"Responsible change is a far more faithful pattern of obedience to Christ than the most devoted immobilism can ever be." - Albert Outler, "Visions and Dreams", sermon at the Uniting Service, April 23, 1968.
It's been a while since I've been able to write here in this space. I haven't even had time to check in ... It's been a crazy summer. I just finished the UM History/Doctrine/Polity block of classes at Perkins. A pretty intensive run of course work, four hours a day, four days a week. It was like moving to some foreign, Methodist country, learning a new language ... The Way of Salvation ... Boards and Committees ... MEC to MPC to MECS to EUB to UMC to ... to ... to ...
Am I supposed to have a mind like Christ Jesus? Or John Wesley? Board of Ordained Ministry here we come.
Annual Conference was in there. An amazing full-time pastoring job was in there. A grace-filled family that understood the level of data daddy was loading into his brain causing things around the house to just 'not compute' sometimes. More on that particular facet the of craziness later.
It was a fascinating journey this summer. I think I love our UMC a lot more than I did before. I certainly understand it better. Of all the things I read (and there was a ton, as you might expect), perhaps that most engaging and challenging read was Albert Outler's sermon at the the uniting service that created the United Methodist Church out of the union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren in Dallas, TX on April 23, 1968.
Entitled "Visions and Dreams", Professor Outler made a few bold statements towards the future of the church, comparing this new (at the time) UMC to the new Christian church at Pentecost, not so much as there was a specifically brand-new thing beginning - but that it was time to start a brand-new way of doing ministry in Christ's church. A call to be a church fully catholic, fully evangelical, fully reformed.
The meanings of the terms catholic and evangelical are well-known. By catholic, Outler called for a fully 'inclusive' and 'open' church. Dialogue in our church today suggests we aren't there yet. The call to be evangelical was to be a church "radically Christ centered", to spread the word that the "Gospel is the good news that is God’s love that pardons, heals, and reconciles, God’s love that demands that we be fully human and opens up this possibility, for us, God’s love that can sanctify our memories and our hopes."
It's when Outler gets to being a church "truly reformed" that makes me pause and reflect. He's not telling us to be Luther or Zwingli or Calvin. He means something different and entirely relevant to us today:
A church truly reformed is one that is open, intentionally and on principle, to creative change of every sort (in teaching, discipline and administration) – not haphazard or reckless change but not timid and grudging either.Ah, so a church that is truly reformed is completely open to being re-formed.
With the debates going on in our church today over human sexuality this single statement calls me to wonder: do people think that the Church of Jesus Christ, the United Methodist Church in particular, has arrived? That we are as a church body entirely sanctified as we are today? That we are as inclusive as we need to be? In Outler's time, the church was struggling through the real matters of desegregation. It was stipulated in the union of the new church that the segregated African American central conference in the US would be dissolved into existing conferences. That was a real struggle for the church that would mostly be done by 1972. It actually wasn't until 1972 that any Book of Discipline had a statement on homosexuality.
This isn't to belittle either side of the debate in today's church. I just think we have bigger fish to fry. It's time to move towards the vision set back in 1968. Can we still be a fully catholic, evangelical, and reformed UMC?
This week the lesson in worship will be on the often told encounter at Bethel between Jacob and God - in a dream. A dream where God lays out the plan for Jacob and his descendants, a prosperous dream whereby all of the people of the world would be blessed by Jacob's descendants. It's an awe-inspiring text, but it wouldn't be until Jacob would wrestle with God at Peniel (much later) that Jacob would accept God's plan for him and his family. I just wonder, are we following God's dream for this church?