I write this blog post for posting a few days before the beginning of the special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I write this blog with a lot of questions in my mind. What will happen over the next few days? What effects will that gathering have on the church as a whole?
My questions about the future have been inspiring questions in my mind. What does it mean that we are a “United” Methodist Church? What does it mean that we have deep divisions in our unity? Have we missed something?
I recently started rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together.” I have been pondering the nature of Christian community, the life of someone who had to make incredibly hard decisions to remain as faithful as he could, and it is nice to read about the life of someone who is not United Methodist during these troubling days. Still, Bonhoeffer has always been troubling. I found the following quote calling out for contemplation:
“Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together,” page 4.
Bonhoeffer writes this quote in the midst of contemplating how rare it is for Christians to live in community. As Bonhoeffer points out, Jesus himself lived a life that involved isolation during many of the major events of his life. Jesus was alone even in the midst of the crowd for many events of what we call the “passion.” Bonhoeffer points out the lonely lives lived by many of the apostles, missionaries, and even individual Christians throughout the centuries.
Reading Bonhoeffer is always challenging, but these words were particularly biting in light of the upcoming events in the life of my denomination. Have we honestly thanked God that we have each other? Have we thanked God for the privilege of living in community with one another? Have we seen our living together as anything but a gift of unmerited favor?
Honestly, when I see some of the vitriol in the community of faith I share with other Christians I do not always see people thankful for grace. I have seen people stand there and say “You do not belong in the church” when they are only in the church by the grace of God. They have been given the blessing of belonging to a body of faith. They have been given a grace and it seems as if that grace is taken for granted.
How many Christians over the centuries longed for a place to belong with other Christians? How many of our churches exist because people came together to have a place to belong? Are we turning our back on that legacy of grace? Are we so thirsty for law, structure, and power that we would burn our community of grace to the ground if we do not get our own way?
It is far easier to tear down than to build something. It is far easier to destroy than to give life. As we head into General Conference, I am praying we remember that we are only together by the grace of God. I am praying that grace prevails.
5 thoughts on ““It is grace, nothing but grace…””
You have the question all wrong. This is not about whether or not someone belongs in our church. It is about whether or not someone living in open, unrepentant sin should be ordained.
I know how you can believe that, but how do you believe that? Where does the authority to say “You don’t know what you’re talking about” come from? It doesn’t come from any scripture I can’t refute with another, so where does it come from? Conviction? I’m convicted of my belief? Tradition? Tradition is imperfect. Have you truly tested the Spirit here? If so, good for you, but when you stand in judgment over me, a child of God, I tend to doubt it.
It is a question about what the Bible says. You cannot find a single reference in Scripture that affirms the LGBTQ lifestyle, but I can find quite a few that condemns it.
David, Jesus says to love your neighbor. Jesus also says not to stand in judgment over other people. Jesus in fact doesn’t condemn someone accused of adultery, which was another case of sexual impropriety.
The original point of this point was not on this question, but if you have an issue with Jesus’ authority over the life of His followers, take it up with Jesus. He is my Savior, He is my Lord, He is the embodiment of God’s word, and He doesn’t say those things. If you want to lift up someone’s words (anyone’s words) above Jesus’ words you’re on your own. When he says “Do not judge” that is the end of the conversation for those who take His words seriously.
As this post was about Bonhoeffer and not an invitation for folks to condemn people they disagree with, further posts on my blog that attack folks will be deleted immediately. I don’t mind conversation, but what you’re saying simply isn’t true or accurate.
I have been praying over the conversation that took place on this blog yesterday. Yes, I had to block someone from leaving more comments. To be honest, it was the first time I had to block someone. The reason why I blocked the person was due to an ongoing push against the purpose of this post and into further division within the community.
I grieve that I had to engage in that action and spent a good portion of the night in prayer about and for this individual. I still feel the need to be clear about something. I was writing to both sides of the divide. We have been blessed to have been in community with each other. The original conversant seems to have felt that I was talking about excluding LGBTQIA+ individuals and how that inclusion was a violation of scripture.
What that poster doesn’t seem to understand is that I am concerned that there’s a real possibility that those who do exclude those LGBTQIA+ folks may end up being the ones excluded. The tent of faith is wide, but when a significant number of people gather around the idea that “This other group is the enemy,” there have been occasions in the life and history of the church where the rest of the folks in the tent have said “You are not welcome here anymore for what you have said.”
Gentiles are involved in the church because in the book of Acts the Spirit moved to include the Gentiles. The Celts are in the church because when the faithful reached Celtic lands it was believed that the expansion of the church beyond the Jewish faith included these folks as well. There were those who believed that the Romans, Greeks, and Celts needed to be circumcised and to enter the Jewish faith. Those folks convinced that they were obeying scripture by saying “They must be circumcised” were eventually excluded.
There is a real risk that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. There are times when those who have believed in the exclusion of Gentiles were pushed out, times when those who believed in slavery were pushed out, and those who believed that God hated this group or another were pushed out.
Friends, I do not want anyone to believe that I stand in a space where there is no room for conversation. The point of this conversation was to open the door for both sides of the issue to ponder the fact that we have had a time together by grace. That privilege is not guaranteed for the future and there may come a day when we need our relationships intact in order to continue to not only proclaim the gospel but to be a vibrant, living, and surviving faith.
I plan to respond to the conversation on the issues raised next week after General Conference is over. I will not forget to respond to your response that led to your comments being silenced for a time David, but this is not the time for theological warfare. This is a time for prayer and this is a space where I am responsible in my role as an ordained minister who can trace his ordination back to the days of Jesus and who stands with apostolic authority for the content and the community in this space. By that authority, this is a space for prayer, not vitriolic arguments.