There was some concern that this conference, put on by the United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy, was something that it was indeed not. For a brief moment, let me talk about that. This was not a secret strategy session of the vast right wing conspiratorial arm of the church. We did not plot a takeover of the denomination, no inquisitors elected, nor was I titled as a grand inquisitor. (A shame really as they get super nifty robes) Much to my chagrin, the Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei was not established. We did not end by publishing the Methodist Maleficarum. Human sexuality was not mentioned, save to make certain that there was an understanding that is not actually what we are fighting over. What we have is similar to the situation currently in Syria with rebels. Rebels opposing the government of Syria and the terrorist groups there armed by the C.I.A. are fighting similar rebels with similar goals armed by the Pentagon. We have also seen this type of proxy fighting in Yemen. The point? The United States has finally figured out how to fight a proxy war with itself, and we as United Methodists have followed in that example to indeed fight a proxy war with ourselves. It was mentioned much more eloquent than I did, but you get the idea. So really, for all the talk of perhaps moving of goalposts, the reality was that the goal posts staid where they always have been…just past the goal line of orthodox Christian faith. I know it may be difficult to believe, but it really happened. A group of orthodox Wesleyans got together and talked about orthodox faith, how our Wesleyan distinctness works within that, and what our responsibility is in the larger body of the United Methodist Church. So yeah, it was a weekend of theology nerds talking about theologically nerdy stuff. Nothing secret or crazy there.
What did happen was an idea. It took place over several speakers and presenters. It started small during the first worship as we contemplated the apostles filling Jerusalem with the teachings of Christ. It challenged us to bear witness to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and all that entails. It challenged us to recognize the risen Christ as the authority and the church as what He has established. It pushed further into what Wesley would have called a Catholic Spirit actually is (spoiler alert sermon 39 does not say what you think it says). We spoke of holiness and what being set apart does and should look like. We talked about God’s holiness primarily as we lack any on our own. We talked about stories (I know how to cook a wolf now) and telling the right ones, but especially making sure that we tell The Story..The Only Story. That of course being Christ and Him crucified. One more thing, the story is only good if your audience can understand it. That matters too. For those worried this was some sort of political event, we did discuss politics….and really how orthodoxy should transcend them, not be mired in them. Not only should, but must in order to be effective. We even talked about the importance of the internet and social media to use a new medium for the old message (hence this rambling this morning). We did talk about the future of the UMC in some very honest and blunt terms. That was refreshing and healthy. We even talked about what place the orthodox faith has in that. We’ll here more later today as well, but I have no reason to suspect that it will be related to any of the concerns voiced.
In the days and perhaps weeks to come, there will be more on some of the specific ideas touched on during this weekend, but as there was a great deal of confusion among some as to what this is, let me try to explain. The orthodox (sometimes referred to as the historic) faith of the church is basically contained in the Nicene Creed. You can find that in the hymnal if need be, and sometimes (though not often enough I imagine) we even say it in church. We talked about that. In fact, I happen to think that the majority of United Methodists actually have an orthodox faith and simply do not know that is what it is properly called. We talked about our Wesleyan distinctness and traditions of holiness, both personal and social. We talked about where those two things meet to form what is indeed a Wesleyan orthodoxy. So, there were questions aplenty about what this was actually going to be and the answer is rather simple really. I mentioned that what did happen was an idea. Of course I can only speak for myself, but that idea is actually not just deceptively simple, but perhaps the most necessary idea we can have moving forward. We spent the weekend asking what boils down to two questions. Who is God, and what does He look like reflected in us. That is what our Wesleyan orthodoxy answers. That is why it is distinct. That is why it is the only Truth of the church.