Archive: Strategies for Solution of the Church Crisis

Part One

Condensed from an address by Dr. Charles W. Keysor
Editor, Good News
Pastor, Grace United Methodist Church, Elgin, Illinois

We must “contend for the faith” by yielding ourselves to Christ, so that He can fight for truth through us.

The New Testament Letter of Jude was written to a Church in crisis, back sometime in the First Century. The Church, then, was plagued with apostacy; Christians renouncing beliefs they once professed … teachers presenting falsehood in the guise of truth.

Church history has a strange way of repeating itself. The old illnesses of the early Church come back to plague us – dressed, of course, in new clothes and speaking in contemporary accents. But underneath they are the same old heresies. Always they grow out of some deficient or perverted understanding of the Word of God.

From the Letter of Jude, Dr. Woodson and I shall each lift up one short passage as a kind of “hook.” Upon each hook we will hang several suggested strategies for solution of the Church crisis.

I call your attention to Jude, verse 3: “My dear friends! I was doing my best to write to you about the salvation we share in common, when I felt the need of writing you now to encourage you to fight on for the faith which once and for all God has given to his people.

This obscure verse holds an important key to constructive action for solving the Church crisis.

“Contend for the faith,” or as J. 8. Phillips paraphrases it, “put up a fight for the faith.”

What does it mean for Christians to “fight on “? How shall we United Methodists fight on? Like Carl McIntyre? Like the Ecumenical Institute? Like Billy James Hargis? Like the political infighters in United Methodists for Church Renewal?

I believe that the “Good News” emblem offers a clue to how God expects us to “fight on” for the faith.” The emblem is, first of all, a fingerprint, symbolizing humanity. Each individual is a unique and special creation of God.

That fingerprint stands for our humanity, and over that fingerprint we have superimposed a cross. Because the Cross of Jesus Christ redeems our humanity – makes it what God intends it to be. By faith, the sinful self is nailed to Christ’s cross, where the fallen, carnal “me” is crucified with Christ. So it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me, as the inspired Apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia. “And the Iife I now Iive, I Iive by faith in the son of God … who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

We can only fight in the right way when our humanity has been set right through the Cross of Jesus Christ. If we fight in the carnal spirit of the self un-crucified, then our fighting cannot possibly honor God. In that case, we would deserve to lose. But if we fight as redeemed men and women, then it is not we who fight. Then it will be Jesus Christ who fights or contends for the faith through us.

So let us prepare to do battle by making full surrender to Jesus Christ. Let every motive be purged clean of desire for power, prestige, or self-glory. Let self be nailed to the cross.

What will combat be like as we fight on to restore a greater degree of faithfulness to Jesus Christ and to those great Wesleyan principles of Scriptural Christianity (principles which we promised to uphold, as laymen and as pastors)?

Take the matter of church school literature. I thank God for one great principle upon which the local church rests in United Methodism. When the merger came in 1968, the new church plan of union emphasized greater freedom for the local church to be in mission — “to do its own thing” for Jesus Christ. Long experience had proved the sterility and futility of a bureaucratic structure where people in church agency offices, remote from the reality of the local church, hand down wisdom from on high … wisdom often given ex cathedra. This system has proved its futility. And so the 1968 merger wisely set the local church free from subservience to bureaucrats in faraway places. I thank God for the wisdom of General Conference, at this point.

I have heard two top officials from the curriculum-producing portion of our Board of Education say the United Methodist Discipline does not compel United Methodist Churches to use Nashville’s literature. I heard a bishop say that he would not force any church to use official literature – providing that church had made thorough and intelligent study of its mission and of the literature.

Brothers and sisters, we have been set free! Liberated from bondage!

In places, there is pressure to conform. And I wish that the Board of Education would send a letter to all District Superintendents explaining what has been said privately that use of Nashville literature is not mandatory.

Let us contend for the faith, in this matter, simply by following common sense and our Discipline, which opens wide the doorway to responsibility for the local church.

Let each church make a serious study of its educational needs and resources. Then let the Holy Spirit direct each church in making a thorough investigation of the various curriculum materials. And when you do this, please do not overlook the Bible. As far as I know, the Bible is “approved” literature for United Methodists.

How shall we put up a fight for the faith in the matter of money?

There is no issue that generates more consternation than this. But it is a very real issue today. I would not be realistic in speaking about “strategies for the Church in Crisis ” if I ignored this – even though it’s like grabbing hold of a red hot frying pan.

