Division in the Church

church-dividedIn many different congregations and denominations there are divisions, and sometimes even outright fights, in church.  For some it is over the style of worship or the color of the carpet.  For others it is over abortion and homosexuality.  The United Methodist Church, my former communion, is tearing itself apart right now over the issue of homosexuality (actually the issue is one of theology, and the surface issue right now is homosexuality).

I heard a story about a congregation in the Free Methodist Church that is equally disturbing.  A young woman who grew up in a Free Methodist congregation and family, and whose uncle is a FM pastor, converted to Islam because all she ever saw in her congregation was people being hypocritical and petty, fighting over little things.

Our divisions hurt not just the ones we fight with, but those who are on the sidelines watching the fallout.  Of course, I do not think we should all pretend that the differences don’t exist and gather around the fire with a guitar and sing Kum Bah Ya.  But for all I have been reading and from some people I respect very much, there is one thing that is absent from all of the talk of how to move forward.

Repentance.

Neither side will admit it needs to repent.  Neither side thinks it has done anything wrong.  There is a lot of call for unity and prayer, within congregations and denominations.  But true prayer begins with repentance and true unity can only be found in Christ when we admit how much we need him.  If we spent more time loving one another in the name of Christ, and praying for one another, repenting of anger, judgmentalism, and self-righteous attitudes over the obvious justness of our cause and opinions, perhaps we could hear God’s voice leading us through the mess we have made.

I do not want to sound like I am trying to gloss over issues.  There are serious elements to the discussion of what is appropriate in the worship of the Living God (remember Nadab and Abihu were killed ministering before the Lord in Numbers 10) and there are serious elements to the discussion of how to love and be the church for people who are homosexual.  Yet we need to remember that it is not our church; it is Christ’s church.  Rather than arguing and positioning ourselves, and vilifying those with whom we disagree (because our actual Adversary is only one, and not any other human being), we should repent of our own bad behavior and ask Christ what he wants for his church.

Obviously there have been divisions within the church from the beginning.  In Acts there was the division between Hellenistic Jew and Hebraic Jew, and then Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian.  In 1 Corinthians we have a very vivid description of division within that congregation.  Church history is replete with divisions that even led to the armed conflict between those who called themselves true and faithful Christians in the name of Christ.  We are not breaking new ground here.

But we must remember that it is not my church, nor is it your church.  It is Jesus Christ’s church, and we are called by him to prove ourselves his followers by our love for one another.  Why don’t we pray that God would help us love even those with whom we seriously disagree?  Why don’t we not assume we naturally are showing more love than our opponents because our positions are obviously right?  Why don’t we strive to outdo one another in love, even to those who we are very sure are wrong?

If we were to humble ourselves in this manner, and have the mind of Christ that Paul details in Philippians 2, we just might see a revival of the faith, rather than its continual diminished presence from the public sphere.

Just a thought; and a prayer.

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Modern Day Slavery

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One of the main reasons the Free Methodist Church was created was for the abolition of slavery in the United States.  While institutionalized slavery has been made illegal, there are (according to some estimates) more slaves in the US today than before the Civil War.  Additionally, there are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in world history.

Check out the modern abolitionist movement The Set Free Movement here.  See how you can get involved.

 

Insight from Camp

This past week I was at our annual Free Methodist Family Camp.  The main speaker for the week was Pastor Mark Van Valin of the Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church.  The theme of the Camp was Holiness: Coming Home Again, and so Pastor Mark’s talks were all about holiness.  He delved into what it is and what it is not, and gave some very thought-provoking and spirit-moving talks.

During one of his talks, Pastor Mark said he was having a conversation with a Baptist minister who had told him he was going to preach on holiness the following Sunday.  Intrigued by this, Pastor Mark asked what he would say.  As background, one of the cornerstone doctrines of the Free Methodist Church is holiness, continuing on in God’s grace and progressing towards a perfect love of God and others in our lives.  This was not an emphasis as an official doctrine in the Baptist tradition, so it was very interesting to hear what would come of this.

So, accWedding_cake_with_pillar_supports,_2009ording to Pastor Mark, the Baptist minister said (and now this is third-hand since I’m relating it), “If we reduce holiness to simply not doing a list of sinful things (drink alcohol, smoke, swear, etc.) that is like equating marriage with not committing adultery.”

