A Home for Everyone? (#OneChurchPlanMyths #UMC)

Does the so-called One Church Plan create a “home for everyone” in the United Methodist Church? That’s the question in this second installment of #OneChurchPlanMyths. The claim comes in this video where the suggestion is made that the so-called One Church Plan makes a home for everyone by removing language in the Book of Discipline that says same-sex practices are incompatible with Christian teaching. The idea is that the removal of that sort of language also removes a barrier to some from full participation in the life of the Church. With this post I argue that the removal of one barrier actually creates another, which means the so-called One Church Plan doesn’t actually create a “home for everyone.” That claim is a myth.

Except for them

The problem with the myth in question is the untold numbers of people who’ve said they won’t be at home in a denomination that makes such a change. Many who affirm the current stance of the Church have being saying for decades that they will be forced to leave the UMC, if it were to change its position, a position that (as is noted in the video) has been in place almost 50 years. I vividly recall as a ministry candidate twenty years ago how other traditional folks were saying that if the Church changes its position on sexuality, they could not stay. Their conviction was that such a change would mean the UMC could no longer be their denominational home.

More recently, the Wesleyan Covenant Association has reminded the larger Church that the adoption of the so-called One Church Plan is “untenable” and would force the formation of a new Methodist denomination. It’s worth remembering that this is not a new posture taken by these folks. Conservatives have been saying this for a very, very long time. What’s new is the amount of pressure and influence being presently given to changing the Church’s definition of marriage and its ordination standards. So, the question is: how can the so-called One Church Plan be a home for everyone when a significant number of United Methodists have been saying for decades that they cannot live under such a plan? And therein lies the myth. The so-called One Church plan doesn’t make a home for everyone. It makes a home for everyone except the people who can’t live with it.

What’s even more striking is that the so-called One Church plan is the only plan (to my knowledge) that any major group has officially said it cannot live with. No one has said they’ll feel forced from their home if the Connectional Conference Plan passes. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t know of any Progressive groups who’ve officially said they’ll leave if a version of the Traditional Plan passes. I do know of some individuals who’ve said as much, but no group-as-a-whole. Again, leave a comment and let me know if I’ve missed an announcement of that sort. Somehow, the only plan under which a significant constituency has publicly said it would feel forced out of its home is the one plan that alleges to be a home for everyone. Curious that.

It’s not working

The video also rationalizes the so-called One Church Plan with the suggestion that we are already living in a situation that resembles the results of that plan. The idea is that we currently live in a Church where people disagree on the matter of human sexuality. We’ve now have Progressives, Centrists, and Traditionalists in one Church. The so-called One Church Plan makes adjustments to affirm this and moves us forward. The argument is supposed to make you think: Oh, well if we already have it, what’s the problem with passing it? What’s strange about this line of reasoning is that what we have now isn’t working. At the risk of sounding repetitive, we are living in conflict that has spanned nearly 50 years. Why should we think a plan that reflects where we are will resolve that conflict? Why should we think it won’t exacerbate the conflict instead?

Earlier this week we sorted out the myth of neutrality. You can call this one the  myth of “a home for everyone.” And the point is this. Whether you support the so-called One Church Plan or not, let’s at least be honest about what it does and doesn’t do. The so-called One Church Plan is the quickest and most likely route to a full split. It will make a substantial number of United Methodists feel as if they’ve lost their home. It’s doesn’t make a home for everyone. Don’t believe the myth.

Stay tuned. More #OneChurchPlanMyths to come.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

 

The Myth of Neutrality (#OneChurchPlanMyths #UMC)

The people called Methodists are feeling the pressure right now. We are just over a month away from a special session of General Conference called to settle our decades-long conflict over the matter of human sexuality. Folks familiar with this conflict likely already know that a proposal known as the “One Church Plan” is being promoted with vigor by a number of bishops and a group known as the “Uniting Methodists.” In fact, the so-called One Church Plan is said to have the support of a majority of bishops, which is unsurprising, though the exact number of that majority is unclear.

Among other things, this plan would remove the current restrictions on UMC clergy and churches from blessing same-sex unions. It would change the definition of marriage from the union of one man and one woman to the union of two persons. It also provides protections for clergy who choose not to solemnize same-sex unions. The plan is supposed to be a compromise because it removes restrictive language without adding an  explicit affirmation of same-sex unions. By neither condemning nor approving same-sex unions, this plan gives the appearance of neutrality and offers freedom to clergy to follow their convictions. In this post, I will argue that such neutrality is a myth. If the so-called One Church Plan passes, it would constitute a full-affirmation by the United Methodist Church of same-sex practices.

Is Neutrality Possible?

The notion of neutrality in the so-called One Church Plan comes with the newly proposed definition of marriage. The imprecise “union of two persons” allegedly steers the narrow way between condemning same-sex unions and affirming them.  When inquisitive souls ask what the UMC stance on marriage is, proponents of the so-called One Church Plan want to be able to say that we’re not taking sides. You know, like Switzerland. The truth is that neutrality – like so much else –  is easier said than done.

Ecclesial Sleight of Hand

There is a simple reason United Methodist neutrality with regard to sexuality  will be impossible (despite the definitions in the so-called One Church Plan). The reason is that neutrality isn’t real. It’s a myth. There’s no such thing. “Why is that?” you ask. Because the proposed and allegedly neutral definition of marriage invites us to put all our attention on one question without considering another. Consider an analogy. The so-called One Church Plan is like a magician asking school children to look at his left hand while his right hand drops a rabbit in a hat. What I mean is this. While it is important, the key question is not how the UMC defines marriage (the magician’s left hand). The key question is what General Conference authorizes clergy to do (his right hand). What pastoral authority does General Conference authoritatively grant?

