"...casting all your anxieties on him[God], because he cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7:
I'll write this one in English. It feels more natural.
It is crunch time. The General Conference of the United Methodist church, the extraordinary conference to be exact, is upon us. Millions have been spent/will be spent, hundreds of delegates are preparing for voting and thousands are praying. What will happen?
Many are hoping for the One Church plan to be supported. Lots of bishops do and the plan has its own website/PR film.
I have for been opposed to the Centrist/One church plan from the beginning and I believe that if it is adopted, as it might, it will be a fatal blow to the Church. It will take time, as all things Methodist do, but choosing this plan over the others will destroy our connectional status and that in turn will destroy the church. I would rather that not happen.
Why am I opposed to the One Church plan? Let me give you 3 reasons:
- It will officially declare that the church does not believe or practice the same truths. How can a church be a church if it teaches and practices direct opposites? In what other area would we allow that?
- It will promote subjective and individualistic beliefs and practices. Any loyalty to the church would very easily be replaced with a loyalty to one's self and one's own interpretations, no matter how uninformed or misguided. It would open the church up to theological anarchy.
- Although it is the psychologically weakest argument, the slippery slope, it would obviously open up the church to very rational requests for allowing lots of other issues to be open for discussion and variants of practices.
At base, at least for clergy, is loyalty to the church. Being a priest in a connectional church (a church that is not a collections of individual congregations but unified in its beliefs that are then shared by willing and connected congregations) is a matter of surrendering one's own beliefs for the church's. A Methodist pastor says "-The church says...", not "-I say…". The difference is huge and very important. Here's why.
Let's assume that it matters a great deal what you believe or not about God.
Let's also assume that it is possible to have beliefs that are either true or false, right or wrong no matter how well-intended they are.
Finally, let's assume that both life here on Earth and one's eternity is based on what we believe now and whether or not we hold beliefs that are true or not. Believing falsehoods is unhelpful, to say the least.
Doesn't it stand to reason then that it is if the utmost importance to make sure we all hold as many beliefs as possible that align correctly with objective reality, the way things actually are?
Of course it does! That is how we live our lives elsewhere.
If we want to drive to Oslo from Stockholm it doesn't matter what we believe about the rightness of going east. The reality is that Oslo is due west and unless we go west we won't get to Oslo. Theology is not different. God is a destination and a person to be with. It doesn't matter what we believe unless what we believe aligns with how He has told about how to get to Him and be with Him and live with Him, here and forever.
If all this is true, what then is the best way to find out what objective reality actually looks like, tastes like and so on? The "way everlasting," to quote Scripture?
Well, I know what certainly does not help. Gathering a bunch of people and decide that everybody's beliefs and opinions are equally valid and true and should be followed as you see fit.
Isn't that why the United Methodist church spends all this time and energy and money on gathering at General Conferences every four years to decide what God has revealed as His Way, Truth and Life for people who desire to life with God in our time, i.e. the Church.
Isn't that the point?
We don't have a pope but we kind of have a Magisterum/Congregation of Faith. The General Conference. It is our vessel for deciding what God wants and desires and requests of us as a church, as people of God...for the making of disciples and transformation of the world.
If the One Church plan is adopted...all of this is over. Finito. It is "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25" Theological anarchy.
The local pastor suddenly becomes the arbiter of God's will, in this case for homosexual unions, and not the Church. Just the practical implications are huge. I serve 2 1/2 congregations with varied attitudes towards homosexuality. Imagine the church councils I will be a part of, especially if X is voted in but I or the council wants Y in 1 or both churches. Imagine the confusion people seeking our advice and input getting opposite answers depending on where and who you ask. Not to mention the soul-care implications.
The damage and destruction will not happen overnight but once the fanfare is over and the confetti has been swept up by "the victors" it will begin. Slowly at first but it will increase. Such a vote will legitimize the already pretty rampant epidemic of the theological "smörgåsbord" mentality that seemingly offers choice (pick any belief you like) but sacrifices truth (truth-is-what-you-make-it nonsense). Who is to say what the best or true way to God is if even the General Conference doesn't know...
...but more specifically has codified that the church doesn't know, has abdicated its responsibility, and now leaves that choice up to the individual?
The issue is much larger than homosexuality. It is for the soul of the way Methodists do church and I would much, much rather see the General Conference take a stand, like it has done with more or less everything else, and say either or.
I can respect a decision that states that God is perfectly fine with homosexual lifestyles and all its lettered cousins and that all Methodists should agree with this (much like what happened with female pastors, not that the issues are related otherwise).
I can respect a decision that states the opposite.
I would have a very hard time respecting a decision that says "Whatever."
In all things I try to be loyal to my church. Just recently I had to change my mind (and I did) because someone showed me a belief the church had that I had somehow missed (and that I was initially inclined to believe otherwise). If the church doesn't have a standard, a "the buck stops here" understanding...what does it have but a flag flying the colors of postmodern individualism? Why should anyone ever change their beliefs? Who is right? Who is wrong? What is true? What is God's way and will for people? Whatever?
I hope and I pray that the Methodist church can continue to offer people guidance and help in understanding God's way, truth and will.
My prayer and my hope is in the Lord, maker of Heaven and Earth. I pray that He finds pleasure in the people called Methodists and I hope that He can guide the United Methodist church into making good decisions in the coming days.
For the future of the church and of the world.