There is a thought by some within the UMC that the idea of an amicable separation is no longer, or perhaps never was, a good idea. For some it is about clever slogans like “better together” and the like and the belief that the institution of the church can prevail in this time of discord. For others it is about the idea that if some want to leave and start a new expression of Methodism, so be it, but they will need to start with nothing save the people who wish to leave. No churches, no help, nothing. There is a view that the amicable separation is a nefarious thing thought up by traditionalist power players. Either way, as the title indicates, my thoughts are different. While I can only speak for my self, I believe that my reasons apply to all of the laity in the church, and perhaps many of the pastors as well.
“16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28)
The Great commission is one of the most recognized verses in all of scripture to Christians. It is also one of the most important. This is the basis of all evangelistic activity of the Christian church. Now together we can certainly go and make disciples, and we can certainly baptize, but the hang up lies with verse 20: “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded”. When we, as Christians, hold opposing views and discuss (sometimes more civilly than others), we can count that as iron sharpening iron and it can act to strengthen our collective faith, but when we, as Christians, teach the fundamentals of the faith in ways that are oppositional, we do not sow faith, we so confusion and discord. We are reaping that now, but that is a different topic for a different day. When one UMC church teaches in the necessity of the cross for salvation, and a different UMC teaches that the cross is not only not a necessity, but it little more than a politically motivated murder, we do not make disciples, we make adversaries. When one church speaks about the necessity of the bodily resurrection and another church says it does not matter, we do not make disciples, we make enemies. It isn’t about who is right and who is wrong at this point, but about the practical reality that the church can not effectively fulfill the Great Commission in it’s present state. I dare say that if an organization can not fulfill the Commission, it may not be a church. We can not be a church together, so let’s be churches separately for the benefit of all of us.
Understanding that the role of a pastor is to equip the saints for the works of ministry, and understanding that surely the Great Commission counts as a work of ministry, this becomes problematic as well. If I am to do my job as a Christian and teach as per the Great Commission, what shall I teach? What church shall I listen to? The church needs to be able to communicate truth to the laity, to me, so that I may then communicate that truth to those I come into contact with. If the church can not do this, then how is it that I can? If the church can not decide what it believes about the fundamentals of the faith, how can it equip me to communicate the faith to others?
One of the promises that has been made by those who wish to stay together is that no one will be forced to sacrifice their deeply held convictions about the faith, and in this way we can remain together. Even if I were to believe this, and to be honest, I have a very hard time believing this, it is a practical impossibility.
“3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude)
Now there is a whole lot to unpack in such a short letter as Jude, I just want to focus on this verse. This is a part of my, and many others, deeply held beliefs. I’m not talking about an inquisition as some would say, or being a so called heresy hunter as I have been accused of, but, again, a practical reality that when confronted with teachings that are contrary to the core of the faith, such as the bodily resurrection, the necessity of the cross, the reality of the Triune God, and the sinless life of Jesus, to name a few, my deeply held belief is that those teachings must be countered with truth, and should be removed from the church. All of my examples come from the words of UMC pastors and/or Bishops. In a UMC that does not separate, I have two choices. First, I could maintain a silence and sacrifice my deeply held beliefs, which is contrary to the promise I would not have to, or second, I could speak out and try to remove such teachings from the church which ensures we continue on the same path we are currently on. I could convince myself that the offer of not sacrificing belief is sincere and genuine, but even so, it is an impossibility. Because these are matters that speak to the identity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they are indeed essential to the faith once delivered, and so I must contend for them as my deeply held faith. The flip side of that coin is that I expect that those who have different theological views from me not only would, but should, do the same thing.
Unfortunately the most common way our differences have been played out revolve around LGBTQ individuals. In some ways it has been beneficial however. It has revealed that we use the same words, but do not speak the same language. When I say The Trinity, and when a progressive Christian says the Trinity, we are not speaking the same language. When I speak about the atonement and when a progressive Christian does, we are not speaking the same language. I could go on and on, but it doesn’t seem necessary. Same words, different language. In fact, there are really only two things that progressive Christians and I agree on. The first is that there will be no rapture, and the second is that Christianity is a life that needs to be lived out. We can not live that life out together however because it looks drastically different, so, literally for the love of God, let’s separate, amicably, and live out that life.