Archive: Church must change world through witness, bishop says

UM News
Sept. 28, 2005
By Tom Slack

CINCINNATI (UMNS) – To have an impact on the world, the church of the future must have a confident witness, and its people must be “atonement bearers,” according to retired United Methodist Bishop George Bashore.

“Atonement is not an isolated creedal statement,” Bashore said, “but rather it speaks primarily of life-changing power through costly love. God takes the initiative through Christ with us, and so we take the mind of God in our relationship with a hurting world.”

Bashore spoke to participants in a workshop at the Confessing Movement’s annual conference. The workshop, “A Bishop Looks at the Future of the Church,” was one of several held during the Sept. 22-24 conference, which drew more than 300 people. The Confessing Movement is an unofficial United Methodist caucus working to help the church “retrieve its classical doctrinal identity,” according to the organization’s Web site.

The bishop retired in 2000, after 12 years leading the denomination’s Pittsburgh Area preceded by eight years in the Boston Area. Today he is bishop-in-residence at Mount Lebanon United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, where he teaches a Wednesday morning Bible study.

Through the class, “I find myself thrust into pastoral care,” Bashore said.

A 50-year member of the congregation asked him, “Will you teach me how to pray? All this time I’ve prayed, but not really.” A young widow whose husband died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks asked, “How can I discern what the will of God is? This thing has torn my life completely apart.” Another Wednesday morning Bible student wanted to know more about eternal life, when the possibility of her receiving a kidney transplant became less and less likely.

“A broken heart is always synonymous with a yearning heart,” Bashore said, “about a deep-seated yearning to meet this God and know something about the vitality of this God, and every one of our churches ought to be able to share the stories of faith so that they can know how to meet this God and experience this God.

“Propositional truths are important,” he said. He told those gathered to “contend for the apostolic faith within the United Methodist Church,” adding that the propositional truths “need to become experiential truths in the lives of our people in our congregations. When that happens, the church is going to have an unbelievable future.”

Sociological studies show Christian faith is losing its impact on the values, morality and decision-making processes in our nation, Bashore said. As he sees it, the problem is that society uses the church’s vocabulary and even the church’s concepts and ideals, but without the church’s content.

“The greatest procrastination is that we borrow from Jesus’ concepts and statements, but don’t introduce people to Jesus, the source of the power behind those concepts and statements.”

Children and youth need to be trained theologically, Bashore added. They need to not only learn the propositions of theology but experience the power of the cross in their lives.

Some older people, like the longtime church member who asked to be taught to pray, might need elementary help on how to pray, how to read the Bible, how to share one’s faith. But more than anything else, people young and old need a sense of the grace of God, and integral to that grace is always a cross.

“We are more than lovers of love,” he said. “We are more than persons of hopefulness and wishful thinking. The One who wept over the sons and daughters of Jerusalem had a passionate longing for the righting of souls in relationship to God, so much so that he went to the cross to accomplish it.”

There may be varying theories and understandings of atonement, Bashore said, but atonement is not owned by any part of the theological spectrum. The reality of individual and societal sin, he added, is so demonic and so destructive that all people need to be “atonement bearers” to one another, and all churches must be atonement bearers to the world.

The bishop named six ways in which the church can have an impact through its witness.

  • The church must witness to an eternal God who has “exploded into our world through incarnation.” It must tell the stories of God’s transformation of people who move away from self-centered concerns. He mentioned people in his home church in Lancaster, Pa., who testified in church gatherings, “I met Jesus and he changed my life.”
  • The church must witness through caring for people. Bashore said his return to pastoral care in a congregation shows him the many ways in which relationships are broken, and the church cares for people “when passion and compassion walk hand in hand.” “Do we even know one another?” he asked. “At the same time we build in admonitions to become a family as the body of Christ, we don’t make it happen.”
  • The church must witness through worship. “Boring and lugubrious worship must go!” he said. “We must move beyond battles between traditional and contemporary worship, and grow in our understanding of God’s gifts through cultural diversity. Worship should primarily be evocative and not just a bunch of words. Orthodoxy doesn’t mean ‘right thinking.’ It means ‘right praise.’ And we should never allow people to leave our worship experiences without an opportunity for commitment” – which, he added, might include a signup table to write to legislators as well as an altar call.
  • The church must have a victorious witness to immortality and eternal life. “We will be the community around the world who have that ‘for thou art with me’ confidence about living and dying.”
  • The church must address human hurt in God’s world. The world has become a “glocality,” Bashore said, and relationships depend on the intersection of the global and the local.
  • The church must have a visible witness in the world. Recalling his sermon at the summer 2000 consecration of Bishop Violet Fisher, Bashore told how a rainstorm drove the gathering into a large hotel lobby, where the service was concluded as hotel guests looked on from various levels in the atrium.

The church can have an impact on the world “only if we have a confident witness,” he said. “We must be atonement bearers.”

Tom Slack is director of communications of the United Methodist Church’s West Ohio Annual Conference.





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