I do not like that term “withholding.” For when we talk of holding back money, this sounds to me like waging war on the carnal level, the level of unregenerate power politics. Just because our Board of Missions resorts to economic boycott as a means of pressure to gain its way, this does not mean that you and I have any right to do so. Even if General Conference approves the Board of Missions’ boycott technique.

I suspect that we may be letting the devil fight through us, not Christ, when we talk of withholding. I do not see how anyone can reconcile the idea of boycott, withholding, when our Lord says, “When someone asks you for something, give it to him.

How then, should we fight on for the faith, as far as church giving is concerned? Is the only recourse to send in our money, no matter how strongly we disagree with how that money is used?

There is another way … a more excellent way.

Let’s face it, we have been lazy stewards. Most of us do not bother to learn how our money is being used. We just give it. It isn’t a matter of trust; no, it is plain old-fashioned laziness. We just don’t take the trouble to study our Conference and World Service budgets.

This is sluff-off stewardship. It has laid the groundwork for our present money trouble. For if people don’t care how their money is being spent, who can really blame the church agencies for spending our dollars as they see fit?

The need is for responsible stewardship. This means believing that every dollar you give to Jesus Christ is a sacred trust. We had better care where every dollar goes. We had better care very much! Because our Lord, who multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed a hungry multitude, can use each dollar or dime to advance His eternal Kingdom. Remember how harshly Jesus condemned stewards who were careless about handling the Master’s money?

Let us contend for the faith with our dollars, yes. Let each United Methodist know whether or not dollars from the local church are being used in a way that agrees with the principles of Holy Scripture, conforms to our United Methodist doctrines and with our United Methodist Discipline.

It is simply a matter of responsible, practical stewardship. Each Christian must invest God’s money wisely, where it will really serve Jesus Christ.

The opposite side of this truth is that a good steward will not invest God’s money where it is not doing God’s work.

Let us fight on for the faith, in the financial arena. But let us go into this combat as crucified men and women whose single desire is to use every resource to the best advantage of our Lord and Savior.

I want to mention one final way in which we may fight on in the Spirit of Christ. Please notice that I said one way, not the way. This involves politics. It is strange what ambivalent reactions that idea of political action seems to stir up when we evangelicals start talking about it! On one hand, the social activists condemn us because we are not enough interested in the politics of Washington, D.C., the state capital, or city hall. But let any evangelical mention the need for political action in the church, and we are immediately branded as polarizers, troublemakers, boat rockers, disloyal Methodists!

There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful or un-Christian about the political process. At this point I happen to agree with some of my friends in United Methodists for Church Renewal. They are very candid in saying that politics is the practical way things get done in an organization. I agree. The way politics are practiced and used may be wrong. The methods. But not the politics, per se.

There are two kinds of church politicians, that I have been able to identify. One is the unregenerate and carnal church politician. Such was a ministerial brother who led a skillful campaign to defeat another United Methodist minister’s bid for election to the 1968 General Conference. Later the defeated candidate met the victor in the hallway. Said the winning United Methodist minister to the losing United Methodist minister, “We shot you down, you S.O.B.” Such is the mood, the method, of unregenerate church politics.

The second sort of church politician is one whose politics have been redeemed by Jesus Christ. This church politician believes that United Methodism’s system guarantees to all the right of fair representation. That each group within the church is entitled to fair representation, proportional to that group’s membership constituency.

This church politician sees nothing wrong in seeking fair representation for a point of view that is solidly anchored in Methodist doctrines and Discipline. He believes it is part of his duty as a loyal Methodist to increase by the political process, (among other ways) the influence of historic Christianity, and those who uphold it.

Let us not talk of another caucus. But let us not shrink from claiming our rightful representation as United Methodists within the United Methodist system. It is simply a matter of treating other people the way we want other people to treat us.

I, for one, never want to deny representation to any group, even though it may not agree with me. But under God, I am compelled to put up a fight against the wheeler-dealers who demand not only their representation, but mine as well.

I have mentioned three areas of combat, three theaters of warfare, where we are able to serve God by fighting on for the faith, as Jude’s letter puts it so relevantly: church politics, money, and church school literature. These are only three of many opportunities that you and I have to serve our God, by fighting for His truth in ways that will reform, serve and strengthen our beloved Church.

But hear me well – we must do it by letting our Lord do the fighting in us and through us.


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