This will be a little bit disconnected as I have about an hour to get it together, so I apologize if it rambles in parts. This morning, Bishop Ken Carter gave a sermon to the General Conference. The text of said sermon may be found here. Having read it, I can assure you that there is no way that I can address all that is wrong with it in the time that I have, but I will pick a few things to focus on. First though, a simple plea. Bishop Carter, please actually read Ephesians. It would help. Now on to the points.
Bishop Carter left out some rather important aspects and events in Paul’s life in his descriptions. For example, he left out Paul being willing to separate for the sake of the mission (Acts 15). He left out Paul’s instructions to Timothy warning against contextualizing the scriptures to the point of perverting them, I mean against false teachers (! Timothy 1), and his charge to guard the deposit of sound doctrine and faith given by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 2). He forgot Paul’s command to teach sound doctrine (Titus 1). He forgot Paul’s willingness to remove people from the community that were not on the path of sanctification (! Corinthians 5). Where Bishop Carter says: “In Paul’s writing there is a movement from evangelism to doxology to life together.”, the truth is that in Paul’s writings there is a consistent call to the faith delivered and to its protection. Paul did not contextualize the gospel for unique ministerial challenges, he preached the good news no matter where, and to whom. Paul did not teach different things to different people for the sake of context. If he had, he likely would have spent less time in prison.
“It is as if Paul is saying, to the Ephesians, there are these two groups and God
abolished the dividing wall of hostility between them, praise God, and now we sing the doxology to this One God, and, and…..God can do it again.” So yeah, the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were made one. I get it. I don’t know what that has to do with anything that is currently going on, but I get it. The same God has made the Lutheran and Anglican Christians one as well. It does not mean that there are not Lutherans and Anglicans suddenly. I am assuming from his language that he is referencing Ephesians 2:15, let us look to what Wesley would comment on it to see if we may gain some insight into what is trying to be said here. “Having abolished by his suffering in the flesh the cause of enmity between the Jews and gentiles, even the law of ceremonial commandments, through his decrees – Which offer mercy to all; see Col 2:14. That he might form the two – Jew and gentile. Into one new man – one mystical body.” (Notes on the New testament) Are we in the midst of not letting the Gentiles in? Not that I can see. Is there any hint of contextualization here? Not even a little bit. There is the idea and affirmation that there is One Lord over all and approachable by all to be sure, but that is not the question is it? The question is asked if God could do this again. The answer is that yes, he could, but we are not preventing gentiles from coming into the faith, so I fail to miss the point. OK, I guess I do get the point. The idea is some lame attempt to lump those we disagree with as gentiles and then to say that God has allowed them in, but that is ignoring precisely what everyone seems to be rambling on about…context. Our issues are not about who is allowed to be considered one of the faithful.
“And, if I could be permitted to be theological for a moment,…” Personally I would love for Bishop Carter to be theological…I am still waiting to hear it. “…could it be that Jesus has already done this? Could it be that Jesus has already broken down the dividing wall of hostility that is between us and made peace through the blood of the cross?” Certainly the death and resurrection of Christ has made the roadway for peace available to us. I do not think that any of us would say anything different. For all the talk about listening and understanding instead of convincing, Bishop Carter seems to have not listened. Nearly every traditionalist has said that this is not about LGBTQ issues as a root cause, but about much deeper theological matters concerning the manner in which we interpret scripture as a whole, the character and nature of God, creation theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and so on. We have very fundamental differences about nearly every part of scripture. Now it is true the Jesus unites us, but there is some pretty serious disagreement on who He is too. You have Methodist pastors claiming the the cross was not necessary, pastors who claim that the trinity is not a great mystery of the faith, but rather a divine poem and literary device and nothing more, pastors who would make Arius recoil at their thoughts. I believe that Jesus is God’s most complete revelation to us, and that He is revealed to us through the words of the entire Old and New Testaments. Others, (I am talking about you Mr. Hamilton) believe that there are parts of scripture that are disposable to us. I believe that if you read the first five books of the Old Testament, you will see the gospel story played out over and over again, while many would throw them away. I believe that when God told Hosea to marry a prostitute, that today we should be looking for Gomer because we have to learn the lesson again, while others discount the prophets as being done with their work. These are differences that simply lead to completely different ideas of who Jesus is. Bishop Carter has missed that. Without arguing over who is right and who is wrong, the simple fact is that Jesus can not be uniting figure if we do not agree on who he is.
I am going to write more about this travesty that has been called a sermon later, but my time is running short. I want to leave you with some words and comments from the gospel of Matthew though. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to send peace, but a sword.” Jesus, The Prince of Peace, will indeed reign in peace at His reappearing. This difficult passage though assures us that that time is not now. Until His reappearing, we are in the time of the sword. Adam Clarke put it this way: “The import of our Lord’s teaching here is this, Do not imagine, as the Jews in general vainly do, that I am come to send forth, by forcing out the Roman power, that temporal prosperity which they long for; I am not come for this purpose, but to send forth the Roman sword, to cut off a disobedient and rebellious nation, the cup of whose iniquity is already full, and whose crimes cry aloud for speedy vengeance. From the time they rejected the Messiah, they were a prey to the most cruel and destructive factions; they employed their time in butchering one another, till the Roman sword was unsheathed against them, and desolated the land.” I don’t think that, at this point, there can be any doubt that the United Methodist Church is in a time of the sword. Just as the Jews expected the Messiah to throw off Roman power and usher in a new age of peace, the Bishop seems to think that the Messiah will do the same in the Methodist Church, and has already done so through the cross. The statement from Christ echoes in my ears though as we continue to move forward. He is at the General Conference, but I do not believe it is for a time of peace, but a time of the Roman sword where the Methodist land will be desolated. That said though, God is a God of creation who loves and provides fr His faithful, so the church is in the best possible hands. The desolation of the Methodist land will lead only to the growth of something better and stronger. The Bishop believes this is the time for peace, but I can not help but believe that he, just as the Jews before him, seriously misunderstand the purpose of the Messiah in this. More to come undoubtedly.