June 14, 2010

United Methodist Revitalization: What Will it Take?

In light of current decline in the United Methodist Church and the recent announcement by Claremont School of Theology that they intend to begin training leadership for non-Christian religions, I've been reflecting on what will be necessary for the United Methodist Church to once again become a Christ-centered and Spirit-empowered denomination of thriving vitality.  Here are three things:
  1. Gospel Clarity and Conviction - In 1 Cor 15:3, Paul refers to the gospel as that which is of "first importance."  As far as Paul is concerned, the meaning of the substitionary death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ are absolutely essential to anything that can be called Christian.  To say that the gospel is of "first importance" is to say that, without it, we don't have a church.  If the UMC is to be revitalized, then we must come to grips with the absolute centrality of the gospel.  It is the foundation upon which all of our ministry is built.  I dare say that Claremont's decision to train leaders of non-Christian religions is a public denial of the gospel.  The church's task is not to solve the world's problems working along with other religions.  The church's task is to preach the gospel to the nations as the means of grace through which the Holy Spirit of the only Living God has determined to regenerate the spiritually dead and bring them into his family, his church, and his kingdom.  The church's task then is to teach these converts to obey everything Jesus commanded.  I hear some talk about the gospel in the UMC.  What I don't hear is a clear and biblical articulation of the gospel.  If we abandon the gospel of grace for a so-called gospel of social transformation to fix the world's problems, then we may very well find our denomination under the curse of Galatians 1:6-9.  No church can get the gospel wrong and be successful.  Without gospel clarity and the Spirit enabled conviction to declare the good news to the nations, we will not be revitalized.
  2. A Renewed Confidence in the Truthfulness and Authority of Scripture - Some parts of the UMC have thoroughly abandoned the authority of scripture in favor of their own preferences.  This is perhaps most apparent in our denomination's debate over human sexuality and marriage.  In the Old Testament, when the people of God neglected the Word of God, they lost it.  God withdrew his Word and his presence and sent them into exile in a foreign land.  Ultimately, when they rejected the Incarnate Word of God, they were likewise judged by God and fell to the Roman Empire in 70 AD.  If we in the UMC do not recover our trust in the veracity of scripture and its authority, we should likewise fear that God will withdraw his life-giving Word from us as well.  I long to see United Methodist pulpits all over the nation and world aflame with a passion for God and his Word.  Without that, we have no hope for denominational vitality. 
  3. Clarity of Mission - One of the main problems in the UMC is the separation between the people in the pews and the denominational Boards and Agencies.  Many in these boards and agencies are basically running their own personal lobbying groups that do not necessarily reflect the mission, values, and discipline of the UMC.  When Annual Conferences send petitions to the General Conference that might interfere with the particular interests of the Boards and keep them in check, they dispatch full-time people to undermine the effort in order to maintain their personal preference regardless of how well it fits with the denominational mission.  In these challenging times, the UMC will have to trim down and be clear on what we are about.  All the extra pet projects of Board staffers will not be sustainable.  The Boards need to be evaluated on how well they are advancing the mission of the denomination, which is "to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."  If we don't trim off the excess and focus on the mission, we may not see a day of revitalization.
Much more could be said on the topic of United Methodist renewal.  These three items may seem overly simple to those who have logged hours studying the decline in our denomination.  They are, however, essential to what it means to be the church.  Where the gospel is faithfully preached, the Word of God is honored, and the disciple-making mission of the church is advanced, with the blessing of God the church will thrive.  I pray that God is kind to us that we may one day be faithful in these ways.

2 comments:

ἐκκλησία said...

Matt, in Christendom, there appears to be a massive falling away of faith, or else how could these things be explained?

Yes, there is this business with the Claremont School of Theology. The Anglican Communion (which includes the American Episcopal Church) is also ripping itself apart over issues of human sexuality and notions of Gospel fidelity. The Roman Catholic Church is experiencing wide-spread (almost global) shockingly common bouts of public outrage its priests have long abusing children. Churches everywhere are reporting collapsing attendance. Globally the religion is growing, but not necessarily the faith. It is all disappointing, but not entirely unexpected [Isa 9:16][Jer 12:9-10][Hosea 4:6] et. esp. [Jer 50:6][Matt 15:13-14] for this is what happens when the teachers are blind.

