Sharing in Faith: Serving divided church is increasingly difficult
This issue concerns me because I genuinely fear that it will create a schism in the church. But to be completely honest, I fear even more the fact that it has made me aware of the increased inevitability of such a radical move and perhaps even my desire for it. Let me explain.
It is no secret that any and all Protestant churches have an inherent struggle with authority, i.e. who or what is to decide what is correct and incorrect theology and practice? Historically speaking, this was understood to be the Bible. We are a people “of the Book” — or perhaps men and women “of one Book,” as John Wesley stated.
As Methodists we also (rightly) pride ourselves on the fact that we have one faith as spelled out in the Book of Discipline. Pastors in other denominations often have a perplexed look on their faces when I tell them that not only do we have the Bible but we also have a book that spells out how to interpret/believe what the Bible says. We are one church, and I am ordained to preach and teach the church’s faith. This is truly fundamental and not something that anyone should tamper with.
However, as per the Bible and its authority, I find that this is not the case any more. In fact, I have found that the Bible is often used as a weapon or at least as a tool to scatter and cause rifts among us. Both sides claim biblical authority (even though that obviously can’t be true), but the level of exegetical acrobatics sometimes astounds me. The Old Testament is thrown out; the love of God is turned into “permission granted” and holiness is forgotten. We are treated to a smorgasbord of eternal truth, but some, like spoiled children, refuse to eat their veggies.
Technically, this is not surprising, though unfortunate. Jesus didn’t come to cause “the brotherhood of man” or some such utopia where “we all get along.” Indeed, he didn’t come to bring peace on Earth, but division (Luke 12:55). Jesus told the disciples that they should be different/holy/one, united in their love for him and each other (John 17:21-23). The church should be a beacon and symbol through its unity under Christ, yet tragically it is not. No wonder that our influence and impact on the world diminish. Why should people listen to a church that bickers with itself?
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‘We are a little lost’
The unfortunate part is thus our all-too visible and desperate search for authority, our need for a “Paul” to follow (1 Corinthians 11:1). We claim to follow Christ but walk in diametrically opposite ways, and while eternity hangs in the balance, we struggle with what to tell people. We are a little lost.
This is the massive pink elephant that we don’t want to talk about for the very simple reason that we don’t have a good answer. There is a lot of nonsense in this discussion, my favorite being that many proponents of normalizing “LGBTQ” argue the love of Jesus, which is completely beside the point since the point is what the Bible teaches us. A loving God can and does love sinners, but that doesn’t make sinning great and dandy. The question is obviously if the Bible calls it a sin or not. It all comes down to which authority, even supra-biblical authority, we abide by. Which way do we go?
That has usually been seen as the purview of the General Conference and the bishop’s office. Those are meant to offer the church guidance and guidelines for how the Bible is to be understood/interpreted. When those fail or struggle — as they obviously are — there is little hope left, and indeed, to come back to my initial thought, perhaps even little purpose in keeping the church “one.” After all, if the structure of the church cannot serve its purpose, then why do we have it?
The church’s primary purpose
Personally, it is becoming more difficult to continue serving in a church that fights itself. I have seen and experienced it before, and a kingdom divided will not stand.
Those who seek to overthrow the historical United Methodist Church position in this matter are doing so at an incredible cost. Some, the honest ones, realize this but argue that the offense against the LGBTQ people is greater and deserves priority. I disagree with that statement. I believe that the church has as its primary purpose to carry on and deliver the message it was given so long ago from its Lord and Savior, not tamper with it.
Indeed, how we deliver that message and by what means we do it can improve, but there are simply no new pieces of evidence that suggest the Bible has been misinterpreted all these years — especially regarding Romans 1.
I believe that our church and its bishops have thus far been honest and correct in honoring God and his loving holiness toward us and all mankind in keeping the historical faith. This is good and as it should be, even if it comes at a cost. If this fails, I would argue that as Protestants a schism is painful but preferable to a sell-out. After all, isn’t schism for the sake of truth in our DNA?
The Rev. Andreas Kjernald
Posted September 18, 2014.