Many people, myself included, have been praying for and over the meeting of the Council of Bishops. I, like many, have been reading the reports from the meetings anxiously, hoping for some light to shine in the dark place that we are in. In his final address to the Council of Bishops as their president, Bishop Ough made some remarks that were concerning to me, and I imagine some others. Now, I am sitting writing this with the intent of being dispassionate and trying to point out some problems, but I can already feel the desire to “sermonize” coming on, so that is likely to happen. You have been warned.
The Council of Bishops have said that there are two plans that they will consider, both of which have to do with some variation of the local option. With the final decision expected soon, Bishop Ough had the following things to say.
“If we fight and retreat to our various corners and turfs, the church will follow our example and fight, If we flee and pretend we are not in a truly different place as a global church, the church will follow our example and flee. If we freeze and say it is not our responsibility to guide our people into unchartered territory, the church will follow suit, freeze and miss this transformative moment.”
I have to be honest here and say that I hope and pray that the church will indeed fight. For far to long the United Methodist Church has been willing to stand for and fight for any and every social issue it can find, yet remained passive about the faith of the church catholic. I hope that the church does earnestly contend for the faith once and for all delivered and fight. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the church. That means that the church is supposed to storm the gates and kick them in. That means a fight for the faith. I hope that we retreat to the fertile soil of sound doctrine to prepare for the fight. I hope that we finally realize that the global church is in a different place….it’s actually and finally global! The Western world no longer holds definitive sway in the UMC (praise God) which means that even as we decline, our brothers and sisters grow to show us the way to revival. What arrogance it is to think that everything is different because we don’t have the last word any longer…as if we were ever supposed to anyway. This is Christ’s church after all. The Holy Spirit guides the church through whatever particular ethnic group may be in the majority. If we don’t believe that, then we were never a global church to begin with, and we might not have been a church period.
This is indeed a “transformative moment”. It is the moment where we have the chance to transform back to the church that once conquered America by spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land. We can transform back into the church of Wesley, Asbury, and Coke. We can be the church who, perhaps with to much haste, elected Bishops of our own and broke away not in defiance, but in faithfulness. We can transform into the church where the laity performed the works of ministry, the pastors equipped them, and parties broke out in heaven daily as new brothers and sisters were added to the fold. Or, of course, we could transform into some nebulous amalgam of pseudo Christians who live in the time of the Judges doing as we think is right in our own eyes, but we’d have lot’s of agencies, pretty buildings, and a wonderful institution.
I want to make sure that you who are reading know that I believe strongly in Apostolic succession. I believe strongly in the authority of the church that has Christ as it’s head. The United Methodist church has spoken the matters of human sexuality, but in reality has allowed for an amount of pluralism that renders it nearly spiritually impotent. In our current state, we, as a denomination, are unable to perform our mission as a whole, thus things need to change. That is what we all agree upon. We, as a denomination (under some questionable circumstances to be sure), looked to the Bishops to lead us. This is good and right under ideal circumstances. As I said, I believe in the apostolic succession. I however do believe that the Holy Spirit, in the absence of those Bishops that will faithfully lead the church, will anoint mighty men and women of God to lead the church where she should go. Christ will not abandon His bride. We have such circumstances now. It is a time of fear, of anger, of anxiety, and of confusion.
The good news is that we were made for times such as these! God will raise up leaders to guide the church in the path she should take so long as we remain faithful and true to our calling. Bishop Ough said “The church is watching. The church is watching, waiting and wondering if we will lead, and more significantly, how we will lead. I believe the church, for the most part, will follow its bishops. They will take their cues from this Council and from this meeting of our Council.” I would normally agree with his assessment, and indeed call upon the church to follow it, but the leadership of our bishops has been more akin to treating as a goose being force fed and fattened for foie gras and less like a holy calling. Many of us feel like, through a relentless campaign for “unity” we are being force fed some type of local option and anything less than this is a breech not only of trust, but of the faith itself. Hand on neck and funnel forced into our mouths, the relentless stream of unholy compromise is force fed us until we finally capitulate to become weak willed pate on the plates of those who are supposed to lead us.
I’ve read the entirety of the bishop’s remarks and find then to be full of nothing but double speak and candied words designed to tickle the ear and sway you to his, and the Council of Bishop’s, way of thinking. It reads much like a treatise on post modern progressive thinking that rejects answers in favor of questions, and presents any sort of theological certainty as a false dichotomy to be dismissed. This is not the church that Christ is the head of.
Many things need to be re-framed, as Bishop Ough has mentioned, but he misses the mark on what they actually are. We need to re-frame this false idea of that theologies which are diametrically opposed can exist in the same denomination. They can’t. It is impractical and prevents the church from showing any type of holy living or consistent witness. We need to re-frame the idea that theology doesn’t matter. We need to re-frame the idea that somehow anything we disagree upon must then be a non-essential. We need to re-frame the idea that somehow proclaiming truth is a bad idea.
The title of this is about the road to poverty that the Bishop’s have set us upon. Now I realize that poverty is normally thought of as a lack of material goods, and indeed some of the Bishops, and several groups, have used this innate fear of poverty to try and convince us of these local options. The pensions need paid, the buildings need maintained, the genreal agencies must be funded, UMCOR, etc. This sort of thinking is false though. Yes, poverty can be thought of as a lack of material goods, but in reality, the best way to think of poverty is not in material possessions, but spiritual disposition. Poverty is likely best thought of as the lack of hopes, dreams, and a future. Poverty, real poverty, is the lack of light in a world full of darkness. This is the road that the Bishops would set us upon. Christ came so that we could have life, and have it more abundantly, not so that some sort of third way option could be crafted that we all can live with. That is not an abundant life at all, and certainly not the abundant life that Christ came for us to have. We are to have an abundant life full by seeking the holiness that God has called us to. This is the Wesleyan way after all. We find joy and happiness in our search and desire for holiness, not in agencies, programs, and compromises that damage the very faith we claim to serve. We find joy in the holiness of God, not in the unholy capitulation of responsibility by Bishops. We are called to be salt and light, but our leaders would have us consider loosing our saltiness and dimming the lights for the sake of something we all can live with. The Bishop’s road leads us to poverty. If we are being honest, I think that we can admit that the institution could indeed survive with some sort of local option. The agencies, buildings, salaries, and pensions, etc. would remain intact and the UMC would trudge along having gained, what it thought, was the world. Many hope for this. What then does it profit the church if it gains the world, but loses it’s soul? The answer is the poverty that the Bishops seek to lead us to.
In ending this, I will now publicly pray what I have privately prayed for many moths. “I call upon the Lord God to rebuke the spiritual forces of wickedness that cloud the minds of our leaders and sway them toward unholy compromise. I call upon the Lord God to rain down the fire of the Holy Spirit in such a way that his faithful called Wesleyan’s will show no fear and be equipped for what is to come. I call upon the Lord God to protect and comfort those who are in this fight for the soul of The Bride. Finally, as the Arch Angel Micheal himself, I call upon the Lord god to rebuke Satan as he wrestles with us over the body of the United Methodist church that she might be resurrected as the bright city on a hill that she once was, spreading scriptural holiness across the land, and regaining, understanding, and using the power of the Holy Spirit to do the miraculous, to populate the kingdom of God, and to stand at the very gates of hell itself and force those determined to get there to climb over us. In the name of God the Father Almighty, in the name of Jesus Christ, His only begotten son, our Lord and our Savior, and the Holy Spirit that lives, breathes, and moves within us and the world, this day and forever more. Amen, and amen.”