Saturday, November 19, 2011

For the Sake of the Mission - Follow-up

In his comment on my last post, Bob wrote:

“I can appreciate your position, but what good is a religion that tosses aside beliefs to accomplish their mission. If we believe something is wrong it doesn't give us license to be hateful but we certainly ought not condone sinful actions.”

These are great observations. I agree that a religion’s beliefs shouldn’t be thoughtlessly tossed aside, and I agree that religions should not condone sin. I overlook neither of these things.

For me, Bob’s comment illuminates a deeper question - just what is “religion,” anyway? A set of beliefs? An institution? A set of practices? A relationship with God? Some combination thereof?

I define religion at its heart as a relationship with God. And the mission, expressed many different ways, is to offer that relationship to people. In other words, the beliefs and practices of a religion ought to nurture that relationship. The beliefs and practices are subordinate to the relationship. And so when beliefs and practices make that relationship more difficult they need reformation.

This has been the church’s pattern for generations. We have continually been trying to figure out what, exactly, we believe. And not just on “non-essentials,” either. Questions like the identity of Jesus, the nature of God, the relationship between grace and works - big, important beliefs. Each of these, and many others, have been scrutinized and discussed and reformed over the course of Christian history. In fact, the most memorable figures in the history of the church are those who have said, “Wait a minute! What are we saying here? How does this actually help people find God? Maybe we should rethink this.”

And so, if I might reword Bob’s implied question, “Should we rethink what we believe if we find that it hinders our mission of offering people a relationship with God?” I answer unequivocally, “Yes.” We always have, and I see no reason to stop now. Not without prayerful discernment, of course. Not thoughtlessly, not lightly. But certainly it is acceptable to reform.

12 comments:

Kansas Bob said...

I agree with (my pastor) Adam Hamilton's take on this. Here is a clip from it:

"I will say that, on a pragmatic level, to change our churches position and to begin ordaining homosexuals and performing homosexual unions today would destroy the church. My picture of this is someone driving down the highway at 70 miles per hour and deciding to put the car in reverse. The transmission would blow apart."

Suggest that folks check out Adam's wise thoughts about it in full here.

johntbryant said...

Bob, I appreciate Adam's thoughts that you've posted but they're 3.5 years old from our last General Conference. I haven't read "When Christians Get It Wrong" but I know it came out after the 2008 GC. In short I guess I'm wondering if this quote still accurately represents Adam's position or not. Any idea?

Kansas Bob said...

I attended the excellent "When Christians Get It Wrong" sermon series that Adam preached (and based his book on) and have read the book as well. I would be surprised if his views had changed from 2008. But I may be wrong.

Why do you think that his views have changed John?

bob said...

I'll agree changing our beliefs that may hinder others relationship with God may be helpful. Beliefs such as style of music or immersion vs sprinkling vary from denomination to denomination and should never hold higher priority than people. However where do we draw the line, I believe we should never take it upon ourselves to change the scripture.

Andy B. said...

KB, I'm sure Adam will make his views known as we head into GC next year. He has been so good about being open as to how his perspective changes, and I'm hopeful he will continue to be; he is a great leader for our denomination.
In "When Christians Get it Wrong," (published 2010) he wrote, "Mainline churches are terribly divided over the issue. I predict that in ten to fifteen years evangelical churches will be divided over this issue. And in twenty to twenty-five years, churches that continue to speak about homosexuality in the ways that many churches do today will have lost the larger part of a generation... I believe that those segments of mainline churches that are currently leaving their denominations over this issue will find themselves in an interesting, isolated position twenty years from now." (p. 88-89)
John, I commend the book to you, it is an easy read, very simple, and very evocative.
Bob, would it surprise you to hear that I agree 100% with your last statement, and yet still believe as I do? ;)
Thank you so much for the online dialogue, friends!

Kansas Bob said...

Thinking about your initial question:

“Should we rethink what we believe if we find that it hinders our mission of offering people a relationship with God?”

I am not sure that either position on Gay marriage and ordination is better with regard to offering people a relationship with God. It seems that either position could create a stumbling block.

bob said...

One hundred percent agreement isn't necessary as long as we can be civil.

Kansas Bob said...

Here is a "gray" proposal that I thought of today in church as I watched a beautiful baptism of a baby whose parents are both gay.

1) Gay marriage allowed in all UMC churches that reside in states where gay marriage is legal. (folks being married must reside in said state and members of that church).

2) Clergy is permitted to officiate at such weddings but not mandated to do it.

Seems like this might be a middle ground way to begin? But I am pretty naive about such things. I am sure that most (on both sides) want this to be an all or nothing proposition. Either way I think that some people will be mad.

bridger said...

It sounds like an attempt to discuss and come to a concensus about this issue. If we use scripture to reveal God to us so that we can more fully live in accordance with His will, how can we read about God's disagreement with homosexual acts and then officially condone it as a way of life through what is supposed to be His church? I think we need a little more submission to God's point of view instead of our own attempts to get along with everyone.

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