Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Better Together: Why the UMC Should Also #VoteNo

“…making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:13, NRSV)

As I write this, the BBC and other outlets are projecting that Scotland will remain, as it has for three centuries, part of the United Kingdom.  The St. Andrew’s Cross will stay within the Union Jack.  Though long and sometimes bitter, the fight is over and the Scots chose union over division.  Can the UMC do the same?

There are parallels.  A union of different regions, dialects, and ideologies attempting to hold together despite serious differences; a disconnect between the resources provided by certain regions and their influence in the rest of the body politic;  a variety of promises made by those pushing for independence, the veracity of whose claims is spurious at best.  On the whole, the question is essentially the same: can a bunch of different kinds of people learn to live well together, or will they choose the easy option: autonomy?

Like the United Kingdom, the United Methodist Church is “better together.”  Yes, there are grave challenges that must be faced.  Much akin to the situation of the Scots, there exists a variety of groups within the big tent of the UMC whose particular values and languages make independence a tempting case.  But the easy thing and the right thing are rarely the same.

The Scots have voted to keep the ‘united’ in United Kingdom.  Hopefully the time and effort put in to pursuing independence will lead to conversation and reforms that will aid the Scottish residents in feeling more valued by their countrymen and more respected as a cultural and political body.  The hard choice may well pay off.

Back to the church: schism is not hard, it’s easy – whether it is of the “amicable” variety or not.  There is nothing particularly interesting or remarkable in entropy, destruction, and tearing down.  It’s as easy as gravity.

But unity, despite the odds and genuine differences, despite the barriers in language, history, culture?  That’s an adventure.  That’s “advanced citizenship,” as Michael Douglas’ President Shepherd once put it.  That’s unity-as-gift, gratefully received and hard fought to keep.  But the juice is worth the squeeze.

That’s the path the Scottish people have chosen.  Will we be so wise as 2016 approaches?

The Spirit of Freedom and Order

My Pentecost reading was Bishop Mack Stokes’ classic little treatise The Holy Spirit in the Wesleyan Heritage.  While far from a dense theological tome, this introduction to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in Methodism is a useful and enjoyable work.  Much of it is simple overviews of the person and work of the Spirit in the Biblical revelation; his most interesting observations – obviously animated by the charismatic movement that was sweeping even Mainline Protestantism at the time of his writing (1985) – have to do with the nature of Christian renewal and the Spirit’s role and bringing new life to God’s people:

“Soon after the days of the apostles the need for some kind of guidelines regarding the special gifts of the Spirit which arose.  The church at its best has always been a Spirit-filled and hence a Spirit-motivated movement.  But it has had to deal with the recurring tension between orderliness and vitality, structure and dynamics.” (56)

Of course, the malaise of the Mainline is that we can do structure to death.  We rarely know how to do anything without six committee meetings (a system which is, of course, designed to discourage anything from happening).

But the complete opposite is also not a solution.  Institutions matter because things that are successful, things that last, must be systematized.  Even the most Spirit-led church cannot reinvent the wheel every Sunday.

The Spirit leads us, or rather wishes to lead us, to a kind of ordered liberty: a freedom that is not chaos, because it is structured but not ossified.  The early Methodist movement was a perfect illustration of this careful balance: vital Christian living was not separate from, but tethered to, disciplined holiness.  Participating in the personal and corporate means of grace – including works of piety and mercy – was encouraged and required so that the free grace of the Spirit might be all the more present in the lives of Jesus-followers.

As St. Paul told us, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17)

There is also order.

Come, Holy Spirit! We need it all.