Many Hearts are with You

A warm episcopal welcome

By Earl G. Hunt, Jr., Resident Bishop Charlotte (NC) Area, United Methodist Church

We are honored and privileged and delighted to have you meeting within the boundaries of the Charlotte Area, the Western North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. I bring greetings not only as the Resident Bishop of this area, but also as the president of the College of Bishops of the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

When I pastored in the city of Atlanta many, many years ago, I had a dear old parishioner who was a widower. Every time I went to visit, he served me a memorable refreshment: a collard greens sandwich, without relief of mayonnaise. It was a sore trial, imposed on the fidelity of the pastoral spirit of a Christian minister. But the reason I remember this dear old gentleman is because of something that he said to me again and again: “I knowed you was coming because you was so long about it.”

Anybody who is even vaguely familiar with the trends within the Christian community ought to have known that a resurgence of interest in evangelical religion was coming—because it was so long about it.

I have already told you how welcome you are: now as a bishop of the church, I want to make three very simple observations. I trust these will find their way appropriately into the context of this high and holy and significant Convocation week.

First, our plight (that is, the plight of the Christian Church) is in many ways a plight for which we, ourselves, are primarily responsible. I’m aware that there is a kind of apocalyptic secularism round about us. This has created a climate in which it is difficult to think spiritual thoughts or to do spiritual things, but there are some other factors, not as far removed from the preachers as the lay people of the church. For example, there has been an overemphasis on organizational structure. Organization is essential, but it ought always to be kept to a silent minimum.

There has been a doctrinal dilution- a failure on the part of the Church to articulate the great truths about God, about His Son, about His Holy Spirit, about human sin, about salvation, about prayer, about judgment, about eternity. As a result we have produced a generation of spiritual pygmies instead of religious giants.

There has been an eclipse of preaching, but I thank God that it seems to be in the process of vanishing! I have never noticed that my Charlotte area churches have had serious attendance or budget problems when there was a messenger of God standing in the pulpit week after week, saying something in a language that the people could understand, about the Good News of Jesus Christ. Before we blame the times totally, for the problem in which we find ourselves, we ought, as honest men and women, to take a long look at those things for which we ourselves are responsible.

Second, the tides of the hour are with the evangelical movement. My dear friends, you have no idea how favorable the climate of the church is for those concerns in which you are interested. You have no idea how friendly the viewpoint and how great is the anxiety of the bishops about these concerns. I could go down the roster of episcopal leaders and give you name after name after name of your own bishops whose hearts are with you all the way.

However there are three perils that give me grave anxiety as I confront my own deep commitment to the evangelical cause—and as I view yours. The first of these is false doctrine. There isn’t anybody as badly mixed up in the Christian community as an evangelical Christian who is basically wrong on some of the things he believes. The charismatic movement has brought so many signs of hope to our move-in history. But it has also brought possibilities of real peril for those who misunderstand the truths of God about the Christian experience or the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

I spent yesterday in Winston Salem with one of God’s great gentlemen, Dr. John R. Church. We were having dinner together and he said to me, “In this whole business of the modern tongues movement, we have to be very very careful to discern that which is of God, as opposed to that which is of the devil.”

He went on to say something which I, personally, believe to be extremely basic and important-that our safest course in determining the truth about the Holy Spirit is to follow the classical Biblical, Wesleyan position on this great doctrine. It is a corrective for some of the contemporary misinterpretations of this truth. We have to watch false doctrine.

Also, we have to guard against having only a superficial social consciousness and conscience. The time is past (if indeed it ever existed) when real religion could flourish apart from a redemptive ministry to the great agonies of mankind. You cannot live as a Christian apart from the problems of racism, poverty, and the moral revolution in our day. Where these great issues exist, God expects His children to take stands for righteousness. My friends, the only evangelical movement that can survive and bless this generation is the evangelical movement that has, without apology and with great courage, a forthright Christian position on the great social issues of our day. We mustn’t wear it as a veneer; we must acknowledge it as a part of the timber of our faith.

And then there is the age-old peril, the religious sin of pharisaism. I live with it every day. I realize that I’m so often right on things, don’t you? It’s very hard for me not to be judgmental where you’re concerned, when you don’t see it my way. Oh, God needs to give to every born-again Christian a fresh outpouring of the gift of humility. We need to remember that judgment is the prerogative of the Almighty, and not the privilege of His child. This pharisaism, it turns off the world we want to convert, before the world ever has a chance to hear the message of the Savior.

Three perils. This is the hour of evangelical religion, but these three things haunt us.

Finally, Heaven will bless this week, and this great movement within the United Methodist Church, if there is always integrity, and if there is always a compassion in the enterprise. That means that our proper objectives are the glory of God, the good of His Church, and the salvation of human beings. That’s all. That’s all. No self-glory, no self-aggrandizement, no vengeance upon a structure or a church that somehow did us wrong, just the glory of the Heavenly Father, and the strengthening and the good of the church, and the salvation of human beings.

If our hands and our hearts are pure, we are as certain to receive Heaven’s blessing as we are sitting here tonight.

Let me close with a text. Over in the book of Judges, 5th chapter, 20th verse, there is one of those great, startling sentences of Scripture. Across the years it has spoken to me and ministered to me as a Christian man. It’s part of the triumphant chant of a woman named Deborah, the warrior prophetess of Israel.

You remember the story—Sisera was the captain of the hosts of the King of Canaan. And it was Sisera who was leading the forces against God’s people. Suddenly Deborah cried out that the very stars in their courses fought against Sisera.

This is one of the great truths of the Christian faith. There’s something in God’s universe, there’s something in the very nature of His creation, that means all of the forces that He ever made ally themselves on the side of His righteousness. And so we do not stand alone! We do not battle in solitary agony. The stars in their courses fight for us. It’s still His Church, my friends. Not yours, not mine. It’s still His Church. And the stars in their courses fight for the causes of God.


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