Off to Emmanuel UMC

This morning (Saturday, September 29, 2018) I’m off to Emmanuel United Methodist Church here in Abilene to observe the first Great Plains chapter meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). The WCA describes itself as an organization that “connects Spirit-filled, orthodox churches of Wesleyan theology and their members.” I can certainly get behind Spirit-filled, orthodox churches of Wesleyan theology (in orthodoxy and my love of Wesleyan theology, I yield to no one).

Unfortunately, the WCA expresses their understanding of orthodoxy by being staunchly non-affirming of LGBTQ+ folks. They are preparing for an exit if things at the special called session of General Conference in 2019 don’t go the way they want them to. As you know, I’m LGBTQ+ affirming, and I want to keep the United Methodist Church united. I’m not going to protest, I simply feel that I owe them a fair hearing. Your prayers are appreciated.

Call When You’re Sick

This Sunday I’m preaching on James 5:13-18. I’m not going to have time to make this point in the sermon, but I would draw your attention to James 5:14:

“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”  — James 5:14 (NRSV, emphasis added)

Jenny and I don’t want you to feel like you have to call us if you would prefer to keep something to yourselves, but please don’t hesitate to call us when you’re sick. Even if you don’t want a visit, we appreciate being kept in the loop.

Of Sin and Sickness

This week the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary include James 5:13-18. So far this week I’ve been struggling with the question of how to understand the inferred connection James makes between sin and sickness:

The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. — James 5:15-16a (NRSV)

I’ve long sided with other parts of the Bible (including the book of Job, some Psalms, and John 9:2-3) and rejected a simple cause and effect approach between sin and sickness, but I don’t feel that I can just brush this passage from James aside, so the struggle continues. Feel free to share your thoughts and your examples on the connection (or lack thereof) between sin and sickness with me via email, text, or conversation.

On Scripture

Note: This is a long post and the main point is at the end. Feel free to scroll down to the last paragraph, but if what you read there angers you, please come back up here and start from the beginning.

Jenny has been looking at websites for different denominations and was struck by how often the words inerrant and infallible are used. The United Methodist Church’s official position doesn’t refer to scripture using those words. [1]  (We’re in the company of the majority of the church universal here because nobody used them, at least with their current meanings, until the late 1800’s.) Below is a big chunk of what the church officially has to say about scripture in The Book of Discipline. It’s not a short read, but I think you will find it is worth your time.

United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction that Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. Through Scripture the living Christ meets us in the experience of redeeming grace. We are convinced that Jesus Christ is the living Word of God in our midst whom we trust in life and death. The biblical authors, illumined by the Holy Spirit, bear witness that in Christ the world is reconciled to God. The Bible bears authentic testimony to God’s self-disclosure in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as in God’s work of creation, in the pilgrimage of Israel, and in the Holy Spirit’s ongoing activity in human history.

As we open our minds and hearts to the Word of God through the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit, faith is born and nourished, our understanding is deepened, and the possibilities for transforming the world become apparent to us.

The Bible is sacred canon for Christian people, formally acknowledged as such by historic ecumenical councils of the church. Our doctrinal standards identify as canonical thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.

Our standards affirm the Bible as the source of all that is “necessary” and “sufficient” unto salvation (Articles of Religion) and “is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice” (Confession of Faith).

We properly read Scripture within the believing community, informed by the tradition of that community.

We interpret individual texts in light of their place in the Bible as a whole.

We are aided by scholarly inquiry and personal insight, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we work with each text, we take into account what we have been able to learn about the original context and intention of that text. In this understanding we draw upon the careful historical, literary, and textual studies of recent years, which have enriched our understanding of the Bible.

Through this faithful reading of Scripture, we may come to know the truth of the biblical message in its bearing on our own lives and the life of the world. Thus, the Bible serves both as a source of our faith and as the basic criterion by which the truth and fidelity of any interpretation of faith is measured.

While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involve tradition, experience, and reason. [2]

So where do I come down on biblical inerrancy and infallibility? I would not use those words in referring to scripture, but on the other hand, I also would not describe scripture as errant or fallible—that’s a bridge too far. With the UMC, I readily affirm that the Bible consists of “the words of human beings inspired by the Holy Spirit.” More importantly, I believe that in the Bible we encounter Jesus Christ, the infallible, inerrant Word of God who was with God and was God from the beginning. [3]

[1] I did a search using the Kindle edition of the 2016 Book of Discipline. Inerrant was not used at all. Infallible was used, but only to say that The Book of Discipline is not infallible—which is a point so obvious that it could have been left unsaid.

[2] “Section 4—Our Theological Task: Scripture,” in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 2016), paragraph 105.

[3] John 1.1

Look for Christ, Draw Near to God

Tomorrow’s scripture readings include this verse:

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” — James 3:8 (NRSV)

It is the truth behind this quote:

“Look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” — C. S. Lewis [1]

[1] C. S. Lewis, “The New Men,” in Mere Christianity (1952).

Briefings on the 2019 General Conference

In the midst of a contentious debate, the 2016 General Conference voted to table all legislation related to human sexuality and asked the Council of Bishops to come up with a plan to move the church forward. The Bishops agreed and engaged in an unprecedented two year, global discernment process. They formed The Way Forward Commission and received three proposals. Nearly two-thirds of the Bishops have now recommended the One Church Plan for approval to the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference in St. Louis. The One Church Plan is not a “liberal” or “conservative” plan. It is a compromise plan that attempts to make a way for us to continue to coexist as a united church despite our differences.

There are two upcoming opportunities to learn about the proposed One Church Plan. The first is a town hall meeting with Bishop Ruben Saenz at Salina Trinity United Methodist Church on Sunday, October 14, 2018, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

The second opportunity will be a few days later, Wednesday, October 17, 2018, at 6:30 p.m. in the Sanctuary (here at Abilene First UMC). This will be a presentation by Rev. Mark Holland of Mainstream UMC (an organization formed to advocate for the One Church Plan).

Jenny and I encourage you to go to both events. This is a difficult issue and it’s nearly impossible to fully comprehend the competing proposals the first time around. The Bishop’s event is official, the Mainstream UMC event is not, but it’s supporting the official proposal approved by the Council of Bishops.

We Live By Faith Not By Certainty

“I don’t see anything about the quest for certainty that is helpful to the soul. We live by faith not by certainty. The more certain you become, the less room you make for faith. And certainty will not bind you to God; we are only bound to God (and frankly to each other) by faith.

… they [the creeds] don’t start ‘I know.’ They start ‘I believe.'” — Craig Barnes [1]

[1] Craig Barnes, “Preaching in the Age of Anxiety” (lecture, The Festival of Homiletics, Metropolitan AME Church, Washington, D.C., May 23, 2018). Audio Recording. In the official recording, this quote is about 24 minutes in.