That was the sound Sunday. Boom! My church blew up.
There were no explosives. No hand grenades. No rockets. No terrorism. No fisticuffs. Just a vote that blew the church up. It’s been coming for a long time.
Reforms in the church have been around ever since there has been a church that needed reforming. The reformers are perceived as trouble-makers by the church they would reform. In every case, it is orthodoxy versus unorthodoxy, or excesses, or indulgences.
Martin Luther issued his 95 theses in 1517 and nailed them to the door of the church in Wittenburg and offered to debate them with anyone. They cried out for reform of the priesthood, and for the stopping of the sale of indulgences, which, in other words, means that if you have the money, you can pay for official church-sanctioned forgiveness of your planned sin in advance. If you were poor, you could just be guilty of your sin. Martin Luther put his life on the line to reform the church. The result was a schism in the church that later became known as the Protestant Reformation. We Protestants, a feisty bunch, aren’t trough protesting.
Then there were the Anabaptists, the Albigensians, the Huguenots, Henry the VIII, who in addition to merely wanting a divorce so he could have an heir, an urgent necessity in the nature of inheritable kingdoms, wanted also to divorce the idea that Popes make kings, which started with Pope Leo III placing the crown on Charlemagne’s head on Christmas Day in the year 800, crowning Charlemagne the emperor of The Holy Roman Empire. Henry wanted his own divine right of Kings. It can be argued that this was not a church reformation, but it was indeed a church limitation. Henry thought no Pope in Rome had dominion over the politics of England, a country in which God gave him rights as the king, at least by Henry’s way of thinking, not uncommon to kings of the time.
John Calvin and his Calvinists were right there in the middle of the Protestant Reformation. Before them there was the schism between the Roman Church and the Eastern Church, each claiming authority over the other by means of a purer orthodoxy. There were the Methodists, the Pentecostals, the Amish, the Shakers, the Quakers, the Mennonites, each group bringing its version of purity, piety, and doctrinal correctness, each one causing a split among various factions in the church, each one causing divisions; after all, you can’t expect a man to keep silent and maintain doctrines he is persuaded in his heart are unscriptural. Some of the reformers paid a lot for their reforms. Some of them were burned at the stake. They went to their grave believing they were doing the right thing. That didn’t make them right, but it did make them sincere. Most, however, were right. The reformers reformed, and the churches they left in many cases came to embrace the ideas of reformers they had earlier persecuted.
I have been a life-long member of the United Methodist Church, that is, rather, a member for the life of The United Methodist Church since it was formed in 1968 by the merging of The Methodist Church with the Evangelical Brethren Church. I have been a Methodist longer than there has been a United Methodist Church. I have been a Methodist all my life.
That ended this past Sunday, even though I respect and admire Wesleyan theology.
The United Methodists have this annoying top-down ecclesiastical hierarchy, wherein your local body does all the work and the Church Corporate owns all the property, furnishes all the clergy, lets the voting elders decide things on matters of doctrine, and only pays lip service to the laity much like the Roman Catholics the Protestants rebelled from, and the Anglicans the Methodists rebelled from. This order was relatively unchanged throughout several iterations, though the nature of the clergy changed and went from priests to pastors, the pastors holding no special dispensations other than that of Baptism and Communion. Believing in the priesthood of all believers, I rejected that but was comfortable keeping my practical faith within its boundaries. No more.
The book of Hebrews says that I am a joint-heir with Christ. I take that seriously. I will not yield on that. I hang my hat on it. As Martin Luther declared, “Here I stand. I will not be moved.”
Like the sale of indulgences of old that motivated Luther to rebel, the rebellion usually comes down to money. Whose is it? Who gets it? Who gets angry when they don’t get it? How can one punish those who are denying the money to those who would claim it?
It was easier when there was only one temple in Jerusalem and Annas and his son-in-law, Caiaphus, were in control. Pay them their tolls, use their exchange rates to convert your in-kind payment to the specie they required, purchase the official rabbinically approved turtledoves and blemished sacrificial sheep from the authorized vendors, who never actually delivered them but re-sold them dozens of times, and you could get your temple duties taken care of. It was akin to having a display at a trade show in Chicago at The McCormick Center and having to deal with the teamsters. Pay them or go home. Pay them or get out.
We didn’t pay the United Methodist Church. We had to get out.
We chose not to pay the church, because the church corporate refused to follow its own book of discipline, trying to force us conservative, evangelical, orthodox believers into positions we could not support. We made a decision. It was the right one for us. Others might say no, but others have always said no. Others will always say no. It seems that others with no voice in the matter, or dog in the fight, say no first, loudest..
Had we paid them, we could have stayed right where we were. We declined.
Had we stayed right where we were, we would have been giving our tacit approval to, and enabling a denomination whose scriptural and spiritual relevance is following right along with the Presbyterian Church USA and the Episcopals. Eventually, a resurrected Christ will not matter to those denominations, or the UMC. If you are a Christian, a resurrected Christ is the very cornerstone of your faith. Without a resurrected Christ, I have no faith.
But a resurrected Christ has always been offensive to many. The writings of Paul have become offensive to many, and in some arenas, Jesus has been deconstructed into this hip sort of surfer dude, a nice and kind guy who really just liked hanging out with weird people a lot rather than being God Himself come down to Earth to redeem it. If my belief in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by The Holy Spiit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried…that on the third day He arose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God…and from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead…that I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting….if any of that offends you, then you shall have to live with being offended. I will neither ignore nor deny two thousand years of Christian orthodoxy to accommodate modern pop psychology, nor a whimsy that re-shapes God into a mere anthropomorphic idol that is as imperfect as we are. God is none of those things. God is not willing that we should trifle with Him. He longs for us, He strives with us, He became a man like us and died for us, such is His love for us, but He does not change for us, rather, we change for Him.
I utterly reject the notion that the writings of the Apostle Paul are not God-breathed scripture. Paul was a chosen vessel to the Lord, handpicked by The Lord from his mother’s womb (Chew on that and try to digest it you anti-Calvinists!) He was accepted by the apostles who knew and walked with Christ. Paul wrote some things lots of people would rather he had not written. The psychologists and deconstructionists can debate all they want. The writings of Paul will still be there when they are through with their debate. People will still have to decide what to do about them.
I have already decided.
None of that means I don’t love everyone, or that I hate anyone. Anyone of good-willed humankind can be my friend. We all owe each other respect and common courtesy.
©2017 Mississippi Chris Sharp