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.

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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.

Article XXIV-The Church-The Lord’s Supper

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):

¶125 The Church–The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death. To those who rightly, worthily and with faith receive it, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ; and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. The supper is also a sign of the love and unity that Christians have among themselves.

Christ, according to His promise, is really present in the sacrament. But His body is given, taken, and eaten only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. No change is effected in the element; the bread and wine are not literally the body and blood of Christ. Nor is the body and blood of Christ literally present with the elements. The elements are never to be considered objects of worship. The body of Christ is received and eaten in faith.

¶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 14:22-24; John 6:53-58; Acts 2:46; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 10:16; 11:20, 23-29.

This Article is one on which, as a denomination, we are actually on shaky ground. The classic Methodist understanding of the Lord’s Supper, also called variously Holy Communion, the Eucharist, or the Sacrament, is that somehow Christ is present in the sacrament. We do not know how he is present, only that it is not the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.

John Wesley, who was a faithful Anglican priest through the day he died, believed that the elements of Communion themselves became the means by which God communicated his grace to us. He did not believe that the elements transformed on a microscopic level into flesh and blood, but they were the actual, physical vessels that communicated the body and blood of Christ to those who would receive them in faith. This is the classic Methodist understanding of the Eucharist as well.

This article shows how the Free Methodist Church has a convoluted understanding of the sacrament. The first section is the classic understanding inherited from Wesley, and thus the Church of England. The second section is more anabaptist in its denial of any meaning to the bread and wine. This may sound like splitting theological hairs, but here is the issue: In the first section, the bread and wine are necessary for the sacramental experience of receiving God’s grace. In the second section, only faith is necessary.

In fact, the first sentence of the second section is actually contradicted by the rest of that section. Either Christ is present in the bread and wine or he is not. If the presence is spiritual, i.e. through the Holy Spirit, he is still present. It really does not matter whether we can explain how Christ is present (especially because we can not do so).

Methodists have always been a part of the Church that believed in Christ’s real presence in the Lord’s Supper. It is a mystery how that occurs, but we have always believed it is true. Not only does Scripture back up this interpretation, but so does almost all of the history of the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist. We may have debated exactly how Christ is present, but we have always believed he is present in the bread and wine.

The portion of the Article that reads, “No change is effected in the element; the bread and wine are not literally the body and blood of Christ. Nor is the body and blood of Christ literally present with the elements…The body of Christ is received and eaten in faith,” runs counter to that understanding.

We would do well to stop trying to define exactly how Christ is or is not present in the sacrament and simply state that we believe Christ is present in the sacrament. We would be on much more solid biblical ground, as well as historical ground with the entire Church (not to mention our own Wesleyan heritage).

Article XXIII-The Church-Baptism

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):

¶124 The Church–Baptism

Water baptism is a sacrament of the church, commanded by our Lord, signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ to be administered to believers as declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Baptism is a symbol of the new covenant of grace as circumcision was the symbol of the old covenant; and, since infants are recognized as being included in the atonement, they may be baptized upon the request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training. They shall be required to affirm the vow for themselves before being accepted into church membership.

¶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 3:5; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-17; 9:18; 16:33; 18:8; 19:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29; Colossians 2:11-12; Titus 3:5.

If you want to get into some heated discussions with church people, bring up the topic of baptism. There are so many different understandings of what actually happens in the sacrament (or even whether it is a sacrament) that even usually docile people become irate.

The Free Methodist Church affirms and expects older people who become believers in Jesus Christ to be baptized. If a Church exists in communities where people are not yet Christian, and that Church is actually doing what it is commanded by Jesus Christ of spreading the Good News and introducing people to him, there ought to be adult converts. Therefore, there ought to be new believers getting baptized.

The Free Methodist Church affirms and expects Christian families to bring their children to be baptized as well. There are three main reasons for this belief. First, we stand in the main stream of the history of the Church for the past 2000 years in that we affirm and practice infant baptism. That is a position with a strong historical precedent. The Church in the most places in the most time touching the most Christian lives around the globe for the last 2000 years has baptized infants, and we remain faithful to that practice.

