A centuries old recipe for success, significance, and satisfaction is found in 2 Kings 18:5-7a.
“Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commandsthe LORD had given Moses. 7And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.”
Methodists in America grew because they trusted in the truth and guidance of the Bible in its entirety as the revealed Word of God. From 2.5 percent of religious adherents in the colonies in 1776, the second smallest of the major denominations of that time, they grew to 34.2 percent by 1850. That was 14 percent more than the next largest group! They did not see part of the Bible as irrelevant to their situation because it described the culture and time of distant places.
The special called session of General Conference Feb. 23-26 in St. Louis is a watershed moment in the life of our church. Some are trying to frame the major issue around unity when the core issue is neither unity or sexuality, but whether the UMC will remain true to 2000 years of trusting the LORD and following His guidance and direction (commands) as He revealed them to us in Scripture. The presenting issue is homosexuality, but the broader conflict involves core beliefs concerning the virgin birth, bodily resurrection, and Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation.
To paraphrase C.S. Lewis: Chase after unity and you get neither unity nor the God who desires it. Chase after God, pursue God’s work in God’s way, and you’ll have unity thrown in for free.
Immediately behind the issue of orthodox biblical authority is that of integrity and trust. Every member and clergyperson in the UMC promised to uphold the Discipline. The Disciplinedefines our core beliefs and how we live them out. We will either hang together or we will hang separately.
Sadly, many Annual Conferences in the west and northeast are choosing to go back on their word and do what they individually feel best. Similarly, across the country individual clergy, churches and Boards of Ordained Ministry (those who approve those to be ordained UM pastors) are choosing to ignore the solemn promise they made to uphold the faith once delivered as specified in theDiscipline and minister together with all other UM Christians. By their actions they are causing division.
One example is a United Methodist elder in Colorado, the Rev. Roger Wolsey, who wrote a blog post denying many of the cardinal tenets of orthodox Christianity. Among his statements were these: “Going to heaven after we die isn’t what the faith or salvation is about. … Jesus’ resurrection didn’t have to be understood as a physical one for it to be a real and meaningful one.”
Yet, Paul writes in I Corinthians 15, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (vs. 14-15, 17).
Another example involves The Desert Southwest Conference. “After its bishop gave an impassioned impromptu speech about full inclusion, [they] voted for a nondiscrimination resolution that says the conference will not participate in or conduct judicial procedures related to the denomination’s prohibitions against LGBTQ persons.
The June 18 vote came one day after the New England Conference voted not to “conform or complywith provisions of the (Book of) Discipline which discriminate against LGBTQIA persons.” The acronym refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual.”–Two conferences vote for full inclusion of LGBTQby Vicki Brown June 19, 2016 | UMNS.
“Jesus said in Matthew 19:5-6 and Mark 10:7-9, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ The same words are repeated in Genesis 2:24! The issue, therefore, of homosexual practice is a bell-weather issue about the authority of Scripture, the nature of humankind, the doctrine of sin, and much more. If everyone’s truth is the truth then why did Jesus need to die on a cross?”
Unity is found in common beliefs not organization. The latter will never hold. The former will never break. Consider that the Chinese church was composed of 4 million Christians before 1949 and communism. In 2016 they had grown to 38 million in spite of persecution often leading to death because they held to the historical Christian faith. In contrast the Episcopalians, ELCA Lutherans, PCUSA Presbyterians, and all the rest who have loosened their stance on homosexuality have lost an average 30% of their membership in just a few years. They all sought unity in the midst of diverse views of Scripture. Unlike Hezekiah, they did not hold fast or keep the commands given in Scripture. They did not find success.
It is time for us to follow the example of King Hezekiah when faced by a seemingly impossible challenge. In deep emotion he went before the LORD and prayed.