New Book Available

Hello all!

My new book Full Tables, Closed Doors, Open Fields is now available. Click here to order or find it on Amazon.

This book follows the development and founding of the Methodist Church in America. It is a study of how those early Methodists understood God’s grace, the Lord’s Supper, and what it means to be a Church.

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Line Dancing and Church Community

Line Dancing is America’s cultural dance. This is my opinion, contrary to all of the square dancing lessons I received (endured) in elementary school. I came to this conclusion as I was watching a school dance. There were several different songs that were played that each had specific moves that most everyone knew. That was when I realized I hadn’t been to a wedding in a really long time, or I would have seen these dances.

It is quintessentially American, as well. In other types of dance, partners are needed. In many types of dance, entire groups are needed. Line dancing is completely individualized. If I know the moves, I can dance without anyone else around. It looks better if there are lots of people around, all doing the same moves at the same time. Yet even if it is just me, I can dance by myself.

My fear is that, in America at least, we have reduced community in the Church to a line dancing mentality. My faith is mine alone, and if there are others around who are doing the same thing it can be better. Nevertheless, I really do not need anyone else to be with me. I can dance by myself with God.

This is not the community Jesus Christ created in the Church. In truth, this does not even reflect community in its most basic form. God is a community of Father, Son, Spirit. Ultimate reality is Community, and when Jesus Christ began the new creation he did so with a community. He founded a Church that would reflect the principles and power of the new creation within the broken pieces of the old one. He founded a Church that would be able to storm the gates of hell. He did not create a bunch of individual believers who would gather together every once in a while. The images of the Church are a body and a temple–unified structures made up of different pieces, but all contributing to the whole together.

Community is essential to the Christian experience. John Wesley once said, “Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy Solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.” In other words, we need one another for our own faith and salvation. Without the community, without the social aspect of faith (us being in community with one another), we will be lost. No one can be a Christian by herself or himself. We all need each other in the Church.

Line dancing may be a wonderful American dance, where individuals can get on a dance floor and all be individual together while maintaining their individuality because they really do not need anyone else, but it is a lousy model for Christian community.

Article XXIX-Last Things-Final Destiny

Concluding the series on the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶130 Last Things–Final Destiny

Our eternal destiny is determined by God’s grace and our response, not by arbitrary decrees of God. For those who trust Him and obediently follow Jesus as Savior and Lord, there is a heaven of eternal glory and the blessedness of Christ’s presence. But for the finally impenitent there is a hell of eternal suffering and of separation from God.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Mark 9:42-48; John 14:3; Hebrews 2:1-3; Revelation 20:11-15; 21:22-27.

This is the last Article in the Free Methodist Articles of Religion. These are our doctrinal statements and are the boundaries of what our pastors, congregations, and members have for the range of theological options within our Church. This one covers something that is not too popular in modern discourse–eternal destinies.

The fact that there are two different options to our ultimate existence is not popular even inside the Church any more, let alone outside the Church. In fact, I would venture to say that most Western Christians do not believe that anyone will ultimately go to hell anymore. If they did, and they had unbelieving family and friends, there would be a lot more prayer and sharing of the Gospel in love than there is today in the West. We may give lip service to the idea of hell, and we may even think that some really horrible people may end up there, but we tend to function as if the vast majority of humanity is just fine and has no need for rescue from this horrible.

Free Methodism has a range of beliefs within it as to exactly how the judgment will happen and what it means to be finally impenitent, but one thing it is adamant about is that there is a hell and some people will, through their own life’s choices, be there. If you look through the Bible seriously, one thing that stands out is that it is up to us which destiny is ours. Our choices in life, to accept the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ and continue to life it it, or to remain separated from Christ are what determine our address for everlasting life.

Article XXVIII-Last Things-Judgment

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶129 Last Things–Judgment

God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness in accordance with the gospel and our deeds in this life.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 11:31-32; Acts 10:42; 17:31; Romans 2:15-16; 14:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Hebrews 9:27-28; 10:26-31; 2 Peter 3:7.

I know several people who think the concept of God’s judgment is a bad thing. In fact, they see this as a perfect excuse not to follow God. After all, who wants to be subject to a being that is going to judge us in the end, anyway?

The reality is, though, I would not want to serve a God who did not judge. Think about it. If God did not judge, there would be no difference between Adolf Hitler and Mother Theresa. All of the evil and the hurt in the world would never be resolved. When the rich get richer because of immoral practices and the poor are ever more trapped in death and destruction, our very being cries out for a righteous and impartial judge. When children die of starvation while others scrape nearly-full plates of food into the trash, the world cries out for a judge. When women are abused and subjugated while their perpetrators roam free we cry out for a judge who will be true.

The fact is that we need God as a judge because there is so much that is out of balance, so much that is wrong, so much that is sinful in this world. We are all a part of the world and, try as we might, we can never completely be impartial. We are also implicated in the injustice of the world even when we strive to rise above it. The Good News of God requires him to be a judge, to actually put all things to right in this world what need to be done, to let justice roll down like a mighty river (Amos 5:24), and to bring comfort and peace to all victims of all crime, injustice, oppression, and sin.

