Where is Popeye the Sailor Man and his can of spinach when The United Methodist Church needs him? In the good ol’ days of Methodism’s beginning, our church didn’t need to look for extra strength. We were strong. We had Popeye’s brains and brawn as a growing community of like-minded orthodox Christians.
John Wesley organized small groups of Christian men who learned to have intensive accountability. Within the strict guidelines of the Holy Club, members were asked a series of introspective questions every day. “Am I a hypocrite? Am I honest? Am I trustworthy? Am I praying? Am I prideful? Am I filled with self-pity?” Daily prayer and Bible study were expected.
When no one was looking, The United Methodist Church shifted direction, moving to a mountain slope filled with quick sand. Slowly, our structure began to slide and deteriorate as the quick sand started its strong pull downward. Few noticed.
In the Popeye cartoon, Olive Oyl is the skinny girlfriend who flirts with Popeye’s nemesis, the large and overbearing Bluto. Popeye only has to look beneath his shirt to find a can of spinach, which he gulps down in order to receive the strength needed to fight Bluto’s advances. Armed now with bulging muscles, Popeye stands secure and confident in his fight to save Olive Oyl from Bluto.
If Olive Oyl represents the institution called The United Methodist Church, and Bluto represents the spiritual forces aiming to destroy our church, then Popeye is those of us who love this church too much to allow the enemy to take us down. Throw us a can of spinach, because we plan to fight for our beloved United Methodist Church. We are not fighting against other United Methodists. We are fighting the rulers of darkness and spiritual wickedness. The enemy is not the person, different from you, sitting beside you on the pew. The enemy is those principalities stomping around in high places, fist-fighting, boxing, kicking, and wrestling with the good forces.
Scripture backs this up. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:4).
All the while these evil forces are mocking and laughing at us because those of us in the church have not recognized who the real enemy is. From their high realm above the heavens, they plan their strategy wisely, having started way before discord first rumbled at General Conferences more than forty years ago. In fact, those beginning seeds of dissension were stirring in 1729 when John Wesley was a student at Oxford. Most likely, when his heart was strangely warmed at Aldersgate, the rulers of the dark realm called a meeting and started mapping their plan for Methodism’s defeat.
While some yawned through sermons, these evil rulers lined up side by side, listening for Satan’s command. At some point Satan said, “Now,” and thousands of dark powers pulled back their bows and arrows and hit The United Methodist Church squarely in the heart.
Some of us were busy at that time having a bake sale for new carpet for our sanctuary. Others were arguing over the color of the new carpet. Still others started a petition to save money and keep the worn out and dingy carpet. People got their feelings hurt. Others pouted, convinced they were right. Still others left the church.
Soon, our differences became more apparent. Anger ruled for some. For others, complacency jumped beside apathy, and soon well-meaning Christians were spending much more time defending their cause and very little time defending the cause of Jesus.
Satan was pleased. He had long known if he could get Christians busy arguing over the cares of this world, then we would not have time to agree over God’s cares, like feeding the poor, reaching out to the lost, and loving others.
As we wake up to who the real enemy is, let us fight together for the survival of what John Wesley started.