Now of course adultery is wrong and to have a healthy marriage one needs to not commit it, but there is so much more to having a healthy, thriving, loving marriage than simply not sleeping around.  As people are in relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit they will avoid sinful actions (think 10 Commandments), but that is not the sum total of a life in Christ.  Christianity is not so much about following a list of do’s and don’ts as it is living in a relationship with Christ.  His love and Spirit in our lives will transform us from the inside out to live a holy life, but if we reduce that relationship to following rules, we might as well change our pre-marital counseling to simply tell young couples that they will be happy and have a fulfilled marriage as long as they don’t commit adultery.

It was a very wise insight from our Baptist brother.

My Favorite Religious Joke

This has to be my absolute favorite religious joke.

The local Baptist minister and Methodist minister get together each week to pray together for their town and banter with each other in a good natured way.  On this particular occasion, the Baptist brings up his favorite subject: baptism.

Baptist: I still just don’t understand how you can think that a little water sprinkled on the top of a head qualifies for a valid baptism.  Everyone knows you have to go all the way under the water and up again to really be baptized.

Methodist: So, what you’re telling me is that if I go in the water up to my knees that isn’t a valid baptism?

B: No, that’s not a valid baptism.  You have to go all the way under.

M: So, if I go in up to my waist that doesn’t count?

B: No!  You have to go all the way in.

M: So if I go up to my chest…

B: What part of this are you not understanding?

M: So if I go up to my chin…

B: All the way in.  All the way down under the water.

M: So if the water goes up to my eyes…

B: NO! THAT IS NOT A VALID BAPTISM!

M: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along.  It’s that little bit of water on the top of the head that makes all the difference in the world!

Camp Meeting in the 21st Century

This week my family and I are at our Conference’s Family Camp.  It is a time for families to have age-appropriate lessons on the holy life–what it is, how to access it, and what that means for your life.  It is also a time of fun and fellowship for all involved.

The theme of the camp this year is Holiness: Coming Home Again. This got me thinking about how the call to the holy life really is a homecoming of sorts.  When we allow God’s grace to continue to transform us more and more completely into the likeness of Christ, we dive deeper and deeper into the holy life.

This is the goal of life, conformity to Christ, living a holy life, and fellowship with God.  It is made real in this life as we love God with all that we are and all that we have, and love others because they are made in the image of the God we love.

As we experience holiness, we come closer and closer to our true home–life with God.

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts as the week goes on.

The Difference Between Movement and Church (Missionaries)

The Free Methodist Church has a wonderful mission-sending agency, Free Methodist World Missions, that has a very wide variety of ways people can get involved in missions.  These range from being long-term missionaries to short-term teams, and many points in between.  People can sponsor missionaries or specific mission projects.  It is a great blessing to the Kingdom of God.

The United Methodist Church has the General Board of Global Ministries for its official mission-sending agency.  Another mission-sending agency is The Mission Society, which works with Evangelical Wesleyans of various denominations.  All of these, along with other countless organizations and groups provide a very real and necessary aspect to the life of the Church.  After all, Jesus said to go and make disciples.  Sending missionaries out to all of the corners of the earth (near and far) goes a long way to helping the Church as a whole obey the Great Commission.

Yet I find it very interesting, and personally convicting, that the Methodist Episcopal Church, the father or grandfather of most of the Methodists in North America, which was founded in 1784, did not have a missions department until the 1820’s.  What is convicting about that for me is that during this time, the Methodists went from under 30,000 members confined to not even all of the original thirteen colonies to over 200,000 members in over half of today’s states, as well as Canada.Ware

Thomas Ware, an itinerant minister who attended the Christmas Conference of 1784 that created the Methodist Episcopal Church, gives the reason for this kind of growth.  It was a completely different understanding of missionary than we tend to have today.  Ware’s autobiography is available to read (and it is a good read).  He recounts an incident that occurred in 1792.  He had just been assigned the Superintendent of the Susquehanna District and had an encounter with a “Low Dutch” minister.

I was passing a public house where he [the minister] was, on my way to Wyoming [New York]; and he mounted his horse and overtook me.  On coming up he inquired if I was not a missionary.  I replied that I was a Methodist, and we were all missionaries.

Just imagine what our congregations and our communities would be like if we had that very same kind of understanding of missionary that Ware and the early Methodists had!  Being a foreign missionary will always be a very special and distinct calling in the Body of Christ, but we are all called to be missionaries of one sort or another: letting our light shine and offering a ready defense of the hope we have.