A cool 20-something stood behind his keyboard on the worship team last Sunday wearing —picture this — striped Bermuda shorts, calf-high black socks, brown leather shoes, and a short-sleeve, pajama-like dress shirt buttoned all the way up around his neck. I thought, “My dad used to look like that when he was 70!” If only dad were alive now, he’d be cool.
Such is the way of the fashion pendulum. Hemlines go up and down. Colors go in and out. Today the pendulum swings faster than ever. Amazon’s Prime selections are already “so yesterday” even before their two-day delivery package arrives at your door.
But not only fashion swings like a pendulum. Culture, generations and politics seem to exhibit similar back and forth vacillations between trends as well. And when they do, the people alive during trending times tend to shift their passions and priorities accordingly.
We dare not assume that the church, comprised of encultured people, does not also shift with the trends. For example, the pendulum of cultural change toward unbridled individual freedom (what pleases me moves me to act), the democratization of moral values (right and wrong is determined by the majority), and scandal-driven skepticism (you can’t trust any authority) has moved the church away from allegiance to the Bible as the authoritative Word of God for life and faith.
So now, even though we Free Methodists are doctrinally committed to the authority of Scripture, we may not be as dynamically committed to it. That is to say, there are times we let the “good things” (and often godly things) the world cares about create our agenda and methods rather than the Lord. Take the issue of pursuing diversity, for example.
It is way past time that Free Methodist churches in the United States get serious about breaking down all barriers and repenting of all sin that has kept us a largely lily-white church for the past 159 years. Undoubtedly, the national media’s recent searchlight on racism is helping us become more intentional about eradicating systemic habits, attitudes and blindness that perpetuates racial division and inequities in our denomination. However, we must remain dynamically committed to the authority of God’s Word with its emphasis on holy love during the eradication process.
Holiness has two poles: piety (reverent behavior before God) and propriety (respectful behavior toward people). There should be no “swinging back and forth” between the two poles. If holiness calls for aggressive action to right wrong treatment of persons or people groups, holiness also calls for those actions to be done in ways that reflect God’s nature. The trend in our culture has swung the holiness pendulum forcefully toward social justice these days. That is all well and good, but to make sure we are not conforming to worldly ways in bringing about justice, our passion must be directed all the more forcefully toward humility, purity and grace. This is God’s Word. Will we live under its authority? If so, here are two priorities we must never forget.
Unity. Paul’s Ephesian letter falls neatly into two equal parts. The first three chapters present a panoramic view of God’s eternal purposes and self-revelation through the grandeur of the church. The second three chapters present a litany of 90-plus commands needed for people to live worthy of that calling. What initial commands came to Paul’s mind as he made that segue? Preach the gospel? Make disciples? No, his priority commands involved preserving unity. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2–3, italics mine). We must not crumble unity in our attempts to create diversity. God’s people are free to advocate, persuade, strategize and organize for change, but never demand, threaten, accuse or foment animosity. This is God’s Word. Will we live under its authority?
Patient Trust. Imagine how hard it was for Abraham and Sarah to wait for God’s promise to give them a son who would father a nation of God’s chosen people. It was, in fact, too hard. They couldn’t wait and made their own plan. The result was Ishmael and a future of conflict among people groups. That’s what happens whenever we try to force God’s will to occur according to our timing and methods. No matter how long-delayed diversity may be, no matter how disobedient we may have been as a church, the change we hunger for must come in God’s way and time. Who are we to demand when and how that should happen? We pray. We wait. We watch for God to open doors. Then and only then, we take aggressive action. This is God’s Word. Will we live under its authority?
How to pursue our collective hope for richer diversity is just one issue threatening to fracture the church. There are also rumblings over matters involving what “inclusion” looks like regarding homosexuality. We cannot hope to survive these rocky days without renewing our allegiance to the authority of God’s Word and His call to holy love. Please join me in praying, repenting and helping the pendulum swing back.
Doug Newton is the co-director of the National Prayer Ministry of the Free Methodist Church – USA, the co-leader of the Spiritual Development track at General Conference 2019, and the author of 12 books. He served for 30 years as a senior pastor and for 15 years as the editor of this magazine. Visit dougnewton.com to read more from him and to order his books.
(Editor’s note: This comment is written by Free Methodist Pastor Bob Searle.)
The Importance of Electing a Bishop
In 2007, a member of the United Methodist Upper New York Conference stood before Executive Session and announced he was homosexual. Prior to his announcement, everyone had been ordered out of the room who was not to be present by the Bishop. These sessions are to be confidential and assured this clergy person’s announcement would be confidential.
When the election of delegates to the General Conference was begun, this clergy person’s name was submitted (not a surprise). Because Executive Session is confidential, concerns about his nomination could not be voiced. This clergy person was elected contrary to our Discipline. He was later appointed to yet another parish when he decided he still wanted to pastor in this conference.
This is the deceitful manner in which our conference has changed contrary to our covenant explained in the Discipline. When I grieved the bishop who allowed the above events to happen, the Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops found our conference bishop not in violation primarily because they essentially agreed with this deceitful method of changing our covenant and Discipline without a vote and obviously without any awareness to the conference.
I continued to grieve each bishop thereafter who did not address this violation and appointment. Each grievance resulted in the same way the initial grievance was decided. No violation.
The undermining of our Upper New York Conference began years ago. When the Conference Human Sexuality Committee began to approve of the homosexual life style literature in our Conference library, another clergy member and I asked to meet with the committee to discuss the issue in 1982. During the meeting, we laid out the way in which we approach theological issues in the Discipline described in the Doctrinal Standards And Our Theological Task. Basic to our task is the application of the Articles of Religion, the Standard Sermons of Wesley, his explanatory notes on the New Testament, and the General Rules of the Methodist Church. With these as foundational, Scripture, upon which all the previous are based, along with tradition, experience, and reason are used to walk according to the Spirit and discern the movement of the Holy Spirit consistent with the above. We demonstrated, therefore, Wesley and Discipline do not approve of the homosexual lifestyle.
The committee was not interested. They clearly were ignorant of the way we approach ethical issues in our denomination, but, quite frankly, did not care. They rationalized the place of homosexual literature in the library on the basis of talent and sentimentality. Surely, the conference could not and should not deny anyone’s use of the homosexual’s talents. Talent redefined sin. If you are talented, it is ok to live a life of sin. And, moreover, compassion for Christ yielded to sentimentality. Rather than focus on the Cross to transform, the homosexual was to be understood and accepted. True, but not at the cost of our basic beliefs and faith. Little wonder the church has lost its witness.
As the Free Methodist Church begins to select another bishop, it is important that the dynamics of a brother/sister denomination not influence our denomination. The decline of the United Methodist Church can be traced to the dishonest and deceitful manner its bishops have behaved. The Free Methodist Church deserves better and should not succumb to the tactics of an unfaithful church.
Bob Searle, Free Methodist Pastor3