News, View, and Uproars
Taking life seriously
The 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church took a step toward greater moral seriousness when it amended the denominations Social Principles on abortion, observes Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker of the Florida Annual Conference.
He was, of course, referring to additions to Paragraph 161 J of our 2008 Book of Discipline: The Church shall offer ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies, and We affirm and encourage the Church to assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion.
From our perspective, it is refreshing to see a United Methodist bishop speak so candidly about having our denomination take a step toward greater moral seriousness on this vexing and tragic issue.
In his article in the Florida Annual Conference e-Review, he tackles the worn-out critique of pro-life activism as being a single-issue obsession. Of course, it is a mistake to single out one moral concern to the practical exclusion of others in our daily discourse, ethical reflection, and political attention. Nevertheless, the fact that a few would be so foolish is no excuse for the rest of us avoiding being engaged in an issue, Whitaker writes. The narrowness of others who are obsessed with abortion is no excuse for the rest of us to narrow the scope of our own moral attention by excluding abortion from our view.
He also reflects on the tension between moral standards and personal freedoms. Abortion is a vexing issue for Christians in America because it strains the capacity of our culture and political system to find a way to protect the life of the unborn in a social environment shaped by the value of individual freedom, Whitaker observes. The freedom we exercise in the case of an abortion is more than the liberty to live where we desire or to hold whatever religious or political opinions we choose, since the exercise of this freedom results in the extermination of another human being.
Whitaker correctly points out that the Christian community distinguished itself in its very beginning by opposing infanticide and abortion, both of which were commonplace in the Roman Empire. The Christian worship of God as the creator of all life and Jesus teaching, which generates values of the worth of every human being and our responsibility to take care of those who cannot care for themselves, made the churchs position inevitable.
One would find it difficult to disagree with Bishop Whitaker that the additions to the 2008 Book of Disciplineas well as previous statements opposing late-term abortionare encouraging signs of United Methodisms strengthened pastoral witness and moral seriousness. As we embrace more fully the larger historic and ecumenical Christian witness about abortion, Whitaker concludes, we shall grow in our ability to develop a distinctive Christian identity in a pluralistic society and a secular government.
By Steve Beard, editor of Good News.
From one heart to another
In 2 Corinthians, Paul is put in the position of defending his ministry. Are we beginning to commend ourselves? he asks the Corinthians. You are our letters [of commendation], he reminds them. Pauls defense of the authenticity of his work is the strong, open, vulnerable witness he has lived among these people. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify Gods word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves (4:2).
The open statement of the truth is delivered by means of a transparent witness, by the work of Christ in the hearts of the ministers. Paul says that the light of God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, (4:6). This treasure is carried about in jars of clay, so that the glory may rebound to God and not to the vessel (4:7).
The gospel goes from one heart to another. The transparent witness of one Christ-follower lights up the knowledge of God in another person. Grace extends to more and more people (4:15).
Im struck by the lack of standard supports for ministerial authority in Pauls situation. I just re-read John Wesleys sermon entitled, The Ministerial Office, which serves as an apologia for Methodism and an exhortation for Methodists to keep to their station. He upholds lay preaching, for example, but he criticizes Methodist preachers for trying to administer the sacraments. The purpose of lay preaching was evangelism, which does not need the standard support of ordination. The purpose of Methodism was spiritual renewalfor the light and love of Jesus Christ to shine in the hearts of Methodists so that others could see the glory of God.
I find here an irreducible core to Christian ministry. Ultimately, ministry is not training or skill, though both are crucially important. Ministry is heart to heart, whether lay or ordained. In some fundamental sense, ministry is nothing more than witness. And witness means that something is happening to me, to my heart, which becomes visible in my actions.
As United Methodist annual conferences met and tallied the votes on the Constitutional amendments, these thoughts kept me oriented. I am not pitting heart against external, organizational matters, as if structure does not matter. It does. And people in favor of and against the structural changes care deeply about mission.
But the ground of confidence in Methodism or any other church or movement ultimately is not in the structures. It is not in the various kinds of standard supports we build to enhance the organizations effectiveness. The ground of our confidence lies in the glory of God shining in our faces; the grace of Christ extending to more and more people; the treasure of the Gospel embodied in these earthen vessels.
I take comfort in these thoughts. When I had to vote at my annual conference, I struggled with the pros and cons of opinions about the amendments. I voted my conscience. At the end of the day, however, no matter how the structure changes or remains the same, the gospel still goes from one heart to another. I need always to remember this one thing.
By Steve Rankin, the newly appointed chaplain to Southern Methodist University. For many years, Dr. Rankin served as professor of religion and campus minister at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas.