Yet we also know that just because something is ancient in its practice does not necessarily make it right. Therefore, second, we affirm that the world is made up of only two kinds of people: those in the Kingdom of God and those outside of the Kingdom of God. There is not a third category of “children of those in the Kingdom who are waiting their turn.”

Finally, we affirm and practice infant baptism for theological and biblical reasons. If all have sinned in Adam, that includes infants. Psychology teaches an age of accountability for our actions, but the Bible is clear that all have sinned. As well, entire households were baptized in Acts, and even Paul baptized the entire household of Stephanus in Corinth. And if baptism is truly the mark of the new covenant just as circumcision was of the old covenant (as referenced by the Colossians passage above), then there ought to be no reason to keep children out of the covenant since the same God instituted both covenants, and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Theologically, we believe that God is the primary mover in all of our relationships. God’s presence and grace go before us and we react and respond to it. Baptism of infants is our liturgical and ecclesiological way of showing our belief that God is the primary mover in our salvation. God’s grace is already being poured out on us, even in infancy.

Article XIX-Salvation-Restoration

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):

¶120 Salvation-Restoration

Christians may be sustained in a growing relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord. However, they may grieve the Holy Spirit in the relationships of life without returning to the dominion of sin. When they do, they must humbly accept the correction of the Holy Spirit, trust in the advocacy of Jesus, and mend their relationships.

Christians can sin willfully and sever their relationship with Christ. Even so by repentance before God, forgiveness is granted and the relationship with Christ restored, for not every sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit and unpardonable. God’s grace is sufficient for those who truly repent and, by His enabling, amend their lives. However, forgiveness does not give believers liberty to sin and escape the consequences of sinning.

God has given responsibility and power to the church to restore penitent believers through loving reproof, counsel and acceptance.

¶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 12:31-32; 18:21-22; Romans 6:1-2; Galatians 6:1; 1 John 1:9; 2:1-2; 5:16-17; Revelation 2:5; 3:19-20.

This Article hits upon a topic that seems to have a lot of baggage within it. This is because it deals with the very real issue of sin in believers. There are some who think that if someone is truly in Christ, he or she will not sin again. Ever. There are others who believe that humans cannot help but sin and that it is merely a demonstration of God’s mercy and grace that there is a Church at all because of that fact. Reality lies in the middle.

We are called not to sin. We are called to be holy. And we know that we can fail at this high calling. When we do fail, we must repent and seek healing of our relationships with the people against whom we have sinned and God. There is no way around the fact that all sin requires repentance, especially if we are in Christ. God is not dumb and knows when we sin.

There is also the unfortunate reality that people who were once in Christ can walk away from him and renounce their salvation. I have numerous Christian friends who believe that a Christian can never lose their salvation, but that is not the issue. This is not one of losing salvation, but rather one of voluntarily giving it up. Again, God is not dumb. We may confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord, and even confess with our attendance on Sunday mornings that we believe, yet if our hearts and minds and actions and attitudes are far away from God, God will not ignore the reality of our lives.

The way I usually say it is like this: If our faith is not strong enough to change the way we live, it is not strong enough to save us. We are called out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ. If we accept that call, we must endeavor to walk in the light. If we fail, we must repent. If we do not repent, we will not be forgiven. Without repentance and forgiveness, we are in the dark and only delude ourselves into thinking that our words or attendance mark us as in the light.

Sin is serious. God is equally displeased with sin in our lives before conversion as after conversion (and perhaps more so after conversion). We must confess, repent, and seek forgiveness for the sins in our lives to continue to have a relationship with God.

Think of it in terms of one of the most-used metaphors of our relationship with God in the Bible–a marriage. The wedding ceremony is our conversion and entrance into the fellowship of the Church. The marriage is every day after that. Just as in a human marriage, the wedding might have been perfect and wonderful and beautiful, but that does not mean the marriage will also be those things or continue. Sometimes people who are married grow apart. Eventually the wife confronts the husband and says, “You are having affairs. You are distant. Even when you are home, you are not here. Your attention and your energy are always directed somewhere else and at someone else. I don’t care what you say, you are not here.” And that would be the reality. If human beings can figure this out in our own marriages, do you not think that God may have to say the same things to people with their “relationship” with him?

Our love for God must be not in words only, or in attendance only. It must be active, faith-filled, and true.