliate with a denomination different than its AC

 

Next Steps

  • The Judicial Council of the UMC [the denominational “Supreme Court”] must declare any proposed legislation originating out of the Protocol as constitutional.
  • Prayer and love and grace are needed in ample quantities as this process moves forward. These are not easy decisions by any means.  As a “lifelong” UM myself, it will not be easy to think about the post-UMC landscape.
  • No matter where we stand currently on the UM spectrum, we love and respect with dignity those who align elsewhere
  • I pray that amicable separation will be healthy for the mission of the sharing the gospel, making disciples, and impacting our world for Jesus Christ

God’s Upside-Down Economy

How many of you love this?…

I remember as a young boy, my grandmother preparing this cake. Upside-down cake…I was confused…the cake was still upright. Where’s the part where we flip it on its head and make a total mess?

I am often reminded that God has His own “upside-downedness.”

  • The last shall be first, and the first shall be last
  • He or she who would be great, must be a servant
  • To truly live, we must die (to ourselves)
  • The proud are humbled, but the humble are exalted
  • She who had the least to give (the widow), gave the most
  • And of course, the ultimate example where God used a killing machine (the cross) to save the world

There are many more examples in the Bible. I encourage you to share your favorites.

Jesus simply turns the conventional wisdom of the world, about success, happiness, love — on its head. The cake is finally flipped!

Poem:

Upside-Down

Christ has flipped
these two worlds
on their collective heads

Last is first
the humble instead
of the prideful perch

To truly live
I must be dead

Spoiled!!

Looking back at another Christmas season, one thing that concerns me a bit is how much in the way of material gifts our grandkids received.  Some of this is to be expected; the little munchkins received items from their parents, two sets of grandparents, a great grandparent, aunts and uncles, etc.  Most of these loving relatives are blessed to be fairly affluent, and want to shower the kids with presents.  It adds up quickly.  

I know a grandparent’s job it to spoil, but I do try to reign in our spending.  Yet it seems to eventually add up to a lot, in fact way too much.  I try to instill into my grandchildren the fact that many children in America, and especially elsewhere in the world, have little to nothing in the way of gifts – much less the basics of life.  But I’m afraid that teaching gets lost among the stacks of gifts, piles of torn wrapping paper, and toys that require scissors, screwdrivers, pocket knives, and lots of effort to extricate from their package.

My grandchildren are spoiled.  They just are.  Even before considering the excess of gifts.  I truly pray that they will not grow up to be ungrateful spoiled brats.  And I will do my part to that end!

But in fact, many of us are spoiled by the necessities we take for granted.  Safe housing, clean water, electricity, heat, adequate and accessible food, and down the line.  I know I am saying the obvious.  But it’s also obvious that I take most of these things for granted.

Lord, I just want to thank You for providing me a job in order to take care of my family, and to pay for necessities.  Thank You for the roof over my head.  Thank You for all of the everyday blessings that I usually overlook.  In Your Name, Amen.

But it goes beyond physical blessings.  Way beyond…

We are unbelievably spoiled spiritually.  First, Almighty God provides an offer of eternal life through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Sin problem/Hell problem? Simply repent and accept His forgiveness.

And if all that God did in respect to us was provide the sacrifice on our behalf to ensure that we had access to Heaven…that would be a gift in itself beyond comprehension or calculation.

But of course, our Heavenly Father’s spoiling of us goes way beyond forgiving our sin and taking away our sin penalty.  His blessings are more than the grains of sand on the beach.  His protection and provision are daily and diverse.  His love, grace, and mercy – especially when we stumble and fail – are incredible.  

Our Abba Father loves to spoil His children.  Of course we see it when we are blessed materially, or with good health, or with the inexpressible joy of grandchildren.  But the spoiling is also manifested even when we cannot understand His will and purposes.  Even when we would choose something different in our limited knowledge and understanding.  Even perhaps in pain, suffering, struggles.  One day we may look back and say, “Yes Lord, You were using this hurt in preparing me to be a blessing to others” or “You were protecting me from something I was sure was a blessing but turned out to be a curse.”  Or simply, “You had my back all the way, even though I turned my back on you.”

I just know that my Lord has forgiven me much more than this:

 21Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. [Mat 18 NASB]

Even if I had no material gifts to give to my grandchildren, I would still love them with an unquenchable love.  I want to spoil them with love.  So much that they anticipate it, and know that the love will be there.  I would gladly die to save them.  In this way, I desire to model the Father’s love for us.

May I be a blessing to others, passing on the indulging, extravagant love of Jesus.  Happy 2017!

Lord, If Thou art Willing

Lord If Thou Art Willing

And when he came down from the mount, great multitudes did follow him, and lo, a leper having come, was bowing to him, saying, ‘Sir, if thou art willing, thou art able to cleanse me;’ and having stretched forth the hand, Jesus touched him, saying, ‘I will, be thou cleansed,’ and immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith to him, ‘See, thou mayest tell no one, but go, thyself shew to the priest, and bring the gift that Moses commanded for a testimony to them.’ [Matthew 8:1-4]


And having sternly charged him, immediately he put him forth, and saith to him, ‘See thou mayest say nothing to any one, but go away, thyself shew to the priest, and bring near for thy cleansing the things Moses directed, for a testimony to them.’ And he, having gone forth, began to proclaim much, and to spread abroad the thing, so that no more he was able openly to enter into the city, but he was without in desert places, and they were coming unto him from every quarter. [Mark 1:43-45]


I have been pondering on this passage for a while.  I prayed this very same prayer that the leper made, while waiting on the Lord to heal my nerve pain.  And He did answer my prayer, although in an extended healing over time rather than the quick relief [like the leper] I had asked for.  I am still on that journey to recovery – but amazed at how far I have already come.  Or rather, how far He has carried me.


I am struck by three things in this passage.


First, the leper asked unabashedly for Jesus to heal him.  He recognized Jesus as a source of healing, fought the crowds to get near Him, and knelt before the Lord to make his request.  I imagine Jesus loves this kind of dogged determination to get close to Him.  The leper was a social outcast.  I can picture others making efforts to avoid this man as he made his effort to get to the Lord.  The leper is a picture of all of us with the stain of sin in our lives.  We are not clean, but we recognize Jesus as the One who can take away our sin.


Second, the leper anticipated the healing.  To be sure, he asked the Lord “if thou art willing,” but at the same time he stretched out his hand to be healed.  Because perhaps of what he had seen or heard about Jesus, he had full confidence that Jesus would in fact heal him!  What great faith!  In the same way, we can have full confidence that God will heal us.  First, to heal our heart of the sin that comes between us and God.  Second, often through physical or mental healing according to His will.  And third, in our final and ultimate healing when He calls us home.  We will not suffer the infirmities of this physical life when we reach our final reward in glory!


Finally, despite Jesus’ stern warning not to tell anyone about what had happened, the former leper could not contain the joy inside of being touched by God.  We can, I think forgive this man for disobeying Jesus’ command to keep it quiet.  Jesus probably wanted less focus and attention on the miracle itself, and more focus on lives changed forever by Him.  We see from the parallel passages in Mark and Luke that instead of telling no one, the former leper made such a fuss, so to speak, that Jesus had to move His ministry out of the city and into the desert.  If you think about it, leprosy is a very visible disease. People who knew this man could not help but see the change. And he could not help but proclaim the work of Jesus in his life! 


We as believers in Jesus should also exhibit a manifested change because of His healing in our life and soul.  We should also have joy so pent up inside that we cannot fail to tell others about what Jesus did for us.



Lord, if thou art willing…I am willing; be thou cleansed