By Rob Renfroe
Prior to becoming the President and Publisher of Good News, the Rev. Rob Renfroe served as the President of the Board of Directors of The Confessing Movement. For the last several years, he has been speaking to various United Methodist renewal and reform groups throughout the denomination. This article is an adaptation of that message, a version of which appeared in a previous issue of Good News.
Whenever a therapist listens to a hurting family, there are always presenting issues and the deeper issues. Fourteen-year-old Timmy is cutting class and piercing body parts, and sixteen-year-old Suzy is not coming home at night and when she does, theres alcohol on her breath.
The parents say to the counselor, Timmys the problem; fix him, and everything will be ok again. Or, Suzys drinking is tearing our family apart,
help her to stop and well be whole again.
But the therapist knows those behaviors are only symptomaticthe presenting issues. The presenting issues must be separated from the deeper issues in order to help the family deal with them openly and honestly. Quite simply, the deeper issues cannot be ignored.
Its the same in the hurting family that we love called the United Methodist Church. For example, there is a widely-held misconception that homosexuality is the issue that divides our denomination. If it were, that would be enough of a challenge. However, it is only the presenting issue.
I have been part of numerous dialogue sessions within the Texas Annual Conference in regard to the denominations stance on homosexuality. I have listened and I have been heard. During these dialogues, I heard the deeper issues beneath the presenting issue of homosexuality. They are the same issues I have heard at recent General Conferences. In reality, there are four issues dividing our church that cut to the very heart of what it means to be a church family. They deal with truth, Scripture, revelation, and Jesus Christ.
1. The Nature of Moral Truth.
Is moral truth determined by the unchanging character of God? Or is it determined by the ever-changing experiences of human beings? Does the character of God determine what is right and wrong? Or do we conduct surveys and decide that a particular behavior is to be celebrated if a certain percentage of persons in a given culture engage in it?
This is compounded when the people engaging in such conduct are good people, people who go to church and care about justice. Some of them may be people that we love, maybe even our brothers and sisters or our sons and daughters. Are those reasons enough for us to change our views of whats right and wrong?
This is exactly what our African brothers and sisters were told on the floor of General Conference several years ago after one of their delegates spoke in favor of the denominations position on homosexuality as found in The Book of Discipline. An American delegate rose and dismissively stated: Obviously homosexuality is more of a problem in some cultures than it is in others. The implication, of course, was that the practice of homosexuality is not the same kind of problem for those of us who are more enlightened. And one day it wont be a problem for the Africans when they have progressed and matured the way we in the West have.
Let me be clear. The historic faith of Christianity has always held that moral truth is determined by who God is and what he has done, not by who we as fallen human beings are or by what we do. And because we are fallen in our actions and in our thinking, we do not believe that we will discern moral truth using nothing more than our reason, experiences, and traditions. As the Scriptures say, There is a way that seems right, but in the end it leads to death. It is possible to believe sincerely that something is right and good; but, in reality, it leads us away from the God of life and truth. We believe God determines what is true. And for us to know that truth, it must be revealed.
2. The Authority of the Scriptures.
Do they speak truth to all people in all cultures at all times? Or were they wrong when they were written, culturally determined in their declarations, and hopelessly out of date for persons enlightened by the truth contained in the latest sociological surveys?
At General Conference in 1988 a United Methodist pastor from Iowa spoke in favor of changing the current language regarding homosexuality in the Discipline. In a moment of honesty, he explained why he felt comfortable with his position by stating, We dont go back to the Bible for the last word on anything.
Though few are so open about their willingness to dismiss the authority of Scripture for faith and practice, this pastor is not alone.
In 1995, the Rev. Tom Griffith, a pastor of a Reconciling congregation, wrote an article, titled Give a Cheer for our Evangelical Brothers and Sisters, in the now-defunct Open Hands. Now it is our turn to get honest. Although the creeds of our denomination pay lip service to the idea that scripture is authoritative and sufficient for faith and practice, many of us have moved far beyond that notion in our own theological thinking, he wrote. We are only deceiving ourselvesand lying to our evangelical brothers and sisterswhen we deny the shift we have made.We have moved far beyond the idea that the Bible is exclusively normative and literally authoritative for our faith. To my thinking, that is good! What is bad is that we have tried to con ourselves and others by saying, we havent changed our position.
Though I differ with him, I say: Hooray for Tom Griffiths honesty and willingness to talk about the deep issues that must be resolved if unity is to be a possibility for our church.
