CT: Blinded by stuff

Here is a selection from provocative post over at Christianity Today about materialism:

I can think of at least one glaring blind spot in American Christian history. Slavery. How could Christians who supposedly believed the gospel so easily rationalize the enslavement of other human beings? Churchgoers with good intentions worshiping God together every Sunday and reading the Bible religiously all week long, all the while using God's Word to justify treating men, women, and children as property to be used or abused.

Not long ago, God began uncovering a blind spot in my life. An area of disobedience. A reality in God's Word that I had pretended did not exist.

Today more than a billion people in the world live and die in desperate poverty. They attempt to survive on less than a dollar per day. Close to two billion others live on less than two dollars per day …. Anyone wanting to proclaim the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth must consider not only how to declare the gospel verbally but also how to demonstrate the gospel visibly in a world where so many are urgently hungry.

What is the difference between someone who willfully indulges in sexual pleasures while ignoring the Bible on moral purity and someone who willfully indulges in the selfish pursuit of more and more material possessions while ignoring the Bible on caring for the poor? The difference is that one involves a social taboo in the church and the other involves the social norm in the church.

Check out the whole article. How powerful a witness would it be to the reality of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in our hearts and in our world if American Christians simplified their lives and gave their extra money to feeding, clothing, sheltering those in need?

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Conference Reflections

I've been to the meeting of the Louisiana Annual Conference a handful of times now. This year was without a doubt the most spiritual atmosphere, it seemed to me. Perhaps this was just because they ordained me (in a high holy service in the grand First Methodist Church of Shreveport) and so I probably spent alot more time in prayer before and during the conference - it is funny how that can change your perception of things.

But there were other changes as well. This year we had a service of anointing with oil for healing and wholeness and Bishop Bickerton of Western Pennsylvania was our preacher. I had the priviledge of anointing dozens of people (including said bishop) and praying with them, for the power and healing of the Holy Spirit to flood their lives in the powerful name of Jesus. It was a powerful time of prayer such as you rarely see (these days) among the Methodists. People wept. And even (gasp!) spoke in tongues. The Spirit was active and present in our midst and so there was abundant life and electric power.

Perhaps it was because there was a such a deeper sense of the Spirit that one particular report really got me thinking and leads me to offer some (hopefully constructive) criticism of the way that we do things.

A (rather long) report was presented on United Methodist disaster relief celebrating all that the Church has done to reach out to those in our state who have been hammered by one disaster after another. We heard of the many families helped, the homes built, the sick who were brought aid, the weary brought rest. All wonderful things that show the church to be obedient to God and compassionate toward neighbor. All wonderful things done, as the speaker again and again and again stated, "In the name of the United Methodist People."

About the 5th time we heard this refrain I looked at my friend and fellow pastor Stephen sitting next to me and said, "When my friends in evangelical denominations do this sort of thing, they do it in the Name of Jesus Christ."

After further reflection, it sometimes feels as though, when we gather for the corporate business of the Annual Conference, we take our "spiritual shepherds" hats (or robes) off, and put our "secular board of directors of large institution" hats on. And this, it seems to me, bleeds over into the ministries that we do as a conference, to the decline and diminution of our fruitfulness.

The marketing gurus that we consult (at some financial cost) no doubt tell us that we need to get our name brand out there - and so we do all of our marketing to lift up the name of United Methodism, that more people might be inclined to attend our churches. But the Kingdom that we represent works on a different logic than that of the secular marketeers.

"When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself" says Jesus (John 12:32).

It is the name of Jesus, and not of The United Methodist people, that brings true wholeness to broken people, that can make the dumb to sing, the lame to dance, and the blind to behold there God.

It is the name of Jesus, and not of The United Methodist people, that is above every name on heaven or on earth or under the earth. It is the name of Jesus, and not of The United Methodist people, that we must confess with our lips and it is the risen Jesus upon whom we must trust in our hearts if we are finally to be saved from sin, death, and outer darkness.

It is the name of Jesus, and not of The United Methodist people, that will stand in glory for ever, unto the ages of ages.