For example, consider what Jesus says in [Mark 13:28]; the parable of the fig tree teaches us that when her branches are yet tender, and puts forth leaves, we are to know that summer is near [Mark 13:29]. Jesus ties this knowledge and the parable specifically to faith in the Kingdom of God in [Luke 21:29-31]. Not to put too fine a point on it but notice what he says to the blind teachers in [Luke 12:54-56] about discerning events in the kingdom of God.

In [Luke 12:54-56] Jesus represents the significance of his mission as a 'season' to be discerned (also [Mark 12:2][Gal 6:9]). This works well with the Kingdom representation as; a vineyard [Isa 5:1,3-7,7]][Isa 1:8][Matt 20:1-2,4,7-8], a tree [Psalm 1:3][Psalm 52:8][Psalm 92:12][Pro 11:30][Isa 17:6][Isa 24:13][Matt 3:10][Matt 7:17][Rom 11:17,24][James 3:12], and vine/branches [Eze 19:10][Isa 34:4][Isa 36:16][Isa 17:10][Isa 32:12][Jer 8:13][John 15:1][John 15:4-5] etc.

Scripture is so full of this kingdom metaphor, saying its meaning plainly ([Isaiah 5:7][Jer 2:21][Jer 6:9][Hos 10:1][Hos 14:7]) that it is difficult to understand how anyone could miss it at all. Yet the hypocrites of [Luke 12:56] could not discern the prophetic season of His mission despite its clear and unambiguous reference in scripture [Hos 14:7][[Eze 17:4-9][Isa 4:2][Isa 32:12]. But Peter, James, and John, also did not understand [Mark 13:4][Luke 21:7].

In [Mark 13:28] He instructed them to recognize the season by starting with a parable that related the emergence of their faith (and Christ-likeness) to his ministry which had been predicted by the prophets. Jesus pointed out that summer was near because the branches had becomes tender and put out their leaves. We know from from [Hos 10:1][Jer 2:21][Jer 6:9][Isa 5:2][Isa 24:7][John 15:1,3,5,8,12] what the branches were and who the vine was. Likewise, we know that the leaves are evidence of Christ-likeness within the assembly of the elect from [Matt 7:17,20]. When Jesus engaged in his ministry, true faith in God sprouted and grew like leaves in spring.

ἐκκλησία said...

Back to your observation about what is happening with the Claremont School of Theology Matt, We can learn something from this too; and that is that we are not to go about like the witless hypocrites, failing to recognize the sign of the times. Some measure, of just under 27% of God's word is specifically provided to help us to reckon this propetically. Jesus wanted his disciples to recognize the season from the emergence of Christ-likeness, as a result of his ministry. The discussion Jesus had with his disciples lead to the parable of the fig tree and a lesson on how the season could be determined from what happened to the tree.

Look again what Jesus said in [Mark 13:28], but this time don't look at what he was saying to the generation of budding branches who could not know of anything but their own season. Rather look instead at what he was saying to later generations, for though Jesus was speaking to his disciples when He spoke, He was looking at us! This is the generation when the branch is shrivelling and shedding its leaves again. See its meaning.

A seal limited what that previous generation could know [Acts 1:7] to the recognition of the first stages of summer, when the Holy one of Israel redeemed His people and His worship began. But that seal was broken when He ascended into heaven and broke it [Rev 5:1-10]; we are now much more advanced in the times, and those particular restrictions in [Acts 1:7] have been removed when the lamb broke its seals [Revelation 6:3,5,7,9,12] (Look especially the fifth and sixth seals which deal with the tree that is shaken by the mighty wind (starting at [Rev 6:9-]).

By looking at examples such as this Christian theological school, it is reasonable to conclude that when the branch gives off its leaves, winter is most certainly near; which is a sense of where in the season we are. This is as certain - as the foundation that is Christ.