In 2004, the Rev. J. Richard Peck wrote a particularly helpful and insightful article, titled Church Should Examine the Reason for its Differences, for the United Methodist News Service. He is a retired clergy member of the New York Annual Conference and a former editor of Circuit Rider and Newscope.
Peck correctly stated that before we can understand our differences on homosexuality, we must understand our differing attitudes toward Scripture. Conservatives view Scripture as a single entity, he wrote. They believe every book in the Bible is the inspired Word of God. They quote Leviticus and the letters of Paul with equal certainty; they are likely to assert: The Bible says.
Later in his article he states: Nearly all conservatives say the Word of God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. No scientific claim and no change in social standards can alter the fact that there is no passage in Scripture that supports homosexual practice, and every mention of homosexuality within that holy book is negative.
He then describes how liberals (his term) view the Scriptures: Liberals, on the other hand, view the Bible as a library of books with different levels of inspiration and truth. A quote from Leviticus carries almost no weight with liberals. Liberals are not as quick to dismiss the letters of Paul. They well know that Paul wrote some of the most insightful and inspirational passages in all of Scripture. At the same time, they know that he was a product of his times.
When I read statements like that I always wonder if liberals ever stop to think that maybe they believe what they believe because they are a product of their timesa time and a culture that is highly secularized and overly sexualized; a time where theology, as one of our bishops has said, goes little deeper than God is nice and we should be, too. In our contemporary culture, the highest virtue for liberals is tolerance, except when it comes to tolerating views that disagree with what their hearts tell them is right.
Liberals place Pauls teachings about homosexuality into the context of a time when lifelong committed homosexual relations were unknown, continues Peck. While liberals value the words of Jesus above all other teachings, even here they will distinguish between the early writings of Mark and the later and more theological writings of John. If there were teachings by Jesus in any of the Gospels about homosexuality, liberals would find these compelling and debate might be ended.
Debate might be endedif Jesus had said what they have determined Jesus would have and should have said. In other words, Jesus must be the Jesus they want him to be and his words must agree with their desires if he is to be valued as a source of truth. It reminds me a bit of the statement, In the beginning God made man in his image, and ever since we have tried to return the favor.
Amazing, isnt it, that 21st-century liberal theologians look back 2,000 years and discover that a first century apocalyptic Jew named Jesus was actually a 21st-century liberal theologian who had the same views they possess.
We in the evangelical reform movements know that there are parts of Scripture that are difficult to interpret. We do not claim infallibility in our understanding of the Bible. And we humbly and gladly admit that we need the counsel of the entire Body of Christ rightly to divide the Word of Truth. We need the witness of the historic Church and we need the insights of our contemporaries, those who agree with us and those who do not.
However, we do not believe that the Scriptures point to the Word of God. We do not believe that the Scriptures contain the Word of God. We believe they are the Word of God. We believe the Scriptures are more than the witness of godly men and women to God. We believe they are Gods witness to us.
That means if the Bible contains it, its not our job to correct it. If the Bible teaches it, its not our prerogative to twist it. And if the Bible states it clearly and consistently, we dont need this months copy of Psychology Today or the latest Gallup Poll or some self-appointed pontificator of political properness to tell us why the Bible got it wrong and how enlightened folk, the new Gnostics, now got it right.
We choose to stand under the authority of the Bible, not over it. And we will not sacrifice truth for the sake of unity; because we know that if we do, we will end up with neither.
3. The Revelatory Work of the Holy Spirit.
Is it always in accordance with the Scriptures? Or can it amend and even contradict the Scriptures?
Let me quote again from the Peck article. Liberals may agree with conservatives that Gods Word is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, he observes. However, they believe the Word of God is contained in the words of the Old and New Testaments and one must use reason, tradition, and experience to find that Word within the words. Liberals also believe that a living Christ offers new insights into Gods Word.
Pecks article is well-written, seemingly well-intended, objective, and honest. However, I take exception with the last statement. It is a little unfair to state that liberals believe in the value of interpreting Scripture using reason, tradition, and experience without indicating that most conservatives do, as well.
But my real concern is with the statement that liberals also believe that a living Christ offers new insights into Gods Word. Everyone believes that. The most conservative Christians believe that it is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to illumine the Scriptures, reveal more of their meaning, and show us how to apply the eternal Word of God to the issues of our contemporary time and culture.
But liberals, at least the more radical liberals, go much further than that. They believe that the living Christ not only offers new insights into the Scriptures but that he also corrects, amends, and even contradicts the Scriptures. And it is the churchs right and responsibility to recognize and codify these new revelations.
As one retired elder in my annual conference said to me, The church created the Scriptures so we can re-create them.
