I’m new to Seward. I’m an “unknown” for many persons as they are “unknown” to me. So, I think there is some amount of “feeling each other out,” finding where we stand. This past week I received a email that was, I think, doing just this.
It was a correspondence from someone in the community who has seen me and they had questions about United Methodism. I’m relatively well versed in United Methodist history and theology and am game to be asked questions. I think that’s how we all learn from each other.
I don’t doubt that these were honest questions. However, it was clear that the person asking came from a more conservative background than myself. United Methodism is about as mainline as the mainline gets. Instead of asking what we United Methodists believe about Jesus or salvation or our understanding of the Bible this person first asked about how we understood the timing of the rapture.
The “Rapture” doesn’t get much play in most United Methodist Churches. I don’t think about it much myself. I still remember a Junior High Camp years ago when one of the counselors had “Rapture Practice” and everyone would rise/stand up and throw their arms in the air as if ascending to be with Jesus. The rapture is when Jesus is said to return and take all faithful believers into heaven, leaving behind the unfaithful. It often comes with conversations of the apocalypse and millennialism–also terms that don’t get a whole lot of attention in the UMC. There are some different schools of thought as to how and when this takes place. For United Methodists, we definitely believe that Jesus will come again at some point but I think we’re much less likely to get involved with the specifics of how and when and who, exactly, is going to be left behind in the process. I don’t think this was any part of my seminary training and, when looking at it historically, it’s a Biblical concept that appears to come late to the table, in the 1700s or so.
As I answered, as best I could, I admitted that we were probably not going to agree on the answers to the questions I was being asked. The very fact that this was the first question was a pretty good clue that the priorities of the one asking the questions and my priorities were probably going to be different. I mentioned that United Methodists aren’t of one mind about this and, frankly, other things are theological emphases. Other questions were about homosexuality and celebrating Easter verses the Resurrection and how we understood Sabbath and our position on Halloween. These were not simple questions for an email conversatios although I know there are many persons who view these as basic, black and white, clear-cut questions with clear-cut answers.
For me, faith isn’t an algebra equation to be solved where each side has to equal the other, where things are right or wrong with no contextualization, where everything fits together nicely. I’m open to a lot more mystery, more questions, more diversity. I’m OK with not knowing all of the answers. Some amount of ambiguity really doesn’t bother me. I think of it as honest.
Ben Witherington our quest for certainty in faith over at Patheos.com:
It’s time to stop putting the dog back in dogma, whether we are Protestants, Catholic, or Orthodox in persuasion. It’s time to lay the lust for certainty on the altar, and accept that God alone is the fixed point in an ever turning world, not my understanding of God, not some ironclad guarantee of salvation, not some certainty that ‘we are the one true church with the one true dogma’ or ‘we have the one true version of the Bible’ and so on.
Call me uncertain. I’m OK with that. Blame me for not being able to connect all the dots of faith or being able to clearly extrapolate my understanding of the Scriptures into all facets of my walk of faith. I’m OK with that. I don’t think that makes my faith less strong. In fact, I think there is strength in admitting that we just don’t have all the answers and that we some doubts as well.
In United Methodism we have a pretty big tent. We have a lot of perspectives present. We have those who believe the rapture is going to occur and will occur before the millennial period. And we have those who don’t or who believe it should be at a different time. And, that doesn’t bother me at all. I just don’t know when Christ is going to come back and who or what he’s going to take with him to the heavens. What I do know is that Christ will welcome those who believe to be with him at a future resurrection. For me that’s enough.
But, because of our big tent, I can honestly say the person who was emailing me these questions is someone who is trying with all of their heart to follow in the way of Jesus. Perhaps, for them, my answers were unsatisfactory. And yet, I can still celebrate their faith. I believe their is grace in admitting that we just don’t know some things when it comes to our faith.