Not at this river, part the first

11215137_822638864521359_1671392158716795324_nI am sure this will come as no surprise, but I did not attend the Gather at the River event publicized by Reconciling Ministries. Because of this, I will not comment on the event itself, rather I will comment on the “stories” of the event by those who attended and are put up as blogs by the same Reconciling Ministries. Those of us on the more conservative end of the spectrum are often encouraged to listen to the stories and let them shape our decisions. The first story I chose to listen to may be found here.

The scripture used at the beginning of the story is Isaiah 61:7-8. In context, I have no idea what this has to do with anything. It seems a cherry picked section pulled out of context to try and support an assertion that it has little to do with. Unless of course we (all Christians) believe that we (all Christians) are a conquered people who have been mistreated by our conquerors and are robbing God in the burnt offerings. Cherry picked clobber verses is not a river that I wish to gather at and is, in fact, one of the accusations leveled often by those who support Reconciling Ministries toward those of us with a more conservative understanding of scripture. The blogger goes on to talk about her authentic self. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what “authentic self” is supposed to mean, but it sounds to me as something Dr. Phil would suggest we all need to be more in tune with or some such thing. I don’t doubt the author’s sincerity; I do doubt theological stances that sound more like pop psychology and less like a deep searching and/or understanding of scripture.

I want to be on the margins, where the institutional church has pushed people, and where I believe Jesus is.

Well, you were at a large corporate gathering of people sharing similar beliefs, engaged in what are considered to be acts of worship, for the purpose of furthering God’s kingdom. Guess what, that is the institutional church.

I want to call discrimination in and by the church what it is – the sin of harmful discrimination.

I assume (yes, dangerous) that the author means discrimination in this way “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit” and if so, I agree. The UMC does as well. There are numerous statements that support this. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the BoD says to think that it does this however. It does not discriminate based upon a class of people, in this case homosexuals, in this manner. It does discriminate, here using another definition of the word, (“an act or instance of making a distinction”) by saying that there are actions that are not in accordance with God’s will. This is not the “sin of harmful discrimination”, but rather the discernment of the church as to what is and what is not pleasing to God. We can, and even should, examine, question, and come to understandings of what that proper discernment is, but should not mistake the broad based discrimination that civil law has used at varying points in the past to segregate, and the discernment of the body of the church. 

I want to remember that John Wesley instructed: ‘Do no harm.’

This does not mean what the author thinks it means. First, it is one of three collective rules of the Methodist societies, second, it outlines some fairly strict rules for those societies, and third those rules actually would have excluded far more than they included. Do no harm, in the understanding of Wesley, does not mean be nice, don’t hurt feelings, let everyone do everything, etc. The general rules may be found here.

What is to follow is the journal entry regarding the first meeting and the rules that were applied.

“This evening our little society began, which afterwards met in Fetter Lane. Our fundamental rules were as follow:

In obedience to the command of God by St James, and by the advice of Peter Bohler, it is agreed by us,

  1. That we will meet together once a week to ‘confess our faults one to another, and pray for one another, that we may be healed.’
  2. That the persons so meeting be divided into several bands, or little companies, none of them consisting of fewer than five or more than ten persons.
  3. That every one in order speak as freely, plainly, and concisely as he can, the real state of his heart, with his several temptations and deliverances, since the last time of meeting.
  4. That all the bands have a conference at eight every Wednesday evening, begun and ended with singing and prayer.
  5. That any who desire to be admitted into the society will be asked, ‘What are your reasons for desiring this? Will you be entirely open; using no kind of reserve? Have you any objection to any of our orders?’ (which may then be read)
  6. That when any new member is proposed, every one present speak clearly and freely whatever objection he has to him.
  7. That those against whom no reasonable objection appears be, in order for their trial, formed into one or more distinct bands, and some person agreed on to assist them.
  8. That after two months’ trial, if no objection then appear, they may be admitted into the society.
  9. That every fourth Saturday be observed as a day of general intercession.
  10. That on the Sunday seven-night following be a general love-feast, from seven till ten in the evening.
  11. That no particular member be allowed to act in anything contrary to any order of the society; and that if any persons, after being thrice admonished, do not conform thereto, they be not any longer esteemed as members.

(Journal, 1 May 1738)” From Wesley’s journal about the first Methodist (called “united”  originally) society meeting.

If we are to extend the rules of the Methodist societies to include the entire church, then by those rules, those whom you wish to include would not be allowed in the fellowship. We do not do this, and rightly so. Rather we do make baptism available to those who confess (or, if unable, have a sponsor confess) the living Christ, and have a communion table open to those who profess the same Christ. The two sacraments of the church (the UMC, not universal) are open to those who would claim them. This, above all else, confirms that we do indeed believe that are all of equal value to God. The most sacred acts are available to the lowliest who would come, of which I am one of the lowest. (OK bad paraphrase of Paul, but you get the point.)

More to come…



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6 Replies to “Not at this river, part the first”

  1. “If we are to extend the rules of the Methodist societies to include the entire church, then…”… not many of us would be members. I view them as an interesting historical note to address a specific event that occurred 200 plus years ago. Welcome to the 21st century.

    BTW, you can debate the point all you want; but I will never change your view, and you will never change my view. So I’ll pass on the debate.

    1. You are correct, not many of us would be. That is my point. A person should not bring up rules that exclude in order to justify inclusion. I am in no way advocating using those rules as the basis for membership, etc. and tried to make that clear. What bringing the Wesleyan Methodist societies in that sort of manner does, is show that the one who brought it up has little understanding of what was actually said in full and what was intended by them. I think that sort of thing is a huge reason why we have so many troubles. We parrot what we have heard, but rarely take the time to actually speak about what we know.

      1. Ok, I agree.
        “The general rules may be found here….”
        Then a lengthy quote of the Wesley Journal
        representing a large part of the post. Which seems overkill considering “we do not do this, and rightly so”. So you made it clear. The gal in the original post wasn’t exactly a lawyer or a theologian, or church historian. I just think she expressed how she honestly felt. No court of Judge Judy.

  2. I think it is rather sad that that UMs no longer live up to the requirements of Wesley’s societies. Not only don’t they try, but they malign the idea. Indeed the idea of “holiness” has become laughable to most

    1. I don’t think that the societies were ever intended to attempt application across a broad group. The hope was that with enough societies following them, the larger issue of church would take care of itself. You are indeed correct that it is lamentable, but there is a push in many churches to focus more on smaller groups accountable to each other in a similar way.

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