This is where the battle will be fought in the coming years. Did the church create the Scriptures and therefore now has every right to recreate the Word of God? Evangelicals do not believe that the church created the Scriptures. We believe the church received the Scriptures. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, (and yes, it was a messy process) the church recognized what God gave to his people to be the canon, the measuring stick by which all claims of spiritual and moral truth are to be tested and judged. And we believe God is consistent. He is true to his nature and he is true to his Word. And we believe he got it right the first time.
We do not believe that when God revealed his Word in the Old Testament, he was in his spiritual infancy. Nor do we believe that when he revealed his Word in the New Testament, he was in his spiritual adolescence. And we most certainly do not believe that God2000 years later, now that hes all grown up and maturehas finally determined what he really believes and is ready to amend his former writings.
Yes, God does new things. Of course, the Holy Spirit has new insights for the people of God. But they will always be consistent with what he has revealed in the past.
4. Uniqueness of Christ.
Do we confess him as the only-begotten Son of God, the unique Savior of the world, and the supreme Lord of the universe? Or can he be particularized to our experiences, relativized for a Western culture, and trivialized into just one of many ways to God?
To confess Jesus is Lord is to affirm nothing less than the absolute uniqueness of our Christ in a world which is full of cosmic competitors.
In the South Central Jurisdiction, we interview Episcopal candidates. Candidates respond in writing to our questions, we review their responses, and then we have an hour of dialogue with each one. When one candidate was asked about the importance of witnessing, he responded that some of his students did not feel comfortable telling others about their faith. He stated they feel that to do so is religious and cultural imperialism.
He continued, But I tell them that they can tell others about their faith; simply because a man says to his wife, You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, it does not mean that other wives are not sunshine for their husbands.
I looked around the room and some delegation members were nodding their heads. I raised my hand and asked, Are you saying that in the same way Jesus brings light and truth into our lives, other religious leaders do the same for others?
Yes, he answered. I pressed him, So when I say that Jesus is the Savior of the world, really Im saying that he is the Savior of my world? Again the answer was affirmative. And then he said: God is wholesale. Jesus is retail.
Let me translate for you. God is Tommy Hilfiger. And you can get Tommy God at Jesus JCPenneys or Buddha Bloomingdales or Mohammed Macys. It doesnt matter where you get Tommy Hilfiger, its still Tommy. And it doesnt matter where you get God, any retail outlet in the mall of universal truth will doits still God.
The good news is that this candidate was not elected to the Episcopacy. The bad news is that he is a professor at one of our UM seminaries, teaching men and women how to preach the gospel and save the lost.
Is Jesus just one of manyone of many guides, one of many lights, one of many teachersto be considered as we determine the truth about God, the nature of reality, and morality?
When you talk about Jesus, you are talking about the one who suffered thirty-nine lashes, his back torn apart with a cat o nine tails studded with bone and glass and metal, and then nailed to a cross to die the most painful and shameful death the Roman Empire could devise.
And he did this so our sins could be forgiven and so our hearts could be changed. He did this so the curtain would be torn in two and we could walk into the presence of God, washed in his blood and appearing holy in the Fathers sight. When you talk about Jesus, you are talking about our Lord and our love and our life.
There is no treasure, no threat, no promise, nor power that can cause us to deny a single word that the Scriptures teach about who he is or what he has done for us. He is not one of many guides. He is not one of many voices. He is not one of many teachers. He is not my sunshine. He is the sunshine. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the life. He is the one who reconciles a sinful world and my sinful soul to God. Jesus Christ is not one of many. He is the one and only.
Not small matters
The nature of moral truth, the authority of the Scriptures, the revelatory work of the Holy Spirit, and the uniqueness of Christ are the deeper issuesthe real issues that divide and disturb the United Methodist family. These are not small matters that can be ignored or denied for the sake of unity. They must be addressed or true unity will be impossible.
We will not be made whole by singing Blessed Be the Tie that Binds every four years on the last day of General Conference. I wish that would work, but it wont.
We wont be made whole by denying our differences with nearly unanimous votes at General Conference that proclaim our unity of mission when sizable segments of the church are committed to breaking the covenant that holds us together. Such votes, like a couple of aspirin, may make us feel better for the moment, but they do not bring long-term health and wholeness.
We wont be made whole by people misquoting and misusing Wesleys sermon on the Catholic Spirit to buttress their belief that beliefs dont matter.
We will not be made whole by institutional responses by company men and women, regardless if they are called bishop, district superintendent, or pastor, because what we are facing is more than an institutional problem.
Furthermore, we wont be made whole by getting the language right in the Discipline, because what we are facing is more than a language problem.
Neither will we be made whole by getting the right judicial decisions, because what we are facing is not a judicial problem.
As important as the Discipline and the Judicial Council are, getting them right will not be enough to make us whole. The people called Methodist are facing a spiritual problem and we need our leaders to provide spiritual solutions. We are facing the most important doctrinal issues that any church can face and we need our leaders to guard the faith and give doctrinal answers. The problem we are facing is a question of faithfulness, and we need our leaders to give a response that worries less about being inclusive of every view and worries more about being faithful to the Scriptures.
In the past, some of our leaders have acted as if they are charged with accommodating the faith instead of contending for the faith. We have had leaders who accept every view no matter how radical.
Some of our leaders seem to believe that they cannot take a stand or speak out on the controversial issues of the day because they represent the whole church. Some of our bishops have intoned the mantra that they must represent all views because they are bishops of the whole church. But for that very reason they must speak and they must speak the message of the church.
They do represent the churchthe whole church. They represent the church in Africa that has told us that if we change the traditional morality of the Scriptures we will eviscerate their ability to speak to a continent that is being courted and intimidated by the ideology of Islam.
If they represent the whole church, surely they know this means they represent the historic church with its 2000 years of teaching and tradition. They stand in the line of the apostles and have been given the charge and granted the authority to guard the apostolic faith.
You never save a troubled institution by refusing to talk about whats wrong. You save an institution by doing whats right. You dont save a hurting institution by maintaining the status quo. You save an institution by changing its present dysfunctional reality. And as important as it is, you dont make a divided church whole simply by engaging in dialogues. You must at some point provide courageous and, if need be, costly leadership that others will follow.
Like a good counselor, the one thing our leaders must not do is to ignore our deepest issues or act as if they do not matter. They must lead us to those issues and they must speak truth to the Church so that, with a unified voice, we will speak truth to the culture, that the world may believe.
Where are we? We are in a place where band-aid solutions, denial, and institutional responses will not save us. We are in a place where we need leaders to lead and we need people of biblical faith to be people of courage and character.
Rob Renfroe is the new president and publisher of Good News. He is the pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas, and is the former president of The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church.
By James V. Heidinger II
Jesus had been crucified and buried. Three days later, two lonely disciples were trudging home to Emmaus seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were discouraged, dejected, and defeated. Their world had come crashing in, their hopes demolished. They were talking with each other about all that had happened.
Then Luke reports, While they were conversing and discussing, Jesus himself approached, and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing him (Luke 24:15-16).
Across our land today, thousands of Emmaus Road disciples trod on. Persons whose lives are filled with doubt and despondency nurse keen feelings of disappointment in a faith without reality and without hope. Some keep going through the motions of religious activity, saying the words and singing the songslike statuary fountains in public squares where water gushes out of lips that never taste it.
As Jesus drew near to the two disciples, he asked, What are those words which you are exchanging with one another as you are walking? (Luke 24:17).
To this, the stunned travelers replied, Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days? (Luke 24:18). They seemed to be asking, Are you serious? their voices almost sharp from their deep hurt.
With his probing question, Jesus began to help them share their discouragement and frustration. In our churches are hosts of those who, because of misunderstanding or personal injury, have withdrawn, pulled back; who have emotionally disengaged themselves from active involvement with others. Some are disappointed about their church, its problems, its failures, its controversies, its questionable stands, its spiritual anemia. They are hurt, angry, withdrawn, and isolated on their own Emmaus Road, trudging on toward nowhere. Defeated.
In the midst of their sadness, Jesus appeared. Does it not still happen? How often that day of sadness and hurt comes. Our hearts are despondent and broken, and we suddenly and inexplicably become aware of his loving presence walking alongside us, engaging in conversation with us.
This might be the key to the beatitude we have read so often, Blessed are those who mourn (Matthew 5:4). The Savior often finds ready response within us when we experience mourning and sadness. Jesus, man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, breaks in upon us, turning our sadness to joy, our darkness to light. How comforting.
On the Emmaus Road Jesus continued to probe when he asked, What things?
The two travelers knew the facts. What things? The things about Jesus the Nazarene, a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and rulers delivered him up to the sentence of death, and crucified him. But we were hoping that it was he who was to redeem Israel (Luke 24:19-21). Did you note that? But we were hoping. The dreams and expectations about their Messiah were dashed upon the beams of an ugly Roman cross. Their hope was shattereddead and buried.
How those around us in this fast-moving world need hopefounded on a life of purpose and direction. Without hope, life withers. Dreams deteriorate. How vitally important that our hope be rightly grounded upon him who came that we might have lifeboth abundant and extraordinary.
A journalist once conducted a poll to determine the hope and purposes for which people lived. He discovered that 9 percent of those interviewed were living for some imagined tomorrow, a suspended fulfillment out there in a fuzzy future:
A college senior, for instance, could hardly wait to graduate, get married, settle down, and have a family.
A weary mother sighed, I hope I can stand the strain til the kids are grown, married, and my husband and I can have time to.
A Hollywood actress said, I am just existing until I get my divorce and marry so and so, then Ill be ready to.
There it is. Their hopes were built upon some imagined tomorrow, a suspended fulfillment out in an indefinite future. Might Jesus have said to these what he spoke to the disciples, O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory? (Luke 24:25-26).
With gentle chiding, Jesus noted their ignorance of Scripture. How often our lack of knowing the Scripture leads us to defeat and confusion. Amidst all of our nations religious activity, how often the Savior would say to us, You do err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matthew 22:29 KJV).
Their ignorance didnt last, however, for we read, And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27).
Oh, to have heard that discourse. There, without doubt, was the greatest Sunday school lesson ever taught. Teaching them was Jesus, who at the same time was the great Expositor of Scripture and the Content of the lesson.
Only hours later, the two would say to one another, Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us on the road, while he was explaining the Scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32). The church of every age would do well to note that the burning heart is always closely related to the proper expounding of the Word of God.
Some 17 centuries later, a discouraged Anglican priest attended a meeting, and unwillingly at that, on Aldersgate Street in London. It was there while hearing the Word read from Luthers preface to the Book of Romans that John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed. This then changed the course of history.
If the fires of United Methodism have been reduced to smoldering embers today, the remedy for this spiritual sterility will be found in the Word of God. We need to open it, read it, study it, pray over it, expound it in our preaching, and let the Holy Spirit unleash the power of Scriptural truth anew in our midst. Let us do so until our own hearts burn within us and his presence is felt walking with us, reviving our lives and our churches.
As they drew near the village to which they were going, Luke notes, He acted as though he would go farther (Luke 24:28). The Savior would have left had they not sincerely invited him to stay. How many are there to whom the Savior has drawn near but with whom he has not come to abide, only because he was not invited. Though he tarries, standing at the door knocking, seeking, he will not push his way into our lives.
Happily the two travelers urged Jesus to stay with them, and he did. While they were at the table, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, he began giving it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:30-31).
In that beautiful setting around the table, in the commonplace act of a household meal, the two realized their guest was Jesus, their risen, living Lord. They had seen him break bread on so many other occasions. This sacred act has reminded Christians through the centuries that in the solemn sacrament of breaking the bread, the Savior is uniquely present with his Church.
It was too good to be true. The two travelers, though tired from their days journey, couldnt wait until morning. Luke says, And they arose that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them saying, The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon. And they began to relate their experience on the road (Luke 24:33-35).
In similar ways, multitudes throughout the years have been telling what happened on their Emmaus Road. It cannot be contained. Centuries later an Anglican hymn writer would say, If I had a thousand tongues, Id use them all to praise my God.
Thats why Easter morning rings all around us with life and with hope. Those two Emmaus sojourners would need time to realize all that it meant. Jesus was proven to be the very Son of God who lives forever. His righteousness was vindicated. Death was defeated. The future resurrection of every believer to life eternal was guaranteed. Resurrection life is possible right now.
On Easter, the newspapers will write about it but not understand it fully. Millions of Christians around world will lift their voices in global anthem, singing, Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia!
The Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon. And to you. And to me. To countless millions of weary Emmaus travelers Jesus has drawn near to lift us from our sin, our sadness, our despair, and to bring us new life.
Not only to the Ephesians, but to you, me, and the ages, Paul wrote triumphantly, And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked (Ephesians 2:1-2 RSV).
He is risen, indeed! This day, this very moment, he lives. And so may we.
On July 1, James V. Heidinger II retired as the president and publisher of Good News. This article originally appeared in the March/April 1983 issue of Good News.
By James V. Heidinger II
Each week, word comes of persons who have decided to leave the United Methodist Church and its happening too frequently across the church.
Sadly, many who leave have been lifetime United Methodists. They have served, given, prayed, attended, struggled, endured, become discouraged, and finally given up. With heavy hearts they leave the church their parents and grandparents attended in order to seek a fellowship more compatible with their understanding of the Christian faith.
With full awareness of the various controversies and conditions we face within the church, we would still encourage United Methodists to reject the urge to leave.
Ultimately, of course, that decision must be made by each person individually, in the context of his or her own personal struggle. We are also aware that the United Methodist Church may not be for everyone. But we are convinced there are compelling reasons for United Methodist evangelicals to remain and labor faithfully in their church.
First, though we acknowledge serious problems in our denomination, we must also recognize, in fairness, that in thousands of United Methodist churches, persons are finding Christ as Lord and Savior, are being grounded in his Word, and nourished in Christian fellowship. We fail to see the picture adequately unless we acknowledge that at altars of prayer, in counseling rooms, church school classes, Bible study groups, and in the pews, thousands of United Methodists are hearing the Word and responding to it in faith. Lest we be unfair in our analysis, we must admit that numerous United Methodist churches are doing many things right. As evangelicals within the denomination we have a responsibility to help strengthen, establish, and preserve the fruit of such ministries. When evangelicals leave, they weaken the Body in its nurturing function.
Second, to pastors the responsibility has been given to Tend the flock of God that is your charge (I Peter 5:2). They are charged with the task of overseeing the flock, to be shepherds willing to lay down their lives for the flock. But when evangelical pastors, grounded in the Word of God, leave the denomination, it diminishes the general spiritual well-being of 9 million United Methodists. In addition, upon leaving, many find a new set of problems in their new church and discover that all communions of Christs Church have their struggles and disagreements.
The Wesleyan contribution
Third, the Wesleyan branch of Protestant theology has made a major contribution to Christendom. United Methodists are the largest group in a world Methodist community of over 50 million members. And it is the evangelicals within United Methodism who are excited about Christian doctrine and committed to the Wesleyan theological tradition. The great Wesleyan distinctives of prevenient grace, original sin, justification by faith, assurance, sanctification, and perfect love must not be relegated to the theological archives. We can be sure that todays liberals will not maintain our rich Wesleyan tradition. Only the evangelicals will do that.
Fourth, the United Methodist Church remains a strategic opportunity for the proclamation of the Gospel and the renewal of the nation. Through a vast connectional system, this church reaches into villages, towns, and cities the length and breadth of the land. There are more local United Methodist churches today than there are post offices in America! We have a chance to be Gods vessel for spiritual and evangelical renewal all across the nation. If we think this is not possible, let us remember that with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
Contending for the faith
Fifth, we must be willing to contend for the faith. Jude wrote: Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). We must contend for the faith without becoming contentious in spirit. In spite of being misunderstood or misrepresented, it is imperative that in our contending, we exhibit the love of God and the very fragrance of Christ. If we dont, we find ourselves in the contradictory posture of contending for the Gospel which brings holiness of heart and life, but doing so in an unholy manner.
The early church soon and continually encountered doctrinal controversy. Paul confronted Peter when he compromised with the Judaizers. Paul did not just affirm that they had diversity. Rather, Paul withstood or opposed Peter to his face (Galatians 2:11). Peter, who walked with Christ, was literally rebuked by Paul, the apostle born out of season. Why? Because Paul knew that a vital theological principle was at stake. He would accept no deviation from the doctrine of justification by grace alone though faith. To do so would have destroyed the Gospel. What significant contending that was on behalf of the integrity of the Gospel!
Many pastors and lay persons have talked with me about how much they dislike controversy. I share those feelings. I would much rather focus on reconciliation. But I am alarmed that many choose to avoid controversy totally. To follow that course may mean never standing firmly and publicly for anything.
The major temptation for United Methodist clergy may be just thatto become so amiable that they stand firmly for nothing. To assume such a posture means one has settled down and become comfortable with some things that should arouse anger and opposition. The One who called us into ministry said, Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). It was the Prince of Peace who said our peace might be disturbed because of the Gospel.
United Methodist clergy would do well to remember periodically that we were asked when ordained if we would give faithful diligence duly to minister the doctrine of Christ, the Sacraments, and the discipline of the Church, and in the Spirit of Christ to defend the Church against all doctrine contrary to Gods Word? We answered, I will do so, by the help of the Lord. Not to defend against contrary doctrine is an abdication of our responsibility as ordained ministers. Our charge is to contend, not leave.
Enabling bold leadership
Finally, by remaining and bearing faithful witness, United Methodist evangelicals will encourage other leaders to be bold in their stand. A United Methodist bishop once remarked, Some bishops are really evangelical, but to be very honest, we dont want to risk the scorn of some fellow bishops who identify conservatism as not being intellectually respectable. The specter of intimidation among evangelicals in the church is a sad reality. Many are silenced or compromised by such intimidation. Laity know of it too, so let none of us underestimate the power of intimidation. To feel the scorn of ones colleagues can bring fear to even the strongest.