Remember that line you used to hear near the end of a wedding ceremony: “…by the power vested in me by the United Methodist Church…” It isn’t said as often anymore, but you’ll understand the point. When a United Methodist clergy person performs a wedding, she or he is acting as an instrument and on behalf of the United Methodist Church. Clergy do not have the inherent authority to solemnize a marriage covenant. That authority is delegated. The body that delegates that authority is responsible for defining how it is used. And if the General Conference authorizes United Methodist clergy to solemnize same-sex unions, the the General Conference is giving it’s blessing to those unions. And it is giving that blessing on behalf of the global United Methodist Church for which it speaks. To summarize the point, if General Conference authorizes clergy to perform same-sex unions, then General Conference is offering positive affirmation to those unions. There is no neutrality there.

Don’t Believe the Myth

Whether you like the so-called One Church Plan or not, you need to understand what it is and what it isn’t. Don’t believe the myth. The plan is not neutral. Rather, it constitutes an affirmation by the United Methodist Church of same-sex unions as good, holy, and right in the eyes of God and the Church. If you have difficulty understanding why traditional folks refuse to abide the so-called One Church Plan. This is why. We see through the myth of neutrality.

If you’d like to read more, consider Matt’s chapter “What Makes Sex Beautiful? Marriage, Aesthetics, and the Image of God in Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22,” in Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Sexuality (IVP Academic).

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

When is a church not a church? | Mulholland on Revelation #UMC

The book of Revelation is full of practical application for today’s church. One of my favorite things about Bob Mulholland’s commentary on Revelation is the attention he gives to the formative power of the Apocalypse. One good example of this comes in his analysis of the letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. Mulholland observes that, according to Acts 19-20, when the gospel first came to Ephesus, believers responded in a way that carried significant impact in the city, economic not least. They believed the gospel and they behaved in a way that brought the implications of the gospel to bear on the city of Ephesus. But by the time Revelation is written, while the Ephesians still believe the right things (Rev 2:2), they have lost their first love (Rev 2:4). They remain orthodox, but they’re no longer evangelistic. So Mulholland says

…we see that orthodoxy and evangelism are the inseparable foci of a healthy church. Both must be kept in dynamic balance. Evangelism without orthodoxy becomes a tolerant pluralism and results in a community formed around diffuse human values and criteria. Orthodoxy without evangelism becomes a cold, harsh legalism and results in a community formed around debilitating “do’s and don’ts.” Sound orthodoxy and fervent evangelism result in a community of faith whose growing wholeness of life is a powerful witness of the cleansing, healing, liberating life in Christ to a soiled, wounded, and imprisoned world (435).

Mulholland seems to be using the language of evangelism to refer broadly to the various ways churches might engage their community in ministry, even though that language typically refers to a clear articulation of the truth of the gospel and a call to faith in Jesus. In any case, his point is made. And some may think he doesn’t go far enough, since there are segments of some denominations that are neither orthodox nor evangelistic.

Commitment to truth is important, but it’s not enough. And that commitment must translate into action. Likewise, engaging the culture must be grounded in truth. If it isn’t, there are consequences. Jesus commanded the church in Ephesus to remember and do the works they did at first (Rev 2:5). If they do not, he will remove their lampstand. That is, their status as a church. What’s the point? A church that doesn’t maintain the balance between orthodoxy and evangelism will not long be a church. And that, of course, raises another question. When is a church no longer a church?

Have you ever been in a church setting that did a good job keeping the balance between evangelism and orthodoxy ? A church that did not? What are the keys to keeping the balance? Why do churches struggle to keep that balance? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and experience.

Get your copy of Revelation by Robert Mulholland.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

N.T. Wright on Authentic Church Unity #UMC

Anyone who’s spent much time in church will know that disagreements happen. If those disagreements aren’t resolved quickly, they may soon become full-on conflict. Factions form. And the long term unity of the church is jeopardized. This can happen on different levels, whether it’s a local church or a whole denomination, as is presently the case in my own United Methodist Church. However a particular conflict plays out, the cultivation and maintenance of authentic church unity requires robust reflection on what constitutes authentic church unity, which brings me to N. T. Wright.

I’ve been reading through Wright’s little book, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, as part of my sermon prep for a series I’m preaching called Live Worthy: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.  One of the key contextual issues in Philippians is what appears to be a budding conflict that centers around two leaders in the local church (see Phil 4:2), and much of what Paul says throughout the letter is aimed at reconciling that conflict and maintaining the unity of the Philippian community. Reflecting on that situation, Wright says

Unity by itself can’t be the final aim. After all, unity is possible among thieves, adulterers and many other types. Those who commit genocide need to do so with huge corporate single-mindedness, as the Nazis showed when killing millions of Jews, gypsies and others.

No: what matters is that Christians…should focus completely on the divine drama that has unfolded before their eyes in Jesus the king, and is continuing now into its final act with themselves as the characters. Bringing their thinking into line with each other wouldn’t be any good if they were all thinking something that was out of line with the gospel. The love that they must have is the love that the gospel generates and sustains. Their inner lives, which are to be bonded together, must be the inner lives that reflect the gospel. The ‘same object’ which they must fix their minds on must be the facts about Jesus the Messiah,  and on the meaning which emerges from them (98-99, italics original).

It should be clear that authentic Christian unity is never unity in name only. Authentic Christian unity can only be had when it is gospel-oriented unity. And that unity is bound together by love – but not just any love – gospel-motivated and gospel-oriented love. All that, of course, means that unity is only possible among those who have the same understanding of the gospel. And that further means that unity is achieved not primarily by talking about unity but by talking about the gospel. Only when we are deeply and passionately committed to the same gospel will we be able to  work toward authentic Christian unity.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Click here to get a copy of N.T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters.