We are entering into a monumental year. That is certainly true in the political world where we see very hard, very deep lines being drawn between political parties. And the attitudes and language are getting increasingly nasty. Various groups are using media to try to portray how reasonable they are as compared to their opponents, who are totally unreasonable. There are different positions, but the same tactics. Each side is talking at the other side but there is no dialogue, no communication because no one is listening. Republicans say the impeachment process was corrupt because the leadership already had their minds made up. And Democrats are arguing that a trial would be a farse because the leadership already have their minds made up. I do not know how this current drama will end, but I believe that the anger and hostility on the national stage will not stop with a trial or an election. We fervently need to pray that God’s will be done, and that God’s peace will be upon the Church.
God’s peace would be a nice thing to have in the Church but hasn’t been very prevalent of late. And in particular I am talking about the United Methodist Church. As in the political world, very hard, very deep lines have been drawn between differing factions. Particularly over the past year attitudes and language have gotten increasingly nasty. Various groups are trying to portray how reasonable and loving they are as compared to their opponents, who are totally unreasonable and hateful. Each side is talking at the other side but there is no dialogue, no communication because no one is listening. And I do not think that the anger and hostility will end with a General Conference, for no matter the outcome, many will walk away wondering what has happened to their church. And in the process, the Church in the US will be weakened even farther, and millions will not hear the gospel we are to proclaim, and certainly not the gospel we are to live.
The United Methodist Church has lost members and worshipers every year since I became a Methodist. Makes me think that this might be my fault. It is to an extent, but certainly not all of it. I have had a lot of help in messing this up. And we will need a lot of help to clean it up. I believe that we need to honestly evaluate ourselves in the light of Revelation 2:4 - “You have abandoned the love you had at first.” We need to hear that as individuals, but so much more we need to hear it as a Church. We have lost the passion of John Wesley to make disciples for Jesus Christ. We have lost the passion of Philip William Otterbein, Jacob Albright, Martin Boehm, and Francis Asbury. We have lost the passion to proclaim the gospel to the poor and to the poor in Spirit. We have spent our time and energy on how to maintain the institutions with too little concern for the souls who face damnation without Christ.
How do we fix this? I’m not that smart, but I have a thought. An acquaintance continually tries to convince me that the Church really went off the tracks at the Council of Nicea in 325 a.d. He argues that the church was healthy til that time and his evidence is that the Church was growing. He further argues that the decisions made by that council should be ignored and discarded because they went against the will of God. I have trouble doing that because I firmly believe that Jesus is one substance with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. I believe that the Christ was begotten, not made. But what might have happened around the time of the council that might have affected the growth of the Church?
In 313 a,d, it became legal to practice Christianity in the Roman Empire. That was the proclamation of Constantine, who had heard the gospel but was probably more pagan than Christian at the time. He was not baptized until 337, on his death bed. Some believe that Constantine’s motives were more about strengthening and unifying the empire than any spiritual conversion. But the main point is that Christianity became mainstream. The Church was now part of the culture.
What is the problem with the Church being part of the culture? I submit that when Church and culture become one, the Church is much more susceptible to being influenced by the culture than the culture is influenced by the Church. It is easy to see that when the disputes within the Church mirror the political wars in our nation. We have been told that we are to be in the world but not of the world. We are described as aliens moving through a foreign land. To affect the culture we need to be apart from the culture, not a part of the culture. We are called to stand on the Word of God, not manipulate it to help us feel comfortable in our sins and desires. We are called to be prophetic in speaking God’s Word from the scriptures to political and religious leaders and not to allow those leaders to depart from the faith that has been delivered to us through the centuries. God calls us to come just as we are, but then we need to be transformed to God’s will. When culture influences the church, we expect God to be transformed to our will. And that will not lead us to the peace and joy we truly desire. It canot be God’s will or God’s way.
We are entering a monumental year. There is potential for great improvements and great disasters. Yet the reality is that we don’t have the power to affect most decisions made or actions taken. But we can affect what will happen in our community and our church; what happens in our lives. For our best outcome, we need to stand on the principles of life and faith. We need to stand on the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be prepared to go forth to feed body and soul in the name of Jesus. We need to go forth to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And if we boldly stand firm on Christ, the Word made flesh, neither the corruption of the culture nor the gates of Hell can prevent the kingdom from exploding in our church and in our community. And in your life, in our life together, may it be so.