An encouraging sign is that an increasing number of laity, clergy, and church leaders are voicing their convictions. By remaining in the church and continuing to bear faithful witness, United Methodist evangelicals will give encouragement and support to United Methodist leaders to speak their mind boldly as they ought. Renewal within the United Methodist Church will continue as the Holy Spirit helps us restore church discipline and accountability within the community of believers. He will enable us to confront one another in love. Bonhoeffers words from Life Together have never been more timely: Where defection from Gods Word in doctrine of life imperile the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the word of admonition and rebuke must be ventured.
Good News has been and remains committed to working for renewal within the United Methodist Church. We believe there are compelling reasons for such a commitment. We urge United Methodists to remain within the church, working and praying fervently for the Lord to do in and through us that which he wills.
On July 1, James V. Heidinger II retired as the president and publisher of Good News. This article originally appeared in the July/August 1982 issue of Good News.
By Liza Kittle
A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. Proverbs 22:1
Dr. Jim Heidinger is a leader, statesman, pastor, mentor, and friend who possesses a good name. His good name is esteemed as an advocate for the historical doctrines of Christianity and a champion for the evangelical foundations of Methodism. As Jim steps away as president of Good News, it seems impossible that a name so firmly associated with renewal of the United Methodist Church could ever be separated from the cause that has characterized his life and ministry.
Woodrow Wilson said, Absolute identity with ones cause is the first and great condition of successful leadership. Most members of the United Methodist Church and beyond would attest that Jim has met this criterion for successful leadership due to his absolute identity with the renewal movement of Good News.
Jim has always been a stalwart supporter of the Renew Network from its inception. Faye Short, founder and past president of Renew, said, I well recall sharing the vision the Good News Womens Taskforce had for starting a network for evangelical women with Jim in l989. He was 100 percent for ityet, acutely aware that we were taking on a tall order. He pledged his support and prayers at that time, and always stood by that commitment. Serving in the renewal movement with Jim Heidinger has been a privilege I will always cherish.
All of us at Renew have wonderful memories of our association with Jim. His grace-filled demeanor and kind-hearted humility have been present even in the midst of tumultuous trials and opposition. His encouragement and support will be greatly missed, but there is little doubt that God will continue to use Jim as an instrument of goodwill, defender of the faith, and supporter of Renew.
Katy Kiser, member of the Renew Steering Committee and Good News board member, writes, Jim Heidinger is one of the great Christian leaders of our time. He has provided the United Methodist Church with insightful commentary on the challenges we have faced and called us to be faithful to our Wesleyan understanding of the gospel. His commitment to doctrinal integrity was always motivated by a deep desire to see Christ realized in the lives of our members. Jims legacy will endure long past his retirement.
American writer Walter Lippman wrote, The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind in others the conviction and the will to carry on. Jim Heidinger leaves behind an army of Christian servants inspired by his service ready to carry on the spiritual battle for the heart and soul of United Methodism. As Rob Renfroe begins his leadership of Good News, we at Renew are confident that Jims passion for uplifting Christ and standing boldly for the truth of Gods Holy Word will continue to be the defining foundation of the Good News movement.
From all of us at the Renew Network, may God bless you, Jim and Joanie, in your much deserved retirement.
UPDATE: Renews website continues to grow and the e-store is open! We are encouraged by those finding us on the web. Let me also mention to recent remarkable events.
A Women of Grace event was held in Atlanta. This event was a joint effort between two womens ministry groups at Dunwoody UM Churchan evangelical group called Women of the Word (WOW) and United Methodist Women. Guest speaker was the Rev. Carmen Fowler, a former Methodist who is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and executive editor of The Layman. There was a powerful testimony by an Iranian man who converted to Christianity from Islam. Rounding out the event was a performance by the Mary Hall House Singers, a group from a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that is a mission project of the WOW group. The women displayed their love for the Lord and thanksgiving for their redemption through a deeply moving performance.
Another successful event was held in the beautiful Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. The first womens retreat was organized by a group of six small churches in the Mountain Valley Parish under the leadership of Carol St. John. Lisa Schmidt gave wonderful teaching on the book of Ruth and how modern women can relate to their biblical sisters by showing Amazing Love in their own lives. One attendees husband commented to his pastor that he wasnt certain what went on at the retreat but he had a different woman living with him now! What a testimony to the impact this kind of event can have on the lives of women and their families. Read more on our website.
We appreciate the prayers and support of others who have a heart for womens ministry at the local church level. We would love to hear from you.
Liza Kittle is the President of the Renew Network. In addition to visiting their website (www.renewnetwork.org ), you can write to the Renew Network at P.O. Box 16055, Augusta, GA 30919, or call them at 706-364-0166.