And it is the name of Jesus, and not of The United Methodist people, that - when it is lifted high - will draw all people to Christ...and to his body, the Church, by logical extension. If we, The United Methodist people, will do exactly the same deeds of service we are already doing but do them quite explicitly under the power of his name (and not our own) I believe his promise, that all these other things - including building up our own "name recognition" will be added unto us along the way.
Anyways, it was a wonderful and spiritually refreshing Annual Conference this year. May it be so always.

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Episcopalians removed from Anglican dialogues

This morning I ran across this report: members of the US Episcopal Church are being removed from the Anglican Communion's ecumenical dialogue teams. This comes in response to the recent consecration to the episcopal office of an open and practicing lesbian, over against the express teaching and wishes of the wider Anglican Communion, and disregarding previous Episcopal Church promises to "exercise restraint":

The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, has written to those Episcopalians serving on the communion's ecumenical dialogues informing them that their memberships have been discontinued.

The decision is likely to affect five Episcopal Church members serving on Anglican dialogues with the Lutheran, Methodist, Old Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as one member of the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order, who has been invited to serve as a consultant.

Kearon's announcement came in a June 7 letter outlining the next steps following Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' Pentecost letter.

Williams had proposed in his May 28 letter that representatives currently serving on ecumenical dialogues should resign their membership if they are from a province that has not complied with moratoria on same-gender blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate. He specifically referred to the May 15 consecration of Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Mary Douglas Glasspool and the unauthorized incursions by Anglican leaders into other provinces. Glasspool is the Episcopal Church's second openly gay, partnered bishop.

Jan Butter, communications director for the Anglican Communion, confirmed that the membership change applies to all ecumenical dialogues.

It would seem that the ongoing division between the leaders of the Episcopal Church (USA) and the world-wide Anglican communion is beginning to show up in formal and structural ways. I hope and pray that these first disciplinary moves cause the leftist bishops of the American Church to rethink their own "revisionist" agenda for the church. I fear, however, that the American bishops are more ideologically committed to their own agenda than to the unity of the world-wide church. May the rest of us take a lesson from all this.

As I watch the un-folding of this crisis within Anglicanism, I become all the more hesitant about the plans for The United Methodist Church to enter into full communion with the Episcopal Church in 2012. Surely our aim should be for the world-wide United Methodist Church to enter into full communion with the world-wide Anglican Communion, rather than with a piece of the Communion that seems on its way out into theological and ecumenical isolation.

I suspect that within a few years The Anglican Church in North America just might become the mainstream representative of the Anglican tradition within the US and it may, on the whole, be doctrinally closer to the official teachings of the UMC than will be the Episcopal Church. We shall see.

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Why the UMC cannot change its view on sexuality

Here is a good post over at the Methodist Thinker blog discussing a book, Staying the Course, which includes a series of essays from prominent United Methodist theologians and pastors all arguing in favor of the current teaching of The United Methodist Church with regards to our classical understanding of sex and marriage and homosexual behavior in the Christian Church:

“The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all.” (¶161F, The Book of Discipline—2008)

Seminary professors from Duke and SMU (including my own Theology professor, William Abraham) are quoted in the blog post, among others. I recommend you give it your consideration.

I have long believed that it is the duty of Methodist clergy - especially bishops - not only to uphold the official position of the Church, but also to attempt to explain it to skeptics both within and beyond the membership of the Church, especially among young persons who have grown up in a culture with radically un-Christian views of love, sex, and marriage. It may be that much of the fighting in the Church takes place when individuals reject (or indeed, defend) our official position without having ever truly understood the theology of sexuality. So the teaching office is crucial here. We have at times failed in this teaching duty sometimes perhaps because we the clergy don't actually believe it, at other times because we want to avoid contention, or don't know how to hold this position graciously. I am glad that this conversation has remained lively and (oftentimes) thoughtful in books and blogs.

I occassionally post on this topic because I believe it is of great importance in the life and vitality of the Church in our current cultural context (and for the Church, life and vitality are finally dependent upon fidelity to God and his Word). Agree or disagree with what you read there, the ideas put forward in the Methodist Thinker post should provide fodder for thoughtful discussion if nothing else.

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