Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

A Follow-Up to Duct Tape

I’m still trying to untangle my tangled thoughts about United Methodism, denominational controversies, and real Christian witness.  “Real Christian” was a term John Wesley used fairly often, as noted by Ken Collins in his biography of Wesley by that name.  I want to be a real Christian.

As well, I want to be a loyal United Methodist Christian.  I’m a committed Wesleyan.  I think doctrine matters.  I think life flows from shared vision and that vision is shaped by sound doctrine.  There’s a mysterious interchange at work in these ideas, motives and practices.  I don’t want to be a something else other than United Methodist.

I also don’t want to confuse witnessing for Jesus and the Kingdom with getting the right structure in place.  I’m thus torn.  I know Maxie Dunnam’s witness, as well as Eddie Fox’s.  I’ve heard them preach.  I’ve read their books.  They are men of God.  I trust their perspectives.  

What I don’t think I share with them is a commitment to keeping a certain set of structures in place, structures that supposedly act as proper boundaries for the church’s witness.  I think ideological boundaries have been breached already, even though the structural boundaries are in place.  So, how do I witness to Christ in a denomination that is badly divided?    

These thoughts prompt me to ponder how to be a real Christian without any institutional power.  Can I, by my transparent witness, embody and speak the truth as it is in Jesus without recourse to denominational levers?  Can we?  

I know that we need structures.  Every group has to be organized.  I just don’t want to confuse upholding certain structures with faithful witness.  Structures support faithful witness, to be sure, but I’m afraid that too many people will somehow feel as if we’ve been faithful to Jesus by making sure we vote the right way on constutional amendments.

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May 1, 2009 Posted by | Ministry, Religion, The Church, United Methodism | , , , | Leave a comment

Easter Monday

Easter Monday.  The second day of the New Creation.  

Because I am again serving as pastor to two small congregations, I preached yesterday.   I followed the lectionary and used Mark 16:1-8 as the Gospel text.

Perhaps because of our circumstances, I was taken with how the story describes the response of the women to the news of Jesus’ resurrection.   “Terror and amazement seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Here the so-called shorter ending of Mark stops.  It is thus replete with ambiguity.  The scripture clearly states that Jesus is alive.  The women don’t know how to deal with this news, so they do nothing.

Their lack of action seems particularly relevant for the way many of us live today.  We Christians claim to be Easter people, but we live pretty much like Jesus were still dead.  It’s Easter Monday.  After the little bump of Easter festivities, what is different about today?  What is different about our vision?  Our witness?

As part of my personal prayer time, I have been reading through 1 Corinthians.  As you might imagine, chapter 15 has been holding my attention.  This morning I re-read verses 24-25: “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”    

I found myself asking, “By what means is Christ now destroying every ruler, authority and power?”  Clearly Paul believes that God is the Lord of history, period.  We’ve all had our view about history distorted by learning that it involves (social history excepted) only major public events: governments and wars and world leaders and such.   Jesus doesn’t seem to fit very well in that picture, even for Christians.   

This historical myopia exposes a huge problem.  I think the answer to how Christ is destroying rulers and authorities is “by means of Christian witness,” not a comforting thought.  We (American) Christians are not doing too good a job in the witness department.  

We’ve gotten too cozy with rulers and powers.   Again I’m using terms I don’t like.  Conservative Christians have tried to use the levers of governmental power to legislate against abortion, homosexual practice, taxes, etc.  Liberals have taken the same tactic with a different view of the same issues.  Then the two groups argue about who is “more Christian,” as if advocating for legislation is Christian witness.  

Certainly we have a responsibility to act as good citizens, which means we should have opinions about such matters.  But we should also remember that this citizenship is double-edged, fraught with temptation.  And when we permit our witness to narrow to nothing more than expressing certain political opinions, even if couched in the rhetoric of morality, we should be ashamed.  I know it has been said a thousand times by people more eloquent than I: when Christians get too comfortable with worldly power, we forfeit our good witness.  We still have a witness.  It’s just a bad one.

It’s Easter Monday.  By God’s grace, let Jesus’ people make a good witness.

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Biblical Preaching/Teaching, Christian Spirituality, Pop Culture, Religion, The Church | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Another Church Split

I’m having a hard time writing this blog, because I have not yet talked to people involved in what I am about to cover. If you’re familiar with Kansas United Methodism, you’ve probably heard about the pastor, staff and bulk of the membership of a new church – GracePoint – leaving The UMC. The pastor turned in his credentials and took, according to Sunday’s Wichita Eagle, about 3/4 of the congregation to form a new church.

So, now there are two GracePoints: GracePoint Community Church and GracePoint United Methodist Church. There is a lot of hearsay about why the leaders and members did what they did. I have some ideas (that I think are pretty sound), but I’ll forgo that speculation and get to what I think needs attention.

I should also say that I have some extra-strong feelings about this matter because recently I have become interim pastor for two small congregations in Arkansas City, Kansas. Most of one congregation and about half of the other one left their UMC congregations in anger over perceived mistreatment of their pastor (who had been removed by official denominational action) and the annual conference’s lack of concern for these two congregations. I am witness to the fallout from church splits. That said, here are my thoughts:

1. Nobody wins in a church split. Nobody is helped. The Body of Christ is depleted and demoralized, period.

2. The people who leave think they’re leaving problems behind. They aren’t. Inevitably, every congregation has conflict and when that happens, the folks who left won’t be able to blame the United Methodist Church, the annual conference, the bishop, some board, or anybody else. I hope, when that moment comes, that the leavers will be able to look themselves in the eye and consider their ways. It is the only way they’ll grow.

3. When people leave, they leave behind wounded, confused friends. They leave their friends! How people leave makes all the difference in the world. If you’re going to leave, talk to your friends and authority figures before you do. Have some courage. Be honest. Take care for the Body of Christ, even if you think God is calling you to leave and especially if you think the other parties (including the bishop, the annual conference, et. al.) are at fault. Let me repeat: how people leave makes all the difference.

3.a. Years ago, while in graduate school, I was on staff of a UM Church in a Chicago suburb. Some of the younger leaders were having trouble with the senior pastor and one by one, couple by couple, they began leaving. I had poured my heart into some of those people. When one more of them threatened to leave, I shouted (yes, I shouted), “You’re not just leaving ______ (the pastor’s name and the object of their anger). You’re leaving us!” Do relationships matter any more?

3.b. People who think of themselves as biblical Christians better pay attention to the whole Bible when deciding whether or not to leave. Have I said this already? How you leave matters. My biggest concern right now, given the fact that the recent split made the front page of the Sunday Wichita Eagle, is that we Christians are offering a bad witness to the world. Our words about unity and love are hollow, hypocritical. Shame on us.

4. People who leave angry need to check, double-check and check again the status and condition of their hearts. Bitterness is self-destructive and will affect the quality of their spiritual lives, their lives in Christ. If they harbor anger, pride, arrogance or any other unholy affection, they will pay a spiritual price for the way they have handled this matter. God is not mocked.

Oh, Lord, by your mercy, heal the broken hearts.

March 11, 2009 Posted by | The Church, United Methodism | , , , , , , | 3 Comments