OK. So, I know the title to this blog post is not the greatest. But it’s the best I can do. See, I have a bone to pick with the United Methodist Church and this is how I’m trying to express it.
Let me be clear. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool United Methodist. I’ve been Methodist since before I can remember. I was raised in United Methodist Churches. I was president of both my Junior and Senior United Methodist Youth Fellowships (UMYF). I first felt called to ministry at a United Methodist Camp in Indiana and I worked in United Methodist Churches as I discerned that call to the ministry. I have gone on mission trips and spent a summer as a Volunteer in Mission (VIM) up in Alaska. I went to a “very” United Methodist Seminary at Duke Divinity School. I’ve been a United Methodist pastor for over 20 years now and I still have my “heart strangely warmed” when I get to talk about John Wesley or sing a Charles Wesley hymn.
And while I might have first started attending a United Methodist Church because it was nearby in a town we moved to, I’ve stayed a Methodist because I really do buy into much of the theology and practice. I’m a sucker for Wesley’s “practical divinity.” I loved how his theology shaped his interaction with world and his reaching out to the poor and the lost of England with hospitals, and orphanages, and schools. I love the sacramentalism mixed with what might be called more traditional evangelicalism. I love our “Means of Grace” and “the Wesleyan Quadrilateral” and the whole notion of “prevenient grace” (preventing grace or prior grace).
Sometimes, however, I think we focus on the social justice side of things without fully understanding or embracing how our theology shapes our interaction with the world. We find social ills that need healing, social problems that need fixing, and social wrongs that need righted. We let that lead us, not our underlying theological concepts. We lose our theological drive then. Our good causes become the engine that drives us rather than our understanding of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) or salvation or Kingdom or mission.
I once served a congregation who was engaged in many service organizations in the community; the Lions, the Eagles, boards and task forces, Rotary. A Catholic friend was trying to explain what she perceived as a problem with the church. She said, it was “a do-gooder church.” They did good things in the community but most people were unclear why.
Doing good is good. But we don’t do good for just any reason. We do good in this world because of the God we worship and adore and follow into the world.
Presently, the United Methodist Church is doing wonderful things. Their work with “Imagine No Malaria” is one of these. They are giving millions of dollars in order to rid the world of malaria. The churches I presently serve are supporters of the project. However, I would argue, there is sometimes a disconnect from our theology and we can wind up proof-texting this world of ours–finding a problem we want to tackle and then coming up with the theology, the Bible studies, the the support for the cause. If not the fight against Malaria, then perhaps another issue like AIDS awareness, racial reconciliation, or poverty issues.
Again, we cannot refrain from doing the good we do. A United Methodism that is divorced from the ills of the world would make no sense. However, I wish we could be a little more sure about our understanding of God; the one who calls us into this world of ours.
Perhaps understanding our theology is harder. Perhaps trying to come to an agreement of what it is that we believe about God’s presence in this world of ours would reveal how diverse our theology is.
I’m just thinking today that it might help us if we got our theological horse out in front and trusted that the social priorities would then follow.