Article XXVII-Last Things-Resurrection

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶128 Last Things–Resurrection

There will be a bodily resurrection from the dead both of the just and the unjust, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation. The resurrected body will be a spiritual body, but the person will be whole and identifiable. The Resurrection of Christ is the guarantee of resurrection unto life to those who are in Him.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. John 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15:20, 51-57; 2 Corinthians 4:13-14.

This Article is a very healthy reminder that the goal of our life is not floating around on some cloud playing a harp. When the end of all things occurs, there will be an everlasting physical existence. We will have bodies because of the resurrection of the dead. Christians in general, and Free Methodists along with the consensus, do not believe in a disembodied existence for eternity. We believe that eternity will be bodily. Jesus took his body out of the tomb. We will have bodies as well.

The confusion comes with the term spiritual body, from 1 Corinthians 15. In that passage Paul is contrasting the flesh with the spirit, but he is using the terms theologically. Flesh, in this case, is for the sinful tendencies and nature we have. Spirit, then, is what is renewed and guided by the Holy Spirit. A fleshly body would be a body that is governed by the desires of the flesh. A spiritual body would be a body that is governed by the desires of the Spirit.

Article XXVI-Last Things-The Return of Christ

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶127 Last Things–The Return of Christ

The return of Christ is certain and may occur at any moment, although it is not given us to know the hour. At His return He will fulfill all prophecies concerning His final triumph over all evil. The believer’s response is joyous expectation, watchfulness, readiness, and diligence.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 24:1-51; 26:64; Mark 13:26-27; Luke 17:26-37; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 1:7; 19:11-16; 22:6-7, 12, 20.

This Article  is one in which the entire Church has affirmed from the beginning. Jesus Christ is coming back at some point in the future and those of us who are here need to be ready for that fact. One problem with this particular Article, however, is that we have waited for so long, we have lost the sense of urgency in the world and our lives.

It is interesting. Creation has continued for the last 2000 years (give or take) since Christ and he did not return yet. Because of this, lots of Christians tend to forget that he is going to come back. “It didn’t happen yet, therefore I’m not going to trouble myself with the idea of his return,” seems to be the attitude. There is a logical fallacy in this line of reasoning, though. The world may have continued for 2000 years since Christ, but individuals do not.

Every day I am alive I am one day closer to the return of Christ. And even if he does not return in my lifetime, I am one day closer to my death. This means that each day I am one day closer to the end of all things, either for the world in general or myself in particular. I can get lulled into a false sense of security in thinking that Jesus will not return for another 2000 years, but I have no clue how much or little time I have left in this world. I could live until I am 104, or I could be hit by a car today and die. Either way, my time is much shorter than what has gone on in the past waiting for Christ’s return.

If I am going to be faithful and honest with myself and God, I am going to try and live my life in such a way that I am prepared for the end, whenever it may come. Jesus may not return for another 2000 years, or he may return in the next five minutes. I may live for another 50+ years, or I may die in the next five minutes. Either way, I need to be ready in my own life for meeting my maker.

Another byproduct of this kind of thinking about the end is that it renews my compassion and passion for the people I know who are not ready for Christ’s return. The mission statement of the Free Methodist Church is Love God, Love People, Make Disciples. I cannot profess that I love people if I keep the reality of Christ’s return and coming judgment a secret. If I never share the reality of Christ’s return with those whom I know are not ready for it, how much could I love them?

Article XXV-Last Things-The Kingdom of God

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶126 Last Things–The Kingdom of God

The kingdom of God is a prominent Bible theme providing Christians with both their tasks and hope. Jesus announced its presence. The kingdom is realized now as God’s reign is established in the hearts and lives of believers.

The church, by its prayers, example and proclamation of the gospel, is the appointed and appropriate instrument of God in building His kingdom.

But the kingdom is also future and is related to the return of Christ when judgment will fall upon the present order. The enemies of Christ will be subdued; the reign of God will be established; a total cosmic renewal which is both material and moral shall occur; and the hope of the redeemed will be fully realized.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 6:10, 19-20; 24:14; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:19-23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-25; Philippians 2:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12; 2 Peter 3:3-10; Revelation 14:6; 21:3-8; 22:1-5, 17.

This Article holds to the theological truth of “Already/Not Yet.” This is the idea that the kingdom of God is already present in the world, having first arrived in the person of Jesus Christ and continued through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church to today, but it is not yet fully formed. In other words, anywhere the will of God is followed and people deny themselves to walk in the ways of the Lord, the kingdom of God is present. Any time a denomination or congregation or even a small group of Christians (or individual) follows the guidance and direction of the Head of the Church (Jesus Christ), the kingdom of God is present.

Yet the reality is that the Church does not perfectly live out the will of God. Beyond the Church, the world is still full of death, decay, and corruption. The kingdom is not fully here, and will not be until Jesus Christ returns and the New Creation is completed.

This is an Article of immense hope, but also an accurate and realistic reflection of the state of the Church and world today.