Hey UMC: WAIT, WAIT, WAIT!
So, let’s try a little thought experiment together. Let’s imagine someone stepping forward and shouting to the UMC, ‘Wait! Wait! Wait’ and then pushing a giant ‘pause’ button and there by stopping what appears to be our collective movement toward schism in the UMC. What if this person then said something like, ‘Before we divorce shouldn’t we have a little better conversation first?’ ‘Before we do something that painful shouldn’t we talk about the real issues?’
Ok, now let’s imagine together that this has actually happened. And then the conversation begins, and almost before it’s even really going someone else stands and shouts out, ‘Let’s not forget what Wesley said: in essentials unity, in nonessentials diversity, in all things love.’ Yeah, we would probably hear a few things muttered around under the breath, ‘Wesley was quoting someone else.’ Or ‘we’ve been quoting that for years and I haven’t seen a lot of love.’ Or even, ‘yeah, but what are the essentials.’ And then very directly, confidently, in a way that catches our attention, someone else says, ‘well then, that’s the place to start, with the essentials, for what we believe about the essentials form our beliefs on how we ought to act on all things essential and nonessential alike.’
Now let’s push our thought experiment to slightly absurd levels (you may think I’ve passed that line already), let’s imagine that everyone agreed; those on the left, right, and middle, from the general boards and agencies, laity and clergy, bishops and caucuses and the Judicial Council itself, to set aside all business at the next General Conference. Then in the absence of business we hold our own theological council, the Council of Portland 2016, in order to determine together our theological essentials. In mentioning this little experiment to a friend I was told, ‘We’ve already got the essentials defined in our Book of Discipline, they’re clearly lined out in our Articles of Religion, Confession of Faith, and Wesley’s standards and notes. Our essentials are already defined.’ And, truth be told, I hear that and I even agree. But clearly, not everyone agrees. And certainly throughout church history the church has seen the need to gather in council to reappraise the situation and to restate the essentials of the Christian faith. So, why not meet again? Why not now? Isn’t this the least we could do before formalizing a split?
Now let’s imagine that it’s not just a thought experiment and we could actually do it. I know some of the essentials that I would want addressed at the council. I think we need to agree on the atonement, the nature of sin, and the uniqueness of Christ for salvation, entire sanctification and Christian perfection, the role of Scripture in our theological method, and the transformative nature of grace. I’m sure more will occur to me later but those are the ones that jumped out at me just now. You might have different concepts that you would like addressed, and we could discuss them as well.
I don’t know, it’s probably not doable. But God’s done some pretty wild things with the people called Methodist before, so why not this? And why not now?
Grace and Peace, Rich